Back in July we had an amazing "peak experience" when we hiked to the summit of the highest mountain in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak (photos here). So in South Dakota, we decided to do the same.
The highest peak in the state at 7242', Harney Peak is also the highest point in the US east of the Rocky Mountains. Although it's quite a bit shorter than Wheeler, which towers at 13167' in altitude, the hike to the summit of Harney was challenging nonetheless.
Here's a blurb Barry found online:
There are multiple routes to the summit, the easiest being the southern approach from Sylvan Lake. This route follows the Harney Peak-Sylvan Lake Trail for 3.5 miles one way, and 1,100 feet of elevation gain. I would rate this hike as easy to moderate. This trail receives heavy use.
So naturally, we did the northern approach! As promised, it was lightly traveled; in fact, we saw no other hikers on this route in either direction. There were quite a few folks at the peak who had done the well-traveled and easier hike from Sylvan Lake, which made us very happy that we'd taken "the road less traveled." We appreciate our solitude when hiking, and the views were indeed scenic.
Though we carefully avoided showing other people in our photos, there was a surprising number of other hikers (and a couple of dogs!) at the summit. We heard some German being spoken and realized that at least some of our fellow hikers were Europeans. This makes sense as they do tend to be in better physical condition than folks in the US (sadly). And with it being a fall weekday, younger, more fit Americans were likely to be at work or school. But as I mentioned earlier, all the other hikers came up from Sylvan Lake, so we had the north #9 trail to ourselves in both directions -- perfect.
The views from the summit were amazing, though photos never seem to do these kinds of views justice. You miss so much when it's not in 3-D nor 360-degrees worth! But here are a few shots anyway.
Notice in the photos above all the defoliated trees. These are not deciduous trees that have shed their leaves but pines that have died due to the incredible scourge of the mountain pine beetle. Signs of their destructiveness were all around us during our time in the South Dakota Black Hills. It was so sad and sickening. According to this website from a South Dakota congresswoman, one third of National Forest System land in the Black Hills has been lost to these insects, and the Black Elk Wilderness is the hardest hit. I plan on writing some letters after this trip.
But back to our hike. The five-mile return trip was quite a bit faster than the trip up, but still provided challenges with rocks and steep areas. We are always glad to have our hiking poles along; they are especially helpful when descending and enable us to go quite a bit faster than we could otherwise, while taking weight off of and protecting our knees.
Please stay tuned...there will be from South Dakota in the days to come....
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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