Friday, July 24, 2015

Family Vacation, Day 5

Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Hiking to Harney's Peak

My awesome siblings!

For our last full day of vacation, I had tentatively planned a longer hiking trip for us to do together. I had heard about Harney's Peak, the highest point in SD, and thought the trail sounded manageable for my family. I presented the idea to them, and they all enthusiastically agreed to do it! There was a chance for rain later in the day, so we left around 8 and headed to the trailhead back in Custer State Park.
My cute baby sister :)

Harney's Peak is the highest point in South Dakota, standing at 7,244 feet above sea level in the Black Hills. There are multiple trails to reach the peak, but the most popular and easiest one is 7 miles round trip. The trailhead is around 5,000 feet, making it about a 2,000 feet elevation difference. We planned for this to be an all-day activity and brought plenty of food and water, just as the signs warned us.

I was super impressed with my family - everyone did so great and we had minimal stops going up, besides a few opportune picture spots. The first was an outcropping of rocks giving a great view to the West of the needles of Custer State Park. I must say I was also impressed that even after months without any peak hikes, I was still in shape and loving every minute of this! Oh how I miss hiking!



The sign of the day ;)

As you can see in the above picture, the trail was well maintained and not too rocky, and stayed that way throughout the whole hike. There were a few muddy parts and puddles due to the rain, but nothing that couldn't be avoided. The trail ascended quite a bit during the first mile, then went downhill a bit - it didn't seem like much while we were hiking to the peak, but when we were hiking back our legs were definitely feeling that uphill section! 

My adorable parents :)

The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking today. It was cool and breezy, and hiking in the early morning provided enough shade from the beautiful pines. The haze we had seen over the past couple days from the wildfires in Canada wasn't as apparent today, which was ideal for the great views at the end!

Find Sarah on the big rock!

We came across a lot more hikers today than we had the past 3 days. It's obvious that this trail is more used, in fact I read that during the summer, it has about 200 hikers on it each day! 

Joel! Our fearless leader!

So the one eventful thing that happened on our hike up... We came to a 3-way trail intersection. We saw this sign, parallel to the trail, with the arrow for Harney Peak pointing to the narrow trail behind it, and to a spur trail on the right. We took a look at it and didn't really have any question about it - it was obvious that we go on the narrow trail for the peak, right? So being obedient, sign-following hikers, we set off on the trail. 

Almost right away, I began having doubts. Why was this peak trail more narrow and overgrown than the spur trail? Where were the other hikers? And what was with all these horse droppings? I voiced my concerns, but because we were all so sure that the arrow was pointing this way, we carried on for at least a half mile. I finally spoke up when I realized that the trail was heading generally South, and not uphill. We needed to be going Northeast and obviously uphill! So we turned around, still doubting ourselves and what the right thing to do was. We had a little snack before continuing. Times like this show true character on the trails, and I think we all passed the test because even with adding an extra mile to our overall mileage, there was no complaining, just comments of "this was an adventure!" and "what a great story to tell!"

How the sign should have been!

We made it back to the intersection and figured out what went wrong - some genius hiker must have thought it would be hilarious to rotate the trail sign meant for people coming down the trail to confuse those heading up. What a great idea! *sarcasm* Still, it was an adventure, and at the end of the day we were able to say we hiked 8 miles instead of 7.

After that, the trail got steeper until it came to another trail intersection - and this time the trails were correctly marked, and we made our way up the final switchbacks to the Harney Peak Lookout! I tell you, the hardest part of this entire trail was climbing the steps up this tower. I can do rough, rocky trails, but but a staircase at the end and I am done!

The backside of Mt. Rushmore!

On the lookout tower

Harney Peak is awesome - At the highest point of the summit is the fire lookout tower, but beneath that is a large rock face that we enjoyed roaming around and checking out all the different views. Some people said they had seen bighorn sheep here earlier, but we couldn't see any - while that would have been cool, after my experience at Supai, I have a little bit of PTSD around those guys!

It was fun contemplating the different state high points I had been to while up here. Of course there's Arizona's Mt. Humphreys. Then, on the way up to SD, we passed by the highest point in Iowa, Hawkeye Point. Iowa's highest point is at 1700 feet of elevation. That's well over 3000 feet below where we started. However, at the highest point of SD, you're still below the trailhead to Mt. Humphreys in AZ, where the peak is 12,600 feet above sea level. So, is Harneys Peak very high? It's all relative! :)

I loved everything about this scenery. Every mountain range has its own beauty. I loved being able to look down over all the Black Hills. I can't wait to bring Curtis and Charlotte back here someday.

Inside the top of the lookout tower!

Sisters at the top :) So proud of them!!

Can you find Sarah?

We made it to the peak around 11:15, which I think is great time for having started around 8:45 and getting off for about a mile. We enjoyed being at the top for a long while, eating, resting, and exploring. Joel made friends with some of the cutest chipmunks ever.

We finally started back down after at least an hour at the top. It was much less eventful than the way up, with only that brief uphill section slowing us down. It was becoming cloudier as the day went on, so we were glad to have finished it when we did!

On the way up, I didn't notice this (because I didn't know what I was looking for!) but on the way back we were able to spot the tower from far away. And when we could see it from this distant look, it made us feel even more impressed with how far we had walked - this was no easy hike!

Love my mom!

After we made it back to the car, I really wanted to see Sylvan Lake, so I left my family resting at one point and followed the lake trail a little ways. This reminded me of Watson Lake in Prescott, AZ. I love how the water meets the granite rocks. On the East end of the lake, there were people all over the place, but once I wandered over a hill and around a bend on the trail, it was just me and a couple of geese. It was gorgeous, and maybe if we all weren't so tired from the hike, we would have circled the whole lake trail. Oh well, maybe next time. :)

My goose friend.

And that wraps up our family vacation! I am so glad I was able to travel with my family again. It really helped this week to go by faster, and we made so many great memories! Of course, I know I'll have to come back here some day to make new ones with my husband & puppy. :) 

Day 5 Wrap up: Hiked 8 miles to Harneys Peak and enjoyed the wide views, needles, and lovely lake in Custer State Park!

The next day, we drove straight back home - 11 hours! Not much else to say about that. :)

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