Black Hills trip report (part 2)


(Back to part 1)

Overnight, rain moved in and it rained off and on in Rapid City through lunchtime. It only amounted to 0.1" at Rapid City airport, but I think there were some t-storms around it wasn't good hiking weather. I mostly slept the morning away, tired from not getting a lot of sleep the two nights before the drive, the excitement of the drive, the day of hiking, and not sleeping well.

Finally, at 1:30pm, it looked like the weather would be good for at least a little while and I headed back out. I added to my drive, but lessened my frustration level by staying on the interstate until Exit 17 to avoid some road construction as I headed for US 85 in the Lead area.

The "big" ski mountain just outside of Lead, Terry Peak, is one of the 7ers, and I wasn't sure about access. But, shortly after going through Lead on my way somewhere else, I encountered the signed turnoff for the summit road. Remarkably, the road to the summit is fine for a car and clearly they intend for people to make the trip. There is a slew of communications equipment on the summit, just above the top of the ski area, but there are no particular restrictions and you can walk the short distance above the parking area to a lookout platform and you can even wander around the legs of a 200-foot radio tower right next to parking. There is even an outhouse just below the summit platform. The views are degraded in several directions by comm towers, but you still get good views back down to Lead and some of the surrounding mountains.

After this encouraging experience and having what I believed to be good information on my next objective, I kept Bear Mountain in the back of my mind. But, first, I continued up US 85 to the Crooks Tower area. Crooks Tower is the 4th highest ranked peak and the highpoint of Lawrence County. With 4WD, one can drive to within shouting distance of one of the highest points. With my car, I made my way up a slightly muddy and slick road to a road junction at 6970ft, knowing that if I could get up the road, I would be able to get down.

From here, I hiked alongside the muddy two-track, which defies the USGS topo map and curves around to the east of the main summit. From here, you reach a small rock outcrop which is the obvious 1st summit which is labeled as 7137ft. About a quarter-mile north of this is another closed contour that could be as high as 7139ft, but buried in the trees so you really can't sight one from the other. For what it's worth, my GPS had this 8 feet higher than the "main" summit, but my altimeter was 20 feet lower. However, the latter was also 20 feet lower back at my car than when I started.

In any case, I retraced my route back to my car having walked 1.22 miles. From here, it is about a mile by air to the 3rd possible highest point. This is reached by continuing south on the road, which was pretty muddy but might be passable by a normal car when dry. At the appropriate place, you can leave the road and bushwhack the light tree cover to the west.

I actually passed this point and reached an old two-track road. To get my bearings, I continued a short distance past to the road junction that is on the topo map. The problem is that the map has the road too close to the contour containing the possible highpoint. It is at most 0.2 miles from the road to the far edge of this contour on the map, but it is actually a third of a mile as the crow flies to the highpoint in reality.

However, my "mistake" led me to follow the two-track road for about a tenth of a mile, before angling off to gain the 40ft to the summit plateau. The summit itself seems to be a 4-foot stump with two white rocks on it in an open area. I walked around a bit to be sure, but that seems to be it.

Unfortunately, the weather seemed to be rapidly worsening at that point. Dark clouds were moving in, so I decided to jog the 1.2 miles back to my car. Shortly after leaving this summit, a breeze picked up and the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees. With this weather change, my altimeter ended up 50 feet too low by the time I reached my car, about 1:15 after starting the hike. It was after 5:30pm by this time, so I didn't have time to wait out the weather and try to do anymore hiking, even with the long June days at that latitude. The weather did not turn bad up there, but I did have some sprinkles driving back down to the paved road. Heavier showers were ending in Rapid City when I got back down there around 7:30pm.

I would have felt like an idiot telling people about my trip to the Black Hills without having visited the Enormous Granite Presidents. During the summer they have a 20-minute presentation at 9pm capped by lighting the monument. So, after wolfing down my Burger King dinner and a quick shower, I hurried up through Keystone and paid my $8 to park in the parking garage. (They emphasize that there is no actual entrance fee and that you get an entire year's access; the fee is now $10.) I arrived just in time for the presentation which was alright, and the crowd size was pretty modest being a weekday and maybe the evening showers scared people away. My timing was great because there was a beautiful crescent Moon just to the left of the mountain.

After I loaded up the car to check out of the motel on Friday, I had to decide what to do. I could drive up and see Crazy Horse, the entrance to which I had passed while searching for a way to access Bear Mountain. I could go up to the visitor center at Pactola Reservoir to hear what they said about access to Bear. I could ignore the sign and try to hike up Bear from the "closed" trailhead. Or, I could go back to my remote road and try the long hike from there. I decided to take the other option; go home! Even if I figured out some way to do the hike, I would be 9+ hours from home at that trailhead and would have a very long day with perhaps some more weather problems in Minnesota (which didn't materialize).

(I did take advantage of having the extra time on this day and the better than expected weather to "climb" Hawkeye Point, the highpoint of Iowa on the way home.)

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File last modified: 06 March 2009

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