Thursday, September 29, 2005

Custer, SD - Hike to Harney Peak

The trailhead for the Harney Peak Trail started at pretty Sylvan Lake. It was 3.8 miles to the summit which is also where a historic fire tower is located. This fire tower was built by the CCC in 1939 and was in service until 1967. It is made of stone and is a handsome building with a stunning 360-degree view. From here you can supposedly see 4 states. It was a clear day and we could see for many miles. I’m assuming we saw 4 states! The trail up was steep and very pretty as it wandered through ponderosa pines, firs, aspens and birches. We could hear birds, even if we couldn’t see them all. Occasionally we could zero in a woodpecker because of the rat-a-tat-tat on an old tree. It was very quiet and peaceful until we reached the fire tower. At the tower, it appeared a tour bus had just dropped off a bunch of chattering tourists. But we knew it was a popular hike, and if we can avoid that kind of noise on the trail itself, we’re happy. We ate lunch at the summit and had to resist feeding the “lil’ beggars” – chipmunks…adorable (almost irresistible) and absolutely ballsy in their attempts to scarf up food. If you turn your back on them they’ll eat a hole through your pack if they suspect a free lunch. On the way back down we decided to take a different trail to make it a loop. Our guess is the way home was probably closer to 5 miles (mileage on signs and maps didn’t match). USFS Trail #3 led to Trail #4 which took us near the Cathedral Spires. These pointy granite spires do resemble the spires you would see on the top of an old cathedral. We saw rock climbers scaling the spires. The granite boulders are fun for scrambling and are about as close to rock-climbing as we can get. The rock is course enough so it’s not slippery and bumpy enough to give you lots of handholds. There are also locks of cracks and crevices for your feet. We would scramble up boulders to get better views of the surrounding areas. And just to have fun. I had to drag Andy away from this area to keep heading down the trail. About half way down, we had the option to take a spur trail to Little Devil’s Tower. We started to worry about the clouds, the time, and our tired legs, but we figured “oh, it’s onnnnllly 0.6 miles each way. So, why not?” Well, considering it was practically straight up and took us ½ hour to walk up 0.6 miles, would’ve been a good reason why not to do it. But the view was worth it. The last part of this hike required us to scramble up boulders, some with shiny pink granite stripes, to get to the summit. We could see the Fire Tower, the town of Custer, the backside of Mt Rushmore, and on and on. The hike down from Little Devil’s Tower was painful for the knees and toes, but didn’t take us as long. This hike rated as one of our favorites for the scenery along the whole route. But what a day…especially for being our first hike in three weeks.

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