Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harney Peak

Our objective for today, Harney Peak, was a pure delight.  We have spent so much time in the truck over the past two weeks that just getting out for a little leg stretcher was a welcome change of pace.  The fact that the Harney Peak Trail  was a wide, nicely graded woods trail which led to a historic lookout tower on the highest point in the state of South Dakota made it perfect.

Our trail started in Custer State Park, about 10 miles from our campground.  We soon left the state park and entered the Black Elk Wilderness.  After about three-quarters of a mile, we came to a rock outcropping which gave us a clear view of the lookout tower in the distance.  We climbed steadily for the first mile or so, but then lost all the elevation we had gained over the next half mile.  After crossing a small creek at the bottom of the decline, we headed uphill again.  The last few hundred feet of our 3-mile trail was up a rock staircase built by the CCC when they built the lookout tower in 1939.

About half the trail is open to horse travel.  There are some advantages to horse trails.  Generally, they are a little wider than foot trails and they are also more gently graded.  Those are pluses for the hiker, but the heavy weight of a horse can really tear up a dirt trail.  This trail, however, did not have any significant damage due to horses.  There were a few horse “piles”, of course, but there were none of the smelly mire pits that we often see in the wetter climate of the eastern mountains.

View from the top

This historical fire lookout tower sits atop Harney Peak which rises in the Black Hills to an elevation of 7242 feet.  I was surprised to read the plaque on the entrance to the tower which stated this to be the highest peak east of the Rockies.  The views were magnificent on this clear day.  This is a popular trail in this area and there were several others on the peak.  We stayed for about half an hour enjoying the view, the great weather, and our lunch.

Back at the truck, we both agreed, this was a very nice hike.

Tomorrow, we have a few chores to do.  If we can drag ourselves out of bed early, we may drive the wildlife loop at Custer State Park.

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