As our last mission in the Black Hills, we aimed to climb the highest peak in South Dakota (in fact, the highest peak between the Rocky Mountains and Europe!). At a staggering 7,244 feet, it might not seem like much to those who bag 14ers in Colorado, but from the top, you can gaze out into the plains of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana.
To reach the summit, we took Trail No. 9 from the Sylvan Lake day-use area in Custer State Park. There are supplies there, if needed, though at only 7-miles round trip, the trail should not take you all day. No permit is required, but they do request that hikers register at the beginning of the Black Elk Wilderness. There is a small fee to gain entrance to the state park.
We set out early and soon overcame and passed the only other people on the trail. There is an abandoned fire lookout tower at the peak, and you are free to climb around and play in it. From the views, it feels as if you can see everything. The entire world is right there, sitting just at the horizon.
As the first to reach the top that day, we were lucky to find a dozing mountain goat, just waking up from its slumber in the basement of the lookout tower. He popped out looking a little dazed, and then a little annoyed that we had woken him up so early.
From the top, standing precariously on the tips of cliffs that drop down into empty black gulches, it’s easy to image why these hills lay virgin until as recently as 150 years ago. While the rest of the West was being tamed and tortured, the Black Hills sat aloof, above it all and dangerously imposing.
The vastness of the West from the summit also gives way to the same visions that quite possibly came to Black Elk as he sat upon the stones, alone, a wondrous survivor of both the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee.
As Black Elk said: “I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.” — Black Elk Speaks
We took time for a mid-morning snack, testing fate by eating right on the edge of eternity.
And as the rest of the world caught up to us on our secluded mountain, we packed up and headed out, in hopes of finding (successfully) a funky pub in downtown Custer.
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