The silent morning broke to conversing crows. Waking to their caw is welcome over any man made noise. The day was to be one of reprieve from windy highways to hike in the Black Hills re-energizing my legs and my being. The destination was Harney Peak(7,242 feet). The highest peak in South Dakota. A sacred area where the famous Oglala Lakota Medicine and Holy Man, Black Elk, received a great vision.

Crazy Horse Memorial MonumentIn route to the trailhead I could see the distant Crazy Horse Monument standing 563 ft. tall staring into the eastern rising sun. I knew I’d return later. Missing the trail parking area I was soon at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. A monument I had little interest seeing. The presidential faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln chiseled into sacred land of the Lakota’s after the broken Treaty of Fort Laramie is considered a disrespectful undertaking. The Black Hills were “given” to the Indians who originally resided in the area. When gold was found by trespassing settlers the land was retaken resulting in the Great Sioux War of 1876.

Mt. RushmoreNot wanting to stay long I was allowed to enter the memorial for trail information and a few photographs. Although an impressive sculpture, history and common sense told me this was in the wrong place. I left for the trailhead and noticing the parking area was no place for the truck and trailer Crazy Horse Monument became the next stop.

Construction on the monument began in 1948 by Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Chief Standing Bear of the Oglala Lakota people asked Korczak because he and other chiefs wanted the white man to know that Native Americans also have great heroes. There is some controversy by certain Native American Groups of defacing a mountain but the work continues supported by most. In addition to the monument there are currently seven buildings including the well planned Indian Museum of North America. I watched an introductory video of the construction, perused the buildings and took a guided tour for a closer look at the monument. Impressive is an Crazy Horse Memorial Monumentunderstatement. The exhibits are meticulous and seeing people from native tribes working in the museum providing historic information was good. I highly recommend visiting the monument which is supported only by private funding.

The day worked out well since making the hike on the difficult northern route would have added to the previous day’s exhaustion. The following morning I broke camp at 4:30AM and left the site at 5:30. An 8-point buck bid farewell strolling in front of the truck to see his bedded mate a few yards away. Off I went through the hills to find the southern route.

Black Hills National ForestI’m not sure if the morning caffeine didn’t kick in but I couldn’t find the trail head. The icy road became steep and I engaged the truck into 4WD crawling upwards with areas of no guardrails only to find no trailhead. I drove down the unprotected side of the road to a dirt road encountering a locked gate. Reversing the trailer wasn’t an easy task. It took numerous attempts to back out onto a thankfully rarely used road this time of year. To give the destination another try I went back to where I was sure the trailhead was then down again. With no luck I stopped in the town of Custer with disappointment. Looking at the map a final time and not easily deterred I drove the seven miles up the dangerous road again to finally find the trailhead at Sylvan Lake.

Packed for Camp and the RoadConditions were full on winter with hard packed snow. Fresh covering snow provided enough to see deer and coyote tracks who are smart enough to use a man made trail when humans are nowhere to be found. The backpack had more than needed in case of an emergency in those conditions. With the heavy load and being behind schedule I had to make good time to Harney Peak 3.5 miles out. The trail was moderate taking a few hours to reach the sacred area Black Elk would have his vision quests. The fire tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) in the 1938, an organization my grandfather Chokas was part of in Connecticut. Winds were gusting up to 60 MPH and I ate as much and quickly as possible in the tower to refuel for the Harney Peak Lookout Towerreturn. After a few minutes of personal thoughts and prayer I kept a brisk pace to stay warm and cut time knowing long roads were ahead of me. Fresh coyote and deer tracks were in my inbound tracks. I wasn’t alone and it felt good to have unseen company watching me in the forest.

Hungry FriendsReturning to the truck at 1:30PM a change of clothes was made and I was ready to drive down the unprotected side of the steep, winding, icy hill for the last time. Similar to leaving the campsite I was shown out by deer.

I slowly regained strength and awareness for the trek back to I-90W. The stress of not finding the trailhead, driving the icy roads and maintaining a fast pace on the trail was draining. With snow falling and more mountains for the truck to climb and descend it would make for a long day and stressful driving…

Up next…White knuckled driving and thoughts of turning back.

Peace – Greg

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mohandas Gandhi

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