“Adventures” Page

After nearly four years of writing this blog, I’ve accumulated a number of “hiking review” type articles. I thought it would be nice to consolidate those, so here’s the “Adventures” page! Any suggestions as to content would be very appreciated, as right now it is in the early stages of development. I intend to flesh out the page itself with additional overview-type info on the hikes, and may perhaps add information to the articles, though for now I have no plans to do so.IMG_4953eIf there are any hikes I haven’t covered that you’re interested in, comment on the page and let me know! I always love suggestions for new hikes, and there are some I’ve done that for one reason and another never got published as blog articles.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy!


Hiking | Crow Peak Trail

We live right on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest, with our own property to hike on, as well as many other gorgeous hikes within a (relatively) short drive from our house. It is pretty easy to get stuck around here and the southern Hills for our excursions, and not venture too far from north. So I was glad to finally make it up towards Spearfish to hike the Crow Peak Trail, a roughly 6 mile out-and-back trail to the top of a beautiful little mountain, with gorgeous views of the surrounding area, including Bear Butte.
Crow PeakCrow PeakCrow PeakThe trail is well maintained and pretty much impossible to lose sight of. It is a steady uphill climb, steeper towards the top, with a handful of switchbacks and sprawling views from open areas on the way up. In the lower elevations of the trail, there are some good unobstructed views of Crow Peak, which I always enjoy. It is fun to be able to glimpse the destination. In a few places, the trail traverses steep, rock-covered slopes, and standing dead are evidence of not-so-long-ago fire activity. As a proper destination hike should, it boasts incredible views from the summit.Crow PeakCrow PeakCrow PeakWe brought a picnic and our hammocks, and enjoyed an uncharacteristically leisurely lunch on the edge of a cliff, with Bear Butte visible in the distance. It was a bit chilly, but so beautiful, and hard to make ourselves head back down to “the real world.” Amazing how excursions into God’s glorious Creation help to put life into perspective, as worries and cares fade into the distance. Crow PeakIt is a good thing I have a sense of personal responsibility, otherwise I would just quit everything I’m doing and live in the woods with my hammock.

Hiking | Boulder Hill

One of the fantastic things about living in an area like the Black Hills is just how accessible the hiking is. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the Black Hills more this year, with my free-er schedule and ability to really set some time aside to simply enjoy the outdoors. I feel very blessed to have been able to do that this year!IMG_20181020_144007841_HDReBoulder Hill is a short spur off the Flume Trail #50, and makes a great short afternoon hike, with an easily accessible trailhead to the spur, or, if you feel like cheating, an even shorter route up a logging road. It is rated as hard, due to some steep scrambling. If you have a fear of heights, this may not be the trail for you. Some of the steep places are pretty exposed, and made me a little giddy! Be advised that the parking lot for Boulder Hill trailhead is on the other side of the road from the actual trailhead. And what looks like the trailhead sign board is not at the trailhead. Look for this sign:
IMG_20181020_135614712_HDReThat’s the trail.

We lost the trail part way up and ended up walking up an old logging road, which for us was actually the long way around. But that whole area is beautiful, so what did it matter?IMG_20181020_144944783_HDReRemnants of an old fire tower prove what a great lookout this peak actually is. The views from the top are spectacular. The Black Hills are known as an island in the prairie, and Boulder Hill is close to the foothills of the Black Hills, providing excellent views down into the surrounding prairies as far off as the Badlands. There is a beautiful view of Harney Peak, and I could see Lakota Peak as well, a landmark in my neck of the woods, just a few miles from my house.IMG_20181020_150548711_HDReIt was fun to look down from the peak and see, way in the distance, Axel’s car in the trailhead parking lot. I’m not a “vista person,” when it comes to hiking. I love good views, but what motivates me is the enchantment and challenge of a beautiful, long hike, not so much getting somewhere specific but getting away from anywhere specific. That said, what is thrilling about a “vista hike” is getting to look down on everywhere I just hiked. It really puts things in perspective – huge perspective. When hiking in the lowlands, there is absolutely no sense of distance, as far as how far is how far you hiked. What does a mile or six miles or thirteen miles look like, winding through the Hills? But looking down from a peak and seeing the trailhead in the distance is a pretty neat feeling. And, since this is a spur off the Flume Trail, which we had hiked just a few weeks earlier, we sat there trying to orient ourselves to where we’d hiked and where the trail must have been. We could make a pretty educated guess, and the vastness was thrilling.

What a glorious place we live in.


Hiking | Little Elk Creek Trail

Oh, back when the weather was warmer…However, warmer doesn’t mean warm. On this particular hike, Axel, Katie, and I all were a bit chilly for the first while, having not considered the morning shade in the canyon. We were treated to some of the first glimpses of winter, with persistent ice over parts of Little Elk Creek, beautiful frozen, frosted, filigreed leaves, and the nipping of the crisp, morning air at our cheeks and noses. Autumn was still hanging on by a thread, and not all the trees had dropped their leaves, but the crispness and the frost let us know that winter was on its way.
IMG_20181020_095501451_HDRIMG_20181020_092419204_HDReIMG_20181020_112105059_HDRLittle Elk Creek Trail is a well-maintained trail, approximately 5 miles out-and-back, used by hikers, bikers, and trail runners. It is mostly level, with very little elevation gain, and though it is rated as moderate according to All Trails, I would definitely rate it as easy. Perhaps the length is where the moderate rating comes in. I don’t know.IMG_20181020_092719462_HDRIMG_20181020_101247761_HDRThe trail follows along or above Little Elk Creek, though some beautiful rock formations and canyon areas, boasting many beautiful views. Across the creek from the trail, shaded north slopes were green with moss, steep and rocky, and very different from the brown, sunlit slopes the trail followed. We met a few other hikers, but it was a quiet trail. It is a ways off the beaten path, and likely not a lively tourist destination, since most tourists would probably hike around Sylvan Lake and Custer State Park, the crown jewels of the Black Hills. But this lovely hike is worth the time to get there.
IMG_3448eIMG_3442eAnd as always in the Black Hills, if you can tear your gaze from the soaring beauty of the trees, spires, canyons, and blue, blue sky, there are other things to marvel at as well. Things like friendship, for one. What a gift God gave when He created people, plural. He meant for us to live in community and fellowship with one another, and hiking with my brothers and sisters in Christ is one of my greatest joys at this time of my life. And then there are the tiny, almost-trodden on things, like abandoned bird nests and rushes growing green along the creek. It is so easy to focus so intently on the big picture that a million priceless glimpses of joy are lost.

Hiking | Lover’s Leap

It has been a few years since I hiked Lover’s Leap, and on a free morning last week we managed to get out there for a beautiful quick hike in our beautiful autumn weather. I love short hikes with some good hill climbing, and Lover’s Leap fits the bill. It is an easy to moderate 4.4 mile loop, best hiked clockwise, with a steady uphill climb for the first mile and a half, and then a gentle downhill or level trail for the rest of the hike.  The trail name refers to legend of two Native American lovers who were fleeing from the United States Cavalry and jumped to their deaths from what we now know as Lover’s Leap. IMG_3265elovers leap trail mapThe trailhead is located near the Game Lodge in Custer State Park. After about a half mile, maybe less, the trail splits. We took the left hand trail and hiked it clockwise. The trail features diversity of landscape, with beautifully maintained ponderosa pine forest, sweeping views of the Hills glimpsed between the trees, colorful hardwoods along the creek in the lower elevations of the hike, and of course the glorious views from the top of Lover’s Leap. IMG_3272eIMG_3311eIMG_3309eIMG_3294eIMG_3292eIMG_3285eA good part of this area was also burned during the Legion Lake Fire, adding to the diversity of the sights. Stark black tree trunks give evidence to the ferocity of the fire in those areas. Although it may look ugly now, as the trees either naturally fall or are felled over the next years, and the grass and plant life returns, those areas will be transformed and beautiful. IMG_3270eA sign at the base of the short scramble to the top of Lover’s Leap reads:

Custer State Park is a place where one can still be an unworried and unregimented individual and wear any old clothes and sit on a log and get his sanity back again.lover leap trail signNotice the scratch markings in the bottom left corner of the sign before the word “sanity.” That used to read “his.” What occurs to me as I read this sign with the word “his” scratched out is that whoever it was that defaced this sign clearly hadn’t taken advantage of sitting on a log and getting his–sorry, her (probably, right?) sanity back.
IMG_3324eThis is the kind of hike I hate to finish. The trail was so peaceful and beautiful, the sunlight filtering through the trees was magical, and the sense of autumn was glorious. Definitely a day for stomping through the woods and getting one’s sanity back again. I guess that’s one of the things I love about hiking. Cares of the world tumble away and cease to matter, and worries cease to plague me, the craziness of our current culture and politics and worldview battles disappear for a time, and a sense of perspective returns in the vastness and beauty of God’s creation, in the rhythm of footfall and breath.


Hiking | Mount Baldy Misadventures

So if you want an actual hiking review on Mount Baldy, check out this article from earlier this year, when we actually made it to the top. This hike was a little different. It just is, when you’re driving up to the trailhead and there is ice on the trees and a miserable “winter mix” is actively falling. It became much more snow-like the higher in elevation I drove, and when I arrived at the trailhead, there was no mix about it. It was snow. Which is so much better than “winter mix” for hiking in, by the way. It was colder than I had expected, but both of us were very well prepared with rain resistant gear and plenty of warm layers.
IMG_20181013_140245073_HDRIMG_20181013_140329983_HDRbaldy mapOut we went, into a world of gentle snowfall. The snow creates a profound and expectant silence, as little sounds are muffled and you become more aware of the sound of your own footfalls or your sleeve brushing against brittle tree leaves. IMG_20181013_141955025_HDRIMG_20181013_141950427_HDRAnd it was beautiful. I mean, absolutely gorgeous. The snow was enchanting, and the little bit of autumn still clinging to the aspens and birches shone out from under the layer of snow. Fallen leaves were covered thickly with shimmering water droplets, not cold enough yet to freeze.
IMG_20181013_142105734_HDRIMG_20181013_150206772_HDRIMG_20181013_150755072_HDRWe lost the trail for a bit when we headed up the mountain, but Baldy is an easy hike as long as you keep looking up. If you can still go higher, you’re not there yet. We rambled and wandered, both pretty familiar with the area, picking our way through deadfall and patches of juniper and old burned trees and massive boulders, eventually emerging at the base of the boulder field which begins the true ascent up Mount Baldy. In the summer time, the ascent is a challenge but very doable. But not so on this hike. Icicles sparkling on the edges of higher boulders suggested some inclement conditions, and we cautiously worked our way higher, the thrill of a challenge before us.IMG_20181013_154907495_HDRIMG_20181013_151828309_HDRAnd it was a blast. Definitely an adrenaline rush, but we were extremely careful and moved slowly, making sure of good footing and good handholds. We finally arrived at a point where we knew we could probably make it up higher, but would definitely have a hard time getting back down. Both of us are first responders, and the prospect of getting ourselves into a situation and having to call people we know and the subsequent embarrassment is a good deterrent for stupidity. Probably a good thing.
44091789_107112940231804_4791317240261640192_nIMG_20181013_151852002_HDRIMG_20181013_153043989_HDRWe headed back down, glad to get off the boulders and back onto somewhat more stable footing. If you can call snow-covered pine needles on a slope stable footing. The scenery was getting prettier by the minute, and the trail was dramatically changed from when we had hiked up. Tangled places were now a tangle of white, and the trail mud was covered over. It was a winter wonderland. I could feel ice on my eyelashes, but the rest of me was toasty warm, except for where my pants were wet from sliding and crawling on wet rocks. Mount Baldy really is a great cold-weather hike, since it is strenuous enough you warm right up!
IMG_20181013_164753487_HDRIMG_20181013_162647483_HDRIMG_20181013_163242177_HDRWhat we didn’t realize as we hiked back down is that while we were hiking, a surprise winter weather advisory was issued and warnings were going out all over the place. There we were up in the snow and ice, happy as larks, somehow not really thinking of the fact that the snow actually was accumulating a little and falling a little harder. But it just wasn’t very much. Our mistake. (In our defense, everyone in the area was surprised.) Here’s a view from the parking lot on our return, where Baldy should have been easily visible somewhere behind those trees and falling snow!
IMG_20181013_165303222_HDRAnd our day wasn’t over. When we arrived back at our vehicles and I went to start my (actually, my sister’s) truck, there wasn’t even a click. The engine was dead. Axel had jumper cables so we successfully jumped the truck. Hooray! But our trouble was only just starting. See, the entire time we were hiking, the snow wasn’t just laying down snow. It was laying down a treacherous layer of ice. After managing to get out of the parking lot with a lot of slipping and sliding and several attempts due to rear wheel drive, I fishtailed 100 yards down the desolate highway, looking in the rear view mirror just in time to miss seeing Axel’s car slide right off the highway into a ditch. With the amount of fishtailing I was doing at only 5-10 miles per hour and the road a steady incline for the next mile or two, I knew there was no way the truck was making it out (I really dislike 2-wheel-drive vehicles), and Axel’s car was stuck hard. Fortunately, a nice DOT guy drove past and we managed to hitchhike with him down to the fire station in Keystone. (That makes that the second time I’ve shown up at the Keystone fire station because of a vehicle-related issue. The last time was because I locked my keys and my phone in my truck at the gas station on the other side of town on my way to work. So I ran across town, borrowed a truck and went home for spare keys.) The rest of the saga doesn’t bear repeating, but let’s just say we had a jolly night driving back and forth on worsening roads with Sarah and her friend Luke (who had to rescue us again, the first time because I locked my keys in Axel’s car on the other end of French Creek Natural Area. There’s a scary pattern in all this.) to get Axel’s car towed out, and towed another person on the way home at the foot of Hayward Hill, which is something of a local legend and landmark. We topped off the night with hot chocolate and popcorn back at my Grandma’s house.
IMG_20181013_170631119Yet another in the series of Hiking Misadventures.