Keeping Cool

Nothing like a hike to the local swimming hole on a hot day! It is a little too well known now, but it is still fun. And with all the rain we’ve had, there is a lot of water gushing over the falls right now! Lots of wildflowers, very few ticks, LOTS of poison ivy. And by the time we got down to Big Falls, the canyon was in the shade, so for those of us not inclined to swim, we could still cool off. Hah. It was fun watching/heckling Anna as she tried to get up the nerve to cliff jump, and jump she did! Katie, Sarah, and Jess were adventurous enough to swim against the current and get right up next to Big Falls. That’s a lot of water!
IMG_8469eIMG_8473eIMG_8492eIMG_8509eIMG_8531eIMG_8521eIMG_8466eOh, the fun we have in the summertime.


Footsore and Fancy Free

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”

~Robert Louis Stevenson

Two parts of an adventure are the best. The beginning, when I’m fresh and excited. And the end, when I’m exhausted and delighted. There’s all the good stuff in the middle, too, of course. But the anticipation and reflection are the really, really good stuff.IMG_8553eThere’s almost nothing I love better than setting out on an old two-track or faded foot path, or leaving the trail altogether and just wandering. I love the mystery of what lies around that next bend, or over that next hill, or through that stand of trees. So much of our life is mechanically predictable, or we attempt to make it that way. Society tells us to make it that way. We try to set our routine, to know what we’re doing and where we’re going. We like being in control, being efficient, being safe. We like predictable. And that’s good for the functioning of society, and good for making the most efficient use of one’s time. But sometimes it drives me absolutely crazy. Because sometimes I just want to not know what will happen.

Because there is that part of the heart that longs for adventure, newness, and a little bit of risk. There is that hunger for not knowing, for the thrill of the unknown delight. When a person sets out on an adventure, as much as we might think we know how it will go and what will happen, we don’t know. We are taking a risk, however small, in that beyond that next bend, what is there is utterly unknown to us.

Ah, yes. Those first steps of an adventure are glorious. IMG_8716eAnd then there’s the end of the trail. All the beauty and exhilaration still rings in my mind. I’m sweat-soaked, tired, and footsore. I’ve seen what was around that corner, I’ve looked over that hilltop, I’ve gazed into the valley, stared hard at wildflowers, and watched the sunlight filter through the trees. I’ve felt the heat, breathed deep of the clean air, and basked in the cool damp under the trees. I’ve tasted of the goodness of Creation.   IMG_8630eI’ve listened to the quiet, which is the hush and song of nothing…and everything. The untouched landscape is matchless in beauty. And sometimes it is those tiny delights that are the best: the reflection of the sunlit trees in a puddle, or a glowing flower, or the lights and shadows in that certain place where the hills meet just so, or where the trail bends out of sight. IMG_8583eI’m forever thankful to live in a place where God’s beauty and glory and creative might are so evident, and so easily evident. I don’t have to hunt for them. His marvels aren’t covered over with concrete, or constantly interrupted by power lines and apartments and shopping centers. All I have to do is to look, to gaze with eyes desiring to see.  When I see so much beauty and my heart is stirred, it is as if Jesus is saying softly, “Remember me, I’m here.” May my heart never harden to His attributes seen so clearly in His Creation. May they never become commonplace, but always mysterious and wonderful.IMG_8693eThe new trail, the new peak, or something as small as that new wildflower….or the familiar trail, familiar peak, or familiar wildflower….those are delights that speak to my soul. I want to feel deeply, to ache with the beauty of God’s Creation. I want to sweat, to be sore and tired and renewed.

In short, there’s nothing quite like being footsore and fancy free.







Hiking | Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain is the third highest point in the Black Hills, at an elevation of 7166 feet, boasting a manned fire lookout tower and lovely views of the Hills. Hiking distance is roughly 5 miles round trip – I think we clocked in just a little under 5 miles, and about 2 1/2 hours: an hour and a half up, and an hour back down. And yes, it is up the entire way, with very little on the level, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, be forewarned. That said, until the last half mile or mile, it is mostly a pretty easy grade, just enough to make a relatively short hike a good workout.
IMG_8555eIMG_8562eThe trail winds through pine and birch forest, through a few gorgeous open meadows, and exposed hillsides allowed for wonderful views of the northern Hills. Everything was lushly adorned with summer flowers. Wood lilies, wild roses, lupine, blanket flower, harebells, and showy deathcamas were only a few of the jewels to be found on the mountain. Definitely a great area for wildflower hunting and identification.IMG_8601eIMG_8607eIMG_8590eAll the moisture we’ve had made for some muddy hiking, and a little ephemeral spring turned part of the trail into a trickling creek. Absolutely beautiful.IMG_8558eThe forest was dense and heavily shaded but without the sickly feeling of certain other areas in the Hills – it felt vibrant and alive, like a forest out of Narnia or Middle Earth. The rich understory grew greenly beneath the heavy canopy. The moisture in the air felt good, and I reveled in the satisfying feeling of sweat trickling from my forehead. We certainly worked up a sweat on this hike. And then the views from the top! I had hoped there’d be a ranger on duty so we could go up into the tower, but we didn’t get to the top until about 7pm, and there is only someone there to meet visitors until 4pm. I will make sure to consider that next time we hike to the top. Either way, though, the views were breathtaking. IMG_8641eIMG_8663The slant of the light as we neared and came into golden hour made for some wonderful wildflower and landscape photographs. I’ve officially changed my stance on when during the day the hiking should begin. I used to think it was a good idea to get an early start to enjoy some cool weather while hiking. I’ve recanted on that position. Now, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best plan for a hike is starting in the afternoon during the heat of the day and finishing as the sun goes down. Not only are the temperatures cooling, but the light is absolutely delicious, and gets better as the day wears on, rather than the other way around. Starting early, unless you start really early, you may never have particularly good light, and it will only get worse as the day wears on. Golden hour is magical. IMG_8620eBear Mountain is officially on my list of favorite hikes, and given the number of aspen trees, it would be glorious in the fall! I’m already looking forward to going back!


Hiking | Mount Baldy

Mount Baldy is behind Mount Rushmore. Old Baldy is near Spearfish. However, some maps have Mount Baldy labeled as Old Baldy. And the register box at the top of Mount Baldy says “Old Baldy.” Someone got their wires crossed, somewhere along the line. Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a hike, and to Mount Baldy we went. We had a group of thirteen, I think, trekking cheerily through the springing afternoon. The trails and sights in the Mount Rushmore area are truly stunning. The granite spires pierce from the ground towards the sky. Large boulders perch precariously on top of larger boulders, which is essentially what Mount Baldy is. A very, very large boulder pile.IMG_5022eIMG_5029eMoss and kinnikinnick provided lush ground cover, and stands of stately aspen caught the sunlight in their white branches. They, too, will be green soon. Cairns were stacked carefully at intervals along the less-visible part of the trail. They were few enough that not seeing them didn’t mean we weren’t on the right trail, but seeing them suggested that we were. IMG_4922eIMG_4967eIMG_5016eIMG_5007eIMG_4972eIMG_4971eI’m not going to attempt to provide any sense of direction for this hike, or what trails to take, other than to say that the trailhead is at the Wrinkled Rock climbing area, the segment of the trail we did was only about 3.5 or 4 miles round trip, and the right direction is up. If you can go higher, you’re not there yet. It is an exhilarating chore to get to the top. A fair amount of elevation gain is packed into a relatively short hike. The last 20 or so minutes to the top is nothing short of a rough scramble, finding foot and hand holds on steep rock faces, squirming up narrow and deep crevasses. I’ve never been much for scrambling. Perhaps I’ve taken too many falls on level ground, and had one too many close calls on the ladder up to our loft bedroom. Clumsiness creates some paranoia. But I have to say, it was great fun. And the views from the top were unbelievably beautiful.
IMG_4956eIMG_4953eIMG_4942eWe didn’t linger at the top, since a freezing gale was blowing up there and we’d left the warmth a few levels down. We admired the views, signed the register, snapped some pictures, and scrambled and slid back down the way we had come. The sun was just getting low when we got back to the trailhead. A great afternoon hike. The perfect hike to kick off the spring hiking season!

Gate to Gate

The Needles Highway, one of the famous scenic routes in the Black Hills, takes on a new character in its winter isolation. The gates close late in the fall, not to open again until spring, but a handful of hikers, skiers, and snowshoers take to the highway to enjoy the beauty of the spires and sprawling landscape. Sarah and I decided to add ourselves to that number and hike the Needles Highway, gate to gate. IMG_3378eWe set off after church. Our mom dropped us off at Sylvan Lake, and we would then hike to our truck, which our loving family left for us at the other end of the highway on their way home.IMG_3381eWe were set. We had plenty of water, food, an extra layer, and a whole bunch of enthusiasm. I was only too excited to get to try out my brand new Osprey Sirrus 24 backpack, which I had bought with Christmas money from my Uncle Jim. An 8 mile hike in springlike weather would be heavenly. And it sure was, to start with. The blue sky was overwhelming, the sunlight was almost too warm and the trail was a gradual uphill climb to the Needles Eye lookout and tunnel. Stunning. Pristine. We chatted and laughed and walked quickly, making pretty good time, stopping occasionally for pictures and enjoying the views.IMG_3421eIMG_3433eThen we got past the Needles Eye. For about another mile, things went swimmingly. But we had made a handful of miscalculations and we were starting to realize it.IMG_3448eFirst (Call us ignorant. Or naive. Either works.), since we hadn’t had any snow in two weeks, we made the mistake of assuming that there wouldn’t be “that much” snow on the highway. I mean, look at this pictures of the spires! It sure doesn’t look like there’d be “that much.” Well, there was. However much we imagined “that much” to be, there was that, and more.  Starting about a mile past the Needles Eye, the real snow began. At times, we hiked in just a few inches, but other times we stumbled into almost knee-high drifts that continued on for way too long. Eight miles had seemed easy. But 8 miles in heavy and sometimes deep snow? Talk about a workout. By mile 2 or so, our tracks were the only tracks on the highway (all the smart people had turned around), except for a very faint, lonely set of ski tracks. Another fresher set of ski tracks showed up around mile 5.5 and we accompanied those the rest of the way out.
IMG_3454eSecond, we had assumed a hiking time based on little snow. Let’s just say it is a good thing we headed out on the trail when we did, and didn’t dawdle at church any longer.

Third, we assumed weather based on Custer’s weather. But the problem is, when your hike takes you over a mountain range to the other side of said mountains, even modest mountains like the Black Hills, even a relatively short hike, weather patterns change. Not because the weather actually changed, but because you leave one hemisphere and enter another hemisphere. At about mile 5.5, we left all the beautiful sun and blue sky behind us on the other side of the Hills and entered into a damp, dark, cheerless fog bank. It was great fun.

By mile 6, our boots had soaked through, the sun was gone behind the hills, the fog was eerily clinging to the trees, our protein bars were frozen, my hip was aching, we were constantly in snow up over the top of our hiking boots, and our hiking time was suffering. Sunset and our exit time were starting to overlap in our minds to an uncomfortable degree. We had lights, but still…Then we started to see very large mountain lion tracks. Our hiking time magically improved. Amazing. Although I’m by no means a mountain lion expert, I’ve seen mountain lion tracks on a number of occasions, and these absolutely dwarfed the others I’ve seen. The spread of that cat’s toes was impressive. Since we were getting a little jumpy in the fog and the failing sunlight, we failed to get a comparison shot, with our hand or something next to the paw print for reference. So for all you know, our brains blew up the size of the print in our minds and what you’re looking at is really a little old bobcat print, or even a wandering house cat. Meow.  IMG_3456eIn summary – A lot of things could have gone wrong in those 8 miles, but they didn’t. In spite of some lack of planning, the hike was fantastic, the views were beautiful, and the memory is a fun one. The Sirrus backpack was fantastic – I never even felt it on my shoulders. Snowshoes would have been nice. Winterized hiking boots would have been nice as well. Wool socks are amazing. My socks were damp probably by mile 2.5 (to the point of leaving wet prints on the occasional patches of dry asphalt when I stopped to shake snow out of my boots), but my feet felt dry until about mile 5 or 6. But even then my feet never actually felt cold. Sloshy, yes. Cold, no. The sight of our truck at the end of the highway was a welcome sight, I have to say.IMG_3458eWhat a hike. A great start to the hiking season!



Mercury Zero

Nothing like a cold snap to inspire appreciation of warmer temperatures. But I still love the cold. I love the clearness of the air, the clouds of steam from mouth of man and beast, the ringing silences and the frosty pictures on the windowpanes. I love the chill, and even the burn of cold on face and fingers and toes. The searing cold in the lungs. And then I love shivering into our warm cabin and feeling the life coming back to cold self.  After what felt like a very long fall and an unseasonably warm December, we are paying for it. And I love it. It snowed gently all day yesterday, making for a lovely, cozy white Christmas, and today the sun came out in the bluest of winter skies. But even the hours of sunlight couldn’t warm the air, and the cold almost seemed to snap and crackle like shattering icicles. The thermometer read about 1 degree Fahrenheit all day long, and plunged into negative temps as the sun disappeared. Our cabin’s cove heating is struggling to keep up with the chill and the indoor temperature has hovered around 60 degrees today, in spite of being turned up much warmer than that. We have a wood burning stove, but it probably hasn’t been used in a decade – Sarah and I are ready to have the chimney inspected so we can supplement (or replace) the cove heating! In the meantime, we use lots of layers, blankets, and hot tea. We had the brilliant idea today to do a some Jeeping and buzz over to Little Falls for a short hike. Because that is the normal thing to do when it is 1 glorious Fahrenheit degree outside. The Jeep tried communicating its unwillingness due to the cold, but Sarah coaxed it along, and we made a mad dash to Little Falls, took a look, and immediately turned around. The frozen swimming hole and frozen creek looked as frozen as we felt, but the icy chuckling of the water beneath the frozen falls was friendly sounding. I don’t think we’d ever hiked to and from Little Falls quite that quickly, our feet and fingers and faces cold and aching within a couple of minutes of hiking! But here in the Hills, we often enjoy dry cold, so even the frigid temps aren’t as bitter as if we had more humidity. It was a lovely, brisk (i.e. frigid) hike, and we even got a few good photos! Tonight, the temps have sunk even lower, and all the critters will be inside for the night. The cats were all in last night, but even the dogs will be inside tonight. We’ll batten down the hatches, boil some water for tea, and snuggle under blankets and watch a movie. Not a bad way to end a cold winter day.