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Ascent of Black Elk Peak on 1996-05-24

Climber: Scott Surgent

Date:Friday, May 24, 1996
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Black Elk Peak
    Location:USA-South Dakota
    Elevation:7231 ft / 2204 m

Ascent Trip Report

In May 1996, I flew into Colorado Springs intending to visit the highpoints of the three states that border eastern Colorado. I drove into Nebraska and was successful in visiting its highest point, Panorama Point, but the weather was so lousy and frightful that I had no desire to continue south, where all the tornado warnings were. On the spot, I bailed and drove north to Hot Springs, South Dakota, to try my luck with Harney Peak.

Early the next morning, I drove to the trailhead parking lot, arriving early. The day was cool and foggy, and I was the first car in the lot, other than a lone work truck. However, there was no rain. I started hiking soon after arriving. The trail is easy to follow, well constructed and pitched at a lenient grade, so I made excellent time and arrived to the summit in slightly over an hour.

There was a guy there doing some welding repair. He was the guy from the work truck I had seen, presumably. He had to lug his welding gear up there, which wasn't easy. We chatted and he snapped a photograph of me. I had no views as a result of the dense fog. After a small break, I started my hike down, coming back to my car in about an hour. Including breaks, the hike had taken three hours, covering six miles.

Since I was in the area, I wanted to visit other attractions. However, the fog shrouded everything. I drove to the Mount Rushmore site, and they let me in for free, which was awful kind of them. However, the joke was on me as I couldn't see the sculpted images through the fog.

I then began my drive south, aiming to be somewhere near Kansas by sundown. I thought I would be clever and followed a series of lesser highways and local roads, but the highway I was following lost its pavement, and I didn't want to backtrack, so I took a chance and followed the dirt continuation. I traveled east through Badlands National Park, hoping that my tiny rental car with 3-inch wide tires wouldn't slide off the slick mud into a culvert. It was truly white-knuckle driving for the 20 miles it took me to reach pavement, now on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

I proceeded south, carefully negotiating the torn-up roads on the Rez, and stopping briefly at the Custer Massacre Site. The foggy weather and lack of any other humans was disconcerting. I passed the time listening to the main radio station on the Rez. Since few people there have phones, they use the radio station to send out messages to other people, such as "Jim on Muddy Road, please go see your sister." You could hear the dee-jay's chair squeaking as he leaned back, and doors in the background slamming shut.

Back in Nebraska, I sped south through the Sand Hills. I literally did. I had a long straight downhill and for the only time in my life, I got the little thing in the speedometer to go past 100 miles per hour. I enjoyed the views and noted I'd like to revisit this area in the future (I did, in 2004). By that night, I was safely in a hotel room in Burlington, Colorado, situated on the Kansas state line. The weather was still rotten. The story picks up the next day as I visited Mount Sunflower, the state highpoint of Kansas.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:989 ft / 301 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Trailhead:6242 ft / 1902 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail



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