Black Hills February 2019


Forever Wandering
Apr 8, 2015
Did a short 3-day trip last week to get away from the flatlands a little bit. Went up to the Black Hills again. The weather was very unsettled during this trip. I actually came home a day early because of the poor weather. It was still a decent little getaway, even if I really didn't get to do much.

Day 1 I started driving about 7AM local time to get up to the Hills early enough to sneak in a short hike. This day was shockingly warm-60F when I arrived in Rapid City. Decided to do a short out-and-back hike on the Horsethief Lake trail. Ends up being a short 5.5 miles (I turned around at the junction with Grizzly Bear Creek trail). Super nice weather for the hike, although the wind was ripping pretty good. The trail is down in the timber and stays mostly in valleys/lower country, so it was pretty well protected from the wind.

Much of the trail was well packed from recent snowshoers, where there was snow. Most of the trail was snowy to some extent, not much of it was very deep though. Wish I had remembered my microspikes-the trail was much more icy than snowy, and with the heat the melting ice was very slick.




The next day I had hoped to make a go at Black Elk Peak. However, the weather turned about as bad as it possibly could have--freezing rain. Low clouds combined with the freezing rain killed any chance of Black Elk. In fact, conditions were pretty miserable for hiking anywhere. To get out of the ice/snow as much as possible, I headed to lower elevations. Had been wanting to snoop around Wind Cave National Park anyway, so took the opportunity to head there.

It was a Sunday, and I was shocked to find the visitor's center for the cave actually open and staffed. Actually kind of thought maybe just a cleaning crew or something was there. I stuck my head in the door a bit sheepishly and looked around and saw a couple rangers at the desk and exclaimed "Woah, there's people here!" One of them quipped back "Well, if rangers count as people." I assured them that they did, and chatted a bit. They said they were actually doing tours, so I kept that in mind, and drove around a bit more to continue waiting out the weather. Actually hiked about a mile and decided why not do a cave tour when it's not super crowded. I'd done a tour of this cave before, probably 15+ years ago, but in peak tourist season when groups can be up to about 40 people. The tour ended up comprising of myself, the guide, and one other guy (Pete). Had a pretty good time, it was really fun to be in the cave without shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. Had time to do lots of chatting about the cave and cave exploration, as well as many other subjects. I took my Sony a6300 in and snapped a bunch of pictures (no flash, because I don't do well with it and on camera flash is the wrongest lighting for this situation) not expecting any to turn out to be worth anything. Surprisingly, a lot of them did end up pretty nice after editing, so just going to throw several up. There's next to nothing in them for scale, so they're still not the best, but they do show a good selection of the cave formations.


One of only three pictures I took with a person in it. Not a particularly good or exciting pic, but it gives some scale. There aren't many large caverns in Wind Cave.

Wind Cave is particularly know for its "boxwork." There's more of it in this cave than anywhere else.




After the cave tour, the rain was mostly stopped, so I went for a hike. Started on the Centennial Trail and continued on to the Highland Creek Trail.

The hike begins along a truly beautiful small creek. This is actually where I did the short hike before going into the cave. The creek was so nice I had to go back and do more hiking along it. The weather still wasn't great, but wasn't absolutely terrible. This hike would have been MUCH better with microspikes--almost all of the trail along the creek was ice.


Eventually the trail climbs out of the creek valley and onto rolling uplands. The edges of treelines were frosty from the low fog/clouds. At this point, ice pellets were falling quite a bit, and the sky was getting DARK. Had to remind myself several times that it was 2-something in the afternoon, I really wasn't going to have to dig my headlamp out.




At this point, it was so cold in the wind that the drinking hose for my hydration bladder froze up completely. I had been drinking frequently to keep it from freezing up to this point with reasonable success, but getting out of the timber into the wind had me losing the battle. Decided to turn around at this point, not wanting to have to stop and dig the bladder out and try to squeeze water from it.

Turned out to be a good decision. As I was dropping back into the creek valley, it began thundering and snow pellets/graupel began raining down heavily. It was quite a hike back to the pickup. Did not take any pics with my good camera, may add a couple from my cell phone later on. The nice part of the hike back was the rapidly cooling weather plus the snow froze up most of the water/slush that was on the trail, which made the hiking easier on the way back.

The next day it was snowing and 3 degrees when I woke up. Didn't really want to do any more touristy things, and did not feel up to hiking in those quite depressing conditions. So, instead of just driving aimlessly around the hills, I drove home a day early. Kind of a lame end of the trip, but it gave me an extra day before going back to work to get some things done around home.
Wow! It even looks cold in the photos without snow! Sorry your trip got cut short.
I love how you made the best of it. Seems like you just kinda wandered to cool things and pretty sights. :)
Thanks for sharing!
Seems like you just kinda wandered to cool things and pretty sights. :)

That pretty well describes all my solo trips.
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