Monday, August 1, 2011

Harney Peak Summit

Dakotas Day 4 - Monday August 1, 2011 (Part 2)

9:01am - We climb the last few sets of man made steps and iron stairs, and come out on top of Harney Peak. It is a beautiful day, a nice accomplishment, and the view is breathtaking. I am grateful to be up here on such a nice day with perfect weather to enjoy the spectacular view, remembering all too well Dave's tales of summiting Mount Marcy in NY in awful weather with fog cutting the view down to nothing. The exact opposite is true here and I feel like I can see halfway to forever. The view is of pine forest and weathered granite hills as far as the eye can see. Sights like this are why I like to hike, and what make those hard-work climbs worth it.

There is a thing called Highpointing, which is to climb to the top of the highest point in each state. I know that Dave and the others have talked about checking some of these off their lists (notably Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks of NY and Clingman's Dome off the Appalachian Trail in TN), but to my knowledge at this point, this was my first one. A little research once I got home would prove this out; Harney Peak SD is the 14th highest state highpoint, and my first.

Enjoying the thrill of being in such a beautiful place, we have a group picture taken by a nice family, and then return the favor for them. We then explore the stone fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939. It is no longer is service, and is rundown in some places, but is a very picturesque building in an amazing location.

There is also an "earthcache" type of geocache up here. An earthcache is a type of cache that is generally geology based, and can be of varying levels of complexity, ranging from answering a few questions about what you see at specific locations to things that seem like they should be term papers for college geology courses. This is a relatively easy one, and I wander around a bit to take some notes and fulfill the requirements. As I am doing so, I am startled to see a chipmunk on the stone steps right next to me. I would have thought of these as woodland creatures from back home, but I have always liked chipmunks, and take this as a good omen.

There is also good cell reception up on top of the mountain, which is somewhat of a rarity around here, so I do the sacrilegious thing and make a call and send some text messages. Oh well, as I have said, this doesn't bother me at all, regardless of what others might think.

9:20am - Lunch time. With the hard work we have done this morning, everybody is ready for a meal, no matter what the time of day. Call it lunch, call it second breakfast, the only thing that was important was that it was one of the tastiest sandwiches and granola bars I have ever had. Location location location. Eating our lunch out on the rocks behind the tower did bring with it something else...chipmunks in droves. It seems that the cute little one I saw back on the stairs was a scout for an invading army. As soon as we sat down to eat, chipmunks came at us from every direction, boldly darting toward our backpacks, sneaking up behind us, and doing everything they could do to get near our food. At any given time there were at least half a dozen in sight. It was kind of funny until it became annoying.

9:45am - As great as the view is, we have a lot to do yet today, and are anxious to continue on with our hike. I stop to take in the views one last time before heading back down the mountain. I am sorry to have to go, as I feel like I could spend the rest of the day up here. Or the rest of the week for that matter. Yes, I am sappy and sentimental.

10:02am - We are down off the peak, and have backtracked to the point where the Harney Peak Trail splits either southwest back along the Sylvan Lake Trail (the way we came), or south along the Norbeck Trail to its junction with the Little Devils Tower Trail. We have all decided that we are feeling good and rather than backtrack our ascent route, we should take the Little Devils Tower trail. So we shoulder our packs and head south.

Next ... Little Devils Tower

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