Monday, August 1, 2011

Up to Harney Peak

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

5:25am - Up early again. I am not a morning person but it is very easy to get up at dawn when you are camping. It feels natural to go with the earth's cycle of get up with the sun, and go to bed not too long after the sun goes down. The day today revolves around our Harney Peak hike, which I expect to be one of the highlights of the entire trip. Given the exhausting Wind Cave hike yesterday in the heat of the day, and the nearly as hot Scotts Bluff hike also in the heat of the day, we have promised ourselves that this hike (a much more substantial one) will begin early to make the most of the shade and lower temperatures. I will also be carrying more water than normal, and something for an early lunch on the summit.

The idea of the tallest peak east of the Rockies makes me a little nervous because of the climbing we will have to do. As I have said before, I am not a great climber, and do not necessarily enjoy it all that much sometimes. The views are always worth it, but it is hard work for me. I haven't felt any soreness in my knee thus far on the trip, but if it is going to happen, this is the kind of hike that will do it.

Breakfast of granola bars and a quick wash-up and we are on the road to the trail head, which is the same parking lot as for the swimming area at Sylvan Lake. At this time of the morning there are only a couple of other vehicles; probably hikers like us getting an early start.

7:16am - A brief stop at the trail head sign for a picture and we are on our way. The hike begins through stands of Ponderosa pine and grasses, and is a consistently uphill, but not excessively so. Temperatures are in the 70's, it is slightly overcast, and it is a delightful day to be on the trail. Leo as usual is in the lead setting a moderate pace. The photographer is as usual bringing up the rear and scrambling to keep up after stopping for distractions and pictures. I am feeling my day pack a little as it is loaded with as much fluid as I can easily carry, although it is certainly nothing like carrying an actual backpack. My drink supply includes a 32oz Nalgene bottle of Gatorade, an off the shelf 20oz bottle of Gatorade, and a 50oz water bladder in the pack. The more I drink, the lighter the pack gets.

7:33am - Junction of the Sylvan Lake Trail and the Lost Cabin Trail. Leo had wanted to do the entire Lost Cabin loop around the peak, but the general consensus was that this was probably biting off more than we could chew. In retrospect, that may or may not have been true, but probably would have been.

7:40am - We are climbing more now, and are skirting a ridge line to our right. The views opening up on our left are amazing. Pine forests and granite hills and outcroppings as far as the eye can see.

8:02am - We seem to be into the heart of hills in this area now as vista after vista of hills unfold before us. The hike is a workout to be sure, but it feels great at this point. The legs are springy, the lungs are cleared out, and I feel like I could go a long way today.

8:10am - We have crossed into the Black Elk Wilderness area and come to the junction of the Sylvan Lake Trail and a horse loop cutoff trail. There are stretches now where we are gaining noticeable elevation.

8:36am - Junction with the Little Devils Tower and Norbeck trails. This means we are getting close to the turnoff for the climb to the Peak.

8:52am - We turn off onto the side trail for the final climb to the Peak. I am a little tired at this point, but I still feel good and my legs are holding up just fine. So many nice pictures to take. Shortly after turning off onto this spur, we stop with a small group of others at a spectacular overlook. I note with some amusement that a couple of the women in the group are having a smoke while they rest. Not all that uncommon, but always amusing to me.

A short climb up some steps built into the mountainside and we will be there...

Next... The Summit

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