As our vacation comes the an end, I found myself contemplating a few things about the Black Hills, and why we love them so much. Of course, Harney Peak (now renamed Black Elk Peak, but always Harney Peak in my mind) is our favorite hike, and one we have hiked 16 times now. As we were driving to Keystone to catch the 1880 Train, which is our last day of vacation tour every year, I can get a glimpse of Harney Peak, and it occurred to me that I might be much the same as Doctor Valentine Trant O’Connell McGillycuddy, the white man whose ashes are entombed at the top of the peak at the fire tower there. McGillycuddy was the first white man ever to climb Harney Peak. And when he was an Indian Agent, he was respected and even called “Tasunka Witko Kola” (Crazy Horse’s friend), because he was of course, Crazy Horse’s friend, but was also loved and respected by all of the Lakota Sioux tribe. As a doctor, he treated Crazy Horse’s wife, which brought about their lifelong friendship. He also treated many other Lakota Sioux warriors when they were wounded in a wrongful attack by the army. To the Lakota Sioux, even his old enemy, Red Cloud, McGillycuddy was known as “Wasicu Wakan,” which literally means Holy White Man. It was probably the greatest sign of respect he could have received. Now I’m not saying that I could even begin to compare to McGillycuddy in all the things he did, but in one way, we are the same. We both love the Black Hills, and especially Harney Peak. After McGillycuddy passing, and as a show of respect, and to commemorate his love of the Black Hills and Harney Peak, his ashes were entombed in that amazing place.
Of course, for us there are many special places in the Black Hills. We love the trails. Among our favorites are, of course, Harney Peak, Sunday Gulch, Horsethief Lake, Cathedral Spires, the Flume Trail, the Mickelson, the Centennial, and French Creek trails. These trails take us to beautiful areas of the Hills that you just can’t see from the road. They are inside places like the Black Elk Wilderness areas. These are remote places where you have to sign in, just in cast you don’t come back out. It gives them a place to start looking for you. In reality, it would be hard to get lost, provided you stay on the trail. The trails are well marked and easy to spot. It’s just not easy to get lost. Some of the trails are really hard, however, and sometimes it just depends on the shape you’re in. A trail that was really hard one year can be a lot more tolerable the next year. The Black Hills are a challenge, at least for the tourist who gets away from the touristy things, and looks for the remote beauty of the Black Hills.
After a spring filled with pneumonia for my husband, Bob and bronchitis for me, our annual hiking trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota was in question. Not the trip itself really, but the normal amount of hiking that we do, and the trails we normally take. We had determined that our favorite trail, up to Harney Peak was simply out of the question, and our early hikes were the Willow Creek trail, and two days on the Mickelson trail, both considered easy trails. We did exceptionally well, and so we decided that today would be a day for a moderate trail. We used the AllTrails app to make our decision, and settled on the Sunday Gulch trail, which takes off from Sylvan Lake.
When we got to the trailhead, the sign said that it was a strenuous trail that was four miles long and was expected to take two to three hours to complete. The trail’s rating made us hesitate, but we decided that if it got too rough, we would turn around and head back. We began the trail with a down hill hike across the rocks, with handrails to keep you from slipping. Yes…it was that difficult. My instincts said, “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” But, insanity won out, and we pressed on. The trail was beautiful, and the air was cool down in the gulch, despite the 90° temperatures up above. We had started the hike early enough, and expected to be done by 11:30am. As we continued down, using several handrails to cross the difficult rocks, I just kept hoping that we didn’t have to go back up those rocks.
After what we now know to be the last of the handrails, we came across the first people we would see. The were a young couple who told us the were beginning hikers. We asked if they had hiked this trail before. They had not, but they told us that the trail ahead was a gradual uphill hike…mostly anyway…with no handrails. My mind felt instant relief. It was short lived. Yes, the hike was a gradual uphill…some of the way, and no, there were no handrails. That doesn’t mean that the hike was easy. Granted we were not in the same shape we had been in years past, but I had hoped that we were in better shape than it seemed we were. The 11:30am mark came and went, with us being apparently no closer to the end of the trail. We were close to the road at times, but there was no guarantee that it would be an easier hike. As we climbed I thought about two things. First, I had probably chosen a trail that was too hard for us. Second, that we were actually more that three quarters of the way through that trail, and while we were tired, we were making it. We were making it!! When we finally reached the end of the trail at 12:30pm, we felt a sense of pride in our accomplishment. We had broken through a barrier, and we made it back. It was the most strenuous, moderate trail we have ever hiked, but we did it, it was beautiful…and that’s what it’s all about.
In my many hikes to the Harney Peak lookout, I have noticed many times the marker there for Dr Valentine McGillycuddy. I suppose that the main reason it has stuck in my head is because of my grandfather, George Byer, who used to call our house and ask for Mrs McGillycuddy. We always knew it was Grandpa, but we went along with the joke anyway. Of course, Grandpa’s Mrs McGillycuddy was fictional, while Valentine McGillycuddy was a real person. I did some research a few years ago, and found out that Valentine McGillycuddy was the first white man to climb all the way to the top of Harney Peak. Many have followed in his footsteps, myself and my husband included. Harney Peak, so named in the late 1850s by Lieutenant Gouverneur K. Warren in honor of General William S. Harney, who was commander of the military in the Black Hills area. The Lakota Sioux Indians called it Hinhan Kaga, which means “Making of Owls” in English. I think I like that name.
Dr McGillycuddy first came to the Black Hills with the Jenny-Newton Party. His mission was to survey and map the Black Hills, and to confirm that gold had been discovered there. It was during this excursion that he climbed Harney Peak. There had been other white men to climb the mountain, including General George Custer, but they all stopped just short of the peak, because it was to difficult to make it…something I think I can relate to. McGillycuddy angled a felled tree into a crevice in the granite, and made his way to the very top. I can totally feel his elation and sense of accomplishment, since I have felt the same way myself. My guess is that it would not be the last trip he made to the top either. That mountain has a way of calling you back for a second and even third or more visits.
McGillycuddy became a friend to Crazy Horse, and in fact was with him when he died after being stabbed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska in 1877. After that time, the Lakota Sioux named McGillycuddy Tasunka Witko Kola, which means “Crazy Horse’s Friend” in English. Other Native Americans named McGillycuddy Wasicu Wakan, which means “Holy White Man” in English. Dr Valentine McGillycuddy did lead a very amazing life. His first wife died, and he moved to San Francisco to continue his medical practice. There he married Julia Blanchard. After he passed away in 1939, Julia wrote a book about his life called “McGillycuddy, Agent” which was how he signed his name during his favorite role in life. He was a friend to the Indians, and did his best to educate them by building a school for the children. He was a calming influence on the relationship between the Indians and the White Man. It is quite fitting then that his ashes be entombed on the mountain that he loved. It gives a totally different feeling to the little plaque that is there…if one researches it.
Two years ago, my husband, Bob and I intended to take our favorite hike…Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. That hike didn’t go so well, or at least we did not succeed in completing the full hike. The Lookout Tower eluded us in that, we reached it’s base, but could not go on to the top. The reasons were varied, but I felt like the main reason was that I was not in good enough shape for this tough trail. Bob thought otherwise, and looking back, I have to think that, at least in part, he was right. Bob thought that the heat of the day, combined with the lack of trees near the top since the pine beetle infestation, sapped our energy making it almost impossible to finish the hike. We had plenty of water, and food too, just no more energy…and we still had the 3.4 mile hike back staring us in the face.
After that hike, I wondered if I would be able to get myself back in shape for the next attempt. It was a low point in my hiking career. Six months ago, I made the decision that it was time to get back in shape, and to go after the Giant that had been looming over me for a year and a half. I started walking again and eating right, and before long I was doggedly walking 30,000 steps every day. Then shin splints hit me like a bomb. I was determined to continue walking so my training wouldn’t suffer, but after three weeks, I knew that I was going to have to do something different. Nevertheless, I tried to keep going, until my granddaughter, Shai Royce made me promise to take the next week off. Thankfully a week was all it took, and I was back to walking 25000 steps a day in a couple of weeks.
Still, the Giant loomed over me for the next month. Our trip was coming, and I wanted that mountain. The Harney Peak hike belonged to me. I have hiked it at least fifteen times over the last 21 years. I had paid my dues, and I did not want to let one bad experience take it away from me. We decided to head out to hike early…6:00am or so. In reality, we began our hike 6:37am, and with the light cloud cover and the earliness of our hiking time, we were very comfortable. The hike was hard…it always is, but in two and a half hours, we found ourselves at the top standing in front of the lookout tower. We made it!! We had conquered the beast. The Giant no longer loomed over me. I know that there is no reason that I can’t continue to hike Harney Peak for years to come, because with hard work…there is nothing I can’t do.
After breaking my shoulder on October 18, 2015, in a fall on the Bridle Trail on Casper Mountain, I think a lot of people wondered if I would ever hike again, and if I did, if the Bridle Trail was going to be on the list of trails I liked best…or was even willing to hike on at all. I always knew that I would go on it again, but I got pretty out of shape in the months following the accident. For one thing, I found out that pain medications, make you gain weight, probably because they make you very hungry and very sleepy. And I’m sure there was a degree of depression about the injury, but I’m not one to let something get me down for very long. By January I was ready to get back into shape for hiking. My husband, Bob Schulenberg and I have loved hiking since 1995, when we first hiked Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is a love of hiking that continues to grow. I wanted to get back into it, and I wanted to hike the Bridle Trail again.
Yesterday, I returned to the Bridle Trail to pick up where I left off in October. My granddaughter, Shai Royce has been hiking with her grandpa and me this summer, and she loves it. She never considered herself an outdoor girl, but she has since changed her mind. This past weekend, we hiked the Garden Creek Trail, and she loved it so much that she decided that she wanted to hike the Bridle Trail. Sunday was out of the question, so we decided that we would go Monday evening. Anyone who has ever hiked the Bridle Trail knows that the first half hour is the toughest. Nevertheless, while we had to stop to rest and catch our breath, we had a wonderful time. Shai thoroughly enjoyed it, and wants to go again, so we are making plans for several hikes before she moves to Washington in July.
For me, the hike was a victory in several ways. I can’t say that I didn’t get winded, but that is not unusual for me, and I hope to get my lungs in better shape for the hills in the future, but I did well with the hike, and there
was no fear about the trail. We even went the same way we had gone when I fell, because I guess I felt like I needed to just get back on the horse that bucked me off, so that I could fully conquer the giant that could have formed in my life. The sooner you get back on that horse, the less chance fear has to take hold. I can now honestly say that since my return to the Bridle Trail…any concern that I might be afraid is totally gone, and I very much look forward to our next hike, and each subsequent hike on the Bridle Trail or any other trail. t was a lovely evening, and I still love hiking!!
Sometimes, something we want can be almost within our grasp, but still slightly beyond our reach. That is such a frustrating place to be. Yesterday, Bob and I planned to hike Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and we did…in a way. The hike is 3.4 miles each way, and a lot of it takes you up some serious hills. We have not hiked like we used to in a couple of years, because we were very busy taking care of Bob’s parents, my mom, and Bob’s sister. We have been trying to get ready for hiking in the Black Hills this year, but we haven’t really reached a place where we feel like we are ready.
We hiked two really long sections of the Mickelson Trail the first two days of our trip, and yesterday was for Harney Peak. I think we both knew we weren’t really ready, but we thought we could do it…even if it took us a bit longer. Believe me, a bit was not even close to reality. We probably stopped triple the amount of times as normal. And breathing for me was…well, let’s just say I was gasping for air at times. I couldn’t believe I was that out of shape. But, the last time we dared take on Harney Peak was in 2011.
Nevertheless, we headed out…still tired from the day before, but hopeful that the day would bring success our way. It was a really tough go. I knew we were out of shape, but hoped that I was wrong about how bad it really was. As we walked and struggled, the truth was obvious. The one thing I can say, is that it was one of the hottest days here, so far this summer…but that is really the only excuse I have…and the one Bob agreed on and said we should use.
We did technically hike up Harney Peak, but when it came time to go up the 300 stairs, I has no more “up” in me. Bob could have made it, but he would not go without me. I was so hot and so tired that is wasn’t sure, at that moment, that I could make it back to the car, but I had to…there was no other way back, aside from life flight, and I wasn’t going there. We headed back and while it took us a while, we did make it back. We both agreed that we probably shouldn’t have attempted it, but in the end it was a successful failure. We did technically make it, we just didn’t go up the stairs to the very top. Does that make me feel better…no, but it is all I have.
Bob and I are very much into hiking. We love hiking on different trails in the areas we travel to. Of course, our all time favorite place, so far, is the beautiful hike to Harney Peak in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and we try to get up there every summer. We have also hiked the Southern Rim of The Grand Canyon in Arizona, and gone down into the canyon a little ways…that was beautiful too. Closer to home, we love the Bridle Trail that is located right here on Casper Mountain and the Platte River Parkway that meanders along the Platte River for almost 8 miles one way. Nevertheless, the reality is that you can’t always be on one of the beautiful trails, because there just isn’t time after work. So most evenings find us walking the city trail that is located a block from our house.
This trail just wanders along next to the alley between the houses from 2nd Street to 15th Street. We usually walk this one between 1 1/2 to 2 hours…thus walking between 6 and 8 miles a day. It isn’t a difficult trail, but it is a slight uphill grade going from north to south, and then a slight downhill grade going from south to north. It is a pleasant trail, and well traveled. We run into people we have never met, people we know only from the trail, and occasionally someone we know from the rest of our lives. But, these aren’t the only friends we run into one the trail…there are many others.
Many people are out walking their dogs in the evening, and while all these dogs are curious about us when we pass by, there are several that are quite special to us. They are all well behaved dogs, and they always come up to us and greet us with tails wagging, hoping that we will take a moment to pet them and talk with them. You really can’t resist, and these friends always understand that you are on a walk, and you can’t talk long, so after a friendly pat, they go merrily on down the trail looking for the next friendly encounter.
There are also the friends who are not on the trail. the dogs in the yards, wishing the could go with us. Some of them just bark at us for a couple of weeks, and then we become boring to them and we are ignored, but others are always there to greet us. Two of the most interesting dogs we pass are the two that are always on the roof of the homeowner’s garage. The deck connects to the detached garage in such a way that the dogs can run freely on the roof. The first time I saw it, I was shocked, but now it is just a normal…even if it is a little bit of a traffic stopper, site. Of course, we also see the birds, and occasionally a duck or two, and we encounter deer, rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional friendly pet cat.
All in all, while our walk on the trails are designed to be relaxing exercise, they really are filled with activity. We may not realize just how much activity there is going on around us all the
time, but it is there nevertheless. I always love late spring, summer, and early fall, because we have so many for opportunities to get out there on the trails then, and I really miss my trails in the late fall, winter, and early spring, because it is just too cold to get out and reconnect with nature. It’s funny that we have all these furry friends, because Bob and I choose not to have pets of our own. We are too busy. Still, I miss all of my furry trail friends when we are away.
Friday was our last full day in the Black Hills, and while the hike for the day was the longest we did this trip, at 7 miles, we felt the best of all the hikes. I’m sure there are a couple of reasons for that. First, our muscles finally got used to being worked like they used to. Second and possibly the most important, it was cloudy and cool. While I prefer warm weather, most of the time, when hiking, cool weather is much better. The clouds kept the sun off, and while it was cool, it did not rain. Don’t get me wrong, I was tired when we were done, and truth be told…before we were done, but we made it. I have found something out about myself during this time…it isn’t just about finishing a hike…it’s about that something inside me that…that sense of accomplishment. I made it, even though it hurt, and made me tired, and many people would think I was crazy for walking 7 miles just to say I did.
The hike of Friday moved us to the 51.9 mark one way on the Mickelson Trail, which for us is 103.8 since we do each section twice. That is something I can feel good about. My hope for next years is that we will continue to stay in the necessary shape for the tougher hikes. We lost Harney Peak for this year, because we just weren’t in shape for it. That saddens me because Harney Peak is my favorite hike, but it also makes me more determined to be able to take that hike next year. Still, every hike is an accomplishment, and I am happy that we got to go.
The afternoon brought another of our favorite things to do in the Black Hills…riding the 1880 Train. Now I suppose many people would think that is kind of a little kid thing to do, but since I get sick on merry-go-rounds, and the carnival rides have the same effect, I’ll stick to the 1880 Train, thank you. It always allows me to imagine what it would be like to travel in the Old West…or even when my Dad was a kid riding the trains his dad worked on. I don’t think I’ll every outgrow the train rides. And riding the train in the beauty of the Black Hills is the perfect end to a lovely vacation.
Our favorite hiking destination is Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The first time we hiked up to the peak was in 1995, just a week after our youngest daughter, Amy and her husband, Travis got married. We had been planning the trip for a while, and were looking forward to relaxing and hiking in the hills. We really didn’t know much about where we were headed, except that it was a favorite destination of lots of people in the hills, and we knew where to find the trail head. We really thought that was enough. Little did we know!!
We had planned the hike for the third day of our trip, but found ourselves at the trail head the second day of the trip. We read the information on the sign telling about the trail, and as it said that Sylvan Lake was in the shadow of Harney Peak, we figured that it couldn’t be that far. So we decided not to wait until the next day…oh boy, were we wrong!!
Thankfully, it was September, and not the heat of a July day. We had jackets on and I was wearing a sweater. To make matters worse, I had my purse/planner, which was not light, and we didn’t have any water. We really thought we were going on a little walk. The hike actually took about 2 1/2 hours, each way…not bad considering our inexperience and my purse/planner!! That purse ended up weighing…oh, about 2 tons, by the time we got back down to the car. And, of course, you recall that we had no water. Thankfully there was a little snow on the ground!!
Nevertheless, despite the fact that we were not really in the greatest hiking condition, and all the other ways we simply were not prepared for this hike, we ended really loving the trail. We kept hoping that we would live to reach the end of the trail, and we were stunned at the people who had little kids on the hike…and the little kids didn’t seem to be having any trouble!! Of course, they did have water, so I suppose that helped.
When we reached the top…finally, the view was all we needed to get hooked on that trail. It is amazing up there. Still, we did not dare make that hike again for a number of years, even though we go to the Black Hills every year. I guess we were a little bit overwhelmed. When we finally took that hike again, we were much better prepared for the hike. I don’t take my purse anymore, for one thing. Now we take a backpack with lunch and a couple of 20 ounce bottles of water in it, to eat and drink at the top, because we know that it is 2 hours up and 2 hours down, and we like to spend about an hour at the top. We also have a water pack that holds about a 2 liter bottle of water, for the hike up and down, because we really can’t expect to be able to find snow when we go over the 4th of July week. Basically I guess I’m saying that while we will always love that hike, and we have gone up about 7 times now, we are a lot wiser about how to hike these days. I guess you just have to live and learn.
Yesterday’s bad weather gave way to a very nice morning, so Bob and I set out for Harney Peak again. We are either determined or crazy, and since we passed a guy who went up and down twice today, I don’t think I’m so crazy. Today’s hike would be different. Our hikes up Harney Peak now total 6.8, with yesterday’s disappointing short hike to 1/2 mile from the top when we had to go down because of weather.
The weather this morning was perfect for a hike. The temperature was not too hot and not too cool. We started out early to beat the heat that would surely come. We were on top by 10:45 am. Many times when we have gone to Harney Peak, it was cold and we ate our lunch and headed back down out of the cold wind. Once again, this time would be different. It was so nice on top that we decided to take some extra time to eat our lunch and enjoy nature.
We found a spot to eat our lunch, and cool off. After eating most of our lunch in the shade, we decided to finish up in a more sunny spot. The chipmunks on the peak have lived their lives around people, and they have very little fear of us. The seem to think that your lunch is meant to be shared with them. I suppose that is because so many people do share with them. If you try to share with them, however, don’t bother with the bread. These little guys are picky. They want the chips.
Bob had Fritos, and that is one of their favorites. As we sat there, one little guy decided that we had a lunch date, and he was going to get to those Fritos even if he had to climb over me to get them…well almost. He wasn’t quite that brave, but he did go around me to get to those chips. And after getting his reward a couple of times, we were pals. He got very brave, coming back for more and even eating his chip by my feet. He was so cute. And after a while, he even agreed to pose for a few pictures. I think he knew I was going to write about him and would need a photo for proof of our lunch date.