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.
Today, Bob and I went on a hike called the Iron Mountain Loop. It is a 5.1 mile easy to moderate trail that we found to be quite pleasant…except for that one hill. I’ll go into that more later. We began our hike thinking what a lovely day it was and what a nice change it was from the 90 degree days we had been having. Our first fork in the road put us onto the actual trail we wanted as it split from the Centennial Trail, which is a trail that is much more used. I thought about that old Robert Frost poem I had always loved, called “The Road Less Traveled” and felt, as I always do on the trail, like the adventure was just beginning.
Our hike continued along beautifully, and we were very much enjoying ourselves. Then the trail came to an end. There was another trail…much less traveled, that went to the right and to the left. Looking again at our trail book, I determined that the trail to the left would meet up with the Iron Creek Trail so we…or should I say, I decided that we should go that way. As we started down the trail, we immediately hoped that we would come upon the other trail, because having to come back up this hill would not be fun. The further we went down the hill, the more I began to think this was a mistake.
Finally, I decided to consult the trail book again. At that point, I realized that the Iron Creek Trail was probably right near where we were, but that was not going to be the easy way back to our car. We were going to have to go back up that hill we had just come down. The big problem I see here is that while I am an experienced hiker…I am an out of shape experienced hiker. I had now just turned and easy to moderate trail into an easy to moderately strenuous trail, and one that an out of shape experienced hiker was going to find…well, difficult!!
With a sigh, I told Bob we needed to go back up. After about 30 minutes, we finally made it to the top of that hill, and back to the trail we had come in on. While it was still easy to moderate, it seemed strenuous to our tired bodies. Finally, we got our second wind, and the trail became easier to maneuver. I can’t tell you how glad I was that we are experienced enough to have plenty of water. When we finally got back to our car, we felt tired, hot, and yet good about ourselves. Even though we were out of shape, we had made it 6.5 miles instead of 5.1, and part of it was very strenuous. I think we did really good…except for that one hill!!