Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 208 – Little Devil’s Tower & Black Elk Peak with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-26-17)

Start: Hwy 87/89, 0.25 mile NW of Sylvan Lake Lodge, 9:46 AM, 46°F

Wonder of wonders!  Australian adventurer Luke Hall was actually here – in Lupe’s Black Hills of South Dakota!  He’d arrived yesterday afternoon only a few weeks from the end of a 6 month trip exploring the western United States.

During his recent travels, Luke had scrambled up many notable mountain peaks, including Mt. Whitney (14,498 ft.) in California and Mt. Elbert (14,433 ft.) in Colorado, the two highest mountains in the lower 48 states.  He’d spent a lot of time along the Pacific coast, and visited a great many national parks – Yosemite, Death Valley, Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Mesa Verde, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Rocky Mountain – the list went on and on.

Surfing, swimming, backpacking, mountain biking, climbing – Luke had been a busy guy in 2017, but that was perfectly normal for him.  In previous years, he’d explored western Canada, 10 different countries in South America, wandered through much of Europe, and toured Morocco and Egypt.  He spent 2 years living and working in London, England, and another 2 years in Banff, Canada.  Maybe it wasn’t so surprising that Luke had finally landed in the remote Black Hills of South Dakota after all?  He did get around!

Fittingly enough, Lupe and SPHP had first met Luke Hall over a year ago on Gunsight Mountain (6,441 ft.) in Alaska.  Now Luke was here to join Lupe on one of her Black Hills, SD expeditions.  He had already dropped by Mt. Rushmore (5,725 ft.) on his way in, so Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, seemed like a good destination.  For Luke it would be an easy day, but maybe he wouldn’t mind dialing it down a notch after 5+ solid months of more strenuous adventures?

It was a lovely bright, clear day as Lupe, Luke and SPHP set out.  First stop along the way was Sylvan Lake.

Lupe and Luke together again in the Black Hills for the first time since meeting over a year ago on Gunsight Mountain (6,441 ft.) in Alaska. Black Elk Peak, the highest mountain in South Dakota was today’s ultimate destination. Photo looks E.
Only 10 or 15 minutes after setting out, Luke and Lupe reach the NW shore of Sylvan Lake.
The small dam creating Sylvan Lake, which features a short walkway with a railing, is seen beyond Luke. Photo looks N.
Looking NE across the lake.
A few ducks were out on the calm water.

After a look at Sylvan Lake from the NW shore, Lupe, Luke & SPHP followed a trail that goes all the way around the lake back down below the dam.  Lupe led Luke around to the NE & E sides of the lake.

Looking SW from the rock formations along the N shore.
Sylvan Lake is located at the far NW corner of Custer State Park. Though small, the lake nestles among scenic granite formations.  It’s a popular destination for tourists and locals alike with a swimming beach and picnic ground.  Paddle boat rentals, a convenience store and Sylvan Lake Lodge are all nearby. Photo looks W.
Lupe showing her buddy Luke around Sylvan Lake. Photo looks WNW.
Loopster and Luke on a large granite formation that extends out into Sylvan Lake from the E shore. Photo looks SW.
Looking NNW at the N half of Sylvan Lake.

Trail No. 9 from Sylvan Lake is the most direct and popular route to Black Elk Peak, but Lupe had another trail in mind.  She led Luke past the picnic ground at the SE end of the lake, and took Trail No. 4 to the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead instead.

Taking Trail No. 4 was a longer route to Black Elk Peak, but had the advantage of giving Luke a chance to climb Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.) along the way, and get a close look at the Cathedral Spires (6,840 ft.), too.

Luke & Lupe along Trail No. 4 to Little Devil’s Tower.
A 0.25 mile long spur trail off Trail No. 4 leads to the summit of Little Devil’s Tower. Here Lupe is near the spur trail with a view of the Cathedral Spires. Photo looks E.
Luke & Looper on the way to Little Devil’s Tower. Cathedral Spires in the background. Photo looks E.

A 0.25 mile long spur trail leads from Trail No. 4 to the summit of Little Devil’s Tower.  The end of the route involves a quick, easy scramble up the granite.  Even small children can make it with a little supervision and an occasional boost.

Luke & Loop nearing the top of Little Devil’s Tower. Photo looks N.

Luke, Lupe and SPHP quickly arrived at the summit of Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.).  There were cliffs around, especially to the N, but they were of no concern.  Although a bit rough, the uneven granite summit area is quite roomy.

The 360° views from Little Devil’s Tower are among the best in the Black Hills, with Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) to the NNW and the Cathedral Spires (6,840 ft.) to the SE being the most eye-catching.

Luke and Loopster arrive at the uneven granite summit of Little Devil’s Tower. Photo looks ESE.
Another view with some of the Cathedral Spires (also known as the Needles) in the background. Photo looks ESE.
Lupe with the Cathedral Spires in the background. This was Lupe’s 5th ascent of Little Devil’s Tower. Photo looks SE.
Although the day had started out clear and bright, quite a few clouds were around by the time Lupe reached the top of Little Devil’s Tower. A chill breeze was blowing out of the S, too. Photo looks SE.
Looking NNW toward Black Elk Peak. For those with insufficient time to climb Black Elk Peak, the shorter trip on Trail No. 4 up to the top of Little Devil’s Tower can provide similarly striking views of the Black Hills.
Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.) is the long ridge 2.5 miles away with the high point poking up just R of Center. Photo looks WSW.

At first, no one else was around up on Little Devil’s Tower.  It wasn’t long, though, before a couple appeared.  Bryan and Rene Jobo from Franklin, Tennessee joined Lupe, Luke and SPHP at the summit.

Bryan and Rene were on vacation in the Black Hills, and apparently having a good time relaxing and hitting some of the area’s highlights.  Bryan, Rene, Luke and SPHP were soon chatting pleasantly.  Lupe got involved posing for photos.

Australian adventurer Luke Hall poses with Bryan & Rene Jobo from Franklin, TN up on Little Devil’s Tower. Photo looks SE.
Despite a cool SW breeze, Lupe wasn’t about to get left out. Here she poses with Bryan & Rene, too.
In addition to posing with an American Dingo up on Little Devil’s Tower while in the Black Hills, Bryan & Rene were looking forward to attending the Custer State Park annual buffalo roundup in a couple more days. Lupe would have loved to go to help herd buffalo around, too. Unfortunately, SPHP never seems to think that a huge buffalo herd will appreciate a noisy Dingo, so Lupe has never gotten to go.

Bryan and Rene stayed chatting with Luke and SPHP for a while, but didn’t have time to accompany Lupe all the way to Black Elk Peak.  They had other adventures in mind to press on toward.  Soon after Bryan and Rene said good-bye; Luke, Lupe and SPHP resumed the trek to Black Elk Peak.

Luke near the Cathedral Spires on the way back to Trail No. 4 to resume the trek to Black Elk Peak. Photo looks E.

Trail No. 4 went N past some of the Cathedral Spires, and eventually linked up with a short section of Trail No. 3, which led in turn to Trail No. 9.  Near the end of a spur trail off Trail No. 9, a metal stairway hidden in a narrow opening in the granite spiraled up to a rock stairway leading to the old fire lookout tower on Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.).

Luke reaches the old fire lookout tower at the summit of Black Elk Peak. Photo looks N.
Until August 11, 2016 when the U.S. Board of Geographic Names voted unanimously in favor of the name Black Elk Peak, the highest mountain in South Dakota had been known as Harney Peak. Luke poses by a plaque at the lookout tower which has not been updated yet.  In May, 2015, the South Dakota State Board of Geographic Names had proposed renaming the mountain Hinhan Kaga (Making of Owls), but that recommendation was never enacted.  Lupe would have preferred Squirrel Mountain, or at least Chipmunk Mountain, but, oh well!
Looking ENE from the Black Elk Peak summit. The most distant big square block of granite at Center is the back side of Mt. Rushmore.

Upon arrival at South Dakota’s highest point, Luke, Lupe and SPHP spent a few minutes out on the fire lookout tower’s W facing observation deck taking in the views.  The wind had shifted to the NW by now, though, and was even colder than at Little Devil’s Tower.

View to the NNW from the fire lookout tower observation deck on Black Elk Peak.

Even Lupe was soon ready to retreat back into the lookout tower.  The tower wasn’t very large inside, but Luke enjoyed exploring the winding passage down to the basement.  An open doorway led out to a massive granite shoulder of the mountain immediately W of the tower.  Everyone enjoyed a break in the shelter of a few pines growing out of the rock.

After snacks and water, it was time for photos from various points on the granite near the lookout tower.

Luke and Lupe NW of the fire lookout tower. The tower was last staffed in 1967. Made of stone, it has held up remarkably well during the ensuing 50 years, despite the efforts of any huffing and puffing big, bad Dingoes. Photo looks SE.
Luke & Lupe up on rocks N of the tower. Photo looks NE.
Adventure buddies Lupe and Luke
Lupe on Black Elk Peak. This was her 7th visit to the mountain. Her last visit was over 2 years ago on 9-7-15. Back then the mountain was still officially Harney Peak, as it had been since 1896. Photo looks W.
Helicopters giving tours of the Mt. Rushmore area often make a pass around Black Elk Peak. Lupe loves barking at helicopters! She’s spotted one now!
The view to the SE.
Cathedral Spires (L) and Little Devil’s Tower (R) are in view beyond Lupe & Luke. Photo looks S.
Black Elk Peak was Luke’s 3rd US State high point after Mt. Whitney in California and Mt. Elbert in Colorado. Photo looks S.

All too soon, it was time to depart.  On the way back to the G6, Lupe, Luke and SPHP followed Trail No. 9 all way to Sylvan Lake.  The sun was sinking, but down out of the wind the evening was pleasant.

Starting down. Sylvan Hill is seen in the distance. Photo looks SW.
On Trail No. 9 before the junction leading to Little Devil’s Tower (R). On the return trip Luke & Lupe stuck with Trail No. 9 all the way, the most direct route back to Sylvan Lake. Photo looks SSW.
Little Devil’s Tower from Trail No. 9. Luke & Loopster had been up there only a few hours ago! Photo looks SW.
A view to the NW from Trail No. 9.
Loop & Luke at the last big viewpoint along Trail No. 9 on the way to Sylvan Lake. Photo looks NNE.
Australian adventurer extraordinaire Luke Hall presents the Black Hills of South Dakota!
Looper takes a break on a lovely bench provided by the Highpointers Foundation. This bench is along Trail No. 9 at the first good viewpoint toward Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) on the way up from Sylvan Lake.

The light was fading fast by the time Lupe reached the G6 again at 6:45 PM (upper 50’s °F).  Climbing mountains with Luke, and getting to show off her Black Hills home territory had been great fun!

The fun wasn’t over yet, though.  There would be pizza and beer with Luke at home.  (What, no beer for the faithful, peakbagging Carolina Dog!?  No fair!)  Even better, Luke was sticking around for a while.  Another adventure was in store tomorrow.

It just doesn’t get any better than that!

Adventurer Luke Hall originally hails from Sydney, Australia. Lupe & SPHP were thrilled that he took the time to come pay a visit to the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota!
Adventuring buddies Luke & Lupe on Black Elk Peak, 9-26-17


Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 208 – Badlands National Park with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-27-17)

Gunsight Mountain, Talkeetna Range, Alaska (8-23-16)

Luke Hall’s travel & adventure blog

Want more Lupe adventures?  Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!

2 thoughts on “Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 208 – Little Devil’s Tower & Black Elk Peak with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-26-17)”

  1. Wow! It was an honor that you included Rene and I in your blog! Your photos were amazing! We didn’t make the buffalo roundup; but spent some time in Custer and enjoyed some great food and site seeing, before flying out very early Saturday morning. Very cool to see your adventures. I plan to take a look at Luke’s blog soon. Lupe is one very cool dog!

    Bryan and Rene

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