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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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.