South Dakota, an Unexpected Journey

On the road through rural South Dakota for a friends wedding, the anticipation was not present for the marriage between an old friend and his bride, but for the connection that I would face with crystal schist and virtually endless slabs in the area surrounding Mount Rushmore.

Placated by trees, the first welcome we receive is from signs attached to evergreen first warning of arrests from federal agents if a wandering hiker steps out of line.  These numerous washed out areas convey a message; “When you come here, you better know your way.” Interpret that as you will.

The climbing in Western South Dakota is superb. During the spring and fall is best, where the weather quality provides ideal conditions for friction climbing that clusters through the Black Hills National Forest.  There are numerous campsites, most of which provide consumers with power and water hookups for RV’s and campers.  There is also free camping available in the Wrinkled Rock campsite, which happens to be the most convenient site for climbers, hikers, bikers and other outdoors people, as well as the closest camping to Mount Rushmore.  The only downfall to the campsite is its proximity to the nearby road, don’t expect to sleep past 8am, earlier on the weekends; but on the plus side, the nearby helicopter tour companies would make sure that all campers around the Monument area are awake early in the morning.  Oh, and Sturgis.  This is one of the meetup points for the largest Motorcycle Rally in the United States.  So if you come during the early to mid- part of August expect to have silence drowned by the roar of motorcyce engines.  Numerous operators in this areas have reservations lasting from 8am until dusk, the consistent whirr of helicopter blades overhead is only When you visit Mount Rushmore, whether by car, bicycle or motorcycle; prepare yourself for an epic of variety and proportion.

Profile of George Washington on Mt. Rushmore

The expectation blooms while you drive through nearby Keystone South Dakota, the main artery for road dwellers, as well as the most commercial town in the vicinity.  An old western town, with old western facades on the bars, the neon lights suggest a modern era of Jack Daniels, Bud Light, Jose Cuervo and the associated heavy duty foods.  Vegetarians be warned, come prepared.

The author climbing Gossamer, the stunning arete

Climbing sticky friction like Gossamer, a 5.7 (meaning relatively easy for anyone with a little time in a climbing gym) is a thrilling introduction to the quality of climbs here.  Although you better bring your compass and map, it is a labyrinthine valley, with rich plant growth overarching the climbers paths. Hike with a buddy otherwise you may never be seen again!!

South Dakota’s potential is untapped as far as climbing and pursuits.  Free camping, great rock and beautiful features prove that farms aren’t the only thing left in the Northern Mid-west. Enjoy the Black Hills and if you have the time, make a trip to the Badlands National Park while you’re in the area, the ghosts of outlaws and Native Americans loom in the canyons while the sky instills the wonder of nature overhead.

Beautiful lakes surround the crags

Beautiful lakes surround the crags

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