Monday, May 26, 2014

A Challenge & A Weekend

A couple months back, I was paging through (the great and powerful) M-Man's most recent copy of Backpacker and I came across an article that put forward a new idea. [Note: most recent then. For the life of me, now I can't find the piece I read.]

Now, if there's one thing you should know about Backpacker as a magazine, it is that it is always packed full of trail maps and hike descriptions from basically anywhere. The Hills figure in there on a regular basis -- as does the Appalachian Trail, the Rockies (rather prominently), stuff all up and down the West Coast, and plenty of spots from other countries. Packed. Full.

This article suggested something different from trying to see it all everywhere. The mantra was simple: one wilderness, all the trails.

Pick a wilderness and make it yours. Hike every trail in it until you know each of them forward and backward -- and then take all the side trails. And some non-trails. Hike it all till you know every body of water, every topo line, every waypoint and hidden view. Hike it until you know that particular piece of wilderness as well as you know your own home.

It's a pretty huge challenge.

Enter the Black Elk Wilderness.

The view from the top of Little Devils Tower. Harney Peak, up at the top of that ridge, is just over a mile away.

The Black Elk Wilderness is a tiny part of the Hills (less than 1% of them) and together with the Sylvan Lake area has roughly 57 miles of designated trail. It also has Harney Peak, the Little Devils Tower/Cathedral Spires hike, a jaunt to Mount Rushmore, and extensive pine beetle damage.

My very first backpacking trip was in this area, from Sylvan Lake to Mount Rushmore (along with the next two trips and several hikes while in college). I've been over all but 5.5 miles of the major trails in the area at least once ... but for the most part, not in the last five years.

Which is perhaps why this is the area that came to mind first when I first read that challenge.

And so it is that this weekend, I started working on those 57 miles. The scenery's changed a lot since the first time I hiked it, due in no small part to those dang beetles, but it's ... actually kind of fascinating. You can see things now that you couldn't see ten years ago, and while the reason stinks, it's kind of fun to see just how intense some of the terrain really is. (It's gotten less friendly to those that are afraid of heights.)

7 miles down. 50 to go.

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