Sunday, September 23, 2012

Crow Peak

When I'm back home in South Dakota, I always make sure to look up my friend Nancy.  We've known each other since high school, and have stayed in touch all these years through Christmas cards, emails, and occasional visits. 

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

My friend Nancy at the trailhead gate

During last year's South Dakota trip, Nancy, knowing I like to hike, suggested climbing Crow Peak.  That time, my parent's 50th anniversary celebration kept me too busy, so it didn't work out.  But next year's visit, I vowed to join my friend on this trail.

Trailhead sign

Crow Peak is located in the northern Black Hills near the town of Spearfish.  This mountain rises up from the surrounding plains, dominating the town's western skyline.  Crow Peak got its name from a battle once fought here between the Sioux and Crow Native Americans.  The mountain's name, as translated from the Sioux tongue, means "the place where the Sioux killed the Crow."  The hike is a 7-mile round trip, with an elevation gain of 1500 feet.

The poison ivy was turning colors already

Nancy, having hiked this trail numerous times, was the perfect guide.  She drove me down a dusty gravel road, to the trailhead, a large parking area next to a gate.  We had to open this gate to access the trail (a first for me - we don't have gated trails in Oregon).  Beyond the fence and gate, was a large standard Forest-Service issue trailhead sign and message board.  After taking the requisite trail sign photos, I was ready to roll.

Lovely ponderosa pine forest

Our hike began in an area known as Higgins Gulch.  We trekked through ponderosa pine woods interspersed with thick, bushy undergrowth.  Some of the forest floor vegetation included three-leaved clumps of poison ivy.  Already turning a bright crimson color, it's leaves gave the forest floor some nice fall accents.  More importantly, the leaf coloring made this plant easy to identify and avoid.

Looking ahead to our destination

Although the day was beginning to heat up, the trees provided welcome shade.  The trail, although rocky in places, was a nice grade, and never got too steep.  As we followed the forest path, Nancy and I had a great conversation, trying to catch up on each other's lives from the past year.

We hiked through a golden aspen grove

About halfway up, we passed through an area of aspen trees, their leaves already a beautiful golden-yellow.  Fallen leaves littered the forest floor.  Such a lovely scene, it was a Kodak moment way too good to pass up!

Near the top, views opening up

Shortly after emerging from the aspens, we crossed a large rockslide.  At this point, the forest thinned and the horizon opened up to wonderful views of the forest and plains far below.  A small taste of things to come, we quickened our pace, eager to reach the summit.

Along the summit ridgeline

Finally, the terrain flattened.  We were near the top of the mountain, but not quite at the true summit.  A path snaked along the ridgeline, making a rut through the low brush and scattered trees.  This narrow trail led us the final distance across Crow Peak to the summit proper.

Wonderful summit view

And the views on top were spectacular!  To the east you could see the town of Spearfish, and beyond, Bear Butte and the brown grasslands of northwestern South Dakota.  To the west, the plains of eastern Montana, Wyoming, and the Bear Lodge Mountains spread out in a fantastic panorama. To the south, the dense forests of the northern Black Hills lined the horizon.  We lucked out with a clear, sunny day - perfect to enjoy such grand vistas.

Checking out the register

A sign marked the mountain's true summit, boasting an elevation of 5,760 feet.  A register box hung off the signpost, with a small notebook inside.  Interested, Nancy flipped through its pages.  Having lived in the area for many years, she recognized many names scrawled on the register.  Sadly, every page in the notebook was chock-full, otherwise I could've added my name to the list.

Rocky summit of Crow peak

On this day we weren't by ourselves.  A group of young men had arrived before us, and were relaxing on top by the time we got there.  Another man puffed up the trail shortly after Nancy and I, and offered to take our photo (much appreciated!).  On the way back down, we ran into several parties chugging steadily uphill.  We even got surprised by a group of mountain bikers cranking oh-so-slowly up the steep trail.

Black Hills view

By the time we returned to the trailhead, and Nancy's car, the temps were firmly in the high 80s.  Tired and thirsty, it was a welcome sight.  Nancy and I both agreed it was time to head into town for a nice lunch, and lots of water!

Hiking with friends is the best!

It was wonderful to see my friend Nancy.  And taking a hike together was the perfect way for old friends to catch up.  I wish we lived closer - I enjoy Nancy's company and would love to hike with her more often.  But I'm glad for the opportunity to finally climb Crow Peak under her expert guidance.  It was a great hike with spectacular views.

Nancy - you'll have to pick another hike for us when I come to visit next year!


  1. Beautiful! I agree, hiking with friends is the best:) The leaves were falling last week for my hike too. Pretty, but sad summer is ending.

  2. What a perfect way to spend the day. Loved the shot of the aspen leaves on the trail.


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