8/23: Custer State Park, South Dakota
Black Elk Peak
Cole and I set out late Thursday morning for a mother/son hike in Custer State Park. Black Elk Peak was the Target. At 7,242 feet, this is the highest point east of the Rockies. This is a great accomplishment and gives him a taste of bigger things to come, like Half Dome in Yosemite (16.4 miles with 4,800 feet elevation gain) or a 14er (14,000 ft elevation) in Colorado.
It was a gorgeous day out. The sun was shining and we lathered up on sunscreen and packed a gallon of water and plenty of snacks. The goal: Sylvan Lake to Little Devils Tower to Black Elk Peak. The trailhead started around colossal boulders (where we left Evan for climbing practice with Doug and Jeff) and ponderosa pine trees. The trail snaked back and forth through aspen, Black Hills spruce, and a gorgeous river cutting through the forest. We climbed an intense grade in the trail and took several water and rest breaks to catch our breath and rest our burning legs and racing hearts. The final summit to the peak of Little Devil’s Tower was stunning! We scrambled through granite clefts and cracks and topped out with jaw-droping views of the Cathedral Spires to the southeast, the Black Elk Wilderness, and the brick fire-tower atop 7,242-foot Black Elk Peak to the north. Breathtaking!
Cole was a powerhouse and was determined to continue on to the final summit of Black Elk Peak. The trail left Custer State Park and continued on into the Black Hills Wilderness (where it is easy to get off trail and land yourself miles and miles into the vast wilderness).
Although it was a gorgeous day out, storms are not uncommon in summer afternoons. They sneak up on you faster than you think, and if you’re on an exposed ridge or summit, they can be deadly. Cole and I had been hiking for nearly 3 hours when the sky drew dark, the wind picked up, the rain started, and the thunder rumbled. Frightening and extremely dangerous!
We were nearly above the tree line, the worst place to be in a storm. The rain intensified. I checked my phone…lightening strike 4 miles away! I immediately called my friend skilled in mountain terrain and hiking. She gave immediate, precise and urgent instructions. I had to make the decision to bail and descend quickly or summit (above tree line), knowing there was a shelter on top.
Rain. It always rains, doesn’t it? It’s not about IS it going to rain? It’s WHEN. It rains in our lives. A lot. God says incredible things like “when you cry out to me, I listen.” When I’m in a storm, I can’t see past the current situation…it’s all consuming. Cole was the same way out on that mountain. But as his mother, I would do anything to keep him safe and get him home. Isn’t that how our Heavenly Father must feel? He will do anything to keep us safe and bring us home. Cry out to Him.
I grabbed Cole’s pack, strapped it backwards across my chest, and encouraged him all the way to the summit. I never saw a lightening strike, but my head was down, heart racing, legs burning as we pushed hard to the top. We made it safely under cover and waited out the storm before safely descending. We enjoyed a gorgeous hike down and likely missed a rainbow, full of God’s promises, as the sun peered out behind the dark clouds.