Saskatchewan members in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Editor's note: New members of the ACC often ask us "Should I join a local section? What kinds of things do they do?" Well, they go on awesome ski touring adventures, jumar garbage out of public lands, retrofit huts with green energy, build remote trails, take the mobility-challenged into the backcountry, band peregrin falcons on cliffs, and yes, go rock climbing. Lots and lots of rock climbing. This trip report from the Saskatchewan Section gives a great look at the glorious Canadian tradition of the Spring Road Trip — the drive south in search of (trad and sport) adventures and warm rock in the hopes of jumpstarting the climbing season. This is why our members join local sections.
Climbing in Black Hills, South Dakota - April 13-16
A May long weekend rock climbing trip to the Black Hill of South Dakota is a Saskatchewan Section tradition trip that my ACC mentor, Mike Wild, organizes every spring as a kickstart to the new climbing season. With this year's warm winter and spring, we thought we could give it shot to pull off this trip in April. Section members Chris Tunison, Jamie Leibel, and Paignton Wild jumped in and we quickly had ourselves a plan. The result was two full days of climbing before a spring snowstorm hit.
There are two types of rock within an hour’s drive of the Black Hills: limestone in the Spearfish Canyon and granite in the Needles. The first and third day we chose the limestone in Spearfish Canyon. The approaches were relatively short, perhaps 10-20 mins.
Check, check, double check
An interesting note about climbing in the Black Hills is that the climbing areas can be difficult to identify and it’s therefore very easy to get on the wrong route. And our extra old version of the guidebook didn’t make it any easier for us. I found this out the hard way on our first evening. I chose an easier route, Lost Ninja 5.9, and after pulling through a couple of awkward pockets and moving through a very balancy section, I got to a bulge that requires a right hand bump onto a difficult side pull. My foot popped off and I fell. After a couple more tries, I finally made it to the anchor. “This is a really hard 5.9” I shouted down. As it started drizzling and the rock was getting wet and slippery Chris wasn’t sure about the climb and asked if I wanted to clean it. I climbed it again and as I topped out, it still felt very hard and we were preparing ourselves for a very hard time on our trip. Later that evening, with guidebooks in hand, we sorted it out and realized I had been throwing myself at Wiley Coyote, 5.11c.
This was Paignton’s first rock climbing trip but he didn't climb like it was. The rest of us were impressed by his strength and endurance but we told him that was because he is 10 years younger than us. Cheers, Paignton!
The Black Hills has a lot of classic routes that are really fun and diverse; from big juggy overhanging to vertical technical face climbing - you name it and it’s here.
We ran into a couple of local climbers and got a chance to take photos of their newer and, not surprisingly, better guidebook. From the tick marks on the book, this local climber must have climbed here quite a bit. He commented to our experience of getting on wrong routes, “I climbed on wrong routes for my first two years here”, which made us feel a bit better.
Granite and multi-pitch? Yes please!
On our second day, we decided to check out the granite spires in the Needles area. The spires were really inspiring, but also very intimidating, as the area is well known to be runout with scarce protection. We spent quite a bit of time scouting the Cathedral Spires area. There are a lot of 3-5 pitch trad routes, interesting and perfect for our group size. Of course we had to sample some shorter mini spires.
We spent some time on a very fun 5.10b trad line right at the edge of Cathedral Spires that goes to the top of a mini spire. Chris took photos of Jamie bear hugging it.
We quickly moved to Needle’s Eye area and got on another line before dark. Hitching Post, a trad 5.5 with a 5.10 variation, finished our day. Both Chris and I gave it a go on lead while Jamie and Paignton played on variation on top rope.
On the way back from our day we decided to scout the Sylvan Lake area for our next trip and sure enough, the sport lines there looked amazing. I had hoped that the weather would hold out for another day for us, but unfortunately it started snowing the next morning and we had to drive back to Saskatchewan. Sylvan Lake is a great place to check out for some sport lines with easy approach.
Black Hills is for sure an awesome place whether you are a sport climber loving limestone or trad climber looking for some granite. We shall return!
For more trip photos, follow us on Alpine Club of Canada - Saskatchewan Section on Facebook!
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