Harney Peak

 

Erin on the Harney Peak trail from Sylvan Lake
Erin on the Harney Peak trail from Sylvan Lake

Recently Erin and I set out to hike Harney Peak (7,242 ft above sea level), the highest “mountain” in South Dakota and highest peak east of the Rockies in North America (I put mountain in quotes because at the end of the day I’m a Colorado boy and I have high standards when it comes to what qualifies as a mountain).  We did the classic approach from Sylvan Lake and the whole hike took us a leisurely 5 to 6 hours including a lunch on the peak and birding on the way.  Even though my elevation snobbery won’t allow me to call Harney an actual mountain, I must admit it allows a gorgeous view very different from Colorado 14ers.  In Colorado, hiking a mountain of any elevation inevitably gives you views of other high mountains which are breath-taking but seriously limit the distance you can see.  Harney peak on the other hand is the highest point surrounded by relatively low and gentle hills and then the massive expanse of the northern plains.  You can see to the horizon from Harney almost as far as physically possible for the human eye to see.  It reminded me a bit of a description of the view from Mt. Wheeler in Nevada I once heard, where it’s said you can see the curvature of the earth.  In the same way that Wheeler is surrounded by the desert of the Great Basin, so Harney Peak is surrounded by the great Northern Plains that once fostered millions of bison and now nourishes grass fed cattle.

Harney 2

Erin and I on the top of Harney
Erin and I on the top of Harney
Harney Peak is located in the Black Elk Wilderness area although our route started in Custer State Park
Harney Peak is located in the Black Elk Wilderness area although our route started in Custer State Park
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