Climbing the Needles of South Dakota’s Black Hills

◊ 7.23.2017 ◊ Keystone, South Dakota

Back in the West (or almost), we found a taste of home in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This national forest is comprised mostly of pines, and the granite outcroppings definitely reminded us of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Aside from Mt Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial, the Black Hills are home to an extensive list of rock climbing routes. We only had time to check out the most accessible areas, within the Needles of Mt Rushmore.

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The area surrounding the monument is restricted to climbing (obviously) but aside from this small perimeter, dozens of towers, boulders, and other rock formations can be climbed.

We decided to spend 3 nights at the Wrinkled Rock Campground – a marvelous free campground mostly inhabited by other dirtbags (uh, I mean climbers), and it even has a pit toilet (that’s luxury in our world)! From there, the crags are 5 to 15 minutes walk away, not even uphill or downhill really. It is quite the spot.

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We arrived in the early afternoon, and decided we should check out the “Wrinkled Rock Campground” area in our guidebook. Wearing sandals and shorts, and thinking we were about to go on a super short hike on a well traveled trail, we were DEFINITELY not expecting to have to bushwhack in very high grass for over a half hour to find the crag. When we finally found the dome, it was so overgrown that half of the routes didn’t even accommodate for a belay stance at the bottom.

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We got up the two most recommended routes in the guidebook (The Love Above, and the Love Below), and headed back home before dark as we still had to find our way back. What an adventure! We definitely do not recommend this area – climbing was alright, but the approach was ridiculous.

The next day, we checked out a much better crag, right across the road from our camp, Chopping Block. Most of the climbs were long (some required two 60m ropes to get down!) and the views left us speechless.

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We climbed a few 4-star-routes of the area: Evergreen 5.9+, Static Cling 5.10, and Baba Cool 5.9+. Climbing is very interesting and different, we mostly face climbed using quartz crystals, sometimes sharp, sometimes polished, but mostly perfect!

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Later in the day, after the temperature dropped down a little, we took our chances and headed out to summit Oldy Baldy Mountain, the tallest dome around, via the route “Grecian Formula”. It was a 2-pitch 5.8+ PG13 climb, and we made it up the top in just under 45 minutes! Scott literally ran up the pitches – and ran them out – so we could make it to the top before dark.

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We got to see one of the most beautiful sunsets of our trip. We were alone atop the granite mountain, and the smoky air coming from forest wildfires in Southeast Montana turned the Black Hills into an incredibly mystical place.

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The descent was a fun scramble down the Northeast side of the mountain; we picked up our bags at the base, and ran back to camp before even needing a flashlight. As we arrived, most of the other campers were playing a game of lit-up Frisbee.

The next morning, some of our new camp friends invited us to check out a classic V5 boulder problem in the area. After a mere 3 tries, Scott topped out (aka; completed climb)… not bad for a sport/trad climber!

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Afterwards, we stopped by the South Seas area and climbed the excellent Classic Waves 5.8 2-pitch route. We walked back to camp to fill up on water, and headed for yet another nearby crag, Magna Carta. We climbed Star Dancer, a 4-stars 5.8 sport climb that is 105-foot long (talk about long routes!).
For our last day in the Hills, Scott and our neighbor Erik went for a mountain bike ride on a section of the Centennial Trail. In the meantime, Johanna, Sarah, and Klaus (their dog) hung out by Pactola Lake. The refreshing water and another stunning Black Hills landscape was just the perfect place to hang out on a hot summer day.

When Scott and Erik got back from their ride, we took off for our next adventure (and possibly the biggest yet): Devil’s Tower!

Oh, and we did visit Mt Rushmore before heading out too… mandatory stop I guess!

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For more photos see our flickr album… https://www.flickr.com/gp/147541050@N04/Rq8G01

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