Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Needles and the Badlands

After so recently coming from Skaha, climbing in the Needles was quite different. While Skaha has nice edgy holds, the Needles is mostly about trusting your feet to stick, plastering your hands to the rock and then praying to the good balance gods to keep you upright. Nevertheless, the granite spires are really a lot of fun to climb and have suitably descriptive names such as Shark's Fin, Shark's Tooth, Pointy Little Devil and The Tit.

We've climbed in the Sylvan Lake and Cathedral Spires areas on previous trips to South Dakota but a new guidebook in the gear store in Hill City steered us to a couple climbing areas along the Mount Rushmore highway,  Magna Carta and South Seas. Despite cloudy days with the sporadic sound of thunder and an evening hour-long storm that brought loud crashing thunder, a disco-like lightening show and buckets of rain, it didn't interfere with two great climbing days.

(Whether you're a climber or not, if you've never been to this area before be sure to take a drive along the Needles Highway from Sylvan Lake. Spectacular and dramatic scenery!)
Pointy Little Devil was a fun start to the day! Me rappelling -- photo by Andrew.
View from the top of one of the routes we climbed.
Climbers on a spire near us. Look closely. One climber on top of spire, the other in lower left part of photo.
Ride 'em cowboy! Andrew "au cheval" at the top of a narrow ridge.
We took various scenic routes on the way home, first driving the Wildlife Loop Road just east of Custer. It's mostly known for buffalo but we also saw deer, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and several types of birds including vultures and sage grouse. 

The drive north through Badlands National Park was quite spectacular with miles and miles of oddly shaped buttes and pinnacles with colored layers of clay and volcanic ash. 

Heading further north we followed more scenic drives found in National Geographic's Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways which took us along the Missouri River, the Sakakawea Trail, through several Indian reservations and grassland areas. Bright green was a constant color, whether from newly seeded crops or lush pasture land. 

We saw several deer and ring-necked pheasants along the highway which required one extremely heavy braking incident to prevent a baby deer from becoming a hood ornament. We even rescued a turtle from becoming part of the pavement. From a distance I thought it was a rock in the middle of the road so had moved over to miss it but then realized what it was. By the time we turned around it had scurried over to the shoulder but after taking a few photos (of course!) Andrew moved it to the relative safety of the ditch. 

One thing we really noticed on this trip was the incredible number of horses and cows we saw. Definitely spring time in ranching country with lots of small calves and foals staggering about on still unsteady legs. 

Glad to be home now. We always find the last few hours drive toward home so much more difficult than the drive away from home!

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