As we were blessed with an almost 70-degree day in the Black Hills this past Saturday (yes, you heard me right and no, that isn’t all that unusual for this time of year) we took the pup to a trail we don’t do very often. We hiked a portion of the Centennial Trail which travels for more than 100 miles, north-to-south, through the Black Hills. The route we took was from the Samelius Trailhead heading north, towards Sheridan Lake.
This entire section is around seven miles in total length, one-way, we only did about half of that. We have plans to complete the other half, from Sheridan Lake heading southward, at another time.
Hiking North from the Samelius Trailhead
The Centennial Trail runs in two directions from this trailhead, northbound towards Sheridan Lake and south, to the vicinity of Mount Rushmore and Horsethief Lake. These are both decent hikes. We’ve only completed a small portion of the southbound route, so I’ll leave that review for another day.
I would give the hike north on the Samelius Trailhead a moderate rating. The first mile or so it follows an old, forest road so the path is wide, though it’s a fairly steep, uphill climb. From there it ventures back into the woods on a one-track trail. Portions of it are quite rugged as they traverse the rocky landscape that is common in the Black Hills.
This route won’t take you to the summits of any of the major, nearby mountains on its own. There are several in the local area that you can climb to though, if you’re daring enough to trek off-trail. Mt. Samelius is one of these. This section of the Centennial Trail isn’t quite as scenic as some other parts of the route. It’s a nice hike, you can occasionally catch glimpses of various portions of the Black Hills, and the prairies that stretch beyond them, through the trees. However, for the most part, it is just a rambling, rolling hike through the Black Hills National Forest–albeit a very pleasant one! After the initial ascent on the forest road the path levels out into more moderate ups and downs as you traverse the nearby Hills. The path can be challenging, so you need to watch your step (as I found out when I made a misstep on a small rock….)
I should have named myself the Clumsy Trekker. 🙄 I rolled my ankle the worst I ever have less than a mile into the hike. At first it didn’t seem that bad. It really didn’t hurt and there wasn’t any real evidence of bruising or swelling, so I decided to continue on. After we stopped for lunch at our turnaround point is when the stiffness and pain really settled in and I realized I may have pushed on too far. We were also several miles from the truck at that point. 😝 Fortunately, Mr. Trekker fashioned a perfect hiking pole, for me, out of a downed tree branch we found nearby. It made the trip back far more bearable for my ankle.
We were able to catch a few shots of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) and the Cathedral Spires from the trail. Where we stopped for lunch we were treated to a great view of a portion of the–currently frozen–Sheridan Lake.
The steepest part of the trail we encountered was near its middle. We hiked to the top of an unnamed peak and enjoyed a windy snack while peering out over the Hills. In addition to catching a glimpse of Sheridan Lake, we also spotted the prairies that extend east of the Hills.
Don’t Hike Alone and Always Bring Extra Gear
My ankle injury is another good example of why I stress that it isn’t safe to hike alone. This isn’t always a popular opinion but I stand behind it. It is always astounding to me how quickly accidents can happen on the trail, and how silly things can cause them. 😔 I didn’t fall (this time) or slip on ice, I can’t even blame the dog for pulling on me too much. We were just walking down a dry section of trail that was relatively flat. It happened to be a bit rocky and I stepped on one of the rocks protruding from the ground wrong, which turned my ankle. Unfortunately, my momentum was already carrying me forward so I proceeded to–heavily–put my full weight on that ankle, and felt a *pop!* (not to mention numbing shocks running from my ankle bone up my shin and down my foot). 😝
Some may argue that my decision to continue hiking was unwise, and they may have a point. The Trekkers have had some First Aid training so we implemented what we learned. The pain subsided fairly quickly, I had full range of motion with my foot and I could put my full weight on it. This suggested I wasn’t hurt too badly and this wasn’t the first time I’ve sustained an injury like this on the trail. (I have a tendency to underpronate when I walk so this happens easily and regularly to me.) We examined the ankle and it showed no signs of visible swelling or bruising. Since it wasn’t really a struggle to continue hiking I decided to continue. Some of this was also pure stubbornness. We’ve attempted this trail several times before and have never gotten very far as it always seems to start thundering. We knew that wasn’t going to be an issue today and I really wanted to continue on and keep enjoying the warm weather, so I chose to plod on.
As we slowly made our way back to the car, I couldn’t help thinking how things would have been different if it had been just me on the trail. I probably could have gotten back on my own, we weren’t that far out and I wasn’t hurting that badly. However, if it had been just me and the (barely) one-year-old pup who we still keep leashed at all times…I did ok navigating the route on my own with a walking stick, but if I had needed to be tethered to an energetic pup in addition, that feat would have been far more difficult (especially if the injury had occurred farther along on the trail where the terrain became more strenuous). So I’ll say it again folks, DON’T VENTURE INTO THE WILD ALONE (and no, your incredibly adorable four-legged companion does NOT count as a hiking partner). 😐
This incident also further demonstrated to me why it’s important to ALWAYS bringing extra gear. I almost didn’t bring a warm coat that day, just to save weight and space. Even though it was February 1st the forecast was calling for near 70-degree temperatures and I knew this hike wasn’t exceptionally difficult. I did end up–wisely–including my winter “puffy” coat at the last minute, as it’s super light and packs well. I just couldn’t bare the thought of not bringing it along in the middle of winter, just in case. As it turned out, I didn’t end up using it. HOWEVER, if my injury had been worse to the point where I had needed to wait for rescue, I easily could have become chilled and potentially even hypothermic if I hadn’t had a warm coat with me (I was sweaty and it was a breezy day).
Accidents can happen on the trail in a split second folks, and it doesn’t have to be in wet, slippery, cold or even difficult conditions. A fun walk through the woods on a warm day can become a rescue scenario in a matter of seconds. Please, learn from my experience, ALWAYS BE PREPARED!!!
Don’t worry, almost a week out and the pain in my ankle is almost gone. The swelling has gone down considerably as well, so I seem to be on the mend. This is good because I’m TERRIBLE at sitting around and resting. 😉
If you’re looking for a little tougher hike and you want to explore a lesser-known trail in the Black Hills, check out the Samelius Trailhead and have your pick of two portions of the Centennial Trail.
Have you ever hurt yourself while out hiking? Did you learn anything from the experience? If so, let me know in the comments!
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