Learn more about some of the most popular climbing areas in the Black Hills
South Dakota – home to Mount Rushmore, corn, and some of the best climbing in the country. It may not be the first place that springs to mind for world class climbing, but the Black Hills are blessed with a huge quantity of varied and classic climbs.
If the words “traditional, run-out face climbing,” and “coarse granite” give you involuntary shivers of excitement, the Needles, located in the Custer State Park, is one of the last bastions of the style in the U.S. With a historical emphasis on climbing with limited fixed protection, the local ethic demands that a new route must be bolted from the ground up, on lead, with no direct aid.
Since the Needles straddles Highway 87 (Needle’s Highway), many of the aesthetic, easily accessed routes have already been established; several of which were pioneered by Herb & Jan Conn in the 40’s and 50’s – a daring duo from the East Coast who climbed with nothing but an 80 foot hemp rope, soft iron pitons and tennis shoes.
While you’re there, don’t forget to try the infamous “Needles rappel” – a simul-rappel with the rope draped over the spire.
Spearfish & Rapid City
Spearfish Canyon (Spearfish) and Victoria Canyon & Falling Rock (Rapid City) contain some of the best limestone climbing in North America. These routes have it all: beautiful rock, no crowds and up-and-coming sport crags that have been featured in national climbing magazines.
Blue, tan, and bomber – the limestone provides a smorgasbord of climbing styles. The classic, steep – vertical to overhanging – rock at Spearfish provides some of the best pocket climbs you’ll ever experience. Or, head over to the crags near Rapid City for some forearm-pumping, knee-bar-scumming headwall action.
When to Come
Experiencing all four seasons in a day isn’t uncommon and many locals will climb all year round. But the best weather can (usually) be found between May – October. Extremely windy days should be treated with caution, unless being skewered by pine beetle deadfall sounds like fun.
Summer is generally the “safest” time to visit. By gaining elevation, staying in shade and starting early, you can avoid high temperatures. Make sure you keep an eye out on the weather and don’t be a hero and try and climb through a storm (a rain coat is compulsory). You don’t want to become an impromptu lightning rod.
There is a voluntary climbing ban around the Devil’s Tower throughout June, in respect to the First Nations.
If the heat doesn’t appeal and you want some off-the-chart friction, fall is the time to come. With stable weather, the brisk mornings give way to pleasant afternoons basking in the sun. Perfect.
If short walk in’s bore you and you’re looking for more of an adventure, don’t fret. Throughout the southern Black Hills there are stacks of first ascents around, if you’re willing to trek a few miles and adhere to the strict ethic. From undeveloped, steep, limestone canyons to spire-like granite formations which have never been climbed, there is enormous potential for new routes.
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds of Colorado, the Black Hills have it all – and more. So bring your rack, your sense of adventure and a smile, and before you know it a local will have you scurrying up a classic tower.
What’s your poison? Bouldering, sport climbing or trad climbing? Got your eye on any route around the Black Hills? Let us know in the comments below!