South Dakota: World Class Climbing

Two years ago, I was asked by the Rapid City Journal to write a weekly column about rock climbing--specifically climbing in the Black Hills area. It was a fun experience purely as a creative exercise. Even though it was a while ago, I still run into people who mention that they enjoyed the column. I was very happy to be able to go climbing with an old friend last weekend, so I've decided to post a few of my columns here. This is the unedited, author's cut. The columns were, generally, just edited for length, so here I will post the entirety of those columns.
Originally published May 17, 2008

South Dakota: World Class Climbing

Wait, what? As someone who grew up with the Black Hills in my back yard, it seems odd to think that we have a natural resource comparable in beauty, history, and recreational opportunities as any of the more famous hot spots of outdoor recreation. Maybe the mountains aren't as tall, or the rivers as wide, but what we lack in quantity, we make up in quality. In particular, the Black Hills boasts rock climbing that is worthy of international attention in the climbing community.

I've been rock climbing for 14 years. While I can't say I've climbed the classic routes in the "Valley" (Yosemite Valley), I have traveled around and sampled climbing in the Colorado Rockies, the Grand Tetons, and, of course, Devil's Tower. If you're at all interested in more vertical activities, I can safely say we live in a very special place.

One of the great things about learning and growing as a climber is being a part of a global community of people. Through climbing, I've been fortunate enough to meet and correspond with people from all corners of the planet. Some of my favorite climbing experiences have been with people from out-of-state or overseas.

Several years ago, a climber named Andy contacted me through an online discussion group. He said he was traveling across the country and wanted to know where to go to find climbing information about the Black Hills. I told him about the climbing shops that were in business at the time, and offered to show him around and point out some of the better climbs in the area. He took me up on the offer.

Andy was born and raised in Australia and had been working in California for a few years before packing his climbing gear and a wireless laptop into a Subaru station wagon headed east. He had been through Yosemite Valley, the Sierras, the Olympics, the Rockies, the Tetons, and Devil's Tower. Andy showed up alone at the Sylvan Lake parking lot. He had been climbing in all these great places with whomever he met along the way. So, instead of just helping him find a few climbing routes, we climbed three "classic" climbs of Sylvan Lake and the Cathedral Spires together. Local climbers might recognize the names: Conn Diagonal, Aquarium Rock, and Spire Four.

A gracious offering of Vegemite was on the lunch menu. Two liters of water later, we were headed to our third climb of the day.

Even though we were tackling some pretty easy climbs, Andy seemed to enjoy the different challenges each climb provided. Specifically, the "airy" hand-traverse on the Conn Diagonal elicited more than a few comments. When we were hiking back to the car, Andy told me he was honestly surprised to find such great climbing in our relatively small mountains. Climbers who think they're missing out by not living near a thousand-meter wall of sheer granite don't know how great our back yard really is.