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Tour De Granite

The feats we embarked upon included tens of tens of miles upon two wheeled carriages intermixed with bouts of below moderate to lesser grades of climbing stone, with no apparent reason other than to get higher off the ground.

As we finished loading and packing our bikes, another flash of lightning and crack of thunder rumbled outside my parents’ garage. We did what we could to pass the time and eventually, once the lightning subsided, we decided to go for it, even in the last of the rain. We knew we had about 17 miles to bike, half on gravel and half on pavement to get to our first crag. The ride was fantastic and the morale very high, despite getting soaked and having some tough uphill biking. 


Breezy Point was our first stop, thankfully when we arrived the rain had subsided and the rock was dry. We had an approach of less than 10 minutes to get to the Hall of Truth. I was psyched to get to the climbing so I jumped on the first route, Enjoy the Journey 5.7, and cruised to the top. Chet followed and then led the 2nd route, which was a bit longer and tougher, Probable Cause, 5.8. All the while, my brother, Izzy filmed and snapped some photos.  


We repacked the bikes, feeling accomplished with riding seventeen miles and climbing two routes in just a couple of hours. The next stop was Wrinkled Rock Climber’s Camping Area to drop gear and set up camp before continuing to the next crag. Our buddy, Vaughn, who wasn’t keen on biking, met us at the campsite and he would join us for the rest of the trip, just driving instead of biking. It was only a 5 minute walk through the trees to our next spot. We had two classic routes, Just Jugs 5.8 and Fintastic 5.7, that were directly next to each other. So, we set up 2 ropes, I led one and Chet led the other. We stayed at the top so all 4 of us could top out together. Since we all topped out together, it took a little more time, and we could see the sun steadily heading for the horizon.  

 

We quickly swapped routes, sent them without problem, and went to find another route less than a minute away. Izzy and I went to an easy 5.7, Dirty Little Secrets,  so I could teach him a few things. We climbed it easily, and Izzy did his first route cleaning of the trip. After that, he felt more confident, and you could see it in his smile. 


While we were on the 7, Chet and Vaughn climbed Hail Betty a 5.9 which was around the corner. As Vaughn was lowering, it was getting too dark to climb, and we were ready to head back to camp. Since we were only 2 miles from Mt. Rushmore, we decided to bike up and see the Faces lit up by the floodlights. We cruised back to camp from the monument, hooting and hollering through the dark with our bike lights illuminating the way. We had a hearty supper and fell asleep with smiles on our faces, glad that we could have the opportunity to bike and climb for an entire weekend.  

The next morning, we ate a good breakfast and packed up our bikes, except for our climbing gear. Again, we were walking distance from our next climbing area, The South Seas. I had mapped plenty of options for us, as long as there weren’t any other climbers on them. But of course, being a beautiful Saturday morning, we had to change plans a little and wait for other routes to open up.


We sent a couple routes right away, then we eyed a 2 pitch route that topped off on one of the tallest spires in the area. Again, to get all 4 of us to the top took a little more time than we wanted, but it was totally worth it for the view and the 160 ft rappel to the ground.

By the time we were down on the ground, with our 4 routes under our belts for the morning, we were starving and parched. We were running low on water, and it didn’t help that Chet only brought 1 water bottle that held a measly 16 ounces so he quickly consumed his water and moved on to ours.  Once again, we made the quick 2 mile ride to Mt. Rushmore. We beelined it for the drinking fountain to fill our empty bottles and chug water to soothe our dry throats. Since we stopped, we decided to have a quick lunch before our next ride to Rubik’s Ridge. There was one issue, when we arrived at the Mt. Rushmore parking lot, I slowly rode off the curb of the sidewalk and a seam on my saddlebag burst and my food, stove, and other supplies went skittering across the pavement. Thankfully, I had an extra strap and stuff sack so I could rig it in a way it would hold.

Leaving Mt. Rushmore was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. Cruising downhill at highway speeds with a gear-laden bike is a little intense, especially when you are keeping up with cars going 45 mph and even gaining on them. Thankfully we made it safely through that section and onto Iron Mountain road, which is an extremely beautiful and scenic road to traverse. Eventually, we made it to Rubik’s Ridge, feeling good but ready to take a break from a lot of uphill riding and ready to get back on the granite.  




Our first route, Kevin’s Influences, was one I had scoped out a couple weeks prior that was definitely going to be tough but had some sweet moves. It started with some great jugs, full and plump, on an overhanging rough, which gave way to smaller crimps as the roof ended and became vertical. Needless to say, it was a 5.12-, and none of us could actually climb it. But we attempted and loved the feeling of hanging from the rough and working out the sequence to get a little higher each time. After about a half hour of sweating it out, we crossed the highway to another granite rock face that had a couple of tricky 5.9’s right next to each other, Thanks Bret and A Lady, a Gentleman, and BK. I took the lead on one, while Chet took lead on the other, and Izzy and Vaughn belayed us. We suffered through those climbs not in great style, because our fingers were definitely starting to feel the 11 routes we had done in the last 24 hours.  


From there, we biked about a mile to a trailhead where we had to hike our bikes through a portion of the Black Elk Wilderness. It was a good time for us to slow down and reflect on what had happened thus far and enjoy the peacefulness of the forest. After a mile and a half of hiking the bikes, we met Vaughn at Iron Creek, where we had a chance to sit in the cool creek, refill water bottles, and munch on snacks.  


The following portion of the ride was some of the worst, in my opinion, only because we had about 9 miles and over 2,000 ft of elevation to gain. Thankfully it was smooth highway and beautiful scenery; it all went pretty quick, but there were times of near leg cramps. We had been steadily moving up the long, winding road and came to a scenic overlook, when a man from North Carolina stopped us and proceeded to dig through his Yeti and hand us his last 2 cans of Bull Durham Beer from NC. We chatted with him for a while and then made our way the last 2 miles upward to where we found camp and made a heap of food and enjoyed the beers (which usually I am not a big fan of beer, but me being very hot, sweaty, and tired, it was the best beer I’ve ever had).

Vaughn had met us again, and the running joke of the trip continued that he was making the trip feel all-inclusive for Chet because he provided a lot of amenities, including an extra plush 6-inch thick sleeping pad. We slept like the rocks we’d been climbing on all day.

I was the first to wake and get up so I started breakfast. We slowly packed up camp, grabbed our climbing gear, and headed for the 1st route. It was run out and scary looking. After the second bolt, we bailed. The bummer part was that we were in such an epic area for climbing, the Cathedral Spires, but most everything was trad and all we had was sport gear.  

Reluctantly, we moved on to the Needles Eye area, enjoying the quick ride. The parking lot was busy, and we were not the only climbers around. One open route right above the lot was The Hitching Post, rated 5.FUN, one of the easiest routes around but led up to an incredible spire. It’s one of the best summits for a low rated 5. We summited together then the rappel was an epic 90 feet straight down to the parking lot. You always have spectators in the Needles Eye area and with it being a warm summery Sunday it was hard to find some more open routes and we struck out walking around, which wasted some more valuable time.  

The ride from Sylvan Lake down to the town of Custer is 7 miles of beautiful narrow, downhill highway, which we bombed down in no time! That’s the thing, the downhill is so fun but always ends up going by too quickly. From Custer, we had another 8 miles on gravel to get to the crown jewel climb: Beecher’s Rock. We made a quick stop at my cabin (only a ¼ mile off route) where we topped off water and dropped whatever gear wasn’t needed. My wife greeted us with fudgesicles, which on a 90-degree day really hit the spot! It was a very quick stop, but we felt rejuvenated and so much lighter like we could fly! The last mile to Beecher’s Rock was a bumpy, rutted dirt forest service road that brought us within a quarter mile of the base, where Vaughn has breakfast bagel sandwiches waiting for us, he was the MVP of the trip!


Old drone shot of Beecher's Rock in winter.

The approach was the longest of the trip, but still easy. Upon arrival at the base we stood in amazement looking up and trying to imagine how a pair of towers like this was formed. Chester geared up with me on belay he started the climb, the bottom section he cruised through, the middle however was where it became more of a 5.11 climb and he struggled through, understandably. The top section was the fun climbing of the route! He cleared the whole thing and set up an anchor at the top! I climbed next and needed help in the middle section too. Arriving at the summit was an incredible feeling along with an amazing view! We were towering well above the trees on a flat-topped granite spire 90-some feet above the ground but the twin spires are perched on a hill giving them an even better vantage point! I fixed the line at the top, so Vaughn could jumar up and join us on the summit! Izzy was content to wait at the base and snap some photos and video, he was our primary film man for the trip and so climbing was secondary and a bonus for him. The rappel down was a sweet one, and as we were descending, we could see a thunderstorm rolling in in the distance. High-fives and hugs were shared at the base, but we knew we weren’t done biking yet. Vaughn graciously took the remaining gear aside from water bottles. From there, Chet, Izzy and I had another 16 miles to go to complete the loop and to where burgers and brats were awaiting!

Stats on the Trip:

75 miles biked

13 routes climbed

2 nights camped

Countless smiles

If you want to see the 20 minute film we produced then follow this link

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Isaac Parsons

I love massive trees, sitting on the edge of a cliff, and chasing waterfalls! I reside in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which I think is a hidden gem in this amazing world.