The hike occurred on Labor Day, 2020, my 10th HighPoint overall, and 6th for the weekend (of 8). A winter storm warning had been announced for above 5,000 feet/1,524 meters, 6"-9" of snow expected, and it had been drizzling all day. I did the longer loop, Trail 4 to Trail 9S to Black Elk Peak, and then Trail 9N back to the lot, expecting to be gone before the snow arrived. Nope.
The first two miles were in windy drizzle, included a spur trail toward Little Devil's Tower and the final six miles, up to the peak and then back to the parking lot on Trail 9N were in accumulating snow and the last 30 minutes were in darkness. The snow covered trail and the darkness combined to make it difficult to see what was under the snow and slowed my progress.
The Trail 4 spur trail to Little Devil's Tower involved some short vertical climbs, the first was about 15 feet, manageable in the rain with the natural and hand placed stones in the crevice, but the next vertical was on a sheer rock face and with the rain coming down attempting the ascent probably would have been a bad idea so I turned around and went back to Trail 4. The view of Cathedral Spires was shrouded in fog and snow which gave it a magical look.
Trail markings were pretty good although there were times when I wished there were more markings. Also the snow warning may have scared people away. I only encountered six people during the entire 8 miles. With snow covered ground the obvious trail had disappeared, no foot prints in the snow because everyone was long gone, and there were no markers on the trees in flat more open areas so the direction was occasionally confusing coming back down. I came down on a different trail so everything was new and took some short and inadvertent “spur trails” to nowhere.
The USGS Medallion is about 300 feet N-NW of the Observation Tower on the peak and that too was beyond common sense to try to reach in the accumulating snow. Plus, the peak is sacred ground primarily for the Lakota First Nations People as well as other FIrst Nations People. A hiker will see prayer flags attached to trees around the peak and I did not want to take a chance on disturbing them.
The entire hike was an incredible experience! I was the last person to leave the snow covered parking lot without tire marks from other hikers.
A Ranger said Black Elk Peak (BEP) was closing on Tuesday, Sep 8, but I only see that Trail 9S is closed M-Th for trail safety maintenance. BEP is in Custer State Park and a $20 one day access fee was required. Also, a Trail Registration card needs to be completed once you crossed into the Black Hills National Forest and a copy left in the overflowing trail registration boxes.
The entire area is another beautiful area of the USA even in the wind driven rain and snow.