If you have ever been to the Badlands in South Dakota, this is like that, except on steroids!
We arrived at the ranger station of the North Unit on Friday night, right before they were closing, to get our back-country permits. We were so looking forward to this trek this 18 mile loop trail! Last year when we were at the park it was unseasonably hot and dry. The park ranger said it was extremely risky to go on that trail and so at that time we choose a different one.
We were prepared for the hike this time around with over 4 liters of water each. Water filters don't work in the river because there is so much mud, it would just clog the filter. So we opted to just carry our water. In addition, we had previously spoken to John, the park ranger who built the trails back in the 70's, and he gave us a lot of good advice at that point in time. We listened to what he said and we were prepared for anything (or so we thought)!
After picking up our permits and being warned about the difficulty of this trail by a different ranger, we were on our way. We camped at the Juniper Campground ($14/night in the summer) since the trail head wasn't very far from the camp. We decided to park one vehicle at the campground and have another one at the Oxbow overlook just in case anything happened. There was a 5 gallon water jug, snacks, and all sorts of other stuff in the vehicle.
We had a not very restful night on Friday due to some very rowdy campers so we were ready to leave in the morning, just to get the heck out of there. On a side note: please be respectful of the quiet hours at any park. Not everyone is there to just party and sleep until noon the next day.
Another obstacle that came up was the extreme heat. We thought we prepared well enough for it with each of us packing our own water but it was just so hot we ended up drinking more than we anticipated. Since we were eating really healthy, Jake thought he was eating enough calories to sustain himself for the trip. But about three miles from Oxbow Overlook, Jake was feeling really light headed and just not good at all. We encouraged him to take a break and eat some food. Once we asked him how much he had eaten that day, we all realized that he was fatigued from eating barley anything. So with that and the extreme heat, he wasn't feel too hot.
On another side note: pick who you backpack with carefully. Make sure you go with people who have your back and you all support each other. I have been on trips before where that wasn't the case and it can turn bad real quick. We have been very blessed to become friends with the couple that we now backpack and hike with regularly! It is hard to find people that are passionate about the outdoors even more so than we are!
Back to the story: so this Tyvek sun shelter is pretty sweet! Our buddy had purchased the Tyvek off amazon and the attached some sort of material with sturdy tape to make loops so you can either stake the sides down or use your trekking poles. It worked like a charm! Jake ate and we were all feeling a bit better after having a break from the gnats and sun.
At this point we had gone about 8 miles and the original plan was to make it to Sperati Point because that is where most people camp when they are backpacking the full trail. Due to the water situation, we each only had about a liter left each and that wouldn't get us through to the morning. We had about 3 more miles to the car, which was were 5 gallons of water was, so we opted to power through and get to the vehicle.
At this point it was the hottest part of the day and we were hiking up the bluffs so it was slow going. The views from the top though made it all worth it. I love Theodore Roosevelt NP because of it's rugged beauty!
A couple had to be rescued because they got lost trying to find the spring and there was a bison in their way. So when they tried to go around him, they lost the trail. They did have cell service at that point so they were able to call for help. They were a bit dehydrated but luckily the rangers were able to find them and get them out before the situation became any more dire.
We saw the couple in the beginning of the day and chatted with them and they never said anything about needing help. Please, if you are unsure of where you are or are nearing the point of needing help, don't be afraid to ask some stranger you see on a trail. Anyone would be more that willing to help another hiker in need. Also, it is always better to be over prepared than under prepared. We all thought we were carrying a ridiculous amount of water when we started the day and each one of us drank ALL the water we had.
Jake and I set up our tent on this spot with no grass and wasn't nice rich soil like you find in Iowa. No, this was bentonite clay which gets SUPER slimy when wet. Our friends sent up on the other side of the game trail in a spot with sparse patches of grass. Setting up your tent when backpacking is very important because you have to think about the potential dangers that could happen while you are in that location. You have to think of all of the possible situations and then pick the best spot based on your options available and then, hope for the best.
You don't want to do anything to startle they or make them feel threatened. The two big guys passed through with no problem but there was still another three on the horizon that we couldn't tell what they were doing because it became too dark. We tried to fall asleep hoping that the bison wouldn't stumble upon us.
I finally fall asleep and then around 1:00am I am woken up by this super strong gust of wind that blows all this sand and dirt straight into my face. Jake and I backpack with the Tarp Tent - Rainbow tent. Now, I got this tent before Jake and I started dating so I forgot it was a single, one-person tent! Here we have been using it on all our trips together, WITH our 65lb Labrador cuddled up between us! The only reason I know this is because I emailed Tarp Tent after the story I am about to tell you to let them know how great this tent is! They were shocked we could fit in that size of a tent comfortably!
So this little, snuggly tent has a tub design, and then a few inches of netting before connecting with the material of the tent sides. So this huge gust of wind brings all the dust through the netting. And how Jake and I were positioned with our tent location, all the wind was coming up through the coulis and directly at our tent. So that first gust of wind started the next adventure of this trip...where we thought we were going to die.
After the wind started howling, the driving rain came, then the thunder and lastly the lightning. The lighting was so close we felt it shake the ground on more than one occasion. That's when I started crying and praying that we would make it through. I told Jake, I don't want to die a single woman! The storm lasted for a few hours and we found out later the rangers had to go into the Juniper Campground to wake people up and warn them about the 110 mph winds that were coming with the severe thunderstorm warnings. So imagine having to deal with a storm like that in a tent, in the middle of nowhere.
Our trusty little tent did not fail us though. Since the winds were so strong we were holding down the tent sides because we were afraid the tent would blow away, with us in it. We found out in the morning that our friends' tent stakes did come up and they were also holding their tent sides down. We were happy that ours didn't cave in and that all except one stake stayed firmly in the ground. So after another night of barley any sleep, we wake up to a sunshiny day. We got out of our tents to survey the damage and that mud was atrocious. We were trying to decide if we continue the 6 miles back to the Juniper Campground but that had many unknowns for the trail conditions and we didn't want to get stuck with being miles away from anyone and have to get rescued. The other option was to hike back to the SUV since it was only a mile away. Also, people were bound to start showing up since it was a popular overlook. We figured if we got stuck it would be easier to be rescued where we were.
So we waited a little bit to see if the mud would dry out at all so we can hike back up the bluff to where the SUV was. That was the longest mile ever! Imagine trying to hike up the trail on these bluffs that were a muddy mess. And not just regular mud, but slimy, slippery, bentonite clay. We had to go off trail a few times but most of the time there was just one way up because there was a sheer drop-off on one side and the other side was a high bluff.
We finally make it out of there and people cheer as we make it to the top! We were so happy to make it out! Once we got back in the vehicle we talked about trying to salvage the rest of the trip and we all decided to screw it, we had enough adventures for one trip!
Though we dealt with a lot on that trip, it has become one for the history books because we learned an absolute ton about ourselves and our fellow backpacking buddies!
Blog post written by Amy Karras
For the love of travel and new adventures, we live our lives for the next dream fulfilled!