Granite Sports: A Love Story (or "How to pack for a jungle adventure.")

If I told you that my husband and I fell in love at Granite Sports, I would be telling the truth. 

Sure, there were a few other places involved too...we both volunteered for the same non-profit, we attended the same church, and we had several mutual friends. But, a good deal of our romance grew while folding t-shirts at the register in your friendly local gear shop during the fall of 2013 (as romance does). We were engaged the following August (a week after I returned from my solo-jaunt-of-singleness-and-self-discovery...perfect timing, really) and set about planning a wedding, and a honeymoon. In 90 days. 

What started as plans for a little honeymoon jaunt to a cozy cabin in the Big Horns turned into plans for a slightly more involved trip to Costa Rica, after a friend gifted us some frequent flyer miles. Of course I was pumped to be going to Costa Rica, but, I was not about to spend a week there just sitting on a beach sipping Pina Coladas. I'd heard enough about that country to know that there was adventure to be had, and I'll be darned if I wasn't going to have it. 

After a whole lot of hours on the Google, and a few more hours convincing my husband-to-be, we booked a tree house at a place called Finca Bellavista. Now before you go on imagining a jungle spa resort with japanese mineral baths and boutique dining experiences, let me be clear. The website for the Finca states that you should bring galoshes, luggage without wheels, and definitely flashlights (as there is no electricity in the tree houses). Oh, it also mentions that guests are responsible for finding their own 4-wheel drive transportation for the two-hour drive from the airport into the jungle. This was sounding better and better. 

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And it was! Our tree house stay at the Finca was incredible, and included waterfall treks, eyelash vipers, and an encounter with a rogue peccary on a day hike. Pretty much all the things every girl dreams of for her honeymoon. I could write and write about the property and the people and the natural beauty of the place, but I'll save that for a different blog post

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For now, I just want to highlight some of the Granite Sports gear we packed and used on our trip.  There's a lot of travel gear and  gadgets on the market, and honestly, some of it is superfluous for most adventures. But there are a few things that are truly worth the investment: 

#1) OSPREY PACKS: Like I said, the website for Finca Bella Vista dissuades guests from packing in rolling luggage. This is because you might have to hike up to a mile through the jungle to get from base camp to your tree house. So even though we weren't on a "backpacking" trip, it was really convenient to be able to stuff everything into a big bag and throw it on your back when it was time to go. Since then, I've started using my pack more and my suitcase less on trips for the grab-and-go portability of it. 

#2) OSPREY'S AIRPORTER TRAVEL COVERS: A pack cover like the Airporter is important if you plan on checking your pack with the airlines. It keeps all your zippers and straps contained and safely protected from conveyor belts and runway luggage carts, is outfitted with sturdy haul straps for lugging in and out of taxis, and serves as an additional piece of bag should you over-shop at the local handcrafts market. 

#3) CHACOS: I pretty much consider these a necessity for life, not just Central American travel. Seriously. They are the Macgyver of footwear. You can hike in them, wade in them,  run in them (if you need to, you know, from a rogue peccary...not necessarily your morning jog...), sleep in them, and dance in them. Which I did. At my wedding.

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#4) PETZL HEAD LAMPS: Our head lamps were indispensable on this trip. Sure, a standard flashlight will do the trick in a pinch, but when you're trying to cook in the dark it's pretty nice to have both hands free for the important things...like slicing mangos, lighting burners, and grinding coffee. 

#5) PATAGONIA TORRENTSHELL RAIN JACKETS:  The surprising thing about the rainforest is...it rains. And rains. And rains. We pretty much lived in these jackets for a good portion of the trip. And since it's also hot and humid while it's raining, we were pretty grateful for the pit zips. (Really...don't buy a rain jacket without pit zips. They're brilliant.) 

The best way to learn how to pack for a big trip is to go on one and find out what you really wish you had brought, and which things you never even take out of your bag. Regardless, if you head for the jungle with the love of your life you'll probably have a pretty good time either way. 

by Marci King

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Posted on October 19, 2017 .

One Unexpected Way to Improve Your Hiking Game

I haven’t always used trekking poles.  Like a lot of people, I thought they were only for people without good balance or those that were, in general, fairly inactive.  Boy, was I wrong!  The first time I used them was on a 17-mile trek in the Grand Canyon.  As many of you know, it is essentially 5,000 feet down and then 5,000 feet up.  Everything that I read said that I would be foolish not to bring poles.  They were right.  It made the hike much less taxing on my legs.  Once I got comfortable with a rhythm, I can honestly say they became an extension of my steps.  I have pretty lousy ankles and a number of times when the ground was uneven the poles saved me from an ankle turn.  Now, all of the benefits of trekking poles with a light pack are amplified with a 40 pound pack.  When you decide to zig and your pack decides to zag, a pole can be the difference between a slight stumble or a face-plant disaster.  

There are a lot of great hiking poles on the market.  When you are looking to buy new trekking poles, these are a few things to look for:

  1. Comfort – Make sure the handles and straps fit comfortably.  If the fit isn’t great, you just won’t use them.

  2. Good, sturdy adjustment mechanisms – You want something that is fairly easy to adjust and doesn’t slide or collapse with use.  There is nothing more annoying than having to stop and readjust your poles all the time because they keep getting shorter.

  3. Packability – I tend to like something that compacts down pretty small because it stores in my pack well and I can easily fit it in my carry-on if I am travelling somewhere and plan to get out and do a little hiking.  This is strictly personal preference.  I know a lot of people that forgo the more compact poles for ones that have a greater range of extension in the event they want to use them in conjunction with a light shelter.

  4. Durability – Check out the reviews on-line and stick with brands that are known to withstand substantial wear and tear.  Black Diamond and Leki are a couple of examples.

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Trekking Poles have improved my hiking distance with less fatigue and soreness afterwards. But don’t take my word for it.  Give them a try and your body will thank you.

by Pat Wiederhold

Posted on October 12, 2017 .

My Five Favorite Hikes in the Black Hills

 by Pat Wiederhold

The great thing about the Black Hills is that most of the hiking is very accessible and there is a lot of it.  I am sure that this list will be different for just about everybody, but these are the ones I enjoy the most.  Keep in mind, I live in Hill City so my list is dominated by hikes in the Southern Black Hills. 

5.  Black Elk Peak

This is easily the most popular hike in the Black Hills.  Starting at Sylvan Lake, this up and back to the lookout tower is a must do if you have never hiked here.  This 6.5-mile round tripper is well marked and on a clear day offers incredible views. 

My Favorite Part – Views from the tower

What I Don’t Like – Lots of people in peak season for a Black Hills hike

 

4.  Flume Trail

This is a 13-mile hike from Rockerville to Sheridan Lake.  However, I normally hike it from Sheridan Lake to the 2nd tunnel and turn around, which is about 5 miles.  It has great views of Sheridan Lake and Spring Creek and I think the old tunnels are a cool piece of history. 

My Favorite Part -  It offers a different kind of scenery than a lot of the hikes by or in Custer State Park

What I Don’t Like – The turn to the right by the Dam is not well marked and I ended up on a different trail the first time I hiked it. 

 

3.  Sunday Gulch

A 4-mile loop from the parking lot of the Sylvan Lake store.  This hike has a fair amount of elevation for a relatively short hike.  However, the stream trickling down thru the massive granite spires makes for some incredible scenery.

My Favorite Part – I like checking out the ice flows in early spring

What I Don’t Like – A portion of the loop is close to the highway and the traffic noise can be annoying

 

2.  Horse thief Lake Loop

A 4.5-mile loop starting at the Horse Thief Lake trail head.  This loop includes a portion of the Centennial Trail as well.  Essentially, take a right every time you see a trail (don’t hike the path down the creek half way thru as this is supposed to be closed) and you will end up at the highway across from the Big Pine Trail Head.  I walk down the highway 200 yards and cruise thru the campground back to my vehicle.  This hike includes small streams, massive granite, and beautiful sections of aspen.

My Favorite Part – The first ¾ mile of this hike is some of my favorite scenery in the Black Hills.

What I Don’t Like – Walking along the highway and thru the campground to finish

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1.    Little Devil’s Tower

A 3-mile out and back from the trail head just south of Sylvan Lake on the Needles Highway.  This is a great hike with amazing Custer State Park views.  It’s a great alternative to Black Elk Peak if you don’t have the time or energy and has a fraction of the people on it in the peak season.  It is not uncommon to see Mule Deer and Rocky Mountain Goats on this hike as well.  It has about 900 foot of elevation gain in a short distance so give yourself a little extra time. 

My Favorite Part – The views of the Cathedral Spires are awesome

What I don’t like – I wish it was a little longer.  The rock scramble to the top takes some people out of their comfort zone.

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As I said earlier, everyone will probably have a different list as we are fortunate enough to have lots of great hiking options in the Black Hills.  However, I hope this inspires you to go out and create your own top 5.

Posted on October 4, 2017 .