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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long Hike, Badlands National Park

August 22, 2011

Castle Trail, Medicine Root Trail, Saddle Pass Trail, and then back on Castle Trail

Right after we hiked the Notch Trail, we went across the parking lot and started the 8 mile hike on Castle Trail. The sky was mostly clear and bright blue with little/no wind to cool us that day. We started the hike around 10 AM as the temperature steadily climbed to 98 degrees F.

Little did I know that my comfort level was going to be tested that day. Every step we took, forced about 25+ grasshoppers to jump out in all directions. It was something that we had not anticipated but pushed through the hike. Castle Trail was tiny with grass growing over most of the path. This first part of Castle Trail was grassy, hilly, and took us through some ravines and brule formations. When we came to the junction of Castle and Medicine Root Trails, we took Medicine Root Trail.

Medicine Root had grassy flat plains with abundant grasshoppers; moreover, it housed rattlesnakes so we were alert but saw none throughout the entire trip. Flowers punctuated the trail but we didn't take any pictures of them since we were hiking quickly. There was one area of the hike where the land was littered with stones, making the area surreal, as if there were many people playing bocce right before we arrived. We happened upon a hiker at the end of Medicine Root, where the trail looped onto Castle Trail and met up with Saddle Pass. We were pretty tired at this point but the hiker told us that Saddle Pass was worth it though "you'd end up on your hands and knees scrambling down and then climbing back up." That was all the convincing we needed and started the descent down Saddle Pass.

Saddle Pass was tricky to descend without trekking poles as the ground crumbled very easily and had very steep areas that mimicked a slide. We grabbed onto the sides of the trail and tried to maintain our balance throughout the hike. M and I did have to slide down some of steep trails but we didn't get too dirty. Once we reached the bottom of the trail, we turned around and climbed right back up. The climb was tough and challenging and we had to climb with our hands and knees just to scale the brule formation. After climbing up from Saddle Pass, we took Castle Rock Trail back.

This part of the Castle Rock trail was very unearthly with barren, dry white ground, looming brule formations, and deep sporadic fissures in the ground. The trail markers were hard to find as they were hidden by these brule formations and we had to search around many hills before we could find them. The heat was intense as it was after noon. We rushed our hike since our water was low and we had run out of snacks. We hustled through Castle Rock and made it back to the car, completely exhausted and dehydrated.  The worst thing was that we only brought 2 liters of water each and one bag of Gardettos to share so please be well prepared. We learned our lesson the hard way. The best thing that happened was that after a long day's hike through the heat with no shade, I noticed that I had grown indifferent to the grasshoppers and hardly flinched when they landed on me. After this hike, we stopped at the Cedar Pass Lodge Restaurant. The food was good, cheap, and warm, much better than our prepackaged camp meals. Once we refueled, we drove back to our campsite an hour away and got ready for our next adventure.

Map of the hikes we did in purple; we went from Castle to Medicine Root (R to L), then looped back to the right.


Castle Rock Trail

Castle Rock Trail

Path on Castle Rock

Castle Rock

Medicine Root Trail

Medicine Root, narrow trail, grasshopper laden

Rocks on Medicine Root

Medicine Root

Saddle Pass

Saddle Pass, follow the blue trail markers to get down

Saddle Pass, at the bottom. On bottom right of photo is a blue trail marker

Back on Castle Rock Trail, very moon-like setting

Castle Rock

Example of why we got lost on Castle Rock: no sign of a marker, it was usually hidden behind  these brule formations so we had to search around the area for it

Tired...could not wait to get back to the car

Castle Rock

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