AOP backpacks Black Hills

The Augustana Outdoor Program (AOP) goes on a weekend-long backpacking trip in the Black Hills once a year. Ryan Brown, AOP director, and six students left Sept. 17 and got back late Sept. 19.

Brown said the trip is great for beginners who have never backpacked before, as the hike is not through strenuous terrain, and the short trip allows for light packs. He usually takes five or six students through about 25 miles throughout the entire weekend, though more are welcome.

“I try to get them [students going on the trip] here [the Elmen] as soon as they get out of class on Friday so that we can get packed up, and then we’re sprinting out of here to try to get out to the hills and to our trailhead that same evening,” Brown said.

The backpackers got to the trailhead around midnight, then hiked about a mile before setting up camp. The first night, they were able to sleep out in the open with their sleeping bags.

Oda Mikalsen, a student from Norway who is studying abroad for a semester at Augustana, was among the students sleeping under the stars.

“It was really good because it was a clear sky,” Mikalsen said. “I woke up in the middle of the night, and the sky was so beautiful.”

Senior Lauren Ostlie, Freshman Berend Tomesen and other hikers stop for a photo while climbing through the Black Hills. Photo by Berend Tomesen.

Sophomore August Gatzke, another backpacker, was able to get up early and hike to see the sunrise, with a couple others doing the same later.

They went back to camp and had an oatmeal breakfast with the whole group before setting off on the first long hike of the weekend.

“We hiked for, I think, it’s about three miles for the first part,” Brown said. “Then, we dropped packs, and there’s a little spur trail that goes up to Mount Rushmore. And so we go do a side hike and go walk into Mount Rushmore.”

After spending some time there, they hiked down, grabbed their packs and continued on.

“Then, we hung out at camp, had supper,” Gatzke said. “It was great. It was a long day. It was really hot, so it was really nice to just relax.”

The group was able to talk and have the night to recover from the day’s activities before hiking for about seven more hours on Sunday.

They hiked to Black Elk Peak,  the tallest elevation peak in the eastern United States, east of the Rocky Mountains.

“It was really, really tough because I think everyone was really tired,” Oda said, “but it’s so worth it.”

After finishing the day’s hike, the backpackers drove to Rapid City and had pizza for dinner, before heading back to campus, arriving at 11:30 p.m.

The Black Hills backpacking trip was the first AOP trips of manyw throughout the year.

There will be a fall break trip to Yellowstone in a few weeks as well as two ski trips in the winter. AOP also offers shorter activities, including hour-long hikes, trap shooting, archery and rock climbing.