Lessons from Saddle Pass

After dinner on our first night in the Badlands my in-laws offered to watch the dog while my fearless foursome went off on a hike. Since we usually travel with the dog and the dog isn’t allowed on trails in the National Park, this is something we’ve actually never been able to do all together. We didn’t have a ton of time and I am quite limited on how far I can walk, so we picked the very popular Saddle Pass trail. I was very wary as the poor condition of my hip isn’t exactly amenable to this type of trail, but I wanted to to this with my family — sometimes you just have to go for it.

saddle passListed in the visitor guide as a ‘strenuous’ hike, this .25mile trail is steep. It boasts poor footing, occasional drop-offs, and wonderful views at the top. The kids, like little bighorn sheep, just scampered up like it was nobody’s business.

saddle pass 3Except for one time — after being warned during a particularly steep & slippery spot to stop talking and focus on her feet our girl did a complete face-plant. It was cartoon-style feet sliding out from under her and she just barely caught herself with her hands and bumped her chin.


There were some tears and a little blood, but mostly it was her pride that was wounded.

I was a little less than thrilled with the poor footing as this type of trail is particularly rough on my bum hip. It made me a little cranky, but I wanted to do this with my family so badly so I did my best to put on a brave face and to keep my complaints to myself. We all pushed on carefully and eventually managed to reach the top of the pass.

20140731-112038-40838996.jpgI found a little cairn that had been knocked down by the constant prairie winds. I rebuilt it. I always rebuild cairns when I find them toppled.

20140731-112145-40905828.jpgThe views were pretty amazing…

20140731-112144-40904132.jpgThe views at the top of things always are, aren’t they?

And on the other side of the pass…

20140731-112147-40907132.jpgThe endless prairie.

20140731-112040-40840339.jpgAfter playing & admiring at the top for a while, we began our descent. As always, the going down was more treacherous than the going up.

20140717_190822My new trekking pole/cane was put through its paces. I put off investing in a walking cane for a long time. It felt like admitting defeat to me in a lot of ways — that my hip was in some sort of final depressing decline. It turns out that really it just makes it possible for me to do things like this once and a while. I have tried regular hiking sticks, but I must say this one is by far the best I’ve tried. It has a speedlock height adjustment so it collapses down to be quite compact so it’s really easy to travel with, a rubber or carbide tip (the rubber tip comes on and off as you need it) and — most importantly for me — the cane grip lets me bear weight more easily than on a straight stick. It was irreplaceable during this hike and now that I’ve gotten over my own stigma for being a 34year-old who uses a cane, I use it any time I’m walking more than a couple blocks. It’s a lifesaver and even though it was hard to accept I needed this tool to help me, well, like I said before — there comes a time sometimes when you just have to go for it.

Of course, there were times when the footing was bad enough that I used my glissading skills…

me saddle passI feel like I have a lot of practice with the glissade for some reason.

When we made it back down, the long shadows and pink light of sunset were upon us.

saddle pass 2And we’d all made it, more or less no worse for the wear even considering I had an incredibly ungraceful slip in the last 20yards of the hike that required a 3-point landing. It was super classy, a fall with real flair – arms and legs flying and twisting in the air as I avoided landing on my bad hip (it’s a reflex from childhood that stays with me to this day). Ah, sometimes you just have to go for it — even when you are falling.

I walked away from the trail head and back to the car sore from my various slips and with the discomfort that comes with any real amount of walking these days. But I walked away with more than just aches and pains. I walked away thankful that I’d taken a chance and made the effort to do this hike — to be there when my daughter face-planted and for my kids to get a good laugh at my glissading and epic fall at the end. I was glad that I spent the time & money to research and order a good tool that made this effort easier. I was proud that I bit off just a little more than I could chew and I did ok. I was reminded that sometimes in life, and it’s just as true in my knitting and spinning, it’s good to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, to invest in the tools that enable you to get where you want to go, and sometimes to fall down spectacularly, with flair to spare. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

10 thoughts on “Lessons from Saddle Pass”

  1. When we were hiking in Zion National Park in May, I would often think of my daughter and how she’d handle the hikes. I suspect that *I* would be more nervous for her than she would be concerned. It’s fun to see how much your kids enjoy it.

    I think the views from the top are often the most beautiful because they have an aura of accomplishment surrounding them.

    1. We do this kind of stuff a lot and I will definitely say it raises my blood pressure more than anyone else’s. My son — who is 9 — is actually amazing to watch as he’s developed really good judgment & confidence. My 6-year-old girl is still pretty terrifying though. She is pretty naturally athletic & has great balance as far as climbing and running goes and she’s wiry & strong for her size, but her judgment isn’t quite there yet. I take a lot of deep breaths — LOL! But I do love that our kids are pretty well-versed in this kind of stuff and that while there are sometimes a few complaints, mostly they really have fun. πŸ™‚

      I think you might be right about the views from the top. I’ve never been much of a ‘view from the top’ seeker, but every once and a while it’s awfully nice.

  2. It was lovely to see your photos. We were in SD a few years ago. We went to the powwow on the pine ridge res. Then we drove thru the badlands. Amazing landscape. Celia from London England

    1. I have never been to a powwow — that would be amazing! The backroads we took into the park were pretty wonderful though! It’s definitely a beautiful place.

  3. What a great Mum you are, full of courage and “can-do”. I bet your kids will remember the South Dakota holiday.
    I’m loving the stories and pictures; we lived in Brookings SD (over on the East side, a bit north of Sioux Falls) for almost 6 months in 1983 while my husband worked at the SDSU veterinary diagnostic lab. We visited the Badlands, Rapid City, Deadwood etc etc so your photos and stories are a real blast from the past for me.

    1. I am not always perfect in the ‘can-do’ attitude department, but I did try this time! My husband and I like South Dakota quite a bit. In a lot of ways, it’s very classic Wild West and I like that. πŸ™‚ Beautiful long vistas, too. πŸ™‚

    1. Most of the time, I’m glowing with the achievement of one more vacation scrambling on the hills without an ER visit. πŸ™‚ It’s the little things – LOL!

  4. I haven’t been to South Dakota since I had kids…I think we will be using your blog posts next year to plan our trip! Such great information again! I love love love to hike & I am so sorry your hip has made it difficult–wonderful news you found a way to make it work! Oh, and P.S.-Your daughter’s curls are seriously GoRgEoUs!!!!

    1. Well, there are a number of things we didn’t do this year that I really recommend – the Mammoth dig site is my absolute FAVORITE spot and they have a cool kids archaeology program, but you have to sign up way in advance to get kids in. We’ve done the same trip a number of ways, so when the time comes if you want any ideas, let me know. I’d be happy to make a little list for you.

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