Seven Days on the Maah Daah Hey
Grand Rapids, MI
Kirsten and I have been preparing for the ninety-six mile hike for months. We have carefully planned how much food we will need for the seven-day adventure and where we will restock for water on the trail; and we have trained at home by walking fifteen miles back-to-back on weekends. Finally July has come – the month for our hiking adventure in North Dakota! Last year we were on a portion of the Maah Daah Hey in the lower unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) and we have dreamed all that winter of returning to hike the entire trail! And now we are here, at the north end of the trail, starting our hike. I have a case of nerves. What am I doing? Will we be able to do this? What if something happens to us out there?
My nerves quickly go away once I am on the trail. My pack weighs fifty pounds to start. Much of the additional weight is the water we need to safely reach Magpie Camp -- as Bennett Camp is just too far for us to hike off the trail. On our first day we hike to mile 80 and set up camp. We have many adventures just on our first day! We come up on a herd of deer, we slide down and climb out of a ravine because the bridge got washed out, and we have to figure out how to get across an impassable creek.
Day Two on the trail is especially hard for me. My body is learning how to deal with the heat and my feet are extremely sore. We plan on hiking at least fourteen miles per day. We start hiking each day at 5:00 a.m. in the morning and walk until it gets too hot. Then we find a shady scenic spot and rest until the heat of the afternoon has dwindled, and then we finish the day by hiking the remaining 6-8 miles. Sometimes it is dusk when we set up our tent. On the second day we have made our mileage goal at 7:30 p.m., and as soon as the tent is set up I crawl in and don’t wake up until 5:00 the next morning!
The scenery we pass each day is truly amazing. Walking in the early morning light makes the badlands even more dramatic. Our feet are always happy when we climb up on a high grassy plateau. One day on top of a plateau we watch a storm cross over the Badlands. Lighting strikes all around, the wind picks up, the cloudscape is dramatic and then the finale -- a rainbow! Another time we come up on a natural watering hole and scare a whole herd of antelope. We stand silently as the herd gallops around us. I think that it is truly a privilege to be here on this trail – seeing, smelling, hearing – experiencing all of this. Many other adventures are had during our week long adventure. I come way too close to a rattlesnake and we have a wild Little Missouri River crossing near mile 47. But we walk on everyday and the mile markers slowly go down … we count down into the 30’s, then the 20’s and then we only have three more miles to go. I am ready to get off the trail and go for a hamburger at Buffalo Gap Ranch … and yet, that means the adventure is over.
At Sully Creek State Park we cross the Little Missouri again and shortly after, we have finished our hike. We’ve heard that the trail is being extended, so we know we’ll be back to our beloved North Dakota soon!