Sylvan Rocks Blog

Its a great year to be a 4th grader

Daryl Stisser - Monday, May 02, 2016

You may have heard about the National Park Service Every Kid in a Park program granting free entrance passes to all 4th graders, and now the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks is getting on board with the new news of their Go Fourth program for South Dakota 4th graders.

 Both of these programs are geared towards building appreciation of the natural world and getting kids and families outdoors.  We perhaps all spend a little to much time on the sofa enjoying a screen.  And that is awesome, but hiking, fishing, rock climbing, and even getting caught outside in a thunder shower are all things worth doing and these 2 passes are perfect venues for enjoying some amazing places in South Dakota and across the USA.




New World Headquarters

Daryl Stisser - Thursday, December 25, 2014

Most of you know that since 2006 Sylvan Rocks has operated out of the SR trailer at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.  We will still be doing that, but the home office where all the behind the scenes organizational magic happens is going to be moving to a new location this spring.  For many years Cheryl and I have rented a beautiful home just north of Custer.  It was designed and built by the late Loretta Muehl, wife of Paul Muehl, who as many of you know...authored a 'few' routes in the Needles...esp. Middle Earth.  Since Lorettas untimely death, Cheryl and I have rented the place.  Its been an awesome home.  Cheryl rides her bike to work or walks every day and I have a great office to work from.  

In true Jan form, in June of 2013, Jan Conn stopped by to ask our full names and mailing address.  She was on her way to visit her lawyer and intended to gift 10 acres of land that her and Herb had bought back in the early 1950's to Cheryl and I.  It was as close as they could get to living next to the Cathedral Spires.  Jan said something like "you shouldn't have to wait for some old lady to die to be living out there."  And as simple as that, the adventure began.  To say that Cheryl and I were thankful, excited and overwhelmed would  be an understatement.  After a bit of a gut wrenching nightmare battle with the Forest Service for access to the parcel that went on way to long, we finally started building in earnest about mid Oct.  If you have ever built a home, you understand that its been a lot to learn in a short amount of time and the amount of work is fairly overwhelming.  All good "problems" though.  Jan comes over several times a week (esp. when the weather is good) for lunch and visits to check on the progress.  We have lots of good friends who have been out to help, and excellent guidance from our friend and project captain...Shep Vail.

We have discovered a few things that we'd do differently next time, but we hope that this place will be home to Cheryl and I as well as WORLD HEADQUARTERS to Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service for many many years to come.  The Black Hills of South Dakota have been good to us, so I guess we will be staying as we are rooted here more then ever now.

The Pine Bark Beetles had killed most of the trees in the building site over the past few years, but we still had to tip over a few.  Amazing how fast a excavator works.

Jan was pretty impressed with the big machine and how well Matt operated it.  Because we had so much rock at the building site, we decided to build our home post frame style.....

The first poles rise out of the ground.

Happy to have had a nice warm October. 

The poo pipe goes in!

Unfortunately... Snow and cold moved rather then wait on concrete...we set trusses and closed the place in!  Being flexible and creative seems to be the key to progress this time of year.

FINALLY, the last truss....and a few weeks later....some concrete.

So many choices.

Feels good to have some indoor work and ready for the snow on Christmas Eve.  Happy happy Merry Merry  everyone!

Oldest rock climber to Summit Devils Tower

Daryl Stisser - Tuesday, June 03, 2014

We have had many interesting and awesome guest and I try not to spray about them, but it has been a few years now, and I've talked about it, but never blogged about it until now.  But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Sylvan Rocks guide Tony Schwatz had the pleasure of guiding the oldest free climber ever to the top of Devils Tower.   If I'm wrong and someone older has made the trip, please let me know.

In 2010, Amanda called me up and booked a trip for Siegfried since his english was not as good as hers.  I think she may have mentioned something about him being older, but it was a non-issue.  I didn't think much about it, as I knew Matt would handle whatever came his way.  So Matt Mieczkowski heads over to the Tower, and met up with this Austrian dude.  That was the year the Durrance Route was closed so they fired up El Cracko without problem.  Come to find out, Siegfried was 81years old and not afraid to perhaps pull on a piece of gear though the crux.   I thought that that was pretty darn cool.  I've seen guys young enough to be Siegfrieds great grand children get shut down by Devils Tower.  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Rock climbing up Devils Tower is just pure work...there is no easy way climb up that darn Tower.  I wish there was, but if you wanna get to the summit and earn that view, you gotta really want to get there.

So, 2012 rolls around, Amanda calls back and booked several days of climbing in the Needles and another trip up the Tower.  Amanda...Siegfrieds younger wife at the tender age of 67 had started going to the climbing gym with him every week and she got in on the action when she joined Tony and her hubby for the 3 days spent climbing in the Needles, but on Sept 9, 2012 Siegfried chugged his way up the Durrance route.  In Tony's words..."he was a machine."  I'd like to think Tony's great guiding had something to do with it all, but truth be told, Tony just hung the rope for a very determined bundle of energy to blast his way up the route climbing in a controlled, steady, good climbing form.   How cool is that?  All the next 40 years of medicine can bring on...if Cheryl and I can goto the climbing gym once a week when I hit 80 and summit the Tower at 83... to say the least, I will be pretty psyched.

In talking to Siegfried, he said he climbed from age 30 to 50, then quit for 20 years, but at age 70...he decided that it was time to get back into rock climbing.  So, I guess that he is set up until 90 or so.  We will hope for another visit from Amanda and Siegfried.  Two of the sweetest, most humble guest I have met.

Just let it be known that while the great Frank Sanders is getting a little long in the tooth...he has another generation of climbing the Tower before he catches up to Siegfrieds age record.  I think the gauntlet has been thrown...lets salute 2 of my favorite athletes.  Amanda and Siegfried

When I hit 83...I wanna watch this shadow and capture this photo like Siegfried did.  A guy can dream.  Right?

Have you been inspired today?

Daryl Stisser - Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Its been many years now since we have adventured in Patagonia, yet in many ways, my heart is still there.  There in a way that the Black Hills were after my first visit here.  I knew I'd be back...I knew that I'd make these granite spires part of my life.  It is amazing how a place, a landscape can capture a persons heart and inspire them to act on dreams...obsessions...goals ...desires.  I have dreamt about a little cabin for Cheryl and I at the end of the world down there.  A simple life with the gauchos on the pompas.  Not sure I'll ever have the guts to leave all this behind, but I hold it up as an ideal and a fall back when things get hectic around here.  I know that being down in Argentina would come with its own set of issues, but in the dream can bring a smile on a rough day and that can be worth a lot.

I don't really know Rolando, but from the video shown here by Black Diamond, he seems like someone I'd enjoy sharing a cup of Mate with.  Sometimes you see a little glimps of something good and it makes you need to grow a little more.  Today, for was talking with a good friend on the phone and watching this video.  Salute....and thanks to those who make things happen for themselves and others by living a life that inspires us all. 

Click here or on the pic to watch the video and read about Rolo.

Have you been inspired today?

New Mountain Pro Edition

Daryl Stisser - Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The UK's E-zine Mountain Pro has a new edition out.  There are a few nice articles to check out.  Snow falling here for the past 3 day.  Should have done a time laps when it was really coming down this morning....or stayed in Moab instead of coming home!!!

Click on the pic and check out the magazine...grab a cuppa good coffee and enjoy.  Climbing season will be here soon enough.

Devils Tower Climbing Video - Jenn Flemming and Guide Anthony Schwartz

Daryl Stisser - Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Many of you have climbed and been guided by Anthony Schwartz.  He loves climbing as much as anyone I know.  He lives it...breathes it...and he is mighty good at it.

This video, put together by the National Park Service about climbing at Devils Tower National Monument, does a great job of not only describing what it is like to climb on the rock at Devils Tower, but captures a little bit of why rock climbing is such a great activity.  The images feed into the feeling of empowerment / respect for what surrounds a climber up on the stone, and the sheer joy that people experience when they slide fingers and toes into perfect holds and micro ledges.  Up on the wall with just a rope, gear and a partner or guide, life is simplified.   Life is good.

Pull, push, rest.....flow....enjoy the moment, embrace the challenge.  

These are things that make climbing so worthy and life worth living.  We all have to have something to motivate us beyond the normal day to day grind.  For many people, the adventure of rock climbing is that thing that takes life to the next level.

Tony was part of the team of pro climbers and videographers that put this great piece together.  He shared his knowledge of Devils Tower, his love for climbing and rope skills to help put that crew in position to get those inspiring shots.  

I hope you enjoy the video and descriptions Jenn Flemming shares about climbing in special places like "Devils Tower National Monument in beautiful northeast Wyoming"....  Anyone take a guess who I stole that line from?

Should you choose to hire Sylvan Rocks to guide you up the top of Devils Tower...I promise we will choose routes with appropriate challenges.  While there is no super easy way to the top of the Tower, there are many ways with much larger handholds and footholds then the routes that were shown in this video.  Climb on!

Jenn Flemming in Devils Tower:  National Parks Epic Challenge video.  Thanks to Camp 4 Collective for doing such a great job putting this video together for the National Park Foundation.

AMGA Survey Results

Daryl Stisser - Friday, September 27, 2013

Whats it like to be a rock climbing guide?  Best job in the world right?  Well most guides do enjoy a sweet office space, but it does help to enjoy living out of your backpack and being extremely tolerant of less then idea weather if you choose to pursue this career path.

The AMGA collected some data about guides and this is what they to shared.  Click to read more.  

Mount Rushmore Access Fund Trail Day July 27

Daryl Stisser - Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Access Fund Conservation Team is scheduled to arrive in the Black Hills in a few weeks to help the Black Hills Climbers Coalition with a trail project at The Mount Rushmore Climbing Area.   On Saturday July 27, plan to come and volunteer on the project.  Along with working on improving the climbers trail up towards Garfield Goes to Washington on the Emancipation Rock Formation...there will be other projects that we could use some help with.

 Be sure to keep watching the Sylvan Rocks and BHCC Facebook pages and calendars for more updated info as the event gets closer.

 Check out the video of the Access Fund Conservation Team working in Utah with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance.  You might recognize a Black Hills local in the video moving a few stones.  


Happy Salathé Day. 25th anniversary of the FFA

Daryl Stisser - Sunday, June 16, 2013

I was emailing with Paul Piana yesterday, and he wished me a Happy Salathé Day!  25 years ago, he and Todd Skinner made history.  Here is how he described it in an interview with NPR  

"Mr. PIANA: Well, it made a big splash in the climbing world, actually. It was something that the climbing world hadn't considered as possible. And in some ways, parts of our minds didn't consider it possible either, but we believed it just enough to continue trying. And we tried and we tried and we tried. And most of those tries we failed. We only succeeded on one of the tries. And I can remember being a rope length from the summit with Todd, when we knew we really had it done, we'd succeeded, and how much fun that was. I can't imagine giving so much physical and mental effort to succeed on something as ridiculous as climbing a big rock wall with anybody but Todd."

Free climbing thousands of vertical feet like that.....I cannot imagine the giddy feeling these to men must have felt as they finished something so bold. 

The climbers of today continue to break records, climb new lines, and create rad new challenges for themselves, but without a doubt, Paul and Todd were an unforgeable team that opened the minds of many to what might be possible.   Thanks to both of them for dreaming big and going on to live out those dream!

If you are interested in seeing some great photos of that trip.  There is a collection of Bill Hatchers work on Todds website.  Click Here for the Link

Take Care of Your Rock Climbing Gear

Daryl Stisser - Saturday, June 15, 2013

During staff training, we talk about all kinds of things that concern how to best take care of ourselves and our guest while rock climbing.  How we take care of our rock climbing gear is on that list of topics.  While discussing this, Cheyenne brought up this Blog post from Black Diamond.


 Acid was the reason found for this harness failure.  Bottom line.  Watch what you do with your harness.  Word to the wise.  Do not lay your climbing gear down in a parking lot.  There can be bad things on the ground that you can accidentally pick up.  Your climbing gear is your life.  Take care of it.  Don't be afraid to replace it early and often.

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Group Options

Create an adventure everyone will remember.

Youth groups, scouts, bowling teams or corporate teams can all enjoy a day out on the rock.

Call 605-484-7585 to reserve a spot for your group on the climbing calendar. Reservations can only be made via phone, but feel free to email with questions. Scroll for a list of options.

    Daryl, Thanks for taking our two groups rock climbing this summer. The campers who went had a great time.  They said the sessions went well, they learned a lot, and the instructors were very nice and good teachers. I hope we have more groups for you next year.       Mary Stutz- Atlantic Mountain Ranch Director

Courses and Rates

    Option #1)  Discover Climbing: This is our most popular and most requested group option. We’ll meet your group at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, suit up with climbing shoes, harnesses and helmets, and after some instruction covering moving around on the rock and tying into the ropes, we get our hands on the granite.  We set up top ropes to challenge everyone at their own level.   As time and ability allow, we teach students to belay and allow them to belay each other. The focus of the course is not so much to make climbers out of the group, but rather provide a memorable adventure that is the high point of any Black Hills trip.    Approx. 4 hours     

    Cost: $71 plus tax per person


Option #2) Basic Rock: We start by top roping and getting comfortable with climbing and using the gear, then move on to having the students belay their guide as he/she leads climbing routes. The guide then brings their students up the summits to rappel off. This challenges the students to learn a lot in a short period of time such that they can belay, climb, summit and rappel with a guide. A busy day with all gear and equipment provided.

    Time: Approx. 6 hours

    Cost: $160 plus tax per person

    Option #3) Tetons Prep Course:  While working with Exum Guides of Jackson, WY, on a day long prep-course designed to get climbers ready for ascending the Grand Teton, we also discovered a great group/team building course. We cover the basics of tying in and belaying with a twist. The long standing tradition of the hip belay will be used to get participants up a 3 pitch route then face their fears of height and exposure by rappelling off the back side. Group members depend on one another to belay each other up the rock under the watchful eyes of the SR staff. The summit is beautiful and exposed enough to keep everyone's the words of my father on the way up the Grand Teton, "I now understand what you mean by EXPOSURE." It's something you have to experience!

    Time: Approx. 5 hours

    Cost: $120 plus tax per person

    Option #4) Climbing Devils Tower: A two day (minimum) course for highly motivated groups that have some prior climbing experience. (Students must possess certain skills and physical abilities before we will allow a summit attempt). Depending on how we do it, the Tower summit day is 5-7 pitches, so motivation and endurance are critical to success. Obviously the view from the top is wonderful. SR can set up camping at a convenient location very close to the Tower for a very reasonable fee. We may be able to work it out to do both days over at the tower if that is preferred. Day 1) An even more intense version of Basic Rock: We cover all the basis of climbing, rappelling AND introduce multi-pitch climbing systems. Day 2) Up early for an alpine start (as in 1st light, 4am in the summer). From the visitors center near the base of Devils Tower we hike up to the base and begin our day. Groups of 2-4 students per guide will leave the ground for a full day of stemming, jamming, hanging out on belay ledges and summiting Devils Tower. Once there, the journey is only half over, as rappelling down beside the route we went up is its own adventure.  4 long raps get us to the ground. Expect to be worn out after this one!

With big groups it is greatly preferred that we split the group into two, and set things up so that they each summit on different days. The logistics will be far easier on everyone. Definitely an experience everyone will remember!

    Time: 2 long days
    Cost: Call for options

    Option #5) The Cathedral Spires Summits: These beautiful granite spires are some of highest points of the Harney Range. 2-3 pitch routes of varying difficulty can offer an exciting way to learn what climbing is all about and have a chance to practice what you learn. The summits offer a unique view of Harney Peak and on a clear day one can see out to the plains of the Badlands and appreciate the sudden and dramatic uplift called the Black Hills. We have several options for climbing up there.

    -We could do a long 1 day course.

    -Begin with a Discover Climbing Adventure to learn the basic skills. Then come back the next day and head right up - shooting for 2 summits. A great day and a half.

    -Set up a 2 day Devils Tower prep course, and really have enough time to teach the group about rock climbing and allow time to practice what they are learning. This is great adventure climbing and groups bond with the beautiful, rugged, yet fragile area we have to enjoy.

    Time: Lots of options

    Cost: Varies with activity

Prices based on groups of 14 or more.

Slide Show
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Climbing up the Spires in Custer State Park - Looking down at the Black HillsCuster State Park - Black Hills - South Dakota - ten-pins
Rock Climbing in Custer State Park - Black Hills - South DakotaYoung rock climber at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
Rock climbing in the Black HillsDad and sons on top of one of the many great Black Hills Summits.
Cathedral Spires - Custer State Park - Black Hills - South DakotaClimber in the Black Hills, Custer State Park
Top of Cathedral Spires -Custer State Park, SDClimber in Spires-Black Hills-SD - Route is