Our Story

  • AMGA Certified Guides
  • All Gear Included
  • Adventure of a Lifetime

Life is meant to 
be spent, not 

We believe EVERYONE can enjoy rock climbing with their friends and family at their own level.

We strive to share the vertical world, and give you a whole new vision from the summits of the Black Hills.

The Sylvan Rocks story started in 1974 when founder Susan Scheirbeck was taken rock climbing, but not taught anything about what was going on. Without any explanation of knots, gear, proper communication, anchor systems, safe rappel skills, or even how to move on the rock, she was taken up routes far too difficult for her to enjoy.

After an experience like that, many people would have never touched the rock again, but that initial experience prompted Susan to found Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service 15 years later. She created a climbing school that focused on fun while learning, and taught solid climbing techniques to build the skills needed for a lifetime of adventure.

Her operation grew from a small guide shack below the Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park to a successful downtown Hill City, South Dakota business. In 1991 Sylvan Rocks gained accreditation from the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), the foremost authority on climbing and mountaineering guide training in the United States.

“We’ve come a long way since 1989... I had a chance to prove our school’s teaching philosophy of thoroughness and have really enjoyed all the wonderful people who have been through our programs and are now solid climbers.” — Susan S.

Climbing was Susan’s love, but the growth of her other business venture, Granite Sports outdoor store, demanded more and more of her time. By 2002 running two businesses finally became too much to manage.

Sue sold Sylvan Rocks to Michael and Nicole Keegan, who had long dreamed of owning and operating a climbing school. They ran the school for three great seasons with the help of Matt Mieczkowski, as head climbing guide.

In January 2006, Daryl Stisser and Cheryl Mayer Stisser, who met in the Needles on a college rock climbing trip, purchased the climbing school and began pouring their passion for Black Hills climbing into growing the business. They successfully operated Sylvan Rocks for 14 seasons, transforming it into the premier rock climbing guide service in the Black Hills region.

In the spring of 2020 during the global COVID-19 pandemic, Daryl and Cheryl decided against opening for the season; and then concluded that it was time to pass on the Sylvan Rocks’ legacy to someone else that shared their love for climbing and guiding in the Black Hills. By mid-August they had found their successors.

Black Hills native, Brandon Emery, and Indiana native turned Black Hills transplant, Jeff Llewellyn, who had each spent multiple seasons guiding for Sylvan Rocks, chose to follow their shared dream and purchase the company. They were able to open the business for a limited late summer and fall season in 2020, and intend to be fully operational for 2021.

Brandon and Jeff are very excited to build upon Sylvan Rocks’ well-established reputation as the premier guide service in the Black Hills!

We look forward to sharing a summit with you as part of your Black Hills vacation adventure.

Co-Owners Signatures

Brandon Emery & Jeff LlewellynCo-Owners / AMGA Certified Guides

5 stars

We loved our day with Sylvan Rocks! This is a must-do in the Black Hills! We had 2 adults and our 2 kids, age 7 & 8. We had all climbed at a couple indoor gyms before. That experience wasn't necessary but this was the perfect next step. Brandon was super patient and encouraging, and made us feel really safe. My husband and kids are athletic, but I am not and my son gets nervous trying new things. I couldn't believe the wall we climbed! In our 4 hours, we each tried several different climbs plus more for the kids, in a spectacularly beautiful setting. Long sleeves and durable pants recommended or you will get scraped up a bit. The awesome grippy shoes make you feel like spiderman! It was definitely a highlight of our trip and left us wanting to go again! (also felt safe with Covid concerns - staff wore masks when inside with us and the rest of the time we were in open air with plenty of space).


5 stars

I did an 8 hr climbing day with Shankar and it was wonderful! We talked before-hand about my skill level and what I was hoping for on our climbing day. Shankar picked out some fun multi-pitch climbs for me at the Cathedral Spires. I have some years experience in rock climbing so I wasn't looking for an instructional day. Shankar started me right out on a classic climb up one spire and then we climbed 2 other spires that day. We climbed one spire twice when I expressed an interest in a more challenging route right next to the classic route we climbed first. I'd climb with Shankar and Sylvan Rocks again any day.


5 stars

As a group of a 7 y/o who proved to be a bit afraid of climbing very high, an adult female who was afraid of heights, and 2 adult males (with slightly varying fitness abilities), all 4 of us had a great time. Our guide Brandon was extremely patient and able to challenge all of us and make us all feel like we really accomplished something! The area we climbed was challenging enough without being too challenging, and offered great views. None of us had ever rock climbed on real rocks before, but yet we felt extremely safe the whole time. As a company, they were extremely flexible with us making a last minute reservation. This is easily my number 1 suggestion for a thing to do while in the area!


Your Adventure Awaits

  • Schedule

    1. Schedule

    Book online or call us to schedule the perfect adventure.

  • Instruction

    2. Instruction

    Feel confident with certified instructors.

  • Climbing

    3. Climbing

    Enjoy an adventure of a lifetime!

Our Friends

  • South Dakota Outdoor Shop
  • Black Hills Basecamp
  • Custer Chamber of Commerce
  • Granite Sports
  • Black Hills Climbers Coalition

We Love Answering Questions

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