Let’s be honest: if you live in the great plains of South Dakota, as I do, there aren’t many places to go camping, hiking, mountain biking, or rock climbing. I’ve been discouraged by this fact several times. However, there are those rare, spontaneous moments when, out of the blue, true adventure welcomes me back with open arms.

The quartz cliffs of Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, Minnesota rise majestically above the rolling hills of grass and farmland. When a number of my climbing buddies told me that they wanted to head there for Labor Day, I was less than enthusiastic. I’ve had my hopes and dreams crushed before with promises of huge boulder climbs that border on legendary. But time and time again, I was always disappointed. Sitting close to the South Dakota boarder, the Blue Mounds made for an easy drive, so I decided it would be worth the time to check it out. What did I have to lose? Besides copious amounts of homework, nothing in particular was stopping me from exploring this potential diamond in the rough.

After a short drive and small camping fee, we arrived. As we set up camp, my friends stopped pitching their tents and ominously pointed to the western sky. I looked curiously at them as I slowly turned toward one of the biggest thunderheads I had ever seen… and it was headed straight for us. The clouds were tall, and looked poised to trample over us. My friends and I made eye contact, and we swiftly began bomb-proofing our camp sight.

I’m sure many of you reading this can relate: a storm can be frightening when you’re camping. Not only do you have the potential to get soaked, but a number of other factors contribute to your safety. Thankfully, no trees came down, we remained fairly dry, and most importantly, nothing happened to our climbing gear. After a quick dinner of cold hotdogs and bread, we slept.

Early the next morning, we awoke to catch the early cool temperatures of the dawn. In most situations, climbing is most comfortable when you aren’t being fried alive by the heat of the sun. After a short hike and some bushwacking, we finally made it to the prized Quarry Boulder of the Blue Mounds. This large piece of rock towers awkwardly on its side, allowing for a large overhang. We began projecting the boulder and several other rocks around the old quarry site. Much to my liking, the rock felt amazing, and the quality was superb. As well, the view looking out over the grass sea was breathtaking. After several hours climbing, bouldering, and exploring the surrounding cliffs, we headed back home.

I will always remember this trip: not because it was dangerous, extravagant, or extreme, but simply because it was completely unexpected. Sometimes, those are the best adventures. I had never really heard of the Blue Mounds before our trip, but it provided some of the best climbing and scenery I’ve found in the Midwest. Like the way the quartz cliffs rise above the fields, this adventure rises above the discouragement and wanderlust I sometimes feel.

# Comments

  • Greg Heil

    Great story, I love discovering places I had no idea existed!

    It’s been way too long since I’ve been climbing… can’t wait to clip some bolts next summer!

  • AJ Heil

    Love this post — Your narrative reminds me much of my experiences in the Midwest. Prior to beginning as a trip leader and guide throughout the Midwest, I felt constantly discouraged that there was a lack of recreational opportunities. After uncovering gem after gem throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota, I’m now beginning to feel more at home than ever before!

    It’s always great to uncover these gems. Hope you have many more climbing adventures like this!


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