January 7, 2017
CUSTER, SD – Local author-photographer Paul Horsted revealed the results of a new survey of the elevation of Black Elk Peak (the former Harney Peak) in a program for the Custer County Historical Society on Saturday, Jan. 7. Horsted briefly explained the history of the peak as visited by members of the 1874 Custer Expedition and then by others from the 1875 Newton-Jenney Expedition. He went on to show photos from the recent survey that took place last September.
Through a mutual interest in early Black Hills surveys, Paul had met Jerry Penry of Nebraska and Kurt Luebke of Montana. Both men are certified surveyors with decades of experience, who have an interest in the history of the region. Penry’s research showed that Black Elk Peak had not been surveyed for elevation since 1897 and he was curious what a modern survey would find, especially since the recorded elevation is stated differently by various authorities as 7240, 7242, and 7244 feet. Horsted was interested in the fact that early topographer Valentine McGillycuddy said that in 1875 he found the highest point on then-Harney Peak on a spire which is about 100 yards south of today’s “summit”.
The three men met Sept. 15 and conducted a two-day survey on and around Black Elk Peak. The measurements were checked and re-checked for accuracy several different ways using current surveying technology and instruments. The result: the highest natural rock on Black Elk Peak, which appears to be the same level that was there in 1897, is about 13 feet lower that what was recorded in 1897. The true elevation of the peak is 7231.32 feet today (highest natural rock) while the absolute highest point, the tip of the lightning rod on top of the tower, is 7262.30. So in a way, Black Elk Peak is both “higher and lower” than was stated in 1897, if the man-made structure is now included.
Horsted determined that the peak or spire which McGillycuddy surveyed from in 1875 was now shorter than it used to be. Careful comparison of an 1875 photo with today clearly reveals this change, but the reason is not known. It measures today at 7229 feet, just 2 feet shorter than the “other” summit, but probably was the tallest point in 1875 before it eroded or rock was removed from the top by early visitors.
More information, photos of the survey, and actual measurement data from this privately-funded project are available at http://www.penryfamily.com/harneypeak/survey.html Paul Horsted can be reached at paulhorsted.com.