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Badlands National Park search and rescue team recently helped three lost hikers in the park. Photo: NPS.
Badlands National Park search and rescue team recently helped three lost hikers in the park. Photo: NPS.

Lost in South Dakota

Sep 17, 2013

A woman and two men spent the night in the Badlands this summer when they lost their way in the Sage Creek Wilderness Area. The hikers, all in their twenties, called 911 on Sunday evening after becoming lost in the rocky crevices and peaks.

The park's search and rescue team headed to the Pinnacles Overlook to look for the hikers. They spotted them by air from a mile away. After a texting conversation, the hikers and rangers decided the safest option was for them to sleep in the wilderness. The rough terrain is dangerous to traverse in the dark, and the sun was setting fast. Early the next morning, the rangers rendezvoused with the hungry trio.

The mishap had a happy ending, but it was a reminder that although sometimes it feels like there isn't much room for exploration or discovery, South Dakota has some big wide open spaces. Kim Ode, a Sioux Falls native who now writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wrote some tips to traversing the Badlands in a recent issue of South Dakota Magazine. First, she advised that you should bring a compass, but not depend on it. She recommends keeping a recognizable point in front of you and behind you so you can know your position at all times.

"It's amazing how the landscape blends into sameness once you've hiked over a few ridges," she wrote. "Stay focused." The easy ability to find yourself lost in the Badlands is also the reason it is worth visiting, according to Ode. "Enjoy the Badlands for the respite they provide from modern life. You are walking amid the bones of an ancient land. If you can, give them a couple of days — the first to get the buzz out of your head, the second to let in the silence."

Dale Korslund, an Irene farmer, also spent a night in the wilderness after getting lost while hunting with his uncle in the dense Ponderosa pines in the Black Hills. It was November of 1965 and Korslund was tracking a deer in Rifle Pit Canyon, southwest of Cheyenne Crossing. By 5 p.m. the sun had sunk over the mountain horizon and he realized he was lost.

"They say I was walking in circles," Korslund recalls. "I finally found shelter under a couple of fallen trees." The next morning, after a grueling night of temperatures near zero, a team of game wardens and forest rangers found him.

He was reunited with his uncle, who joked that he was about to put Korslund's face on a milk carton. "That wouldn't have done any good," Korslund was in a good enough mood to joke in reply. "Most of the guys out there drink Jack Daniels."

Stay safe as you explore South Dakota. Our population is already too sparse. We’d rather not lose anyone.


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