Both my wife and I started to hike the Centennial Trail. We purchased the best, most detailed maps the Ranger Station in Custer, SD had.
Starting at Bear Butte, the trail was fairly easy, considering you start at the trail head at almost 5000 feet.
The trail is marked with plastic slats stating that the trail is "Trail 89". As the grasslands around Bear Butte are filled with cattle, you can guess what happened to most of the markers. The cattle love to rub themselves on most anything. They love the plastic trail markers too, which means most of them were broken off at ground level.
The first day we made quick progress, reaching the first marked campground which also had water and picnic tables. Very comfortable. The next day, I studied the map and saw that I would have four switchbacks to traverse as we climbed into the Black Hills. It showed an 11.8 mile section to a trailhead, followed by a 10.something mile section to the next campground. A 22-23 mile hike was very possible according to one of the two $10 maps I had to buy.
We packed our gear and stepped off for what would be a beautiful day of hiking.
In five hours of steady walking, we must have hit 20 or more switchbacks. We would desend a few hundred feet only to assend a few hundred feet around the next bend. There was no way to pin point our location on the map, as there were no visable landmarks. We crossed and recrossed dry stream beds all day long. Five hours into our hiking, my first three liter camel back was empty. After our eighth hour, my second three liters was gone. My wife had been refusing water, saving it for me, as I was carring most of the weight. I finally caught on to what she was doing, and also realized she was going into the first stages of heat exhaustion. We still had not completed the first 11 miles of our hike.
Considering all the factors I was facing, I decided to call an end to our hike as soon as possible. We were miles away from anything. We had not seen one drop of water since we left our campsite. The map was totally useless in that particular section.
Just as we came upon a gravel road that pin pointed our location on the map, I heard a vechile moving below us on the hill. I yelled out, and got the vehicle to go back to the trail head which was only a mile ahead of us. We caught a ride into Nemo, SD and made it back to our own car.
I learned alot of lessons on this hike, which should be obvious to everyone. As it was my wife's first hike with a pack, I tried to keep her pack weight down to 15-18 lbs. This caused me to carry alot more weight than I planned on. Her decision to accompany me was a last minute one.
I carried three different means to purify water, all of which were useless, as there was no water.
I had gathered all available information on the Centennial Trail I could get my hands on prior to heading out. The maps I obtained from the Rangers were worthless, as was the advice they were able to offer.
I was told in Nemo that the part we hiked the second day was the worst part of the Centennial Trail. I was also told that it was a good thing that I quit the trail where I did, because the trail ahead of me had been evacuated days ago because of forest fire! Thanks Rangers!
Now that I know what to expect, I would do the trail again, but it will have to wait until "the next time".
Being from North Carolina, I have been on the trails in the Smokeys. One has to remember the hills in the Black Hills are as high or higher than the mountains in NC.
I hope this might help someone else considering the Centennial Trail in the future. I will return to hit this trail some day soon.