Kevin Rice kissed his wife Shanda as they posed for a photo atop the Crazy Horse Memorial. 

On Saturday, they were two of thousands to make the trek up the mountain for the 27th annual Crazy Horse Volksmarch, which is the only time the public is allowed to meet the stony gaze of the famous Lakota chief up close. 

And, it's an opportunity not to be missed, said the couple dressed in scout master uniforms. They were sharing the experience with 16 members of their Cheyenne, Wyo., Boy Scouts of America troop and Venturing crew.

"It's a nice hike," said Shanda, who has hiked the carving-in-progress in years past.

The Volksmarch typically draws between 9,000 and 10,000 walkers over the two-day event, but by 11 a.m. on Saturday about 5,800 people had already registered for the hike, according to Wanda Moranti, Black Hills Volksmarch Association vice president.

"It's a fun weekend," Moranti said. "We're seeing part of history."

She guessed that Saturday's warm weather was largely responsible for the event's strong start.

The local Volksmarch association puts on the 6.2-mile trek, which takes between two and four hours to complete as it weaves through the wooded areas surrounding the mountain. 

Moranti said the annual event is her association's best chance at introducing the walking sport to the masses. The Black Hills group has more than 100 members, but Moranti would like to see their numbers grow, especially with young adult members.

"It's a good introduction to what Volksmarching is all about," said Moranti, whose first Volksmarch was the Crazy Horse. "It's an addiction. It really is."

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Even if the Crazy Horse Volksmarch walkers do not take up the activity, the first-time Crazy Horse walkers commonly turn into the annual ones that bring along new recruits, or give birth to them.

Jan Hiebert of Sioux Falls was pregnant with her now 11-year-old son, Jerome, when she first hiked the mountain with her husband, Jerry.

On Saturday, the couple cleared the first of four water checkpoints with Jerome and their four-year-old daughter, Josalyn. The husband and wife thought they were on their 10th Crazy Horse Volksmarch. 

"It's a tradition," said Jan Hiebert, who made the family's matching yellow, tie-dyed shirts. She put animated walking "Js" on the front of them for the walk and the family's shared initial. "We usually match if we're on vacation."  

Although they missed the event the year Jan Hiebert was pregnant with her daughter, the family takes a trip to the Black Hills every year for the event.  

"It's kind of a unique opportunity to get close to the Crazy Horse monument," Jerry Hiebert said. 

On Saturday afternoon, Dewayne Gimeson and his wife, Donna, of Chadron, Neb., stood on Crazy Horse's arm, the turn-around point in the walk.  

"The final ascent, that is the killer part," said Dewayne, who has climbed the carving four times with his wife.

But, the view is worth the trip. 

"It's always amazing to look at," he said. 

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Contact Holly Meyer at 394-8421 or holly.meyer@rapidcityjournal.com

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