The names on the sign looked familiar. They had been on the Peakbagger.com topo map SPHP had been looking at online early this morning. SPHP parked the G6 next to the sign (1:56 PM, 70°F). Let’s try it from here, Looper!
It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, but Lupe had arrived late for her Black Hills of Wyoming expedition. Back at home this morning, the printer wouldn’t print. SPHP had fought with it for hours. The reason it wouldn’t print was still as clear as mud. It was nearly noon by the time SPHP had given up on it.
Normally, SPHP brings along a topo map or two printed out from Peakbagger.com on Lupe’s expeditions. Today, all SPHP had to go on was a hand-sketched map drawn with a couple of contours for each of the peaks Lupe hoped to climb. Of course, SPHP had the old Black Hills National Forest map along, too, but it showed very little detail.
We might have quite a time trying to figure out what’s what around here, Loop! Let’s hope we can find and recognize these peaks you’re looking to climb. Lupe and SPHP started off going WSW on USFS Road No. 872.3 toward a bright yellow grove of aspens where there was a fork in the road.
At the intersection, the main road angled W on its way to Fish Canyon. A less traveled road curved S. It was marked No. 872.1F. According to SPHP’s old Black Hills National Forest map, it should have said No. 872.4F. That is, if Lupe was really where SPHP thought she was. Hmmm.
Loopster, let’s try to find Fish Mountain first, OK? Lupe had no objections. Lupe and SPHP returned to the G6. Fish Mountain was supposed to be only a mile or so N. A faint grassy road left No. 872.3 and went NNE up a little valley. The faint road was evidently what was left of USFS Road No. 878. SPHP started following it. Lupe, however, streaked away to the W.
She had found a squirrel! The valley echoed with joyous Dingo barking. The good times continued for several minutes, after which Lupe raced N looking for SPHP. As far as Lupe was concerned, if these woods were full of squirrels, she was going to have a great day whether she ever found Fish Mountain or not.
USFS Road No. 878 soon faded away entirely. Lupe and SPHP climbed a ridge to the NNW. The ridge was forested, but not so densely as to make it impossible to get an idea of the general lay of the land. Off to the NNW were a couple of forested hills. Another high spot was to the SW along this ridge. A smaller hill was to the NE, with a bigger one farther NNE.
Fish Mountain was probably one of the hills to the NNW. A lower grassy ridge to the N on the other side of a shallow valley appeared to lead in that direction. Lupe and SPHP started down into the valley. Suddenly, there was gunfire! Lupe, who had been having a great time exploring and looking for more squirrels, was immediately concerned.
The gunfire was much too distant to be a genuine threat. Hunters? Maybe. Unfortunately it had come from the NW, in the general direction of Fish Mountain. Now Lupe was begging SPHP not to go that way. Well, OK. SPHP decided to take another look at things from the small hill to the NE, while Lupe calmed down.
Lupe reached the top of the little hill. As SPHP gazed around, only one thing was really clear. Distant views were going to be hard to come by in these heavily forested hills.
The nervous American Dingo stuck to SPHP like glue. Unfortunately, the gunfire was continuing intermittently. The good news was that meant hunters weren’t the source. Hunters wouldn’t fire off a round or two every 4 or 5 minutes. The bad news was that the source was almost certainly someone doing target practice. Lupe might have to endure the terrifying noise for hours.
SPHP peered through the forest, repeatedly referencing the maps. Surprisingly, the crudely hand-drawn topo map was actually of some use! Suddenly, things made sense, at least partial sense. This hill Lupe was on was the middle high point along Elkhorn Divide (5,944 ft.), wasn’t it? If so, the true summit would be somewhere on that higher hill Lupe had seen to the N.
SPHP led Lupe N down into a broad, flat saddle area on the way to the Elkhorn Divide summit hill. In the saddle, Lupe came to a fence. Beyond the fence, she crossed a road going NW. She continued N up the big hill.
The highest ground was over toward the W side of the mountain. Lupe soon arrived at an edge where the ground dropped off steeply. A short stroll N along the W edge brought Lupe up to a big flat area, which appeared to be the summit of Elkhorn Divide. This area was all forested, but open enough so it was pretty sunny.
Lupe and SPHP explored far enough N along the W edge of the Elkhorn Divide summit hill to make certain Lupe had actually been to the true summit. She had. The forest made it hard to tell, but there didn’t seem to be any promising routes toward the NW to Fish Mountain from here.
Lupe turned S retracing her route along the W edge back to the summit of Elkhorn Divide. She continued on down the hill. Along the way, she came to several rock outcroppings. From one of them was a narrow view of a mountain off to the W. SPHP was almost certain that mountain had to be Hooker Peak, another one of Lupe’s peakbagging goals.
Lupe and SPHP reached the saddle area again, and got on the road going NW. Lupe followed the road for only a few minutes. Glimpses of the grassy ridge she had seen earlier on were becoming visible through the forest. Lupe left the road heading W. She came to a fence up on the grassy ridge. The fence line pointed almost directly at Fish Mountain (5,942 ft.).
Lupe followed the fence line toward Fish Mountain. The fence turned WNW as it drew near two sub-peaks E of High Point 5922. Lupe climbed both of these sub-peaks without having to cross the fence.
Climbing the second, higher sub-peak proved to be quite unnecessary. The rocky summit didn’t provide much of a view of Fish Mountain, despite high hopes for one. Lupe then had to lose all the elevation she had just gained traversing a steep slope toward the saddle over to Fish Mountain.
While exploring the steep slope, Lupe made an intensely exciting discovery. She found a squirrel on the ground! The squirrel alertly made a narrow escape by springing nimbly to the safety of a nearby tree. Unfortunately for the poor squirrel, the tree was either dead or an aspen that had already lost all its leaves. Lupe could see the frightened squirrel scrambling around up there, and raised a tremendous ruckus.
The squirrel was 35 feet above the ground and perfectly safe, but totally unnerved. It desperately wanted to get out of sight. Dashing around from one spindly little branch to the next, it lost its balance. Down fell the squirrel! Clear back to the ground. Lupe was after it immediately.
Now, if SPHP ever falls out of a tree 35 feet straight down to the ground, that will be the end of the ole’ ballgame right then and there. The squirrel, however, sprang up like Lazarus from the dead, totally unfazed. Nevertheless, if there hadn’t been so much tall grass, brush and deadfall timber around to slow Lupe down, things might well have ended badly for the squirrel. As it was, Lazarus the squirrel escaped again to a big pine tree and disappeared.
Lupe was so excited, for a little while she didn’t even think about the gunfire, which was still going on. She was convinced that where one squirrel could be found on the ground, there might well be more. She sniffed frantically everywhere. She didn’t calm down until she was past the saddle and climbing the S slope of Fish Mountain.
Near the top of Fish Mountain, was a band of small limestone cliffs. The cliffs were quite broken up, so it wasn’t hard at all for Lupe to find a route through them. Lupe arrived up on a summit ridge about 200 feet long E/W, and 25 or 30 feet wide N/S. Several different stones closer to the E end vied for the title of true summit.
The E end of the summit ridge was surprisingly barren, but still ringed by enough trees to block the views. However, there was one exception. A small gap in the trees provided a glimpse of Inyan Kara (6,360 ft.) off to the SSW.
Lupe and SPHP took a break up on Fish Mountain. By now, Lupe was back to worrying about the gunfire again. Apparently target practice was going to last all day. SPHP tried to comfort Lupe, but the truth was her next peakbagging goal was Hooker Peak, even closer to the source of Lupe’s torment.
Instead of heading back down the steep S slope of Fish Mountain, Lupe and SPHP explored the summit ridge to the W. It went farther than SPHP expected, before beginning to lose elevation steadily. Lupe arrived at an opening in the forest along the S rim of the ridge where there was a clear view to the SSW. Inyan Kara could be seen again, along with a couple more peaks Lupe hoped to climb tomorrow.
Lupe and SPHP continued W from the viewpoint. Lupe didn’t have to go much farther before the terrain dropped down to a more heavily forested area where she found an old road. The road took her SE down to the W side of the saddle between Fish Mountain and High Point 5922. There it turned sharply W continuing down a side valley all the way to Fish Canyon.
By the time Lupe reached Fish Canyon, the sun was already so low it was only shining on the mountaintops. However, Lupe was quite close to another peakbagging objective, Hooker Peak (5,862 ft.). Maybe she could still make it up Hooker Peak before sunset? She would have to hurry! Lupe and SPHP went a short distance NNW on the road in Fish Canyon before turning SW to climb Hooker Peak’s NE ridge.
Most of the climb wasn’t bad, but Lupe was a nervous wreck. The continuing gunfire was now quite loud, originating from somewhere much lower, but not too far away to the NW. SPHP could hardly move without tripping over or stepping on the psyched out American Dingo. Just like Lazarus the squirrel, Lupe was desperate to hide.
Despite the gunfire and steep final trek to the summit, Lupe arrived up on top of Hooker Peak. The sun was on the horizon. The summit ridge proved to be a short, narrow line of rock, with fairly high cliffs to the S, an arrangement which provided a panoramic view in that direction. In all other directions, there was forest.
There was more to the Hooker Peak summit ridge than SPHP originally realized. Lupe explored it farther to the WSW. It remained quite high, part of it perhaps as high as where Lupe had her summit photos taken on the rocks. There were more trees and bushes to deal with here. SPHP hoped for a clear view of the fast fading sunset, but there really wasn’t one.
The sun was gone. Twilight began fading fast. Lupe and SPHP spent maybe 20 minutes total up on Hooker Peak before having to retreat. Lupe went down the mountain following the NE ridge, retracing her route up. Darkness came on so quickly that SPHP had to bring out the flashlight before Lupe even made it back down to Fish Canyon.
At last, Lupe was happy again. Target practice was finally over. (Thank heavens, the would-be sharpshooter didn’t have night vision goggles!) Beneath a star-studded sky, Lupe and SPHP followed the road up Fish Canyon. At first it went S, then SE. After a mile or so, there was an intersection not shown on the old Black Hills National Forest map. The hand-sketched topo map was useless too. SPHP guessed, taking the road going S instead of E.
There were doubt-filled moments, but finally, 1.5 miles later, after the road had wound around before turning E, Lupe came to the intersection near the grove of yellow aspens she had been to before. Three minutes later, she was at the G6 (8:07 PM, 46°F) feasting on an entire can of Alpo.
For once, Lupe wasn’t going straight home following a Black Hills expedition. She was staying right here. A long night was ahead, but Lupe’s adventures in the Black Hills of Wyoming weren’t over yet.