(Start, 9:11 AM, 37°F, West Cascade Mountain Road a few miles S of Hot Springs, SD off Hwy 71.)
Well, that was easy! Except for the cactus, of course. Lupe hated the cactus! SPHP had had to carry her to the summit of Peak 4340 for short stretches where the cactus was worst. Fortunately, the summit had only been a couple hundred yards W of West Cascade Mountain Road. Even carting a Dingo around, it had only taken minutes to get here.
The topo map on Peakbagger.com showed only one contour where the true summit of the mountain could be, but things seemed a little different when actually here. SPHP thought another place a couple hundred yards farther SW looked possibly even a little higher. Naturally, Lupe had to visit that high point, too.
The top of Peak 4340 was a large area of gently rolling terrain and open forest, but offered only teaser glimpses of distant views. Close to a rural housing subdivision, it really wasn’t a terribly interesting place. With cactus around, Lupe didn’t think much of it either, but at least she could now cross another Brian Kalet peak off her list. She only had a couple of them left to visit in the southern Black Hills.
Lupe was happy to put a quick end to her visit of Peak 4340, and return to the G6 (9:41 AM, 38°F).
The trivial trek to both possible summits of Peak 4340 was only a warm-up exercise. Lupe had a much more interesting peakbagging goal in store. Flagpole Mountain (4,320 ft.) sits at the far SE end of the Black Hills, N of the Cheyenne River and W of Angostura Reservoir. Lupe might have some fantastic views far out across the prairies beyond the hills from there.
SPHP’s old USFS map showed that Flagpole Mountain was on USFS land, but surrounded by private property. Before Lupe could begin her climb, SPHP needed to find legal access. The shortest route up Flagpole Mountain would be from the SW. SPHP drove S on Hwy 71 intending to scout out the approach.
On the way, Lupe stopped briefly by Cascade Falls. She had been here before, but it’s always fun to see the falls!
For some reason, Cascade Creek always seems to have good flow, no matter what the season. Cascade Falls was looking good today, too, but it was too chilly out to stay and enjoy it. The middle of July is better for that! Lupe and SPHP continued S on Hwy 71.
Just N of the Cheyenne River, a gravel road headed ESE from Hwy 71. The road wound around to the SE for more than a mile. It deteriorated at the end of a short stretch that went E. A log-sided home was on the N side of the road. Before SPHP even got out of the G6, a man opened the door of the house.
His name was Mike. When SPHP told Mike that Lupe would like permission to cross his land to climb Flagpole Mountain, the answer was flatly “no”. Mike didn’t exactly come right out and say it, but his attitude was clearly “Get Off My Property”. Mike didn’t want to talk about it. The matter was not up for discussion.
Mike was still helpful, however. He told SPHP that 5 or 6 years ago, the state of South Dakota had purchased land leading to the national forest on the other side of the mountain. Lupe would have legal access from Sheps Canyon.
That was good news! Well, at least pretty good news. Sheps Canyon was an alternate route that SPHP had intended to check on if things didn’t work out here. The route to Flagpole Mountain from Sheps Canyon would be a lot longer than if Lupe had been able to start from Mike’s ranch.
No is no. SPHP thanked Mike for the tip. Lupe left his property.
Driving down Sheps Canyon was not initially encouraging. Lupe passed by housing developments and more ranches. “No Trespassing” signs were all along the S side of the road at frequent intervals. Lupe was all the way down to the lower end of the canyon not too far from Angostura Reservoir before SPHP spotted the Hill Ranch Game Production Area. This had to be the legal public access Mike had mentioned!
A good dirt and gravel road led into the Hill Ranch GPA. SPHP parked the G6 at a curve at the far E end of the road only a short distance from Sheps Canyon Road (10:48 AM, 43°F). Lupe could regain her confidence trotting along the cactus-free road for a while.
The road went steadily uphill at a moderate pace, heading W for the most part. Lupe passed by a parking pullout and then a small lodge. The lodge appeared to be closed. A couple of parking pullouts farther, Lupe had quite a good view of Angostura Reservoir.
The road went 2 miles before ending near a couple of gates at the edge of the national forest. (Even the G6 would have made it this far easily enough, if SPHP had chosen to drive to this point.) A map of the Hill Ranch GPA was posted here.
Lupe went through the smaller gate, continuing W into the Black Hills National Forest. The good road was behind her. She followed faint traces of an old jeep trail, still gaining elevation steadily.
A ridge coming in from the ENE soon merged with the ground Lupe was traveling. Shortly after that, she came to a place where she had a great view to the N. She could see Peak 4310, which she had visited only a couple of expeditions ago. Today the scene wasn’t all snowy like it had been then.
From this first viewpoint looking far to the N, the faint trail turned SW. It soon came to a saddle between two hills. Flagpole Mountain was in view!
Flagpole Mountain was only 1.5 miles off to the SW when Lupe first saw it. However, she would have to go a lot farther than that to get there. Green Canyon was in the way.
To get to Flagpole Mountain, the plan was to go around the W end of Green Canyon. Lupe would follow a couple of long ridges shown on the topo map. The first ridge went first W then NW for nearly 1.5 miles. The map showed a substantial part of this ridge as being very skinny. SPHP wasn’t certain what Lupe might encounter along the way.
Lupe turned W and started around the S side of the highest little hill in this area. The hill was the first part of the ridge leading W. The ridge wasn’t narrow here, but going around the S side of the hill quickly proved to be a mistake. The grassy open ground below the forested summit was full of cactus! Lupe was immediately seized with fear.
Although the hill wasn’t all that big, it took a while to get past it. Lupe was scared to move. The cactus had her mentally paralyzed. SPHP had to carry her repeatedly.
Once beyond the hill, the ridge narrowed considerably, but was still plenty wide. Cactus continued to be a near constant problem, but Lupe gradually made progress. SPHP had to carry her less and less.
Nearly a year ago, Lupe had developed a system on her way up Matias Peak (4,780 ft.) for dealing with cactus. She would wait in one spot while SPHP scouted the area ahead. When SPHP sat down, she considered it a signal that all the ground to that point was cactus-free. She then came running.
Now Lupe wanted SPHP to do the same thing. Doing a good job of scouting was important, so Loop would continue to have confidence in the system. This process was sort of slow, but much easier than carrying the Carolina Dog any significant distance. Stop, scout, go. Stop, scout, go. Lupe progressed along the ridge.
Lupe wasn’t any closer to Flagpole Mountain yet, but the route was beautiful. Loop could see Flagpole Mountain almost the entire time. She often had grand views to the N, or down into Green Canyon. She came to a place with huge boulders, and many more places with interesting rock formations. The route was up and down, but none of the elevation changes were too drastic.
The part of the ridge that angled NW was the skinniest. Up and down one narrow little hill or rock formation after another. At one point, Lupe had to do a teensy bit of scrambling, but only once and it hardly amounted to anything. Eventually, the much, bigger, wider hill at the NW end of the ridge came into view. Lupe was almost there!
Soon she was there. Lupe didn’t go quite all the way to the top. She stayed in the trees a little S of the summit. Loop went over to the W edge of another ridgeline heading S from here. She had her first look at a vast new territory to the W and SW.
Going 1.5 miles along the skinny W and NW ridge hadn’t brought Lupe any closer to Flagpole Mountain as the crow flies, but she was now past the W end of Green Gulch and could turn S. A much broader ridge went SSW from here. The W edge of this ridge dropped steeply, but sloped much more moderately toward Green Canyon to the E.
Going S meant traversing several more drops and hills along the way. These were larger than the bumps Lupe had gone over along the skinny ridge, but she didn’t have climb to the top of each one. At the bottom of the first drop was good news. A dirt road climbed up to this point from the W. It turned S here, just the direction Lupe needed to go. Lupe could follow the road!
Reaching the road quickly restored Lupe’s confidence. She wasn’t afraid of cactus on the road. Suddenly she was making great progress. SPHP didn’t have to carry her, or play the scouting ahead game at all. Lupe trotted right along. It wouldn’t take her long to get to Flagpole Mountain at this pace!
The road stayed E of the top of the ridgeline most of the time, but was occasionally near it. At once place, Lupe went over to the W edge for another look at the big views.
The weather had been changing in the short time she’d been traveling S. The light NW breeze present earlier, had turned into a gale! Lupe did not like the fierce wind at the W edge of the ridge, but the views were still excellent.
The helpful road Lupe had been following ended a little before reaching the S end of the ridge, but had brought the Carolina Dog a long way. She was getting close to Flagpole Mountain, but now nervous about cactus again. She was right to be. More patches of dreaded cactus were scattered here and there. SPHP had to resume cactus scouting operations. Once again, Lupe got carried over the worst of it.
For the last 0.25 mile to the summit, the ridgeline turned SE. Lupe was high on broad open terrain where she had expansive views to the S. To the N was forest. The sight of several deer running on another minor ridge excited her so much she forgot all about the cactus and dashed about unsure how to get over there. Fortunately, she didn’t run into any cacti.
The top of Flagpole Mountain (4,320 ft.) appeared ahead. A short, grassy slope led to a summit crowned by big rocks, bare bushes and a few pine trees. In a flash, Lupe was there. She stood on the highest boulders at the very SE end of the Black Hills with a grand sweeping view of miles and miles of desolate territory stretching to the horizon.
Although partially protected by pines trees to the N, the top of Flagpole Mountain was windy. A powerful NW wind was blowing a series of snow squalls over the mountain. Each time a line of clouds passed over, a brief, but exciting snowstorm developed. The wind raged at the height of its fury beneath an ominous sky.
When the squalls hit, Lupe took shelter at the base of the big rocks at the S end of the summit. She nestled on SPHP’s lap, wrapped in a fuzzy blue pullover sweater, enjoying the incredible views and dramatic weather.
Though each squall was exciting and began impressively, the snow flakes were tiny and melted as soon as they hit the ground. The squalls never lasted more than a few minutes. Gorgeous blue skies reappeared as soon as they were over, and the winds calmed down somewhat.
Between squalls, Lupe explored the summit area, while SPHP enjoyed the views from various vantage points. By going only a little down the S or SE side of the mountain, it was possible to almost entirely escape the wind. The day felt pleasant, warm and sunny.
Lupe and SPHP stayed for an hour or more at the summit of Flagpole Mountain. Although the trek here had been amazing and beautiful, the presence of so much cactus meant it might be a long time, if ever, before Lupe would return. These distant views beyond the Cheyenne River across the vast, lonely prairies were a rare treat.
An hour went by. It had been a while since the last snow squall had blown through. Apparently they were all over and done with. Sadly, it was time for Lupe to leave Flagpole Mountain. She had to take the same long route all the way back to the G6.
On the way back, SPHP took a few minor shortcuts, but they saved only a little time. More time was saved by staying on the N side of slopes where there were fewer cacti. Lupe’s increased confidence in SPHP’s cacti scouting skills saved the most time of all. She still appreciated being carried for short distances wherever the cacti was worst.
The trek back along the ridges was beautiful, and went faster the second time around. Lupe had time to stop and sniff the air at various places along the way.
Lupe’s cactus worries were all behind her before she even reached the good dirt road at the Hill Ranch Game Production Area. The rest of the trek was a long, relaxing downhill stroll all the way. Lupe stopped by the same boulder with a view of Angostura Reservoir again.
Lupe was content to trot along the good road all the way through the Hill Ranch GPA to the G6 (5:38 PM, 37°F). Her Flagpole Mountain adventure was over, but it was the first day of Daylight Savings Time in 2017. The sun would still be up for another 1.5 hours.
SPHP used the extra hour of evening daylight to drive Lupe down to Angostura Reservoir. She had seen it from afar from several different mountains on recent expeditions. Now she would get to see it up close.
The drive was beautiful. SPHP was surprised to find a good gravel road winding S for miles along the W shore of the lake. Lupe stopped at a boat ramp. The wind was out of the NE here and still strong. The temperature was in the 30’s and dropping. It felt cold out. Waves crashed into the shore. Lupe drank a little water out of the lake, then got up on the swaying dock. Tepee Mountain, which she had seen earlier from Flagpole Mountain, was in view in the distance.
SPHP was curious. How far did this road go? Lupe and SPHP drove farther SW. The road went by many great campsites up on the bank above the shore of the lake. Lupe stopped at another place offering lake access.
Lupe and SPHP drove all the way to the end of the road. Surprisingly, at the end was a horse camp. Maps and information at the horse camp said a riding trail went 5.1 miles farther along the lake and up the Cheyenne River. Horses were restricted to the trail while in the Sheps Canyon Outdoor Recreation Complex, but the trail went all the way to the Black Hills National Forest, where horses could be ridden anywhere.
It was a beautiful area. The trail along the lake and up the river would be an awesome place to ride horses. Once to the national forest, maybe horses could even climb Flagpole Mountain? One thing was for certain, an American Dingo could!
With a new route to explore, maybe someday a Carolina Dog will stand in the breeze far above the Cheyenne River on Flagpole Mountain again.Want more Lupe adventures? Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!