Ever since SPHP ran across the site Peakbagger.com early in May, 2014, Lupe had been working on climbing all of the peaks she was able to on Peakbagger’s list of Black Hills 6500-foot Peaks. By now, she had been on top of almost all of them. Of course, the list contains a number of peaks Lupe will never be able to climb, because they are legally off limits or require climbing gear.
American Dingoes are purists. If a mountain requires climbing gear, they don’t even try it. They only bother to climb mountains they can summit completely unaided under their own power. They never rely on ropes, or crampons, or snowshoes, or ice axes, etc. At least that’s what American Dingoes claim. In practice, Lupe has fudged at a few peaks by allowing SPHP to lift her up onto the highest rocks.
On this beautiful October day, Lupe was intent on reaching a couple of the few remaining climbable peaks on the Black Hills 6500-foot Peaks list that she hadn’t been to yet, Zimmer Ridge(6,600 ft.) and Peak 6600. Both peaks are in the same general area 5-7 miles SW of Hill City. Lupe would begin her quest on USFS Road No. 387.1, about 0.5 mile from Hwy 385 (10:37 AM, 54°F).
Lupe and SPHP started the day following No. 387.1 as it wound its way NW through a narrow canyon. There was a creek near the road, which Lupe was glad to see, since it meant she could help herself to cold, clear water anytime she wished. The maps show different names for this creek. SPHP’s old USFS map show it as Whitehouse Creek. The Peakbagger.com topo maps show it as White Horse Creek.
The canyon widened out into a bigger valley, as Lupe continued NW. The road was wide and appeared to be built to county specs, which made it uninteresting. After Lupe had gone a mile or more, the confusion about the creek’s name cleared up. A little way ahead, Lupe saw a white horse standing with a few friends at the edge of the forest. Lupe assured SPHP that this was the actual White Horse of White Horse Creek, which seemed logical enough.
Toward the S end of the valley between Zimmer Ridge and Peak 6600, the USFS map shows 160 acres of private property in the shape of an upside down and reversed “L”. The horses Lupe was approaching were probably on that private land. To stay on USFS land, Lupe left No. 387.1 angling NE up Zimmer Ridge.
Lupe’s route grew progressively steeper as Lupe climbed through a dense forest of young trees. It had been sunny and warm down in the valley, but when Lupe and SPHP arrived up on the ridgeline, it was breezy and cool. Lupe was close to the S end of the high ground on the summit ridge. After a short break, Lupe went N looking for the summit.
Along the way, Lupe reached two false summits. The second false summit provided the first real views in any direction. Lupe could see to the SSE toward Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.). She could also see the true summit of Zimmer Ridge. It was still farther N along the ridge.
The ridgeline going over to the true summit was broad and fairly level. It should have been an easy trek. However, there was a lot of deadfall timber. Several rocky spots and dense stands of thistles slowed SPHP down, too. It took SPHP a while to get over to the true summit. Lupe had plenty of time to sniff and explore.
Zimmer Ridge culminates in a couple clusters of boulders jutting up right next to each other at the true summit. The highest rocks were all very nearly the same elevation. Despite the purist intentions of the American Dingo, it was fudging time. SPHP had to lift Lupe the last few feet to get her up on top. She didn’t look all that comfortable perched high on Zimmer Ridge, but she did her best to act as if everything was just lovely.
SPHP was surprised to see that there was yet another high point on Zimmer Ridge about 0.33 mile to the NNE. It looked almost the same elevation as the true summit. SPHP had to consults the maps to make certain it wasn’t actually higher. The maps showed that it was only 6,583 ft., or 17 feet lower.
Even though Lupe had already reached the summit, it seemed like a shame not to go on and finish her explorations of Zimmer Ridge all the way to the N high point. The first part of the trek over there wasn’t bad, but as Lupe got closer, there were big rock formations to maneuver around. The deadfall timber and thistles were bad, too.
The N high point was a better place to relax than the true summit. Some flat ground provided a high perch with a great view to the N. Lupe and SPHP took a break there. After the break, Lupe finished her climb up a big rock pile to the top of the N high point.
With her explorations of Zimmer Ridge complete, it was time to start for Peak 6600, located 1.75 miles due W. Lupe and SPHP left the N high point heading WNW down the mountain. Lupe lost hundreds of feet of elevation, and arrived at USFS Road No. 387.1B a short distance NE of a saddle over to the next ridge. Lupe and SPHP followed the road up to the saddle.
SPHP had intended to just cross the road, and follow the ridgeline NW until it swept around to the W to a point where Lupe could turn S to Peak 6600. However, while Lupe might not be tired of the deadfall timber yet, SPHP was. Even though Lupe would lose more elevation that would have to be regained, it seemed easier to just stay on No. 387.1B.
So, Lupe remained on No. 387.1B continuing SW from the saddle. The road reached its low point where it turned NW to start gaining elevation again. A small pond was shining in the sunlight near the bend. Lupe was happy to see it. She ran to the pond, plunked herself down in it and had a big drink.
Fully refreshed from her pond break, Lupe shook herself off and was ready to go again. Lupe and SPHP followed No. 387.1B into the upper end of White Horse gulch. The road went NW 0.75 mile, turned W and soon came to a turnaround loop. Lupe was now at almost the same elevation as the ridge to the N. From the turnaround loop, it was only a short trek off the road to get on the ridgeline for a look at the country on the other side.
SPHP went to take a look at the view, but Lupe never made it that far. As Lupe approached, a gray and white rabbit suddenly dashed off and disappeared in the forest. Lupe lost all interest in the view. She preferred to sniff around excitedly trying to figure out where the bunny had gone. As it turned out, the rabbit must have had prior experience working with a magician. It had completely disappeared.
The road continued W beyond the turnaround loop, and climbed more steeply for a short distance up onto an even higher ridge. Peak 6600 was now just 0.75 mile to the S. Lupe and SPHP left the road to follow the ridgeline. Lupe came to several places where there was a view back to the E toward Zimmer Ridge.
It was late afternoon by the time Lupe reached the top of Peak 6600. The summit area features two high points enclosed by the 6600 foot contour on the topo map. Lupe arrived at the E summit first. Unfortunately, forest blocked the views. Lupe got up on the highest rock at the E summit, and struck a rather dramatic Carolina Dog pose.
Lupe left the E summit to check out the W one. It wasn’t very far away, but there was a huge amount of deadfall timber navigate through. The effort was worth it. A rocky ledge at the W summit provided good views off toward the high country in that direction. Lupe and SPHP stopped here to take a break. Lupe finished almost all of her Taste of the Wild. SPHP ate the last apple.
The forest made it hard to tell for certain, but in SPHP’s opinion the E high point was the true summit of Peak 6600. However, the views were better from the W one. Lupe and SPHP lingered on the W summit of Peak 6600, watching the sun sink toward the horizon.
A hoped for colorful sunset didn’t pan out. Lupe and SPHP left Peak 6600 heading S along the ridgeline. SPHP wanted Lupe to stay up on the ridge as long as possible before turning E to head back down into White Horse Creek valley. Lupe didn’t make it far, though. There was too much deadfall timber up on the ridge.
At the low point of the first big saddle S of Peak 6600, Lupe and SPHP left the ridge and started down. Lupe had to lose a lot of elevation before the deadfall diminished and the terrain started leveling out. As twilight was fading, Lupe strayed onto private property somewhere along the way.
Although this was White Horse Creek valley, a very friendly black horse noticed Lupe and SPHP passing through the forest. The most likely explanation in the horse’s view was that the Carolina Dog was bringing him a nice supply of fresh carrots to munch on. It whinnied a greeting, and trotted jauntily toward Lupe looking forward to carrots and company. Maybe Lupe was even bringing oats?
Lupe loves to bark furiously at cows and horses from the safety of the G6. This was different. Up close, the gigantic black horse approaching rapidly in the dark forest was quite unnerving for the American Dingo. Lupe mistook the black horse’s cheerful whinnying as a threat. The evil apparition was out to get her! Lupe dashed off, without so much as a single bow-wow.
At 7:05 PM (38°F), Lupe and SPHP arrived back at the G6. Lupe headed for home, content with her peakbagging successes. Meanwhile, a disappointed black horse heaved a sigh and resigned itself to its dull diet of dry grass. Some days it’s tough being a black horse in White Horse Creek valley.Want more Lupe adventures? Choose from Lupe’s Black Hills Expeditions Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index. Or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures.
The sign said “Enjoy Your Day, But Please Close the Gate, Cattle Summer Pasture in these Fields”. Well, OK. October 29th wasn’t really the time of year for summer pasture, and although mountain goats might like it, the steep forested slopes up ahead didn’t look like good pasture for cattle any time of year. Nevertheless, Lupe and SPHP went through and closed the gate.
Lupe was just starting out on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 102. She was only a couple of minutes from the G6, which SPHP had parked along a dirt road SSE of Hwy 385, about a half mile S of its junction with Hwy 87/89 (10:37 AM, 54°F). Her first peakbagging objective for the day was St. Elmo Peak(6,458 ft.), less than a mile to the S. Lupe would have to gain over 1,200 feet of elevation to get up on top.
Beyond the fence, Lupe and SPHP started climbing the rough remnant of a road up a steep gully. The road became an overgrown trail, and then disappeared. Lupe hadn’t gone too far when the terrain started leveling out. She reached a small saddle NW of St. Elmo Peak. Lupe and SPHP turned SE, and headed straight up the mountain.
Lupe came across a seldom used dirt road. Brief explorations revealed that it was going to lose elevation no matter which direction Lupe might choose. So, Lupe and SPHP abandoned the road to resume climbing. Somewhat higher up, Lupe came to another road. It went down to the S, but looked like it would gain elevation going N. Lupe and SPHP followed it N.
Within 5 minutes, Lupe came to a wide spot where there were clear views off to the N and NE. The road continued around to the N side of St. Elmo Peak, reaching its highest point at a closed gate. Beyond the gate, the road was blocked by deadfall timber as it started downhill. Once again, Lupe and SPHP resumed climbing straight up the mountain.
The climbing was now much tougher than before. The forest was dead. Countless pines lay shattered and scattered in every direction on the steep slope. Thistles and low thorny bushes had grown in thick profusion amidst it all. It took SPHP a long time to work up through the tangled mess. Even Lupe wasn’t enjoying this much. St. Elmo Peak itself was ugly, but there were great views to the N.
Finally, Lupe found a faint trail going up the mountain. Even better, with only a few exceptions, someone had cleared the deadfall off the trail. Lupe and SPHP started making much better progress. There was still a good climb ahead, but it didn’t take much time. The trail ended at a rock outcropping near the summit. Lupe and SPHP scrambled up.
Lupe was now on a surprisingly large, and fairly level, block of granite. To the E were cliffs and very steep slopes. There were wonderful views from the NW all the way around to the NE and SE. The view of Harney Peak(7,242 ft.) to the E was fabulous. This big granite ledge at the N end of St. Elmo Peak was easily the best viewpoint on the mountain.
Whew, time for a break to enjoy the views and let lungs catch up! Lupe and SPHP sat together on the big granite ledge. Lupe had Taste of the Wild and water. SPHP had water and carrots. Lupe and SPHP watched smoke billowing up in the distance to the NNE from hills E of Hill City.
Although the granite ledge was the best viewpoint, Lupe hadn’t quite reached the summit of St. Elmo Peak yet. The true summit was to the S, hidden by a mixed forest of pines and young aspen. After a few minutes spent recovering from the climb, Lupe and SPHP went S to find it.
The true summit was very close by. Although the forest hid a quite a few boulders, it didn’t take Lupe long to find the highest one. She leaped on top to claim her St. Elmo Peak peakbagging success!
Lupe and SPHP returned to the big granite ledge. Lupe agreed to pose for a few more photos. The smoke E of Hill City looked like it was spreading.
Lupe had made it to the top of St. Elmo Peak, but the longest and hardest part of Expedition No. 102 was still ahead of her. She was just getting started! Her next peakbagging goal was Peak 6733, which was still 3 miles to the S. It was time for Lupe to get going. Lupe and SPHP left the granite ledge, and headed back down the faint trail.
It turned out that the faint trail led all the way down to the wide spot on the upper road back where Lupe and SPHP had first started seeing views to the N. SPHP hadn’t noticed the faint trail here before. Lupe and SPHP got on the road and headed S. It lost elevation steadily at a modest pace. The road turned SW staying on the NW side of a long ridge coming down from St. Elmo Peak.
Eventually, the road curved W. When it turned NW, it was time to look for a new route. Walking over to the edge of a small rise, SPHP saw another road below to the SW. It looked like it was heading SE for Bear Gulch, exactly where Lupe needed to go. Lupe and SPHP left the upper road and headed down the slope.
The lower road was better than the one Lupe had left up above. Lupe was very happy to find a creek running near it. She laid down in the water to cool off and get a drink. Lupe and SPHP went SE, and soon came to a fork in the road. One fork continued to the ESE following the creek upstream into a narrow, densely forested part of the canyon. That road was marked USFS Road No. 302.1F.
The other road was not marked. It crossed the stream, and headed S gaining elevation along the W side of a big field. Lupe took the unmarked road. She gained a fair amount of elevation, and came to a side road marked as USFS Road No. 302.1H. It went E, and looked like it was going to go around the N end of a ridge to the SE. Lupe’s objective, Peak 6733, was 2 miles farther S along this same ridge.
SPHP thought about getting up on the N end of the ridge, but didn’t. Instead, Lupe and SPHP followed No. 302.1H all the way around the N end over to the E side. There, it turned out that No. 302.1H was absolutely choked with deadfall. SPHP was optimistic that it would end soon. Wrong! The deadfall went on and on. Lupe could get through it OK, but it was taking SPHP literally hours per mile.
The struggle through the deadfall was exhausting. Finally, No. 302.1H climbed fairly high up on the E side of the ridge. The deadfall lessened and Lupe reached a small clearing. Lupe and SPHP left the road to climb directly up to the top of the ridgeline. It had taken so long to get here, SPHP wasn’t certain if Peak 6733 was still to the S or back to the N. The top of the ridge was forested, so it was hard to tell.
It turned out the deadfall had slowed progress down even more than SPHP thought. After a little scouting around, it was clear that the highest ground along the ridgeline was still farther S. Peak 6733 had to be in that direction. Lupe and SPHP trekked S following the ridgeline. Lupe came to a series of successively higher points along the way. Each time she got to the top of one, another even higher one appeared ahead.
There was plenty of deadfall timber up on the ridgeline. It wasn’t as bad as back down on No. 302.1H, but it was certainly enough to make the going much slower than it should have been. Several times, SPHP thought Lupe had reached the top of Peak 6733, only to quickly realize she hadn’t. The sun was starting to sink toward the horizon. Lupe was running out of time to reach Peak 6733.
Thunderhead Mountain(6,567 ft.), where the Crazy Horse memorial carving is located, came into view to the SW. Lupe had to be getting close to Peak 6733. Up ahead, another high point came into view. This one was noticeably higher and steeper than the other high points Lupe had reached. SPHP’s hopes rose again that this might be Peak 6733.
By the time Lupe and SPHP arrived at the top, it was only half an hour before sunset. SPHP was already concerned with how Lupe was going to get back to the G6. It was far too late in the day to even consider returning through the massive tangle of deadfall. After checking out this high point, Lupe would have to try to find a way W to Hwy 385 before it got dark.
The top of this final high point had several high rock outcroppings of about equal elevation strung out along the E side of the ridge. There was another rocky high point off to the W, but the forest made it difficult to tell which of all these points was the true summit. Lupe would have to visit all of them.
A quick trek over to the W revealed that the rocks on the E side of the ridge were clearly higher. Crazy Horse looked pretty close by to the SW. Lupe returned to the high rock outcroppings on the E side of the ridge, exploring them all one by one. There was a lovely carpet of kinnikinnick growing in the saddle area between the E and W sides of the ridge.
Near the S end of the E side of the ridge, Lupe found the highest rocks of all at this high point. Lupe and SPHP managed to get up on the summit, which was a somewhat precarious rock only a foot or two wide. Lupe posed for a summit photo. It had to be a close up. There wasn’t any room for separation.
From the S end of the high point, Lupe could see a big saddle to the SSE. Beyond it was an even higher mountain than the one she was on. She could see that it was part of the ridge that swept around to the E, and then back N over to Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) at its highest point. If Lupe wasn’t already on the summit of Peak 6733, then that next mountain to the SSE had to be it.
The easiest way down off this high point was to go back to the N. From there, Lupe and SPHP went E down off the ridge. Lupe turned SSE, cutting through a field where the terrain wasn’t too steep. Arriving at the saddle between the two high points, Lupe discovered a road with a gate. The road wasn’t marked in either direction.
For a couple of minutes, SPHP considered going on to climb the higher peak to the SSE. There was a good chance it was the real Peak 6733. There really wasn’t time, though. Lupe might make it up there while it was still light out, but it would be completely dark by the time Lupe could even get back to the saddle. SPHP didn’t even know what return route Lupe should take from here, only that she couldn’t go back the way she’d come.
Nope, Lupe had to skip that peak to the SSE. Just forget about it! The best bet was to get a move on, and try to find a way W to Hwy 385. If Lupe could get to Hwy 385, she should be able to find the Mickelson Trail. Even in darkness, she could safely and easily follow the Mickelson Trail back to a point close to the G6.
So, Lupe and SPHP followed the road going SSW over the W side of the ridge. As Lupe searched for a way to Hwy 385, she saw Crazy Horse in the early twilight.
Lupe eventually found Hwy 385, but not until well after dark. Lupe and SPHP followed the Mickelson Trail N. The wind blew. Clouds swept by. It rained lightly. The sky cleared. Half a moon and myriad stars shone above. Far below the bridges, Tenderfoot Creek rippled along in the otherwise silent night. For many miles, the American Dingo trotted ahead on the long trail home. (9:00 PM, 44°F)
It wasn’t until the next day, when SPHP had a chance to look carefully at the photos taken on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 102 and compare them to the maps, that SPHP knew for certain whether Lupe had climbed Peak 6733, or not. She had not. The final high point that Lupe reached was High Point 6634, about 0.625 mile to the NNW.
Back on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 102 on 10-29-14, Lupe had approached from the N to successfully climb St. Elmo Peak(6,458 ft.), but despite a valiant effort, she failed to reach Peak 6733. Huge amounts of deadfall timber had choked the way. It slowed SPHP down so much that Lupe ran out of daylight before reaching Peak 6733, although she did make it as far as Peak 6634 just 0.5 mile to the NNW.
On this beautiful warm morning in early November, SPHP had a new plan of attack for Lupe. She would climb Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) and then follow the ridge around the S end of the valley to the W until she got to Peak 6733. Trekking along this high ridge might be quite an adventure. SPHP wasn’t certain how rugged it would be, but there could be some scenic and difficult to navigate large granite formations along the way.
Lupe didn’t get to find out. At least 2 miles from where SPHP had intended to park the G6, Hwy 87/89 was barricaded. The road was closed! SPHP had never seen this part of Hwy 87/89 closed before, but it was now. Well, what’s new? Adventures often require flexible planning. USFS Road No. 352 left Hwy 87/89 heading W right in front of the barricade. Time to see where it would lead.
SPHP expected No. 352 would head SW toward Peak 6733, and it did, but not until after it went NW first. About 0.75 mile from Hwy 87/89, No. 352 entered the NE end of the long valley between Sylvan Hill and Peak 6733, where the road divided. USFS Road No. 352.1B went W. A sign said “Private Drive”.
Lupe needed to go S, anyway, and No. 352 continued in that direction. Just a little past the fork in the road, SPHP parked the G6 along No. 352 (9:14 AM, 47°F). The immediately surrounding terrain was nice and level. The forest had been thinned and cleaned up. It looked almost like a park. Lupe was less than 0.5 mile S of St. Elmo Peak. She would start her trek to Peak 6733 from here.
Lupe and SPHP headed S along No. 352. With the change in starting points, SPHP had abandoned all thoughts of having Lupe climb Sylvan Hill, at least not before she climbed Peak 6733. Instead, she was going to follow the road to the S end of the valley, get up on the ridge, and go directly for Peak 6733.
No. 352 gained elevation at a steady, moderate pace. Within about 10 minutes, Lupe came to a green metal gate. No vehicles could get past this point, so it was just as well that the G6 was parked back where it was. Lupe and SPHP went around the gate and continued S, climbing steadily all the time.
The S end of the valley was less than 3 miles away. SPHP expected the road would gain elevation nearly all the way, but when Lupe was a little over halfway there, suddenly No. 352 turned SW and started losing elevation rapidly. The road went clear down to the bottom of the valley, where there was a junction with USFS Road No. 352.2A. No. 352.2A headed back to the NW following a little stream down Bear Gulch.
The route No. 352.2A took looked grassy and inviting, but was headed the wrong way. Lupe did go check out the stream for a big, cold drink before she was ready to leave this nice, secluded spot.
Lupe and SPHP got back on No. 352. The valley narrowed a great deal just to the S, with towering rock formations on both sides. The road led between them, following the creek upstream.
Once beyond the rock formations, Lupe was in the upper end of Bear Gulch. Here the valley widened out considerably. Much of the floor of the valley was a big grassy meadow. This hidden area, protected on all sides by high forested ridges, seemed like it would be a popular place for deer to graze, but Lupe saw none.
No. 352 continued S along the E side of the big meadow. Looking over at the big ridge to the W, SPHP saw a high point that was probably Peak 6634, the farthest point S Lupe had reached up on that ridge on Expedition No. 102. It was hard to be certain, though.
Lupe came to a junction with USFS Road No. 352.2B. It headed W across the meadow and disappeared into the forest. Lupe and SPHP stayed on No. 352. Soon another road, which was likely USFS Road No. 352.2D, branched off heading E. Lupe was getting close to the S end of the valley. She came to more little roads branching off in various directions.
SPHP was hoping to find USFS Road No. 352.2C, which should go SW before turning sharply to climb NNW up to a saddle on the ridge between Peak 6733 and Peak 6634. When Lupe reached a road going SW, SPHP took it. Soon unmarked roads were branching off of it in all directions. Clearly, this wasn’t No. 352.2C. The road continued SW deteriorating rapidly. Before long, it disappeared entirely. Lupe and SPHP were left climbing steeply straight up the ridge at the far SSW end of the valley.
Lupe reached the top of the ridge. There would have been some great views to the N and S, but the forest was too thick to see much. It looked like there might be a considerably higher point off to the SE hidden by the trees. Another less prominent high point was close by to the WNW. Peak 6733 had to be somewhere NW of there.
Down in the valley, No. 352 had been almost entirely free of any deadfall timber. Up here on the high ridge, there was plenty of it. Lupe explored while SPHP worked slowly along the ridgeline, picking a way through the deadfall. There were frequent granite outcroppings along the way, and occasionally some pretty good views toward St. Elmo Peak or Sylvan Hill.
Lupe and SPHP went up and down following the ridgeline from one granite outcropping to the next. Some of them were large enough to force SPHP around them. Others were easily traversed. Gradually the ridgeline curved to the NNW. Peak 6733 came into view. There was a considerable drop from the last high point Lupe went over down into the saddle leading to Peak 6733. On the way down, Lupe found the only really clear look at Peak 6733 ahead.
There was a lot of deadfall timber and several big granite outcroppings on the way up the SSE spine of Peak 6733, but Lupe and SPHP made it up the mountain. At the very top was a large steep granite formation. SPHP had to climb slowly and carefully up the last dozen feet, lift Lupe up on top, and then crawl up there, too.
The summit was surprising. A narrow band of granite a few feet wide, and all about the same elevation, snaked around for 20 or 30 feet. There were sheer, but not particularly high drop offs on both sides. Still, they were plenty high enough so one really should take care not to fall off. Lupe was fine up there, but SPHP crawled along the granite path looking for a more secure place.
Somewhat surprisingly, SPHP only had to crawl along the granite for ten feet or so before it became evident that there was a small patch of level ground nearby to the NW. It was almost as high as the summit. SPHP scrambled over there, and got off the granite.
Now both Lupe and SPHP could relax and enjoy the views. SPHP sat on the ground petting Lupe and taking a break. Water and Taste of the Wild for Lupe. Water and a golden apple for SPHP. After eating, it was time for a few photos from seldom visited Peak 6733.
Thunderhead Mountain(6,567 ft.), only 0.75 mile to the W, presented the most interesting view from Peak 6733. Lupe had a great view of the rarely seen E side of the Crazy Horse memorial carving on Thunderhead Mountain. The Crazy Horse carving has been in progress for decades, and is still far from being finished, but remains a popular tourist attraction in the Black Hills.
When it was time to leave Peak 6733, Lupe took a different route back than the way she had come up. Lupe and SPHP worked around the SW and then W sides of the large granite outcropping at the top of the mountain. The route was a real tangle of deadfall timber and thistles, but eventually Lupe regained the ridgeline N of Peak 6733. She fought through more deadfall going N along the ridge all the way to USFS Road No. 352.2C at the saddle just S of Peak 6634.
Getting to No. 352.2C brought relief from all the deadfall timber. Lupe and SPHP followed the road as it wound down into the upper end of Bear Gulch to the E. It eventually led to USFS Road No. 352.2B, which brought Lupe to No. 352.
There were still a couple of hours left before sundown. If Lupe was going to climb Sylvan Hill, now was the time to do so. SPHP dithered. Lupe had been on Sylvan Hill once before almost 6 months ago. She climbed it from a different direction on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 89 on 5-17-14. The views were fantastic, but there had been a lot of deadfall timber to contend with along the summit ridge.
From upper Bear Gulch where Lupe was, it was over an 800 foot climb with no roads or trails. Deadfall timber appeared to be strewn all over the steep ridge. No doubt it would take a long time to reach the top, and another long time to get back down. SPHP wanted to go, and Lupe was willing, but maybe it really wasn’t all that feasible even with several hours of daylight. No sense getting stuck in the dark in a horrible tangled dead forest.
So instead of climbing Sylvan Hill, Lupe turned N on No. 352. The road led her back between the big rock formations at the narrow part of the valley. Lupe reached the merry creek bubbling along near USFS Road No. 352.2A. It still looked inviting to explore the grassy valley along No. 352.2A. So, Lupe did. She eventually left No. 352.2A, and climbed up on some interesting granite formations where there was a nice view of St. Elmo Peak.
Lupe’s explorations of Bear Gulch led her to USFS Road No. 352.1D, which in turn took her back to No. 352. At 3:58 PM (55°F), Lupe was back at the G6. Despite having taken a relatively easy return route, it was only 30 minutes until sundown. Maybe that decision not to climb Sylvan Hill had been the right one!
It seemed a bit strange to be leaving for home before the sun was even down. Lupe was happy enough, though. She stood gazing intently out the windows of the G6 looking for deer, cows, horses or anything else it might be fun to bark at. She had a great day climbing Peak 6733, and wasn’t disappointed on the way home either!
Note: Starting on USFS Road No. 352, the easiest and most direct up Peak 6733 would have been to take No. 352.2B heading W in upper Bear Gulch. No. 352.2B leads to No. 352.2C. Don’t follow No. 352.2C all the way NNW up onto the ridge. Instead, at the very S end of No. 352.2C, leave the road and climb SW up to the saddle on the ridgeline. From the saddle turn NNW, and finish the climb up Peak 6733.
Snow was in the forecast. An approaching winter storm was supposed to hit tomorrow and dump half a foot of snow on the Black Hills. The next 10 days weren’t expected to get above freezing. Today was supposed to be nice, though, with highs in the 50’s. Last chance, for a while at least, for Lupe to go on a Black Hills Expedition!
Lupe’s peakbagging goal for Expedition No. 104 was a rather unusual Black Hills mountain – Inyan Kara(6,360 ft.). Inyan Kara is part of a line of forested ridges and hills in eastern Wyoming separated from the main body of the Black Hills in South Dakota by 5-10 miles of grasslands used mostly for ranching. Like Devil’s Tower(5,112 ft.) in NE Wyoming and Bear Butte(4,433 ft.) near Sturgis, South Dakota, Inyan Kara was considered sacred by the Lakota Sioux. General George Armstrong Custer is purported to have visited Inyan Kara on July 23, 1874.
Inyan Kara sits on roughly 2 square miles of the Black Hills National Forest completely surrounded by privately held ranch lands. To even reach the national forest land, Lupe would need permission from the ranchers. Lupe and SPHP had tried once before to get permission, way back on Black Hills Expedition No. 91 on 6-1-14, but had arrived at the ranch headquarters to find no one at home except the dog.
This time Lupe and SPHP were in luck! Lupe arrived at the headquarters of Douglas and Sheila Hunter’s ranch just E of Inyan Kara to find Mr. Hunter and a couple of helpers in his front yard busy loading a vehicle on a trailer. Mr. Hunter’s dog, Bear, was very interested in meeting Lupe, but Lupe just growled.
Despite Lupe’s less than cordial reaction to Bear, Mr. Hunter kindly and readily granted Lupe and SPHP permission to cross his ranch to access Inyan Kara. Mr. Hunter directed SPHP where to park the G6. By 10:15 AM (50°F), Lupe and SPHP were on their way.
Lupe and SPHP started out going W on a continuation of the dirt road that led to, and also went on by, the Hunter Ranch headquarters. Lupe passed some old buildings near a tiny, mucky creek, and soon afterward came to a junction with another road. Lupe and SPHP turned N on this other road, but left it before long to start climbing through the fields directly toward SE-facing cliffs on Inyan Kara. On the way up, Lupe and SPHP ducked under a fence, thereby leaving the Hunter ranch and entering the Black Hills National Forest.
Lupe and SPHP turned N to avoid the cliffs. Lupe still angled slightly up the slope to gain elevation slowly, but steadily. She was approaching the forest on the E side of Inyan Kara. Once in the forest, Lupe and SPHP continued N working gradually up the ridge to the W. When the top of the ridge became visible between the pines, Lupe and SPHP turned W and climbed directly up the steep slope to the crest of the ridge. Lupe could now see the igneous summit of Inyan Kara to the WNW.
Inyan Kara is an interesting mountain. It is shaped rather like a distorted horseshoe, with the opening of the horseshoe NE of the summit and facing N. A long ridge starts rising from the NE end of the horseshoe, and makes a big sweeping curve clear around to the E and then S of the summit, ultimately going clear over to the SW. This long ridge gains elevation rapidly at first, but much more slowly as it progresses SW.
The S and SW portions of the sweeping ridge are quite high. Close to the SW end, there is a significant saddle where some elevation must be lost going NE to approach a shorter, but higher ridge leading to the actual summit. This N ridge is characterized by large igneous rock formations, but is easily climbed. Several smaller saddles must be navigated while heading N along the summit ridge.
The N ridge angles NE shortly before reaching the top of Inyan Kara. The summit and nearby areas form the NW end of the horseshoe. Between the N and S ridges, a deep forested valley comprises the center of the horseshoe.
Lupe had reached the top of the lower sweeping ridge ESE of the summit. The easiest way to reach the top of the mountain was to just follow the ridge as it swept around to the S and then SW. From there, Lupe could traverse the saddle over to the higher N ridge and continue on to Inyan Kara’s summit.
The ridge was all forested and fairly narrow most of the way to the saddle, but it was never narrow enough to be a problem. Deadfall timber sometimes partially blocked the way for SPHP. It was only bad in one small area toward the SSW. As Lupe progressed around the ridge, there were a few places with great views to the SE, S or SW.
Lupe and SPHP followed the S ridge around to the SW. Lupe continued W far enough to make certain she had reached the highest part of the S ridge. She then headed NE down into the saddle on her way to the N ridge leading up to the summit. Lupe could have started NE down into the saddle a bit sooner, and she wouldn’t have lost quite as much elevation. It still didn’t take her long to cross the broad forested saddle to reach the N ridge.
The most interesting part of Lupe’s climb up Inyan Kara started upon reaching the N ridge. There were big rock formations. The rocks were tan or pinkish orange, and had little steps or contours in them. Lupe quickly climbed up to a high point at least as high as any spot along the S ridge. From here, she could see the Inyan Kara summit off to the NNE.
The rest of the way to the summit was a bit tricky. It involved some exploration and occasional back-tracking to find the easiest route. In general, it proved best to stay to the NW side of the N ridge until getting quite close to the summit, since there were places that ended in cliffs to the SE.
The top of Inyan Kara is an open rocky ridge from which there are grand views in most directions. Although it hadn’t been windy on the way up, there was a steady, cold wind out of the SW when Lupe reached the summit. With the darkly overcast sky and stiff breeze, it was beginning to look like the forecast snow storm might well be on its way. Lupe wasn’t going to get to enjoy the views for very long.
Right away, SPHP noticed a USGS benchmark out in the open just 10 or 12 feet E of the summit. SPHP was disappointed that it didn’t even say Inyan Kara on it. While SPHP was looking at the USGS benchmark, Lupe was sniffing curiously around a big juniper bush just 8 feet N of the summit. Upon investigation, stuffed inside the bush SPHP found a broken Tupperware container inside a couple of Ziploc bags. It was all held in place inside the bush by several rocks placed on top.
Inside the broken Tupperware container was a pen and notebook that serves as a registry log. There were also other papers relating to a wedding, a funeral service and other events that had been held on top of Inyan Kara. The registry went back to 2008 and contained quite a few names. Some of the individuals had climbed Inyan Kara multiple times, with one claiming to have made 6 ascents.
SPHP would have liked to spend more time reading the registry, but the wind made reading for very long unpleasant. It was difficult to hold the pages open and still without tearing them. SPHP entered Lupe’s name in the registry log, before putting it all back together and stuffing everything securely in the bush.
Despite the wind, Lupe and SPHP lingered up on Inyan Kara for a while to enjoy the views. Lupe had water and Taste of the Wild, and then huddled inside SPHP’s jacket to stay warm. SPHP ate an apple and a big carrot. For the Black Hills, the views were tremendous. Far below and all around Inyan Kara was open ranch land, dotted here and there with forested hills and ridges.
On the N horizon, Lupe could see Missouri Buttes(5,374 ft.), Devil’s Tower, and Warren Peaks(6,650 ft.). Cement Ridge(6,674 ft.) was off to the NE. Terry Peak(7,064 ft.) and the main body of the Black Hills were in view to the E. Sweetwater Mountain was SSE. Very far to the W are the Bighorn Mountains, which are easily seen from Inyan Kara on a clear day when the light is right. However, SPHP could only barely make out one small portion of the southern Bighorns on this overcast day.
When it was time to go, Lupe and SPHP took the same route back along the N ridge going SSW and then down into the saddle area between the N and S ridges. Instead of going on to retrace Lupe’s route along the S ridge, Lupe and SPHP ventured E down into the steep, deep forested valley between the ridges – the middle of the Inyan Kara horseshoe.
Lupe followed the valley all the way down to its exit onto the prairie NE of the Inyan Kara summit (the open end of the horseshoe). There was no trail at all in the upper portion of the valley, and only a faint one in the lower part, until Lupe reached a jeep trail near a couple of old rusting water tanks near the valley’s N end.
The trek down through the central valley proved to take much more time than the S ridge route. Except at the upper and lower ends, the valley is V-shaped nearly all the way. Even the very bottom was steep, rough ground. In places it was choked with deadfall timber killed by pine bark beetles, making the going very slow.
The valley did provide Lupe complete protection from the cold wind. About the only other advantage was a tiny intermittent trickle of a stream where Lupe could get a drink. Not much of an advantage when SPHP was porting water anyway. While the valley was fun to explore once, Lupe and SPHP definitely recommend the S ridge route instead for the splendid views, shorter hike, and easier terrain!
Once Lupe emerged from Inyan Kara’s horseshoe, she followed the jeep trail around the E side of the mountain. There were forests near the E ridge, but most of the time Lupe was out on the open range. The jeep trail led right back to the Hunter ranch headquarters.
Lupe arrived at the G6 at 4:24 PM (51°F). No one was around except Bear, who was standing on the front porch. Bear whined when he saw Lupe. Bear still wanted to play, but the tired Carolina Dog showed no interest, dashing the lonely ranch dog’s hopes.
Inyan Kara Mountain is about 4 miles W of Hwy 585 in NE Wyoming between Sundance and Four Corners. Turn W on County Road No. 198 about 15 miles S of Sundance. Follow it about 1.5 miles W. A sharp turn N on a dirt road eventually leads 2.5 miles NW to a fork in the road. The Douglas and Sheila Hunter ranch headquarters is a short distance down the right fork. Courtesy and respect for the landowner’s rights will go a long way toward securing permission to access Inyan Kara.
For more information on the interesting history of Inyan Kara, click here.
On November 10, 2014, 8″ of new snow fell at Lupe’s house. The weather turned very cold for more than a week with highs in the 10-12°F range and subzero lows every night. Another 4″ of snow fell. Lupe was bored waiting for it all to end. She stared out the window for hours, repeatedly sighing and putting her head down, then checking again a little bit later to see if anything had changed. Nope.
Finally it did warm up. A few days came when the highs got clear up into the 40’s or even 50’s. The snow started melting fast. Saturday the 22nd was Lupe’s big chance to get out on an expedition. The next day it was supposed to turn cold again. When Lupe realized SPHP was getting the backpack ready to go, she was one enthusiastic Carolina Dog!
By 9:04 AM (43°F), Lupe was eagerly leaping out of the G6. The G6 was parked at a little side road just W of Boulder Hill Road (USFS Road No. 358) about 0.5 mile N of Hwy 16. Lupe was about 0.75 miles S of Boulder Hill(5,331 ft.), and 0.5 mile NE of Silver Mountain(5,405 ft.). Lupe wasn’t going to Boulder Hill today. Instead, the plan was for her to go to Silver Mountain, and then on to Calumet Ridge(5,601 ft.) another 2.5 miles to the W.
Lupe and SPHP started out heading W on the little unmarked side road. There was still about 6″ of snow here. Glimpses of Silver Mountain could be seen between the trees to the SW. Lupe and SPHP soon left the road to start climbing toward it.
Lupe didn’t have to go too far from the road to leave the forest. She entered an open area where there was quite a bit of deadfall timber around. These trees hadn’t been killed by pine bark beetles. Almost all of Silver Mountain burned in the August, 2002 Battle Creek fire. Between the snow and the deadfall timber, the going was rather slow.
When Lupe started hearing gunfire off to the W, things got even slower. Lupe wanted to stop and hide. She kept begging SPHP to stop, trying to block the way forward by standing on her hind legs and leaning her front paws on SPHP. It took some doing, but SPHP finally persuaded her to keep going. Lupe soon reached the top of a little ridge. Ahead was a small snowy valley. Silver Mountain loomed just beyond it.
To avoid losing too much elevation, Lupe and SPHP went W along the ridgeline for a little way. Near the upper end of the small snowy valley, Lupe turned SW again to head directly for Silver Mountain. She lost a little elevation traversing the valley, but once across started regaining it quickly.
A band of live pines that had escaped the 2002 Battle Creek fire was still standing on the upper NE slopes of Silver Mountain. As Lupe got closer, SPHP realized the trees were swaying in the wind. It wasn’t windy at all down where Lupe and SPHP were, but apparently a strong wind had kicked up out of the SW. The higher Lupe climbed, the less protection the mountain gave her. By the time Lupe was out on the open ground up above the band of trees, the wind was just a gale. The strongest gusts were enough to make SPHP stumble on the rocky ground.
There were two separate rock formations up ahead in the summit area. One was to the E, and the other to the W. Lupe and SPHP were coming up between them. The E rock formation looked to be the highest. SPHP hoped it was. The W formation looked harder to climb. SPHP didn’t want to have to waste time searching around for an easy way up to the top in this hurricane. No way Lupe would want to either.
Lupe and SPHP headed for the E rock formation. Very close to it, Lupe passed by a crude 4-sided structure made out of small logs. It was too poorly built to have ever been a real cabin. It looked more like an elaborate kid’s fort. Lupe didn’t even bother investigating it. Gunfire was still continuing sporadically to the W. She stuck close to SPHP.
The E rock formation proved to be an easy little scramble. The wind was very strong, though. It really felt cold up on top. Even Lupe was shivering a little. SPHP sat down on the highest rocks and faced NE away from the wind. Lupe curled up on SPHP’s lap. She huddled together with SPHP in SPHP’s jacket to warm up. Protected from the wind in the jacket, snuggled up with SPHP, Lupe seemed happy and reassured. She was content to lay there warming up and gazing at the view.
There were a few low bushes at the top of the E rock formation, but no trees to block the views in any direction. Lupe and SPHP could see way out onto the plains E of the Black Hills. Boulder Hill was off to the NNE. Harney Peak(7,242 ft.) was off to the SW. Calumet Ridge, Lupe’s next peakbagging goal of the day, was off to the W.
One good thing. It was easy to see from here that the W rock formation wasn’t as high as the E one. Lupe wouldn’t have to climb it. Lupe was already on the true summit of Silver Mountain!
The views were great, but there was no sense staying up in the cold wind all day. Besides, Lupe still had her Calumet Ridge peakbagging goal ahead of her. Lupe and SPHP climbed down to the saddle area between the E and W rock formations. A little W of the “fort” there was a big rock. SPHP got Lupe up on it for a photo of Boulder Hill behind her. Lupe was having to look directly into the fierce SW wind. She refused to open her eyes. Oh, well!
Lupe and SPHP went over close to the W rock formation, and then began following it NW down the ridgeline. Lupe was on her way to Calumet Ridge. She lost considerable elevation coming down Silver Mountain. She was on exposed ground all the way, but the wind gradually diminished as she lost elevation.
Beyond the end of the W rock formation at the top of the mountain, Lupe passed by a series of other lower rock outcroppings along the way. The last of the large rock formations was fairly flat, but still high enough to offer some views. Lupe could still see Calumet Ridge and Mount Warner(5,889 ft.).
As Lupe continued NW losing elevation, the wind was weaker. That was a good thing, except that she could hear the gunfire coming from the W even better now. Lupe started becoming more and more anxious again.
Lupe made it beyond the burn area NW of Silver Mountain. She entered the forest again heading W. She came to a hillside where she could see USFS Road No. 366 just below. No. 366 went N/S, and Lupe would have to cross it to continue on to Calumet Ridge. Lupe was just E of the saddle at the highest point on the road.
But Lupe wasn’t going any farther. She was a nervous wreck. Volleys of 10 shots or more kept coming. She was much closer to them now than at Silver Mountain. Gunfire was heard to the W, SW and NW. At first SPHP had thought hunters were the source. The truth was, people were just out for some target practice, which is why the gunfire went on and on. It sounded like a war was in progress.
For a few minutes, SPHP stopped and looked at the maps. There was certainly time for Lupe to get to Calumet Ridge, and it was a very nice day out of the wind. SPHP ate some carrot sticks and pondered. Lupe wanted to hide right here until the coast was clear. The problem was, the coast wasn’t going to clear until it got too dark for target practice.
Lupe normally loves all of her Black Hills explorations, but she wasn’t having any fun now. She was convinced there was mortal danger all around. Her worries were unfounded, but there was no way to convincingly convey that to her. No reason to make her suffer. Time to turn around. Lupe would make it to Calumet Ridge another day, when target practice wasn’t in such vogue.
Lupe wasn’t relieved of her fears until she was back over to the E side of the NW ridge coming down from Silver Mountain. When she reached the G6 (12:09 PM, 50°F), she hopped right in ASAP! Turns out there are worse things than being bored – like fearing for your life!
It had been a very short Black Hills expedition, barely 3 hours, but Lupe did climb Silver Mountain. About half an hour after Lupe got home, Guille showed up unexpectedly. She brought a lot of food with her, including a beautiful big ham. Lupe and SPHP gorged on ham. Life was good.
Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving. The day everyone celebrates being totally over-stuffed with delicious turkey and all the trimmings by spending a fortune Christmas shopping online or at the mall. Well, not quite everyone. American Dingoes neglect their patriotic duty to keep the economy humming. They prefer to go on adventures instead!
At 10:06 AM (50°F), SPHP parked the G6 at the Newton Lake (a pond, really) trailhead a few miles NW of Hill City just off Deerfield Road. Time to start working off a few zillion calories! The N end of Smith Mountain(5,897 ft.) was immediately to the W. Lupe couldn’t just go W, though, to get there. The Newton Fork of Spring Creek, too big to simply leap across, was in the way.
Lupe and SPHP crossed Deerfield Road and got on the Mickelson Trail heading WNW. The trail was covered with 6″ of snow. Lupe and SPHP trudged along, burning calories already. The trail soon crossed Newton Creek at a very nice bridge. 0.5 mile after Lupe got on the trail, she was a little N of the N end of Smith Mountain. Lupe and SPHP left the Mickelson Trail, climbed up the embankment to Deerfield Road, and crossed over to the S side of the highway.
Smith Mountain was the first of 3 peakbagging objectives Lupe had for the day. The other two, Flag Mountain(5,896 ft.) and Campaign Hill(5,800 ft.), were both S of Smith Mountain. Smith Mountain is a nearly mile long ridge running N/S. Lupe and SPHP started climbing the slope at the N end of the ridge. There was quite a lot of deadfall timber to work past, and snow everywhere, too. By the time Lupe reached the first little saddle where she could see over to the W side of the mountain, the sun was so warm SPHP had to stop and take off a jacket.
Lupe gained the top of the ridge close to the highest point at the very N end of Smith Mountain. If there had been fewer trees blocking the view, she would have gone to the very top of the N high point to take a look at Lowden Mountain(6,055 ft.) a mile to the N. Instead, Lupe headed S along the ridge looking for the true summit of Smith Mountain. She came to a couple of high spots definitely higher than the N high point. SPHP thought the second one she came to was likely the true summit.
Lupe continued S along the Smith Mountain ridge. This part of the forest had been thinned before the pine bark beetle infestation started. There was far less deadfall timber to contend with. The remaining trees were healthier. More sunlight could reach the ground between them, so there wasn’t nearly as much snow around. It was far easier to move along, and Lupe and SPHP caught better glimpses of the views to E.
The ridge started angling a little more to the SSE. After having lost some elevation, Lupe was climbing again. As Lupe went higher and higher, SPHP began to realize that Lupe hadn’t actually reached the true summit of Smith Mountain yet; it was still ahead.
Lupe didn’t have very far to go to reach it. Soon she was sniffing around much bigger rock formations at the true summit of Smith Mountain. The highest rocks were so huge, she couldn’t actually get up on top of them, but she climbed up almost as high. SPHP lifted her up so she could put her front paws on the highest rock, just a foot or two below the very highest point, which was out of reach to the W.
From the true summit, Lupe and SPHP continued only a little way farther SSE along the ridge before turning more to the SSW to start losing elevation. Lupe stayed high enough on the mountain to avoid a couple of draws that drained W. Eventually the terrain sloped more to the SSW. Lupe and SPHP headed down.
Suddenly there was the sound of gunfire! Hunters were about. Lupe was instantly alarmed. She insisted on stopping. SPHP found a dry spot. Lupe and SPHP took a break just sitting on the pine needles on the forest floor. Lupe wasn’t hungry, but SPHP ate a tangerine and a few carrot sticks. The gunfire had come from quite some distance to the S or SW.
A little while after the gunfire ended, SPHP was ready to move on. Reluctantly, Lupe tagged along close by. Almost as soon as Lupe started off again, SPHP spotted a road ahead. SPHP didn’t realize it at the time, but this was USFS Road No. 386.1B. Lupe reached it at a bend at the NE corner of a big clearing. She could follow the road W or S. Lupe and SPHP headed S in the direction of Flag and Campaign mountains. There was quite a bit of snow and ice gradually melting on the road.
Eventually, No. 386.1B began turning E to go around the S end of Smith Mountain. Lupe left the road continuing S. Before long, she reached a big field extending E/W down in the Patterson Creek valley. Lupe crossed the field. Patterson Creek meandered along the S side of the field. It had plenty of water in it, and was flowing along quite nicely. Fortunately, the creek was just small enough to leap over. Both Lupe and SPHP made it across without difficulty.
Near the S side of Patterson Creek was a snowy road going E/W. A quick check to the W revealed a dead end. The road went farther E following the Patterson Creek valley downstream. Lupe went just a little way E on the road, before turning S to start the climb up Flag Mountain. There was quite a bit of snow on the ground here, and some deadfall timber, too. Lupe succeeded in avoiding most of the snow and some of the deadfall timber by climbing up a little ridge approaching Flag Mountain from the NNE.
The last 200 feet of elevation gain up the N slope of Flag Mountain was different. It was fairly steep, full of snow and choked with deadfall. Lupe had lots of time to sniff around in the shattered forest while SPHP struggled up the mountain. Meanwhile, the sunnier skies Lupe enjoyed earlier in the day disappeared. A cold breeze started up out of the WNW. The mood had turned a bit gloomy by the time Lupe and SPHP made it to the top of Flag Mountain.
The summit area was a little surprising. It was as big as several houses, and mostly level. The biggest part was toward the E where the ground was mostly grassy, with trees along the N and NE perimeters. The very highest point was near the W end, where the summit was much rockier and narrower. The rocks weren’t very large. Lupe hopped up on top for a look around. There were quite a few trees around, but she could see Harney Peak(7,242 ft.) to the SE.
The most wide open views from Flag Mountain were toward the E and S from the larger E portion of the summit area. There were a few bushes, but no trees along the SE perimeter to block the view. The most impressive view was SE toward Harney Peak, but Lupe also had a pretty good view off to the ENE toward Five Points(6,221 ft.).
Lupe had now climbed 2 of her 3 peakbagging goals for the day, Smith and Flag Mountains. Her 3rd goal, Campaign Hill was supposed to be just 0.5 mile S of Flag Mountain, but at first glance, SPHP did not see it. After looking more carefully from the SE edge of the Flag Mountain summit, SPHP saw the E end of a low forested hill to the S. It seemed too low to be Campaign Hill, but after consulting the maps again, that had to be it.
Campaign Hill wasn’t very far away, but the S slope of Flag Mountain was too steep to go directly down that way. SPHP got cold feet. No, really, truly cold feet. SPHP’s old boots leaked badly. After tramping around for hours in melting snow, SPHP’s feet were totally sopping wet. They had been that way essentially the whole day. Now, standing around on Flag Mountain in the cold breeze, SPHP’s feet felt like they were freezing up.
The sun was low in the sky, but there were still a couple of hours left before sunset. Lupe and SPHP hadn’t gone all that far as the crow flies, but it had taken a long time to get to Flag Mountain with all the snow and deadfall timber along the way. It might take quite a while to get back, too. SPHP needed to start moving to get the circulation going again. Decision time.
Well, no sense risking frostbite. Campaign Hill would still be there another day. Lupe and SPHP started slowly back down the N slope of Flag Mountain through the snow and deadfall timber again. Lupe went all the way back down the mountain to the Patterson Creek valley again.
Lupe and SPHP crossed Patterson Creek and went over to the N side of the field. Since there was no need to climb Smith Mountain again, Lupe and SPHP followed the fence along the edge of the field heading W up the valley to see what was there. The field branched out into two even bigger fields, one to the SW and one to the NW. Two big spruce trees stood near an old abandoned cabin where the fields met. It was a pretty spot.
Lupe continued along the NE edge of the field heading N along the fence line. The field soon divided again. One arm of it went off to the W. The other arm turned and went N a long way. SPHP could see a home way up toward the far N end. The fields were probably private property. Lupe and SPHP decided to angle NNE through the forest, hoping to find USFS Road No. 386.1B again somewhere W of Smith Mountain.
Lupe did find No. 386.1B again near the big clearing where she had first reached it earlier in the day on the way to Flag Mountain. This time, Lupe followed No. 386.1B going N. The road wound around a little, but most of the time made steady progress to the N. Along the way, Lupe was exploring new territory W of Smith Mountain. She saw deer and squirrels in the forest, so she was having some fun.
After a little while, SPHP saw an intersection up ahead. As Lupe got close to the intersection, her fun suddenly ended. A shot rang out very close by. Hunters again! This time much, much closer. Lupe wanted to hide near a big tree close to the intersection. SPHP complied. Several more shots rang out. SPHP knew Lupe wasn’t going anywhere until they stopped.
Ten minutes of silence went by. SPHP headed for the intersection. Lupe didn’t want to go, but was scared to be left behind. The side road was marked No. 386.1F. It went NNE and looked like a shortcut back to the G6 compared to No. 386.1B, which would take a very long way around to the NW. From the intersection, SPHP saw the hunter’s pickup truck parked not too far away along No. 386.1F.
Another shot rang out. Lupe and SPHP retreated SW to a big rock. SPHP sat and looked at maps, while Lupe huddled as close as she could get. The maps showed it would have been faster to take No. 386.1B around the E side of Smith Mountain from Patterson Creek. Too late for that! No. 386.1F was definitely a shortcut back to the G6 from here. It would save at least a mile compared to staying on No. 386.1B.
After it had been quiet for a while again, Lupe and SPHP returned to the intersection and started NNE on No. 386.1F. Within a few minutes, Lupe was past the hunter’s pickup truck. The road was snowy and icy. There were lots of tracks in the snow. There must have been quite a few hunters. Lupe saw a couple of them to the E higher up on Smith Mountain. One waved. SPHP waved back, but did not stop. No more shots were heard.
No. 386.1F led down into a big draw NNW of Smith Mountain. Lower down, the road became so choked with deadfall timber, Lupe and SPHP left it. The mountain slopes seemed easier going than the road. The sun set. For just a few minutes, there was a beautifully colored sky to the SW.
It was 4:59 PM (41°F), and getting pretty dark by the time Lupe and SPHP reached the G6 again. SPHP’s feet were still cold, but moving on the long march back had helped. They weren’t as cold as they had been standing around on top of Flag Mountain. Carolina Dogs have great circulation. SPHP felt Lupe’s paws. They were practically burning hot! It felt good just holding them! Lupe just grinned.
Start 10:06 AM, 67°F, USFS Road No. 304 near the lower end of Tree Draw, about 4 miles S of Deerfield Road
Well, this was it! Lupe trotted happily along the road leading up Tree Draw. At least there was some shade. It was already warm out. Only a few little white clouds dotted the sunny blue sky. Lupe’s pink tongue dangled so far out of her mouth, it looked like it ought to belong to a considerably larger Dingo.
Lupe was destined to spend a good deal of the day panting. Summer was here! Due to the heat, Expedition No. 207 would be her last Black Hills Expedition until cooler weather arrives in the fall.
The road went W for 0.5 mile, then turned S for 0.375 mile. Lupe was now approaching the upper end of Tree Draw. The road angled SW and started climbing more steeply. It faded away entirely at a barbed wire fence. Lupe ducked under the fence, and quickly reached a minor pass. This was the saddle NNW of Peak6720, her first peakbagging destination for the day.
A broad, gently rounded ridge led SSE up to the top of the mountain. On the way, Lupe dodged scattered deadfall timber. Near the summit, the deadfall was worse and had fallen over the barbed wire fence, which unfortunately came up here, too. SPHP lifted Lupe over the dangerous downed fence.
At the N end of the first sizable rock outcropping she came to, Lupe reached the true summit of Peak6720.
The summit ridge sloped gradually down toward the SSE. Beyond a gap of relatively level ground were more rock formations. Lupe left the true summit to explore them, too.
Fewer trees grew around the rock formations S of the true summit. Lupe enjoyed better views from here, even though she wasn’t quite as high on the mountain as before. She could see Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) off to the SE where she’d been only a week ago on Expedition No. 206.
It hadn’t taken long to get to Peak 6720, so Lupe wasn’t ready for much of a break yet. She remained on the summit ridge only 20 minutes. That was long enough to get a drink, scramble around on the rocks some, and see the views.
Medicine Mountain(6,878 ft.), 2 miles to the SSW, was next on the Carolina Dog’s peakbagging agenda. Lupe left Peak 6720 heading straight on down the SW slope. Progress was slow at first. SPHP had to navigate a band of loose rock directly below the spine of the mountain. This was followed by a much longer band of deadfall timber. The deadfall was considerably worse here than on the way Lupe had gone up.
Loose rocks and deadfall were left behind, though, well before Lupe reached the floor of the valley to the W. A dirt road in the valley headed straight for Medicine Mountain.
Loop had about a mile to go to reach USFS Road No. 297 down by Negro Creek, but the dirt road she was on veered off onto the W (R) slope of the valley after only half that distance. The Carolina Dog left the road to remain in the valley instead. Following an old cow path, she went around the E side of a large fenced area on the valley floor.
When a spring and small creek appeared, Lupe made good use of them.
Lupe reached USFS Road No. 297. She was halfway from Peak 6720 to Medicine Mountain. Negro Creek, a small stream, but much larger than the tiny tributary in the valley she’d just come through, was flowing through an interestingly shaped pond on the other (SW) side of the road. The pond was home to a family of Canadian geese.
Lupe and SPHP trudged S on USFS Road No. 297 far enough to get past a barbed wire fence before leaving the road to cross Negro Creek. While SPHP jumped across, Lupe hopped right in the creek and laid down. She then got up, and strolled up and down the creek a few times while drinking the cold water. When the Carolina Dog felt sufficiently refreshed, she leapt out of the creek to start climbing Medicine Mountain.
The day was hot. At least, it was hot for climbing mountains. Despite her revitalizing dip in Negro Creek, Lupe’s tongue was soon hanging out again. The heat sapped SPHP’s energy. Most of the mountain was forested, but Lupe came to a few sunny fields on the way up, too. Lupe and SPHP made numerous short rest stops in shady places.
Lupe explored the forest while SPHP kept chugging slowly up Medicine Mountain. There wasn’t much deadfall until almost to the top. Lupe arrived at the base of a narrow rock outcropping after coming up the N ridge. The outcropping looked only 20 feet high. A route existed where SPHP might be able to scramble directly up.
No problem with the little scramble, but the first 20 feet led only to a false summit. However, Lupe didn’t have much more to go. Loop and SPHP worked a little higher along the E side of a rocky ledge, while proceeding S. In a couple of minutes, Lupe was at the top of Medicine Mountain’s N summit. A line of rocks of roughly equal elevation along the ledge provided terrific views to the N.
This time, break first – then views. Lupe had water and Taste of the Wild. An apple, as usual, for SPHP. Lupe curled up in the shade of a tree, surrounded by delicate white wildflowers. Medicine Mountain was a busy place. Flies buzzed, bees hummed, butterflies chased each other in dizzying circles.
After a 10 minute rest, Loop and SPHP were ready for a look around. From the rocks of the N ledge, Lupe could see in every direction except S. The best views were toward the N & W.
So far, Lupe had only made it to the lower N summit of Medicine Mountain. If she wanted to see the views to the S and complete her peakbagging goal, she would have to go to the mountain’s true summit. A saddle with considerable deadfall timber led over to the higher S summit, which wasn’t far off. Lupe could be there in minutes.
Once she was across the saddle, Lupe found a short, faint trail leading up the NW side of the S summit. The highest point on Medicine Mountain(6,878 ft.) proved to be occupied by a young aspen tree.
The best views from the S summit were toward the rugged country around Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.) to the SE.
Looper could see a long way to the S.
Lupe spent a little while near the true summit of Medicine Mountain. However, if she wanted to have enough time to actually get to Peak 6680 and Copper Mountain, she couldn’t dilly dally too long. Disappointingly, a little sniffing around revealed no medicine on Medicine Mountain, so Lupe moved on. She took the faint path leading back to the saddle, and began a descent down the mountain’s W slope.
The W slope was moderately steep and full of deadfall timber. Lupe was nearly down to a huge field in the next valley before she was out of it. She continued W across the field, and headed for a saddle ESE of Peak 6680. The saddle and much of the rest of the way up were covered with a forest of dense young pines 10 to 15 feet high.
The young pine forest would have been difficult to travel through, but fortunately, a series of lanes free of trees existed by which it was possible to weave up the mountain mostly unhindered. As Lupe approached the summit of Peak 6680, she came to an older forest and started seeing rock outcroppings.
Lupe had been to Peak6680 once before, way back on Expedition No. 96 on 9-20-14. It had been so long ago, SPHP couldn’t remember what the summit was like. Lupe rediscovered a 150 foot long summit ridge oriented E/W with large rocks scattered along the N edge where the slope below was steepest. This whole ridge was forested, but a few spots offered Loop glimpses of distant views.
Lupe had come up at the E end of Peak 6680’s summit ridge. The ridge was roughly level, but with slightly higher points at each end. Lupe could see a rock at the far W end which looked like it might be the true summit.
Naturally, the American Dingo had to go check it out.
Although it wasn’t really clear if the E or W high point was the true summit of Peak 6680, Lupe had now been to both. She could now claim peakbagging successes at 3 different mountains today. SPHP was pretty certain she still had time to get to Copper Mountain, too.
Copper Mountain was 2 miles due N. Loop wasted no time getting started. She went E back a little beyond the rocks at Peak 6680’s E high point, before turning N. She traveled down to a very wide saddle leading to the long S ridge that would take her to Copper Mountain. It was a bushwhack all the way through the forest until she came to a dirt road upon attaining the S ridge.
Now Lupe and SPHP could make good time. The dirt road followed the top of the ridge to Sixmile Road (USFS Road No. 301), a major gravel road. Lupe crossed No. 301 continuing N before eventually turning E. The sun was getting low, but would still be up for another hour or so, when Lupe reached the cliffs at the SE end of Copper Mountain(6,920 ft.).
The last time Lupe had been here was 14 months ago, when she’d first met her mountaineering friend Jobe Wymore. Jobe had used Lupe’s Black Hills scouting services, and come all the way from the west coast to visit Odakota Mountain. Lupe and SPHP had then gone with Jobe all the way to the Wildcat Hills of Nebraska.
Fun times, and it was fun to think about them again now! Neither Lupe nor SPHP had ever met a real mountaineer before. Jobe had turned out to be such a great guy with so many interesting tales to tell! Lupe hadn’t seen Jobe since that day, but it was possible she was going to see him again on one of her 2017 Dingo Vacations this summer!
The evening views from Copper Mountain were beautiful. Lupe and SPHP stayed a little while admiring them, talking about Jobe, and remembering. The sun was getting lower, though, and Lupe had a bit of a bushwhack ahead of her to get back to the saddle above Tree Draw near Peak 6720.
Lupe’s return trip went fine. The heat of the day was gone. Lupe and SPHP were both energized. Lupe saw many deer, a few squirrels, and one giant deer (elk) on the way. She had a blast! She made such good progress, she even had time for a quick side trek back up to the top of Peak 6720 to see the sun set.
Expedition No. 207 marked the end of Lupe’s Black Hills expeditions for a while. The first of her splendid Summer of 2017 Dingo Vacations full of more distant adventures would be starting soon! (9:11 PM, 52°F)
Start 7:35 AM, 46°F, USFS Road No. 352 just NW of the end of Sylvan Hill’s N ridge.
Expedition day! Lupe was excited! She frolicked and rolled in tall green grass, wet from overnight rain showers. Before SPHP was even ready to set out, Loop was already a soggy doggie, but happy as a clam. She led the way, trotting S on perfectly good USFS Road No. 352, expecting SPHP to follow.
Instead, SPHP left the road right at the G6, climbing a slope to the SE to begin the 1.75 mile trek up Sylvan Hill’s N ridge. The Carolina Dog doubled back. This was more good news! Loop loves off-road, off-trail exploring most of all.
Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) is the high point of Custer County, SD. Situated only 3 miles SW of Black Elk Peak(7,131 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, and a mile W of Sylvan Lake, it lies near the heart of the most rugged territory in the Black Hills, an area characterized by large ancient granite formations.
As the Custer County high point, Sylvan Hill gets climbed more frequently than many Black Hills peaks. The vast majority of ascents are made by the shortest route possible starting from a dirt parking lot off Hwy 87/89 located 0.5 mile W of Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park.
From the dirt parking lot, a short trek up a switchback on a gated side road ends at a sod-covered water storage facility. A subsequent steep climb WSW through the forest skirts around the S end of a big granite formation, and leads to a saddle on a ridgeline with more granite to the S (High Point 6849). The summit of Sylvan Hill lies less than 0.25 mile NW of this saddle along a deadfall infested ridge.
This popular route from the E is no more than 0.75 mile one way, and involves less than 800 feet of net elevation gain. The first time Lupe climbed Sylvan Hill slightly more than 3 years ago on Expedition No. 89 (5-17-14), she had also used this route. Not today, though! Now she was intent upon exploring the longer N ridge.
Lupe gained a little under 200 feet of elevation going up the slope to the first high point on the N ridge. Scattered boulders were at the top, but no large rock formations. Lupe angled S, losing a little elevation. Off to the W, a short stretch of USFS Road No. 352 was in sight again a little lower down. Lupe had been right, it would have been easier to follow the road this far. Ahh, well. Que sera.
Continuing on, Lupe’s climb resumed. This next section was shorter, and led to more boulders strung out along a higher part of the ridge. Lupe got up on one of the biggest boulders offering a partial view of what lay ahead.
For a while, the ridge narrowed considerably. The edge was steeper than before. Sometimes Lupe could go over the top of rock formations she came to. Other times, it was easier to go around. SPHP often expected Lupe was about to have to lose some elevation, but she seldom lost much. A way through to higher ground always seemed to appear.
The ridge widened out again, and Lupe came to an abandoned road. The road was switchbacking its way up, so Loop followed it. Why not? It was the easiest way.
The road didn’t take Lupe very far. It ended at what appeared to be an old prospecting site where a hole had been blasted in the side of the ridge.
With the forest also blown away in this area, Lupe would have her first real shot at some distant views from rocks she could see above the blast site. Loop scrambled up for a look around. She had a nice look back to the N at Saint Elmo Peak(6,458 ft.) and Zimmer Ridge(6,600 ft.).
Dingo, ho! Lupe was climbing steadily now. The ridge was getting steeper. The longest, steepest part of her journey up the N ridge was underway. Loop was approaching the high forested area she had seen from the first big boulder early on. Before the final big push, she reached another high point with a view.
Onward! Up and up. After several hundred feet of sharp elevation gains, the terrain began to level out. Lupe was still going up, but at a more moderate pace. The forest started thinning out. Lupe came to meadows with minor high points a short distance off to the SSW. She went over near the top of the first one.
Lupe had her first view of Sylvan Hill’s true summit ahead.
The rest of the way was easy. The slope of the terrain was gradual. Lupe romped through open fields. To the E, she had views of impressive rock formations and many peaks she had been to before. The true summit wasn’t far off now.
The NW slope of the knobby summit would have been an easy climb, but was full of deadfall timber amid a thick stand of young aspens. Lupe found it easier to circle around to the SW, where she faced a momentary scramble between a few big rocks. A couple of bounds up, and she was there! Lupe sat comfortably on a small grassy spot on top of Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) for the first time in over 3 years.
The views from Sylvan Hill were magnificent! Lupe could see far off in every direction. The summit area was small, but not the least bit scary. The American Dingo had plenty of room to relax and take life easy. First, though, it was time to enjoy those views!
The cairn at the top of the mountain had been considerably improved upon since the last time Lupe had been here on Expedition No. 89. She got up near it for a good look around.
N of the true summit was another rock ledge Lupe could comfortably pose on. She happily agreed to get up on it for a few photos in this direction, too.
Before taking her break, Lupe returned to the summit cairn for another look. Of all the grand views available from Sylvan Hill, the best was toward Black Elk Peak, South Dakota’s loftiest mountain.
That was a bunch of pictures. Lupe was ready for her break. She curled up to enjoy her usual Taste of the wild. SPHP had nectarines instead of the usual apple. After devouring both nectarines, SPHP wandered around the summit a bit more while Lupe continued chilling out.
The weather had been becoming increasingly unsettled while Lupe came up the N ridge. After 20 minutes at the summit, the first of a series of squalls blew in. Suddenly, Lupe really was chilling out. SPHP feared a cold, drenching shower was imminent, but none materialized.
What did materialize was a snow storm! The micro-blizzard was dramatic, and came on driven by a frigid, stiff N breeze. The snow wasn’t flakes, but arrived as tiny pellets. Neither the Carolina Dog nor SPHP was particularly pleased with this turn of events, but snow was better than a bone-chilling rain.
The Sylvan Peak micro-blizzard lasted all of 3 or 4 minutes before it began to taper off again. Typical in this country. More squalls would come, but in the meantime, Lupe would have 20 minutes or more when the skies would clear somewhat and the sun might shine.
Loop was ready to move on. A few more minutes at the summit, and SPHP was ready, too.
Lupe’s next peakbagging goal for Expedition No. 206 was Peak6733, located nearly 1.5 miles SW of Sylvan Hill across the upper end of Bear Gulch. The plan wasn’t to head directly for it, but to explore the entire length of the long, undulating ridge going all around the S end of Bear Gulch.
The first part of Looper’s route to Peak 6733 would follow the same SE ridge which is the last segment of the popular route to Sylvan Hill from Hwy 87/89. SPHP remembered this trek from Lupe’s Expedition No. 89 as being dreadfully slow due to all the deadfall timber killed by pine bark beetles.
The deadfall situation hadn’t improved at all over the last 3 years.
Fortunately, it wasn’t nearly as far to the first big granite formation SE of Sylvan Hill as SPHP remembered. Despite the deadfall, Lupe made her way over there fairly quickly. She climbed most of the way up the granite into a narrow crack between nearly vertical walls.
Lupe was near High Point 6849 on the Peakbagger.com topo map. She needed to get past the highest vertical wall of granite blocking her way S. SPHP didn’t see an easy way over it, and was fearful of the potential drop that might be waiting for Lupe on the other side.
After a half-hearted search for a way over, Lupe and SPHP gave up. Lupe went W looking for a way around High Point 6849.
Loop had to lose more elevation than SPHP expected, but she did get around the W end of High Point 6849. Good thing Lupe went around it, and hadn’t tried too hard to go over the top! Looking back after regaining the ridgeline on the other side, it was clear that going around had been the only feasible option.
Now that she was past High Point 6849, Lupe followed the ridge SW. The ridge was broad, and the terrain wasn’t bad at all, with no big climbs or drops. Lupe still had excellent views to the S.
Despite these advantages, the ridge walk wasn’t fun. Deadfall timber was strewn so thickly about, Lupe’s progress was excruciatingly slow. She did reach one area that was kind of cool. A lumpy platform of solid granite had a few big puddles on it, and was free of the aggravating deadfall.
The views were great, but beyond the platform, Lupe was forced right back into the deadfall infested forest. Up ahead, High Point 6855 loomed as the next obstacle. It really didn’t look like Lupe could get all the way to the top, but she could clearly get quite high. She shouldn’t have a hard time finding a way past the summit.
Another squall came and went. Cold N breeze, same deal as before, except this time it was a mix of snow then rain. As before, it didn’t last long. These squalls might come and go for hours. If they turned completely to rain and got worse, Lupe’s long trek around the deadfall infested ridge was going to be unpleasant. She still had a long way to go to Peak 6733.
Upon reaching a saddle leading to the now imminent climb up High Point 6855, the American Dingo discovered a faint road. Lupe was doing fine, but SPHP was fed up with all the deadfall on the ridge. Come on, Looper, let’s just take this road down into Bear Gulch. Even though you’ll have to regain a lot more lost elevation, we’ll get to Peak 6733 way faster.
Lupe didn’t mind. In fact, she preferred the road, too. The road went by meadows where she could run around, instead of wasting her energy hopping over dead trees. The faint road led to a better one, which ultimately brought Lupe down into the upper end of Bear Gulch from the E.
Lupe came to USFS Road No. 352 again 2.5 miles S of where the G6 was parked along it. Nearby, a little stream crossed the road. Lupe crossed the road, too, staying S of the creek. Boggy forested terrain interlaced with small rivulets trickling through it all forced her SW.
Loop drank from the rivulets. She loved the feel of the soft, damp, boggy ground on her paws. SPHP was less enthused by the mud, but managed to avoid the worst of it. Before long, the Carolina Dog was beyond the bog and climbing a hillside. She had skipped past a big part of the long ridge to Peak 6733, but now she needed to get back up there again. SPHP had her aim for the saddle between High Point 6627 and Peak 6733.
About the time Loop regained the ridgeline, a third squall hit. This squall was mostly dark clouds and wind, accompanied by only a little rain. Apparently the squalls were weakening instead of strengthening. Good! Lupe turned NW following the ridge. She still needed to regain another 300 feet of elevation to reach Peak 6733’s summit.
In keeping with its annoying tradition, the upper part of the ridge was strewn with deadfall. At least it wasn’t quite as bad here as before.
The summit of Peak6733 is a block of granite with small cliffs facing NE. Lupe had an easy time scrambling up from the SE. The views were superb in most directions, except to the W toward Thunderhead Mountain(6,567 ft.) and the Crazy Horse Memorial where trees interfered.
After a look around, Lupe and SPHP took a break. Lupe had water and more Taste of the Wild. SPHP had foolishly devoured both nectarines back on Sylvan Hill.
By the time Lupe’s break was over, another squall could be seen coming in from the N.
This fourth squall was the weakest and final one of any note. The sun soon came out again. Lupe made another tour of Peak 6733’s summit before beginning her descent.
The easiest way down seemed to be to the SE back the way Lupe had come up.
Once Lupe was down off the summit, she stopped briefly by another high point a little to the SE. It was somewhat lower, of course, but offered a final, unobstructed view of Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) and Bear Gulch.
From here, Lupe headed N, passing below Peak 6733’s summit along the base of the NE facing cliffs.
Once beyond the cliffs, Lupe and SPHP stayed on the N ridge making a long trek through a battle zone of deadfall timber. The terrain was easy enough, but the deadfall was horrid the entire way. Lupe finally reached a road at a gated pass immediately S of High Point 6634.
Once again, Lupe was glad to reach the road! She made another descent into Bear Gulch. The road took her a long way back to the SE, before eventually curving N again. Lupe didn’t care. She was free of the deadfall. Now she could have fun sniffing around. She was entertained by numerous deer she saw along the way.
The road finally reached USFS Road No. 352 down by the creek at the bottom of Bear Gulch. Here, the side road Lupe had been following was marked as No. 352.2B. The G6 was still a good 2 miles N along No. 352.
It was only mid-afternoon. The sun would be up for hours. However, Lupe had gotten off to an early start this morning, and the long stretches of deadfall had been wearying. The Carolina Dog turned N on No. 352, and headed for her ride home. (5:01 PM, 59°F)
Note: USFS Road No. 352 (marked by a brown fiberglass wand) leaves the W side of Hwy 87/89 in Sunday Gulch (S of Hill City) less than 0.25 mile S of privately owned Horse Thief Campground & RV Resort just as the highway begins a 3 mile climb up to Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.
Stay to the L at a “Y” where No. 352 levels out. Park along the road here (like Lupe did), or go a little farther to a small parking area at a locked gate in Bear Gulch less than a mile from the highway. High clearance vehicle not required.
Start, 11:04 AM, 33°F, intersection of USFS Roads No. 189, 189.4A & 631.2C about 0.33 mile WSW of Crooks Tower
This was supposed to be an expedition to celebrate the rapid approach of a glorious new summer! Lupe would explore mysteriously named Balm of Gilead Gulch before continuing on to Cement Ridge. There, beneath cotton ball clouds sailing a crystal blue sea, the Carolina Dog would sniff colorful wildflowers swaying in warm breezes. She would gaze upon panoramic views of Inyan Kara, the Bear Lodge Mountains, and far into eastern Wyoming.
Hah! Dream on. Even before leaving home, SPHP knew the forecast didn’t include much in the way of warm breezes.
A week ago on Expedition No. 204, Lupe had visited Crooks Tower(7,137 ft.), one of the highest points in the Black Hills. She’d made a day of it coming up from Merow Spring and Clayton Pond, and subsequently continuing on to Peak6820. Now, driving W on South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231), it occurred to SPHP that Loop was very close to Crooks Tower again. Why not go back for a good look at how much conditions had changed?
It wasn’t necessary to spend a whole day on foot and paw to get to Crooks Tower. In fact, a 2 mile detour S on USFS Road No. 189 would bring Lupe to a point only 0.33 mile WSW of the summit. Let’s do it! SPHP made the turn. Five minutes later, Lupe sprang out of the G6 into a world where the mood was better suited to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than 4th of July fireworks.
Although the forecast called for 0% chance of precipitation, the sky was heavily overcast. Any more overcast, and Lupe would have been in a fog. Humidity filled the air. It felt like it could rain buckets at any time. Or snow. At a chilly 33°F, snow seemed equally plausible. The ground was already white with the stuff.
Lupe concealed her disappointment with summer’s non-arrival well. In fact, she seemed thrilled and energized by the snow. She charged through fields and forests as SPHP began a mucky march E along USFS Road No. 189.4A.
About 0.33 mile from the G6, the road passed just S of the summit of Crooks Tower. Lupe and SPHP left the road to take the short path leading to the top from the SW. Only a week after her 8th ascent, Lupe was here for the 9th time.
Having been here only a week ago, Lupe and SPHP dawdled only a little while on Crooks Tower. It was fun to be there again, but the plan was still to explore Balm of Gilead Gulch and reach Cement Ridge today. Lupe returned to the G6 (11:35 AM, 33°F), and SPHP drove onward.
N of Highway 85, a little W of O’Neill Pass, SPHP parked the G6 again (11:53 AM, 39°F) near corrals S of the junction of USFS Roads No. 175 (Willow Springs Road) and No. 106 (Riflepit Canyon Road). Here Lupe was only 0.67 mile W of Laird Peak(6,906 ft.), another mountain along the way. SPHP figured she might as well climb it, too, since it was an easy peak and wouldn’t take long.
An unmarked grassy road led E from the parking area up a little valley past Tom Spring. This area was hundreds of feet lower than Crooks Tower, so there wasn’t nearly as much snow around. What snow there was in the pines was melting fast. Snowmelt dripped to the ground in such abundance, Lupe was getting rained on beneath the trees.
Tom Spring was a muddy area. Water poured from a pipe into a circular water trough. Not too exciting. Lupe didn’t seem interested. She pressed on up the valley. The road faded somewhat beyond Tom Spring, but could still be followed.
Upon reaching a ridgeline where several better dirt roads intersected, Lupe took a road going N. She stayed on it for only 100 feet or so to get past a fence running E/W. She then turned E following the N side of the fence line. Laird Peak’s summit was only a couple hundred yards ahead. The summit appeared only as a small hill in the forest.
Lupe quickly reached the top. The summit area was easily the size of a modest yard in town and quite flat. Deadfall timber lay scattered about the perimeter of a small clearing. A sign marking the location of the survey benchmark was in sight near the N edge of the clearing.
Pine bark beetles had damaged the surrounding forest enough to provide tree-broken glimpses of distant views in various directions, but only enough to tantalize. Lupe couldn’t really see much from here other than the immediate area. With no clear views to contemplate, the American Dingo was soon ready to go.
The sky was still overcast, but not as darkly as before. Now and then a small patch of blue sky appeared. SPHP kept expecting the clouds to burn off, but they didn’t. Instead the clouds kept closing up the gaps, and the sunshine would disappear. Nothing had really changed by the time Lupe reached the G6 again (12:45 PM).
A winding drive NW down Grand Canyon ensued. USFS Road No. 175 turned to No. 875 at the Wyoming border. By the time SPHP parked the G6 at the intersection of No. 875 & No. 804, it was already 1:23 PM (47°F). If Lupe was going to explore Balm of Gilead Gulch and still have time to reach Cement Ridge, she had best get on with it. The Carolina Dog and SPHP took off heading E up Rattlesnake Canyon on No. 804.
The stroll up Rattlesnake Canyon was easy. A couple of miles E of the G6, SPHP started looking for a R (S) turn on USFS Road No. 804.1A which would take Lupe up into Balm of Gilead Gulch. A road going S up a hill did appear. There weren’t any signs at the turn, but a forest service gate was in view a little way up the hill.
Was this No. 804.1A? It didn’t seem quite right. The topo map showed a 4WD trail heading S up a smaller valley about 0.5 mile before (W of) the turn to Balm of Gilead Gulch, and this was the first side road Lupe had come to. SPHP almost led Lupe past this road, but decided she might as well check out the forest service gate for any clues first.
Good thing! Nearing the gate, Lupe found a marker showing this was USFS Road No. 804.1A.
So this was it! Lupe was bound for Balm of Gilead Gulch! Except for one thing that raised doubts again. As the Carolina Dog trotted past the gate, SPHP noticed large white letters on the round metal swivel housing on the L. The letters read OLDB 05. What did that mean? SPHP was suspicious.
It might mean that this road had been renumbered. USFS Road No. 805 went up Wagon Canyon 1.5 miles to the S. Was this possibly a connecting spur, formerly known as No. 805.B? Seemed like a possibility, but who knew? May as well try it. After all, the official sign did say this was No. 804.1A, which was supposed to be the road into Balm of Gilead Gulch.
Lupe continued up No. 804.1A. The road turned SE and led up a small forested valley. The day had warmed up some, and Lupe was still considerably lower here than she had been at either Crooks Tower or Laird Peak, so she didn’t find any snow in this area. There had been some, though. The road was damp, nearly muddy.
Although no tire tracks were to be seen, an amazing number of animal tracks crisscrossed the soft road. It wasn’t long before Lupe started seeing wildlife – whitetail deer and Lupe’s giant deers – the elk.
It was fun being where there were so many animals in the forest, and sort of easy to see why they were here. No tire tracks on the road at all meant people seldom come here. The forest was full of hidden grassy glens. This was a good place to hide and hang out.
Lupe gained elevation steadily for perhaps a mile before the road leveled out. Here, the main road turned SW and started going downhill. A fainter road curved ESE. Lupe needed to go E, so she took the fainter road. When she wanted to stop for a water break 5 or 10 minutes later, SPHP took a look at the maps.
Hmmm. SPHP was soon convinced that Lupe hadn’t been traveling through Balm of Gilead Gulch at all. Where the main road had turned SW, it almost had to be headed for Kirley Gulch on its way down to Wagon Canyon. Apparently the road numbers really had been changed. The old No. 804.1A leading into Balm of Gilead Gulch that Lupe had been looking for was no more. The new No. 804.1A actually was a road connecting No. 804 in Rattlesnake Canyon and No. 805 in Wagon Canyon.
The inescapable conclusion was that Balm of Gilead Gulch was 0.5 mile N or NE of where Lupe was now. She could have gone through the forest looking for it, but that would have meant losing elevation she’d already gained. Furthermore, she would only get to travel through part of the gulch. Instead of doing that, SPHP decided Lupe might just as well continue on to Cement Ridge. She could hit Balm of Gilead Gulch on the way back.
Break done, Lupe roamed happily in the forest along a series of remote USFS roads. She traveled E or SE, and once in a while NE. She was generally still gaining elevation, but at a slow rate. Sometimes there were markers at the road junctions, but even when there were, usually only one road was marked. It wasn’t always clear which road the marker was meant for.
This was pretty high country, but due to the forest, Lupe seldom had any distant views. Some ridges did eventually appear off to the S and SW. Loop was already nearly as high as they were.
On her explorations, Lupe either traveled along or passed by USFS Roads No. 805.3J, 805.3G, and 805.3A. About two miles E of where she’d left No. 804.1A, she came down a side road marked No. 105.1B to arrive at the first major gravel road she’d seen since leaving No. 804 down in Rattlesnake Canyon.
A check of the maps revealed that Loop was now only 0.25 mile S of No. 105’s junction with No. 804. Cement Ridge(6,674 ft.) was only 1.5 miles NNW beyond the intersection. Before setting out again, Lupe was ready for more water and Taste of the Wild. SPHP ate the only apple, which was supposed to have been saved for Cement Ridge, but, oh well.
All tanked up again, Lupe set off along No. 105 for Cement Ridge. Upon reaching the junction with No. 804, she followed No. 804 NNW a good 0.5 mile to its high point, then plunged into the forest. The American Dingo loves being off road most of all, so she had a grand time. Gradually things got steeper, but it was never more than a straightforward trudge up a hill.
When Lupe reached the ridgeline along the N face, she turned W and followed the ridge a short distance to a pathetic little limestone cairn at the high point. This was it, the true summit of Cement Ridge!
Virtually no one from the Black Hills region would recognize this place where Lupe was now as the summit of Cement Ridge. This might be the true summit according to the topo maps, but only a handful of peakbagging Dingoes would even be aware of its existence. Cement Ridge is well known locally as one of the Black Hills’ premier viewpoints, but what everyone around here is referring to are the views from the Cement Ridge fire lookout tower.
The fire lookout tower is located on a barren highpoint near the NW end of Cement Ridge over a mile from the true summit. According to the topo map, the lookout tower is 27 feet lower than the true summit. Nevertheless, the views from the tower are far superior to those available from the heavily forested true summit.
Lupe could see the lookout tower from the true summit. Perhaps it was only an illusion, but it actually looked higher to SPHP.
Lupe had no comment on which point she thought might be highest, the lookout tower or this pathetic little cairn. She was content to let surveyors battle that one out. However, when SPHP asked if she wanted to go see the fabulous views at the tower, she was all for that!
A 10 minute trek N down through an aspen forest brought Lupe to a saddle where USFS Road No. 850 coming up from the W turns N. Loop followed the road all the way to the lookout tower. Not a soul was around.
Instead of cotton ball clouds sailing a crystal blue sky, Lupe saw scattered tiny patches of blue lost in a gray-white ocean. She felt no warm breezes. There were wildflowers to sniff, but they tossed about tormented by a chilly N breeze. The views were wonderful, but felt remote and forlorn, not bright and inspiring.
With sweeping views in nearly all directions, Lupe saw a great many Black Hills peaks she had been to before. The wind was coldest and strongest, though, up near the fire tower. Lupe and SPHP retreated a bit down the W slope to an old picnic table. Conditions were only slightly better here, and only the views to the W could still be seen, but they were grand.
Looper and SPHP stayed at the lower picnic table soaking it all in.
Cement Ridge would be a great place to see the sunset, but Lupe was here too early for that. The sun wouldn’t set for another couple of hours. Even if she waited, the sky was so overcast, it wasn’t likely she would see much. Besides, if she was ever going to see Balm of Gilead Gulch, she needed to get going.
Puppy ho! After a little rest curled up beneath the old picnic table, Lupe set out for Balm of Gilead Gulch again. The first part of the journey took her SE back along the length of Cement Ridge. This time, instead of following the access road, she stayed up on the highest parts of the ridge where she could see the terrific views to the E.
On her way, since she had to pass so close to it again, Lupe returned to Cement Ridge’s true summit.
Since Looper was now in a hurry to get to Balm of Gilead Gulch before the sun set, she stayed only a couple of minutes at the summit before pressing on to the S. She came across a dirt road going SSE, which was faster for SPHP than traveling through the forest.
Going down this road, suddenly sunshine was filtering through the trees. The sky, which had been 90%+ overcast all day long, was almost completely clear! SPHP was astonished at how fast this transformation had taken place. Only a few clouds remained. The rest hadn’t floated on by, they had simply dissipated into thin air.
The sun was noticeably lower now, but would still be up for a while. The evening light brought out even more wildlife. Lupe saw more whitetails and giant deers.
The road eventually reached USFS Road No. 105, this time a little E of its junction with No. 804. A marker showed Lupe had been coming down USFS Road No. 105.1A.
A short trek to the W on No. 105 brought Lupe to the junction with No. 804 again. This time she turned S on No. 105, following it back to the turn W onto No. 105.1B.
Earlier in the day, before ever reaching No. 105 on her way to Cement Ridge, Lupe had reached a broad gentle saddle where there was a 4-way intersection. This was probably where she’d gotten on No. 105.1B as she continued E at the time. However, SPHP had seen that the road going NW from there sloped gradually into a wide valley. That wide valley was likely the upper end of Balm of Gilead Gulch.
With the sun getting ever lower, Lupe and SPHP hurried back along No. 105.1B, hoping to reach the broad saddle before the sun was down. Even hurrying along, it was hard not to appreciate the beauty of the sunlight filtered by the trees. What a wonderful evening trek! Lupe was enthusiastic. She raced through the forest exploring everything.
Lupe did make it to the broad saddle before the sun was down. She turned NW on the road leading through the wide valley. She followed the road a little way, but left it to follow a single track trail W down into Balm of Gilead Gulch.
Lupe traveled the entire length of Balm of Gilead Gulch, as sunlight left the valley floor to linger on the forested hillsides. The pale golden light of day retreated to the uppermost treetops, and was lost. Lupe saw deer. She saw elk. A hawk screeched and flew away. Lower down where the valley narrowed, the Carolina Dog came to a tiny stream.
It was all beautiful, but though she sniffed and looked everywhere she could, the Carolina Dog never found it. If a different road to a different place hadn’t been relabeled as USFS Road No. 804.1A, she would have been here much earlier and had more time. Maybe, maybe then, she would have found it. As it was, twilight faded, darkness descended, stars glittered in the night sky.
But Lupe never did find the fabled Balm of Gilead. (End 9:32 PM, 32°F)
“Prophet! said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me, tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
from The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe
Note: The Cement Ridge fire lookout tower is accessible by road from the W or SE by following USFS Road No. 804 to No. 850. The true summit is the hill immediately S of where No. 850 reaches a saddle on the ridgeline, and turns N to continue on to the lookout. Another route exists from the E on USFS Road No. 103 to this same point, but requires a high clearance vehicle.
Start: 9:43 AM, 68°F, intersection of Long Draw Road (USFS Road No. 209) & USFS Road No. 209.2D
Loop barely got started on USFS Road No. 209.2D when it curved to the N and started going uphill. Not the way she needed to go. An unmarked grassy side road curved W continuing down the valley. Lupe took it instead.
As usual, Lupe was in a great mood! She was ready for action on this gorgeous spring morning. She trotted ahead of SPHP, frequently leaving the road to sniff and explore the narrow, forested valley.
The downhill grade gradually became steeper. The road turned to dirt and rock. After 0.5 mile, Lupe came to an ancient trough brimming with water. A steady stream trickled out over one edge. Below the trough was a muddy pool, where additional water seeped out of the ground. A separate clear stream bubbled right up out of the road.
Lupe had reached Merow Spring.
The Carolina Dog helped herself to a drink from Merow Spring, but finding nothing else of interest here, she continued on down the road. For a little way, the tiny stream originating at Merow Spring wound around in the nearby forest, before sinking back underground.
The day was unseasonably warm. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the shade of the heavily forested valley.
Less than 0.5 mile W of Merow Spring, the narrow valley merged with a wider valley of sunny green meadows.
Lupe turned S, roaming freely through the bright meadows, exploring up the larger valley. She soon discovered a stream. The stream, though quite small, was much larger than the one at Merow Spring.
This stream was actually upper Spearfish Creek, the same Spearfish Creek that carved famed scenic Spearfish Canyon in the northern Black Hills. This far upstream the valley did not exhibit the huge limestone cliffs present in Spearfish Canyon, but rock walls were exposed in a few places along the valley’s edge.
Loop was super excited when she heard a squirrel in the forest! For some odd reason, the squirrel did not immediately climb a tree when it saw Lupe racing straight for it. Instead, the squirrel waited until the last possible moment to scramble to safety beneath a large fallen tree.
The American Dingo was frantic to get at the poor squirrel! The foolish squirrel was down on the ground, cornered beneath the fallen tree! This was the opportunity of a lifetime! Lupe bounded and danced around the tree, stopping to dig furiously in several places. The dirt flew, but she couldn’t get at the squirrel, which was by now chattering loudly, thoroughly alarmed by the situation.
When digging didn’t work, Lupe decided to rip the tree apart!
SPHP called Lupe away, spoiling all the fun.
Loop, come on! Leave that squirrel alone!
Don’t you humans have any survival instinct at all, SPHP? Help me, don’t scold me! Squirrels that aren’t smart enough to climb a tree are what we Dingoes call lunch!
Come! Now! I brought lunch, and you know it. Taste of the Wild, good for Dingoes!
Yeah, but not as much fun!
Oh, all right. Sheesh.
Lupe came. Puppy ho! Onward! Meanwhile a greatly relieved nervous wreck of a squirrel made a mental note to climb way, way up a tall tree immediately if it ever caught so much as a glimpse of a ferocious Carolina Dog again. Whew!
Loop trotted along happily for a few minutes before deciding to drag herself on her belly through Spearfish Creek to cool off. She dried herself off on the green grass, then continued her upstream explorations. About 0.75 mile from where she’d reached the Spearfish Creek valley, the terrain opened up where several valleys came together. The creek curved away up into a small valley to the E.
SPHP recognized this place. Lupe had been here once before over 4 years ago on Expedition No. 57 way back on 5-4-13. Back then she had come down Clayton Draw from the S looking for Clayton Pond. She had found it, too, up in a side valley off to the NW. Visiting Clayton Pond again was Lupe’s first real objective for today’s Expedition No. 204.
Where Spearfish Creek turned E, Lupe left it to follow the main valley curving W. Soon she was going up a wide, shallow side valley to the NW. Clayton Pond wasn’t much farther now.
When Lupe reached Clayton Pond, SPHP couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed. Clayton Pond hadn’t been very large at all when Lupe had first seen it on Expedition No. 57. Now it was even smaller. It was easy to see why. A breach in the earthen dam showed where the pond had overflowed and eroded away part of the dam. The water level was now permanently a foot lower than before. Not much, but to the shallow pond, one foot made a huge difference.
Loop and SPHP strolled completely around the pond before taking a break at the edge of the forest to the E.
Since squirrel wasn’t on the menu due to SPHP’s confounded interference, Lupe settled a little glumly for her usual Taste of the Wild snack. SPHP relaxed while looking at the topo maps, and enjoying the view of what remained of Clayton Pond. Who knew? Another 4 years of erosion, and Clayton Pond might pass into history. May as well appreciate what remained of it while one could.
After 15 minutes of laziness, Lupe was ready to press on. She departed Clayton Pond going SE back to the main valley, where she followed a road S. Her next objective was a mountain 4 miles S of Clayton Pond – Crooks Tower(7,137 ft.), one of the highest points in the Black Hills.
A mile S of Clayton Pond, Lupe reached a part of the valley where she’d had a strange experience back on Expedition No. 57 with a type of creature she’d never seen before or since. At Yellow Jacket Spring she had been, if not pursued, at least vigorously followed, by an odd, fearless, furry black and white creature – a skunk!
The Yellow Jacket Spring skunk had headed straight for Lupe and SPHP the moment it became aware of Lupe’s presence. Lupe began running over to greet it, but fortunately returned to SPHP when called. The skunk followed (pursued?) Lupe for 10 minutes thereafter, but failed to catch her before giving up.
SPHP had thought the skunk’s behavior peculiar. Maybe it was rabid? Whether it was or not, a Dingo/skunk encounter was not likely to end well. Much better to avoid any such event. Now, as Lupe approached Yellow Jacket Spring again, SPHP couldn’t help but wonder if the Yellow Jacket Spring skunk or its relatives were still around, but Lupe passed through the area uneventfully.
Lupe made good progress going S up the wide valley, but the day was sunny and warm. No stream or pond was to be found. SPHP stopped several times along the shady edge of the forest to give Lupe water. Dingo explorations can be a thirsty business!
Two miles S of Yellow Jacket Spring, Lupe came to an intersection with South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231) near a couple of cabins and a big power line. She was now half way to Crooks Tower from Clayton Pond. She turned ESE on No. 231, but followed it only far enough to get E of private property associated with a cabin to the S. Here she came across a side road heading SW into the forest.
The side road looked promising, so Lupe took it. Being back in the shade of the forest again was nice.
The road curved WSW for a little way, then bent back to the S. Before long, the road divided. Lupe took the L branch, which started a long climb up a moderately steep slope. A couple of water breaks later, the road finally leveled out. Ahead was a limestone platform that looked familiar. SPHP was almost certain Lupe had been up there before on several other occasions.
The limestone platform wasn’t a bad viewpoint. Lupe left the road. She found a place where she could climb up onto the ridge, then went out to the far W end of the platform. Yes, this was the same place!
The views were nice enough to entice Loopster and SPHP to take another 10 or 15 minute break here. Crooks Tower was only a mile away to the S, but still couldn’t be seen. All the views from the platform were toward the N or W.
Even though Crooks Tower wasn’t in view yet, Lupe knew the way when the time came to get going again. She ran through the forest sniffing everywhere, as she worked her way S. Finally, she could see part of the N ridge ahead.
Despite having a rather dramatic name and being one of the highest points in the Black Hills, Crooks Tower is in an area where much of the nearby terrain is heavily forested and almost as high. Consequently, the views from the top aren’t dramatic, and there aren’t many places from which it is even possible to recognize the mountain from a distance.
Several nearby high points on the topo maps are enclosed by contours of the same elevation as the contour enclosing the true summit. The N ridge led Lupe naturally SE up to the high point in the contour NE of the true summit. Lupe found a crumbling limestone cairn.
Loopster didn’t dilly dally long at the NE high point. She was going to get a good half hour break up on Crooks Tower’s true summit, which was only a couple hundred yards away. She easily climbed the mountain’s 20 foot high limestone crest by circling around to the SW, where a short footpath leads right to the summit.
Ta da! Lupe stood on Crooks Tower(7,137 ft.) for the 8th time, making it once again the peak Lupe has visited more often than any other.
What a beautiful day! Loop and SPHP took it easy for a while. The sun was still very high in the sky. Puffy white clouds floated by. Lupe had plenty of time. SPHP ate the only apple. Lupe had more Taste of the Wild. Water for all.
Poor Lupe! She’d come staggering back to SPHP after her operation looking drugged with tears in her eyes. No more Trebor Draw today! That wasn’t going to happen again. Yet Lupe had so much time left in the day, a new plan was hatching in SPHP’s mind. Why not go to another peak Lupe had been to a couple of times before? Peak 6820 was less than 4 miles away to the NE as the crow flies.
Going to Peak6820 would make for a long day, and there were no views at all from that forested hill, but so what? May as well do something. Lupe returned to the true summit of Crooks Tower for a final goodbye.
SPHP tried to persuade Lupe to remain up on the summit block long enough for a bold American Dingo photo taken from below, but Lupe wasn’t having any of that. If SPHP was starting for Peak 6820, she was too. She did consent to a photo of a bold American Dingo beneath the summit block, but somehow it wasn’t quite the same.
Oh, well. Onward! Even though it was nearly 4 miles to Peak 6820 as the crow flies and Lupe knew a good shortcut, so many hours of daylight remained that SPHP led her on a long way around she had only taken once before long ago. Lupe started off going SW instead of NE. She ended up taking a considerably longer-than-SPHP-remembered tour of the entire region along USFS Road No. 631.
This route was scenic and easy, but time slipped by as Lupe traveled all the way from a valley SW of Crooks Tower around to the S, then E and NE sides of the mountain. On the way, Lupe passed by the road leading NE into dangerous Trebor Draw. A little later on, she discovered Dingo Arch.
The long march on USFS Road No. 631 eventually brought Lupe to a valley leading all the way down to South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231). Lupe followed this major gravel road N until she was within sight of the junction with Besant Park Road (No. 206). Many deer were grazing in a lovely green field here, but they fled at Lupe’s approach.
By now, the angle of the sun was noticeably lower. The blue skies and puffy white clouds prevalent earlier in the day had given way to a more darkly overcast scene.
Lupe was still 1.5 miles from Peak 6820 as the crow flies. She wouldn’t have the benefit of a road the rest of the way. Was there still enough time remaining for all the bushwhacking she would have to do? Yeah, Loop could make it. She had been through parts of this region before.
Lupe and SPHP left South Rapid Creek Road, crossed the green field, and headed SE up into the forest.
The forest was a complete mess. Deadfall timber everywhere. Slow, slow, slow! After a long struggle, Lupe finally made it up to a clearing at the top of a ridge. She was already almost as high as Peak 6820, but still quite a distance from it. Exactly how far was impossible to tell. The flat terrain and dense forest at the edge of the clearing made it difficult to see a thing.
Peak 6820 was somewhere to the NE. Lupe and SPHP plunged into the forest again. More deadfall. Tons of it. Zigging and zagging like drunks looking for a way through. Nothing looked the least bit familiar. Everything was just a jumble of dead trees beneath the still standing forest.
Lupe came to a higher, short rocky ridge. High Point 6801? Who knew? No views were available even from here. The only other time Lupe had come to Peak 6820 from this direction was her first time up it on 10-8-14, more than 2.5 years ago. It hadn’t been this difficult then. Lupe had at least caught a few glimpses of Peak 6820 from a distance to orient by. Now, nothing.
N, E, SE – Lupe went which ever way seemed easiest to avoid the worst of the deadfall. None of the strange structures she had seen on her first trip to Peak 6820 appeared. She had to be getting close, but in the gloom of the forest, it was becoming confusing as to which way Lupe should even try to go. Speaking of gloom, the forest seemed prematurely dark.
Thunder in the distance. First drops. Rain! No matter. Onward! The rain was light, but even so, before long Lupe was wet. She reached another high point. Was this it? Had Lupe stumbled upon Peak 6820? It didn’t look right. SPHP remembered a clearing with a mud hole where Lupe had bathed both times she’d been to Peak 6820 before. Lupe searched all around the top of this hill for it. Nada. Wrong hill.
It must be farther N. Lupe went N on the big hill until she began to lose elevation. No sign of Peak 6820 here or anywhere else. Had Lupe gone too far SE earlier? SPHP led her NW down off the big hill. The deadfall wasn’t quite as bad here, but Peak 6820 did not appear. Lightning flickered in the clouds, thunder rumbled constantly. The rain remained light and sporadic, but might become a cloudburst at any time. The forecast hadn’t even mentioned rain today. Figured.
The Carolina Dog wanted attention.
What’s wrong with your senses? Don’t you hear or see anything, SPHP? Lightning, thunder! Let’s hide! A storm is coming! I’m already all wet.
Yeah, I know, but we’ll be OK. Besides there isn’t any place to hide, and we need to get to Peak 6820 soon, or forget about it. We can’t let it get dark while we sit around out here. We’ll never find a way out of this deadfall at night.
Well then, let’s get there fast! What’s in that water bottle of yours anyway? You’ve been stumbling around out here like you’re totally wasted.
I’m trying to find it, Looper.
What, the mountain?
Yes, of course. I’m just not totally sure which direction it is from here.
You mean it’s lost?
No, of course not, silly Dingo. Mountains don’t move. They always stay in the exact same place.
Oh, I get it. You mean we’re lost.
No, well, I mean we are imprecisely located right now. I know about where we are, just not exactly, which makes it hard to say where the mountain is from here, but I know it can’t be too far away.
Lupe wasn’t buying it. The Carolina Dog looked worried.
Oh, OK! I suppose you’re right Looper. Apparently it’s later than I thought. Maybe we better give up on Peak 6820. I shouldn’t have taken the long way. Let’s get out of here.
Lupe was in favor of that. SPHP led her NW through the forest. Even though this was the shortest way out, the Carolina Dog had at least a mile of bushwhacking ahead of her.
Ten minutes later, there it was! Peak 6820! SPHP saw it off to the NE. That hill had to be it, and wasn’t too far away. Lupe could make it. There was still time. SPHP turned on a dime.
Change of plans, Looper! Forget NW, we’re going NE. Peak 6820 is right over there. Come on!
Lupe led the charge through the forest. Apparently she wanted to get Peak 6820 over and done with fast. The rains came more often and harder. More lightning! More thunder! As the first tiny hailstones bounced on the ground, Lupe and SPHP both saw it. Up a short slope at the base of a limestone outcropping was a perfect little Dingo Cave. Lupe and SPHP scrambled up the bank to safety.
It hailed briefly twice, but not hard. The hail was only pea-sized at most, so it wasn’t that bad. Rain poured down, though, for 20 minutes. Never a deluge, but by the time it was all over, everything was sopping wet outside. Lupe and SPHP watched it all happen from the bone dry shelter of the Dingo Cave. Not a drop fell inside. What were the odds?
Loopster, my friend, you are one lucky Carolina Dog! We never would have found this place, even if we’d known it was here ahead of time.
Pushing past soaking wet bushes on the forest floor, Lupe still got drenched, but the top of Peak6820 was only 5 minutes from the Dingo Cave. She did get there. This was it! The familiar mud hole in the clearing didn’t have much water in it, but what was there was fresh. Heh. As sopping wet as Lupe was, she felt no need for a bath this time around.
The top of Peak 6820 is nearly level over a large area, but slightly higher ESE of the mud hole. Lupe and SPHP went over that way to visit the true summit. Someone else had been here! Lupe came across a cairn she never seen before.
Lupe and SPHP continued E beyond the cairn. Lupe went to the spot she has always considered the summit, even though it was scarcely any higher than where the cairn was. And that was it. Success! Peak 6820 visited for a 3rd time!
Sunset in 30 minutes. Lupe now faced a race against time. The shortest route back to the G6 was to the NW. Lupe had been that way before, but it was too late to even try that direction. It was a total bushwhack through forest and deadfall timber for more than a mile to any road.
The second time Lupe had come to Peak 6820, SPHP remembered she’d followed a faint road up from the E, arriving at the N end of the summit area. Going E meant going away from the G6, but the faint road led to USFS Road No. 234, a better road which went around the W end of Swede Gulch. If Loop could make it to No. 234, she wouldn’t get stuck out here in the deadfall all night.
The road to the E was even fainter now. SPHP had a hard time even finding it at first, but it was there. Good thing! Hurry, hurry Dingo! Lupe and SPHP followed the faint road as quickly as possible. SPHP briefly lost track of the road a few times, but the American Dingo kept finding it again. The road was longer than SPHP remembered. The sun set, twilight was fading, but Lupe made it to No. 234.
Seven miles at least back to the G6. The long march began. It rained again, but not as hard as before. Lupe and SPHP found partial shelter beneath a big pine along No. 234. In 10 minutes it was over. Lupe left the road to take a shortcut through big fields heading W along Tillson Creek. On and on. A couple miles later she reached Besant Park Road (USFS Road No. 206) near the SE end of Besant Park.
The rest of the way back was entirely along good gravel roads. The Carolina Dog trotted along sometimes leading, sometimes at SPHP’s heels. It was an amazing evening. Lightning flashed among clouds in ever changing directions, but always some distance away. Now and then a brilliant bolt struck the earth. Thunder rolled louder, fainter, then louder again. Dark rumbling clouds threatened rain, but never did more than sprinkle.
Once Lupe begged SPHP to stop for a rest along South Rapid Creek Road. OK. For 10 minutes, Lupe curled up next to a tree stump, wearily licking tired, muddy paws. Rain threatened again. Still nearly 4 miles to go. Puppy ho! Let’s get this over with!
At exactly 11:00 PM (50°F), Lupe made it back to the G6. She was thirsty. SPHP gave her a big drink. Then she jumped in and curled up. Her 13+ hour adventures on Expedition No. 204 were finally over.
Or were they?
Ten minutes later, heading E on South Rapid Creek Road, the high beams illuminated something scurrying along as fast as it could. Big, furry, low to the ground, black and white. SPHP shouted a word Lupe had never heard shouted before – skunk!
Lupe leapt to her paws in time to see it. Dead ahead a huge skunk was racing E for the exact same spot where Lupe had taken her last rest break by the tree stump! The Carolina Dog barked furiously as the G6 sped by, and the skunk dashed into the darkness.
By golly, Looper, that Yellow Jacket Spring skunk is still on your trail after all these years!