Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 215 – Peak 3950, Oyster Mountain & Sly Hill (11-12-17)

Start – Fort Meade National Cemetery near Sturgis, 8:46 AM, 35°F

Lupe arrived at Fort Meade National Cemetery the day after Veteran’s Day.  The cemetery was officially closed this time of year.  Loop wouldn’t have gone in even if it wasn’t.  Some might consider an American Dingo prancing around a cemetery disrespectful, even though she wouldn’t have done any harm.

Lupe arrived at the Fort Meade National Cemetery the day after Veteran’s day on a bright, crisp morning.

Lupe was actually here to visit a few peaks near Sturgis she’d never been to before.  Once SPHP was ready, she crossed the road W of the cemetery, and started climbing along a ridgeline through a pine forest.  She didn’t have far to go before reaching a broad meadow of tall grass.

W of Fort Meade Cemetery, Lupe reaches a meadow of tall grass near the start of her way up Peak 3950. Photo looks W.

In the meadow, Loop happened upon a dirt road that curved SW.  She followed it higher back up into the forest.  A huge dead tree had fallen over the road, blocking it completely.  From the trunk of the dead tree, Lupe could see Bear Butte (4,422 ft.) off to the NE rising dramatically from the surrounding prairie.

From the trunk of the dead tree, Lupe saw Bear Butte rising dramatically from the surrounding prairie. Photo looks NE.
Bear Butte’s summit is the N end of Centennial Trail No. 89 which winds 111 miles through eastern portions of the Black Hills all the way to Wind Cave National Park.

The road climbed steadily through the forest.  Before long, though, the terrain began to level out.  The forest became more open and park-like, and the road curved NW.

Off to the SW, it looked like there might be views from the edge of the mountain.  Lupe left the road to explore in that direction.  Several deer fled as she approached the edge.  Loop had a nice view of the valley S of Sturgis.

Lupe came to this nice view of the valley S of Sturgis. Photo looks SSW.

Peak 3950 was Lupe’s destination.  The summit was only 0.5 mile NW from here.  Lupe traveled NW near the sharp SW edge of the mountain.  At first, the terrain was level or rolling.  The American Dingo had her choice of staying in the pine forest or out on another tall grass meadow, and did some of both.  Bear Butte was still in view from the meadow.

On the way to the summit of Peak 3950, Lupe spent part of her time in this big tall grass meadow, from which she could still see Bear Butte. Photo looks NE.

In the meadow, Loop came upon the road again.  She followed it NW back into the forest, gaining elevation at a moderate pace.  Lupe stayed on the road until she was close to Peak 3950’s summit.  The final part of the climb was an easy romp through the woods.

On the road again getting close to the top of Peak 3950. Photo looks NW.

Peak 3950’s summit area was large and relatively level.  The highest part was near the N end.  No single point stood out as the exact location of the true summit, but Lupe was satisfied.  Climbing Peak 3950 had been easy and fun.

Lupe at the top of Peak 3950. Climbing the mountain had been quick and easy. Photo looks SSE.
On Peak 3950’s flat summit. Photo looks E.

At the top of Peak 3950, trees hid the views in most directions.  However, along the edge of the steep W slope, Lupe found rock outcroppings from which she could see the town of Sturgis.

From rocks along the W rim, Lupe could see the town of Sturgis. Photo looks WNW.
Sturgis, SD from Peak 3950. Photo looks NW.
A look at the downtown area with a little help from the telephoto lens. Photo looks NW.
Looking W.

Lupe could also see her next two peakbagging objectives.  Oyster Mountain and Sly Hill were both in sight to the NW.

Lupe’s next peakbagging objectives were in view.  Oyster Mountain (4,040 ft.) is the forested ridge on the L. Sly Hill (3,920 ft.) is straight up from the blue water tank on the R. Photo looks NW.

Names, dates, and initials had been carved into the rocks Lupe was standing on.  One rock S of the summit area even had a whole phrase carved into it.

Many names, dates, and initials were carved into rocks along the W edge of the mountain. Someone had gone to the trouble of carving the phrase “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” into this rock.

Lupe lingered on Peak 3950 for a little while, but didn’t stay terribly long.  She still had more peakbagging to do.  After sniffing around some and enjoying the views, it was time to head back to the G6.

On her way back down, Lupe returns to the upper tall grass meadow SE of Peak 3950’s summit. Photo looks SE.

Once Loop made it back to the G6 (10:41 AM), SPHP drove into Sturgis looking for a way to Oyster Mountain or Sly Hill.   A mile NW of town, a road went N over a saddle on the ridge connecting the two mountains.  A mile beyond the saddle, SPHP parked the G6 again (11:10 AM, 49°F).

Lupe got out ready to climb Oyster Mountain’s NE ridge.  At first, she was in a mixed oak and pine forest, but she didn’t have far to go before reaching a meadow.  Bear Butte was once again in view.

Lupe at the first meadow she came to on the way up Oyster Mountain. Photo looks SW.
Bear Butte (4,422 ft.) from the lower slopes of Oyster Mountain’s NE ridge. Photo looks NE.

Just like on Peak 3950, Lupe found a dirt road in the meadow which took her higher and back into the forest.  Loop followed this road SW most of the way up Oyster Mountain’s NE ridge.  Sometimes she had glimpses of views along the way, but usually there were too many trees to see much of anything.

The road eventually reached a saddle.  Loop would start losing elevation if she stayed on the road, so she left it.  She headed W, still climbing steadily.

Before long, the Carolina Dog arrived at the top of a small hill.  Maybe this was Oyster Mountain’s summit?  SPHP wasn’t certain.  The topo map had been forgotten in the G6.

Not long after leaving the dirt road, Lupe reached the top of this small hill. At the time, SPHP thought this might possibly be Oyster Mountain’s summit. Photo looks WSW.

Lupe continued W from the small hill, and soon reached a slightly higher hill.  A ridge nearly the same height was in view to the SW across a small valley.  The valley drained toward a depression to the W.

SPHP remembered the topo map had shown a depression close to Oyster Mountain’s true summit.  Loop ought to be able to find the summit by crossing the valley, then following the ridge on the other side.

So that’s what she did.  When Lupe made it up onto the ridge, she could see I-90 in the valley below on the other side.

After crossing the small valley, Lupe climbed up onto this ridge where she could see I-90 below. Photo looks SW.

Lupe followed the ridge WNW.  The terrain was nearly level for a little way, but soon Loop saw slightly higher ground ahead.  The summit had to be over there.

Oyster Mountain’s S slope from the ridgeline. The summit isn’t much farther ahead in the trees on the R. Photo looks WNW.

Shortly before reaching the top of Oyster Mountain, Loop came to a sparsely forested sunny hillside.  Snow was visible on Terry Peak (7,064 ft.) on the far horizon.  Closer by, Lupe had a nice view of heavily forested Crook Mountain (4,930 ft.).

Snow is visible on Terry Peak’s ski runs on the far horizon (L). Heavily forested Crook Mountain is in view on the R. I-90 is seen in the valley below. Photo looks SW.

Oyster Mountain’s summit proved to be a relatively narrow, 150 foot long, flat ridge.  Forest blocked any views.  Minor rock outcroppings that didn’t amount to much were on the S side near the far W end.

Lupe on top of Oyster Mountain. Photo looks ESE.
Carolina Dogs are rarely seen on Oyster Mountain. However, the mountain’s odd and mysterious name was part of the allure that brought Lupe here. Oyster Mountain seems an unlikely name for a mountain in the Black Hills. Lupe was about as far from an ocean here as you can get in North America.
Lupe goofing around trying to be silly and dramatic from the little rock outcroppings near the W end of the summit ridge. Photo looks E.

Loopster took her only Taste of the Wild break of the day up on Oyster Mountain.  The shady summit ridge was a pleasant place.  Traffic noise from I-90 only partially marred the sense of isolation.

On the way back to the G6, Lupe stopped by the sunny slope E of the summit again for a final look.  She then left the ridgeline, cutting down to the depression in the small valley.  The depression was bone dry now, but looked like a seasonal pond forms here during wet periods.

As she left Oyster Mountain, Loop swung back by this sunny slope E of the summit for a final look. Photo looks S.
Lupe near the depression on Oyster Mountain. The depression was bone dry now, but looked like a seasonal pond must form here during wet periods. Photo looks W.

After leaving the depression, the American Dingo retraced her route up all the rest of the way down.  Lupe had fun running and sniffing around, but it was only 1.25 miles back to the G6.  It didn’t take her all that long to get there.  (1:09 PM)

Loop still had one more peak to climb near Sturgis.  SPHP drove to the saddle between Oyster Mountain and Sly Hill, parking near a fence surrounding a “rubble site” (1:16 PM, 52°F).  A sign nearby indicated Dingoes might not be entirely welcome on Sly Hill, the top of which was only 0.5 mile to the SE.  Hmmm.

American Dingoes can be quite foxy, and the name of her objective was Sly Hill, after all.  Lupe wouldn’t hurt a thing.  Off she went, slinking through the forest.  It didn’t take her long to reach a wide flat meadow rimmed with pines.  The topo map showed this area as the true summit of Sly Hill (3,920 ft.).

Lupe at the official top of Sly Hill according to the topo map. SPHP was skeptical that this was actually the true summit. Photo looks NW.
The Sly Dingo on Sly Hill feeling pretty foxy.
Near the S rim of Sly Hill, a bit SW of the official summit according to the topo map. Photo looks WSW.

The topo map showed another high point on Sly Hill only 0.25 mile to the SE.  High Point 3917 was supposed to be almost as high as the official summit.  Maybe Lupe should go on over there to check it out while she was still in the area?  It seemed like the thing to do.

Off Lupe went.  She lost a bit of elevation exploring a narrower part of the ridge that forms Sly Hill.  Soon Loop was approaching High Point 3917, a far smaller area that came to much more of a definite peak than the official summit.  She caught a glimpse of Bear Butte as she began the short climb.

Looking back along the ridge linking Sly Hill’s official summit and High Point 3917. Photo looks NW toward the official summit.
As Lupe started the short climb up to High Point 3917, she caught this glimpse of Bear Butte. Photo looks NE with help from the telephoto lens.
On the way up to High Point 3917. Photo looks SE.

Climbing High Point 3917 was easy.  Lupe got up on the top rocks at the foot of a big pine tree.  Up until now, SPHP hadn’t been totally certain where Lupe was on Sly Hill, but the views from here confirmed her position.  Parts of Sturgis could be seen, though trees obscured some of the town.

Loopster on the highest rocks at High Point 3917 on Sly Hill.
Western parts of Sturgis are in view here from High Point 3917. Photo looks S.
Looking SE from High Point 3917. A small portion of eastern Sturgis is in view on the R.

Lupe’s exploration of Sly Hill was now complete, except for one thing.  On the way to the official summit shown on the topo map, Lupe had passed N of some high ground that seemed like it might actually have been higher than the official summit.

So Lupe returned to Sly Hill’s official summit, then proceeded W looking for the high ground she’d bypassed earlier.  She climbed a heavily forested narrow ridge.  The official summit could not be seen from here, but SPHP would have bet money that this high point to the W was actually the true summit of Sly Hill.

Lupe on top of the high point W of the official summit. SPHP would have bet money that this was actually the true summit of Sly Hill (3,920 ft.). Photo looks WNW.

Lupe had done about all there was to do up on Sly Hill.  The Carolina Dog left the W high point (and likely true summit) traveling NW along the ridgeline.  This proved to be the most rugged terrain she’d come to on Sly Hill.  She went by several interesting rock formations on the way down.

Loop on one of the rock formations she came to on the way down. Photo looks S.
On the most impressive rock. Photo looks NW.

The Sly Dingo of Sly Hill made it back to the G6 without incident (2:34 PM).  At least a couple of hours of daylight remained.  With visions of Lupe making one more peakbagging attempt at yet another modest, seldom-visited hill, SPHP drove Lupe to the Whitewood area.  She even got close to Spearfish.  However, she had no luck at any other hills or mountains.

So Sly Hill was Lupe’s final peakbagging success of Expedition No. 215.  That didn’t bother the Carolina Dog at all.  She didn’t mind riding around barking at deer, cattle and horses at all!  She had a blast the whole time, yipping and yapping until it was way too dark to see.

Looking across the saddle separating Sly Hill from Oyster Mountain (Center). Photo looks NW.

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 214 – The Search for Elk Mountain with Rizzo, Buddy & Josh Hilpert (11-4-17)

October 21st dawned bright and breezy, the air exceptionally crisp and clear.  Puffy white clouds sailed the blue sky.  SPHP knew instantly that cancelling had been a mistake, but nothing could be done about it.  Yes, this was a breezy day, but nothing approaching the forecast 40+ mph wind gusts would ever materialize.

Lupe’s opportunity to meet new friends had been rescheduled.  November 4th arrived, and she was finally on her way!   What a day this was, though!  Heavily overcast, dark and cold.  Only a couple of days ago, the forecast had looked fine.  Now this!  Again too late to do anything about it.  Expedition No. 214 was on, come what may!

At 7:59 AM, with exactly one minute to spare, Lupe arrived at the Latchstring Inn at Savoy in Spearfish Canyon.  No sign of Rizzo, Buddy & Josh, yet.  No worries, they’d be here soon enough.  In the meantime, Lupe went over to take a look at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.

The Spearfish Canyon Lodge at Savoy normally has wonderful views of some of Spearfish Canyon’s most impressive limestone cliffs. Today it was socked in with fog.

Looper also had time to check out Little Spearfish Creek.

At Little Spearfish Creek. Two of the best waterfalls in the Black Hills are on Little Spearfish Creek. Spearfish Falls is only 20 or 30 feet downstream of where Lupe stands here. Roughlock Falls is less than a mile upstream. Lupe wouldn’t get to see them today.

Rizzo, Buddy & Josh soon arrived.  Rizzo and Buddy were so excited about going on an expedition, they weren’t about to hold still for a group photo.  Lupe and her new friend, Josh, posed together, though.

Lupe and new friend Josh Hilpert at Savoy in Spearfish Canyon.

The date wasn’t the only thing that had changed for this first outing together.  Only a couple of days ago, Plan A’s chosen destination had fallen through.  A major disappointment at the time, but now clearly a good thing given the weather.

Josh had expressed interest in any routes Lupe knew of up into the country E of Spearfish Canyon.  On prior expeditions Lupe had explored two such routes.  Plan B was that Loop would take Rizzo, Buddy and Josh on one of them.  Two specific destinations became Expedition No. 214’s objectives – Elk Mountain (6,422 ft.) and the cliffs overlooking Savoy.

Lupe’s route to Elk Mountain started at Annie Creek Road near Elmore, 4 miles up Spearfish Canyon from Savoy.  The weather remained cold and heavily overcast, even a bit foggy, but everyone was in good spirits as the trek began.  (8:36 AM, 32°F)

Lupe and her new friend Buddy near the start of Annie Creek Road. Photo looks N.

Annie Creek Road went N for 0.75 mile.  Upon reaching the side canyon Annie Creek flows down, it turned NE for another 0.75 mile.  The snowy road was an easy romp, being nearly level this whole way.  It was a good place for everyone to become acquainted.

Lupe wasn’t used to having so much company, but the dogs all got along just fine.  Buddy and Rizzo were adventure dogs, too!  In fact, Rizzo and Josh have been enjoying their own weekly adventures in the Black Hills even longer than Lupe and SPHP.  Buddy wasn’t as experienced in the adventuring business, having only recently joined the Hilpert family.  However, it was clear he was relishing his good fortune.

The first big decision came at an intersection 1.5 miles from the start.  The only time Lupe had been to Elk Mountain before was nearly 1.5 years ago.  Back then, she had taken the road to the L, which went W back to Spearfish Canyon before turning NW.  The road stayed level, but ultimately came to two places where old bridges had collapsed.  Lupe had made it past the first resulting gap, but not the second.  In the end, she’d had to climb a very steep slope, though once on top, this had ultimately proven to be a good direct route to Elk Mountain.

The other option was take the road to the R, which went NE up the Annie Creek valley.  Last time, looking for a shortcut back to the G6 late in the day, Lupe had gone down a different steep slope that had brought her into this valley.  SPHP remembered it had looked like Lupe could have followed roads all the way down, if she had been willing to take a somewhat longer route.

Nearing the first intersection. A decision would have to be made soon – go L or R? Josh crouches to stay in the photo (which he didn’t have to do). Buddy on the L while Rizzo circles around behind Josh. A familiar furry face out front and center. Photo looks N.
Same spot, but showing better how foggy it was. Josh pats Buddy while Rizzo helps himself to some snow.

It was cold and damp.  Ice and snow might make hillsides treacherous.  It seemed best to avoid the steep climb up from the road to the L.  The decision was made to turn R, following the road up Annie Creek valley.

Another intersection was reached only 0.25 mile farther on.  Rizzo and Buddy crossed Annie Creek for a brief exploratory foray on a side road going SE up Lost Camp Gulch.  That wasn’t the way to Elk Mountain, though, so they quickly returned.

Buddy (L) & Rizzo (R) return from a brief foray up Lost Camp Gulch. The small stream is Annie Creek. Photo looks SE.

Lupe and SPHP had never been this far up Annie Creek before, but it seemed reasonable to continue on the road following the creek a little farther before looking for a way up onto higher ground to the N.  Rizzo, Buddy and Josh had never been here before either, so they simply tagged along.

The road following Annie Creek headed NE, beginning to gain significant elevation above the stream on the way.  Eventually a minor side road appeared on the L.  It went N up a steep, forested slope.  N was the right direction, so the side road seemed like a good way to reach higher ground quickly.

After a steep climb, the side road leveled out as expected.  The forest was pretty foggy up here.

Buddy and Lupe on the minor side road once it leveled out. The forest was cold and quite foggy up here. Photo looks NNW?

Elk Mountain couldn’t have been much more than 1.5 miles to the NW as the crow flies from here.  Due to the fog, though, the mountain wasn’t in sight.  No other landmarks more than a couple hundred feet away could be seen, either.  As long as Lupe kept heading N or NW, though, SPHP was confident she would eventually find the mountain.

The minor road eventually faded and curved off in the wrong direction.  Lupe and SPHP led everyone N or NW, traversing snowy slopes.  The terrain was more convoluted here than where Lupe had been on her first visit to Elk Mountain.  Lupe tried to keep gaining elevation, but often she had to lose some.  She finally came to a big fence.

Reaching the fence was encouraging!  Beyond it were extensive gold mining operations.  Lupe had seen them before.  She had followed this fence N on her first trip to Elk Mountain.  She hadn’t had to follow it more than 0.25 mile before she’d seen a big pond inside the fence.  If the American Dingo could find that pond again today, SPHP was certain of the rest of the route to Elk Mountain.

Everyone trudged NW along the fence.  The terrain went up and down, but eventually seemed to be going more down than up.  On and on, much farther than Lupe had followed the fence the first time.  SPHP had expected it to be farther coming this way, but quite a bit of time went by.  The pond didn’t materialize.  By now it was so foggy Lupe might not even be able to see it.

Why hadn’t the pond appeared?  Had the Carolina Dog passed it in the fog?  Could it really be this far?  Josh and SPHP stopped to consult the topo map and discuss things.  The problem was, the topo map SPHP had was old.  The mining operations, which had altered a great deal of terrain, were newer and not shown on the map.  SPHP knew the mine was SE of Elk Mountain, but only had a general idea of how far SE.

Consulting the map without being able to see some landmark shown on it, was no help.  Even more disturbing, it turned out that Josh and SPHP had completely different ideas on what direction Lupe had been going!  Knowing the truth about that was sort of important.  Critical, one might say.

15 or 20 feet beyond the fence, a mine worker was standing on a knoll.  He was busy watching or directing someone else operating a truck or other equipment that could be heard, but wasn’t in sight from outside the fence.  Josh suggested asking him where this spot was on the map.  Sure, why not?

The miner was friendly, and glad to be of service.  He said this was the Wharf Mine.  No doubt that was true.  Other than that, he was a wealth of misinformation.  Before even looking at the topo map, he volunteered that Lupe and company were somewhere between Foley Mountain (6,640 ft.) and Terry Peak (7,064 ft.).

What!?  Impossible!  If true, Lupe had been going in completely the wrong direction for a long time.  Another glance at the map convinced SPHP that couldn’t possibly be right.  Lupe would have had to take the road up Lost Camp Gulch to be anywhere close to the area between Foley Mountain and Terry Peak.  Rizzo and Buddy had started up that road, but that hadn’t been where everyone had ultimately headed.

Josh and SPHP showed the miner the topo map.  He ultimately pointed out a different area ESE of Elk Mountain, and said that was where this place was.  That didn’t seem right either, but it wasn’t outlandish.  Lupe might not be too far S of there.  If so, that was good news.

Nearby, a road headed away from the fence.  The miner said to follow it to get to Elk Mountain.  Worth a shot, maybe.  After thanking the miner for his assistance, everyone took the unmarked road.

The snowy road was fairly level.  The forest was foggier than ever.  Away from the fence, all sense of direction, accurate or not, was lost.  Rizzo, Buddy, Lupe, Josh & SPHP arrived at a fork in the road.  Which way?  The road to the L led to a hill.  The road to the R was level or losing elevation gradually as it disappeared into the fog.

Rizzo in the fog that was threatening to confound Expedition No. 214.
After leaving the fence at the edge of the gold mine behind, Rizzo, Buddy, Lupe and Josh arrive at a fork in the road suggested by the miner. Which way now?
Buddy on the L, Rizzo again behind Josh. In the fog, Lupe was having a hard time even finding Elk Mountain. Photo looks ?

On the vast majority of mountains, the summit is kept at the top.  SPHP suggested taking the L fork going up the hill.  If Lupe was anywhere on the slopes of Elk Mountain, going up would eventually get everyone to the summit.

The hill proved to be a small one.  The road soon leveled out.  It began curving to the L, then disappeared beneath a pile of deadfall.  In every direction, the terrain sloped down.  Gah!  SPHP thought higher ground was visible in a small opening between trees off to the R, then became convinced it might only have been fog.

Josh had a compass!  He’d mentioned it before.  SPHP was completely turned around, so when Josh mentioned the compass again, suddenly it seemed to be the crucial missing link.  Was the compass accurate?  Josh was convinced it was.  According to the compass, this road up the hill had been going W before turning SW.

No one was going to get to Elk Mountain going SW!  SPHP still believed the mountain was NW from here, but NW was down a slope.  Lupe and SPHP led everyone N off the road, into the forest.  The terrain to the N lost elevation, too, but more slowly than going NW would have.  It wasn’t long before Lupe was gaining elevation again.  SPHP found a road!  Yes!

No!  Josh had the temerity to point out this was the very same road that had just been left behind.  Really?  Yeah, really.  There were the fresh foot and paw prints.  Proof positive.  Good grief!  Better go back to the fork and try the road to the R.  Josh headed off in the wrong direction.  Everyone arrived again at the place where the road turned SW and disappeared under the deadfall.  Company halt!  About face, and march!

Back once again at the fork, the road to the R was the next subject of exploration.  After 5 or 10 minutes, a long straight section was reached that stretched ahead as far as could be seen into the foggy forest.  What direction was that?  Josh checked the compass.  The road went W.

This wasn’t going to work either.  SPHP was convinced Lupe was still too far S.  Going a long way W would only bring everyone to cliffs at Spearfish Canyon.  A lot of time was being chewed up wandering all these roads.  Best to go back to the fence at the mine, and keep following it as before.  If that didn’t work, Expedition No. 214 was doomed to failure.  Sad, but true.

The terrain went down at first, as Lupe followed the fence.  This didn’t seem right, but she hadn’t gone far when suddenly, there was the pond!  It was faintly visible in the fog beyond the fence.  Confusion vanished.  Lupe was going to get Rizzo, Buddy and Josh to the top of Elk Mountain after all!  Puppies, ho!  Onward!

After crossing shallow McKinley Gulch, a rough road was reached.  This road went NE to an intersection near the upper end of the gulch.  A much better road ran E/W here.  W was now the way to go!  Still unseen, Elk Mountain was only 0.5 mile away.

On the road to success! Looking W on the road near the upper end of McKinley Gulch. Rizzo at Josh’s feet.

The road W soon arrived at another fork.  Lupe took the L branch going SW.  She followed it looking for one more turn, a driveway on the R.  Found it!  Gaining elevation all the way, the driveway headed W to the S side of Elk Mountain, then curled all the way around to the mountain’s E and then N slopes.

Rizzo and Buddy charge on ahead. The summit of Elk Mountain wasn’t much farther now! Photo looks NW.

It was only early November, but the top of Elk Mountain was a winter wonderland!  Snow, frost, cold and fog.  It could have been January, the way things looked and felt.

Lupe, Buddy & Rizzo on the final stretch to the summit. It was only early November, but Elk Mountain was a winter wonderland! Photo looks S.
A better look at Rizzo at lower L.
Buddy’s turn up front.

Due to the fog, the success of the whole expedition had been in doubt for hours, but everyone made it to the top of Elk Mountain (6,422 ft.).

Buddy and Josh Hilpert with Looper up on Elk Mountain. Rizzo’s here too, a little way off in the background.
Rizzo next to the playhouse at the summit of Elk Mountain. Rizzo once fell out of a truck at 60 mph, and is lucky to still be able to go exploring the Black Hills. Rizzo is a very experienced Black Hills explorer, and has been many places Lupe’s gone to, plus more besides!
Buddy at the summit. Buddy is a recent addition to the Hilpert clan. Lucky guy! He loves his weekly outings in the Black Hills with Josh and Rizzo. Buddy had one oddity about him. When he stood, one of his back legs would often start quivering and shaking as though he was very cold. Josh says this is normal for Buddy. It happens even when it’s warm out.

Of course, all views from Elk Mountain on this glorious day were hidden in the fog.  Right on the summit, though, was a sight that brought cheer to the whole group.  Lupe and SPHP had known it was here, but it was a complete and welcome surprise to Rizzo, Buddy & Josh.

At the top of the mountain is a small octagonal structure with 7 windows and a little door.  It appears to be a child’s playhouse.  Nothing of significance was inside.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of dead flies covered the carpeted floor.  On this cold, snowy day, that didn’t matter.

The playhouse was unlocked, a little warmer, and much drier than being outdoors.  It was just large enough so Rizzo, Buddy, Lupe, Josh & SPHP could all get inside.  Everyone got in to rest and warm up a bit.  Lupe had water and her usual Taste of the Wild.  Rizzo and Buddy tried some Taste of the Wild, too, and found it to their liking.

Josh and Buddy near the octagonal child’s playhouse on Elk Mountain. This structure came as a complete surprise to Rizzo, Buddy & Josh, but they were glad to see it on this cold day.
Of course, Lupe and SPHP had seen the playhouse before. In good weather, it has a fantastic view of the Wharf gold mine. Today, it was just large enough to serve as a shelter for the entire expedition.

Josh and SPHP discussed options for the rest of the day.  Unfortunately, it had taken so long to find Elk Mountain, there wasn’t going to be much time for extras.  The other original objective for the day, going to the cliffs overlooking Savoy, was out.  It would take too long to get there, and nothing would be gained from going to a fabulous viewpoint in the fog, anyway.

Ragged Top Mountain (6,200 ft.) was only 1.25 miles NW, but other than peakbagging for peakbagging’s sake, again there didn’t seem to be any point in the fog.  The old townsite of Preston was closer, but consists mainly of a single decaying old building.  Not too scintillating.  It wasn’t enough of an enticement on such a wintery day.

In the end, no other easily attainable objectives nearby came to mind.  Days are short in November, and it was already early afternoon.  In this weather it would get dark even earlier than normal.  Just getting back to the vehicles was going to take hours.

So once everyone had taken a break and warmed up a little in the charming, dead-fly decorated playhouse, it was time for another look around Elk Mountain’s summit before beginning the journey back.

Josh and Rizzo on Elk Mountain. The weather hadn’t improved any during break time in the playhouse. Photo looks SW.
Rizzo awaits departure time.
Josh grasps a post to which a small metal crucifix (not pictured) is attached while Buddy looks on. A certain Black Hills dingo is still in the vicinity, too. Photo looks NNE from near the playhouse.
Rizzo near the crucifix post. Photo looks NNW.
Looking W.
A self-flocking frosty tree.
Despite the weather, Lupe’s Elk Mountain guide service had ultimately been fruitful.

With no views to linger for, final inspection of Elk Mountain’s relatively small summit ridge didn’t take much time.  Soon the descent through the mountain’s winter wonderland began.

Rizzo & Buddy start the descent.
Josh and either Rizzo or Buddy on the upper N slope of Elk Mountain. Photo looks N.
Loopster blends in with the winter wonderland, not too far below the summit yet. Photo looks SSW.

The first part of the journey back was a simple retracement of the ascent.  By the time everyone was S of McKinley Gulch, back at the fence on the W side of the Wharf gold mine again, the fog had lifted to a degree.  The pond Lupe had been looking for on the way to Elk Mountain was now in clear sight.

On the journey back, the fog lifted to a degree. The pond at the Wharf gold mine was now in view from the fence around the mine. This pond is less than a mile SE of Elk Mountain. Photo looks N.

While heading S from the pond not far from the fence, SPHP saw terrain to the SW that looked familiar.  Hadn’t Lupe been over there the first time she went to Elk Mountain?  Yes!  A quick foray in that direction brought the expedition to a road Lupe had been on before.

From here, it was possible to follow a series of unmarked roads S or SE that ultimately led back down to Annie Creek.  The clouds had lifted enough to reveal partial views from a few points along the way.

Looking SW toward Spearfish Canyon.
Josh, Buddy & Lupe on the way down to Annie Creek. The W end of Foley Mountain (6,640 ft.) is in view. Photo looks SE.
Fellow Black Hills explorer and adventurer Josh Hilpert with Lupe.

Light was beginning to fade by the time the last intersection 1.5 miles from the vehicles was reached.  The rest of the way back was a snap from here.  Maybe enough time remained for a little more exploring?  SPHP talked Josh into checking out the road Lupe had taken to Elk Mountain the first time.

It was farther along this road to where the first bridge had collapsed than SPHP remembered.  After 0.5 mile or more, it was time to forget it and turn around.

In increasing darkness, the march back along Annie Creek Road seemed longer than it had early in the day.  The adventure dogs all had a fine time, though, while Josh and SPHP chatted.

There had been plenty of opportunities to visit during the day.  It had been fun to compare notes and have wide ranging discussions on peaks, places, and a variety of other topics.  Rizzo, Buddy and Lupe had gotten along well together.  The weather hadn’t been conducive to enjoying scenery, but had made Expedition No. 214 seem far more mysterious and challenging than it otherwise would have been.

It had been a good day, a fun time for all.  Rizzo, Buddy & Josh Hilpert live in Sturgis, SD, so perhaps more adventures are in store with Lupe’s new friends from time to time.  It’s something to look forward to!

With new adventuring friends Buddy & Josh on Elk Mountain. Camera-shy Rizzo was around here somewhere, too!


Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 172 – Elk Mountain, Ragged Top Mountain & Twin Peaks (5-14-16)

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 213 – Crows Nest Peak (10-29-17)

Start: 8:35 AM, 42°F, at the first pullout SE of USFS Road No. 157 along West Deerfield Road near Castle Creek

A week shot by.  The American Dingo was back!  The G6 was parked no more than a mile NW of where it had been at the start of Expedition No. 212 only 7 days ago.  Back then Lupe had gone N visiting 4 peaks along the E edge of the limestone plateau.  Today she would be going mostly W farther into the high country.

A short walk NW along West Deerfield Road brought Loop to the start of USFS Road No. 157.  Close to the intersection, a bridge went over Castle Creek.  Lupe had started off Expedition No. 212 by checking out Castle Creek.  May as well make it a tradition!  Before crossing the bridge, Lupe went down near the stream.  As always, Castle Creek was looking good!

Just like on Expedition No. 212 a week ago, Lupe started off Expedition No. 213 with a quick visit to Castle Creek. The creek was looking good, and a cheery American Dingo was expecting another great day exploring the Black Hills.

Returning to No. 157, Lupe crossed the bridge.  The road went past a house over to the SW side of the Castle Creek valley, before turning SE for 0.5 mile.  Lupe could still see the G6.  Beyond it was a forested ridge featuring an impressive limestone cap.  This late October morning was cool and bright.  Everything was bathed in sunlight.  What a beautiful day!

Lupe on USFS Road No. 157. The red G6 is in view parked near West Deerfield Road on the other side of the Castle Creek valley. Photo looks NNE.

The first part of the plan for the day was to take No. 157 from the Castle Creek valley up into the limestone plateau country.  Lupe didn’t start gaining elevation until she was getting close to a big bend where No. 157 makes a nearly 180° turn going around the SE end of a forested ridge.  After making the turn, the road climbed steadily heading WNW high on the SW side of the ridge.  Private property down in the Silver Creek valley could be seen below.

About 0.33 mile from the big bend, Lupe reached an intersection with USFS Road No. 157.1A.  Loop had followed No. 157 up the Silver Creek valley at least a couple of times on previous Black Hills expeditions, but she’d never been on No. 157.1A before.  The topo map showed that No. 157.1A stayed higher up near the spine of the ridge, and would eventually feed back into No. 157 again in a couple of miles.

Why not?  Exploring a new route is usually fun.  Lupe took No. 157.1A.

No. 157.1A went NW for a while.  Low juniper bushes provided scattered ground cover beneath a pine forest.  The terrain sloped moderately up to the NE.  The road stayed within a few hundred feet of the top of the ridge.

Lupe gained a fair amount of elevation.  However, the day’s early sunshine seemed to have vanished.  It actually seemed colder now than when Lupe had started out.  The mood of the day had really changed.  Gone was the bright cheerfulness.  Suddenly the forest felt quiet, remote, sullen – like late fall of a dying year, with more than a hint of winter.

Lupe might get a decent look at the Castle Creek valley from the top of the ridge, if a place could be found where trees didn’t block the view.  As she went on, a few rocks appeared near the ridgeline.  Close to one of these rocks a narrow, gray opening could be seen between the pines.  Might as well take a look!  Lupe sniffed her way through the forest to the top of the ridge.

No wonder the mood had turned grim and chill!  Lupe could see Castle Creek valley alright, but the sky was completely overcast.  Not a speck of blue anywhere.  Mountaintops across the valley were shrouded in fog.

At this little opening along the ridge near USFS Road No. 157.1A, Lupe could see Castle Creek valley below. However, the mountaintops were now cloaked in fog, and the day’s earlier cheerful, sunny mood had vanished. Photo looks N.

Lupe went NW through the forest a little way, then returned to the road.  She reached it near a “Y” intersection.  USFS Road No. 157.1C branched off to the N here, going over a small saddle.  The maps showed it would eventually dead end.

The American Dingo stuck with No. 157.1A, which headed more W than before.  The road climbed more steeply for a little way before leveling out.  Lupe had left the edge of Castle Creek valley behind now.

Continuing W on USFS Road No. 157.1A.

As Loop traveled onward, it appeared as though there were high points off to the SW which might provide a view of Silver Creek valley.  She didn’t bother going over there, though.  Probably not worth the effort with low clouds and fog around.  The Carolina Dog stayed on the road, which wound around still heading W.

Lupe continues W on USFS Road No. 157.1A. The scene varied somewhat along the way. Lupe saw high points off to the SW that she didn’t bother visiting that might have provided a view of the Silver Creek valley. Sometimes there were rock formations to the N or NE. This area had quite a bit of deadfall timber.

Suddenly, Lupe noticed a pickup truck ahead parked on the road.  Two men dressed in camouflage were standing near it.  Hunters!  Lupe and SPHP had to go right by them.  Neither looked or acted friendly.  The younger one asked SPHP only where Lupe was going, and seemed suspicious of the answer – Crows Nest Peak.  Meanwhile, the older man fiddled with a bow and ammunition.

No doubt Crows Nest Peak (7,048 ft.) was an unlikely response.  Crows Nest Peak was still miles away.  Furthermore, though one of the highest points in the Black Hills, Crows Nest Peak wasn’t much of a peak at all, just a spot in the woods nominally higher than the surrounding terrain.  Why would anyone be going there?  Wandering alone way out here on a gloomy day like this was probably suspicious enough itself.  Crows Nest Peak must have seemed a doubly suspicious and evasive answer.

Lupe went right on by the hunters.  SPHP had no intention of stopping to explain.  If the hunters were surprised to see Lupe, seeing them had been a surprise, too.  Best to avoid any possibility of getting into a quarrel with armed strangers with unfriendly dispositions, especially in such a remote place.  These guys were weird – in an unbalanced, slightly threatening way.

That was it, though.  Nothing happened.  Lupe reached the end of USFS Road No. 157.1A where it met up with No. 157 again.  This was familiar territory, although it had been 2 years since Looper had last been here.  For more than a mile, she continued WNW on No. 157.  She reached a junction with No. 157.1F, which headed N to Fulton Draw.

Lupe didn’t need to go to Fulton Draw.  It only led back down to Castle Creek.  She stayed on No. 157, which gradually began curving SW.  The terrain was flat along in here.  Lupe had already gained most of the elevation she would need to on the way to Crows Nest Peak.

More than 0.67 mile beyond No. 157.1F, Lupe reached another junction.  An unmarked road branched off to the R.  Just beyond this intersection, a barbed wire fence crossed No. 157.  Lupe made a short foray along the unmarked road.  She came to a place where ice rested in large, muddy ruts at a curve in the road.

A short exploratory foray along the unmarked road brought Lupe to these ice-filled muddy ruts at a curve.

Hmm.  If Lupe managed to make it to Crows Nest Peak today, it would be her 4th successful ascent.  However, she had only reached it once before coming from this general  direction.  On that occasion, traveling through the forest, Lupe had come to a small pond with cattails.

Was the cattail pond where this road was heading?  It seemed likely.  SPHP remembered a road near the pond, but Lupe hadn’t taken it.  Instead, from the cattail pond she’d followed a barbed wire fence a long way N or NW through the woods.  Although Lupe had ultimately made it to Crows Nest Peak, she’d gone a long way through a trackless stretch of forest with no real landmarks.  Trying that again in this weather seemed unwise.

Lupe returned to No. 157 and continued past the barbed wire fence.  SPHP expected her to reach a road going to Procunter Spring pretty soon, but she didn’t.  Odd.  After more than 0.5 mile, Lupe reached a “Y”.  Only the branch to the R could possibly be the way to Procunter Spring, but even it didn’t seem quite right.

Lupe reaches another road intersection. Did the road to the R lead to Procunter Spring? SPHP knew Lupe was near the N end of Coulsen Hughes Draw, but being here in the fog was disorienting, as though Lupe was in a dream.

The Carolina Dog had been here before.  Loop wasn’t far from Coulsen Hughes Draw.  SPHP was certain of that.  Yet it had been years since she had been at this exact spot.  Being here now in the fog felt like a dream where things look familiar, yet are all jumbled up.  Which way?

SPHP checked the map.  Somewhere around here, Loop was supposed to leave No. 157 and travel NW staying on high ground.  The actual terrain didn’t seem to match up very well with what the map showed, though.  Slightly higher ground was back the way Lupe had come to reach this intersection.  Maybe it made sense to retrace her route a little before plunging into the forest?

So that’s what Lupe did.  She went back to a place where there was a bit of a hill off to the L.  Despite misgivings, SPHP then followed her into the trees.  In the fog, the forest seemed mysterious, abandoning the road faintly dangerous.  The only real landmark Lupe would come to was a huge field 1.5 to 2 miles off to the NW.  It might be terribly easy to get turned around and lost before ever getting there.

Lupe hadn’t gone far before there was reason for concern.  She’d climbed the small forested hill, but the high ground she was supposed to follow NW from here didn’t seem to exist.  Instead, the forest sloped gradually down in every direction.  Not far ahead, a meadow could be glimpsed through the trees, which didn’t seem right either.  May as well check it out, though.

Lupe reached the edge of the meadow.  What she saw was surprising, almost shocking.  The meadow was wide and very long, so long the end couldn’t be seen in either direction.  It made no sense.  How could Lupe have missed this huge meadow on her prior attempts to reach Crows Nest Peak from this direction?  It seemed impossible, yet here it was.

Which way?  Lupe looked expectantly at SPHP.  What was the holdup?  SPHP stood staring at the meadow, pondering the view first in one direction, then the other.  Not a clue.  Everything looked wrong.  Nothing made sense.  There had to be an explanation, though.  What was it?

Confusion vanished.  Certainty came flooding back.  Oh, yeah, it all made sense now!  This long meadow was the NW branch of Coulsen Hughes Draw.  Had to be!  SPHP had become disoriented in the fog, apparently even before Lupe had left the road.  This meadow didn’t run E/W like SPHP initially believed.  Lupe had been traveling W, not N, going over the hill.  This meadow went N/S.

Lupe turned N, gradually gaining elevation.  As expected, the American Dingo soon came to an old wooden sign where the road to Procunter Spring crossed Coulsen Hughes Draw.  Whew!  Back on track.  Simply amazing how easy it had been to get turned around in the fog!

When Lupe found this sign along USFS Road No. 157 in Coulsen Hughes Draw, SPHP was finally certain where she was again. It was amazing how easily disoriented SPHP had become in the fog! Photo looks NE.

Puppy, ho!  Lupe still had a long way to go to get to Crows Nest Peak.  At least she knew which way to go now.  From the sign, Loop followed No. 157 going NE.  When the road curved E, she took a side road heading N through a gap in a fence.

The side road had a lot of deadfall timber on it.  Lupe soon left it heading WNW across the upper end of Coulsen Hughes Draw.  Moderately higher ground was ahead.  Lupe reached the top of a broad forested ridge.  This was part of the high ground she had been supposed to take NW, though she was farther W on it than SPHP had intended.  No matter, Lupe could get to Crows Nest Peak this way.  Onward!

On the broad ridge NNW of Coulsen Hughes Draw. Photo looks N.

For 0.75 mile, Lupe traveled N or NW on top of the broad ridge.  It was still overcast, but not as foggy up here as it had been back at Coulsen Hughes Draw.  Lupe ran and sniffed.  There was no road or trail to follow.  Lupe loved exploring, and things seemed to be going well.

Farther N on the ridge, Lupe came to this nice stand of white-barked aspens. Photo looks NW.

At the N end of the ridge, the terrain began sloping down.  Lupe came to another road, which seemed vaguely familiar.  Lupe had been here on one of her previous expeditions, hadn’t she?  The American Dingo followed the road downhill to the W a short distance, before leaving it to continue N.

More pretty white aspens seen on the way down off the ridge. Photo looks WNW.

Lupe went over a small forested hill, and quickly arrived at the edge of a big field.  Yes!  Reaching this field meant Loop was less than a mile from Crows Nest Peak.

Finally at the big field. Reaching this point meant Loopster was less than a mile SE of Crows Nest Peak. Photo looks SW.

At the far side of the field, Lupe could see a road heading N into the forest.  This might well be USFS Road No. 266.  Lupe crossed the field.  The road wasn’t marked, but it was going the right way.  Loop and SPHP took the road.

After passing through a stretch of forest, what looked like the level top of an earthen dam for a stock pond could be seen off in the woods.  Lupe went over to check it out.  Sure enough, a small iced-over shallow pond was on the other side.  Not 15 feet away, down next to the pond, was the carcass of a deer.

Something alive was feeding on the carcass!  An instant after Lupe arrived on the scene, a head turned and fixed a beady yellow eye on her.  Unhappy at being disturbed, a huge feathery eagle launched into the sky and flew off.  It wasn’t a bald eagle, but the giant bird was still a sight to see.  You would have had to been there, though.  SPHP was way too slow to get a photo.

Lupe (L) at “Eagle Pond”. Photo looks SW.
Another look at Eagle Pond. Lupe on the L again. Photo looks W.
This deer carcass the eagle had been feeding on was only a couple feet from the frozen pond.

From Eagle Pond, the road Lupe was following turned W or WNW.  Loopster hadn’t gone too far on it when another road came in from the ENE.  A marker showed this was USFS Road No. 377.1B.

At the junction with USFS Road No. 377.1B. Finding No. 377.1B confirmed that Lupe had been following No. 266 since crossing the big field. Photo looks NE.

Finding No. 377.1B confirmed that Lupe had been following USFS Road No. 266 since crossing the big field.  Lupe took the road leading W from the junction.  Crows Nest Peak was no more than 0.25 mile away now.  In fact, Loop could soon see a hill N of the road.  The summit had to be up there.

Even though it was a slightly longer route, the Carolina Dog stuck with the road.  When she reached a familiar meadow SW of the summit, she turned N on a spur road that would take her there.  The spur is so seldom traveled that it didn’t even seem much like a road anymore.  It was more like a single track trail.

Nearly there! This spur road, which is so infrequently traveled it now seems more like a single track trail, curls up to the top of Crows Nest Peak from the SW. Photo looks SSW.

The spur road went N climbing a hill before leveling out.  A little farther on it curved E.  Lupe immediately arrived at the frozen remnant of a tiny pond.  She climbed up on a mound of red dirt at the W end.  She’d made it to Crows Nest Peak!  This wasn’t the official summit, which was still a football field E, but had to be about as high, and was the landmark Lupe always went by.

On the mound of red dirt at the W end of the tiny frozen pond. This pond is only a few hundred feet W of Crows Nest Peak’s summit. Photo looks SW.
The browns, pale blue, and white of the frozen pond were kind of pretty.
Looking E from the red mound on the W side of the frozen pond. The official summit of Crows Nest Peak is straight ahead a short distant into the trees slightly R of Center.

Lupe had come a long way.  Time to claim her peakbagging success!  The Carolina Dog left the frozen pond heading E.  She crossed a small grassy area.  There used to be a road here, but no trace of it remained.  At a small opening in the forest maybe 60 or 70 feet back into the trees, Lupe came to a survey stake and benchmark.

This was it!  This flat place in the forest entirely lacking views in any direction, a total and complete mockery of its name, was one of the highest spots in the whole Black Hills.  Lupe was at the official summit of Crows Nest Peak (7,048 ft.).

Intrepid explorer and adventurer, Lupe the Carolina Dog, reaches the summit of Crows Nest Peak for the 4th time. Photo looks NE.
105 years have passed since this survey benchmark was placed on Crows Nest Peak in 1912. While much of the rest of the world has been transformed since then, Crows Nest Peak can’t have changed too much, at least not yet. Lupe and SPHP like it that way.
Crows Nest Peak summit. Some crow’s nest! This joint is flat as a pancake and devoid of views. Yet this remote high ground is still one of Lupe and SPHP’s favorite spots in the entire Black Hills. Photo looks E.
Yes, I made it! You didn’t really think a little fog was going to stop an American Dingo, did you?

It had been a long, and occasionally confusing trek.  Lupe and SPHP took a half hour break near the survey marker.  Taste of the Wild, water, and an apple.  Tiny snowflakes drifted down on a light swirling breeze.  The temperature must have been at or below freezing, but the tiny flakes all melted as they hit.

Cold, humid, quiet.  SPHP sat on the ground petting Lupe’s soft fur.  She liked that.  Snowflakes filled the air.  It felt again like winter was coming.  Hidden in the remote high country, despite the absence of views, Crows Nest Peak was still a magical place.

This foggy, overcast day had been the perfect day to come here.  It didn’t matter that there weren’t any views.  Lupe wouldn’t have been able to see them anyway, even if there had been some.  Her journey here had felt more mysterious and adventurous beneath the close gray sky.

It seemed like Lupe still had plenty of time; she’d gotten off to a fairly early start this morning.  Hard to tell for certain, though, without being able to see the sun.  It was one thing to wander around in the fog, entirely another to get caught in darkness away from any road on a cold, snowy night.  Lupe at least better get back to No. 157 before it got dark.

On the way back, Lupe had many more adventures.  Although she was following the same basic route, she varied it enough to explore a fair amount of previously unseen territory along the way.  The temperature slowly dropped.  It didn’t snow all the time, but it did more and more often.  Never too hard, and the snowflakes were never too big.

Starting back. Lupe near the tiny frozen pond toward the W end of Crows Nest Peak. Photo looks WSW.
At the junction of USFS Roads No. 266 & 377.1B, this unmarked road went S. Lupe explored it all the way back to the big field. Photo looks S.
Upon reaching the big field somewhere SW of where Lupe had crossed it before, the unmarked road went past this larger pond. Photo looks ENE.
Back at the big field. Photo looks SSE.
On another road after crossing the big field. Loop is now heading for the start of the big trackless ridge leading back to Coulsen Hughes Draw and USFS Road No. 157. The N end of that ridge begins only a little SE of here. Photo looks NW.

This seemed to be a big day for discovering frozen ponds.  A little E of the ridge Lupe had followed N from Coulsen Hughes Draw earlier, Loop found yet another one in a shallow valley.

On the way back, Lupe discovered this pond E of the big ridge she had followed N from Coulsen Hughes Draw earlier in the day. Photo looks S.

A faint road leading S from this pond ultimately proved to be the same one where she’d left USFS Road No. 157 hours ago.  This proved that the pond was situated at the far, far N end of Coulsen Hughes Draw.

Upon reaching No. 157 again, Lupe followed it E.  She hadn’t gone too far, when she came to a barbed wire fence.  Beyond it was the old cattail pond!

Lupe reaches the cattail pond along USFS Road No. 157. Photo looks NE.

The cattail pond was the last pond of the day.  No. 157 turned S here, and quickly led Lupe past the muddy ruts with ice in them she had seen before.  Another mystery solved!

The Carolina Dog’s explorations were nearly over now.  Lupe stuck to No. 157 going E.  She passed by No. 157.1F again.  She returned to No. 157.1A.  The weird hunters were gone.  Good!

It snowed harder.  In a few places, a little began to stick.  A 15 minute off-road foray to a potential viewpoint revealed only snow and fog.  OK, that was it.  The rest of the way back was all business.  Lupe watched, but didn’t even bark at a herd of cows grazing near the junction of USFS Roads No. 157.1A and No. 157.

Near the junction of USFS Roads No. 157.1A and No. 157. Lupe watched, but didn’t even bark at these cows. Photo looks S.
Heading down USFS Road No. 157. The Silver Creek Valley is below on the R. Photo looks SE.

Lupe hopped into the G6 without hesitation (5:57 PM, 29°F).  Moments later, a frigid wind came out of the NW blowing snow much harder than before down Castle Creek valley.

During October, 2017, Lupe had visited many of the highest peaks in the Black Hills along the E edge of the limestone plateau.  In most cases she hadn’t been to these peaks in more than 2 years.  Expedition No. 213 had been a fun day out, but suddenly it was looking like Crows Nest Peak would be the last the Carolina Dog would see of the high country this year.

On USFS Road No. 157 back in the Castle Creek valley at the end of the day. Photo looks NW.

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 212 – South Castle Rock, Castle Rock, Nipple Butte & Flag Mountain (10-22-17)

Start – 10:28 AM, 46°F, at the first pullout along West Deerfield Road near Castle Creek W of the intersection with Deerfield Road (County Road No. 306)

Fall colors were over and done with.  Sad, but the glories of autumn fade quickly.  Nothing new about that.  Lupe was still enthused!  This bright, comfortably cool day in late October was made to order for a continuation of the Carolina Dog’s recent tour of some of the highest peaks of the Black Hills along the E edge of the western limestone plateau.

Today, Lupe would visit 4 such peaks.  She’d been to all of them before more than once, but it had been well over two years since her most recent visit and would be fun to see them again.  Besides, SPHP had promised Loop she would get to explore a whole new canyon on the way back at the end of the day.

Something old, something new, that’s what we’re gonna do!

If that’s supposed to be poetry, SPHP, don’t quit the day job.

Hah, too late, I already have!

My, what a big deficit you’re running, SPHP!

Never mind that, the better to go adventuring with you, my dear Dingo!

Loopster was totally in favor of that.  She started off with a quick look at pretty Castle Creek, which somehow always has good flow even during seasonally dry periods like this.  Then the American Dingo crossed West Deerfield Road and began the climb toward her first peakbagging objective, South Castle Rock (6,840 ft.).

Expedition No. 212 begins with a quick look at Castle Creek. Photo looks NNW.
Looking NW up the Castle Creek valley after crossing West Deerfield Road.

A short climb through a pine forest brought Loop to a grassy field.  The upper S face of South Castle Rock was already in view.  This was going to be a nice, easy stroll most of the way.  Lupe headed N through the field, passed through another forested stretch, and was soon back out in the open again.  The only short steepish part of the whole climb was up in the trees directly ahead.

After a short climb through a pine forest, Loop reaches a grassy field. The upper S face of South Castle Rock is already in view in the distance. Photo looks N.
Getting closer! Lupe squints in the bright morning sunshine. Photo looks N.
The only steep part of the climb up South Castle Rock is in the trees ahead. Photo looks NNW.

The best views from South Castle Rock aren’t from the summit, but from limestone cliffs high up on the far S ridge.  That was right on Lupe’s way to the summit, so she went there first.  She had a great panoramic view to the S and E from here.  To the N, Loop could see the end of nearby Castle Rock’s E ridge.

From limestone cliffs along South Castle Rock’s far S ridge, Lupe had sweeping views to the S & E. Photo looks SE past Deerfield Reservoir.
The end of Castle Rock’s E ridge is seen on the R. South Castle Rock and Castle Rock are different parts of the same mountain. Photo looks N.
At the edge of South Castle Rock’s S ridge. Photo looks N.

South Castle Rock has two high points.  Being slightly higher, the N high point is the actual summit.  From the cliffs along the S ridge, Lupe circled well W of the S high point before turning N again.

The summit wasn’t far off, but the discouraging sight of all the deadfall timber Lupe had to traverse to get to there made SPHP realize the Komperdell trekking poles generously gifted by Jobe Wymore had been forgotten in the G6.  Doh!  SPHP had used them for the first time a week ago on Expedition No. 211.  The poles had been quite useful for nagivating deadfall then, and would have been handy to have here.  Oh, well!

After circling around the S high point, the sight of all the deadfall on the way to the true summit made SPHP realize the Komperdell trekking poles had been forgotten in the G6. They would have been mighty handy to have here! Photo looks N.

The true summit of South Castle Rock (6,840 ft.) sits at the N end of a fairly large limestone cap surrounded by low cliffs.  Getting through the deadfall to reach the cap was the hard part.  That done, Lupe circled to the SW where the cliffs were lowest.  One mighty, unassisted, clawing leap, and she was on top!

At the highest point at the N end, someone had built a cairn since Lupe was last here.  Trees hid the views in most directions, but Loop did have a tremendous view of Reynolds Prairie to the E.  She also had a clear view of Castle Rock’s E ridge to the NE.

Lupe arrives at the S end of South Castle Rock’s limestone cap. She was able to leap on top from a point farther W (L). Photo looks NW.
At the summit. Someone had built the small cairn next to her since the last time Lupe was here in June, 2015. Although forest hides the views in most directions, Lupe could see much of Reynolds Prairie to the E. Photo looks E.
The slightly lower summit of Castle Rock (6,783 ft.) is on the ridge seen beyond Lupe. That’s where she was heading next. Photo looks NE.

After a short break near the cairn, Lupe left South Castle Rock’s limestone cap at the same SW point where she’d leapt up.  Less than a 0.25 mile trek brought her to Castle Rock’s E ridge.

The E ridge was 200 feet wide and rounded, sloping down toward cliffs on both sides.  The top was nearly level along most of its length.  Lupe followed the ridge ESE all the way to where the ground started dropping toward the cliffs at the far end.  The true summit seemed to be here near the ESE end, but it was hard to tell for certain.  Having traveled the whole length of the ridge, Loop must have been at the actual high point somewhere along the way.

The apparent summit of Castle Rock (6,783 ft.) was forested and clogged with deadfall, but Lupe had great views from the cliffs along the edges of the ridge in every direction except back to the W.

At the summit of Castle Rock as near as SPHP could determine. A glimpse of the N end of Reynolds Prairie is seen below. Photo looks NE.
South Castle Rock as seen from Castle Rock. The summit is on the R. Photo looks SW.
Looking SE from Castle Rock’s E ridge. Parts of Deerfield Reservoir are seen beyond Reynolds Prairie. The distant high ridge on the R is Green Mountain (7,166 ft.).
Nipple Butte (6,810 ft.) (L) and Flag Mountain (6,937 ft.) (Center), Lupe’s 2 remaining peakbagging destinations for the day, from Castle Rock’s E ridge. Photo looks N.

After visiting Castle Rock’s summit on the E ridge, Lupe headed back W.  Although the mountain’s long, skinny N ridge is somewhat lower, she went out onto it.  A big, flat, barren area at the southern end of the N ridge provides good views to the W and NE.  This area is Lupe and SPHP’s favorite part of Castle Mountain.  Despite the openness, the whole place has a secluded, tucked-away feel.

Loop on the big barren area near the S end of Castle Peak’s long, skinny N ridge. This is a favorite spot! Flag Mountain is seen beyond Nipple Butte on the R. Photo looks N.
An expansive view of the N end of Reynolds Prairie. Photo looks NE.
Looking W from Castle Peak’s N ridge. SPHP promised Lupe she would get to explore this big canyon on the way back to the G6 later on.
Flag Mountain is partially hidden by Nipple Butte on the L. Custer Peak (6,804 ft.) is the distant high point on the R. Photo looks N with help from the telephoto lens.

The easy way off Castle Rock’s N ridge is found on the E side almost at the S end.  Lupe followed an animal trail down there.  She lost elevation traveling N well below Castle Rock’s N ridge where the slope wasn’t too bad.  This was a forested area full of long grass hiding an annoying amount of deadfall timber.  SPHP was soon wishing for those Komperdell trekking poles again.

Nipple Butte (6,810 ft.), Lupe’s next destination, was 0.5 mile away.  The deadfall didn’t let up until she reached the saddle leading to Nipple Butte from Castle Rock.  Once she traversed the saddle, the climb steepened quickly.  Lupe was approaching from the S, but the best way up is a chute on the WNW side of the mountain, so she circled around to the W as she went higher.

The top of Nipple Butte is a ragged, rugged chunk of limestone with lots of broken rock below on most of the surrounding slopes.  Of all the peaks Lupe was visiting on Expedition No. 212, Nipple Butte was the only one that was at all scrambly.  The Carolina Dog got a bit too high, too soon, reaching the rocky slopes while she was still SW of the summit.

Loop reaches the rocky zone while still SW of Nipple Butte’s summit. Photo looks NE.

It would have been faster, if Loop and SPHP had circled around farther to the W before getting so high, but it didn’t really matter.  Lupe crossed a slope of broken limestone scree, and reached the chute on the WNW side of the mountain.

At the start of the steep chute up to the summit area. This chute is on the WNW side of Nipple Butte. Photo looks NE.

The chute was steep, but not long.  Lupe was at the top in no time.  Before going to Nipple Butte’s true summit, she got up on the high point N of the upper end of the chute.

On Nipple Butte’s N high point. Flag Mountain is in view at Center. Photo looks N.

From the top of the chute, a six foot high wall of limestone was all Lupe had to get up to reach the summit.  The six feet were simply too high and vertical for her to manage on her own.  However, there were a couple of rocks SPHP could stand on from which she could be boosted to the top.

Meekly, the American Dingo lifted one of her front paws.  She needed help and was ready for assistance.  SPHP picked her up, stepped into position, and lifted her to the small limestone platform at the top of Nipple Butte.  SPHP then scrambled up after her.

A single chunk of limestone 1.5 feet higher than the rest of the summit platform is the true summit.  It was large enough for Lupe to stand on.  So easy, yet dramatic.  She’d made it!  There Lupe stood, on the tiny absolute top of Nipple Butte (6,810 ft.) with 360° views!

Oh, yeah!  Nice work, Loop.  Photo time!

Loop at the summit of Nipple Butte. Photo looks SW.
Most of the summit platform is in view here. Photo looks SW.
Oh, so beautiful, Looper! If your big soft Dingo ears were any larger, you look like you could use ’em to take off and fly away. Don’t try it, though!
Looking SW. The summit rock is now in the foreground on the R.
Next to the summit rock. Still looking SW.
The N end of Reynolds Prairie. The N high point of Nipple Butte, which Lupe was on earlier is seen on the L. Photo looks NE.
Flag Mountain (6,937 ft.) (R) from Nipple Butte. USFS Road No. 189 is in view. Photo looks N.
The middle of Reynolds Prairie. Photo looks E.

Lupe and SPHP sat together up on Nipple Butte for a little while.  The sense of space and airiness from the tiny platform is among the best on offer anywhere in the Black Hills.

When the time came to go, SPHP climbed down first.  The American Dingo remained on top for one last photo atop the summit rock.

The summit as seen from Nipple Butte’s N high point. The 6′ high limestone wall SPHP boosted Loop up is at Center. The vegetated area below is the top of the chute Lupe climbed to get here. The forested ridge on the L is Castle Rock. Photo looks S.
The S end of Reynolds Prairie, bits of Deerfield Reservoir, and the distant high ridge of Green Mountain (R) from Nipple Butte. Photo looks SSE.

One more peak to go!  SPHP helped Loopster off the summit platform.  Puppy, ho!  Back down the steep WNW chute to broken limestone scree leading to scattered boulders, and finishing it all off with the usual deadfall infested trek in the forest.

Heading down the WNW slope. Photo looks W.

Lupe reached USFS Road No. 189 at the saddle leading to Flag Mountain.  Half a mile NW of here a spur road leaves No. 189.  The spur winds 0.75 mile NE almost to the top of Flag Mountain.

Nah, not that way!  Instead, Loop crossed No. 189 heading N.  Traveling directly up Flag Mountain’s S ridge would be shorter and more fun.  An hour after leaving Nipple Butte, the Carolina Dog was standing in the remnant of the old fire lookout tower on Flag Mountain (6,937 ft.).

Lupe in the remnant of the old fire lookout tower on Flag Mountain. Photo looks E.
Perched up on the wall, feeling good about her 4th successful ascent of the day!
Looking S back where Lupe had come from. Nipple Butte is seen in front of Castle Rock (Center).
Looking W along Flag Mountain’s summit ridge.
Near the remnant of the fire lookout tower. Photo looks E.
Another look from a bit farther W.

Flag Mountain was the highest of any of the peaks Lupe climbed today.  The views were grand, though this much larger summit area did not give quite the same feeling of exposure and airiness she’d had up on Nipple Butte.

Early in the day, there had only been a light NW breeze.  By the time Lupe reached Nipple Butte, the wind had switched to the SW and picked up to about 15 mph.  The same SW wind was still blowing up here.  With the sun now noticeably progressing toward the horizon, the breeze felt a bit chilly.

Lupe and SPHP lingered up on Flag Mountain anyway.  This was warm compared to what would likely be coming before too long.  Who knew how many more weeks it would be before cold and snow would take over up in this western high country?

Lupe lingers on Flag Mountain. Who knew how much longer it would be until snow and cold would take over in this western Black Hills high country? Reynolds Prairie is on the L. Both Nipple Butte and Castle Rock are on the R. Photo looks SSE.
White Tail Peak (6,962 ft.) is the long ridge at Center. Lupe had enjoyed some fabulous views from there only 3 weeks ago on Expedition No. 209. The more distant mountain on the R is Terry Peak (7,064 ft.). Photo looks N.
From the wall of the old lookout tower, Peak 6962 (Center) is in view. Photo looks NNW.
Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) is the high point on the far horizon at Center. As the highest mountain in South Dakota and the Black Hills, many of Lupe’s expeditions feature a view of Black Elk Peak from one direction or another. Photo looks SE.

With 4 successful ascents, Lupe had completed all of her peakbagging objectives for Expedition No. 212.  The time had come for SPHP to honor the promise to let her roam some never before explored territory in the big canyon W of South Castle Rock, Castle Rock and Nipple Butte.

Final moments up on Flag Mountain’s summit ridge before descent. Photo looks NE.

Lupe left Flag Mountain traveling W.  She ultimately took a route down similar to her path up, following the S ridge much of the way.   An early turn to the SW served as shortcut to USFS Road No. 189.

Once across No. 189, the American Dingo began her explorations of the big canyon traveling SSW.  It was downhill from here all the way to West Deerfield Road.

NNW of Nipple Butte looking forward to starting the long trek down the big canyon. Photo looks SSE.

Lupe saw lots of deer.  She got muddy paws and drank from a small stream, a tiny tributary of Horsethief Creek, itself no great torrent.  Looper was one busy Carolina Dog the whole way, free to run and play.

In the upper part of the canyon W of Nipple Butte. This seldom, if ever, used road went most of the way down the canyon. Photo looks SSW.
Miss Muddy Paws after a drink from the tiny stream. The road was reduced to a single track trail here. Photo looks S.
Somewhere W of Castle Rock or South Castle Rock. The faint road is back. Looking S.
Near Horsethief Creek in the lower end of the canyon, now more of a wide valley. Photo looks NNE.

The sun was close to setting by the time Lupe neared West Deerfield Road.  The G6 was a only short walk SE along the road.  Expedition No. 212’s adventures were almost complete.  Behind Loop, the top of South Castle Peak still glowed in the last light of day.

South Castle Rock glows in the last light of another great day spent in Lupe’s Black Hills. Photo looks NNE.

That glow was gone before Lupe even got to the G6 (6:01 PM, 36°F).  Expedition No. 212 might be officially over, but Lupe’s fun wasn’t.  She was back early enough so twilight would last a long time.

For nearly an hour on the ride home, a frantic American Dingo watched for deer, cows and horses to bark at.  Many decibels provided near constant earsplitting proof of the success of this project.  No doubt a hugely satisfying encore to a splendid day!

South Castle Rock.

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 211 – Bear Mountain & Odakota Mountain (10-15-17)

Start: 10:54 AM, 44 °F, junction of USFS Roads No. 299 (Bobcat Road) & No. 299.1C.

Wow, surprising!  Snow on the road here.  Only a dusting really, but it was the first snow Lupe had seen up in the Black Hills so far this fall.  A harbinger of things to come, but probably not in quantity for another month yet.  American Dingoes love snow, if there’s not too much of it.  Lupe was in a cheerful mood as she began her trek up Bear Mountain along USFS Road No. 299.1C.

Bear Mountain (7,166 ft.) was only a couple miles SW, so it wouldn’t take her long to get there.

Lupe was excited to see snow on USFS Road No. 299.1C as she started up Bear Mountain. Photo looks W.

More than 0.5 mile from where she’d started, Lupe reached an intersection.  USFS Road No. 299.1C turned N here.  Loop took No. 299.1J heading W instead.  Up until now, the road had been in the forest, but No. 299.1J soon curved SW entering more open territory.

USFS Road No. 299.1J curves SW as Lupe continues up Bear Mountain. Photo looks WSW.

Although Lupe came to no more intersections, by the time she reached a barbed wire fence practically at the top of the mountain, a marker said she was on No. 299.1K.  Exactly where the transition occurred wasn’t clear.  It hardly mattered.  Lupe didn’t care.  The important thing was she had made it to the top of Bear Mountain.

Lupe went over to the base of the fire lookout tower to claim her latest peakbagging success!

Lupe arrives at the base of the fire lookout tower on Bear Mountain. This was her 3rd ascent of the 3rd highest mountain in the Black Hills. Photo looks SW.

This was Lupe’s 3rd ascent of the 3rd highest mountain in the Black Hills.  On one of her previous visits, Lupe had actually gone all the way to the top of the lookout tower.  She and SPHP had paid a visit to the friendly forest ranger on active duty inside the ranger quarters.

No one was around today.  With no opportunity for another social visit in the comfort of the ranger station, Lupe didn’t bother to climb the tower.  A chilly 15 mph breeze blew out of the N.  The cold wind would only be worse higher up.

Instead, Lupe went to a small limestone outcropping SE of the tower to check out the views.

Lupe up on the limestone SE of the ranger tower. Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) (Center) is the high point seen in the distance. Photo looks E.
Looking back at the fire lookout tower. Photo looks NW.

The best views were off to the E where Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, dominated the scene.  Lupe also enjoyed a panoramic view to the S.  The American Dingo could see much of the southern Black Hills from here.

Black Elk Peak (Center) is 11 miles due E of Bear Mountain.
Looking ESE with a bit of help from the telephoto lens. Black Elk Peak is now on the L.
From Bear Mountain, Lupe also had a sweeping view of much of the southern Black Hills. The highest point in the distance on the L is Northeast Cicero Peak (6,240 ft.). Photo looks S.

Climbing Bear Mountain was only the beginning for Lupe.  The plan was to visit Odakota Mountain (7,200 ft.) nearly 4 miles to the N, too.  Since Lupe and SPHP had gotten off to a rather late start, it was already past noon.  With days getting short in mid-October, Lupe couldn’t linger on Bear Mountain too long.

After checking out the views, Loopster briefly dropped by the Bear Mountain fire lookout tower again before continuing on her way.

Lupe at the fire lookout tower on Bear Mountain again before leaving for Odakota Mountain. Photo looks E.
Loop ready to depart Bear Mountain. Photo looks N, the direction she would be heading to get to Odakota Mountain.

Both Bear Mountain and Odakota Mountain lie along the E edge of the high limestone plateau country of the western Black Hills.  The first part of Lupe’s journey N to Odakota Mountain would be along the E rim of the high country.

From the Bear Mountain fire lookout tower, Lupe took the same road she had come in on NE a short distance.  When she got close to the E rim, she followed another road that angled N.  This road eventually turned NW.  Lupe left the road to continue N along the rim.  Odakota Mountain was already in sight!

Lupe near the E rim of the high country of the limestone plateau. Her next objective, Odakota Mountain is the high ridge seen beyond her. Photo looks N.

The terrain along the E rim was hilly.  The area was forested, but generally not too densely.  However, a fair amount of deadfall timber existed in spots.  In a couple of places, the deadfall was dreadfully thick.

Back this summer, Lupe’s mountaineering friend Jobe Wymore had given SPHP a free pair of excellent Komperdell trekking poles.  SPHP had never used trekking poles before, and until today had done nothing with Jobe’s gift.  SPHP quickly discovered that the poles really did help going through the deadfall!

For 1.5 miles, Lupe traveled N near the E rim of the limestone plateau country.  When the American Dingo finally reached a road, SPHP knew she had arrived at an intermediate objective, the Boy Scout overlook.

Coming from the W, USFS Road No. 291.3K leads almost to the edge of the E rim here.  A short path goes from the highest ground down to a large, flat limestone platform perched at the top of sheer cliffs.  A pond a mile to the NE near the Medicine Mountain Boy Scout camp can be seen far below.  The platform also provides sweeping views of the Black Hills to the E.

Lupe reaches the limestone platform known as the Boy Scout overlook. Photo looks ENE.
The short path leading to the Boy Scout overlook is seen on the L. Photo looks ENE.

The Boy Scout overlook is a favorite spot.  Lupe had been here before on other Black Hills expeditions.  Before taking a Taste of the Wild and water break, Lupe took a look at the glorious views.

Lupe on the Boy Scout overlook, a large platform of limestone perched at the E edge of the high country of the western Black Hills. Bear Mountain, where Lupe had just come from, is the high ridge seen beyond her in the distance. Photo looks S.
Looking E from the Boy Scout overlook. Black Elk Peak is on the horizon beyond Lupe.
Black Elk Peak (L), Peak 6920 (Center) and Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.) (R) plus some of the Cathedral Spires (6,840 ft.) (R). Photo looks E with help from the telephoto lens.
Looking NE now. Peak 6720 is the rounded semi-barren hill on the L. Medicine Mountain (6,878 ft.) is the double humped hill with the high point straight up from Lupe’s back. Farther away a bit more to the R is Five Points (6,221 ft.).

Although Odakota Mountain was now only 2.5 miles away to the N as the crow flies, Lupe’s break at the Boy Scout overlook had to be kept short.  To actually get to Odakota Mountain, she had to swing more than 1.5 miles W going down Grand Vista Draw.  She would then have to go another 1.5 miles back E again on her way up Long Draw.  All that extra mileage, plus the distance N!

Loop curled up next to SPHP on the limestone platform for a few minutes, but soon it was back to business.  Lupe left the Boy Scout overlook heading W on USFS Road No. 291.3K.

In the upper end of Grand Vista Draw, Lupe reached an intersection.  The Carolina Dog left No. 291.3K to take No. 291.3A down the wide, shallow canyon.  Beautiful light brown grass lined the road.  Lupe passed through a stand of aspens where a few colorful leaves still held on.

Beautiful light brown grass stood along USFS Road No. 291.3A on the way down into Grand Vista Draw. Photo looks WNW.
Passing the aspens. A few colorful leaves still clung to the trees. Photo looks WNW.

The trek down Grand Vista Draw was easy.  On the way, Lupe saw scattered limestone formations along the canyon sides, but they weren’t high or dramatic.  Meadows dominating the upper end of the draw gave way to pine forests lower down.  Finally, near the low point where Grand Vista Draw and Long Draw meet, Lupe reached a line of boulders placed across the road.

Lupe reaches a line of boulders across the road in the area where Grand Vista Draw and Long Draw meet. Photo looks N.

A few boulders couldn’t stop Lupe!  She continued N on the road, but it ended abruptly in the forest.  A short, shady trek brought Lupe to Spring Creek.

Lupe reaches Spring Creek at the start of Long Draw. Photo looks N.

Loop and SPHP crossed Spring Creek (those Komperdell trekking poles proving useful once again!), and climbed through a small meadow to reach a minor road.  The minor road quickly brought Lupe to USFS Road No. 693, which she could follow all the way up Long Draw.

Long Draw did seem long.  Along the way, Lupe saw deer.  She found squirrels to bark at.  She had a fun time, but at last the Carolina Dog reached the high point of No. 693 at the upper end of Long Draw where the road turned N.

Loopster in the upper end of Long Draw. Photo looks E.

At the high point, Lupe abandoned the road.  The summit of Odakota Mountain was now only 0.25 mile ESE through the forest.  SPHP was surprised when Lupe drew near the small, slightly higher ridge where the summit is located.  A barbed wire fence crushed in many spots by collapsing trees killed by pine bark beetles had been repaired since Lupe was last here.

The repaired fence was good news!  Lupe has been seriously injured by downed barbed wire several times in the past.  This had been a dangerous place.  It still was to some degree.  Even though the fence was fixed, a tremendous amount of deadfall timber still infested the area.  Lupe and SPHP cautiously picked a way through the mess.

Lupe found the small cairn near the E end of the relatively short summit ridge.  She had made it to the top of Odakota Mountain (7,200 ft.), the 2nd highest mountain in South Dakota!

Lupe reaches the summit cairn on Odakota Mountain, the 2nd highest mountain in South Dakota. Photo looks WSW.
The summit ridge on Odakota Mountain is a jungle of deadfall timber. Photo looks WSW.

Although Odakota Mountain is the 2nd highest in South Dakota, the summit doesn’t provide much in the way of views.  Despite how many trees have died and fallen over, more still remain.  A tree-broken view to the S was about all there was to see.

A tree-broken view to the S is all the summit of Odakota Mountain has to offer. Lupe could see Bear Mountain (the long high ridge in the distance) where she had come from, and the small pond near the Medicine Mountain Boy Scout camp (far L).

Cliffs at the far SE end of Odakota Mountain do offer unobstructed views.  Lupe had seen them once, long ago.  However, getting there from the summit requires a bushwhack through a significant stretch of bad deadfall timber.  Lupe didn’t have time to go see those views today.

Lupe relaxed next to the summit cairn.  Once again, a short break was all she could afford to take.

Lupe relaxes next to the summit cairn. Another short break was all she could take here. Photo looks NW.

Odakota Mountain is one of the mountains Lupe has visited most.  This was her 8th time at the summit.  The first time the Carolina Dog had come here nearly 3.5 years ago, there hadn’t even been a cairn.  The last time she’d been here was over 1.5 years ago, when she had first met her friend Jobe Wymore and guided him to the mountain.  Sadly, Jobe wasn’t here to share the mountain with her today.

Snap out of it, Loop!  Enough reminiscing!  We’ve got to get going.  You still have to go all the way back to Bear Mountain and then back down to the G6!

The American Dingo sprang to her paws!  Time for action?  She was ready!  Isn’t she always?

Leaving Odakota Mountain, Lupe got to do something she had never done before.  For over 0.5 mile, she explored the high ground along the edge of the mountain’s SW ridge.  SPHP wanted to see if she could find any unobstructed views from this area.  She did, too!

Bear Mountain, the long high ridge on the R is where Lupe was heading back to from Odakota Mountain now. Part of the pond down at the Medicine Mountain Boy Scout camp is seen below on the L. Photo looks S.
Lupe did find beautiful, unobstructed views from Odakota Mountain’s SW ridge. Black Elk Peak is on the horizon beyond Lupe’s face. Photo looks ESE.
Exploring Odakota Mountain’s SW ridge. Photo looks WSW.

Lupe had a great time exploring Odakota Mountain’s SW ridge, but only got to go about halfway along it.  Too much deadfall timber was slowing things down, and the American Dingo no longer had time to waste.  She returned to Long Draw.  Lupe traveled through the fields paralleling the road.

Day nears an end as Lupe travels back down Long Draw. Photo looks SW.

Hurry, hurry!  Now it was a race against time.  The sun sank ever lower, then disappeared.  Lupe and SPHP made good time, but twilight was fading fast as Lupe came back up Grand Vista Draw.

Looper followed USFS Road No. 291.3A S beyond its junction with No. 291.3K.  For a while she stuck with it, but when the road turned SW it was decision time.  Staying on the road meant miles and miles of extra distance.  The other option was to bushwhack SE to the E edge of the limestone plateau country on the most direct route to Bear Mountain.

SPHP led Lupe SE.  Leaving the road was contrary to long-standing rules against trying to bushwhack after dark.   On the other hand, Lupe had already traveled much of this same territory earlier in the day.  SPHP felt confident that having the E rim to follow meant she wouldn’t get lost.

Faint twilight lingered only far to the W now.  Stars shone above, but no moon.  Black night took over.  Somehow the Carolina Dog always seems able to navigate in the dark without any problem.  Not SPHP, who was walking unseeing straight into waist-high pines.

SPHP ran into a barbed wire fence.  No damage done.  Lucky!  SPHP was blind as a bat.  Better bring out the flashlight.  The fence was good news, actually, it meant Lupe was getting close to the E rim.  Deadfall timber was bad here, though.  The Komperdell trekking poles were enormously helpful!  SPHP would have tripped and fallen a jillion times without them.

After getting past the worst of the deadfall, Lupe reached the E rim!  She saw a great many lights glittering far to the NE.  That was Rapid City!  An amazing number of lights were also scattered toward the SE in the general direction of Custer, but the town was not in view.  Guided by the lights of Rapid City, Lupe and SPHP worked S along the E rim.  Sooner or later, Looper would come to Bear Mountain again.

Despite initial confusion over exactly where Lupe was upon reaching a road, she had made it!  She was back at Bear Mountain.  A cold N wind still blew up here.  Despite the wind, Lupe returned to the fire lookout tower.  So what if it was cold, windy and dark?  She’s a peakbagging Dingo, and this was another successful ascent!  (End – 9:10 PM, 30°F)

Back at Bear Mountain!

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 210 – Hat Mountain & Green Mountain (10-7-17)

Start – 10:44 AM, 57°F at the Gold Run trailhead near Deerfield Reservoir

Sunny skies, a light S breeze, and pleasant early October temperatures – a great day for a romp in the Black Hills!  Lupe would likely get to see some fall colors, too.  First things first, though.  Loop hadn’t been to Deerfield Reservoir in a while.  She may as well take a quick look at the lake before dashing off on her peakbagging adventures.

Only a small portion of the lake was visible from here, but the deep blue waters were a pretty sight surrounded by low pine-covered hills.

Lupe started the day with a look at Deerfield Reservoir. The blue lake was a pretty sight. Photo looks N.

After admiring the lake, Lupe set off for her first peakbagging destination of the day.  She left Deerfield Reservoir heading SW up a forested embankment.  It wasn’t far to Deerfield Road, which she followed W to USFS Road No. 691 (Williams Draw Road).  Traveling S along No. 691, Loop came to a small field where she could see Hat Mountain (6,779 ft.) up ahead.

From this small field near USFS Road No. 691, Lupe gets a fairly good view of Hat Mountain up ahead. Photo looks SSW.

Hat Mountain was only a mile away, so it wouldn’t take Lupe long to get there.  That is, if cows blocking the road could be convinced to get out of the way.  Not to worry!  The cattle were mightily and speedily impressed by the Carolina Dog’s enthusiastic persuasive abilities.  They complied immediately with her wishes.

These cattle on USFS Road No. 691 were quickly convinced to move and let Lupe and SPHP pass. Photo looks SW.

A little farther on, Lupe left the road herself.  She started her trek up the lower NE slope of Hat Mountain passing through a beautiful stand of yellow aspens.

Starting up among the yellow aspens. Photo looks SSW.

Above the aspens, Lupe climbed through a pine forest.  Above the pines, the upper N slope of Hat Mountain was grassy and treeless.

Looper on the upper N slope of Hat Mountain. Photo looks S.

When Lupe reached the summit, the first thing she did was to go over to the survey benchmark.  It was easy to find toward the E side of the flat, barren summit area.

Lupe stands next to the survey benchmark. Part of Deerfield Reservoir, where she had started from, is in view.  Custer Peak (6,804) (Center) can be seen on the horizon. The huge grassy area in between is Reynolds Prairie. Photo looks NNE.
The survey benchmark is so scratched up it’s getting a little hard to read “Hat”.

Next Lupe went to see the sights.  She had unobstructed views in every direction.  Simply fabulous!

Looking NNW. The grassy area seen straight up from Lupe is part of the Castle Creek valley. The most distant peak seen on the R is Terry Peak (7,064 ft.).
Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) is the distant high point on the L. Green Mountain (7,164 ft.) is the high ridge on the R. Photo looks SE.
Green Mountain, the long high ridge on the R, would be Lupe’s next peakbagging goal. The summit is near the edge seen almost straight up from Lupe. Photo looks SE.
Most of Hat Mountain’s flat, oval-shaped summit area is in view here. Photo looks S from near the N edge.
Near the S end of Hat Mountain’s otherwise flat summit is this small depression. Photo looks SW.
Loopster stands next to the small depression. The grassy ground seen in the distance straight up from her back is the upper S slope of South Castle Rock (6,840 ft.). Photo looks N.
Loop stands on a ledge at the S edge of the summit area. A little of the Heely Creek valley is seen below. Photo looks SW.
Kind of windy up here, SPHP! Think I’m going to go hide in the depression as soon as you’ve taken this shot. Photo looks NE.

Carolina Dogs aren’t fans of wind, and it was rather breezy up on Hat Mountain.  The steady 15 mph SW breeze was enough to make Lupe want to look for a sheltered spot.  She found that the small depression near the S end of the summit area worked fine.  She curled up there and took a little break.

Lupe retreats to the small depression to relax out of the wind. Photo looks SW.
Take as much time looking at the views as you like, SPHP. Think I’ll take a nap. Wake me when it’s time to go to the next mountain.

SPHP joined Lupe in the depression for a short break, then left to stroll around the summit again for another look at the views.  Meanwhile, Loop dozed off for a few minutes in her sunny, sheltered spot before SPHP announced it was time to move on.

Lupe left Hat Mountain heading S.  Green Mountain (7,164 ft.), her next peakbagging goal was still close to 4 miles away even as the crow flies.

Looper stands at the S end of Hat Mountain’s summit ready to head down to the grassy slope below. Photo looks S.
On the way down Hat Mountain. Photo looks SW.
Looking back at the Hat Mountain summit from the upper S slope. Photo looks N.
Lupe leaves Hat Mountain heading for Green Mountain, the high ridge on the L. On the way, she would cross the Heely Creek valley, seen below on the R. Photo looks SSE.

The first part of the way to Green Mountain was easy.  Lupe descended mostly open ground into the Heely Creek valley where fall colors were on display.

On the way down Hat Mountain to cross Heely Creek. Photo looks SW.
Fall colors on display in the Heely Creek valley. Photo looks SW.

Heely Creek was very small this time of year, only a foot wide and a few inches deep.  As soon as Lupe crossed it, her long gradual climb to the top of Green Mountain began.

Once she entered the forest S of Heely Creek, Lupe followed old logging trails and minor USFS roads.  Sometimes she was on faint roads abandoned so long ago that pine trees were growing on them.  Other times she simply went through the forest not on any road or trail at all.

On the way to Green Mountain, still W of USFS Road No. 691. Photo looks SSE.

About 2 miles from Hat Mountain, Lupe reached USFS Road No. 691 again.  She followed it S for a mile.  When it began angling SW, she left No. 691 going SE up a forested slope with enough deadfall on it to slow progress down for a while.  Eventually she came to a minor USFS road, which she was able to follow E the rest of the way to Green Mountain.

Green Mountain (7,164 ft.) is one of the highest points in the entire Black Hills.  However, the only distant views available are obtained along the E rim of the mountain.  The best views are toward the SE from limestone outcroppings right along the edge.

Lupe reaches the E edge of Green Mountain. On the horizon are Five Points (6,221 ft.) (L) and Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) (R). The large grassy area is the S end of Gillette Prairie.  Photo looks E.
Looking N along the E edge of Green Mountain.
A cairn can be seen on the limestone pillar beyond and behind Lupe. The pillar has a commanding view to the E, but is not the actual summit of Green Mountain. Photo looks NE.
Looking SW along the rim.
Black Elk Peak (Center) is in view on the horizon. Copper Mountain (6,290 ft.) is the much closer forested hill toward the R. Photo looks SE.

While Lupe was enjoying the big views, SPHP noticed a chipmunk.  Lupe hadn’t spotted it yet.  The chipmunk was scrambling around the limestone, appearing and disappearing right along the brink of the cliffs.

Lupe didn’t notice this chipmunk scrambling around the limestone right along the brink of the cliffs. Sometimes it disappeared over the edge before reappearing again a few feet away.

SPHP kept a watchful eye on the Carolina Dog.  These limestone cliffs were no place to go chasing around after chipmunks or anything else!  The chipmunk was sure-footed and could cling to the vertical face of the limestone.  Lupe could not.  Fortunately, she never saw the crafty, quiet “tiny squirrel”.

Lupe perches near the edge of the cliffs where the chipmunk had been scrambling around a few minutes earlier. She never did see it. The big ridge on the R is High Point 7159, an unnamed mountain only 5 feet lower than Green Mountain. Photo looks SE.

After taking in the views, and enjoying a Taste of the Wild and water break, Lupe agreed to let SPHP give her a boost up onto the limestone pillar where the cairn was.  The pillar was an excellent American Dingo display platform with a tremendous view.

On the limestone pillar. Five Points is in view on the horizon on the L. Part of Gillette Prairie is seen below. Photo looks E.
The cairn can be seen better here.
Peakbagging Carolina Dog (L) in the foreground, Black Elk Peak (R) in the distance, and Copper Mountain (R) between them. Photo looks ESE.

Ordinarily, Green Mountain offers complete solitude.  That wasn’t the case today, however.  Upon arrival at the E edge of the mountain, Lupe and SPHP had both seen a hunter perched on the limestone.  He had a tremendous view, and was using binoculars to scan a wide swath of territory below.  The hunter and SPHP had waved at one another, but did not speak.

Surprisingly, Lupe and SPHP weren’t alone on Green Mountain. From his limestone perch, this hunter quietly scanned a broad swath of territory below. Gillette Prairie is seen in the distance. Photo looks NE.

Lupe hates gunfire.  If that hunter took a shot at anything from so close by, poor Loopster would have been terrified.  Having seen the views and had a little break, it was probably best not to tarry here any longer.  It was a long way back to Deerfield Reservoir, anyway.

Of course, before leaving Green Mountain, Lupe still needed to visit the true summit to claim her peakbagging success.  Lupe and SPHP headed N from the limestone pillar.  The highest ground on Green Mountain was somewhere back in the forest only a little W of the E rim.

A fairly large area was nearly level.  It wasn’t really possible to identify an exact high point.  A variety of potential highest spots existed, none convincingly higher than the others.  Most of them featured small mounds of broken limestone.  After searching around for a few minutes, it was time to pick one.  Close enough for Dingo work!

At Green Mountain’s true summit, or as close to it as Lupe and SPHP could find. Photo looks N.
This was Lupe’s 4th visit to Green Mountain.

Although Lupe had been to Green Mountain 3 times before, it was a big place. She’d never explored some of the territory toward the N end.  Enough daylight remained today so she could go sniff about over there on her way back to Deerfield Reservoir.  Looper headed NW through the forest looking for a couple of sub-peaks shown on the topo map.  Both were still over 7,000 feet elevation.

The first hill she would come to was High Point 7062.  Plentiful deadfall timber slowed SPHP’s progress, but High Point 7062 eventually did come into view.

High Point 7062 (L), located 0.625 mile NW of Green Mountain’s summit, comes into view. Photo looks NNW.

As it turned out, High Point 7062 was worth visiting.  The small summit was capped with a limestone outcropping from which there were 180° views to the N.  Lupe climbed up for a look around.  She could see the top of Hat Mountain (6,779 ft.) from here.

Up on High Point 7062. Photo looks N.
High Point 7062 was worth visiting! Lupe could see a long way N from here. Photo looks N.
Hat Mountain, where Lupe had been earlier in the day, is the grassy, flat-topped hill on the L. Photo looks NW from High Point 7062 with help from the telephoto lens.

From High Point 7062, Loop could also see her next objective, High Point 7025, more than 0.5 mile to the W.  High Point 7025 had a much larger summit area in the form of a 400 to 500 foot long ridge.  The fairly narrow ridge was all about the same elevation, but heavily forested.  Lupe wouldn’t have much in the way of views over there.

High Point 7025, Lupe’s next objective, is the heavily forested ridge seen on the L. Photo looks W.

Even so, when Lupe left High Point 7062, she headed W for High Point 7025.  She enjoyed a beautiful early evening trek, while exploring new territory.

Lupe enjoys the evening on her way to High Point 7025. Photo looks WNW.

Lupe made it to High Point 7025.  She traversed the entire summit ridge from N to S, then back again.  As anticipated, there wasn’t much to be seen in the way of views due to the forest.

On the High Point 7025 ridge. Photo looks SE back toward Green Mountain.

The sun was getting low.  Deerfield Reservoir was still 4 miles N as the crow flies.  Better keep going!  Lupe left High Point 7025 heading N.  She explored more beautiful territory, saw lots of deer, and eventually found minor roads that led her back to USFS Road No. 691.

Darkness fell on the long road hike back to the G6.  Stars glittered above in a moonless sky.  The wind had died down hours ago.  SPHP tramped along, Lupe trotting nearby.  No lights, no traffic, no noise.  Everything as it should be when adventure’s done.  Quiet time together, then the long drive home.  (End – 8:09 PM, 44°F)

Heading down the N slope of High Point 7025 on the way back to Deerfield Reservoir. Hat Mountain on the L.


Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 134 – Copper, Odakota, Green & Hat Mountains Plus the Dragon Caves (6-20-15)

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 209 – White Tail Peak (10-1-17)

Start – 10:57 AM, 52°F, intersection of South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231) & USFS Road No. 191.

Lupe’s summer of 2017 adventures were over.  Her friend, Australian adventurer Luke Hall, who had recently paid her a visit here in the Black Hills, was gone.  Things were finally back to normal!  For the first time since early June, it was just Loopster and SPHP setting out on a Black Hills, SD expedition.

This expedition was looking promising, too!  Cows, so many beautiful cows, were right here near the start!  Lupe was thrilled.  The cows less so.  In fact, they looked on with deep concern.  Wasn’t that one of those ferocious American Dingoes?!

Expedition No. 209 was getting off to a promising start. Look at all those beautiful cows! Lupe was thrilled! Photo looks E.
Looking the opposite direction from the cows up the valley of the South Fork of Rapid Creek. USFS Road No. 231 is seen on the R. Photo looks W.

The cattle needn’t have worried.  They didn’t get chased, barked at, or devoured.  Instead, SPHP started SSW on USFS Road No. 191, leading Lupe up Long Draw.  When Lupe reached an intersection 0.5 mile later, she turned W on No. 191.1A.

At the start of USFS Road No. 191.1A in Long Draw. Photo looks W.

In the next 0.5 mile, No. 191.1A curved S, then W again.  Lupe reached another junction.  She had been this far once before over 2 years ago on Expedition No. 138.  That time she’d stayed in Long Draw, continuing W on No. 191.1A.  This time, just for something different, she turned SSW up Lessering Draw on No. 191.1C.

Near the start of Lessering Draw. Looper yawns waiting for SPHP to get on with it and snap the shot! Photo looks SSW.

Lupe had seen a small stream in Long Draw.  A tiny, trickling tributary of it was here in the lower end of Lessering Draw.  When the road entered a pine forest, Lupe spotted an abandoned cabin near the tiny stream.  The Carolina Dog went to investigate.

Checking out the old cabin in Lessering Draw. Photo looks SSW.

SPHP wouldn’t let Looper go inside the old cabin for fear of rusty nails or broken glass, but she did peer in to see what it was like.  “Dilapidated” pretty much sums it up.  Clearly, many years had passed since this cabin was inhabitable, even in the most rustic sense of the word.

Lupe returned to No. 191.1C continuing SSW.

Not far from the old cabin, Lupe re-emerged from the forest.  The road curved W passing through a lovely large meadow surrounded by low forested hills.  Aspen trees, greatly in the minority along the edge of the pines, were showing a bit of fall color.

Beyond the old cabin, Lupe reaches a large meadow. Aspen trees were beginning to show a little fall color. Photo looks SW.
A bit farther on, another view of the same meadow. Photo looks ESE.

As Lupe proceeded through the meadow, No. 191.1C faded away to little more than a grassy track.  At the far end was a barbed wire fence.  An opening in the fence brought Lupe to USFS Road No. 125.

Lupe reaches USFS Road No. 125. The big meadow she had come through in Lessering Draw is still in view on the L. Photo looks ESE.

The Carolina Dog and SPHP continued W on No. 125.  The road passed through a narrow, forested part of upper Lessering Draw, which soon divided.  Lupe stuck with No. 125, as it curved N up one of the ravines to a minor pass.

Right at the pass was a barbed wire fence running roughly SW/NE.  Lupe went over a cattle guard to get past it.  (American Dingoes are highly skilled at crossing cattle guards!)  From here, No. 125 went N down the other side of the pass.  SPHP surmised it was heading for Maitland Draw.

Lupe needed to go more W than N.  White Tail Peak (6,962 ft.), her objective for the day, was 1.5 miles WNW of the pass.  Lupe left the road to follow the fence line WSW up a forested slope.  Upon reaching a ridge, she abandoned the fence to follow the ridge NW toward High Point 6346.  On the way, White Tail Peak came into view.

Nearing High Point 6346, Lupe gets her first view of White Tail Peak on Expedition No. 209. The summit is on the R. The mountain’s long SE ridge extends all the way to the L. Photo looks WNW.
Loopster astride High Point 6346. Peak 6962 is seen in the distance. Photo looks SW.

Loop easily leapt up onto the rock formation at the top of the ridge.  She stood astride High Point 6346.  That done, she pressed on to the NW toward White Tail Peak.  She was looking for the easiest way to get there with minimal elevation loss.  As it turned out, she could soon turn W toward the mountain without having to lose much at all.  She even came across a road leading W.  The road soon forked at Point 6424.

The road Lupe had been following was USFS Road No. 190, which angled NNW from here.  A side road going SW was marked No. 190.1A.  Lupe and SPHP had been on No. 190 before on prior expeditions to White Tail Peak.  Lupe could eventually work up and around to the summit that way.  A more direct route, though, would be to scale the mountain’s SE slope.  Today, Lupe had a special reason for doing so.

It looked feasible.  Lupe and SPHP left both roads behind, heading NW up a grassy slope of open forest.  Scattered deadfall provided the only obstacles.  The Carolina Dog purposely headed for the area between the mountain’s short and long SE ridges.  After traveling some distance, Lupe arrived at the edge of a golden forest.

Lupe arrives at the golden forest SE of White Tail Peak.
At the edge of the golden forest (R). The ridge beyond Lupe is part of White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge. Photo looks W.
Happy Lupe in the forest of gold.

Lupe happily sniffed her way through the magical forest of gold.  Above the golden forest, her climb steepened.  Would she would encounter a blocking line of limestone cliffs?  SPHP knew cliffs rimmed large portions of the upper E and S sides of White Tail Peak.

No cliffs appeared.  The American Dingo’s ascent didn’t even get all that steep before the terrain started leveling out again.  Lupe came to a faint road.  She followed it a little S, reaching a line of ragged limestone outcroppings.  This had to be it!  The spine of White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge.

Lupe reaches the limestone spine of White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge. Photo looks S.

This was Lupe’s 4th Black Hills, SD Expedition to White Tail Peak.  Yet to SPHP there had always been something lacking on her prior visits.  Long ago, so long ago it had been before there was a Carolina Dog, SPHP had been here alone.  Tattered, cobwebbed memories existed of a grand viewpoint at the end of a long march S.

To SPHP those memories were the essence of White Tail Peak.  SPHP had always wanted Lupe to see those sweeping views, but she had never run across them again.  Were the memories real, dreams, or confused with some other place?

On all of her prior expeditions here, Lupe had visited a limestone ledge SE of the summit where she’d enjoyed some very nice views.  However, they had never seemed as dramatic as SPHP’s old memories of White Tail Peak.  A sense of disappointment always lingered.

On one occasion, Lupe had specifically gone looking for the site of SPHP’s old memories.   Somewhere W of her usual limestone ledge, she’d found a much longer ridge going S.  Her exploration of it revealed some different vantage points.  However, none seemed familiar or measured up to SPHP’s expectations.  This wasn’t the place, either.

Today the plan was for Lupe to find out the truth.  SPHP had never allowed her to do a truly thorough search before.  And most helpfully, for the first time, SPHP had brought along a topo map.

The topo map revealed that White Tail Peak has 3 ridges protruding to the S – a short SE ridge, a long SE ridge, and a long SW ridge.  Studying it had convinced SPHP that Lupe had never been to White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge.  The long ridge she had visited must have been the long SW ridge.  The other times she had only been to the limestone platform near the end of the short SE ridge.

Her successful ascent from the SE up a visible gap between ridges made SPHP confident Lupe now stood on the long SE ridge’s limestone spine right at this very moment!  All that remained was to follow the ridge however far S or SE it went.

It was exciting to think Lupe was on the verge of discovery!  First, though, SPHP thought it best to go find White Tail Peak’s non-descript summit.  May as well make certain of locking in a successful full ascent before doing anything else.  Peakbaggers think like that.  Instead of going S, Lupe followed the faint road N.

Within minutes, the American Dingo reached a junction.  Ahh, so this was the turn SPHP had always missed or dismissed before!  Lupe was practically at the summit, it was only 100 feet to the NW.  She went up to claim her peakbagging success.

Lupe reaches the flat, non-descript true summit of White Tail Peak. It’s possible to drive right to it from the N on an ATV. Photo looks N.

Lupe had visited the short SE ridge every other time she’d come to White Tail Peak.  Though the views didn’t completely measure up to SPHP’s old memories, they were still impressive for the Black Hills.  It wasn’t far away.  Lupe might as well go take another look at them while she was here.  It was tradition now!

On the winding road leading from the summit to the viewpoint at the end of the short SE ridge.

Looper and SPHP followed a familiar winding road SE through an immature pine forest.  A few minutes brought Lupe to her usual White Tail Peak viewpoint.  Time for a break and a look around.  This was still a favorite place!

The view to the NE from the short SE ridge.

SPHP relaxed munching an apple.  Lupe devoured Taste of the Wild.  Water for all, though it wasn’t much needed.  The day had gone from mostly cloudy to overcast and noticeably cooler than before.  While Lupe and SPHP watched, even lower clouds streamed in from the NW.  A chill breeze blew way up here.  The incoming clouds were low enough so wisps of fog sailed by.

The low gray clouds were all part of one huge one.  The monstrous cloud fanned out rapidly, spreading gloom across the Black Hills.  Sunshine fled its influence, retreating far to the SE.  The apple gone and Lupe satisfied, it was time for a few photos.

Looking N from the short SE ridge.
Looking SW. Lupe had come up somewhere over on the now somewhat foggy ridge seen here, which had to be part of White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge.
Lupe stands on a narrow rock pathway leading to the last limestone platform at the end of White Tail Peak’s short SE ridge. Photo looks SE.
At the very end of the short SE ridge. Photo looks SE.
Same view with a little help from the telephoto lens.

The photo session over, Lupe and SPHP left the short SE ridge, retreating NW back to White Tail Peak’s summit.  Enveloped in a thickening fog, the mountain was growing colder and gloomier by the minute.

Good grief!  After coming all this way, suddenly there wasn’t any point in exploring the mountain’s long SE ridge.  Even if it led to the views SPHP remembered, Lupe wasn’t going to be able to see a thing.  Disappointment reigned.

Nothing could be done about it.  May as well forget about the whole thing.  Another time.  Would have had some nice fall colors, too.  Should have gone there first!  Sigh.

Reluctantly, SPHP led Lupe on the road N, away from the still unexplored long SE ridge.  May as well head for USFS Road No. 190.  It would take her E down off the mountain.  Maybe Lupe could explore some sort of an interesting loop on the way back to the G6?

Lupe went all the way N to No. 190, and began following it E.  She’d already lost some elevation, and was about to lose a bunch more, when suddenly the sky brightened.  Uncertain, Lupe and SPHP paused.  The trend continued.

Apparently conditions weren’t going to continue deteriorating after all.  It wasn’t going to be so bad.  The monstrous cloud wasn’t as dark or low as before.  The breeze was dying down and the air felt warmer.  Maybe Lupe could see something from the long SE ridge after all?

Worth a shot.  Back Lupe went.  To the summit again and beyond.  Lupe made the turn onto the faint road, which wasn’t so faint near the intersection.  She reached the limestone spine of the long SE ridge where she’d been before.

OK, this was it!  The moment of discovery was at hand.  Lupe explored S.  Up and down, onto and off of the discontinuous limestone spine.  Multiple times.  For a while, the forest hid everything.  Lupe went on, now heading SE.  She lost elevation, but not too fast.  Didn’t this have to be it?

Then there it was.  A first small limestone ledge with a view to the SW, a view worthy of what SPHP remembered.  Lupe was on the right track!  Naturally, she went over to see this glorious sight.

Lupe reaches the first small limestone ledge along the long SE ridge with a view like SPHP remembered from long ago.

To the SW, Lupe saw a broad canyon, created over eons by the North Fork of Castle Creek.  The creek wasn’t visible, but far below aspen trees glowed with the fleeting glory of early autumn.

Across the gaping canyon was Peak 6962, a remote mountain so alike to White Tail Peak (6,962 ft.), the summit was even the exact same elevation.  Just below its forested upper reaches, limestone cliffs extended around the N and E edges of the mountain.  Cliffs like those Lupe now perched above.

Peak 6962 (L) is the long, forested cliff-rimmed ridge on the far side of the gaping canyon of the North Fork of Castle Creek. Far below Lupe’s perch, millions of dying aspen leaves go out in a blaze of glory. Photo looks SW.

Looking SE along the edge of the long ridge Lupe was on revealed a series of similar viewpoints nearby.

Looking along the SW edge of White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge. Plenty more viewpoints were ahead for Lupe to check out before she would reach the end! Photo looks SE.

Traveling onward, Lupe checked out viewpoints along both sides of the long SE ridge.

At another viewpoint a little farther SE. Same basic view with Peak 6962 on the L. Photo looks SW.
Another look from farther back at Lupe’s vantage point. Photo looks SW.
Now out at the very end of the same vantage point. Photo looks WSW.
Still there with Peak 6962 on display across the entire background. Photo looks SW.
Now on the opposite (NE) side of the long SE ridge. White Tail Peak’s short SE ridge, which Lupe had always gone to before, is in view. Photo looks N.
Looking NE toward Custer Peak (6,804 ft.) (Center).
Custer Peak with help from the telephoto lens. Photo looks NE.

At the far SE end of the long ridge, Lupe finally found the big, nearly flat, open viewpoint SPHP remembered.  Even on an overcast day, the panoramic views were fabulous!

Out at the very end of the long SE ridge. Reynolds Prairie is the large grassland far beyond Lupe. Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) (L), Green Mountain (7,164 ft.) (R), and many other mountains Lupe has been to are seen on the horizon. Photo looks SSE.
Black Elk Peak (L) on the horizon. Photo looks SE.
Flag Mountain (6,937 ft.) (L) and Peak 6962 (R). Photo looks S.
Canyon of the North Fork of Castle Creek. Photo looks SW.
Looking NW along the ridge.

Perhaps on some bright sunny day, Lupe will return to White Tail Peak for a 5th time to see it all again beneath crystal blue skies.  For now, though, SPHP was content.  Lupe had rediscovered this glorious vantage point overlooking a vast portion of the central Black Hills.  White Tail Peak was everything dim memory had credited and cherished it as.

A cool breeze still blew.  Hours had flown by.  Time for the intrepid Carolina Dog to move on.  Puppy ho!  Lupe headed NW, back the way she had come.

On the way back, still on the long SE ridge. Green Mountain (L) is far on the horizon. Flag Mountain (Center) and Peak 6962 (R) in view closer by. Photo looks S.

As soon as practical, SPHP looked for a way for Lupe to get down off the long SE ridge.  She soon came to one.  Safely down, Lupe roamed the long slope to the SE, passing the same golden forest on her way back to the junction of USFS Roads No. 190 & 190.1A.

Heading down.
Passing the golden forest again.

Lupe had fun on the way back to the G6.  SPHP led her N on USFS Road No. 190 hoping to make a nice loop.  The American Dingo wound up going much farther N than anticipated.  A trail or road shown on the topo map failed to materialize.  An unmarked side road SPHP did try did not turn E as hoped.  Instead it began to fade away somewhere W of High Point 6217.

Enjoying the colorful woodlands.
Heading NNW on USFS Road No. 190. A road or trail shown on the topo map that SPHP was counting on to go E failed to materialize. Photo looks NNW.
A side road off No. 190 that SPHP did have Lupe try kept going N. Here it threatens to fade away completely. Photo looks N.

The failing road had to be abandoned.  Lupe bushwhacked E a long way.  Deadfall slowed progress considerably.  The sun must have set or was close to it.  Light was fading.  Hurry, hurry!

Yes!  A road!  Good deal, and none too soon.  SPHP quickly figured out that it was leading toward Long Draw.  Immediately overconfident again, SPHP had Lupe take a turn into Maitland Draw instead.

In the dim light, Lupe saw, sniffed, or otherwise sensed a presence before SPHP realized it was there.  Cows!  Way out here.  Enthusiastic Lupe streaked off barking.

The American Dingo returned before long, panting hard and apparently well satisfied with her romp.  Certainly more pleased than the annoyed cows had been.

No more of that, Loopster!  It’s getting dark anyway.  Better stay close.

Just grand.  The road didn’t go all the way through Maitland Draw like the map showed!  It turned S instead of staying E.  Maybe that wasn’t so bad?  SPHP suspected Lupe was on USFS Road No. 125.  Sure enough, she reached the cattle guard back up at the minor pass.  The rest of the way to the G6 was known.  Lupe had come this way earlier.  She would soon be back in Lessering Draw.

A curious, and perhaps very sad thing had happened shortly before Lupe reached the minor pass.  At first it seemed simply strange and unexpected.  Lupe had quit barking at the cows some time ago, when suddenly there was an answer!  A wild barking or howling, from off to the NW.

A coyote?  Maybe.  Lupe listened, but showed little interest and did not respond.  After a few minutes, it was not heard any more.  On the long dark trudge back to the G6, SPHP reflected, and eventually felt guilty and sad.  Glittering stars in an ink black sky shone down with a cold, cruel light.

Maybe an answer should have been made?

The more SPHP thought about it, the more that wild sound had seemed desperate.  Perhaps desperately searching.  What if it hadn’t been a coyote?  A poor lost or abandoned dog way out here?  Maybe it had heard Lupe and thinking salvation was at hand, had come running a great distance with soaring hopes looking for her?  If so, the disappointment at not hearing a response, and not knowing which way to turn, must have been crushing.

White Tail Peak had been a great and successful day for Lupe, but the accusatory thought persisted.  Perhaps the day had also needlessly ended as a bitterly cruel one for an innocent, lonely creature in need of help?  The uncertain truth remained somewhere out there, shivering alone in darkness, now miles away beneath eternally uncaring silvery stars.  (End – 7:40 PM, 35°F)

On White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge, 10-1-17


Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 138 – White Tail Peak (9-19-15)

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Badlands National Park, South Dakota with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-27-17)

Lucky Dingo!  Australian adventurer Luke Hall was staying with her.  For the second day in a row, Lupe was going to get to play host and tour guide.  That could only mean another brand new adventure!

Yesterday Lupe had taken Luke up to Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.) and Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota.  Did Luke have any preference on what else he would like to see while still in the Black Hills region?  Yes, he did, actually!  Luke wanted to see Badlands National Park.

That was a great idea!  Although the W end of Badlands National Park is only a little over an hour’s drive E of the Black Hills, Lupe had never been there before, either.  Luke, Lupe and SPHP all piled into the G6.  The miles flew by.  It wasn’t long before SPHP turned onto Sage Creek Road a mile or two E of Scenic, SD.

The W end of the park’s N unit was still miles away, but Luke was ready to get out for a look around.

Australian adventurer Luke Hall on Sage Creek Road, a less frequented route into the W end of Badlands National Park’s most famous N unit. The park was still 10 miles away from here, but Luke wanted to take a look at the prairie lands typical of the surrounding area. Photo looks N.

Once Lupe reached Badlands National Park, a series of overlooks along Sage Creek Rim Road provided increasingly dramatic views.  The first views were of Sage Creek Basin.  The sharply eroded hills and bluffs typical of the Badlands were still a little way off in the distance.

Lupe at one of the first viewpoints inside the park along Sage Creek Rim Road. Photo looks SSE.
The badlands scenery grew more dramatic and impressive at each succeeding viewpoint heading E along Sage Creek Rim Road. Photo looks SE.
Lupe & Luke with another view of Sage Creek Basin. Photo looks SW.

Farmers, ranchers! Don’t let this happen to your property! Lupe stands next to a prime example of an erosion control program gone seriously awry. Photo looks S.

No one had to tell Lupe why this place was called the Badlands.  It was easy to see there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in you know where of finding a squirrel out here!  Most disappointing.  Why on earth had Luke wanted to come way out to this wretched, forsaken land?

The answer was soon apparent.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of prairie dogs were living in large towns right along the road!  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of fat squirrels right on the ground that couldn’t climb a tree even if there was one?  It was an American Dingo’s dream come true!  Badlands?  Hardly, this place was a Dingo paradise!  Luke was a genius!

Hundreds of prairie dogs could be seen in towns right along the road.

Shockingly, SPHP was a total spoil sport.  This could have been the greatest day of Lupe’s life!  Instead, SPHP refused to let her go after those prairie dogs.  Not even one!  It was maddening.  Sure, those prairie dogs had burrows, but this ground was soft and Lupe is a great digger.  It would have been the most fun ever!

The Carolina Dog had to watch as a badger scurried across the road and disappeared down into a prairie dog burrow.  Luke saw a coyote nearby.  Poor Lupe could only stare out the window of the G6 and dream.  SPHP decided it was best to drive on.

Oh, what might have been, if SPHP hadn’t interfered!

At the Hay Butte overlook, a plaque told about how pioneers had gone to great efforts to hay the grass off of the top of a long, flat butte seen in the distance.  Why they felt compelled to do so was never fully explained.  The Badlands are completely surrounded by prairie.  What was so special about the grass growing on that butte?

It was a mystery of the universe.  Some things can’t be explained, like why SPHP sided with the prairie dogs against the loyal Carolina Dog, a lifelong friend?

A short distance E of the Hay Butte overlook, Sage Creek Rim Road ended at the paved Badlands Loop Road, which winds through the most frequently visited part of Badlands National Park.  Park headquarters and most trails, overlooks, and displays are located along the Badlands Loop Road.

Lupe’s first stop traveling E on Badlands Loop Road was at the Pinnacles overlook, where a couple of short trails led away from the road down to several viewpoints.  Luke went down to investigate.  American Dingoes couldn’t go on any of the trails, but the views were great right up by the road.

At the Pinnacles overlook. Hay Butte is the long, flat butte in the distance on the L with clearly badlandy sides. Luke is a mere speck checking out the views from the end of the trail on the R. Photo looks SW.
The view to the SE from the Pinnacles overlook revealed a sweet, happy Carolina Dog. Abundant weird landforms were seen in this same area, too. Photo looks SE.

Most of the dramatic eroded buttes and spires of the Badlands are horizontally striped with many relatively thin layers of gray, white, or pink soils.  At the Yellow Mounds overlook, however, a thick lower layer of yellow soil capped with red was exposed.  The grays, whites and pinks could still be seen higher up.  In some of the lowest parts of this region, the mounds were completely yellow, since the overlying layers had been eroded completely away.

While the soil colors can appear more dramatic near sunrise or sunset, or especially after a rain, even in sunshine at midday the Yellow Mounds were definitely worth a look.

Luke & Lupe at the Yellow Mounds. Here the yellow soil is seen as a lower layer at the bottom of a small valley. Photo looks NW.
Looking NNE directly across the same valley.
Looking ENE down the same valley. More of the yellow soil is exposed here. One of the smaller lower mounds in the valley is almost entirely yellow.
Yellow mounds were present on the S side of the road, too. Luke gives Lupe a lift to help get her more into the scene. Photo looks WSW.
Lupe enjoyed being toted around the Yellow Mounds area by Luke. Photo looks S.

10 or 12 miles E of the Yellow Mounds, Lupe arrived at a big parking lot next to the Fossil Exhibit Trail, a short loop trail where fossils are on display as originally found.  Luke went to check out the trail, while Lupe and SPHP visited with a park ranger who had just finished a talk on various fossils found within Badlands National Park.

The Badlands are full of fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks.  Fossils of many extinct animals from the Oligocene epoch 23 to 35 million years ago continue to be found here, including:

  • Leptomeryx – a small deerlike mammal
  • Oreodonts – common and sheeplike
  • Archaeotherium – a relative of pigs equipped with sharp canines
  • Mesohippus – an ancestor of modern horses
  • Hoplophoneus – an early saber-tooth cat
  • Metamynodon – a massive rhinoceros
Stark views of the Badlands like this one were common along the Badlands Loop Road.
People wander along the Fossil Exhibit Trail where fossils are on display as originally found. Luke took this trail while Lupe and SPHP stayed at the parking lot chatting with a ranger who had just finished a talk about fossils found in Badlands National Park.

After Luke got back from the Fossil Exhibit Trail, the next stop was at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.  Lupe couldn’t go in, but Luke and SPHP did, returning with brochures containing maps of the park.  Several short trails were only a few miles away, so it was decided to go check them out.

Lupe had to wait in the G6, while Luke and SPHP went to explore the Window and Door trails.

The very short Window Trail ended at a metal railing at the edge of a deep gully. Across the gully was this view of steep, wild badlands. Photo looks E.
Luke on the Door Trail, which passed through a narrow gap to reach this large area of badlands. Photo looks E.
Luke farther along the Door Trail. A series of numbered posts showed the way. Photo looks SE.
Door Trail. Photo looks NW.
Luke stands near a twisting maze of steep, deep gullies typical of the badlands. Photo looks SE.
Badlands from the Door Trail. Photo looks SE.

The Window and Door Trails provided great views of some wild-looking badlands, but didn’t take long to explore.  After returning to the G6, Luke continued on to explore the Notch Trail. Meanwhile, SPHP stayed with Lupe near the start of the trail.

Lupe enjoyed being out relaxing in the dry grass, surrounded by the beauty of the Badlands.

Lupe relaxes in the dry grass near the start of the Notch Trail while waiting for Luke to return. Photo looks ESE.

Luke was gone quite a while.  People who had left after Luke did started returning.  When SPHP inquired, two groups they said they had been all the way to the Notch at the end of the trail.  Both groups had taken 40 to 45 minutes to make the round trip.

Lupe kept waiting.  Eventually Luke reappeared.

Luke returns from the Notch Trail. Photo looks SSE.

Of course, Luke had made it to the end of the Notch Trail, too.  He enjoyed the walk and the views, but especially the extra time he’d spent scrambling around on the Badlands formations.

The Badlands aren’t high at all by mountain climbing standards, but scrambling among them is tricky and potentially treacherous.  The very steep sides of the formations are often loose and crumbly.  Exercising considerable caution, Luke had successfully made it to the top of some of the highest formations near the Notch.

Near the start of the Notch Trail. Photo looks E.
View along the Notch Trail on the way to the Notch.
Luke up on top of Badlands formations near the end of the Notch Trail. Photo looks SE.
Looking SE. Most of the Badlands lie along a long, relatively narrow area. Views of the surrounding prairie are never far away.
Looking SW. The area near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is on the far R.
Looking E.
Looking NW.

It was evening and time to start back when Luke returned.  SPHP drove W back along the Badlands Loop Road.  Lupe saw lots of animals to bark at from the G6.  Pronghorn antelope, a buffalo, and bighorn sheep all got the enthusiastic Dingo treatment as Lupe sailed on by.

Lupe got to make a few stops to enjoy the scenery along the way, too.

Scenery on the drive back W along the Badlands Loop Road.
Slanting evening light highlights the sharply eroded Badlands terrain.
Loopster enjoys a short outing along the Badlands Loop Road. Photo looks WNW.

The sun was sinking fast.  Lupe, Luke and SPHP stopped at Panorama Point for a final look at the Badlands before it set.  The evening was beautiful, and the sweeping views simply magnificent.

Approaching sunset from Panorama Point.
Australian adventurer Luke Hall at Panorama Point. Photo looks E.
Lupe, Luke & SPHP watched the sun set behind a distant jagged Badlands horizon.
Luke takes a photo from Panorama Point before the last rays of sunlight disappear.
Looking E from Panorama Point with help from the telephoto lens.
Lupe’s beautiful day in Badlands National Park draws to a close.

The sun disappeared from view.  Lupe’s beautiful day in Badlands National Park with her friend Australian adventurer Luke Hall was over.  It was her last big adventure with Luke before he would set out for Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.

It was sad to think that Luke would be leaving soon, but Lupe and SPHP were both glad that he had taken the time to come and visit the Black Hills and Badlands of remote western South Dakota.

Lupe at Panorama Point, Badlands National Park, 9-27-17.


Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 208 – Little Devil’s Tower & Black Elk Peak with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-26-17)

Luke Hall’s travel & adventure blog

Badlands National Park

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 208 – Little Devil’s Tower & Black Elk Peak with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-26-17)

Start: Hwy 87/89, 0.25 mile NW of Sylvan Lake Lodge, 9:46 AM, 46°F

Wonder of wonders!  Australian adventurer Luke Hall was actually here – in Lupe’s Black Hills of South Dakota!  He’d arrived yesterday afternoon only a few weeks from the end of a 6 month trip exploring the western United States.

During his recent travels, Luke had scrambled up many notable mountain peaks, including Mt. Whitney (14,498 ft.) in California and Mt. Elbert (14,433 ft.) in Colorado, the two highest mountains in the lower 48 states.  He’d spent a lot of time along the Pacific coast, and visited a great many national parks – Yosemite, Death Valley, Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Mesa Verde, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Rocky Mountain – the list went on and on.

Surfing, swimming, backpacking, mountain biking, climbing – Luke had been a busy guy in 2017, but that was perfectly normal for him.  In previous years, he’d explored western Canada, 10 different countries in South America, wandered through much of Europe, and toured Morocco and Egypt.  He spent 2 years living and working in London, England, and another 2 years in Banff, Canada.  Maybe it wasn’t so surprising that Luke had finally landed in the remote Black Hills of South Dakota after all?  He did get around!

Fittingly enough, Lupe and SPHP had first met Luke Hall over a year ago on Gunsight Mountain (6,441 ft.) in Alaska.  Now Luke was here to join Lupe on one of her Black Hills, SD expeditions.  He had already dropped by Mt. Rushmore (5,725 ft.) on his way in, so Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, seemed like a good destination.  For Luke it would be an easy day, but maybe he wouldn’t mind dialing it down a notch after 5+ solid months of more strenuous adventures?

It was a lovely bright, clear day as Lupe, Luke and SPHP set out.  First stop along the way was Sylvan Lake.

Lupe and Luke together again in the Black Hills for the first time since meeting over a year ago on Gunsight Mountain (6,441 ft.) in Alaska. Black Elk Peak, the highest mountain in South Dakota was today’s ultimate destination. Photo looks E.
Only 10 or 15 minutes after setting out, Luke and Lupe reach the NW shore of Sylvan Lake.
The small dam creating Sylvan Lake, which features a short walkway with a railing, is seen beyond Luke. Photo looks N.
Looking NE across the lake.
A few ducks were out on the calm water.

After a look at Sylvan Lake from the NW shore, Lupe, Luke & SPHP followed a trail that goes all the way around the lake back down below the dam.  Lupe led Luke around to the NE & E sides of the lake.

Looking SW from the rock formations along the N shore.
Sylvan Lake is located at the far NW corner of Custer State Park. Though small, the lake nestles among scenic granite formations.  It’s a popular destination for tourists and locals alike with a swimming beach and picnic ground.  Paddle boat rentals, a convenience store and Sylvan Lake Lodge are all nearby. Photo looks W.
Lupe showing her buddy Luke around Sylvan Lake. Photo looks WNW.
Loopster and Luke on a large granite formation that extends out into Sylvan Lake from the E shore. Photo looks SW.
Looking NNW at the N half of Sylvan Lake.

Trail No. 9 from Sylvan Lake is the most direct and popular route to Black Elk Peak, but Lupe had another trail in mind.  She led Luke past the picnic ground at the SE end of the lake, and took Trail No. 4 to the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead instead.

Taking Trail No. 4 was a longer route to Black Elk Peak, but had the advantage of giving Luke a chance to climb Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.) along the way, and get a close look at the Cathedral Spires (6,840 ft.), too.

Luke & Lupe along Trail No. 4 to Little Devil’s Tower.
A 0.25 mile long spur trail off Trail No. 4 leads to the summit of Little Devil’s Tower. Here Lupe is near the spur trail with a view of the Cathedral Spires. Photo looks E.
Luke & Looper on the way to Little Devil’s Tower. Cathedral Spires in the background. Photo looks E.

A 0.25 mile long spur trail leads from Trail No. 4 to the summit of Little Devil’s Tower.  The end of the route involves a quick, easy scramble up the granite.  Even small children can make it with a little supervision and an occasional boost.

Luke & Loop nearing the top of Little Devil’s Tower. Photo looks N.

Luke, Lupe and SPHP quickly arrived at the summit of Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.).  There were cliffs around, especially to the N, but they were of no concern.  Although a bit rough, the uneven granite summit area is quite roomy.

The 360° views from Little Devil’s Tower are among the best in the Black Hills, with Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) to the NNW and the Cathedral Spires (6,840 ft.) to the SE being the most eye-catching.

Luke and Loopster arrive at the uneven granite summit of Little Devil’s Tower. Photo looks ESE.
Another view with some of the Cathedral Spires (also known as the Needles) in the background. Photo looks ESE.
Lupe with the Cathedral Spires in the background. This was Lupe’s 5th ascent of Little Devil’s Tower. Photo looks SE.
Although the day had started out clear and bright, quite a few clouds were around by the time Lupe reached the top of Little Devil’s Tower. A chill breeze was blowing out of the S, too. Photo looks SE.
Looking NNW toward Black Elk Peak. For those with insufficient time to climb Black Elk Peak, the shorter trip on Trail No. 4 up to the top of Little Devil’s Tower can provide similarly striking views of the Black Hills.
Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.) is the long ridge 2.5 miles away with the high point poking up just R of Center. Photo looks WSW.

At first, no one else was around up on Little Devil’s Tower.  It wasn’t long, though, before a couple appeared.  Bryan and Rene Jobo from Franklin, Tennessee joined Lupe, Luke and SPHP at the summit.

Bryan and Rene were on vacation in the Black Hills, and apparently having a good time relaxing and hitting some of the area’s highlights.  Bryan, Rene, Luke and SPHP were soon chatting pleasantly.  Lupe got involved posing for photos.

Australian adventurer Luke Hall poses with Bryan & Rene Jobo from Franklin, TN up on Little Devil’s Tower. Photo looks SE.
Despite a cool SW breeze, Lupe wasn’t about to get left out. Here she poses with Bryan & Rene, too.
In addition to posing with an American Dingo up on Little Devil’s Tower while in the Black Hills, Bryan & Rene were looking forward to attending the Custer State Park annual buffalo roundup in a couple more days. Lupe would have loved to go to help herd buffalo around, too. Unfortunately, SPHP never seems to think that a huge buffalo herd will appreciate a noisy Dingo, so Lupe has never gotten to go.

Bryan and Rene stayed chatting with Luke and SPHP for a while, but didn’t have time to accompany Lupe all the way to Black Elk Peak.  They had other adventures in mind to press on toward.  Soon after Bryan and Rene said good-bye; Luke, Lupe and SPHP resumed the trek to Black Elk Peak.

Luke near the Cathedral Spires on the way back to Trail No. 4 to resume the trek to Black Elk Peak. Photo looks E.

Trail No. 4 went N past some of the Cathedral Spires, and eventually linked up with a short section of Trail No. 3, which led in turn to Trail No. 9.  Near the end of a spur trail off Trail No. 9, a metal stairway hidden in a narrow opening in the granite spiraled up to a rock stairway leading to the old fire lookout tower on Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.).

Luke reaches the old fire lookout tower at the summit of Black Elk Peak. Photo looks N.
Until August 11, 2016 when the U.S. Board of Geographic Names voted unanimously in favor of the name Black Elk Peak, the highest mountain in South Dakota had been known as Harney Peak. Luke poses by a plaque at the lookout tower which has not been updated yet.  In May, 2015, the South Dakota State Board of Geographic Names had proposed renaming the mountain Hinhan Kaga (Making of Owls), but that recommendation was never enacted.  Lupe would have preferred Squirrel Mountain, or at least Chipmunk Mountain, but, oh well!
Looking ENE from the Black Elk Peak summit. The most distant big square block of granite at Center is the back side of Mt. Rushmore.

Upon arrival at South Dakota’s highest point, Luke, Lupe and SPHP spent a few minutes out on the fire lookout tower’s W facing observation deck taking in the views.  The wind had shifted to the NW by now, though, and was even colder than at Little Devil’s Tower.

View to the NNW from the fire lookout tower observation deck on Black Elk Peak.

Even Lupe was soon ready to retreat back into the lookout tower.  The tower wasn’t very large inside, but Luke enjoyed exploring the winding passage down to the basement.  An open doorway led out to a massive granite shoulder of the mountain immediately W of the tower.  Everyone enjoyed a break in the shelter of a few pines growing out of the rock.

After snacks and water, it was time for photos from various points on the granite near the lookout tower.

Luke and Lupe NW of the fire lookout tower. The tower was last staffed in 1967. Made of stone, it has held up remarkably well during the ensuing 50 years, despite the efforts of any huffing and puffing big, bad Dingoes. Photo looks SE.
Luke & Lupe up on rocks N of the tower. Photo looks NE.
Adventure buddies Lupe and Luke
Lupe on Black Elk Peak. This was her 7th visit to the mountain. Her last visit was over 2 years ago on 9-7-15. Back then the mountain was still officially Harney Peak, as it had been since 1896. Photo looks W.
Helicopters giving tours of the Mt. Rushmore area often make a pass around Black Elk Peak. Lupe loves barking at helicopters! She’s spotted one now!
The view to the SE.
Cathedral Spires (L) and Little Devil’s Tower (R) are in view beyond Lupe & Luke. Photo looks S.
Black Elk Peak was Luke’s 3rd US State high point after Mt. Whitney in California and Mt. Elbert in Colorado. Photo looks S.

All too soon, it was time to depart.  On the way back to the G6, Lupe, Luke and SPHP followed Trail No. 9 all way to Sylvan Lake.  The sun was sinking, but down out of the wind the evening was pleasant.

Starting down. Sylvan Hill is seen in the distance. Photo looks SW.
On Trail No. 9 before the junction leading to Little Devil’s Tower (R). On the return trip Luke & Lupe stuck with Trail No. 9 all the way, the most direct route back to Sylvan Lake. Photo looks SSW.
Little Devil’s Tower from Trail No. 9. Luke & Loopster had been up there only a few hours ago! Photo looks SW.
A view to the NW from Trail No. 9.
Loop & Luke at the last big viewpoint along Trail No. 9 on the way to Sylvan Lake. Photo looks NNE.
Australian adventurer extraordinaire Luke Hall presents the Black Hills of South Dakota!
Looper takes a break on a lovely bench provided by the Highpointers Foundation. This bench is along Trail No. 9 at the first good viewpoint toward Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) on the way up from Sylvan Lake.

The light was fading fast by the time Lupe reached the G6 again at 6:45 PM (upper 50’s °F).  Climbing mountains with Luke, and getting to show off her Black Hills home territory had been great fun!

The fun wasn’t over yet, though.  There would be pizza and beer with Luke at home.  (What, no beer for the faithful, peakbagging Carolina Dog!?  No fair!)  Even better, Luke was sticking around for a while.  Another adventure was in store tomorrow.

It just doesn’t get any better than that!

Adventurer Luke Hall originally hails from Sydney, Australia. Lupe & SPHP were thrilled that he took the time to come pay a visit to the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota!
Adventuring buddies Luke & Lupe on Black Elk Peak, 9-26-17


Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 208 – Badlands National Park with Australian Adventurer Luke Hall (9-27-17)

Gunsight Mountain, Talkeetna Range, Alaska (8-23-16)

Luke Hall’s travel & adventure blog

Want more Lupe adventures?  Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!

Black Hills, SD & WY Expedition No. 91 – Peak 6888, Bald Hills, the Weston County, Wyoming High Point, Peak 6645, & Laird Peak (6-1-14)

There’s nothing so rare as a day in June, and June had just arrived!  Both Lupe and SPHP were raring to go, even though scattered thunderstorms were in the afternoon forecast.  The plan was to head way out into the high country of the NW Black Hills for some peakbagging fun.  First up were Peak 6888 and the Bald Hills (6,690 ft.), both within a few miles of the Wyoming border.

Although there were already clouds around, the sun was still shining when SPHP parked the G6 more than 0.5 mile W of County Road No. 117 along USFS Road No. 109 (Parmlee Canyon Road) at 9:39 AM (59°F).  Lupe and SPHP started out taking Bear Canyon Road S from No. 109.  Bear Canyon Road was just a dirt road that looked like it seldom gets any traffic.  It passed through a field in a shallow valley and then entered the forest, winding its way up a low ridge at a pretty decent clip.

The climb was a short one.  Bear Canyon Road soon leveled out, and reached a clearing where there was an intersection with more faint roads.  Several whitetail deer ran off into the forest as Lupe approached the intersection.  Peak 6888 is about 0.75 mile S of Parmlee Canyon Road.  SPHP figured Lupe still had to go a bit farther S to get there.  The road continuing S was marked as USFS Road No. 117.5J.

Lupe followed No. 117.5J up a couple of little rises.  The road leveled out again after each one.  When the road seemed to be at its highest point, SPHP stopped to check the topo map.  The summit of Peak 6888 was supposed to be a little W of the road.  The entire area looked quite level, although the forest did look a bit higher off to the NW.  Lupe and SPHP left the road exploring the forest to the NW, while searching for an obvious high point or marker.

Lupe found neither.  A big area was almost as flat as a pancake.  Nothing seemed discernably higher or lower than anywhere else.  Lupe saw more deer, but summits were scarce.  Well, Loop, looks like this is all the summit!  SPHP encouraged Lupe to hop up onto a big log.  This can be your summit photo, Lupe!  Might as well call it good, and go on to the Bald Hills.

Lupe seemed happy enough to call this log the summit of Peak 6888. There were no views in any direction, just more flat forest extending all around.
Lupe seemed happy enough to call this log the summit of Peak 6888. There were no views in any direction, just more flat forest extending all around.

Peak 6888 was now in Lupe’s bag, but it hadn’t been too exciting.  At least there was a little excitement when Lupe and SPHP returned to No. 117.5J.  Lupe saw a female elk crossing the road.  The elk saw Lupe and SPHP, too.  It took off running, but seemed confused on which way it wanted to go.  It finally disappeared off to the SE.

Lupe and SPHP continued S on No. 117.5J.  Almost right away, Lupe came to a big square mud puddle where the road started angling SW.  Lupe ran over to wade around and get a big drink of mineral water.

Lupe discovers the mineral water pond on Peak 6888.
Lupe discovers the mineral water puddle on Peak 6888.
The mineral water pond looked like it could have been milk chocolate flavored.
The mineral water puddle looked like it could have been milk chocolate flavored.

From the milk chocolate colored mineral water puddle, No. 117.5J started losing elevation slowly, but steadily, as it went SW for about 0.75 mile.  The road appeared to end in a small valley near a couple of stock ponds.  There were several barbed wire fences in the area.   Lupe and SPHP headed S across the little valley, and climbed up the next low ridge ahead.  Up on top, Lupe found USFS Road No. 113 at a green gate.

By now the sky was completely overcast, and it began to rain steadily.  SPHP wore a blue plastic rain poncho, but Lupe was doomed to become a progressively more soggy doggie.  Lupe and SPHP marched W on No. 113 in the mud and rain.  The clouds grew darker.  The downpour strengthened, and the woods filled with fog.

Although Lupe ordinarily loves to get wet playing with the garden hose on warm, sunny days, the dreary downpour seemed to dampen her spirits.  For 2 miles, Lupe and SPHP slogged W on No. 113.  SPHP began to wonder what ever happened to the “scattered” part of the scattered T-storms in the forecast.  It looked like it could rain buckets all day.

After going 2 miles, Lupe started passing by minor side roads that SPHP was expecting to see, and No. 113 gradually turned S.  The road had been fairly level most of the time, but now began to lose some elevation.  That didn’t last long.  It was soon gaining the elevation back.  Lupe reached a high spot on the road as it turned W.  The road continued W, but it was clear it was about to lose serious elevation in that direction.

About this time, the rain stopped.  Suddenly the sky was getting brighter again.  SPHP stopped to check the maps.  The little green hill on the N side of the road had to be the summit of Bald Hills.  Lupe was practically there!

The remains of a campfire were on the N side of the road, too.  Unfortunately, trash was scattered all around it.  While SPHP collected trash, Lupe sniffed around, encouraged by the rapidly clearing sky.

Lupe just S of the summit of Bald Hills. The top was just up this little green hill. Photo looks N.
Lupe just S of the summit of Bald Hills. The top was just up this little green hill. Photo looks N.
A rather damp Lupe among pretty yellow flowers S of the summit of Bald Hills.
A rather damp Lupe among pretty yellow flowers S of the summit of Bald Hills.

When the trash was all gathered up, Lupe and SPHP climbed the little green hill to the summit.  The summit area was a bit surprising.  It was a big flat open field, completely surrounded by pine trees.

Trees killed by pine bark beetles were still standing along the W edge of the meadow.  When they eventually fall over, the view will improve dramatically.  As it was, Lupe and SPHP could only get glimpses of Mount Pisgah (6,380 ft.) five miles away in Wyoming.

Lupe in the big flat meadow at the summit of Bald Hills. Photo looks W. The sky is beginning to clear!
Lupe in the big flat meadow at the summit of Bald Hills. Photo looks W. The sky is beginning to clear!
Looking W.
Looking W.
Lupe starting to dry out in the sunshine. Photo looks NE.
Lupe starting to dry out in the sunshine. Photo looks NE.

The meadow on Bald Hills was quite pretty and full of little flowers.  It was kind of a shame there wasn’t a more open view anywhere, but that’s the way it was.  As Lupe and SPHP ambled around the field, the last of the storm clouds drifted away to the E, and the sun began to shine.

Lupe and SPHP left the summit taking what was supposed to be a shortcut back to No. 113 by heading directly E.  There proved to be a fair amount of deadfall timber to deal with in the forest.  While Lupe might have saved some distance, it was debatable how much time was really saved.

Once on No. 113 again, Lupe and SPHP followed it back E.  Where dark clouds, rain and fog had prevailed only a short time ago, now a sunny, fresh, bright green Dingo Paradise existed.  Lupe’s spirits soared!  She dashed through the damp woods sniffing excitedly at every tree and bush.  Lupe came to a series of small pools scooped out along the road.  She made frequent use of them.

One of several pools of rainwater along USFS Road No. 113. The day was warming up rapidly. Lupe made frequent quick stops at the pools for refreshing drinks.
One of several pools of rainwater along USFS Road No. 113. The day was warming up rapidly. Lupe made frequent quick stops at the pools for refreshing drinks.

When Lupe reached the green gate across No. 113 again, she turned N leaving the road.  Lupe and SPHP went down off the ridge into the small valley, this time passing above (E of) the higher pond.  Lupe returned to No. 117.5J.  Soon Lupe and SPHP were back up on Peak 6888 again.

Lupe took a Taste of the Wild break while resting under a fallen tree trunk.  SPHP sat on the tree trunk eating an apple and looking at the maps.  After the break, Lupe and SPHP once again wandered around on Peak 6888, still looking for an obvious high point, but with the same negative results.  Lupe chose a bright green meadow for her 2nd Peak 6888 summit shot of the day.

Lupe near the upper pond on her way back to Peak 6888. This area is a little W of the Beaver Creek Cow Camp on the USFS map.
Lupe near the upper pond on her way back to Peak 6888. This area is a little W of the Beaver Creek Cow Camp on the USFS map.
Lupe takes a Taste of the Wild break while resting under a fallen tree on Peak 6888.
Lupe takes a Taste of the Wild break while resting under a fallen tree on Peak 6888.
Lupe chose this bright green meadow to commemorate her 2nd ascent of Peak 6888 of the day. Photo looks WSW.
Lupe chose this bright green meadow to commemorate her 2nd ascent of Peak 6888 of the day. Photo looks WSW.

SPHP had noticed while looking at the maps that 0.33 mile to the NE of Peak 6888 there was a small area enclosed by a 6,900 foot contour line.  Since that was somewhat higher ground, Lupe and SPHP crossed over No. 117.5J to go check it out.

NE of No. 117.5J, Lupe did seem to gain a little elevation, but it didn’t amount to much.  Lupe still found no obvious high point.  There weren’t any big views anywhere over here either, just more forest.  Lupe and SPHP went W back to Bear Canyon Road and turned N.  By 1:48 PM (65°F), Lupe was back at the G6.

Lupe’s next two peakbagging goals were both located 10 miles to the NNW.  Lupe and SPHP jumped in the G6, and enjoyed a very scenic drive through gorgeous Black Hills high country near the Wyoming border.  The last part of the drive was along another USFS Road No. 109.  (Not the No. 109 that leads to Parmlee Canyon.)  This No. 109 led N out of the Beaver Creek valley.  It eventually turned NW toward the Wyoming border.

SPHP was really hoping there would be some kind of a sign and a fence at the border.  Lupe’s third peakbagging goal of the day was the Weston County, Wyoming High Point (6,620 ft.).  The high point is located about 0.375 mile S of where No. 109 reaches the Wyoming border.  The whole key to finding the Weston County High Point was knowing where the border was.

The luck of the Dingo prevailed!  There was a Wyoming sign at the border.  There was also a cattle guard, a fence, and a convenient level place to park on the South Dakota side (2:28 PM, 57°F).  Lupe and SPHP left the G6, crossed the cattle guard into Wyoming, and headed S along the border fence.

The entire area was forested and rolling, but without significant elevation changes.  Logging trails ran this way and that through the woods.  When it seemed easier, Lupe and SPHP just followed the logging trails, but never got very far from the border fence.  Pretty soon, Lupe came to two high points right along the state line.  One of them had to be the Weston County High Point.

The two high points were close enough to each other so it was possible to see both at the same time.  However, they were so similar in elevation, SPHP wasn’t certain which was truly the highest point.  The first one Lupe came to, the one to the N, seemed like it was highest, but it was hard to tell for sure.  Naturally, Lupe visited both high points.

Lupe at the N candidate for the Weston County, WY high point. She is sitting just past the border fence on the South Dakota side of the border. SPHP believes this is the true high point, but there was another possible candidate in view a short distance to the S. Photo looks E.
Lupe at the N candidate for the Weston County, WY high point. She is sitting just past the border fence on the South Dakota side of the border. SPHP believes this is the true high point, but there was another possible candidate in view a short distance to the S. Photo looks E.

From the N high point, a small, nearly level ridge extended W about 100 feet into Wyoming.  It was possible the Weston County High Point was actually somewhere along this ridge instead of right on the border with South Dakota.  Lupe explored the W ridge out to where it ended at 10 foot high limestone outcroppings.  SPHP was of the opinion the actual high point was back at the WY/SD border, rather than anywhere along the ridge.

Lupe seemed to enjoy looking for the Weston County High Point. Here she is looking happy while exploring the small ridge W of the border and the N high point candidate.
Lupe seemed to enjoy looking for the Weston County High Point. Here she is looking happy while exploring the small ridge W of the border and the N high point candidate.
Although Lupe explored this entire ridge W of the N candidate on the WY/SD border for Weston County, WY High Point, SPHP didn't believe the actual high point was anywhere out on this ridge. To SPHP, the land seemed marginally higher right at the border. Lupe never did really come out and say what she thought.
Although Lupe explored this entire ridge W of the N candidate on the WY/SD border for Weston County, WY High Point, SPHP didn’t believe the actual high point was anywhere out on this ridge. To SPHP, the land seemed marginally higher right at the border. Lupe never did really come out and say what she thought.
The W end of the ridge ended at these 10 foot high limestone outcroppings. Photo looks SE.
The W end of the ridge ended at these 10 foot high limestone outcroppings. Photo looks SE.

After exploring the W ridge, Lupe and SPHP went over to the S high point candidate along the Wyoming/South Dakota border.  A small area on the Wyoming side near the S high point had been clear cut.  There were slash piles laying all around.  The S high point was a limestone outcropping right at the border.  There wasn’t any ridge extending out to the W here.  The ground went downhill immediately W of the high point.

Lupe at the S candidate along the WY/SD border for Weston County, WY High Point. Photo looks S.
Lupe at the S candidate along the WY/SD border for Weston County, WY High Point. Photo looks S.

Wherever the actual Weston County High Point truly was, Lupe had now been there, having explored both possible candidates, plus the W ridge.  The forest blocked any views, so there was no reason to linger.  A short distance up a little hill to the E just inside the South Dakota border was Lupe’s fourth peakbagging goal of the day, Peak 6645.

Why Peak 6645 is on’s official list of Black Hills 6500-foot Peaks is completely beyond SPHP.  There are numerous other higher points close at hand that are not on the official list.  A little over 0.1 mile to the NE is High Point 6651, a mile to the SE is High Point 6807, and a little farther E is High Point 6906.  The topo map shows many other examples of higher points close at hand, too.  Nevertheless, Peak 6645 is on the official list and the others aren’t.

Since Peak 6645 was on the official Black Hills 6500-foot Peaks list, Lupe was going to visit it.  At least it had the great virtue of being located very conveniently close to the Weston County, WY High Point.  Lupe and SPHP made the short trek up the hill.  Between the trees was a hint of a view off to the WSW, but that was all.  Nevertheless, Lupe seemed completely happy with Peak 6645.

One cheerful Carolina Dog on Peak 6645! Photo looks WSW at a little meadow. Lupe is about 30 feet W of the actual highest point on the hill, but it was only 4 or 5 feet higher than where she is here.
One cheerful Carolina Dog on Peak 6645! Photo looks WSW at a little meadow. Lupe is about 30 feet W of the actual highest point on the hill, but it was only 4 or 5 feet higher than where she is here.

Lupe on Peak 6645, 6-1-14

Lupe on the very highest part of Peak 6645. Photo looks NE.
Lupe on the very highest part of Peak 6645. Photo looks NE.

The actual summit of Peak 6645 was an otherwise unremarkable 5 foot high mound in the woods.  Lupe sniffed around for a couple of minutes, but even she didn’t find anything particularly fascinating.  While Lupe was sniffing around, clouds were moving in again.  Thunder started rumbling off to the NW.  Lupe and SPHP hurried NE on to High Point 6651.

From High Point 6651, Lupe was able to see USFS Road No. 109 just below to the NE.  Instead of going right on down to the road, though, Lupe and SPHP turned NW, following the ridge.  The ridge soon played out, and sloped on down to No. 109 closer to the G6.  A quick 0.25 mile road trek, and Lupe was back at the G6 (3:17 PM, 57°F).

Hwy 85 near Buckhorn was only a couple of miles NW on USFS Road No. 809 (the road number changes from No. 109 at the Wyoming border), but it was already raining again by the time Lupe reached the highway.  Another  thunderstorm was passing through.  SPHP stopped in at the Buckhorn Bar & Grill to grab a hamburger.  Lupe stayed in the G6, entertained by barking at black cows across the road.

Lupe sniffs around outside the Buckhorn, WY Bar & Grill.
Lupe sniffs around outside the Buckhorn, WY Bar & Grill.

The owner and the cook/waitress were the only people in the Buckhorn Bar & Grill.  They were both friendly, and after a reasonable delay produced a pathetic-looking over-priced hamburger, which didn’t even come with fries or chips.  SPHP took the sad little thing out to the G6 to share it with Lupe while waiting for the rain to stop.  Lupe’s opinion of the hamburger was far different from SPHP’s.  She greeted it with enormous enthusiasm, and would have eagerly consumed far more than her fair share, if SPHP had permitted.

The hamburger was gone in a flash.  Lupe retired to the back seat of the G6 for a nap, while the rain continued outside.  SPHP munched an apple and looked at the maps.  Lupe’s 5th and final peakbagging goal for the day was Laird Peak (6,906 ft.), which was only 6 or 7 miles to the NE, and less than a mile from Hwy 85.  Climbing Laird Peak wouldn’t take long.  Gradually a new plan came to mind.  Lupe could go on into Wyoming to Inyan Kara (6,360 ft.), a more isolated and interesting peak!

However, the rain went on and on.  Thunder rumbled repeatedly from very dark clouds overhead.  Lupe snoozed contentedly full of hamburger.  The windows of the G6 fogged up.  SPHP finally decided that if the storm didn’t end by 6 PM, Lupe would have to forget about Inyan Kara.

At 5:30 PM, a tiny white spot appeared in the clouds to the NW.  For a few minutes, the white spot grew.  A little patch of blue appeared.  Maybe the storm was about over?  SPHP started the G6 and drove SW on Highway 85.  Within a few miles, it was clear that the storm was passing.  By the time Lupe reached Four Corners, the rain had stopped.  Growing patches of blue sky were off to the W.  SPHP turned NW on Hwy 585.

The drive toward Inyan Kara was gorgeous.  The sun broke through the clouds to shine on the mountains and high plains, all fresh and green from the rain.  Inyan Kara was still shrouded by dark clouds, but they were likely to dissipate soon.  SPHP initially missed the turn W on County Road No. 198, but came back to it.

A lot of rain had fallen.  County Road No. 198 was muddy.  Despite the mud, the G6 made it 1.5 miles W of the highway to an intersection.  SPHP took the sharp turn N and drove down a hill.  From the G6, Lupe barked at cows grazing in the green fields.  The road turned W again at some corrals shortly before disappearing beneath an enormous puddle.  Beyond the puddle, SPHP could see deep muddy ruts in the road.

No way the G6 would get through this!  SPHP parked near the corrals.  Lupe and SPHP began a march W around the huge puddle, and then along the mucky road.

Inyan Kara is dead ahead! Lupe is on the muddy access road, which goes to two private ranches. Photo looks W.
Inyan Kara is dead ahead! Lupe is on the muddy access road, which goes to two private ranches. Photo looks W.

It was a longer march that it looked like at first.  Even where the road looked good, it was very soft.  It was a beautiful evening, though.  Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the trek, despite the mud.  When Lupe finally got close to Inyan Kara, she reached a fork in the road.  To the W were some buildings and a “No Trespassing” sign.  Lupe and SPHP tried the other fork going NNW down a hill first.

Lupe hadn’t gone very far, when she came to a sign saying the county road ended here.  It also said “No Trespassing without Owner’s Permission”.  A yellow house was in view not much farther down the road.  Lupe and SPHP continued on to beg the owner’s permission to cross the private ranch to Inyan Kara.

A bluish dog about Lupe’s size started barking as Lupe and SPHP got close to the fenced yard around the house.  The bluish dog was all excited.  He whined and wanted to play with Lupe.  SPHP petted him, but Lupe just growled.  No one came out of the house.  SPHP yelled a few helloes, but there was no response.  Too bad, this was the best place to gain access to Inyan Kara.

Lupe and SPHP left the disappointed bluish dog behind to go back and try the W fork of the road.  The results were much the same.  Two dogs were at the house at the end of that road, but again no people.  A fat little Corgi stayed up on a deck and barked.  A white and black dog barked as it came running up to meet Lupe.  As soon as it got close enough, the white and black dog promptly peed on SPHP’s boot.  Lupe growled again, this time with more justification.

Sigh.  That was it.  No one was around at either place to grant permission to access Inyan Kara.  So much for that idea.  Lupe and SPHP headed back on the muddy road toward the G6.  It was still a beautiful trek.

Lupe E of Inyan Kara on her way back to the G6. Looking N from the county road.
Lupe E of Inyan Kara on her way back to the G6. Looking N from the county road.
Looking SW.
Looking SW.

As Lupe and SPHP neared the corrals where the G6 was parked, there was a bit of a surprise.  A herd of 30 or 40 black cows was congregated on the road near the G6.  Lupe would have to go right past them.  SPHP put Lupe on the leash.  Lupe tried to be good, but it was just too much temptation.  When she got very close to the cows, she started barking.  She felt amazingly powerful and ferocious when the whole herd stampeded away.

Well, not quite the whole herd.  One cow was unfazed by Lupe.  When Lupe and SPHP went right on by, the bold cow decided to follow.  In fact, the bold cow had apparently decided that SPHP must have something good to eat.  It started trotting along eager to partake of whatever delicious repast SPHP had stuffed in the backpack.  The cow completely ignored Lupe, who was somewhat startled by the notion that barking at this cow made it want to come toward her instead of running away.  Up close, it was an awful lot bigger than the noisy Carolina Dog!

Even more startling, was the reaction of the rest of the herd.  When the other cows saw that the bold cow was not being devoured by an American Dingo, but was actually anticipating a delicious treat from SPHP, they suddenly decided they were about to miss out on something good.  The whole herd came thundering back, anxious to partake in whatever happy event was about to unfold.

SPHP wasn’t too keen on being crushed by a herd of overly enthusiastic hungry cattle.  Lupe and SPHP made a run for the G6, barely getting inside before being completely surrounded.  Whew!  Back inside the safety of the G6, Lupe regained her confidence and resumed barking furiously at the herd pressing in on every side.  By now, though, the cows were totally unimpressed.  They went back to munching grass, feeling a bit put out.

Slowly and cautiously, SPHP eased the G6 through the herd, stopping every few seconds to wait for another opening a little farther forward.  Lupe continued having her fruitless conniption fit the whole time.  Nearly all the cows continued totally ignoring her.  After a few minutes, the G6 broke free of the herd.  Lupe and SPHP escaped back to the highway.

The Inyan Kara jaunt had been a failure.  There was still time, though, to return to the original plan.  Lupe and SPHP headed for Laird Peak.  A mile W of O’Neil Pass on Hwy 85, SPHP turned N on USFS Road No. 106.  Less than a mile from the highway there was a big open area on the E side of No. 106, shortly before reaching a junction with Willow Springs Road coming in from the W.  SPHP parked the G6 in the open area (8:04 PM, 47°F).

Lupe and SPHP started out going E up a little valley along a grassy road.  Lupe passed a small stock pond on the S side of the road, and soon came to a water tank.  Water was overflowing the tank, creating a small muddy stream that ran down to the stock pond.  One of SPHP’s maps showed Tom Spring in this location.

Beyond Tom Spring, the grassy road disappeared for a stretch.  Lupe soon found it again, now angling NE up into the trees.  The road climbed until it reached a flat area where a number of roads converged.  Lupe was already quite high here.  Despite the forest, it was possible to get a glimpse over the other side of the mountain toward the SE.

At the intersection, Lupe took a good road N until it passed a fence.  She then left the road to follow the fence E toward a 50 foot rise where SPHP expected to find the summit of Laird Peak.  Near the top, Lupe and SPHP caught a last look at the fiery sun about to drop below the horizon.

Sunset on Laird Peak.
Sunset on Laird Peak.

The sun sank below the horizon within minutes, but Lupe had no problem finding the survey marker and benchmark at the summit of Laird Peak to complete her 5th and final peakbagging success of the day.

The Laird Peak survey marker and benchmark.
The Laird Peak survey marker and benchmark.

Lupe reached the G6 again at 9:00 PM on the dot (47°F).  She’d had quite a big day in the NW Black Hills.  Four mountains climbed for the first time, plus a Wyoming county highpoint reached!  Perhaps the most memorable mountain, though, was Inyan Kara, the one she didn’t get to climb!

Lupe on Laird Peak at dusk.
Lupe on Laird Peak at dusk.

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