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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Peakbagger.com’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
After rain and fog all weekend long, Monday had dawned clear and bright. Rain wasn’t at all unusual this time of year. In fact, today was the 42nd anniversary of the Black Hill’s June 9, 1972 flood, when 238 people lost their lives. Nothing remotely close to that dramatic and tragic was going to happen today. SPHP registered at the entrance to the Black Elk Wilderness near the Horsethief Lake trailhead (10:36 AM, 59°F).
Lupe and SPHP took off heading SSW on Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14. The normally pleasantly bubbling little creek was gushing right along, overflowing its banks and parts of the trail. Most of the time, it wasn’t hard to get over or around the wet spots. The rushing creek in the leafy canyon between towering granite spires was actually rather cheerful and beautiful.
The creek was left behind by the time Lupe reached a junction with Centennial Trail No. 89 about 0.75 mile from the trailhead. Lupe and SPHP turned right, taking a short stretch of trail going W that is part of both Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 and Centennial Trail No. 89. When the trails separated again, Lupe turned left, staying on Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14.
As Lupe continued SSW, she started encountering a fair amount of deadfall timber fallen across the trail. Huge numbers of ponderosa pine trees infested with pine bark beetles have died in the Black Hills in recent years. Over time, high winds blow over increasing numbers of the dead trees. Lupe and SPHP had to spend quite a lot of time off the trail going around the deadfall.
After about 2 miles, Lupe reached the S end of Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 at a “T” intersection. Lupe turned right, following Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7. The trail wound around heading generally W or NW. Lupe didn’t need to follow Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7 very far, only about 0.375 mile. Lupe’s peakbagging goal for the day was Peak 6735, more than a mile to the SW. There is no trail to Peak 6735.
SPHP started looking for a way across Grizzly Bear Creek, a larger stream than the one near the start of Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14. Naturally, Grizzly Bear Creek was also running high. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to find a place where a few boulders enabled SPHP to jump over. The American Dingo, of course, had no problem getting across.
On the SW side of Grizzly Bear Creek, Lupe found herself in a meadow that sloped gradually up to the W. Parts of the meadow were soggy and marshy, but by the time Lupe and SPHP reached the trees again, Lupe was back on dry ground. An old dirt road headed S around the E side of the mountain ahead. Lupe and SPHP followed it S for a little way.
The road gradually gained elevation, but reached a high point. From here, the road turned SE. Lupe needed to go SW, and she didn’t need to lose elevation. Lupe and SPHP left the dirt road, and started climbing the mountain.
The first part of this climb was about the only place all day where Lupe didn’t have to contend with a lot of deadfall timber. She raced this way and that sniffing around in the forest, while SPHP trudged ever upwards. Before too long, the mountain began to narrow. Deadfall and a series of large granite rock formations appeared. The climb became progressively steeper and more difficult.
As Lupe and SPHP continued up, the rock formations were larger and closer together. Most of the time it was easier to go around to the S of them, although occasionally it was easier to make forays to the N. Lupe was able to climb up on top of a few of the rock formations. Eventually, SPHP was able to see that Lupe was getting up in the world. Huge granite walls were visible on nearby mountains, especially in the area to the N leading up to Harney Peak.
From each rock formation, another higher one came into view up ahead. Finally, it looked like Lupe was getting close to the top of the mountain. SPHP expected Lupe to emerge up on Peak 6710, about 0.25 mile NW of her Peak 6735 goal. When Lupe reached the high point, though, the view was disappointing. Things didn’t look right at all. There was no way Lupe was on Peak 6710.
Actually, the scenery was great! The trouble was that SPHP could see another mountain ahead to the SW. It was several hundred feet higher! So, if Lupe wasn’t on Peak 6710 now, where was she? SPHP already had a pretty good notion, even before checking the maps.
Yes, the depressing news was true. That higher mountain to the SW had to be Peak 6710. Despite how long it had taken to get here through all the wretched deadfall timber and toiling around the big rock formations, Lupe hadn’t gone nearly as far as SPHP had thought. She wasn’t as high up, either. Lupe was on top of Peak 6411, still 0.33 mile NE of Peak 6710.
It was time for a rest. SPHP had intended for Lupe to bypass Peak 6411 to the N. Instead, Lupe and SPHP had climbed SW up the spine of the mountain to get here. Lupe still had to continue on to Peak 6710, or at least close to it, on her way to Peak 6735. To get there, she was going to have to lose over 100 feet of elevation going down to a saddle before she could resume climbing.
The task of getting to Peak 6710 looked daunting. More rock formations, an exhausting maze of deadfall timber, and another steep climb were still ahead. As discouraging at it was, there was nothing to do, but get on with it. One step at a time. The rest break was over. Lupe and SPHP headed slowly down into the saddle SW of Peak 6411. Nothing had changed. The way forward was a lot like Lupe’s climb up Peak 6411.
Finally, it was over. Lupe and SPHP were close to the top of Peak 6710. The summit was a big, high steep granite rock formation. Lupe and SPHP got to within 10 feet of the top. SPHP could probably scramble up on top, but there was no way for Lupe to get up there, even with SPHP’s help. The granite was just too vertical. SPHP couldn’t quite see the top, but it felt like the summit might be a scary high place. Getting back down safely didn’t look very easy, either.
Well, it would have been nice to reach the absolute summit of Peak 6710, but Lupe’s real goal was Peak 6735. If she could reach the top of Peak 6735, that would just have to be good enough. SPHP gave up on Peak 6710. Lupe and SPHP headed SE down toward the saddle over to Peak 6735.
Lupe lost nearly 250 feet of elevation crossing the saddle. Due to the deadfall, it was all miserably slow going. The true summit of peak 6735 is more toward the S end of the summit area. Lupe and SPHP skirted the N end of the high ground to the W. Lupe had another steep climb, but eventually it got easier. There was somewhat less deadfall timber near the end. Lupe and SPHP started making faster progress.
The top of Peak 6735 was much easier to navigate than Peak 6710 had been. The whole area was rocky, but it was easy to approach the very highest rocks at the true summit by circling around a bit to the S. After a long, hard struggle, Lupe had done it. She stood on top of Peak 6735!
Peak 6735 featured marvelous 360° views. As annoyingly difficult as it was to get here, SPHP was pretty certain Peak 6735 must not be visited very often. Not many people or American Dingoes have ever been treated to these views. Lupe and SPHP were glad to be here!
It had been a long, exhausting climb through rugged territory. By far the worst obstacle, though, had been the shattered dead forest. Lupe and SPHP needed a rest break, a much longer one than Lupe had taken on High Point 6411. Rest, water, snacks and big views were all part of a most welcome respite.
After the rest break was done, it was time to do some exploring of the summit area. A big granite arm of the mountain extended off to the SW without losing too much elevation. Lupe had clear sweeping views to the S from this granite ridge. Nothing she saw to the S was as high as Peak 6735!
After a leisurely exploration of the SW arm of the mountain and around to the SE, Lupe and SPHP returned to the summit of Peak 6735 for a final look.
It would have been nice to explore the high ground N of where Lupe had come up the mountain, but it had taken a very long time to get up here. The slanting rays of the sun gave notice that it was already late afternoon. Lupe’s time on Peak 6735 was running out. The N ridge wasn’t quite as high as where Lupe had already been, anyway.
Although the world was beautiful from up on Peak 6735, it was time to move on. When darkness fell, SPHP didn’t want to be lost wandering in a wilderness of steep terrain, deadfall timber, cliffs and huge rock formations. Lupe and SPHP left Peak 6735 heading N.
It was now a race against time to get back to a trail before darkness fell. There was no need to go back up Peak 6710 again. This time, after crossing the saddle to Peak 6710, SPHP led Lupe N along the E side of the mountain aiming for the saddle over to High Point 6411.
Upon reaching the saddle, Lupe and SPHP crossed it continuing N. Lupe wasn’t going back to High Point 6411, either. The plan was to go directly down to Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7. The terrain started dropping steeply. SPHP feared Lupe would lose hundreds of feet of elevation only to find herself at the top of a cliff. If she did, there would be no choice but to climb all the way back up before trying another route.
The steep descent went on for what seemed like a long time. Close by to the E, a huge wall of granite appeared. Across the valley to the N, SPHP could see similar steep declines that ended in sheer cliffs below. Lupe was losing a lot of elevation. Luckily, the terrain wasn’t getting any steeper. Lupe forged ahead of SPHP. She could maneuver on the slope much better than SPHP could.
At last, looking down from above, SPHP saw Lupe sitting motionless, panting happily. Lupe had found it! She was sitting right on Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7. SPHP joined her on the trail. Good work, Lupe! SPHP praised her. Lupe beamed. The shortcut had worked, and there was plenty of daylight left, even though the trail was in the shadow of the mountains. Lupe and SPHP set off heading E down the trail.
It was much farther, and took much longer, than SPHP anticipated to get back to Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14. There was the usual deadfall timber plus half a dozen creek crossings to deal with along the way. SPHP managed to find a way to jump over the high-flowing creek each time. For Lupe, the stream crossings were a piece of cake. She leaped across with ease.
By the time Lupe and SPHP made it back to Centennial Trail No. 89, it was getting dark. The flashlight had to come out for the last stretch of Horsethief Trail No. 14 after leaving the Centennial Trail. In the darkness, it was much harder to avoid all the water flowing over the trail.
Lupe’s long adventure to Peak 6735 and back ended at 9:53 PM (52°F). Nearly 11.5 hours had gone by, most of it spent in rugged terrain choked with deadfall. Lupe didn’t complain. She never does. She hopped in the G6 and curled up for the ride home.
SPHP didn’t complain either. The views from Peak 6735 had been splendid. The sense of remote isolation, complete. In truth, it had been a fun and challenging day. So much fun that SPHP thought Lupe should return to Peak 6735 some day. Maybe some day, she will.Want more Lupe adventures? Choose from Lupe’s Black Hills Expeditions Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index. Or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures.
SPHP wanted to park the G6 at the start of Tree Draw on the W side of Newton Creek Road (USFS Road No. 304), but there wasn’t any place to park there. Lupe and SPHP had to abandon the G6 at a wide spot along the road about 0.25 mile farther S (11:04 AM, 53°F). Lupe trotted ahead of SPHP on No. 304 back down to Tree Draw.
The side road going W across Newton Creek was marked as ATV trail No. 6918, but SPHP’s old map showed it as USFS Road No. 304.1B. Whatever its proper designation these days, Lupe and SPHP followed it W up Tree Draw.
It was a beautiful, clear, bright morning. Less than 72 hours earlier, on the night of September 10/11, the Black Hills had experienced its earliest measureable snowfall on record. The records went all the way back to 1888. Parts of the Black Hills had received up to 8″ of snow. Lupe, of course, was delighted! She had a blast frolicking in big patches of snow still melting in shady spots.
No. 304.1B went W for 0.5 mile, then turned SSW for another 0.5 mile. The road ended at a barbed wire fence shortly before reaching the top of a saddle along a high ridge. Lupe and SPHP got past the fence, and continued up to the saddle. On the other side of the saddle, a herd of black cows was grazing in the upper reaches of a wide grassy valley.
Lupe’s first peakbagging goal of the day, Peak 6720 was in sight about 0.25 mile to the SSE along the ridgeline. A fair amount of deadfall timber laying across the ridge looked like the only obstacle in the way of an otherwise easy stroll up to the summit.
At the top of Peak 6720, Lupe found 3 separate high points strung out along the ridge. Each high point featured a rocky outcropping. The middle rock outcropping was the true summit, but fewer standing trees made the views better from the N and S high points.
Although the rock formations at the high points weren’t all that large, they were somewhat tricky to navigate. The presence of significant amounts of deadfall timber, and an annoying bumper crop of thistles didn’t help. Lupe and SPHP spent at least half an hour up on Peak 6720. Part of that time was used up just moving around between the high points.
Peak 6720 is the highest point along a long ridge that runs for several miles in a NNW/SSE direction. Although there are a number of other points nearly as high along the ridge, Lupe and SPHP had good views over a wide swath of territory in most directions.
Lupe visited all 3 of the high points on Peak 6720 before heading NW down the mountain into the long valley SSW of the saddle to Tree Draw. Well down the slope, Lupe passed to the N of a tall rock formation, turned SW, and proceeded down to the bottom of the valley.
A dirt road went along the W side of the valley. Black cows were grazing near it, but moved off up the valley as Lupe and SPHP approached.
Lupe and SPHP followed the road, which was probably USFS Road No. 297.3E, going SSW down the valley. SPHP knew there would be more cows ahead, having seen several herds from up on Peak 6720. When the next herd came into view, Lupe and SPHP crossed a tiny stream on the W side of the valley and headed up into the trees.
After going high enough to avoid disturbing the cows while passing by, Lupe and SPHP tried going SSW along the side of the hill. For a while it worked out OK. In fact, it was a rather interesting trek. The hillside had some interesting geology. Very shiny fine-grained rocks and nice specimens of white quartz formed part of the rock formations Lupe came to. There were even some pieces of rose quartz. SPHP wondered what made the shiny rocks so glittery?
The hillside became steeper. A deep, narrow side ravine coming down from the NW blocked Lupe’s way forward. Lupe and SPHP had to go down off the hillside. At the base of the hillside, Lupe found the tiny creek again. However, it wasn’t so tiny as it had been upstream. It still wasn’t all that large, but there was quite a bit of black mucky marshy ground around it.
Finding a way across the marshy creek took a little while, but Lupe and SPHP managed to get across out into the main part of the valley again. The road had disappeared. The valley was full of tall grass and scattered stands of trees. Even though this was all Black Hills National Forest land, Lupe came to several barbed wire fences.
At the lower end of the valley, Lupe found a faint road (a remnant of USFS Road No. 297.3E?) again. It soon led Lupe and SPHP to USFS Road No. 297, a major gravel road. Not too far away, a pond on Negro Creek was on the other side of No. 297. Lupe’s next peakbagging goal, Medicine Mountain(6,878 ft.) could be seen beyond the pond.
To get around some private property (the pond was part of it), Lupe and SPHP followed USFS Road No. 297 S less than 0.25 mile. Lupe then bounded over Negro Creek, and went W across a field to the edge of the forest. A rather striking hill with two big rock outcroppings at the top was back to the SE across No. 297.
Lupe and SPHP started climbing Medicine Mountain from the NNE. There was no road or trail. At first there was quite a bit of deadfall timber to contend with, and the going was slow. About 1/3 of the way up, Lupe came to a meadow. Lupe and SPHP headed W across the meadow, still gaining elevation. At the end of the meadow, Lupe turned S climbing again through the forest.
The mountain got steeper higher up, but fortunately there wasn’t as much deadfall. Medicine Mountain has two high points separated by a large saddle several hundred feet long. The N high point is somewhat lower than the S one. Near the end of the climb, Lupe and SPHP arrived at the base of cliffs at the N end of the N high point.
Lupe and SPHP couldn’t climb the cliffs. A short exploration to the E revealed discouragingly steep terrain littered with deadfall timber. The W side of the mountain looked more encouraging. The cliffs forced Lupe and SPHP to lose some elevation going around to the W, but then there was a place where it might be possible to climb up. Lupe and SPHP managed to scramble up without much difficulty.
Even though the N high point wasn’t the true summit of Medicine Mountain, Lupe was already here. It made sense to explore the N high point first. The views from the cliffs at the very N end were great. An unobstructed 180° panorama was on display. It seemed like a terrific place to take a break. SPHP filled Lupe’s bowl with Taste of the Wild, and then sat down to eat an apple while admiring the scene.
Lupe was too busy to eat her Taste of the Wild. A chipmunk scurrying around on the rocks had her bamboozled, but she remained very interested in its sudden appearances and disappearances. The entertainment went on for several minutes. SPHP wasn’t paying any attention when suddenly Lupe made a low “woof”.
Glancing over at Lupe, SPHP saw that she was standing stock still. She had forgotten all about the chipmunk. Now she was staring intently at some low juniper bushes close to SPHP. The fur on the back of her neck and all along her spine was standing on end.
Lupe didn’t move a muscle. For a couple of minutes she stood staring at the bushes. She made several deep, menacing “woofs”. What the heck was it?! SPHP hardly dared to move. Had Lupe caught wind of a mountain lion? Had it stalked Lupe and SPHP clear to the top of Medicine Mountain? The idea seemed preposterous, but something sure had Lupe’s attention.
Suddenly the menacing creature broke from the juniper bushes making a mad dash. It disappeared in a flash. A white bunny rabbit?! That was the fur-raising threat? Well, no doubt it was for the best that there hadn’t been a mountain lion, but a white bunny rabbit seemed ridiculously disappointing. Couldn’t there at least have been a bobcat or something?
SPHP laughed at Lupe. Seriously, Lupe, a bunny rabbit? I’ve never seen you react that way before to such a harmless creature! What a big, brave American Dingo! You almost had me believing there was a mountain lion or some ferocious predator.
Oh, I see. This is Medicine Mountain and the white bunny was full of bad medicine, right? It really wasn’t what it seemed when it dashed away. Probably transformed by old Indian magic and evil spirits from its true form! SPHP laughed again.
Lupe paid no attention to SPHP’s teasing. She knew what she knew. Lupe gave up on disappearing rabbits and chipmunks. Now that the bunny was gone, she relaxed. Things were back to normal.
Lupe suddenly realized how hungry she was. She devoured her Taste of the Wild. SPHP shared part of an energy bar with her. When Lupe was fueled up again, it was time to go explore the true summit at the S end of Medicine Mountain.
The saddle to the S high point was easily crossed. A faint trail led up to the summit from the NW. The S end of the summit area was grassy and open. Once again, Medicine Mountain provided an unobstructed 180° panorama, this time to the S.
Lupe and SPHP dawdled for more than half an hour on Medicine Mountain. When it was time to go, Lupe took the faint trail NW down to the saddle area. From the saddle, Lupe and SPHP went W down the slope. It was slow going. Deadfall timber lay strewn in every direction. To avoid some of it, Lupe and SPHP turned SW, finally reaching some open ground.
Lupe lost elevation rapidly and came to a road. SPHP led her W across the road to a little hill with a view toward Peak 6680. Peak 6680 was supposed to have been Lupe’s 3rd peakbagging goal of the day. It was only a mile to the WNW, but there was a big valley between here and there. The fields down in the valley would have been easy to cross, but they were private property.
Gunfire started up off to the N. Lupe didn’t want to go anywhere. She wanted to stop and hide. SPHP did stop to pet and reassure her. The sun was starting to get kind of low. OK, Lupe, no more mountains. Let’s get away from the gunfire, instead. Lupe and SPHP went back to the road and followed it SW. The road reached a “T” intersection with another road.
SPHP didn’t know it at the time, but this was USFS Road No. 297.3M. Lupe and SPHP followed No. 297.3M going SE, and then S about 0.75 mile down a long valley. The road then turned E and wound around the S end of a low ridge.
When Lupe reached the main gravel road, SPHP mistakenly assumed she was a little farther S than she really was. SPHP turned N thinking this was County Road No. 317, which Lupe could follow several miles to USFS Road No. 304, and then several more miles back to the G6.
In reality, No. 317 was a little bit farther S. Lupe was actually on No. 297. SPHP kept watching for a turn to the E that never came. It didn’t take too long to figure out what had happened. It was OK. Lupe could just keep going N on No. 297 until she got close to the pond on Negro Creek. Then she could go back up the valley of black cows to the saddle over to Tree Draw.
Along the way, Lupe came to a striking hill to the E of No. 297. It looked similar to the one she had seen just before starting her climb up Medicine Mountain. This one had three big rock outcroppings at the top. SPHP guessed that the two rock outcropping hill must not be much farther N. Pretty soon, Lupe saw the two rock outcropping hill, and then the pond on Negro Creek.
The sun was already down, and the light was fading by the time Lupe had traversed the valley of black cows to reach the saddle to Tree Draw. Lupe and SPHP went over the saddle and followed No. 304.1B back down to Newton Creek Road and the G6 (7:46 PM, 44°F). Stars were shining above. Lupe wanted to linger and sniff the air near the G6. Well, why not? It was a gorgeous evening.
Thirty minutes later, all twilight had faded from the night sky. Myriad stars glittered in the blackness above. Lupe was finally ready to go home. On the drive N along Newton Creek Road back to Deerfield Road, Lupe and SPHP both saw it! A big white animal dashed across the road heading E. It was gone in a flash. A huge white coyote, a ghost coyote!
Lupe’s hackles were up. The fur on the back of her neck and all along her spine was standing on end. The rabbit up on the N high point of Medicine Mountain had been white, too. You, don’t think?
Mush and David were in the Black Hills on vacation. Before they went back to Indiana, they wanted to hike up Harney Peak(7,242 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota. Naturally, Lupe and SPHP were eager to join in on the fun!
It was going to be a hot day, in the 90’s °F out on the western South Dakota prairies. Even Harney Peak would get pretty warm. A relatively early start would help make the trek more pleasant. By 8:00 AM, David was parking the Honda Fit near Sylvan Lake Lodge. The morning was totally clear, calm, and a still pleasant 60°F.
Harney Peak is located in the Black Elk Wilderness, which features a fairly extensive trail system. The most popular, and one of the shortest routes up Harney Peak, is Trail No. 9 from Sylvan Lake. The trail starts at the SE corner of Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park and climbs pretty steadily for most of the 3.5 mile (one way) trek.
Fairly early in the hike, not too long after passing by a junction with Lost Cabin Trail No. 2, there is a flat granite outcropping near Trail No. 9. This granite outcropping offers views off to the N, and a first good look at Harney Peak up ahead.
There were plenty of hikers on the trail on this beautiful, warm early fall day. A small crowd was already at the lookout tower on Harney Peak by the time Mush, David, Lupe and SPHP arrived at the summit. A woman named Vera and her friend, Marsha, took a liking to Lupe right away. Lupe basked in the attention showered on her. Vera and Marsha were here with their husbands Emil and Stan from the Washington D.C. area.
After checking out the views from the tower’s observation deck, and the tiny platform at the top of the steep narrow stairs inside the tower, it was time to make somewhat of an escape from the crowd by heading out onto the massive granite W shoulder of Harney Peak. David relieved Lupe of most of her usual photographic duties.
It was warm and breezy up on Harney Peak. Lupe had fun watching chipmunks, and barking at a helicopter that flew by giving tours. After a leisurely break for snacks and soaking in the views, it was time to go. Mush and David intended to just return to Sylvan Lake by the same route along Trail No. 9. SPHP, however, suggested making a loop past the Cathedral Spires over to Little Devil’s Tower.
Mush and David were a little leery of the idea, especially when SPHP admitted there was a bit of scrambling required to get to the top of Little Devil’s Tower. SPHP assured them the loop wouldn’t add too much time and distance to the return trip, and that the scrambling was pretty easy. With just a bit of caution, there was little or no risk. The views up on Little Devil’s Tower would be worth the effort!
Mush and David agreed to at least try the loop trail, but they weren’t certain about actually scrambling up Little Devil’s Tower. That would depend on what the scramble really looked like up close and personal.
After leaving Harney Peak, Lupe led the way on the loop by leaving Trail No. 9 to follow a short stretch of Norbeck Trail No. 3. Norbeck Trail No. 3 linked up with Trail No. 4 to Little Devil’s Tower. The trail passed near some of the Cathedral Spires along the way.
Taking a short (0.33 mile?) spur trail off Trail No. 4 is necessary to actually reach Little Devil’s Tower. Sometime in the past few years, the spur trail has been re-routed. The new route is shorter, easier, and more scenic than the old route. The spur trail now leaves Trail No. 4 at a high point with a view of the Cathedral Spires to the E. Good signage makes the turn hard to miss.
Most of the spur trail is gently rolling as it passes along the top of a ridge. Nearing Little Devil’s Tower, the trail dips down briefly, and then climbs steeply up a short badly eroding section featuring a lot of loose rocks. Above the loose rocks, the trail levels out at a little pass between large granite formations. A sharp turn to the left reveals a narrow cleft in the granite. The scrambling begins here. White or blue diamonds painted on the granite show the way.
David had no problems, but Mush was rather apprehensive during the scramble. With just a little encouragement, she made it to the top. Although there are some pretty high cliffs off the edge of Little Devil’s Tower, the summit area features fairly large areas that are quite level. Mush was able to relax on Little Devil’s Tower, and seemed glad she’d made the trip up.
Shortly after Lupe reached the summit, Lupe’s new friends Vera, Marsha, Stan and Emil appeared on Little Devil’s Tower, too! Lupe got more loving attention, and had a good time posing with them.
Mush had relaxed so much up on Little Devil’s Tower, that by the time she was on the way down, she was busy pointing out the route and encouraging others who were still on their way up. The side trip to Little Devil’s Tower was a big success. Both Mush and David enjoyed it.
Lupe returned to Trail No. 4 using the same spur trail. From there, Mush, David, Lupe and SPHP all continued on Trail No. 4 toward the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead on Hwy 87/89. This was an easy downhill hike through a scenic valley all the way.
Lupe was disappointed that the little creek near the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead was dried up this time of year. However, it was only another 0.25 mile or so from the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead to the picnic ground at Sylvan Lake.
Used to Indiana elevations, Mush and David were pretty tired by the time they reached Sylvan Lake again. It was hot out. Mush and David went wading at the Sylvan Lake beach. Carolina Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, so Lupe and SPHP hung out along a nearby stretch of shoreline. A bright orange stand of grassy reeds by the shore made for a colorful shot of the lake.
When Mush and David were done wading at the beach, everyone continued N on the Lakeshore Trail along the E side of Sylvan Lake. Mush went down close to the shore again when the area near the dam came into view. Here it was OK for Lupe to go wading and get a drink. Lupe was happy to take her turn cooling her hot paws off.
Lupe, Mush, David, and SPHP continued on the Lakeshore Trail around to the area below the dam N of the lake. From there, Lupe took a very short stretch of the Sunday Gulch trail. By 4:40 PM, Lupe was back at the Honda Fit.
Everyone agreed that the loop to Little Devil’s Tower on the return trip had been a really nice scenic addition to the hike up Harney Peak. It really hadn’t added that much distance or difficulty to the day, although it did add some time spent up on Little Devil’s Tower. Lupe’s Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 97 had been a success!
About 5 miles SW of Lead in the northern Black Hills, SPHP found a spot to park the G6 (9:59 AM, 45°F). Lupe started Expedition No. 98 along the E side of USFS Road No. 194 a short distance N of Hwy 85. The skies were blue, the air was calm, and the cool morning air felt good. The forecast called for a high in the low 60’s °F (although at lower elevations) with an outside chance (20%) of rain.
Deer Mountain(6,652 ft.), site of a local downhill ski resort, was only 0.5 mile away. Lupe and SPHP followed No. 194 N gaining elevation, but soon left the road to turn NE and head up through the forest toward the summit. The climb was moderately steep, but not terribly long. The day had hardly started when Lupe and SPHP arrived on top of Deer Mountain.
Lupe and SPHP left Deer Mountain heading N back down to USFS Road No. 194. Terry Peak(7,064 ft.), site of another downhill ski resort just 2 miles N of Deer Mountain, was Lupe’s next peakbagging goal.
Lupe and SPHP followed No. 194 almost all the way up to the top of Terry Peak. It would have been possible to drive up, although the road did deteriorate some toward the end.
The top of Terry Peak is cluttered with assorted towers, metal buildings, and power lines. The ski facilities are a bit lower down toward the NE. An apparently abandoned lookout tower sits at the very summit. A huge observation deck with 2 different stairways up to it crowned the entire building.
The lookout tower’s appearance was suffering from a lack of maintenance, but there wasn’t anything wrong with the views from the platform on top!
Lupe and SPHP enjoyed 360° views from the huge observation deck. Lupe and SPHP lingered up there for a while, but the weather started to deteriorate. The skies had been mostly clear earlier in the morning, but now puffy white clouds were sailing by. Some of them were pretty big. Each cloud brought a cold wind with it. The sky started to darken. The clouds kept getting bigger and grayer.
Lupe wanted to get down out of the wind. SPHP finally agreed. Lupe and SPHP left the observation deck, and wandered over to the base of a tall tower to the N for a look at a couple of Lupe’s next peakbagging goals without towers in the way.
SPHP had originally planned for Lupe to head down the N slope of Terry Peak to Foley Mountain(6,640 ft.), but there appeared to be a lot of private property in the area. The weather continued to deteriorate, too. Maybe it was best not to get too far from the G6.
Lupe and SPHP returned to USFS Road No. 194, and followed it all the way back to the G6 (1:24 PM, 54°F). Along the way, Lupe was pelted a number of time with crusty, round snow granules. None of these snow showers lasted very long, and there was no accumulation. The snow granules all melted as they hit the ground.
SPHP had been gathering Lupe Treasures along No. 194. After depositing them in the trunk of the G6 for future recycling, Lupe and SPHP got in and headed NW on Hwy 85 to Nevada Gulch Road. SPHP drove all the way up to the Barefoot Resort, which had been visible from Terry Peak.
The Barefoot Resort seemed to be quite close to the top of Foley Mountain. SPHP found an empty parking lot behind a long, low building and parked the G6 (1:41 PM, 45°F). Almost as soon as Lupe and SPHP left the car, someone started shooting guns close by. Lupe bolted back into the safety of the G6. Fortunately, the gunfire didn’t last long. After a few minutes of silence, SPHP managed to persuade the doubtful Dingo to come back out.
The long building seemed to be abandoned. Although there was a nice big gravel parking lot behind it, when Lupe and SPHP went around to the front to get a look at Terry Peak, the yard was nothing but thistles and tall weeds. There was a pretty good close-up view of Terry Peak from the NNW, though.
Lupe and SPHP went back behind the building. A gravel road headed uphill going N out of the parking lot into the forest. After about 100 yards, the road ended near more buildings. There was still slightly higher ground to the N, so Lupe left the road and went on through the forest.
After about 5 minutes, Lupe reached a fairly big rock outcropping. This appeared to be the summit of Foley Mountain. Lupe and SPHP scrambled up easily enough. From up on top, it was clear that this rock formation was, indeed, the summit. A 3″ diameter capped pipe stuck up out of the ground at the very highest point. Lupe got up next to it to claim her 3rd peakbagging success of the day.
Since the top of Foley Mountain was all forested, there weren’t any clear views. There was little reason for Lupe and SPHP to linger. After peering between the trees as much as possible, it was time to go. Lupe scrambled back down off the rock formation. Within 10 minutes, she was back at the G6 (2:16 PM, 44°F).
By now the sky was overcast. A chill breeze blew. Lupe still had a 4th peakbagging goal, Bald Mountain(6,617 ft.). Bald Mountain was only a mile to the E, but Wharf Resources had gold mining operations between Bald Mountain and Foley Mountain. SPHP would have to drive to a better access point. Along the way, Lupe and SPHP stopped at a pullout along Nevada Gulch Road with a good view of Bald Mountain.
SPHP had to drive quite a distance down Nevada Gulch Road to find a decent place to park the G6. Lupe and SPHP started back up Nevada Gulch Road on paw and foot. It wasn’t too far to a side road with a sign for Lost Miner’s Lodge. After a short trek along this side road, Lupe turned N climbing up the forested S slope of Bald Mountain. Lupe crossed a couple more roads along the way, but they appeared to be seldom, if ever, used.
The drive down Nevada Gulch Road had lost a lot of elevation. Lupe had to gain over 850 feet to reach the summit of Bald Mountain. As Lupe neared the top of the mountain, the terrain started to level out. Meanwhile, snow showers started in again. This time they were heavier and lasted longer than the ones after Lupe left Terry Peak. There still wasn’t any accumulation, however.
Finally, Lupe reached the top of Bald Mountain. It really hadn’t been a bad climb. Although traffic could be heard from down on Nevada Gulch Road, Bald Mountain still seemed much wilder than anywhere else Lupe had been this day. Quite a few trees on the summit had fallen over, killed by mountain pine bark beetles. Consequently, it was possible to get a bit of a view in some directions.
The summit area on Bald Mountain was large and flat. It was hard to tell where the exact highest point might be. Lupe found a pipe sticking up out of the ground. Just like on Foley Mountain, the pipe seemed to be at about the highest point around.
The views from Bald Mountain weren’t the greatest. Too many trees were still standing. Pretty soon, it was time to leave. Lupe and SPHP started back down the S slope again.
The snow showers held off while Lupe was up on top of Bald Mountain, but shortly after she started back down, the snow started in again. This time the snow showers persisted much longer. The ground started to turn white.
As Lupe lost elevation, though, the snow turned to rain. Lupe was cold and soaking wet by the time she got back to the G6 (4:33 PM, 39°F). SPHP turned on the heater full blast, and put a jacket over Lupe to help her warm up.
The burrs in Lupe’s tail must have been bugging her. As SPHP drove to Lead, Lupe started tearing burrs out of her fur with her teeth. SPHP found a place to park in Lead, and commenced to help Lupe get rid of the pesky burrs. Lupe had a few hundred burrs in her fur, so it took quite a while. By the time de-burring operations were over, the windows of the G6 were all fogged up. De-fogging operations began.
It was still raining. Lupe and SPHP stopped by a Subway in Lead. After sharing a sandwich, despite the conditions, Lupe and SPHP made a quick trip up one more mountain. It was cold, windy and snowing hard when Lupe left the G6 at 5:45 PM (32°F). The mountaintop wasn’t far away, but by the time Lupe reached it, blizzard conditions had set in.
Snow was piling up fast. The wind absolutely howled. Fog and developing darkness made it hard to see, especially while being pelted by the driven snow. Lupe flattened her soft ears and posed for one last peakbagging photo. Lupe and SPHP were both freezing. A mad dash back to the G6 ensued (6:16 PM, 32°F).
Well, Loopster, that was quite a day! Five peaks climbed! Think we will call this one the Northern Hills Day of Deterioration!
11:00 AM (60°F). Rather a late start for Lupe’s expedition, but she would still have fun. She was about to spend the rest of this glorious early fall day roaming the high country of the western Black Hills. The sky was a clear blue with a few wispy clouds. The air was calm, stirred only by an occasional light breeze. The American Dingo was raring to go!
The G6 was parked just S of the W end of Besant Park at the junction of USFS Road No. 206 (Besant Park Road) and No. 206.2D. As soon as SPHP let Lupe out of the G6, she streaked off across No. 206 racing N into a huge field that was part of Besant Park. Oh, no! She had T-bone steak on her mind! Two black cows fled at the sudden noisy appearance of the bold Carolina Dog. SPHP hadn’t noticed them, but Lupe sure had.
Lupe barked a couple of times just for good measure as she gave up the chase. From far away, a brown and white streak came racing back across the field to SPHP. The cows, also now very far away, mooed unhappily at having been disturbed. A couple minutes later, Lupe arrived back at SPHP out of breath and panting hard. She had a huge grin on her face. Yes, this was already a glorious day!
It was time to move on before Lupe really got into trouble. While she had been running around in Besant Park, SPHP saw something Lupe hadn’t noticed. Quite close by, off in a much smaller unfenced field to the SW, a huge black bull was grazing. SPHP hurried Lupe S on No. 206.2D. Let’s go find Peak 6820 and leave the cows alone!
Peak 6820 was Lupe’s primary peakbagging goal for the day. SPHP wasn’t entirely certain Lupe hadn’t been there once before. Back on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 58 on 5-11-13, Lupe had climbed a high ridge somewhere not too far to the E. Maybe it was possible that ridge was part of Peak 6820? It would be fun to find out.
Lupe didn’t stay on No. 206.2D very long. After she had gone several hundred yards, SPHP noticed a trail heading E. Peak 6820 was only about a mile to the E, so Lupe and SPHP followed the trail. It climbed through the forest and arrived up on a high ridge. SPHP recognized the ridge as the same one Lupe had been to on Expedition No. 58. It wasn’t part of Peak 6820, though. About 0.75 mile away, SPHP could see a modestly higher forested hill to the E. That hill had to be Peak 6820!
Even though it wasn’t going to take Lupe any closer to Peak 6820, Lupe and SPHP explored the ridge Lupe was on around to the NNE. At first the ridge was fairly broad, open and grassy. The N end, though, was all in the forest. SPHP had been hoping for a view of Besant Park to the N, but any view was hidden by the trees. Lupe and SPHP returned S to where Lupe had come up.
Lupe could have gone down into the valley heading straight toward Peak 6820. However, it looked like she might not have to lose so much elevation, if she followed the ridge she was already on to the S. It looked like this ridge would eventually swing around to the E toward Peak 6820.
Lupe and SPHP headed S following the ridgeline. The ridge stayed about the same elevation, but gradually grew narrower. Lupe came to several rock outcroppings, but the rock formations ended as Lupe approached a shallow saddle. The saddle led over to the next ridge to the S. Down in the saddle, Lupe found a dirt road, possibly another part of No. 206.2D. She followed the road only a short distance before leaving it to angle SE up onto the next ridge.
The next ridge did go E. As Lupe followed this second ridge, she could sometimes see White Tail Peak(6,962 ft.) to the S. The second ridge started out as a broad, level mix of forest and meadows, but became narrower and rockier as Lupe went E. The level part of the ridge ended at a small limestone cliff. Lupe and SPHP had to double back to the W, and then turn SE to get past the cliff.
Lupe came to another saddle. Everything to the NE was down in a thickly forested valley in the direction of Peak 6820. To the SW, the land sloped down more gently into a sunnier, thinly forested area. Ahead, another ridge rose to the SE. Lupe and SPHP went up to the high point. Lupe could see Peak 6820, but she wasn’t much closer to it. Peak 6820 was still 0.5 mile away, but now to the NNE.
By now, it was clear that Lupe was going to have to lose some elevation to get to Peak 6820. Lupe and SPHP went NW back down to the saddle, turned NE and plunged down into the forest. There was quite a bit of deadfall timber, which slowed SPHP down considerably. It wasn’t too far to the bottom of the valley, however, and once down there, Lupe came to a faint road.
Lupe followed the road NNW, slowly regaining elevation. She soon arrived at an odd place. Hidden down here in a small glade, was a huge metal water tank. Nearby stood a an old tower with a rickety ladder leading up to a small warped platform at the top.
The water tank was nearly full to the top with a rusty brown water so murky SPHP could see only an inch or two into it. Perhaps the tower had featured a windmill at some point in time? A horizontal pipe stuck out over the water tank from near the base of the tower.
Not too far to the NNE, Lupe came to another odd place. A square area about 25 feet long on each side was fenced off by a barbed wire fence. Inside the fence was a wooden framed structure only 6 inches high. The wooden framework was completely covered with sheets of metal nailed to it.
SPHP didn’t like the looks of it. The only reason SPHP could think of for such an odd structure was that it served as a cover for a large, deep mine shaft. If so, it was there to protect people or animals from a potentially fatal fall. The cover looked like it had been here for years. Who knew how structurally sound it still was, or how deep the hole hidden beneath it?
One thing about SPHP’s theory didn’t make sense. There didn’t seem to be a tailings pile anywhere around. There should have been a pretty big one nearby, if this was really the site of an old mine shaft. Very strange! Whatever the explanation, SPHP didn’t think anything good could come from lingering around here. Lupe continued NNE toward Peak 6820. She soon found another old road, or maybe it was the same one that had led to the water tank and tower.
The old road went NNE up the side of Peak 6820. Parts of the road were clear, but much of it was choked with deadfall timber. Lupe and SPHP spent more time off the road than on it trying to get past all the deadfall. Shortly before reaching the top, the road veered E. It emerged up from the forest at a fairly large clearing on Peak 6820.
The first thing Lupe noticed was a mud puddle large enough to bathe in. She ran over to it, plunked herself down to cool off, and lapped up lots of very murky-looking water. She emerged refreshed and well supplied with both essential and non-essential minerals, evidently quite satisfied with the experience.
The summit area on Peak 6820 is large and flat. Much of it is open meadow, but the meadow is entirely fringed by forest. There was hardly even a glimpse of a view in any direction. Lupe and SPHP set off to explore the area. The highest ground seemed to be a little way E of where Lupe had come up.
After exploring to the S and E, Lupe and SPHP returned to the mud puddle on the way to explore the N and W parts of the mountaintop. Naturally, Lupe couldn’t resist taking another dip.
Explorations to the N and W revealed only that the jeep trail Lupe had followed up the mountain continued over the top and on down the other side to the NNE. There were some cliffs lower down toward the NW, but they weren’t terribly tall and were buried so deeply in the trees that even the cliffs didn’t provide any views.
With the summit area now fully explored, Lupe and SPHP left Peak 6820 heading WNW. This time Lupe went down into the valley between Peak 6820 and the ridge to the W. The terrain forced SPHP to the WSW for a little while, but eventually Lupe and SPHP were able to turn WNW again. There was no trail and a considerable amount of deadfall timber to contend with, but this was a more direct route back to the G6.
The climb back up onto the ridge to the W was rather slow due to the deadfall, but once there, Lupe and SPHP made rapid progress again. Lupe followed the ridge N to the trail she had been on early in the day. She followed the trail W back to No. 206.2D, and then N to the G6 (2:46 PM, 66°F).
Approaching the G6, SPHP saw that there was now a big herd of black cows across USFS Road No. 206 in Besant Park. This time, Lupe didn’t get to run after them.
There was still plenty of time left in the day for Lupe to do some more exploring. Crooks Tower(7,137 ft.) was only 3 miles away to the WSW as the crow flies. Lupe had been there before, but it would still be fun to see it again. It was still quite a long winding way to Crooks Tower from here, though. To save some time, Lupe and SPHP hopped in the G6 and drove around to a closer point.
SPHP parked the G6 again at 3:09 PM (61°F). Lupe was now only 0.33 mile W of Crooks Tower at the intersection of USFS Roads No. 189 and No. 189.4A. Lupe and SPHP headed E on No. 189.4A. Before long, Lupe had completed her 5th ascent of Crooks Tower!
The summit of Crooks Tower is a relatively small (large room-sized), level limestone platform. Although Crooks Tower is one of the very highest mountains in the Black Hills, there are plenty of ridges almost as high in the area. The ridges and forest block the views in most directions, but Harney Peak(7,242 ft.) can be seen far to the SE. There is a less dramatic distant view off to the N, too.
SPHP had never realized it before, but by standing at just the right spot and peering between tree branches, it was possible to get a look at Inyan Kara(6,360 ft.) off to the WNW in Wyoming.
After enjoying the views from Crooks Tower, Lupe and SPHP returned to the G6. There were still at least a couple of hours of daylight left. SPHP pondered what Lupe should do next? The top alternatives were a visit to Clayton Pond, or exploring USFS Road No. 189.4B. Since Lupe was practically at No. 189.4B already, it won out.
Lupe and SPHP left the G6 where it was, and went right on by to USFS Road No. 189.4B. The only marker at the start of the road wasn’t entirely legible, but seemed to indicate this was No. 189.4C or 189.6C, but that didn’t agree with SPHP’s USFS map.
No. 189.4B led Lupe WNW down a shallow valley. The ridge to the N was sunny and thinly forested. The S side of the valley was shady and densely forested. Tall grass, taller than Lupe, lined both sides of the road. Lupe virtually disappeared on her little side excursions. She soon tired of having to leap up to see where she was, and stayed mostly on the road. The road gradually and steadily lost elevation.
After more than a mile, there was a fence with a gate. Ten minutes after going through the gate, Lupe reached an intersection. USFS Road No. 189.4C went S. No. 117.6B went N. Off to the NNW, a curve in No. 117 could be seen up ahead across a big open field in a larger, wider valley. Lupe and SPHP followed No. 117.6B all the way to No. 117.
By the time Lupe reached No. 117, she was 2 miles from the G6. The sun was getting low. It was time to turn back. SPHP checked the maps for an alternate route, hoping Lupe could make a loop. No, she really couldn’t. Other roads in the area were too long, and it was too late in the day to cut directly through the forest. Lupe and SPHP returned on No. 189.4B, this time going up the valley, instead of down.
On the way back, SPHP started thinking it might be fun to watch the sunset from Crooks Tower. Even though forest hid the views to the W at the very summit, there was a ridge almost as high just S of USFS Road No. 189.4C a short distance SSW of the true summit. Maybe Lupe could see the sunset from there?
Lupe arrived up on the ridge with a little time to spare. The W end of the ridge ended at a small limestone cliff. It wasn’t high enough to really get a good view to the W, but the view in that direction was better than it would have been at the true summit of Crooks Tower. SPHP sat down next to a tree to wait. A chipmunk darting around on the rocks nearby entertained Lupe.
The chipmunk eventually ran off. Lupe rested on the ground near SPHP. The edges of her big, soft attentive ears glowed in the last rays of sunlight.
When the show was over, Lupe and SPHP continued on to the true summit of Crooks Tower. Lupe made her 2nd ascent of the day, and 6th all time. The full hunter’s moon was due to come up soon. Darkness fell and stars began to appear. Lupe and SPHP waited. As the pale moon rose, a lone coyote began to howl. Lupe was entranced.
Only yesterday it had been 80°F. Now it was much cooler. A cold front moved through overnight, and a fairly strong wind still blew out of the NW, but it wasn’t bad down here. SPHP had just parked the G6 near the intersection of USFS Roads No. 422 and 284.1C (9:54 AM, 47°F). Lupe was 0.33 mile N of Custer County Road No. 284, and 5 miles W of where “The Fort” used to be S of Crazy Horse on Hwy 385. She was about to begin her 100th official Black Hills, SD Expedition!
Lupe and SPHP had an ambitious peakbagging day planned for Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 100. Lupe was going to visit 4 mountains she had never been to before. Her first goal was Round Mountain(6,600 ft.), the N end of which was only 0.5 mile to the W. Lupe and SPHP headed W directly for the mountain.
Lupe started gaining elevation right away, slowly at first, but the mountain grew steadily steeper. The area was all forested, but the forest had been thinned on the lower slopes. Near the top, the forest was much thicker. The climb was pretty easy, and soon Lupe arrived at a break in a line of small limestone cliffs near the N end of the mountain. Lupe and SPHP quickly scrambled up on top.
Round Mountain’s summit ridge is about 0.20 mile long, and runs N/S. The mountain is capped by a layer of limestone. Small cliffs tend to form along the edges of the limestone cap. The summit ridge is quite narrow at the N end, but wider toward the S. Since Lupe and SPHP came up near the N end of the mountain, Lupe checked things out in that direction first.
At the N end of Round Mountain, the narrow limestone ridge ended in small cliffs on all three sides. Pines hid most of the field of vision, but Lupe did get a partial look at Peak 6740 to the N. It was windy and cold here. Lupe didn’t stay long. Lupe and SPHP went back to the little notch in the limestone cliffs to get out of the wind. SPHP checked the topo map. The true summit was supposed to be toward the S.
From the notch, it was easiest to just go S along the base of the W side of the cliffs until another break provided a way up on top again. Lupe and SPHP continued S on the ridgeline. For the most part, the forest blocked the views. At least the forest was providing protection from the wind! Occasionally Lupe could see distant peaks SPHP recognized to the E. All that could be seen to the W was a high forested ridge less than a mile away.
The stroll along the top of the ridgeline was easy and almost level. Lupe gained elevation slowly. She passed over the true summit of Round Mountain, but continued on a little farther to the cliffs at the S end. Lupe found the best views from Round Mountain here. From on high, she could see a very long way S.
After checking out the view, Lupe and SPHP went N back to the true summit. The summit area was very flat and hidden in the forest. A small patch of exposed limestone seemed to be close to the highest point around. Lupe posed for a photo. Round Mountain was her first peakbagging success of Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 100!
Before leaving Round Mountain, Lupe and SPHP returned to the very N end of the summit ridge once again. Lupe posed uncomfortably on the rocks in the cold wind. As soon as her photo op was over, she was anxious to leave! Lupe and SPHP went back to the notch, climbed down to the E, and turned N along the base of the limestone cliffs. Soon Lupe was beyond them and on her way down the N slope of Round Mountain.
Lupe’s next peakbagging objective was Peak 6740, which Lupe had seen part of from the N end of Round Mountain. Peak 6740 was less than a mile away. As the terrain started leveling out, Lupe and SPHP crossed USFS Road No. 241.1C. Continuing N a couple hundred yards, Lupe found another grassy road which must have intersected with No. 241.1C back to the SW.
Like at Round Mountain and many other western Black Hills peaks, a layer of limestone forms the top of Peak 6740. As a result, there are cliffs along most edges. On Peak 6740, the limestone is thicker and the cliffs are higher than at Round Mountain. SPHP scanned the SE facing cliffs, hoping to see a break where Lupe could climb up. There appeared to be a couple of possibilities, but the mountain looked pretty steep. It was hard to tell if there was actually a realistic route up from the SE.
The grassy road Lupe had just reached went N along the lower E slopes of Peak 6740. SPHP decided it might be best for Lupe to stay on the road. Maybe there would be an easier way up from the N? The road was almost level and an easy trek. Very conveniently for Lupe and SPHP, it went past the E side of Peak 6740 and curved around to the N side. The grassy road then started looping down to the NE toward Custer County Road No. 292, which could be seen not too far below.
By the time the grassy road turned NE, Lupe and SPHP could see a broad, thinly forested valley ahead. It rose at a moderate pace toward the SE up to the top of the ridgeline on Peak 6740. Lupe and SPHP left the road and started climbing. Lupe was exposed to the NW wind here, but it was a much easier way up than anything SPHP had seen from the SE.
Lupe climbed up to the highest point at the N end of the ridge. There were great views from the edge of the cliffs here! Time for a break. Lupe had water and Taste of the Wild. She then spent her time sniffing through low juniper bushes with a great deal of interest, although what was so fascinating about them was not apparent to SPHP. While Lupe was thusly entertained, SPHP ate an apple and enjoyed the scenery.
Peak 6740 has an unusual shape, rather like an anchor. The bottom of the anchor is positioned to the SE. The main shaft extends to the NW. From the bottom of the anchor, prongs curve to the W and NE. The topo map shows five particularly high spots on the mountain – two along the main shaft, one at the bottom of the anchor, and one near the end of each prong. All of these high spots are connected by long broad ridges that are only marginally lower.
Lupe had reached the top of the ridge at the high spot near the end of Peak 6740’s NE prong. However, it wasn’t clear if this was the true summit of Peak 6740, or not. The high points are separated from each other by as much as 0.5 mile. Due to the forest and the terrain, the high points aren’t all in view from one another. The Peakbagger.com topo map shows the high points are very close to the same elevation.
To make certain Lupe reached the true summit, she was going to have to visit the other high spots on the mountain, too. Lupe and SPHP left the NE prong heading for the SE high point near the bottom of the anchor. Along the way, Lupe found there was a small break in the cliffs. She really could have come up the mountain from the SE! It would have been a much shorter and steeper route than the one she actually took by circling around to the N.
The cliffs at the very SE tip of the Peak 6740 anchor provided a great look back to the S at Round Mountain.
From the cliffs at the SE tip of Peak 6740, Lupe and SPHP went NW up a modest slope and found the closest high spot at the base of the anchor. It seemed at least as high as the NE prong had been, and maybe a bit higher. From here, SPHP could also see the high spot at the W prong. It looked almost as high, but instead of going directly to the W prong, Lupe went NW to explore the main shaft of the Peak 6740 anchor.
The main shaft of the anchor was more heavily forested than the rest of the mountain. At first, the terrain didn’t look promising. Lupe started out losing elevation. After 5 or 10 minutes, though, she came to two high spots along the way. The first high spot was a flat, elevated limestone outcropping. The second high spot was close enough to be seen ahead a bit farther to the NW. It looked like a 5 foot high limestone rock.
When Lupe and SPHP got close to the second high spot, Lupe discovered that the rock was actually three pillars of limestone very close together, all about 5 feet high. Lupe and SPHP continued NW beyond the limestone pillars until it became clear there wasn’t any higher ground ahead. The forest had been thinned in this area, and Lupe could see the high point at the NE prong of the anchor. It looked every bit as high as where Lupe and SPHP were, and probably higher.
Lupe and SPHP returned to the limestone pillars high point. Lupe got up on top of one of the pillars for a photo.
SPHP peered through the forest out over a small valley back toward the W prong. Even though Peakbagger.com marks the true summit of Peak 6740 at the middle of the main shaft of the anchor, the W prong looked higher than the high points along the main shaft. Lupe had better visit the W prong, too! It didn’t take Lupe all that long to get there.
By now, Lupe had been to all five of the high points on the Peak 6740 anchor. Wherever the true summit was, she had been there. If SPHP had to guess, the SE high spot at the bottom of the anchor was the true summit. The W prong was a close second. If Lupe thought differently, she didn’t say so.
It was time for Lupe to press on to her next peakbagging goal, Limestone Hill(6,620 ft.). To get there, Lupe left the W prong of Peak 6740 taking a shortcut N down into a small valley. She then climbed back up to the three pillars high point on Peak 6740. She went a little farther NW, and then turned W following a lower ridge down through a dense forest of young trees.
Limestone Hill was only 0.33 mile away. Lupe soon came to a shallow saddle where there was a jeep trail. Lupe and SPHP followed the old jeep trail to a slight rise, which was the summit of Limestone Hill. The summit area ended at a band of low limestone cliffs to the W.
Getting to Limestone Hill from Peak 6740 had been a snap! SPHP took a break. Lupe could have taken one, but she was too busy. A chipmunk had taken refuge in a patch of low bushes at the edge of the cliff. Lupe searched excitedly for it, but the chipmunk had all the advantages. SPHP ate an apple and checked the maps. Lupe’s final peakbagging objective for the day was Elliot Ridge(6,700 ft.), about 3 miles NW as the crow flies.
Lupe couldn’t go to Elliot Ridge as the crow flies, though. Down in the broad open valleys to the W and N of Limestone Hill, the fields were all private property. Lupe would have to go S to get around it. Lupe and SPHP returned to the jeep trail and started following it SE.
The jeep trail turned out to be USFS Road No. 284.1I. It wound around quite a bit to the W of Peak 6740, but eventually turned S and arrived at Custer County Road No. 284. Lupe and SPHP followed it 0.25 mile W to its junction with the S end of USFS Road No. 291 (Ditch Creek Road). As soon as Lupe and SPHP reached the junction, gunfire erupted off to the N.
Someone had started target practice up at the Bear Mountain quarry. The plan had been to go N on No. 291, but Lupe would have to pass by quite close to the quarry. Since Lupe hates the sound of gunfire, SPHP stopped to consult the maps. Was there another way around to Elliot Ridge?
Yes, there was, but it wasn’t as direct. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day to consider the long route. SPHP encouraged Lupe to head N on No. 291. Lupe did her best to convince SPHP deadly danger awaited.
With Lupe constantly insisting it was wise to turn back, progress going N on USFS Road No. 291 was slow until a couple of squirrels and some free range cattle diverted Lupe’s attention from the gunfire. Fortunately, target practice ended before too long. Lupe was then happy to trot right along.
Lupe and SPHP reached the intersection with USFS Road No. 293, which goes NNE to Bear Mountain. On the other side of No. 291, a jeep trail led W into the forest. SPHP was eager to leave No. 291, and hoped the jeep trail would turn NW toward Elliot Ridge. It soon turned SW instead. Lupe and SPHP left the jeep trail heading NW through the forest.
It wasn’t far to a small valley. USFS Road No. 472 was down there, but Lupe just crossed it and continued NW up onto the next ridge. From the top, Lupe and SPHP could see the larger Bear Spring Creek valley. The other side of the valley was all barren. This area had burned in the Jasper Fire back in August, 2000.
The story is that back on August 8, 2000, a woman stopped along the highway a couple miles W of Jewel Cave National Monument to pee. For some reason, she thought it would be a good idea to light a match and drop it on the ground. Before departing, she watched as pine needles caught fire and the fire started to spread. The resulting Jasper Fire burned 83,000 acres of the Black Hills. Elliot Ridge is in the burn area.
Lupe and SPHP headed down to Bear Spring Creek. SPHP was surprised to see it was still flowing this time of year. Lupe a long cool drink from the tiny creek. It was the only stream she had come to all day. From the creek, Lupe and SPHP continued NW up the other side of the valley. Partway up, Lupe came to a dirt road, which may have been USFS Road No. 469.1A. Lupe and SPHP followed the road SW a short distance, but left it at its high point to turn NW again and keep climbing.
As Lupe gained elevation, she started coming to rock outcroppings at high points along the way. It was slow going. There were many dead tree trunks and branches laying on the ground, bleached by years in the sun. Even though the area is all in the Black Hills National Forest, Lupe kept coming upon barbed wire fences, too. Lupe finally reached the top of the ridge. Despite the unbroken views, SPHP was uncertain which way Lupe needed to go to reach Elliot Ridge.
It was still windy and getting progressively cooler out. SPHP consulted the maps, but the wind was a real pest. SPHP finally concluded that Lupe was far enough N. Elliot Ridge was off to the SW from here. Lupe and SPHP headed SW staying on the highest ground possible. Out in the open, Lupe saw several herds of deer, both mule deer and whitetails. Of course, they also always saw Lupe and SPHP and bounded away.
The first big hill Lupe climbed heading SW proved to be a false summit, but the true summit of Elliot Ridge could be seen ahead from the top. Lupe and SPHP continued on, and Lupe finally arrived at the summit of Elliot Ridge.
Elliot Ridge itself was not very beautiful with all the dead trees laying around. The fire had certainly opened up the views, though. In the cool wind, everything looked and felt stark and desolate. Lupe could see far to the SW into Wyoming. SPHP could even make out Laramie Peak(10,272 ft.) very faintly on the farthest horizon.
Lupe and SPHP continued S from the summit of Elliot Ridge. Lupe came to a series of minor high points as she followed the ridgeline. As the sun started sinking in the W, the wind finally began to die down. It was really beautiful out. The sense of isolation was inspiring. On the E side of the ridge, there was a great view of the S end of the Bear Springs Creek valley N of Custer Country Road No. 284.
SPHP hoped for a great sunset, but it didn’t develop. Too many clouds moved in off to the W. There was never more than just a little color that could be seen. The world turned gray.When the sun disappeared, Lupe and SPHP descended from the ridgeline heading SE down into the Bear Springs Creek valley. Twilight was already well advanced by the time Lupe reached Custer Country Road No. 284 at the S end of the valley. Lupe was still 5 or 6 miles from the G6. Lupe and SPHP started trudging SE on No. 284.
It was dark out by the time Lupe had gone over a mile to the southernmost point on No. 284 where it turns NE. A guy named Mitch came by in a pickup truck. Mitch very kindly offered Lupe and SPHP a ride. Lupe accepted immediately! She thought a ride was a splendid idea! She leaped way up into the big truck without the least bit of hesitation.
Mitch had a cabin somewhere farther W, but he was on his way E to his father’s ranch near Crazy Horse to get his hunting dog. Mitch was a hunting guide, and had been out hunting coyotes. The wind had ruined his calls, however, and the hunt had been unsuccessful. Secretly, Lupe and SPHP were glad. Lupe and SPHP are on the coyotes’ side.
SPHP asked to be dropped off at Round Mountain. Mitch soon stopped the truck so Lupe and SPHP could get out. As Mitch drove off, SPHP realized the drop off point didn’t look familiar. The night was blacker than black. SPHP couldn’t see anything – not the road, not a hand held in front of SPHP’s face, nothing except a few stars. Good thing SPHP had brought the little flashlight!
Lupe was puzzled. For 45 minutes, SPHP wandered repeatedly back and forth along the same stretch of No. 284 and a side road. Which way was it to the G6? Finally SPHP figured it out. Lupe arrived back at the G6 at 8:26 PM (43°F).
It had been a long day. Part of the night would have been long too, if Mitch hadn’t come along! Expedition No. 100 had been a 4 mountain peakbagging success. Time to head home for a big bowl of Alpo and a nice long snooze!
Ever since SPHP ran across the site Peakbagger.com early in May, 2014, Lupe had been working on climbing all of the peaks she was able to on Peakbagger’s list of Black Hills 6500-foot Peaks. By now, she had been on top of almost all of them. Of course, the list contains a number of peaks Lupe will never be able to climb, because they are legally off limits or require climbing gear.
American Dingoes are purists. If a mountain requires climbing gear, they don’t even try it. They only bother to climb mountains they can summit completely unaided under their own power. They never rely on ropes, or crampons, or snowshoes, or ice axes, etc. At least that’s what American Dingoes claim. In practice, Lupe has fudged at a few peaks by allowing SPHP to lift her up onto the highest rocks.
On this beautiful October day, Lupe was intent on reaching a couple of the few remaining climbable peaks on the Black Hills 6500-foot Peaks list that she hadn’t been to yet, Zimmer Ridge(6,600 ft.) and Peak 6600. Both peaks are in the same general area 5-7 miles SW of Hill City. Lupe would begin her quest on USFS Road No. 387.1, about 0.5 mile from Hwy 385 (10:37 AM, 54°F).
Lupe and SPHP started the day following No. 387.1 as it wound its way NW through a narrow canyon. There was a creek near the road, which Lupe was glad to see, since it meant she could help herself to cold, clear water anytime she wished. The maps show different names for this creek. SPHP’s old USFS map show it as Whitehouse Creek. The Peakbagger.com topo maps show it as White Horse Creek.
The canyon widened out into a bigger valley, as Lupe continued NW. The road was wide and appeared to be built to county specs, which made it uninteresting. After Lupe had gone a mile or more, the confusion about the creek’s name cleared up. A little way ahead, Lupe saw a white horse standing with a few friends at the edge of the forest. Lupe assured SPHP that this was the actual White Horse of White Horse Creek, which seemed logical enough.
Toward the S end of the valley between Zimmer Ridge and Peak 6600, the USFS map shows 160 acres of private property in the shape of an upside down and reversed “L”. The horses Lupe was approaching were probably on that private land. To stay on USFS land, Lupe left No. 387.1 angling NE up Zimmer Ridge.
Lupe’s route grew progressively steeper as Lupe climbed through a dense forest of young trees. It had been sunny and warm down in the valley, but when Lupe and SPHP arrived up on the ridgeline, it was breezy and cool. Lupe was close to the S end of the high ground on the summit ridge. After a short break, Lupe went N looking for the summit.
Along the way, Lupe reached two false summits. The second false summit provided the first real views in any direction. Lupe could see to the SSE toward Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.). She could also see the true summit of Zimmer Ridge. It was still farther N along the ridge.
The ridgeline going over to the true summit was broad and fairly level. It should have been an easy trek. However, there was a lot of deadfall timber. Several rocky spots and dense stands of thistles slowed SPHP down, too. It took SPHP a while to get over to the true summit. Lupe had plenty of time to sniff and explore.
Zimmer Ridge culminates in a couple clusters of boulders jutting up right next to each other at the true summit. The highest rocks were all very nearly the same elevation. Despite the purist intentions of the American Dingo, it was fudging time. SPHP had to lift Lupe the last few feet to get her up on top. She didn’t look all that comfortable perched high on Zimmer Ridge, but she did her best to act as if everything was just lovely.
SPHP was surprised to see that there was yet another high point on Zimmer Ridge about 0.33 mile to the NNE. It looked almost the same elevation as the true summit. SPHP had to consults the maps to make certain it wasn’t actually higher. The maps showed that it was only 6,583 ft., or 17 feet lower.
Even though Lupe had already reached the summit, it seemed like a shame not to go on and finish her explorations of Zimmer Ridge all the way to the N high point. The first part of the trek over there wasn’t bad, but as Lupe got closer, there were big rock formations to maneuver around. The deadfall timber and thistles were bad, too.
The N high point was a better place to relax than the true summit. Some flat ground provided a high perch with a great view to the N. Lupe and SPHP took a break there. After the break, Lupe finished her climb up a big rock pile to the top of the N high point.
With her explorations of Zimmer Ridge complete, it was time to start for Peak 6600, located 1.75 miles due W. Lupe and SPHP left the N high point heading WNW down the mountain. Lupe lost hundreds of feet of elevation, and arrived at USFS Road No. 387.1B a short distance NE of a saddle over to the next ridge. Lupe and SPHP followed the road up to the saddle.
SPHP had intended to just cross the road, and follow the ridgeline NW until it swept around to the W to a point where Lupe could turn S to Peak 6600. However, while Lupe might not be tired of the deadfall timber yet, SPHP was. Even though Lupe would lose more elevation that would have to be regained, it seemed easier to just stay on No. 387.1B.
So, Lupe remained on No. 387.1B continuing SW from the saddle. The road reached its low point where it turned NW to start gaining elevation again. A small pond was shining in the sunlight near the bend. Lupe was happy to see it. She ran to the pond, plunked herself down in it and had a big drink.
Fully refreshed from her pond break, Lupe shook herself off and was ready to go again. Lupe and SPHP followed No. 387.1B into the upper end of White Horse gulch. The road went NW 0.75 mile, turned W and soon came to a turnaround loop. Lupe was now at almost the same elevation as the ridge to the N. From the turnaround loop, it was only a short trek off the road to get on the ridgeline for a look at the country on the other side.
SPHP went to take a look at the view, but Lupe never made it that far. As Lupe approached, a gray and white rabbit suddenly dashed off and disappeared in the forest. Lupe lost all interest in the view. She preferred to sniff around excitedly trying to figure out where the bunny had gone. As it turned out, the rabbit must have had prior experience working with a magician. It had completely disappeared.
The road continued W beyond the turnaround loop, and climbed more steeply for a short distance up onto an even higher ridge. Peak 6600 was now just 0.75 mile to the S. Lupe and SPHP left the road to follow the ridgeline. Lupe came to several places where there was a view back to the E toward Zimmer Ridge.
It was late afternoon by the time Lupe reached the top of Peak 6600. The summit area features two high points enclosed by the 6600 foot contour on the topo map. Lupe arrived at the E summit first. Unfortunately, forest blocked the views. Lupe got up on the highest rock at the E summit, and struck a rather dramatic Carolina Dog pose.
Lupe left the E summit to check out the W one. It wasn’t very far away, but there was a huge amount of deadfall timber navigate through. The effort was worth it. A rocky ledge at the W summit provided good views off toward the high country in that direction. Lupe and SPHP stopped here to take a break. Lupe finished almost all of her Taste of the Wild. SPHP ate the last apple.
The forest made it hard to tell for certain, but in SPHP’s opinion the E high point was the true summit of Peak 6600. However, the views were better from the W one. Lupe and SPHP lingered on the W summit of Peak 6600, watching the sun sink toward the horizon.
A hoped for colorful sunset didn’t pan out. Lupe and SPHP left Peak 6600 heading S along the ridgeline. SPHP wanted Lupe to stay up on the ridge as long as possible before turning E to head back down into White Horse Creek valley. Lupe didn’t make it far, though. There was too much deadfall timber up on the ridge.
At the low point of the first big saddle S of Peak 6600, Lupe and SPHP left the ridge and started down. Lupe had to lose a lot of elevation before the deadfall diminished and the terrain started leveling out. As twilight was fading, Lupe strayed onto private property somewhere along the way.
Although this was White Horse Creek valley, a very friendly black horse noticed Lupe and SPHP passing through the forest. The most likely explanation in the horse’s view was that the Carolina Dog was bringing him a nice supply of fresh carrots to munch on. It whinnied a greeting, and trotted jauntily toward Lupe looking forward to carrots and company. Maybe Lupe was even bringing oats?
Lupe loves to bark furiously at cows and horses from the safety of the G6. This was different. Up close, the gigantic black horse approaching rapidly in the dark forest was quite unnerving for the American Dingo. Lupe mistook the black horse’s cheerful whinnying as a threat. The evil apparition was out to get her! Lupe dashed off, without so much as a single bow-wow.
At 7:05 PM (38°F), Lupe and SPHP arrived back at the G6. Lupe headed for home, content with her peakbagging successes. Meanwhile, a disappointed black horse heaved a sigh and resigned itself to its dull diet of dry grass. Some days it’s tough being a black horse in White Horse Creek valley.Want more Lupe adventures? Choose from Lupe’s Black Hills Expeditions Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index. Or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures.