Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 206 – Sylvan Hill & Peak 6733 (5-27-17)

Start 7:35 AM, 46°F, USFS Road No. 352 just NW of the end of Sylvan Hill’s N ridge.

Expedition day!  Lupe was excited!  She frolicked and rolled in tall green grass, wet from overnight rain showers.  Before SPHP was even ready to set out, Loop was already a soggy doggie, but happy as a clam.  She led the way, trotting S on perfectly good USFS Road No. 352, expecting SPHP to follow.

Instead, SPHP left the road right at the G6, climbing a slope to the SE to begin the 1.75 mile trek up Sylvan Hill’s N ridge.  The Carolina Dog doubled back.  This was more good news!  Loop loves off-road, off-trail exploring most of all.

Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.) is the high point of Custer County, SD.  Situated only 3 miles SW of Black Elk Peak (7,131 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, and a mile W of Sylvan Lake, it lies near the heart of the most rugged territory in the Black Hills, an area characterized by large ancient granite formations.

As the Custer County high point, Sylvan Hill gets climbed more frequently than many Black Hills peaks.  The vast majority of ascents are made by the shortest route possible starting from a dirt parking lot off Hwy 87/89 located 0.5 mile W of Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park.

From the dirt parking lot, a short trek up a switchback on a gated side road ends at a sod-covered water storage facility.  A subsequent steep climb WSW through the forest skirts around the S end of a big granite formation, and leads to a saddle on a ridgeline with more granite to the S (High Point 6849).  The summit of Sylvan Hill lies less than 0.25 mile NW of this saddle along a deadfall infested ridge.

This popular route from the E is no more than 0.75 mile one way, and involves less than 800 feet of net elevation gain.  The first time Lupe climbed Sylvan Hill slightly more than 3 years ago on Expedition No. 89 (5-17-14), she had also used this route.  Not today, though!  Now she was intent upon exploring the longer N ridge.

Lupe gained a little under 200 feet of elevation going up the slope to the first high point on the N ridge.  Scattered boulders were at the top, but no large rock formations.  Lupe angled S, losing a little elevation.  Off to the W, a short stretch of USFS Road No. 352 was in sight again a little lower down.  Lupe had been right, it would have been easier to follow the road this far.  Ahh, well.  Que sera.

Continuing on, Lupe’s climb resumed.  This next section was shorter, and led to more boulders strung out along a higher part of the ridge.  Lupe got up on one of the biggest boulders offering a partial view of what lay ahead.

Lupe on her way up the N ridge of Sylvan Hill. Her route eventually took her up to the high ground seen on the R. Photo looks S.

For a while, the ridge narrowed considerably.  The edge was steeper than before.  Sometimes Lupe could go over the top of rock formations she came to.  Other times, it was easier to go around.  SPHP often expected Lupe was about to have to lose some elevation, but she seldom lost much.  A way through to higher ground always seemed to appear.

The ridge widened out again, and Lupe came to an abandoned road.  The road was switchbacking its way up, so Loop followed it.  Why not?  It was the easiest way.

Lupe on the faded, abandoned road. Yellow flowers like these grew scattered in the forest, but were more abundant along the road’s edge.

The road didn’t take Lupe very far.  It ended at what appeared to be an old prospecting site where a hole had been blasted in the side of the ridge.

The abandoned road ended at this old prospecting site where part of the ridge had been blasted away. Photo looks E.

With the forest also blown away in this area, Lupe would have her first real shot at some distant views from rocks she could see above the blast site.  Loop scrambled up for a look around.  She had a nice look back to the N at Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) and Zimmer Ridge (6,600 ft.).

Above the blast site, Lupe had a nice view to the N. Zimmer Ridge (6,600 ft.) is seen on the L. The G6 was parked back near the base of closer Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) (R).

Dingo, ho!  Lupe was climbing steadily now.  The ridge was getting steeper.  The longest, steepest part of her journey up the N ridge was underway.  Loop was approaching the high forested area she had seen from the first big boulder early on.  Before the final big push, she reached another high point with a view.

Shortly before starting the longest, steepest push up Sylvan Hill’s N ridge, Lupe arrived at this high point with a view. Photo looks NNW.

Onward!  Up and up.  After several hundred feet of sharp elevation gains, the terrain began to level out.  Lupe was still going up, but at a more moderate pace.  The forest started thinning out.  Lupe came to meadows with minor high points a short distance off to the SSW.  She went over near the top of the first one.

Lupe had her first view of Sylvan Hill’s true summit ahead.

After the last big steep push up Sylvan Hill’s N ridge, the true summit (L) came into view from the first minor high point Lupe came to. Photo looks S.

The rest of the way was easy.  The slope of the terrain was gradual.  Lupe romped through open fields.  To the E, she had views of impressive rock formations and many peaks she had been to before.  The true summit wasn’t far off now.

Getting closer! Lupe reaches another minor high point along the way. Photo looks SSE.
Sylvan Hill summit from the NW.

The NW slope of the knobby summit would have been an easy climb, but was full of deadfall timber amid a thick stand of young aspens.  Lupe found it easier to circle around to the SW, where she faced a momentary scramble between a few big rocks.  A couple of bounds up, and she was there!  Lupe sat comfortably on a small grassy spot on top of Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.) for the first time in over 3 years.

A short bounding scramble between a few boulders brought Lupe to the top of Sylvan Peak for the first time in over 3 years. Photo looks NE.

The views from Sylvan Hill were magnificent!  Lupe could see far off in every direction.  The summit area was small, but not the least bit scary.  The American Dingo had plenty of room to relax and take life easy.  First, though, it was time to enjoy those views!

The cairn at the top of the mountain had been considerably improved upon since the last time Lupe had been here on Expedition No. 89.  She got up near it for a good look around.

Black Elk Peak (7,131 ft.) (L) is seen straight up from Lupe’s head. Straight up from the tip of her tail is Little Devils Tower (6,960 ft.). The Cathedral Spires (6,840 ft.) are on the horizon a little L of the cairn in the same area. Photo looks ENE.
Lupe’s ear on the L points to Black Elk Peak. Little Devils Tower is up and to the R of the tip of her tail. Photo looks ENE with help from the telephoto lens.
Looking E. Little Devils Tower (L) and Cathedral Spires (a little to the R of LDT) are in view on the horizon. Hwy 89/87 is seen below. The dirt parking lot for the shortest and most used route to the top of Sylvan Hill from the E is on the R side of the closest part of the Hwy seen here. A sliver of Sylvan Lake is even in view on the L. (Click photo to expand.)
Mount Coolidge (6,023 ft.) is on the horizon between Lupe and the cairn. Photo looks SSE.
Looking S across the small, but perfectly adequate summit area.
Another look SSE. Mount Coolidge (6,023 ft.) is on the L. Farther away, Northeast Cicero Peak (6,240 ft.) peers around the R side of the cairn.

N of the true summit was another rock ledge Lupe could comfortably pose on.  She happily agreed to get up on it for a few photos in this direction, too.

Lupe on the N ledge. Zimmer Ridge (6,600 ft.) (L) is the closest big ridge beyond Lupe. Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) is on the R. The big hill on the far horizon straight up from Lupe’s tail is Terry Peak (7,064 ft.) (Center). Also on the far horizon, the largest of the smallest bumps above the W (L) flank of Saint Elmo Peak is Custer Peak (6806 ft.). Photo looks N. (Click photo to expand.)
Some of the territory Lupe traversed along Sylvan Hill’s N ridge to get here is seen below on the L. Photo looks NW.
Lupe could see Thunderhead Mountain (6,567 ft.), site of the Crazy Horse Memorial carving from Sylvan Hill. Crazy Horse is a major tourist attraction in the Black Hills. Photo looks W using the telephoto lens.
When Lupe first caught sight of Sylvan Hill’s summit on the way up, the big granite formation on the L was also in view. At first it appeared to be as high as Sylvan Hill. By the time Lupe reached the summit, the big rock formation was clearly significantly lower. Photo looks NE with help from the telephoto lens.

Before taking her break, Lupe returned to the summit cairn for another look.  Of all the grand views available from Sylvan Hill, the best was toward Black Elk Peak, South Dakota’s loftiest mountain.

The best of all the views from Sylvan Hill was the rugged scene culminating at Black Elk Peak (R), South Dakota’s loftiest mountain. Photo looks NE.
Black Elk Peak (L), Little Devils Tower (Center) and the Cathedral Spires (a little to the R) are all on display. Sweet! Photo looks ENE.

That was a bunch of pictures.  Lupe was ready for her break.  She curled up to enjoy her usual Taste of the wild.  SPHP had nectarines instead of the usual apple.  After devouring both nectarines, SPHP wandered around the summit a bit more while Lupe continued chilling out.

Looper curls up to enjoy her Taste of the Wild.
The summit of Sylvan Hill sported two varieties of yellow wildflowers. Lupe had seen quite a few of these on the way up the N ridge.
SPHP hadn’t noticed any of these on the way up, but this nice specimen was at the top.
Looking SE from the summit. This is the direction most climbers ultimately approach Sylvan Hill from when starting at Hwy 87/89 to the E. The rugged, rocky stuff seen here is easily avoided, but bountiful deadfall timber still makes this last part of the approach a real pain. Fortunately the distance traversed along this upper SE ridge is less than 0.25 mile.

The weather had been becoming increasingly unsettled while Lupe came up the N ridge.  After 20 minutes at the summit, the first of a series of squalls blew in.  Suddenly, Lupe really was chilling out.  SPHP feared a cold, drenching shower was imminent, but none materialized.

What did materialize was a snow storm!  The micro-blizzard was dramatic, and came on driven by a frigid, stiff N breeze.  The snow wasn’t flakes, but arrived as tiny pellets.  Neither the Carolina Dog nor SPHP was particularly pleased with this turn of events, but snow was better than a bone-chilling rain.

The Sylvan Peak micro-blizzard lasted all of 3 or 4 minutes before it began to taper off again.  Typical in this country.  More squalls would come, but in the meantime, Lupe would have 20 minutes or more when the skies would clear somewhat and the sun might shine.

Loop was ready to move on.  A few more minutes at the summit, and SPHP was ready, too.

The snow pellets of the micro-blizzard melted the instant they hit the ground. When it was all over, Lupe was ready to move on. The plan was for her to traverse the near ridge seen beyond her from L to R. It was part of the route to her next objective, Peak 6733. Photo looks S.
Last moments at the summit of Sylvan Hill. Black Elk Peak on the R. Photo looks NE.
Loop awaits the signal from SPHP that it’s OK to come on down. Photo looks N.

Lupe’s next peakbagging goal for Expedition No. 206 was Peak 6733, located nearly 1.5 miles SW of Sylvan Hill across the upper end of Bear Gulch.  The plan wasn’t to head directly for it, but to explore the entire length of the long, undulating ridge going all around the S end of Bear Gulch.

The first part of Looper’s route to Peak 6733 would follow the same SE ridge which is the last segment of the popular route to Sylvan Hill from Hwy 87/89.  SPHP remembered this trek from Lupe’s Expedition No. 89 as being dreadfully slow due to all the deadfall timber killed by pine bark beetles.

The deadfall situation hadn’t improved at all over the last 3 years.

Yuck! The deadfall was just as thick as ever on the ridge SE of Sylvan Hill. Photo looks SE.
Lupe would face at least a couple of massive granite formations that might pose difficulties on her way along the ridge leading to Peak 6733. High Point 6855, the knob of rock in the sunlight on the R, was one of them. Photo looks SW.

Fortunately, it wasn’t nearly as far to the first big granite formation SE of Sylvan Hill as SPHP remembered.  Despite the deadfall, Lupe made her way over there fairly quickly.  She climbed most of the way up the granite into a narrow crack between nearly vertical walls.

Lupe reaches the crack in the first big granite formation SE of Sylvan Hill. Somehow she needed to get over or around the rock wall seen on the R. Photo looks ESE.

Lupe was near High Point 6849 on the topo map.  She needed to get past the highest vertical wall of granite blocking her way S.  SPHP didn’t see an easy way over it, and was fearful of the potential drop that might be waiting for Lupe on the other side.

Looking NW back at Sylvan Hill from the vicinity of High Point 6849.

After a half-hearted search for a way over, Lupe and SPHP gave up.  Lupe went W looking for a way around High Point 6849.

Looking SW at High Point 6855, the next big obstacle on the ridge as Lupe starts down to the W (R) to go around High Point 6849, which had her blocked.

Loop had to lose more elevation than SPHP expected, but she did get around the W end of High Point 6849.  Good thing Lupe went around it, and hadn’t tried too hard to go over the top!  Looking back after regaining the ridgeline on the other side, it was clear that going around had been the only feasible option.

Going around the W end of High Point 6849. Lupe was on her way to the ridgeline seen ahead. Photo looks SSE.
Lupe regains the ridgeline S of High Point 6849, the wall of rock seen on the R. Clearly going around it had been Lupe’s only real option. Sylvan Hill is in view on the L. Photo looks NNW.

Now that she was past High Point 6849, Lupe followed the ridge SW.  The ridge was broad, and the terrain wasn’t bad at all, with no big climbs or drops.  Lupe still had excellent views to the S.

Despite these advantages, the ridge walk wasn’t fun.  Deadfall timber was strewn so thickly about, Lupe’s progress was excruciatingly slow.  She did reach one area that was kind of cool.  A lumpy platform of solid granite had a few big puddles on it, and was free of the aggravating deadfall.

This cool granite platform offered some great views, but the rest of Lupe’s trek along the ridge was infested by annoying amounts of deadfall timber. Photo looks SSW.

The views were great, but beyond the platform, Lupe was forced right back into the deadfall infested forest.  Up ahead, High Point 6855 loomed as the next obstacle.  It really didn’t look like Lupe could get all the way to the top, but she could clearly get quite high.  She shouldn’t have a hard time finding a way past the summit.

Another squall came and went.  Cold N breeze, same deal as before, except this time it was a mix of snow then rain.  As before, it didn’t last long.  These squalls might come and go for hours.  If they turned completely to rain and got worse, Lupe’s long trek around the deadfall infested ridge was going to be unpleasant.  She still had a long way to go to Peak 6733.

Upon reaching a saddle leading to the now imminent climb up High Point 6855, the American Dingo discovered a faint road.  Lupe was doing fine, but SPHP was fed up with all the deadfall on the ridge.  Come on, Looper, let’s just take this road down into Bear Gulch.  Even though you’ll have to regain a lot more lost elevation, we’ll get to Peak 6733 way faster.

Lupe didn’t mind.  In fact, she preferred the road, too.  The road went by meadows where she could run around, instead of wasting her energy hopping over dead trees.  The faint road led to a better one, which ultimately brought Lupe down into the upper end of Bear Gulch from the E.

Peak 6733 was now in view ahead.

From down in the upper end of Bear Gulch, Lupe could see Peak 6733 ahead. Photo looks WSW.

Lupe came to USFS Road No. 352 again 2.5 miles S of where the G6 was parked along it.  Nearby, a little stream crossed the road.  Lupe crossed the road, too, staying S of the creek.  Boggy forested terrain interlaced with small rivulets trickling through it all forced her SW.

Loop drank from the rivulets.  She loved the feel of the soft, damp, boggy ground on her paws.  SPHP was less enthused by the mud, but managed to avoid the worst of it.  Before long, the Carolina Dog was beyond the bog and climbing a hillside.  She had skipped past a big part of the long ridge to Peak 6733, but now she needed to get back up there again.  SPHP had her aim for the saddle between High Point 6627 and Peak 6733.

About the time Loop regained the ridgeline, a third squall hit.  This squall was mostly dark clouds and wind, accompanied by only a little rain.  Apparently the squalls were weakening instead of strengthening.  Good!  Lupe turned NW following the ridge.  She still needed to regain another 300 feet of elevation to reach Peak 6733’s summit.

In keeping with its annoying tradition, the upper part of the ridge was strewn with deadfall.  At least it wasn’t quite as bad here as before.

Getting close! The upper part of the ridge leading to Peak 6733 was also strewn with deadfall timber, but wasn’t quite as bad as the deadfall Lupe had faced earlier. Photo looks NW.

The summit of Peak 6733 is a block of granite with small cliffs facing NE.  Lupe had an easy time scrambling up from the SE.  The views were superb in most directions, except to the W toward Thunderhead Mountain (6,567 ft.) and the Crazy Horse Memorial where trees interfered.

Lupe on her way up Peak 6733’s summit block. Crazy Horse on Thunderhead Mountain is seen on the L. Photo looks NW.
Success! Lupe stands atop Peak 6733. Sylvan Hill (Center) is seen beyond her. High Point 6855, which she skipped going to, is on the R. Photo looks NE.
Another look. Sylvan Hill is now on the L. High Point 6855 is at Center. The upper portion of Bear Gulch, which Lupe had come through to get here, is down below on the L. The summit cairn was new since the last time Lupe had been here on Expedition No. 103 on 11-6-14. Photo looks E.
Northeast Cicero Peak (6,240 ft.) is the highest point on the R. Photo looks SSE.
Looking S.

After a look around, Lupe and SPHP took a break.  Lupe had water and more Taste of the Wild.  SPHP had foolishly devoured both nectarines back on Sylvan Hill.

By the time Lupe’s break was over, another squall could be seen coming in from the N.

Lupe at the N end of Peak 6733’s summit area, which was adequate, but not terribly big. High Point 6634 (Center) is beyond Lupe in the sunlight. Meanwhile, the next squall is approaching Zimmer Ridge (6,600 ft.), the dark ridge on the R. Photo looks NNW.
Lupe at the N end of the summit area as the next squall approaches. Most of Peak 6733’s summit is in view here. Photo looks SE.
The view to the NW.

This fourth squall was the weakest and final one of any note.  The sun soon came out again.  Lupe made another tour of Peak 6733’s summit before beginning her descent.

Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) is in sunlight on the L. Five Points (6,621 ft.) lies in shadow at Center. Peak 5800 is in sunlight far away on the far R. Photo looks NNE using the telephoto lens.
Looper poses dramatically atop the N end of the summit once again. Sunshine was on the way now that the last squall had blown on by, but hadn’t arrived quite yet. Photo looks NE.
In sunshine again back at the summit cairn. Part of the long ridge Lupe had climbed on her way up Sylvan Hill is seen on the L. Photo looks ENE.

The easiest way down seemed to be to the SE back the way Lupe had come up.

Loopster ready to begin her descent. Photo looks NW.
Crazy Horse with help from the telephoto lens. Photo looks W.

Once Lupe was down off the summit, she stopped briefly by another high point a little to the SE.  It was somewhat lower, of course, but offered a final, unobstructed view of Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.) and Bear Gulch.

Sylvan Hill with the upper end of Bear Gulch below. High Point 6855 on the R. Photo looks ENE.
Another look showing more of Bear Gulch and a great deal of the long N ridge Lupe had climbed earlier on her way up Sylvan Hill. Photo looks NE.

From here, Lupe headed N, passing below Peak 6733’s summit along the base of the NE facing cliffs.

Once beyond the cliffs, Lupe and SPHP stayed on the N ridge making a long trek through a battle zone of deadfall timber.  The terrain was easy enough, but the deadfall was horrid the entire way.  Lupe finally reached a road at a gated pass immediately S of High Point 6634.

Peak 6733 from the horrid deadfall infested N ridge. Photo looks S.

Once again, Lupe was glad to reach the road!  She made another descent into Bear Gulch.  The road took her a long way back to the SE, before eventually curving N again.  Lupe didn’t care.  She was free of the deadfall.  Now she could have fun sniffing around.  She was entertained by numerous deer she saw along the way.

The road finally reached USFS Road No. 352 down by the creek at the bottom of Bear Gulch.  Here, the side road Lupe had been following was marked as No. 352.2B.  The G6 was still a good 2 miles N along No. 352.

It was only mid-afternoon.  The sun would be up for hours.  However, Lupe had gotten off to an early start this morning, and the long stretches of deadfall had been wearying.  The Carolina Dog turned N on No. 352, and headed for her ride home.  (5:01 PM, 59°F)

In Bear Gulch on USFS Road No. 352.

Note:  USFS Road No. 352 (marked by a brown fiberglass wand) leaves the W side of Hwy 87/89 in Sunday Gulch (S of Hill City) less than 0.25 mile S of privately owned Horse Thief Campground & RV Resort just as the highway begins a 3 mile climb up to Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.

Stay to the L at a “Y” where No. 352 levels out.  Park along the road here (like Lupe did), or go a little farther to a small parking area at a locked gate in Bear Gulch less than a mile from the highway.  High clearance vehicle not required.

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

Black Hills, SD & WY Expedition No. 205 – Balm of Gilead Gulch & Cement Ridge (5-20-17)

Start, 11:04 AM, 33°F, intersection of USFS Roads No. 189, 189.4A & 631.2C about 0.33 mile WSW of Crooks Tower

This was supposed to be an expedition to celebrate the rapid approach of a glorious new summer!  Lupe would explore mysteriously named Balm of Gilead Gulch before continuing on to Cement Ridge.  There, beneath cotton ball clouds sailing a crystal blue sea, the Carolina Dog would sniff colorful wildflowers swaying in warm breezes.  She would gaze upon panoramic views of Inyan Kara, the Bear Lodge Mountains, and far into eastern Wyoming.

The scene would both excite the imagination and serve as a call to action!  Nearly 8.5 months after Lupe’s return from her grand Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska, the time for new Dingo adventures beyond the Black Hills was almost here!

Hah!  Dream on.  Even before leaving home, SPHP knew the forecast didn’t include much in the way of warm breezes.

A week ago on Expedition No. 204, Lupe had visited Crooks Tower (7,137 ft.), one of the highest points in the Black Hills.  She’d made a day of it coming up from Merow Spring and Clayton Pond, and subsequently continuing on to Peak 6820.  Now, driving W on South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231), it occurred to SPHP that Loop was very close to Crooks Tower again.  Why not go back for a good look at how much conditions had changed?

It wasn’t necessary to spend a whole day on foot and paw to get to Crooks Tower.  In fact, a 2 mile detour S on USFS Road No. 189 would bring Lupe to a point only 0.33 mile WSW of the summit.  Let’s do it!  SPHP made the turn.  Five minutes later, Lupe sprang out of the G6 into a world where the mood was better suited to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than 4th of July fireworks.

Sooooo, let me get this straight. We’re here to celebrate the imminent approach of summer, right? Did you get a really big discount for booking early SPHP, or what? At the W end of USFS Road No. 189.4A. Photo looks SSE.

Although the forecast called for 0% chance of precipitation, the sky was heavily overcast.   Any more overcast, and Lupe would have been in a fog.  Humidity filled the air.  It felt like it could rain buckets at any time.  Or snow.  At a chilly 33°F, snow seemed equally plausible.  The ground was already white with the stuff.

Lupe concealed her disappointment with summer’s non-arrival well.  In fact, she seemed thrilled and energized by the snow.  She charged through fields and forests as SPHP began a mucky march E along USFS Road No. 189.4A.

USFS Road No. 189.4A leads ENE from the junction with No. 189 & No. 631.2C. About 0.33 mile later, it passes just S of the summit of Crooks Tower. Photo looks E.

About 0.33 mile from the G6, the road passed just S of the summit of Crooks Tower.  Lupe and SPHP left the road to take the short path leading to the top from the SW.  Only a week after her 8th ascent, Lupe was here for the 9th time.

Back on Crooks Tower for the 9th time! Photo looks SE.
On the summit, looking WSW.
Each pine needle was beautifully flocked, but that wouldn’t last long this time of year. The snow already looked like it was starting to melt.
Looking NW from the summit.
Loopster at the highest point. Photo looks N.

Having been here only a week ago, Lupe and SPHP dawdled only a little while on Crooks Tower.  It was fun to be there again, but the plan was still to explore Balm of Gilead Gulch and reach Cement Ridge today.  Lupe returned to the G6 (11:35 AM, 33°F), and SPHP drove onward.

N of Highway 85, a little W of O’Neill Pass, SPHP parked the G6 again (11:53 AM, 39°F) near corrals S of the junction of USFS Roads No. 175 (Willow Springs Road) and No. 106 (Riflepit Canyon Road).  Here Lupe was only 0.67 mile W of Laird Peak (6,906 ft.), another mountain along the way.  SPHP figured she might as well climb it, too, since it was an easy peak and wouldn’t take long.

An unmarked grassy road led E from the parking area up a little valley past Tom Spring.  This area was hundreds of feet lower than Crooks Tower, so there wasn’t nearly as much snow around.  What snow there was in the pines was melting fast.  Snowmelt dripped to the ground in such abundance, Lupe was getting rained on beneath the trees.

In the valley leading E to Tom Spring on the way to Laird Peak. There wasn’t nearly as much snow here as there had been at Crooks Tower. Photo looks S.
Loop had a good time exploring on the way to Laird Peak. Photo looks E.

Tom Spring was a muddy area.  Water poured from a pipe into a circular water trough.  Not too exciting.  Lupe didn’t seem interested.  She pressed on up the valley.  The road faded somewhat beyond Tom Spring, but could still be followed.

Upon reaching a ridgeline where several better dirt roads intersected, Lupe took a road going N.  She stayed on it for only 100 feet or so to get past a fence running E/W.  She then turned E following the N side of the fence line.  Laird Peak’s summit was only a couple hundred yards ahead.  The summit appeared only as a small hill in the forest.

Approaching the summit of Laird Peak from the W. The summit appears to be just another small hill in the forest. Photo looks E.

Lupe quickly reached the top.  The summit area was easily the size of a modest yard in town and quite flat.  Deadfall timber lay scattered about the perimeter of a small clearing.  A sign marking the location of the survey benchmark was in sight near the N edge of the clearing.

Lupe at the survey benchmark on Laird Peak (6,906 ft.). A little less than half of the flat summit area is in view. Photo looks N.
This was Lupe’s 3rd ascent of Laird Peak. Other than having to deal with a little deadfall timber, it’s a quick easy climb from the W via Tom Spring. Photo looks N.
The Laird Peak survey benchmark.

Pine bark beetles had damaged the surrounding forest enough to provide tree-broken glimpses of distant views in various directions, but only enough to tantalize.  Lupe couldn’t really see much from here other than the immediate area.  With no clear views to contemplate, the American Dingo was soon ready to go.

Lupe ready to head back down the W slope. Photo looks WNW.

The sky was still overcast, but not as darkly as before.  Now and then a small patch of blue sky appeared.  SPHP kept expecting the clouds to burn off, but they didn’t.  Instead the clouds kept closing up the gaps, and the sunshine would disappear.  Nothing had really changed by the time Lupe reached the G6 again (12:45 PM).

A winding drive NW down Grand Canyon ensued.  USFS Road No. 175 turned to No. 875 at the Wyoming border.  By the time SPHP parked the G6 at the intersection of No. 875 & No. 804, it was already 1:23 PM (47°F).  If Lupe was going to explore Balm of Gilead Gulch and still have time to reach Cement Ridge, she had best get on with it.  The Carolina Dog and SPHP took off heading E up Rattlesnake Canyon on No. 804.

Dandelions prospered along No. 804 on the way up Rattlesnake Canyon. Nuisances in yards, dandelions are amazingly resilient plants.

The stroll up Rattlesnake Canyon was easy.  A couple of miles E of the G6, SPHP started looking for a R (S) turn on USFS Road No. 804.1A which would take Lupe up into Balm of Gilead Gulch.  A road going S up a hill did appear.  There weren’t any signs at the turn, but a forest service gate was in view a little way up the hill.

Was this No. 804.1A?  It didn’t seem quite right.  The topo map showed a 4WD trail heading S up a smaller valley about 0.5 mile before (W of) the turn to Balm of Gilead Gulch, and this was the first side road Lupe had come to.  SPHP almost led Lupe past this road, but decided she might as well check out the forest service gate for any clues first.

Good thing!  Nearing the gate, Lupe found a marker showing this was USFS Road No. 804.1A.

Nearing the forest service gate, Lupe found a marker showing this was USFS Road No. 804.1A after all. She was bound for Balm of Gilead Gulch! Photo looks S.

So this was it!  Lupe was bound for Balm of Gilead Gulch!  Except for one thing that raised doubts again.  As the Carolina Dog trotted past the gate, SPHP noticed large white letters on the round metal swivel housing on the L.  The letters read OLDB 05.  What did that mean?  SPHP was suspicious.

It might mean that this road had been renumbered.  USFS Road No. 805 went up Wagon Canyon 1.5 miles to the S.  Was this possibly a connecting spur, formerly known as No. 805.B?  Seemed like a possibility, but who knew?  May as well try it.  After all, the official sign did say this was No. 804.1A, which was supposed to be the road into Balm of Gilead Gulch.

Lupe continued up No. 804.1A.  The road turned SE and led up a small forested valley.  The day had warmed up some, and Lupe was still considerably lower here than she had been at either Crooks Tower or Laird Peak, so she didn’t find any snow in this area.  There had been some, though.  The road was damp, nearly muddy.

Although no tire tracks were to be seen, an amazing number of animal tracks crisscrossed the soft road.  It wasn’t long before Lupe started seeing wildlife – whitetail deer and Lupe’s giant deers – the elk.

Lupe saw many whitetail deer and a number of her giant deers (elk), too, as she traveled up USFS Road No. 804.1A.

It was fun being where there were so many animals in the forest, and sort of easy to see why they were here.  No tire tracks on the road at all meant people seldom come here.  The forest was full of hidden grassy glens.  This was a good place to hide and hang out.

Lupe at a grassy glen along USFS Road No. 804.1A. There seemed to be plenty more such glens hidden back in the forest, making this area popular with deer and elk.

Lupe gained elevation steadily for perhaps a mile before the road leveled out.  Here, the main road turned SW and started going downhill.  A fainter road curved ESE.  Lupe needed to go E, so she took the fainter road.  When she wanted to stop for a water break 5 or 10 minutes later, SPHP took a look at the maps.

Hmmm.  SPHP was soon convinced that Lupe hadn’t been traveling through Balm of Gilead Gulch at all.  Where the main road had turned SW, it almost had to be headed for Kirley Gulch on its way down to Wagon Canyon.  Apparently the road numbers really had been changed.  The old No. 804.1A leading into Balm of Gilead Gulch that Lupe had been looking for was no more.  The new No. 804.1A actually was a road connecting No. 804 in Rattlesnake Canyon and No. 805 in Wagon Canyon.

The inescapable conclusion was that Balm of Gilead Gulch was 0.5 mile N or NE of where Lupe was now.  She could have gone through the forest looking for it, but that would have meant losing elevation she’d already gained.  Furthermore, she would only get to travel through part of the gulch.  Instead of doing that, SPHP decided Lupe might just as well continue on to Cement Ridge.  She could hit Balm of Gilead Gulch on the way back.

Break done, Lupe roamed happily in the forest along a series of remote USFS roads.  She traveled E or SE, and once in a while NE.  She was generally still gaining elevation, but at a slow rate.  Sometimes there were markers at the road junctions, but even when there were, usually only one road was marked.  It wasn’t always clear which road the marker was meant for.

This was pretty high country, but due to the forest, Lupe seldom had any distant views.  Some ridges did eventually appear off to the S and SW.  Loop was already nearly as high as they were.

Roaming the back roads on the way to Cement Ridge. Photo looks E.
The light green of the newly emerging aspen leaves contrasted nicely with the dark green of the Ponderosa Pines. Lupe loves wandering back roads like this one. Photo looks ESE.
This was a 3 way intersection (roads also went to the L & R) where Lupe found a marker for USFS Road No. 805.3J, but which road it was meant for was impossible to tell. She had reached this point coming up the road seen on the R. Photo looks W.

On her explorations, Lupe either traveled along or passed by USFS Roads No. 805.3J, 805.3G, and 805.3A.  About two miles E of where she’d left No. 804.1A, she came down a side road marked No. 105.1B to arrive at the first major gravel road she’d seen since leaving No. 804 down in Rattlesnake Canyon.

A check of the maps revealed that Loop was now only 0.25 mile S of No. 105’s junction with No. 804.  Cement Ridge (6,674 ft.) was only 1.5 miles NNW beyond the intersection.  Before setting out again, Lupe was ready for more water and Taste of the Wild.  SPHP ate the only apple, which was supposed to have been saved for Cement Ridge, but, oh well.

All tanked up again, Lupe set off along No. 105 for Cement Ridge.  Upon reaching the junction with No. 804, she followed No. 804 NNW a good 0.5 mile to its high point, then plunged into the forest.  The American Dingo loves being off road most of all, so she had a grand time.  Gradually things got steeper, but it was never more than a straightforward trudge up a hill.

When Lupe reached the ridgeline along the N face, she turned W and followed the ridge a short distance to a pathetic little limestone cairn at the high point.  This was it, the true summit of Cement Ridge!

Lupe next to the pathetic little limestone cairn at the true summit of Cement Ridge. Photo looks WNW.
Crow Peak is seen faintly on the horizon beyond Lupe. The sky was still cloudy and rather hazy. Loop found a small amount of snow remaining here on Cement Ridge, but only close to the true summit. Photo looks NE.

Virtually no one from the Black Hills region would recognize this place where Lupe was now as the summit of Cement Ridge.  This might be the true summit according to the topo maps, but only a handful of peakbagging Dingoes would even be aware of its existence.  Cement Ridge is well known locally as one of the Black Hills’ premier viewpoints, but what everyone around here is referring to are the views from the Cement Ridge fire lookout tower.

The fire lookout tower is located on a barren highpoint near the NW end of Cement Ridge over a mile from the true summit.  According to the topo map, the lookout tower is 27 feet lower than the true summit.  Nevertheless, the views from the tower are far superior to those available from the heavily forested true summit.

Lupe could see the lookout tower from the true summit.  Perhaps it was only an illusion, but it actually looked higher to SPHP.

The Cement Ridge fire lookout tower (L) was visible from the cairn where the true summit is supposed to be. SPHP thought the lookout tower actually appeared higher, but perhaps its an illusion. Lupe offered no opinion. Photo looks NW.

Lupe had no comment on which point she thought might be highest, the lookout tower or this pathetic little cairn.  She was content to let surveyors battle that one out.  However, when SPHP asked if she wanted to go see the fabulous views at the tower, she was all for that!

A 10 minute trek N down through an aspen forest brought Lupe to a saddle where USFS Road No. 850 coming up from the W turns N.  Loop followed the road all the way to the lookout tower.  Not a soul was around.

Lupe reaches the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower. Photo looks E.
This survey benchmark is located at the base of the flag pole NW of the lookout tower.
The Cement Ridge fire lookout tower in eastern Wyoming is only 1 mile W of the South Dakota border. The true summit is even closer to South Dakota, only 0.5 mile away.

Instead of cotton ball clouds sailing a crystal blue sky, Lupe saw scattered tiny patches of blue lost in a gray-white ocean.  She felt no warm breezes.  There were wildflowers to sniff, but they tossed about tormented by a chilly N breeze.  The views were wonderful, but felt remote and forlorn, not bright and inspiring.

Looking SE along the length of Cement Ridge. The access road is seen below. The true summit (R) is the high point in the distance appearing almost straight up from Lupe’s head.
Inyan Kara (6,360 ft.) (R) from Cement Ridge. Photo looks SW with help from the telephoto lens.
George Armstrong Custer reached the summit of Inyan Kara on July 23, 1874, less than 2 years before his death in the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer’s Last Stand) on June 25-26, 1876 in Montana. Lupe reached the summit on November 9, 2014, more than 140 years after Custer.
Crow Peak (5,787 ft.) (R) is the most prominent peak W of Spearfish, SD. Photo looks NNE.
Looking NW toward the Bear Lodge Mountains. Warren Peaks (6,650 ft.) is the high point where another fire tower exists.

With sweeping views in nearly all directions, Lupe saw a great many Black Hills peaks she had been to before.  The wind was coldest and strongest, though, up near the fire tower.  Lupe and SPHP retreated a bit down the W slope to an old picnic table.  Conditions were only slightly better here, and only the views to the W could still be seen, but they were grand.

Looper and SPHP stayed at the lower picnic table soaking it all in.

Loopster up on the old picnic table. Inyan Kara is on the horizon to her R. Photo looks SW.
Warren Peaks again. Lupe made a number of expeditions to peaks in the Bear Lodge Mountains in the fall of 2016. Photo looks NW.
Looking E back toward the lookout tower from the lower picnic table. Two newer picnic tables were located up close to the tower.

Cement Ridge would be a great place to see the sunset, but Lupe was here too early for that.  The sun wouldn’t set for another couple of hours.  Even if she waited, the sky was so overcast, it wasn’t likely she would see much.  Besides, if she was ever going to see Balm of Gilead Gulch, she needed to get going.

Puppy ho!  After a little rest curled up beneath the old picnic table, Lupe set out for Balm of Gilead Gulch again.  The first part of the journey took her SE back along the length of Cement Ridge.  This time, instead of following the access road, she stayed up on the highest parts of the ridge where she could see the terrific views to the E.

A glance back at the Cement Ridge fire lookout tower. Photo looks NW.
Tiny wildflowers grew in profusion. These pretty little purple/pink flowers were SPHP’s favorites.
A final look back. Photo looks WNW.

On her way, since she had to pass so close to it again, Lupe returned to Cement Ridge’s true summit.

Approaching the true summit again, this time from the N. Photo looks S.
Looper returns to the true summit. She was now in a hurry to get to Balm of Gilead Gulch, so this time she didn’t dilly dally here more than a few minutes. Photo looks WNW.

Since Looper was now in a hurry to get to Balm of Gilead Gulch before the sun set, she stayed only a couple of minutes at the summit before pressing on to the S.  She came across a dirt road going SSE, which was faster for SPHP than traveling through the forest.

Going down this road, suddenly sunshine was filtering through the trees.  The sky, which had been 90%+ overcast all day long, was almost completely clear!  SPHP was astonished at how fast this transformation had taken place.  Only a few clouds remained.  The rest hadn’t floated on by, they had simply dissipated into thin air.

The sun was noticeably lower now, but would still be up for a while.  The evening light brought out even more wildlife.  Lupe saw more whitetails and giant deers.

Elk S of Cement Ridge. Photo looks SSE.

The road eventually reached USFS Road No. 105, this time a little E of its junction with No. 804.  A marker showed Lupe had been coming down USFS Road No. 105.1A.

Lupe at the marker for USFS Road No. 105.1a where it reaches No. 105. Lupe had just followed No. 105.1A SSE nearly all the way down from Cement Ridge’s true summit. Photo looks NNW.

A short trek to the W on No. 105 brought Lupe to the junction with No. 804 again.  This time she turned S on No. 105, following it back to the turn W onto No. 105.1B.

Earlier in the day, before ever reaching No. 105 on her way to Cement Ridge, Lupe had reached a broad gentle saddle where there was a 4-way intersection.  This was probably where she’d gotten on No. 105.1B as she continued E at the time.  However, SPHP had seen that the road going NW from there sloped gradually into a wide valley.  That wide valley was likely the upper end of Balm of Gilead Gulch.

With the sun getting ever lower, Lupe and SPHP hurried back along No. 105.1B, hoping to reach the broad saddle before the sun was down.  Even hurrying along, it was hard not to appreciate the beauty of the sunlight filtered by the trees.  What a wonderful evening trek!  Lupe was enthusiastic.  She raced through the forest exploring everything.

Sunlight filters through the forest nearing Balm of Gilead Gulch.

Lupe did make it to the broad saddle before the sun was down.  She turned NW on the road leading through the wide valley.  She followed the road a little way, but left it to follow a single track trail W down into Balm of Gilead Gulch.

Lupe reaches the beautiful broad valley at the upper end of Balm of Gilead Gulch. The sun wouldn’t be up much longer. Photo looks WNW.
On the single track trail after leaving the road.

Lupe traveled the entire length of Balm of Gilead Gulch, as sunlight left the valley floor to linger on the forested hillsides.  The pale golden light of day retreated to the uppermost treetops, and was lost.  Lupe saw deer.  She saw elk.  A hawk screeched and flew away.  Lower down where the valley narrowed, the Carolina Dog came to a tiny stream.

It was all beautiful, but though she sniffed and looked everywhere she could, the Carolina Dog never found it.  If a different road to a different place hadn’t been relabeled as USFS Road No. 804.1A, she would have been here much earlier and had more time.  Maybe, maybe then, she would have found it.  As it was, twilight faded, darkness descended, stars glittered in the night sky.

But Lupe never did find the fabled Balm of Gilead.  (End 9:32 PM, 32°F)


“Prophet! said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –

On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –

Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me, tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

from The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe

In Balm of Gilead Gulch

Note: The Cement Ridge fire lookout tower is accessible by road from the W or SE by following USFS Road No. 804 to No. 850.  The true summit is the hill immediately S of where No. 850 reaches a saddle on the ridgeline, and turns N to continue on to the lookout.  Another route exists from the E on USFS Road No. 103 to this same point, but requires a high clearance vehicle.

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

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 204 – Clayton Pond, Crooks Tower & Peak 6820 (5-13-17)

Start: 9:43 AM, 68°F, intersection of Long Draw Road (USFS Road No. 209) & USFS Road No. 209.2D

Loop barely got started on USFS Road No. 209.2D when it curved to the N and started going uphill.  Not the way she needed to go.  An unmarked grassy side road curved W continuing down the valley.  Lupe took it instead.

Lupe leaves USFS Road No. 209.2D to take the grassy side road seen beyond her down the valley to Merow Spring. Photo looks WNW.

As usual, Lupe was in a great mood!  She was ready for action on this gorgeous spring morning.  She trotted ahead of SPHP, frequently leaving the road to sniff and explore the narrow, forested valley.

The downhill grade gradually became steeper.  The road turned to dirt and rock.  After 0.5 mile, Lupe came to an ancient trough brimming with water.  A steady stream trickled out over one edge.  Below the trough was a muddy pool, where additional water seeped out of the ground.  A separate clear stream bubbled right up out of the road.

Lupe had reached Merow Spring.

Lupe reaches the ancient water trough at Merow Spring. It was completely full of water with a steady trickle overflowing the top of the edge on the L. Photo looks NE.
The muddy pool below the water trough. Loop started to venture into the pool for a drink, but sank into the mud so deeply that she backed off and drank from a tiny clear stream bubbling up right out of the road instead. Photo looks NE.

The Carolina Dog helped herself to a drink from Merow Spring, but finding nothing else of interest here, she continued on down the road.  For a little way, the tiny stream originating at Merow Spring wound around in the nearby forest, before sinking back underground.

The day was unseasonably warm.  Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the shade of the heavily forested valley.

Lupe on USFS Road No. 232.2C down in the narrow, shady valley W of Merow Spring. The morning was unseasonably warm with nearly cloudless skies, so the shade was nice to have. Photo looks W.

Less than 0.5 mile W of Merow Spring, the narrow valley merged with a wider valley of sunny green meadows.

Lupe reaches the wider valley W of Merow Spring. Photo looks SSW.

Lupe turned S, roaming freely through the bright meadows, exploring up the larger valley.  She soon discovered a stream.  The stream, though quite small, was much larger than the one at Merow Spring.

This stream was actually upper Spearfish Creek, the same Spearfish Creek that carved famed scenic Spearfish Canyon in the northern Black Hills.  This far upstream the valley did not exhibit the huge limestone cliffs present in Spearfish Canyon, but rock walls were exposed in a few places along the valley’s edge.

Lupe exploring the green meadows along the upper reaches of Spearfish Creek. The creek is small here, but has many tributaries farther downstream. By the time it reaches its more famous lower region in Spearfish Canyon, Spearfish Creek is one of the largest streams in the Black Hills. Photo looks S.
Limestone walls exposed along the edge of the valley. Photo looks WSW.

Loop was super excited when she heard a squirrel in the forest!  For some odd reason, the squirrel did not immediately climb a tree when it saw Lupe racing straight for it.  Instead, the squirrel waited until the last possible moment to scramble to safety beneath a large fallen tree.

The American Dingo was frantic to get at the poor squirrel!  The foolish squirrel was down on the ground, cornered beneath the fallen tree!  This was the opportunity of a lifetime!  Lupe bounded and danced around the tree, stopping to dig furiously in several places.  The dirt flew, but she couldn’t get at the squirrel, which was by now chattering loudly, thoroughly alarmed by the situation.

Lupe was keen on digging lunch out from under the fallen tree, but the squirrel proved elusive. How to get at it?

When digging didn’t work, Lupe decided to rip the tree apart!

The Carolina Dog resorts to ripping the dead tree apart!

SPHP called Lupe away, spoiling all the fun.

Loop, come on!  Leave that squirrel alone!

Don’t you humans have any survival instinct at all, SPHP?  Help me, don’t scold me!  Squirrels that aren’t smart enough to climb a tree are what we Dingoes call lunch!

Come!  Now!  I brought lunch, and you know it.  Taste of the Wild, good for Dingoes!

Yeah, but not as much fun!


Oh, all right.  Sheesh.

Lupe came.  Puppy ho!  Onward!  Meanwhile a greatly relieved nervous wreck of a squirrel made a mental note to climb way, way up a tall tree immediately if it ever caught so much as a glimpse of a ferocious Carolina Dog again.  Whew!

Loop trotted along happily for a few minutes before deciding to drag herself on her belly through Spearfish Creek to cool off.  She dried herself off on the green grass, then continued her upstream explorations.  About 0.75 mile from where she’d reached the Spearfish Creek valley, the terrain opened up where several valleys came together.  The creek curved away up into a small valley to the E.

Lupe along Spearfish Creek shortly before she left it where it turned and went up a smaller, steeper valley to the E. Photo looks S.

SPHP recognized this place.  Lupe had been here once before over 4 years ago on Expedition No. 57 way back on 5-4-13.  Back then she had come down Clayton Draw from the S looking for Clayton Pond.  She had found it, too, up in a side valley off to the NW.  Visiting Clayton Pond again was Lupe’s first real objective for today’s Expedition No. 204.

Where Spearfish Creek turned E, Lupe left it to follow the main valley curving W.  Soon she was going up a wide, shallow side valley to the NW.  Clayton Pond wasn’t much farther now.

When Lupe reached Clayton Pond, SPHP couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed.  Clayton Pond hadn’t been very large at all when Lupe had first seen it on Expedition No. 57.  Now it was even smaller.  It was easy to see why.  A breach in the earthen dam showed where the pond had overflowed and eroded away part of the dam.  The water level was now permanently a foot lower than before.  Not much, but to the shallow pond, one foot made a huge difference.

Lupe returns to Clayton Pond for the first time in more than 4 years. SPHP was disappointed to see that the pond was smaller than before due to a breach in the earthen dam. Photo looks NW.

Loop and SPHP strolled completely around the pond before taking a break at the edge of the forest to the E.

The muddy part on the R was all under water last time Lupe was at Clayton Pond. The pond was 50% larger and had a more interesting shape back then. Photo looks SE.
Looking SSE.

Since squirrel wasn’t on the menu due to SPHP’s confounded interference, Lupe settled a little glumly for her usual Taste of the Wild snack.  SPHP relaxed while looking at the topo maps, and enjoying the view of what remained of Clayton Pond.  Who knew?  Another 4 years of erosion, and Clayton Pond might pass into history.  May as well appreciate what remained of it while one could.

After 15 minutes of laziness, Lupe was ready to press on.  She departed Clayton Pond going SE back to the main valley, where she followed a road S.  Her next objective was a mountain 4 miles S of Clayton Pond – Crooks Tower (7,137 ft.), one of the highest points in the Black Hills.

A mile S of Clayton Pond, Lupe reached a part of the valley where she’d had a strange experience back on Expedition No. 57 with a type of creature she’d never seen before or since.  At Yellow Jacket Spring she had been, if not pursued, at least vigorously followed, by an odd, fearless, furry black and white creature – a skunk!

The Yellow Jacket Spring skunk had headed straight for Lupe and SPHP the moment it became aware of Lupe’s presence.  Lupe began running over to greet it, but fortunately returned to SPHP when called.  The skunk followed (pursued?) Lupe for 10 minutes thereafter, but failed to catch her before giving up.

SPHP had thought the skunk’s behavior peculiar.  Maybe it was rabid?  Whether it was or not, a Dingo/skunk encounter was not likely to end well.  Much better to avoid any such event.  Now, as Lupe approached Yellow Jacket Spring again, SPHP couldn’t help but wonder if the Yellow Jacket Spring skunk or its relatives were still around, but Lupe passed through the area uneventfully.

Nearing Yellow Jacket Spring where Lupe had been pursued by a skunk on Expedition No. 57. The spring wasn’t flowing today or back then, but probably originates at the water tank barely visible here in front of the largest pine tree on the R. Photo looks W.

Lupe made good progress going S up the wide valley, but the day was sunny and warm.  No stream or pond was to be found.  SPHP stopped several times along the shady edge of the forest to give Lupe water.  Dingo explorations can be a thirsty business!

Lupe took one of her quick water breaks near this large limestone outcropping right along the road S of Yellow Jacket Spring. Photo looks SE.

Two miles S of Yellow Jacket Spring, Lupe came to an intersection with South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231) near a couple of cabins and a big power line.  She was now half way to Crooks Tower from Clayton Pond.  She turned ESE on No. 231, but followed it only far enough to get E of private property associated with a cabin to the S.  Here she came across a side road heading SW into the forest.

The side road looked promising, so Lupe took it.  Being back in the shade of the forest again was nice.

On the shady side road S of South Rapid Creek Road. Having some shade again was nice! Photo looks WSW.

The road curved WSW for a little way, then bent back to the S.  Before long, the road divided.  Lupe took the L branch, which started a long climb up a moderately steep slope.  A couple of water breaks later, the road finally leveled out.  Ahead was a limestone platform that looked familiar.  SPHP was almost certain Lupe had been up there before on several other occasions.

The limestone platform wasn’t a bad viewpoint.  Lupe left the road.  She found a place where she could climb up onto the ridge, then went out to the far W end of the platform.  Yes, this was the same place!

Looking NW from the limestone platform. Lupe had been here before on several of her expeditions. The views aren’t bad to the N & W from here. Photo looks NW.
Looking N. This viewpoint is about a mile N of Crooks Tower.
A profusion of pink and white wildflowers were growing on the limestone platform.

The views were nice enough to entice Loopster and SPHP to take another 10 or 15 minute break here.  Crooks Tower was only a mile away to the S, but still couldn’t be seen.  All the views from the platform were toward the N or W.

Even though Crooks Tower wasn’t in view yet, Lupe knew the way when the time came to get going again.  She ran through the forest sniffing everywhere, as she worked her way S.  Finally, she could see part of the N ridge ahead.

This tree-broken view of the Crooks Tower N ridge is about as good as it gets on the approach from the N. Photo looks SSE.

Despite having a rather dramatic name and being one of the highest points in the Black Hills, Crooks Tower is in an area where much of the nearby terrain is heavily forested and almost as high.  Consequently, the views from the top aren’t dramatic, and there aren’t many places from which it is even possible to recognize the mountain from a distance.

Several nearby high points on the topo maps are enclosed by contours of the same elevation as the contour enclosing the true summit.  The N ridge led Lupe naturally SE up to the high point in the contour NE of the true summit.  Lupe found a crumbling limestone cairn.

Lupe reaches the top of the NE high point. The true summit of Crooks Tower was only a couple hundred yards to the SW, but could still barely be seen, even from here. Photo looks NW.
Lupe astride what appeared to be a disintegrating limestone cairn on Crooks Tower’s NE high point. Photo looks N.

Loopster didn’t dilly dally long at the NE high point.  She was going to get a good half hour break up on Crooks Tower’s true summit, which was only a couple hundred yards away.  She easily climbed the mountain’s 20 foot high limestone crest by circling around to the SW, where a short footpath leads right to the summit.

Ta da!  Lupe stood on Crooks Tower (7,137 ft.) for the 8th time, making it once again the peak Lupe has visited more often than any other.

Loopster taking it easy on Crooks Tower. Photo looks N.
Despite how high Crooks Tower is, this pleasant, but none too dramatic view is the best available from the true summit. Black Elk Peak (7,131 ft.) is seen on the far horizon on the L. Green Mountain (7,164 ft.) is the distant ridge on the R. Photo looks SSE.
On the tippy top of Crooks Tower. Photo looks N.
Crooks Tower is so easy! No wonder I like to come here. Photo looks N.
Loop on a slightly lower limestone ledge only a few feet NW of the true summit. Photo looks NNW at the other decent view from Crooks Tower.

What a beautiful day!  Loop and SPHP took it easy for a while.  The sun was still very high in the sky.  Puffy white clouds floated by.  Lupe had plenty of time.  SPHP ate the only apple.  Lupe had more Taste of the Wild.  Water for all.

Lupe chillin on Crooks Tower. Photo looks W at the lovely view, assuming you are a Ponderosa pine tree enthusiast.

This was Lupe’s 8th time on Crooks Tower.  It had been nearly 2 years since the last time she’d been here on Expedition No. 135.  Back then she had wound up getting injured down in Trebor Draw after leaving the summit.  SPHP had rushed her (sort of – it took hours to get there) to the the Animal Clinic of Rapid City where Emergency Veterinarian Dr. Erin Brown had patched her up late on a Saturday night.

Poor Lupe!  She’d come staggering back to SPHP after her operation looking drugged with tears in her eyes.  No more Trebor Draw today!  That wasn’t going to happen again.  Yet Lupe had so much time left in the day, a new plan was hatching in SPHP’s mind.  Why not go to another peak Lupe had been to a couple of times before?  Peak 6820 was less than 4 miles away to the NE as the crow flies.

Going to Peak 6820 would make for a long day, and there were no views at all from that forested hill, but so what?  May as well do something.  Lupe returned to the true summit of Crooks Tower for a final goodbye.

Back at the summit one more time. Photo looks SE.

SPHP tried to persuade Lupe to remain up on the summit block long enough for a bold American Dingo photo taken from below, but Lupe wasn’t having any of that.  If SPHP was starting for Peak 6820, she was too.  She did consent to a photo of a bold American Dingo beneath the summit block, but somehow it wasn’t quite the same.

Bold American Dingo, Lupe, poses undramatically beneath the not-so-towering limestone cliffs of Crooks Tower. Photo looks NNW.

Oh, well.  Onward!  Even though it was nearly 4 miles to Peak 6820 as the crow flies and Lupe knew a good shortcut, so many hours of daylight remained that SPHP led her on a long way around she had only taken once before long ago.  Lupe started off going SW instead of NE.  She ended up taking a considerably longer-than-SPHP-remembered tour of the entire region along USFS Road No. 631.

This route was scenic and easy, but time slipped by as Lupe traveled all the way from a valley SW of Crooks Tower around to the S, then E and NE sides of the mountain.  On the way, Lupe passed by the road leading NE into dangerous Trebor Draw.  A little later on, she discovered Dingo Arch.

On USFS Road No. 631 S of Crooks Tower. This route SPHP chose was scenic and easy, but miles longer than it needed to be. Photo looks E.
Looking NNE up the same hillside along USFS Road No. 631 S of Crooks Tower.
Lupe discovered Dingo Arch E of Crooks Tower, on a slope above USFS Road No. 631 near the road’s highest point. Arches are uncommon formations in the Black Hills. Photo looks WNW.

The long march on USFS Road No. 631 eventually brought Lupe to a valley leading all the way down to South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231).  Lupe followed this major gravel road N until she was within sight of the junction with Besant Park Road (No. 206).  Many deer were grazing in a lovely green field here, but they fled at Lupe’s approach.

By now, the angle of the sun was noticeably lower.  The blue skies and puffy white clouds prevalent earlier in the day had given way to a more darkly overcast scene.

Many deer were grazing in this lovely green field when Lupe arrived, but they fled at Lupe and SPHP’s approach. The junction of South Rapid Creek Road & Besant Park Road is at the far end of this big field on the R. Photo looks N.

Lupe was still 1.5 miles from Peak 6820 as the crow flies.  She wouldn’t have the benefit of a road the rest of the way.  Was there still enough time remaining for all the bushwhacking she would have to do?  Yeah, Loop could make it.  She had been through parts of this region before.

Lupe and SPHP left South Rapid Creek Road, crossed the green field, and headed SE up into the forest.

The forest was a complete mess.  Deadfall timber everywhere.  Slow, slow, slow! After a long struggle, Lupe finally made it up to a clearing at the top of a ridge.  She was already almost as high as Peak 6820, but still quite a distance from it.  Exactly how far was impossible to tell.  The flat terrain and dense forest at the edge of the clearing made it difficult to see a thing.

Lupe reaches the clearing at the top of the ridge after a long struggle through copious deadfall timber. Although she was quite high, Peak 6820 was nowhere in sight. Photo looks SE.

Peak 6820 was somewhere to the NE.  Lupe and SPHP plunged into the forest again.  More deadfall.  Tons of it.  Zigging and zagging like drunks looking for a way through.  Nothing looked the least bit familiar.  Everything was just a jumble of dead trees beneath the still standing forest.

Lupe came to a higher, short rocky ridge.  High Point 6801?  Who knew?  No views were available even from here.  The only other time Lupe had come to Peak 6820 from this direction was her first time up it on 10-8-14, more than 2.5 years ago.  It hadn’t been this difficult then.  Lupe had at least caught a few glimpses of Peak 6820 from a distance to orient by.  Now, nothing.

N, E, SE – Lupe went which ever way seemed easiest to avoid the worst of the deadfall.  None of the strange structures she had seen on her first trip to Peak 6820 appeared.  She had to be getting close, but in the gloom of the forest, it was becoming confusing as to which way Lupe should even try to go.  Speaking of gloom, the forest seemed prematurely dark.

Thunder in the distance.  First drops.  Rain!  No matter.  Onward!  The rain was light, but even so, before long Lupe was wet.  She reached another high point.  Was this it?  Had Lupe stumbled upon Peak 6820?  It didn’t look right.  SPHP remembered a clearing with a mud hole where Lupe had bathed both times she’d been to Peak 6820 before.  Lupe searched all around the top of this hill for it.  Nada.  Wrong hill.

It must be farther N.  Lupe went N on the big hill until she began to lose elevation.  No sign of Peak 6820 here or anywhere else.  Had Lupe gone too far SE earlier?  SPHP led her NW down off the big hill.  The deadfall wasn’t quite as bad here, but Peak 6820 did not appear.  Lightning flickered in the clouds, thunder rumbled constantly.  The rain remained light and sporadic, but might become a cloudburst at any time.  The forecast hadn’t even mentioned rain today.  Figured.

The Carolina Dog wanted attention.

What’s wrong with your senses?  Don’t you hear or see anything, SPHP?  Lightning, thunder!  Let’s hide!  A storm is coming!  I’m already all wet.

Yeah, I know, but we’ll be OK.  Besides there isn’t any place to hide, and we need to get to Peak 6820 soon, or forget about it.  We can’t let it get dark while we sit around out here.  We’ll never find a way out of this deadfall at night.

Well then, let’s get there fast!  What’s in that water bottle of yours anyway?  You’ve been stumbling around out here like you’re totally wasted.

I’m trying to find it, Looper.

What, the mountain?

Yes, of course.  I’m just not totally sure which direction it is from here.

You mean it’s lost?

No, of course not, silly Dingo.  Mountains don’t move.  They always stay in the exact same place.

Oh, I get it.  You mean we’re lost.

No, well, I mean we are imprecisely located right now.  I know about where we are, just not exactly, which makes it hard to say where the mountain is from here, but I know it can’t be too far away.

Lupe wasn’t buying it.  The Carolina Dog looked worried.

Sweet! We’re lost in this wretched forest with night and a storm coming on. Any more good news, SPHP? The Carolina Dog looked worried.

Oh, OK!  I suppose you’re right Looper.  Apparently it’s later than I thought.  Maybe we better give up on Peak 6820.  I shouldn’t have taken the long way.  Let’s get out of here.

Lupe was in favor of that.  SPHP led her NW through the forest.  Even though this was the shortest way out, the Carolina Dog had at least a mile of bushwhacking ahead of her.

Ten minutes later, there it was!  Peak 6820!  SPHP saw it off to the NE.  That hill had to be it, and wasn’t too far away.  Lupe could make it.  There was still time.  SPHP turned on a dime.

Change of plans, Looper!  Forget NW, we’re going NE.  Peak 6820 is right over there.  Come on!

Lupe led the charge through the forest.  Apparently she wanted to get Peak 6820 over and done with fast.  The rains came more often and harder.  More lightning!  More thunder!  As the first tiny hailstones bounced on the ground, Lupe and SPHP both saw it.  Up a short slope at the base of a limestone outcropping was a perfect little Dingo Cave.  Lupe and SPHP scrambled up the bank to safety.

Lupe reaches the safety of the Dingo Cave somewhere on the upper W slope of Peak 6820. Photo looks NW.

It hailed briefly twice, but not hard.  The hail was only pea-sized at most, so it wasn’t that bad.  Rain poured down, though, for 20 minutes.  Never a deluge, but by the time it was all over, everything was sopping wet outside.  Lupe and SPHP watched it all happen from the bone dry shelter of the Dingo Cave.  Not a drop fell inside.  What were the odds?

Loopster, my friend, you are one lucky Carolina Dog!  We never would have found this place, even if we’d known it was here ahead of time.

Loop at the mouth of the Dingo Cave after the storm went by.

Pushing past soaking wet bushes on the forest floor, Lupe still got drenched, but the top of Peak 6820 was only 5 minutes from the Dingo Cave.  She did get there.  This was it!  The familiar mud hole in the clearing didn’t have much water in it, but what was there was fresh.  Heh.  As sopping wet as Lupe was, she felt no need for a bath this time around.

Lupe by the little mud hole in the clearing on top of Peak 6820. The glare beyond her is the sun low in the W.
No need for a mucky Dingo bath today!

The top of Peak 6820 is nearly level over a large area, but slightly higher ESE of the mud hole.  Lupe and SPHP went over that way to visit the true summit.  Someone else had been here!  Lupe came across a cairn she never seen before.

Lupe at the new cairn she discovered on Peak 6820. Photo looks E.

Lupe and SPHP continued E beyond the cairn.  Lupe went to the spot she has always considered the summit, even though it was scarcely any higher than where the cairn was.  And that was it.  Success!  Peak 6820 visited for a 3rd time!

At Lupe’s traditional Peak 6820 summit point, perhaps 30 or 40 feet E of the cairn. Photo looks W.

Sunset in 30 minutes.  Lupe now faced a race against time.  The shortest route back to the G6 was to the NW.  Lupe had been that way before, but it was too late to even try that direction.  It was a total bushwhack through forest and deadfall timber for more than a mile to any road.

The second time Lupe had come to Peak 6820, SPHP remembered she’d followed a faint road up from the E, arriving at the N end of the summit area.  Going E meant going away from the G6, but the faint road led to USFS Road No. 234, a better road which went around the W end of Swede Gulch.  If Loop could make it to No. 234, she wouldn’t get stuck out here in the deadfall all night.

The road to the E was even fainter now.  SPHP had a hard time even finding it at first, but it was there.  Good thing!  Hurry, hurry Dingo!  Lupe and SPHP followed the faint road as quickly as possible.  SPHP briefly lost track of the road a few times, but the American Dingo kept finding it again.  The road was longer than SPHP remembered.  The sun set, twilight was fading, but Lupe made it to No. 234.

Lupe on USFS Road No. 234 E of Peak 6820. By reaching this better road, Lupe escaped the possibility she might get stuck spending the night out here. Photo looks N.

Seven miles at least back to the G6.  The long march began.  It rained again, but not as hard as before.  Lupe and SPHP found partial shelter beneath a big pine along No. 234.  In 10 minutes it was over.  Lupe left the road to take a shortcut through big fields heading W along Tillson Creek.  On and on.  A couple miles later she reached Besant Park Road (USFS Road No. 206) near the SE end of Besant Park.

The rest of the way back was entirely along good gravel roads.  The Carolina Dog trotted along sometimes leading, sometimes at SPHP’s heels.  It was an amazing evening.  Lightning flashed among clouds in ever changing directions, but always some distance away.  Now and then a brilliant bolt struck the earth.  Thunder rolled louder, fainter, then louder again.  Dark rumbling clouds threatened rain, but never did more than sprinkle.

Once Lupe begged SPHP to stop for a rest along South Rapid Creek Road.  OK.  For 10 minutes, Lupe curled up next to a tree stump, wearily licking tired, muddy paws.  Rain threatened again.  Still nearly 4 miles to go.  Puppy ho!  Let’s get this over with!

At exactly 11:00 PM (50°F), Lupe made it back to the G6.  She was thirsty.  SPHP gave her a big drink.  Then she jumped in and curled up.  Her 13+ hour adventures on Expedition No. 204 were finally over.

Or were they?

Ten minutes later, heading E on South Rapid Creek Road, the high beams illuminated something scurrying along as fast as it could.  Big, furry, low to the ground, black and white.  SPHP shouted a word Lupe had never heard shouted before – skunk!

Lupe leapt to her paws in time to see it.  Dead ahead a huge skunk was racing E for the exact same spot where Lupe had taken her last rest break by the tree stump!  The Carolina Dog barked furiously as the G6 sped by, and the skunk dashed into the darkness.

By golly, Looper, that Yellow Jacket Spring skunk is still on your trail after all these years!

Clayton Pond in all its glory 4 years earlier. Photo taken on Expedition No. 57, 5-4-13.
At the hidden Dingo Cave on the W slopes of Peak 6820.

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

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 203 – Gimlet Creek to Minnesota Ridge (5-6-17)

Start 8:23 AM, 50°F, USFS Road No. 203.5 just off Rochford Road

Lupe liked the looks of this place – green grass, a bubbling creek, choice of sun or shade.  A slice of American Dingo paradise, that’s what it was!  Loopster was all smiles.

Lupe was all smiles at the start of Expedition No. 203. She anticipated a great day ahead!

Smiles and energy, that is!  Lupe took off running.  She bounded through the tall grass wet with dew near Gimlet Creek.  Of course, she tested the waters of the creek itself, too.  They quickly earned the Carolina Dog seal of approval.

Lupe’s day started close to the confluence of Gimlet Creek & East Gimlet Creek. Here she tests the waters of East Gimlet Creek.

As SPHP started up USFS Road No. 203.5, Lupe raced through fields on both sides of the creek.  Sometimes she scrambled partway up the sides of the valley.  She was looking for squirrels, but didn’t find any.  A great many of the large trees on the hillsides were dead, killed by pine bark beetles.

Lupe remained hopeful, though.  The day was just beginning.  Having a creek to follow was simply glorious!  Loop loved being able to cool off in the stream.  At intervals, the road had big mud puddles, too.  Lupe strolled through each one, slurping up cloudy brown water as she went.  She was definitely getting her mineral requirements met.

Lupe on USFS Road No. 203.5 in lower Gimlet Creek valley. Photo looks N.
Lupe got to follow USFS Road No. 203.5 up Gimlet Creek valley for more than 2 miles. Actually, it was SPHP who followed the road. Loop was busy exploring.
Looking downstream in the Gimlet Creek valley. The lower part of the valley was fairly narrow as seen here. Photo looks S.
Looking NNW up the valley.

Only a week ago, Lupe had found snow up in the hills on Expedition No. 202.  No chance of that today.  Not even close.  Beneath a cloudless blue sky, the day was warming up fast.  In fact, the forecast was for near record temperatures in the 80’s °F.  From winter to summer with scarcely any transition between.  Not good, but not that unusual in the Black Hills.

After 2 miles, the road forded Gimlet Creek.  Lupe was already slowing down due to the rising temperatures.  She stayed closer to SPHP and the road.  Fur coats are wonderful when it’s cool out, but not so great when it’s warm.  Lupe’s tongue hung out.  She wore a perpetual smile whether she wanted to or not.

By the time Lupe reached the Gimlet Creek ford on USFS Road No. 203.5, she was slowing down. The day was warming up fast, and the heat was starting to get to her. The creek and every mud puddle she came to were welcome sights.

Beyond the ford, the valley widened out considerably.

The valley had become much wider by the time Lupe reached the ford on Gimlet Creek. Photo looks N across the valley, which curves to the E (R) here for a short distance.

About 0.25 mile N of the ford, Gimlet Creek turned E.  From a side valley to the W, a smaller tributary stream flowed into a pond before continuing over to its confluence with Gimlet Creek.  Several ducks flew away as Lupe drew near the pond.

Getting close to the pond, which isn’t in view quite yet, but isn’t far off to the L. The small tributary stream flows through the fenced-in area seen above Looper on its way to Gimlet Creek on the far R. Photo looks NE.
Lupe reaches the pond, the biggest water feature she would see on Expedition No. 203. Several ducks had flown off as Lupe approached. Photo looks NW.
A good bridge crossed the small tributary of Gimlet Creek where it exited the pond. Lupe had come up USFS Road No. 203.5 from the direction seen on the L. Photo looks SW.

A family of Canadian geese had made this pond home.  When Lupe arrived, they were out for a stroll on the green grass nearby.

Momma and papa goose out for a stroll with their 5 chicks.

The little geese were far too young to fly, so when momma and papa saw Lupe, they led the chicks back to the safety of the water.  In the meantime, the ducks had already returned.

By the time Lupe circled around to the N side of the pond, the ducks had already returned. Photo looks S down the Gimlet Creek valley the way Lupe had come.
The geese returned to the safety of the water while Lupe was around.

For a few minutes, Lupe and SPHP enjoyed watching the ducks and geese.  Unseen frogs sang a noisy tune.  It was a pleasant scene, but Lupe was soon eager to press on.

Immediately N of the pond, USFS Road No. 203.5 left the valley and disappeared up a forested hillside.  Lupe didn’t follow it.  Instead, she went W on a fading side road, which paralleled the tributary of Gimlet Creek.  She had to go around deadfall timber blocking the road in a number of places.

The side road soon ended at a marshy area where another small valley came down from the N.  Lupe crossed the marsh, still heading W.  She stayed in the valley the tributary of Gimlet Creek flowed through.  Eventually this valley turned N, too.

The tributary of Gimlet Creek was a very small stream, but did have flow.  After the valley turned N, Lupe came across another minor road following this stream.  The road forded the tiny creek 5 or 6 times.  Lupe was always glad to have another chance to cool her paws off.

A minor road Lupe was following upstream forded the little creek 5 or 6 times. Lupe was always glad to have another chance to cool her paws off or get a quick drink. Photo looks NNE.
The tiny stream supported a lush green ribbon of life.

Lupe was 1.25 miles from the pond when she came to a pole fence across the valley.  On the other side was a better road.  Lupe went around the fence and continued N on this new road.   She met a little green snake basking in the sun.  Though it was warm out, the snake didn’t move even when SPHP prodded it with a stick.

Why the snake didn’t move wasn’t clear.  It looked fine, but perhaps something was wrong with it?  The only sign of life it gave was to flicker its tongue when lightly poked.

Lupe came to this small green snake basking in the sun on the road. It wouldn’t move other than to flick its tongue now and then.

The new road quickly brought Lupe to a junction.  A sign said Lupe had been on Killoern Springs Road (USFS Road No. 204.1B).  The other road at the junction was USFS Road No. 204.1.  Lupe sat in the shade of a big pine tree while SPHP checked the maps.

Lupe relaxes in the shade of a pine tree while SPHP checks the maps.
Looking NW from the junction of Killoern Springs Road and USFS Road No. 204.1. Pine bark beetle damaged sections of the forest are a common sight in the Black Hills these days.

The maps confirmed that Lupe was now more than 3 miles from where she’d left the G6.  She actually did have a peakbagging goal today.  She was on her way to Minnesota Ridge (6,240 ft.), the summit of which was still another 2 miles to the NW.  Only a little farther N on No. 204.1 was another junction, this one with Minnesota Ridge Road (USFS Road No. 203).  In fact, Lupe could see the junction from here.

Minnesota Ridge Road wouldn’t take Lupe all the way to the summit, but it would get her reasonably close.  Lupe headed for it.

The march up Minnesota Ridge Road was sunny.  The day was very hot for early May.  The little stream Lupe had been following had completely disappeared.  Lupe panted.  Her tongue hung out as she plodded along the dusty road behind SPHP.  A couple of times, SPHP stopped to give her water.

The road didn’t climb all that steeply, but it was steep enough.  The heat sapped both Lupe’s and SPHP’s energy.  A mile from the last junction, the road finally began to level out.  Lupe reached another intersection with Greens Gulch Loop.

The road leveled out about the time Lupe reached this intersection with Greens Gulch Loop (unseen to the L). Photo looks N.

SPHP checked the maps again.  Lupe could go either way, W on Greens Gulch Loop or N on Minnesota Ridge Road.  No matter which way she went, she would have to leave the road before long.

Loop stayed on Minnesota Ridge Road for another 0.25 mile.  She reached a big mud hole where frogs were singing noisily.

Frogs singing in this mud hole on the E side of Minnesota Ridge Road ceased their din when Lupe appeared. Lupe was far enough N now. It was time to leave the road to look for the summit of Minnesota Ridge. Photo looks ENE.

Lupe left the road heading WNW through the forest.  The true summit of Minnesota Ridge might be as much as 0.5 mile away or even a little more.  SPHP was more concerned with how difficult it might be to find the summit, than how far away it was.  The topo map showed only a gradual rise in the terrain toward the W.  The top of Minnesota Ridge was likely to be flat, forested, and cover a lot of territory.

Although many trees were still green and growing, the forest floor was thick with beetle-killed deadfall timber.  Lupe wound around trying to avoid the worst of it.  At least it was clear Lupe actually was gradually gaining elevation as she continued WNW.  Nothing except more forest was in view in any direction.

After a long wandering way, Lupe started catching glimpses of distant ridges miles away to the W.  She was nearing the W edge of Minnesota Ridge, which was the steepest side of the mountain.  As she reached what seemed to be the highest terrain, Lupe found a series of boulders scattered along a line running roughly N/S.

Tree broken views of distant ridges farther W appeared as Lupe reached the W “edge” of Minnesota Ridge. A line of boulders ran N/S. Maybe one of them was the true summit? Photo looks W.

Lupe had hardly seen any rocks in the forest until now.  Maybe this was Minnesota Ridge’s summit area?  It seemed likely.  Perhaps one of these boulders would be clearly higher than all the others?  Maybe it wasn’t going to be as hard to find the true summit as SPHP expected.

Lupe explored S along the line of boulders.  She didn’t have to go too far before it became clear the terrain was definitely going to start dropping off if she went any farther this way.

Lupe on the last big boulder at the S end of the highest terrain. A short exploration to the S from here confirmed that Lupe would lose elevation going any farther that way. Photo looks S.

Once it was established that there was no point in going any farther S, Lupe turned N again.  She followed the line of scattered boulders looking for the highest one.

Lupe willingly leapt up on each boulder SPHP thought might be the true summit of Minnesota Ridge (6,240 ft.), but the process soon became somewhat of a comedy.  Each time SPHP believed Lupe had been at the true summit, another boulder that seemed clearly a little higher would be found hidden in the forest another 20 to 50 feet farther N.

Lupe on the 1st boulder SPHP declared the true summit. Photo looks NE.
On the 2nd “true summit”. Photo looks NW.
On the 3rd “true summit”. Photo looks E.
Lupe on the 4th “true summit”. This one was well back from the W edge of the mountain, and had an interesting knob of different colored rock firmly fastened on top. There was even a clearing in the forest nearby. Photo looks NW.
The 5th “true summit” rock had its own little ecosystem growing on it. SPHP named this one Garden Rock. Photo looks ENE.
Looper on the 6th “true summit”, the highest and farthest N in the line of boulders. Photo looks NNW.

Finally after standing on 6 different “true summit” boulders, the line of boulders faded away.  The ground to the N seemed to dip slightly, so No. 6 was probably it. To be certain, though, Lupe continued N near the W edge of the mountain.  Only when it was clear that the terrain was going to start dropping off decisively would Lupe claim her peakbagging success.

It didn’t happen.  Beyond the slight dip, the ground rose slowly again.  Lupe went hundreds of feet N before coming to another area where the terrain leveled out.  She was almost certainly higher now than she had been back at boulder No. 6.  This large area of flat ground was sunny and open.  Most of the trees had been killed by pine bark beetles, and had subsequently snapped and fallen over.

SPHP didn’t like it.  This area now had to be considered the true summit, but the place lacked charm.  All the deadfall was just plain ugly.  A couple of modest-sized rocks about equal in elevation were now joint contenders for true summit.  Once again, Lupe willingly got on each one.

Boulder No. 7 in contention for the title of true summit. However, No. 8 only 25 feet away was about the same elevation, too. Photo looks SSW.
“True summit” No. 8 was in an ugly place with lots of deadfall. Photo looks N.

“True summits” 7 and 8 were in such a hideous place, there was no point in lingering.  The terrain to the N was still flat, so Lupe needed to explore it too, in order to make certain this was actually the top of the mountain.

The deadfall was bad for hundreds of feet.  Lupe and SPHP made slow progress, but nearing the end of it, a rock ledge appeared ahead.  It was definitely at least 5 feet higher than anywhere Lupe had been yet!  SPHP was glad.  Lupe worked her way over to it.

From the S end of the rock ledge, Lupe could see that the ledge continued on to the NNW for some distance.  Lupe was at the top of a line of small cliffs which became larger off to the NNW, but only because the terrain below the cliffs was dropping off faster than the ledge above.  The S end of the ledge where Lupe first reached it appeared to be the highest point.

The rock ledge definitely made a better looking “true summit” No. 9.  Lupe perched on top while SPHP scrambled down through rocks and deadfall to get her official Minnesota Ridge (6,240 ft.) summit photo.

Lupe perches on “true summit” No. 9 at the S end of the rock ledge. Photo looks N.

Lupe even enjoyed a bit of a view from the ledge, making it even more worthy of being the summit.

The view to the W wasn’t spectacular, but was much better than a bunch of collapsed dead trees.

Lupe and SPHP explored a little farther to the NNW along the rock ledge.  The ledge lost elevation gradually in this direction, but continued onward.

Beneath the shade of a big pine tree, not far from “true summit” No. 9 at a point where the views to the W were pretty good, Lupe and SPHP took a break.  Lupe crunched some of her Taste of the Wild.  SPHP munched an apple.  The water in the water bottles was icky warm now, but that couldn’t be helped.  Warm water or none at all.  Take it or leave it.

After 5 or 10 minutes, a couple of large birds came sailing by.  They circled and soared in updrafts near the ledge.  They circled around many times, but were moving so fast through the small patch of sky where Lupe had a clear view of them between the pines, it was hard for SPHP to get a good photo.

One of the two large birds soaring on updrafts near the long ledge. The birds circled around to swoop by many times during Lupe’s break.
Hawks or eagles? SPHP wasn’t sure. They didn’t seem quite large enough to be eagles.
Lupe on a big rectangular rock at the edge of the ledge. Her break area was just off to the L. True summit No. 9 is only a short distance beyond her. Photo looks SSE.
On the same rectangular rock.

When the big birds soared away for the final time, Lupe’s break was over.  She returned briefly to “true summit” No. 9.  Since the terrain 30 to 50 feet back from the edge of the ledge seemed to be slightly higher, Lupe resumed her search for the absolutely highest point.

Nothing really stood out as being the exact spot, so Lupe chose a small rock that looked as high as anything else around for her final “true summit” No. 10 photo.  If this wasn’t the real deal, SPHP was convinced it had to be within a foot or two of the actual high point, which might be hidden anywhere among all the deadfall nearby.  This was close enough as far as Carolina Dogs are concerned!

True summit No. 10. Even if this wasn’t the actual tippy top of Minnesota Ridge it had to be close. Certainly close enough as far as Carolina Dogs are concerned. Photo looks NNE.

Ten true summits were more than enough for any mountain.  Lupe claimed her peakbagging success.  Now what?  The sun was still high in the sky.  Hours and hours of daylight remained.  May as well explore NNW along the rock ledge to see how far it went.  Maybe there were places with better views than Lupe had seen so far?

Lupe explores farther NNW along the rock ledge. Photo looks SSE.

Lupe did come to a few places where the rock ledge provided better views!  All of the views were to the W where Lupe could see the edge of the higher limestone plateau country of the western Black Hills.  She could see Nipple Butte (6,800 ft.), Flag Mountain (6,937 ft.) and other high points she had been to before on prior expeditions, but they were all miles away.

Looking SW from the ledge toward the higher limestone plateau country of the western Black Hills.
Lupe out on the largest rock platform she found along the entire ledge. Nipple Butte and Flag Mountain are in view on the horizon straight up from her, but they are very far away. Photo looks SW.

The rock ledge eventually petered out.  The views were gone.  It was clear Lupe really had been to the summit.  She had lost enough elevation by now so there was no doubt.  With all the time left in the day, Lupe could still do some exploring.

Years ago, back during the days of her early expeditions, Lupe had come to the Minnesota Ridge area on several different occasions, although she had never sought out the summit before today.  Somewhere to the W was a road she had followed as a very young Dingo a couple of different times.  It would be fun to travel it again.  Somewhere to the N was a road she had been on before that would lead her to it.

Lupe and SPHP went N looking for the road.  Lupe was losing elevation steadily now.  She came to a big field that didn’t seem familiar.

Lupe came to this big field somewhere on the N slope of Minnesota Ridge. SPHP didn’t recognize it. Photo looks S.

The big field led down to another good-sized field, where Lupe discovered an American Dingo display stand.

Lupe on the American Dingo display stand. What else could it be?

From the American Dingo display stand, Lupe headed NW.  She picked up a faint road she had never been on before.  Eventually it turned W and led her to the USFS road SPHP remembered W of Minnesota Ridge.

Lupe traveled S on this road, which ultimately proved to be USFS Road No. 204.1A.  It was fun to recognize a few places along the way.  Lupe took a short break at a tiny creek she had been to years before.  This creek flows down into Greens Gulch, but Lupe did not follow it as she had done on one prior occasion.

Lupe drank again from this tiny stream that flows into Greens Gulch. It had been years since she’d last been here.

The road went up and down.  It was surprising how much of it still seemed familiar, despite the years gone by.  The uphill stretches weren’t that long or difficult, but made the heat more oppressive.  Lupe had plenty of time.  After climbing past one uphill stretch, Lupe and SPHP took a water break.

Yes, the water was warm, but it did feel good to sit down and rest a bit.  A few clouds were drifting through the blue sky.  Lupe seemed content to lay panting on the ground, watching and listening.  Why not?  SPHP stretched out, too.  The heat made being lazy easy.

SPHP watched clouds.  Lupe listened to birds and watched for signs of activity in the forest.  Half an hour went by.  Then Lupe spotted a deer peering at her through the forest.  For a couple of minutes, Lupe and the deer stared at each other.  When the deer finally looked away and started moving, it was too much for Lupe.  Instinct took over and she was off like a shot.  A minute later she was back.  Lazy day break time was over.

Lupe’s trek along the road continued.  She soon came to a familiar intersection where she turned E on USFS Road No. 204.1.  She completed her big loop around the W side of Minnesota Ridge and arrived back at Killoern Springs Road.

On the remaining 3 miles back to the G6, Lupe retraced her route taken earlier in the day.  The ducks and Canadian geese were still at the pond.  Lupe and SPHP stopped to watch them for 15 minutes before pressing on S down Gimlet Creek valley.

Nearing the pond again. Photo looks E.
The Canadian geese were still at the pond. Lupe and SPHP watched them for a little while before pressing on.

The G6 wasn’t far from the confluence of Gimlet Creek and East Gimlet Creek.  On her last exploration of the day, Lupe visited the confluence.  She drank the refreshing cold water, and cooled her paws off one more time in the combined stream.

Expedition No. 203 had been different from most in recent years.  It was more of a throwback to the long treks of Lupe’s early years, with less emphasis on peakbagging.  Lupe had really enjoyed Gimlet Creek, the pond, and the easy strolls through the long valleys.  She still made it to the top of Minnesota Ridge, and got to see territory she hadn’t been to in years.

The unseasonal heat showed one thing, though.  It was soon time to think about heading to higher ground and cooler climes.  For a little while yet, that still meant higher terrain in Lupe’s Black Hills.  However, it wouldn’t be long before more distant adventures beckoned.

The start of Lupe’s grand summer of 2017 was fast approaching.

(End 6:04 PM, 77°F)

At the confluence of East Gimlet Creek (L) and Gimlet Creek (R) at the end of the day.

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 202 – Ford Mountain, Storm Hill & Ingersoll Peak (4-29-17)

Start – Old Hill City Road near the 1880 Train crossing NNE of Ford Mountain (10:13 AM, 40°F).

The week after Joe & cousin Dusty headed back home to Colorado was overcast and cold.  On the 25th, Lupe stared bored out the window all day as light snow fell.  Winter’s last blast didn’t amount to much, but snowflakes were still sailing on the breeze the next  morning.  Although only an inch or two had fallen, once again Lupe’s world was all white.

By afternoon, the snow ended.  By evening, it had warmed up enough to melt almost everything that had fallen.  The world reverted to green, but gray clouds remained.  The next few days weren’t much warmer.  Now and then a cold rain or mist fell.

When Lupe finally got to venture up into the Black Hills again, it wasn’t surprising Expedition No. 202 got off to a snowy start.  The snow hadn’t melted yet up here.  Lupe, of course, was delighted!  She frolicked and cooled off on the clean new snow with enormous enthusiasm.  It was a great start to her journey up Ford Mountain (5,641 ft.).

Lupe was delighted to find a couple inches of snow to frolic on as she set out for Ford Mountain.

The snow was only a couple of inches deep, but it was everywhere on the N slope.  Fortunately, the slope wasn’t too steep.  SPHP was able to follow Lupe up despite the slick snow.  Before long, Lupe had gained enough elevation to see another mountain she hoped to climb today.  Storm Hill was off to the NE.

Storm Hill, another mountain Lupe hoped to visit today, came into view as she climbed Ford Mountain. Photo looks NE.

At first, going up Ford Mountain was easy.  Less than 1/3 of the way up, though, Lupe reached a zone covered with a lot of deadfall timber.  Progress up the mountain slowed considerably.

Lupe arrives at the zone of heavy deadfall timber. The deadfall greatly slowed SPHP’s progress up the mountain. Photo looks SSE.

The deadfall didn’t diminish until Lupe neared the top of Ford Mountain’s NE shoulder.  The NE shoulder featured scattered rock outcroppings.  Lupe got up on the highest one, but the forest was so thick she didn’t have any distant views.  She could barely make out Ford Mountain’s summit off to the SW.

Lupe on the highest rock outcropping on Ford Mountain’s NE shoulder. The mountain’s summit is barely discernable between the trees beyond her. Photo looks SW.

Lupe lost only a little elevation traversing the snowy saddle leading to the final climb.  Deadfall was a problem here, too, though not quite as bad as earlier on.  This climb was noticeably steeper, making footing more difficult for SPHP with the snow around.

The final 50 feet up was much rockier than the rest of the mountain had been.  Lupe still had an easy time of it, while SPHP scrambled slowly to the top.

The last 50 feet to the top were steeper and much rockier than the rest of Lupe’s route up had been. Photo looks SSW.

When Lupe reached the top of Ford Mountain (5,641 ft.), she found a roughly circular summit area 100 feet in diameter.  The area was nearly flat, but slightly higher toward the center.  All along the edge, from the NE around to the E and S, an uneven rock ledge perched above cliffs offered sweeping unobstructed views.

Lupe close to where she first reached the summit area. Five Points (6,221 ft.) (R) is the highest mountain seen beyond her. Union Hill (6,120 ft.) is the snowiest high point on the far L. Photo looks N.
Storm Hill (5,656 ft.) is on the L. Farther away R of Center is Mount Warner (5,889 ft.). Samelius Peak (5,856 ft.) is on the far R. Photo looks ENE.
Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, is straight up from Lupe on the horizon. Photo looks S.
Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.) is the most distant peak L of Center. Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) is the smaller, snowy mountain in the distance beyond Lupe. Photo looks SSW.

After checking out the splendid views, Lupe visited Ford Mountain’s true summit.  The center of the summit area was so flat, she really didn’t find any one point that looked noticeably higher than the rest.  No cairn or survey benchmark was to be seen either, but Lupe did find something way cooler than that – a stone fortress!

Another look at Black Elk Peak. This photo shows more of Ford Mountain’s summit. Photo looks S.
No cairn or survey benchmark could be found on Ford Mountain, but Lupe did find this cool stone fortress! Photo looks WNW.

On her many adventures in the Black Hills, Lupe sometimes comes across small structures which could serve as Dingo Outposts, but seldom anything as elaborate as the Dingo Fortress on Ford Mountain.  Someone had spent a lot of time moving a lot of heavy rocks building it.

An opening to the WNW served as a doorway.  Lupe went inside to inspect her latest Black Hills Dingo Bastion.

Yes, a Carolina Dog would be safe in this solid stone fort. It was almost a Dingo Castle! Photo looks E.

The stone fort met with Lupe’s approval.  Best, most elaborate summit cairn ever!  After sniffing around the interior a bit, Lupe came out to see what else there was to see up here.Part of Hill City was in view off to the NW.

The NE end of Hill City is in view in the valley below. The highest peak on the R is Union Hill (6,120 ft.). Photo looks NW.

The view of Bishop Mountain (5,706 ft.) to the SW was partially blocked by the forest, and wasn’t that impressive.  So that was about it.  Lupe made a final tour of the sights from the cliff edge.

A nice look S all the way from Black Elk Peak (L) over to Sylvan Hill (far R).
Storm Hill, Lupe’s next peakbagging objective. She would travel up the W slope seen on the L. An intense fire on the mountain destroyed most of the forest some years ago. Photo looks NE with help from the telephoto lens.
Looking N at Five Points (Center) using the telephoto lens. The peak on the L is known to Lupe as False North Point.

Lupe retraced her original route up on the way down Ford Mountain.  She was surprised when she arrived at G6 and SPHP walked right on by without even stopping.  She was even more surprised when SPHP started following train tracks on the other side of Old Hill City Road.  It was the first time she’d ever followed train tracks.

SPHP knew they would lead her to the base of Storm Hill.

Lupe was surprised to be following train tracks on her way to Storm Hill.

Lupe wouldn’t see a train today, but the tracks aren’t abandoned.  They only see use during the summer, when the 1880 Train runs from Hill City past Oblivion to Keystone and back.  The round trip is a popular sightseeing excursion for tourists.  A few more weeks, and the 1880 Train would be running again.

Fortunately, there was something else Lupe didn’t see as she was busy sniffing along the tracks in the first gap the railroad passed through.  The bunny saw Lupe, though.  It remained absolutely still on a bank only a few feet above the tracks.Lupe followed the 1880 Train tracks for 0.5 mile to the base of Storm Hill.

Storm Hill dead ahead! Photo looks NE.
Lupe left the railroad tracks here where they turned SE. The back side of Mt. Rushmore is seen in the distance. Photo looks SE.

The first part of Lupe’s ascent went through a gently sloping pine forest.  The day had warmed up enough so the snow on the ground was melting.  Lupe ate snow and had a fun romp in the open forest as she headed NE toward a saddle.

Upon reaching the saddle, Loop turned E.  The mountain was getting progressively steeper and rockier.  Lupe reached the part of the forest that had burned years ago.  With less shade, the snow was vanishing fast here.

The real climb began when Lupe reached the charred forest. Photo looks ENE.

So many dead trees were still standing that the amount of deadfall timber laying on the ground wasn’t too bad yet.  Lupe could still easily run around exploring.

Lupe exploring the charred W slope of Storm Hill.

Of course, it got rockier and steeper the higher up Lupe went.  However, her route was never too difficult, even for SPHP.  As Lupe neared the top of Storm Hill, she could see a tower and a solar panel up there.

As Lupe neared the top of Storm Hill, she could see a tower and solar panel at the summit.

It turned out that by coming up from the W, Lupe arrived at the true summit right away without having to traverse any of the summit ridge.  Most of the summit ridge was off to the E and notably lower.  The area around the true summit was very rocky and much, much smaller than on Ford Mountain.

Ropes and guy wires supported the small tower.  Electrical wires were around, too.  At first, it wasn’t clear if they were live or not.

Lupe reaches the top of Storm Hill. It wasn’t initially clear if the tower, solar panel, and all the wires running around still served a purpose, or not. Photo looks SW.
The true summit of Storm Hill was quite a small area dominated by the tower and associated paraphernalia perched on top. Photo looks SW.

Lupe and SPHP approached the tower cautiously paying special attention to electrical cords and wires.  Lupe made it up onto the highest rocks with no problem.  Although someone had gone to considerable effort to set all this stuff up, nothing appeared to be in working condition.  It was all dead.

The view of Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) still sporting a dusting of snow at the end of April  was gorgeous. Summit Peak (5,655 ft.) is the lower forested ridge to the L of Lupe’s ears. Lupe had been there on Expedition No. 194. Although the topo maps show the true summit of Summit Peak at the SW (R) end of the ridge, Lupe remains quite certain it is at the NE (L) end. Photo looks S.

The solar panel appeared to have been meant to charge a bank of 7 batteries.  What purpose the tower used to serve wasn’t clear.  All the wires and equipment around made moving about the summit a bit tricky.

The solar panel was probably meant to charge this bank of 7 batteries.
Lupe enjoys a bit of shade from the solar panel. Ford Mountain (5,641 ft.) is the closest rock-capped hill on the L. Bishop Mountain (5,706 ft.) is the ridge immediately beyond it. Photo looks SW.
Loopster on the very highest rock on Storm Hill. The EverStart battery appeared more likely to be a NeverStart battery at this point in time.
Part of the notably lower portion of Storm Hill’s summit ridge is seen on the L. On the horizon, Mount Warner (5,889 ft.) is the highest point straight up from Lupe’s head. Samelius Peak (5,856 ft.) is the high point straight up from her tail. Photo looks E.
Another look E.

After taking a look around from the true summit, Lupe and SPHP retreated a little down off the high point just to get away from the wires and equipment.  It was time for a break.  At least SPHP thought so, but Lupe wasn’t hungry.  She was happy enough to curl up for a rest, though, while SPHP consumed the usual apple.

Since Lupe wasn’t really into it, break time didn’t last any longer than the apple did.  When it was over, Lupe briefly returned to the true summit.  SPHP took a few more photos before Lupe started back down the mountain.

After break, Lupe returned briefly to the true summit. Photo looks S from the break area.

Looking N. Hwy 385/16 E of Hill City is seen below. Part of Mitchell Lake is, too. The highest peak on the L is Five Points.

Once again, Lupe returned to the G6 (1:52 PM) by the same route she had taken to the mountain.  This time SPHP let her in.  She still had plenty of time to climb another peak, but a ride was in order to get closer to her next objective.  Lupe enjoyed barking at several cows and horses along the way.

SPHP parked the G6 again 3 or 4 miles farther E where Centennial Trail No. 89 crosses Old Hill City Road (2:07 PM, 46°F).  Ingersoll Peak (5,356 ft.) was Lupe’s next destination.  It was somewhere not too far off to the NE, but SPHP wasn’t completely certain exactly how far away it was.  A mile or two, maybe?  The plan was to follow Centennial Trail No. 89 going N a little way before leaving it to turn E to search for the peak.

Lupe set out crossing the 1880 Train tracks and Battle Creek immediately N of Old Hill City Road.  She continued N on Centennial Trail No. 89.  The trail led gradually up a side valley where a mix of pines and aspens lined both sides of the trail.

After crossing the 1880 Train tracks and Battle Creek, Lupe followed Centennial Trail No. 89 going N up a gentle side valley. A mix of pines and aspens lined both sides of the trail. It was now close to mid-afternoon. Only a little melting snow remained. Photo looked NNE.

Lupe hadn’t gone too far when a logging road left Centennial Trail No. 89 heading up the ridge to the E.  Why not follow it to see if Ingersoll Peak could be seen from up there?  Lupe took the logging road.

The logging road faded away before even reaching the top of the ridge.  Lupe kept going, though, and managed to get there.  The forest had been thinned, but not enough to see much off to the E.  However, it appeared the ridge gained more elevation to the NE, which seemed to be the right direction to go.

Lupe struck off following the ridgeline.  It had minor ups and downs, but on the whole she was gaining elevation.  After reaching a couple of high spots where there still wasn’t much to see, she finally came to a rock outcropping on the E side of the ridge where there was a view.  Ingersoll Peak was in sight, but farther away than SPHP expected.

From this rock outcropping, Lupe got her first look at Ingersoll Peak. It was farther away than SPHP expected. Photo looks E.

It took a while to get there.  Lupe tried to go around the N end of an intervening valley to avoid losing elevation, but it didn’t work.  The valley was too long.  She wound up turning E and going down into two sizable valleys separated by a lower ridge before the terrain allowed her to climb out again and regain all her lost elevation.

Once she was out of the second valley, Loop came across a dirt road leading NE toward even higher ground.  Before long it curved around to the SE and brought her to the base of Ingersoll Peak’s W slope.  Here Lupe followed an abandoned side road that made a big switchback to the NE and then S, gaining more elevation along the way.

The side road leveled out near a huge rock, turned SE and looked like it was about to start losing elevation.  Lupe left the side road near the huge rock to climb Ingersoll Peak’s W slope.  The slope was heavily forested, so it wasn’t possible to see very far ahead.  After gaining 200 feet of elevation, suddenly the slope leveled out rapidly.

A rock formation 50 feet away looked higher than anything else around.  Subsequent exploration proved this rock formation was the true summit of Ingersoll Peak (5,356 ft.).  Lupe needed a boost from SPHP to get up on the highest rocks.

Lupe reaches the summit of Ingersoll Peak! The mountain was so heavily forested she didn’t have much of a view. Photo looks NW.
On the very highest rock. Photo looks N.

Ingersoll Peak was so heavily forested, Lupe didn’t have much of a view.  She saw no reason to dawdle on the highest rocks, preferring to explore the summit area as soon as SPHP told her it was OK to jump down.

More of the summit rock formation is seen here. The highest rocks are just to the L of Lupe and a bit behind her. Photo looks NNW.

Most of the large summit area was off to the E.  It was so heavily forested, a couple inches of snow remained up here.  Lupe didn’t find any views, but sunlight filtered by the trees created a pleasing pattern of shadows and highlights on the snow.  The top of Ingersoll Peak felt secluded and still a bit wintery.

Looking back toward the true summit (hidden by the trees on the R) from near the NE end of the larger summit area. The dense forest, snow, shadows, and filtered sunlight made Ingersoll Peak feel secluded and remote. Winter still lingered here. Photo looks SW.
The wily Snow Dingo on secluded Ingersoll Peak.

When exploration confirmed Lupe had already been to the true summit, Lupe returned to it.  This time she didn’t want to get up on the highest rocks where there wasn’t any room to move around.  However, she did agree to hang out among the slightly lower rocks for a few more photos.

Among the rocks of the summit formation. Photo looks WSW.
Looking N.

Lupe left the summit of Ingersoll Peak going back down the W slope.  She had already lost substantial elevation when she came to a rock outcropping where she could see Storm Hill off to the NW.

From this rock outcropping well down the W slope, Lupe got her only decent view from Ingersoll Peak. Storm Hill (5,656 ft.) is in the distance straight up from Lupe. Samelius Peak (5,856 ft.) is the high point on the R. Photo looks NW.

Lupe came to the abandoned road near the huge rock again.  She followed the switchback down to the lower road, which she took back to the area where she first found it.  W of the road was a barren hill strewn with scattered deadfall.  Lupe went over there for a look at the view, which was far better than any she’d had from Ingersoll Peak.

From this barren hillside, Lupe had a much better view than she’d found anywhere on Ingersoll Peak. The rugged terrain near Black Elk Peak (Center) can be seen. Photo looks SW.

Lupe returned to the road.  She wasn’t going to cross the two valleys to the W this time.  Instead she followed the road down into a long valley.

Lupe near the start of the road’s descent into the long valley. Photo looks SW.
Heading down. Photo looks SSW.

At the end of the valley, Lupe arrived at Old Hill City Road again.  For more than a mile, she followed the 1880 Train tracks as they wound around toward the W.  Along the way, she saw a single Canadian goose floating on a tiny pond.  The lonely goose honked a hopeful greeting.

From the 1880 Train tracks on the way back to the G6, Lupe saw this solitary Canadian Goose floating on a tiny pond. It honked at Lupe, but didn’t fly away.

Canadian geese and Carolina Dogs aren’t likely to become best of friends.  SPHP encouraged Lupe to keep trotting right on by.  (End 5:52 PM, 44°F)

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

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 201 – Summits on the Air! (Silver Mountain, 4-22-17)

Start 9:16 AM, 48°F, Boulder Hill Road (USFS Road No. 358) 0.5 mile N of Hwy 16.

Note: Summits on the Air is an awards scheme for radio amateurs that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas.  A point system awards points for both transmitting (“activating”) from a mountain or picking up the signal (“chasing”).

Joe & cousin Dusty were in town!  That meant one thing – time for some Summits on the Air action!  Lupe was all for it.  She and Dusty arrived at the top of Silver Mountain around 10 AM.  It was a beautiful day to be on the mountain.

Lupe hadn’t been on Silver Mountain in more than 2 years. Although the views are excellent, Silver Mountain is not one of Lupe’s favorites. Target practice gunfire can usually be heard off to the W, which makes her nervous. To Lupe’s dismay, the guns were blazing away again today. Boulder Hill (5,331 ft.) is in view on the L. Photo looks NE.
Cousin Dusty just below the summit. The distant gunfire didn’t bother Dusty at all. She paid not the slightest attention to it.
Dusty lives in Arvada, Colorado, but was up in South Dakota for a weekend visit. Dusty really likes exploring the Black Hills with Lupe.

Joe had posted notification on the Summits on the Air website that AA0Q (his call letters) would “activate” (start transmitting from) Silver Mountain at 11:00 AM.  With an hour to go, he had plenty of time to set up his antenna and portable Ham radio.

Preparations to start transmitting from Silver Mountain included setting up this 16 or 17′ long antenna with four lateral wires at the very summit. Photo looks NE.

Joe said he liked the layout on Silver Mountain (5,405 ft.).  The forest had burned years ago, so there were no big trees around to obstruct the views in any direction.  The mountain sloped away fairly steeply on most sides with nothing any higher for at least a couple of miles in any direction.

Although Silver Mountain was a good physical setup for Ham radio transmissions, Joe wasn’t at all certain how well things were going to work out.  The 11 year sunspot cycle hits its low in just a couple more years, and atmospheric conditions are usually best for amateur radio band transmissions when sunspot activity is high, not low.

As it got close to 11 AM, everything was ready to go.  The antenna and portable radio were all set up.  SPHP was trained to keep a simple log of Joe’s contacts.  Lupe and Dusty were prepared to ward off any intruders.

At 10:55 AM, Joe started transmitting in Morse code, receiving a first response almost instantly.  That contact “spotted” AA0Q on SOTA’s website confirming contact with Joe.  Silver Mountain was on the air!

An immediate explosion of activity came from dozens of “chasers” all trying to make contact at the same time.  AA0Q was overwhelmed by the response, as usual.  Joe did his best to make rapid contact with as many of the chasers as possible, but it was impossible to respond to more than a fraction.

AA0Q hard at it shortly after “activating” Silver Mountain. Photo looks SE.
Dusty relaxes nearby while Joe works the Ham radio. Response from the chasers, as usual, was initially overwhelming.

Atmospheric conditions were changing rapidly.  Joe and the chasers often exchanged signal strength information, which varied wildly over the span of only a few minutes.  Of course, part of the variation was due to the different locations of the chasers.  Successful contacts were made with operators in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and several other states.

With chasers lined up in droves trying to get through, each contact had to be brief.

So, Uncle Joe, how is it going? Heard anything from anyone on Squirrel Mountain, yet? Lupe checks on AA0Q’s SOTA progress. Photo looks E.
This photo shows the overall setup. The rocky summit ridge wasn’t the best for comfort, but AA0Q managed pretty well. Photo looks NNE.
AA0Q’s portable radio in use on Silver Mountain.

For the first 10 or 15 minutes, conditions gradually improved.  Signals were getting a little stronger on average, despite bouncing around.  Later on, conditions deteriorated.  At times the “bands” were down for a minute or two.  AA0Q got a chance to shift to a more comfortable position.

As time went by, the bands went down intermittently, giving Joe a chance to shift to a more comfortable position. Photo looks SSW.

By 11:30 AM, 35 minutes after Joe started transmitting, it was over.  The bands were consistently weak.  The chasers had either made contact with AA0Q, or given up by now.  Even when conditions improved momentarily, no one was left still trying to make contact.  Evidently it was time to take down the antenna and put the radio away.

Joe at the top of Silver Mountain shortly before taking the antenna down. Photo looks NNE.
Silver Mountain was the 3rd Black Hills peak AA0Q has activated. In July, 2016, Lupe and SPHP had accompanied Joe & Dusty to Custer Peak and Boulder Hill.

AA0Q had made 27 contacts in 35 minutes, so Joe was pleased with the overall results.  Despite spotty atmospheric conditions, Silver Mountain had been a successful Summits on the Air outing.  There always seem to be way more chasers than it’s possible to make contact with right after activating a peak, but Joe had done all he could.

Lupe got a pat from AA0Q for her guide services.

Lupe earns a pat from AA0Q for her Black Hills peak guide services. Photo looks NE.

Once the radio equipment was put away, it was time for a final look around at the views, followed by a short exploration of Silver Mountain’s summit area.  Of course, the most impressive view was toward Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota.

Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) (R of Center) from Silver Mountain. Hwy 16 is seen below. Photo looks SW.

Silver Mountain’s summit area features two ridges running roughly N/S.  The E ridge where Joe had set up the radio equipment is the highest.  However, only a short distance to the W is an even rockier and more interesting ridge.  The W ridge is only slightly lower than the E one.

The slightly lower, but more dramatic W ridge. Photo looks NW.

Between the two ridges, at the base of the E one, is one of many Dingo outposts Lupe has discovered scattered throughout the Black Hills.

Joe inspects Lupe’s Silver Mountain Dingo outpost. Joe was pretty certain it didn’t meet current building codes, but adventurous American Dingoes don’t give two hoots about that. Boulder Hill is in view beyond it. Photo looks NNE.

Joe was intrigued by the W ridge.  He got up on top for a few minutes for a look around.  Lupe and Dusty stayed below.

Joe got up on the W ridge for a look around. Slightly lower, Lupe is partially hidden among the small trees on the L, while Dusty sniffs around in the foreground. Photo looks W.

With Silver Mountain’s summit area explored, everyone headed back to the G6.  There was still tons of time left in the day.  Joe wanted to go climb Boulder Hill (5,331 ft.) again.  Everyone piled into the G6.  Joe drove 0.5 mile N to the start of the access road only 0.25 mile SW of the summit.

An easy trek along the access road led to a scenic path that winds up the large rock formation at the top of the mountain.  Soon Lupe was at the summit with a great view looking back at Silver Mountain (5,405 ft.).

Silver Mountain (Center) from Boulder Hill. Photo looks SSW.

Joe has liked Boulder Hill ever since first climbing it with Lupe, Dusty and SPHP exactly one year ago on 4-22-16.  In fact, he liked it so much that first time, everyone had come back to make a second ascent the very next day!  On the 4th of July, Joe had even done a Summits on the Air activation of Boulder Hill.

Today’s Expedition No. 201 was Joe and Dusty’s 4th time up on Boulder Hill with Lupe and SPHP.  Good times!

Joe on Boulder Hill near the area where he’d done a Summits on the Air activation of the peak on 7-4-16. Back then his antenna had been propped up in the big pine tree seen directly beyond him. Photo looks NW.
Joe & Dusty together with Lupe on top of Boulder Hill for the 4th time. The first time up for Joe and Dusty had been exactly one year ago! Photo looks SE.

No Summits on the Air activation of Boulder Hill was planned for today.  This was a pleasure excursion, just to see the views.

Silver Mountain (L). Photo looks SSW.
Silver Mountain with a little help from the telephoto lens. The more dramatic, rocky W ridge is seen to the R of the true summit. Photo looks SSW.

After lingering at the top of the mountain for 15 minutes, everyone started back down.  Time to head back to Lupe’s grandma’s house for food, fun and games.  Lupe and Dusty looked forward to an afternoon of squeaker ball, tennis ball and flying disc action in grandma’s front yard.  (End 2:00 PM, 62°F)

Joe (lower R) starts the trek down. Photo looks S.
Lupe’s cousin Dusty on Boulder Hill. Photo looks E.


Summits on the Air official website

Expedition No. 174(a) – Summits on the Air!  (Custer Peak, 7-2-16)

Expedition No. 174(b) – Summits on the Air!  (Boulder Hill, 7-4-16)

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

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 200 – Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 & Beyond to Peak 6735 in the Black Elk Wilderness (4-15-17)

SPHP parked the G6 at the Big Pine trailhead for Centennial Trail No. 89 (9:50 AM, 49°F).  The road to the Horsethief Lake trailhead had been closed, but this was close enough.  Lupe crossed Hwy 244, followed Centennial Trail No. 89 a short distance, then left it to cut down through the forest to the Horsethief Lake campground.

The stroll through the campground was easy – a paved road wound between tall pines past campsites all the way to some sites right on Horsethief Lake.   No one was around.  The campground was closed.  Tourist season wouldn’t start for another month.  Only 2 or 3 miles from Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Horsethief Lake campground is a really nice place to stay when it’s open.

Lupe wasn’t staying, of course.  She was here for her 200th Black Hills Expedition!  She did go down to the lakeshore at a couple of spots on her way to the Horsethief Lake trailhead.

Lupe arrives at Horsethief Lake ready for her 200th Black Hills Expedition! She’s still in the campground here. The trailhead for Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 into the Black Elk Wilderness is in the forest on the far side of the lake. Photo looks SSE.
Horsethief Lake isn’t very big. About half of it is seen here. Hwy 244 crosses the dam in view at the far side of the lake. Photo looks NNE.

An extensive trail system leads into the Black Elk Wilderness, some of which sees heavy traffic while the majority of it sees relatively little use.  Trail No. 9 from Sylvan Lake to Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) (formerly Harney Peak) and Trail No. 4 to Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.) are the most popular, but Lupe wasn’t headed to either of those places today.

A short walk S from the lake up a gravel road brought Lupe to the trailhead for the 2.8 mile long Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14.  SPHP stopped briefly to register, and Lupe was on her way!

Lupe awaits the start of her day’s adventure at the Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 trailhead.

Lupe entered the Black Elk Wilderness.  Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 went S in a narrow valley featuring a small stream.  All around were massive granite formations, many with nearly vertical sides towering far above the creek.  Lupe drank from the stream and watched for squirrels in the trees, while SPHP paid more attention to the impressive rocks.

Wow! How many expeditions have we been on since there’s been an actual stream, SPHP? Seems like forever! This is nice!
Many massive granite formations tower above Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14. These formations are typical features of the Black Elk Wilderness.
This first part of Trail No. 14 gained elevation most of the time as it went S. It was a bit steep only along a few short sections. The trail crossed the stream a number of times, but Lupe easily leapt across.

The first 0.75 mile of Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 followed the stream and led to a junction with the 111 mile long Centennial Trail No. 89.  Near the end of this first stretch, Lupe saw a couple of women.  They were watching children scrambling around on nearby rocks.  Lupe would see no one else the rest of the day.

Getting to the junction with Centennial Trail No. 89 was easy and hadn’t taken long.

Well, this was easy! Piece of cake! … You’ve barely started sweet puppy, just wait!
At the junction of Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 & Centennial Trail No. 89. Lupe had just come up the trail on the L and would be taking the trail toward the camera.

At the 3-way junction with Centennial Trail No. 89, Lupe took the trail to the R.  For several hundred feet or more, Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 and Centennial Trail No. 89 share the same path.  It only took Lupe a few minutes to reach another intersection where the trails divided again.  Lupe went L, staying on Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14.

She was now headed into the heart of the Black Elk Wilderness.

Entering the heart of the Black Elk Wilderness, Lupe found these big mossy boulders near a stream.

Two miles of Horsethief Trail No. 14 remained after it separated from Centennial Trail No. 89.  For the first mile, the trail continued winding S, gaining elevation at a slowly increasing rate.  The small creek was sometimes nearby, and the trail crossed it again.  Lupe still wandered among huge granite formations.

Lupe was still among massive granite formations as Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 continued S after separating from Centennial Trail No. 89.
The trail crossed the small stream again. Eventually the stream disappeared entirely as Lupe gained elevation.

The sky had clouded up by now.  Rain threatened, but only a few drops fell.  Small patches of blue sky here and there showed that nothing serious was in the works.

The small stream eventually disappeared.  Lupe was approaching a pass.  When she got there, a fallen tree was wedged in place over the trail.

Lupe came upon this fallen tree suspended over Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 at the top of the pass.

The forest in the Black Elk Wilderness has been devastated by pine bark beetles in recent years.  Dead trees have broken and fallen in tremendous numbers over much of the landscape.  However, the trail had been clear so far.  Lupe had only begun encountering limited quantities of deadfall timber actually on the trail as she drew near the pass.

On the S side of the pass, the situation deteriorated steadily.  The farther Lupe went, the more deadfall she had to navigate over, under, or around.  Most of the trail was still clear, though.  She was still making good progress.

The trail lost elevation heading SW into the Grizzly Bear Creek drainage.  After a brief climb to a lower pass, Lupe’s peakbagging objective came into view for the first time.  Peak 6735 was almost dead ahead, but still more than 2 miles away as the crow flies.

Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 descends through a shattered forest after going over a couple of passes. Lupe’s peakbagging objective, Peak 6735, is seen for the first time as the high point between the trees on the L. Dead ahead at center is Peak 6710. Photo looks SW.

Beyond the lower pass, Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 lost elevation the rest of the way to where it ended at a junction with Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7.  Grizzly Bear Creek was flowing across No. 7 just S of the intersection.

Lupe was now 2.8 miles from the trailhead at Horsethief Lake.  She had lost 300 feet of elevation coming down to Grizzly Bear Creek from the pass.  She still had to gain nearly 1,400 feet from here to reach the summit of Peak 6735.

Loop reaches the junction with Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 at the end of Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14.

So far, Lupe’d had an easy time of it.  Now she needed to follow Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 upstream.  Right next to the intersection, two trees had fallen over the trail the way Lupe needed to go.  A couple of signs were taped to the trees.  What did they say?

The signs on the deadfall blocking Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 weren’t encouraging.

Turn around?  Hah!  Not a chance.  The truth was, Lupe had climbed Peak 6735 once before, almost 3 years ago in June, 2014 on Expedition No. 92.  Lupe had come this same route back then.  So what, if the trail hadn’t been maintained in a while?  Lupe was going to leave Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 pretty soon anyway.  Whatever deadfall was on the trail ahead was only a hint of what was in store off-trail.

Lupe and SPHP went right over the signs and started up Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7.  The trail went NW following Grizzly Bear Creek upstream.

Lupe at Grizzly Bear Creek.

Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 had a lot of deadfall on it.  Lupe’s progress was slowed considerably, since SPHP couldn’t keep up with the agile American Dingo.  Lupe didn’t need to follow Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 very far.  SPHP watched for a field to appear on the opposite (SW) side of the creek.  When it came into view after 0.25 mile or so, Lupe left the trail and crossed Grizzly Bear Creek.

Lupe crosses Grizzly Bear Creek after leaving the trail. From here on, she had no trail to follow the rest of the way to Peak 6735.

From here on, there was no trail.  Lupe traveled W through the tall grass field.  This was as easy as it was going to get, but wouldn’t last long.  She stayed in the field, gaining elevation gradually as long as possible.

In the big field SE of Grizzly Bear Creek. Lupe traveled W, staying in the field as long as possible. Photo looks NW.

The field ended.  Lupe entered the forest.  The hard part of Expedition No. 200 was about to begin.  Peak 6735 was an unseen fortress in the sky defended by huge rock formations, a long steep climb, but most of all by a never-ending jungle of deadfall timber.  Lupe’s ordeal began in earnest.

On the way to Peak 6735 shortly after leaving Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 and the big field behind.

At first, the terrain Lupe was on seemed unfamiliar.  This was actually a good thing.  The plan of attack was to stay NW of a rugged ridge leading SW up to High Point 6411.  It would be best if Lupe could avoid High Point 6411 entirely, and not reach the ridgeline until she was beyond it at a saddle leading to Peak 6710.

On Expedition No. 92, the plan had been the same, but Lupe had wound up following the ridgeline quite closely, which meant she had climbed clear up to the top of High Point 6411.  That feat was unnecessary, since she then had to find a way down, losing 130+ feet of elevation in the process.

The deadfall had been bad on Expedition No. 92.  It hadn’t improved one bit since then.  If anything, it was worse.  Lupe climbed and climbed.  She went over and under countless dead trees.  Progress was excruciatingly slow.  The higher Lupe went, the tougher things became.  Lupe started coming to large rock formations separated by steep stretches of devastated forest.

Gah!  Gradually it became apparent that, once again, Lupe was on the NE ridge.

Eh, Looper, looks like all reasonable routes from this direction lead naturally to High Point 6411.  Guess we’re going to get stuck going all the way up there again.

No worries, SPHP.  I’m doing fine, if we can just stop for a few water breaks now and then.  Jumping over all this mess is hard work!  When does the fun begin?

Heh, this is the fun!  At least, in a way it is.  The ultimate reward will be the views from the top of Peak 6735.

You know SPHP, there’s something sort of wrong with you.  Yeah, this is better than all the cactus on recent expeditions, but not that much.  Could we please go on some expeditions to easy terrain where the trees are alive and full of squirrels?  Do you ever even think about that?

I’ll try to remember to prioritize squirrels more in the future, Loop.

Promises, promises, but that would be nice!

The going got tougher as Lupe kept climbing. Another big rock formation is just ahead.

Slowly, slowly, up and up.  The rock formations on the ridgeline became larger and larger.  They were too big to go over.  Lupe had to go around them.  Sometimes it was easiest on the NW side of the ridge, sometimes on the SE side.  SPHP kept expecting Lupe to arrive at High Point 6411, but she didn’t.  How many of these rock formations would she have to work her way around?  SPHP couldn’t remember.

Meanwhile, the views were improving as Lupe gained elevation.  Everything in the distance now looked familiar.  Lupe was in one of the most rugged parts of the Black Hills here.  Beautiful large granite formations were all around.  Peak 6735 to the SW remained hidden from view most of the time, but Black Elk Peak (7,131 ft.) was often visible to the NW.

Yet another rocky high point on the ridge ahead. How many of these big rock formations would Lupe have to find a way past? SPHP couldn’t remember. Photo looks SW.
Black Elk Peak (Center), the highest mountain in South Dakota, was often in view as Lupe climbed ever higher up the ridge. Photo looks NW.
Lupe was in some of the most rugged country in the Black Hills. Photo looks NE back down the ridgeline she was coming up.

As expected, it finally happened.  Lupe reached the top of High Point 6411.  She’d had several water breaks on the way up, but now it was time for a longer break.  Lupe had Taste of the Wild.  SPHP ate an apple.

SPHP consulted the topo map.  It seemed like it had taken a long time to get here, but Lupe had covered a depressingly short distance from Grizzly Bear Creek.  On the bright side, she had gained a lot of the elevation required to reach Peak 6735. Unfortunately, she would have to give some of it back getting down off High Point 6411.

Since Lupe had come all the way to the top of High Point 6411, she might as well have a look around.  Peak 6735 was in view, but still nearly a mile away.

Peak 6735 was in view from High Point 6411, but still nearly a mile of deadfall infested territory away. Photo looks SSW.
At the summit of High Point 6411. Photo looks S.
On Expedition No. 92, Lupe had come within 10 feet or so of reaching the summit of Peak 6710 seen here on the L. Parts of the Cathedral Spires and Little Devil’s Tower are in view farther off on the R. Photo looks WSW.
Loopster at the very top of High Point 6411. Photo looks SSE.

The views were great from High Point 6411, but would be even better on Peak 6735.  Onward!  A first attempt to get down off High Point 6411 going WSW proved a little too steep for comfort.  Ugh!  Lupe climbed back up.  SPHP couldn’t remember how Lupe had gotten down on Expedition No. 92.

A foray to the WNW didn’t look promising at first, but worked out just fine.  Lupe made it down to the saddle leading to Peak 6710.  Once across the saddle, she started climbing again.  For a while, the terrain forced her to head directly toward Peak 6710, but this time she wasn’t going to go virtually all the way to the summit like she had on Expedition No. 92.

Once Looper made it past some more big rock formations, and was about as high as the saddle leading from Peak 6710 over to Peak 6735, she turned S and headed for the saddle.  She wound up higher on Peak 6710 than she needed to be, but skirted the summit a little way off to the SE.  Struggling through a thick forest of young pines choked with the endless deadfall, she finally got past Peak 6710.  The saddle to Peak 6735 was now close by.

Once Lupe skirted around the SE slope of Peak 6710, the saddle leading to Peak 6735 was directly ahead. Photo looks S.

Across the saddle and straight up the N ridge.  Lupe was getting close!  Near the end, the terrain wasn’t as steep, the deadfall a little less troublesome.  Suddenly Lupe was there!  Despite the mountain’s deadfall defenses, the plucky Carolina Dog stood at the top of Peak 6735.

Well, almost.  A dead tree with many annoying branches was leaning against the very highest rock at the summit, preventing Lupe from getting up on it.

Oh, no!  No way!  Lupe had gone over, under, or around hundreds, maybe thousands, of dead trees to get here.  The whole mountain was covered with and surrounded by wretched deadfall.  All those jillions of dead trees could stay exactly where nature placed them, except this one.  This one had to go!

Fortunately, the offending dead pine tree was smallish.  SPHP managed to drag it away from the summit rock and push it over the edge.  It fell only 10 feet, but at least it was out of the way.  The summit rock was clear.   Lupe stood on top!

After a long struggle through the deadfall, Lupe stands at the very top of Peak 6735. Photo looks NW.

At the top of Peak 6735, a short uneven ridge of rock ran for 30 feet in a line oriented roughly E/W.  The ridge sloped a little up toward a rock at the true summit near the E end.  The greater summit area was much larger and sloped down toward the SW, where a massive, but lower, granite platform ran along the SE edge.

When Lupe had been here nearly 3 years ago on Expedition No. 92, Peak 6735’s summit had many large dead pines still standing.  Some of them still were, but many had fallen over by now.  The fallen trees made it harder to move around, but the views were more sweeping and open now than they had been back then.  From seldom visited Peak 6735, Lupe had fantastic views of more than half of the entire Black Elk Wilderness!

After a suitably long rest break at the true summit, it was picture time.  Naturally, Lupe toured the entire summit area.

Peak 6920 (L) and Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) (R) from the true summit rock. Peak 6710 is the big rock formation to the R of Lupe’s head. Photo looks NW.
Looking NNW. Black Elk Peak on the L.
Looking E along the rocky summit ridge toward Loopster positioned at the very top.
Another look at Loop at the top. Photo looks SE.
Lupe found the cairn to her R sitting N of, and 8 or 10 feet below, the true summit of Peak 6735. SPHP hadn’t noticed any cairns when Lupe was here on Expedition No. 92, but maybe it was new since then? The large block of granite in the distance on the L is the back side of Mount Rushmore (5,725 ft.). Photo looks NE.
Lupe now at the W end of the summit ridge. The highest point seen on the distant ridge at the far R is the top of Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.). Photo looks WSW from the true summit.
This photo shows a good deal of the greater summit area. Photo looks S.
Lupe now along the SE edge of the greater summit area. Photo looks SSE.
Looking SE.
A glance back up toward the true summit. Photo looks N.
Looking SW from the larger, but lower granite ridge along the SE edge of the summit area.
Looper strikes a dramatic American Dingo pose. Photo looks NE back toward the true summit from the far SW end of the greater summit area.
Looking S from the far SW end of the greater summit area.
Much of the greater summit area. Photo looks NE from the SW end.
Lupe near the true summit again after completing her tour. A lovely green carpet of kinnikinnick clings to a thin layer of soil. Photo looks NE.
Back up on the little true summit ridge. Photo looks WNW.

Conditions were beautiful on Peak 6735.  Lupe and SPHP lingered up here for quite a while, and would have loved to stay longer.  However, even though the sun wouldn’t set for at least a couple of hours yet, it was time to go.

Already it was way too late to try to go back the way Lupe had come up.  Traveling all that way through the deadfall took many hours.  Getting stuck out here away from the trail when night fell would have made it nearly impossible to do anything other than wait for dawn.  Even a deadfall-covered trail would be extremely difficult to follow at night.

On Expedition No. 92, Lupe had taken a shortcut back to Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 by going around the E side of Peak 6710 and continuing N.  This shorter route back down to the trail had been very steep, but had worked.

SPHP wondered if Lupe shouldn’t try to avoid such a steep descent this time?  By heading beyond Peak 6710 towards Peak 6920, she wouldn’t have to lose much elevation before reaching Norbeck Trail No. 3 not too far from its junction with Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7.

The advantage was, this might be the easiest route out of here.  The disadvantage was, Lupe had never tried it before.

Lupe needed to get to a trail before dark, if she didn’t want to wind up stuck in all the deadfall all night long. SPHP pondered the possibility of heading W (L) of Peak 6710 (the lower rock formation on the R) and heading for Peak 6920 seen on the L. Lupe should reach Norbeck Trail No. 3 this way without having to lose a lot of elevation. Photo looks NW.

Lupe enjoyed a little more time up on Peak 6735 while SPHP pondered the best course of action.

Peak 6710 (L) with Black Elk Peak beyond it. Should Lupe try going around the W (L) side of Peak 6710? Photo looks NNW.
The rugged terrain to the NNE. Lupe had come up from this direction, but there wasn’t enough daylight left to go back this way.
The panorama to the NW. From L to R: Cathedral Spires, Little Devil’s Tower, Peak 6920, Black Elk Peak, Peak 6710.
Last moments atop Peak 6735.
High Point 6411 (lower R) is illuminated by sunlight. Photo looks NNE.

The final decision was made on the way down Peak 6735’s N ridge.  Lupe would try going W of Peak 6710 and heading for Peak 6920.  Hopefully, she would reach Norbeck Trail No. 3 well before sunset.

It was hurry up time, if possible, but the deadfall made the going dreadfully slow.  By the time Lupe got over the ridge SW of Peak 6710, close to an hour had gone by.  After crossing the ridge, the terrain and deadfall did not improve, but then they weren’t expected to.  The only solution was to get to a trail.  Any trail would do.

Looking up at the rock formations Lupe traveled beneath W of Peak 6710. Photo looks E.
Looking back at the big rock formation at the far end of the ridge extending SW from Peak 6710. Photo looks S.
A closer look with help from the telephoto lens.

Once she was over the SW ridge, Lupe lost some elevation before having to regain it to get up on the next ridge to the NW.  This ridge went W from Peak 6710.  Lupe and SPHP followed it a short distance, but within 5 or 10 minutes it was apparent a deep valley was ahead.  This wasn’t going to work.  Where to now?

Loop started back E toward Peak 6710.  SPHP noticed a saddle off to the NE.  It led to the NW, the way Lupe needed to go, and was every bit as high as where she was now.  That was the route!  Puppy, ho!  Lupe maintained elevation and headed for the saddle.

It took a good 10 minutes to get there.  The saddle wasn’t terribly wide or long.  It led to a large rock formation immediately to the WNW.  Climbing up there looked possible, but time consuming.  Instead, Lupe crossed the saddle and turned NW to go around the high point.

Lupe was now way up in the upper Grizzly Bear Creek drainage.  Somewhere down below was Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7.  For a while, Lupe tried simply maintaining elevation and going NW.  The plan was still to look for Norbeck Trail No. 3.  A high ridge came into view to the NW.  That had to be where Norbeck Trail No. 3 was, but it was still a considerable distance away and a bit of a climb.

SPHP debated whether Lupe should try simply cutting down through the forest directly to Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7, or getting on top of the ridge she was following?  She tried a little of both, but didn’t lose all that much elevation going down, and never made it all the way to the top going up, either.  The varied terrain kept changing SPHP’s mind on which way she ought to go.

A 50 foot deep ravine appeared ahead.  Lupe had to kept going NW, so there was no choice, but to go down into it.  Loop led the way down the slope.  Suddenly SPHP realized she was standing on a trail!  Odd, surprising.  SPHP hadn’t thought she was anywhere close to a trail yet.  Whatever works, though!  The trail was good news!

The trail Lupe had found had to be Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7.  SPHP wondered how far Loop was from the intersection with Norbeck Trail No. 3?  Didn’t matter.  The sun would still be up for a while.  Best to make tracks, and use the available daylight to get past as much deadfall on the trail as possible.  Without the slightest hesitation, Lupe and SPHP followed Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 going E.

The sun was still shining on the high peaks and would be for a while, but Lupe had a lot of elevation to lose.  The trail went on and on.  Fortunately, this upper section of Grizzly Creek Trail No. 7 trail was not choked with deadfall.  In fact, there was very little of it.  Lupe made great progress, but the sun had set by the time she made it all the way down to Grizzly Bear Creek.

Lupe makes it back to Grizzly Bear Creek.

The trail crossed Grizzly Bear Creek a number of times, but the creek was low enough so the crossings weren’t a problem.  Deadfall on the trail became a problem again and slowed things down, but was no big deal compared to what Lupe had been through already.

The forest was dim and the sky pale, by the time Lupe reached the intersection with Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 again.  The race to make as much use of the fading light as possible continued.  Lupe didn’t stop for a break until she was beyond the upper pass.  SPHP could hardly see the trail now.  The flashlight came out.

Stars had been shining above for a while.  No worries, though.  Lupe knew the rest of the trail ahead had little deadfall.  It would be easy enough to follow.

A short break, then onward, but now at a relaxed pace through an inky black forest with incredibly bright stars above.  What a gorgeous evening!

Well, Looper, Expedition No. 200 wasn’t a bad day’s adventure, was it?

No, not at all, but I still say it needed more squirrels!

End (9:42 PM, 38°F)

On Peak 6735.

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 199 – Twin Sisters Twice & Castle Rock (4-12-17)

Start (10:25 AM, 54°F), intersection of Dog Song Road & USFS Road No. 373, 4 miles SE of Pringle.

Cool rainy weather, even a skiff of snow, had delayed Expedition No. 199 for several days, but Lupe was finally on her way!  Although she had finished up the last of the Brian Kalet peaks she was going to climb in the southern Black Hills on Expedition No. 198, she was still headed S, just not quite as far S as before.

Lupe’s first peakbagging objective for the day was the high point of the Twin Sisters Range (4,980 ft.).  The Twin Sisters Range is really no more than a 2 mile long ridge running E/W within the Black Hills.  For some reason this ridge, which isn’t particularly high even compared to nearby terrain, has its own name on the maps while countless similar ridges do not.

No matter, if the Twin Sisters Range was on the maps, that was good enough for Lupe!  After she reached the high point, the plan was to explore much of the rest of the ridge.  Maybe Lupe would even go on to Elk Knob, another minor high point 0.5 mile farther S?

Approaching the area from the W, it became clear Lupe would not only have an easy time up on the ridge, she would have some great views, too.  The Twin Sisters Range looked barren and exposed.

The W end of the Twin Sisters Range looked barren and exposed. Lupe was going to have some great views up there! Photo looks E from Dog Song Road.
At the starting point. The G6 is parked just off Dog Song Road (not pictured). Lupe would follow USFS Road No. 373 to get to the W end of the Twin Sisters Range, about a mile E of here. High Point 5017 is the ridge seen in the background. Photo looks SE.

From the G6, Lupe followed USFS Road No. 373 going E toward the W end of the Twin Sisters Range.  This was a super easy, level stroll in upper Cold Spring Creek valley.  The creek must have been underground here.  It was nowhere in sight.  A steady E breeze made the day seem cooler than it really was, but meadowlarks were singing cheerfully.  Lupe was cheerful, too!  She liked this place.

Shortly after setting out, Loop reached a locked gate across No. 373 at the W end of an area serving as the water supply source for Wind Cave National Park.  The 0.5 mile long area is not connected to the rest of the park, located 2 miles farther E.  No vehicles could go beyond the locked gate, but Lupe could.  It didn’t take her long to reach the far E end where she found no gate, only a cattle guard.

After passing through the park water supply area, No. 373 angled SE and entered a thinly forested area.  Lupe began to gain elevation.  The W end of the Twin Sisters Range was now close at hand.

Getting close to the W end of the Twin Sisters Range. Photo looks E from USFS Road No. 373.

Lupe followed No. 373 gradually uphill until she was SW of the W end of the Twin Sisters Range.  Here, SPHP led her off the road to begin the real climb.

Lupe and SPHP left the road to begin the climb up to the W end of the ridgeline here. Photo looks NE.

After all the cactus she had been having to dodge for the last couple of months while climbing Brian Kalet peaks farther S, Loop wasn’t at all certain leaving the road was a good idea.  In fact, she was pretty positive it wasn’t.  This barren ridge looked a lot like some of those cactus-infested areas.  She begged SPHP to carry her.

The Twin Sisters Range was a few hundred feet higher than most of the peaks Lupe had been climbing lately.  It was definitely sunny and exposed, which is good for cactus, but SPHP hadn’t seen any yet.  Maybe this area was high enough to be above cactus line?  Cactus usually disappears somewhere in the 4,700 to 5,000 foot range in the Black Hills.

SPHP didn’t carry Lupe, only encouraged her to keep climbing.  She followed somewhat reluctantly.  However, her confidence grew as she made rapid progress up the slope without encountering any cacti.

Shortly before reaching the ridgeline, there was movement on the ground.  Lupe saw a snake!   It was gray-green and smallish, but coiled up and surprisingly active.  SPHP didn’t know what kind of snake it was, but it was clearly harmless.

Lupe came across this snake as she neared the top of the ridgeline. It was harmless, but surprisingly active on this cool, breezy day.

Even though the snake was harmless, SPHP was a little concerned about seeing it.  The snake seemed plenty lively despite the cool, breezy day.  Snakes are quite rare in most of the Black Hills, but are much more common at lower elevations.  In all her expeditions and adventures in the Black Hills, Lupe has never seen a rattlesnake.

One of the reasons Lupe had been climbing the lower Brian Kalet peaks of the southern hills early in the year when it was cold out was to avoid encountering rattlesnakes.  Due Lupe’s small size, a rattlesnake would be much more of a danger to her than to SPHP, and she might not know to stay away if she came to one.

Lupe might be above cactus line here, but seeing the harmless snake proved she wasn’t above snake line yet.  SPHP couldn’t ever remember seeing a rattlesnake above 5,500 feet in the Black Hills, but that was more than 500 feet higher than the Twin Sisters Range.  Seeing the harmless snake also proved spring had progressed far enough along so snakes were now active.

Dry, sunny, and topped by a layer of weathered limestone undoubtedly offering plenty of little caves and crevasses to hide in, the Twin Sisters Range did look like prime rattlesnake country.  Still, seeing a single harmless snake didn’t mean the area was infested.  SPHP encouraged Lupe to stay close from now on, though, as she finished her climb.

It only took Lupe a couple more minutes to reach the top at the W end of the ridge.  The views were excellent!

Lupe reaches the W end of the Twin Sisters Range ridge. The views were excellent! Without any trees around, Loop could see in every direction. Photo looks W at the Cold Springs Creek valley she had traveled through to get here.
The high point of the Twin Sisters Range (R) from near the W end of the ridge. Photo looks ENE.

The Twin Sisters Range High Point (4,980 ft.) was less than 0.25 mile away.  An easy stroll E along the ridge, and Lupe was claiming her first peakbagging success of the day!  That was easy!

Lupe reaches the summit cairn at the Twin Sisters Range High Point. Photo looks W.
At the summit cairn. Photo looks E.
The lower end of the Cold Spring Creek valley. Photo looks ENE.

With the 360° view available from the Twin Sisters Range High Point, Lupe could see many mountain peaks she had visited in the past, including a lot of the ones she had been to in the last couple of months in the southern Black Hills.  Most of them were many miles away.

Looking N toward Northeast Cicero Peak (6,240 ft.)(Center). Mount Coolidge (6,023 ft.)(far R) is also in view.
High Point 5017 is the large, barren ridge in the foreground. On the far horizon are Parker Peak (4,848 ft.)(L) and Matias Peak (4,780 ft.)(Center). Photo looks SW.
Much of the territory around (and including) the Twin Sisters Range had burned years ago. This photo looks NW at some of the devastation.

From the summit, Lupe could see the rest of the Twin Sisters Range ridgeline to the E.  She would get to explore much of this territory on her way to Elk Knob.  It looked like fun!  The Carolina Dog would enjoy great views all the way.

Looking SE at the rest of the Twin Sisters Range ridgeline. Lupe would have a great time exploring it on her way to Elk Knob! Buffalo Gap is in view in the distance at the edge of the hills a little R of Center. Peak 4160 is the long ridge to the L of it at Center. Unkpapa Peak (4,280 ft.) is the long ridge to the R. Lupe had been to both only 10 days ago on Expedition No. 198.

After enjoying the views from the breezy summit, Lupe headed SE down the ridge starting her trek to Elk Knob.  For 5 minutes, it was fun being able to see so much.  In an instant, everything changed.

Looper, you OK?!

Yes, of course!  You were right, no cactus up here.  Makes life a lot more pleasant!  This is way better than some of those other mountains.

Yeah, but we’re not staying.  Time to go!  There’s worse things than cactus.  Hear that buzzing?

With these big soft Dingo ears, how could I not hear it?

Well, remember that sound.  That’s a rattlesnake.  Poisonous, perhaps deadly to Dingoes if one bites you!  We must have passed within a few feet of it seconds ago.  It’s right over there somewhere.  Stay here!  Don’t go over there.

Yikes!  Are you serious?

Very.  Two snakes in what, maybe 20 minutes, up here?  One of them poisonous.  It changes everything.  We aren’t going to spend hours strolling around on Rattler Ridge courting disaster.  Forget that.  If you like this place, we can come back another time, like on a warmish day in December or January.  Won’t be any snakes then.

Yeah, suddenly I’m thinking this place would look gorgeous with a couple inches of snow on the ground!

Yup, exactly, let’s skedaddle, but stay close till we’re down off this ridge.

The buzzing had lasted maybe 20 seconds before it stopped.  SPHP pitched 8 or 10 rocks back toward the source, but the buzzing didn’t start up again.  SPHP walked a little closer, but saw nothing.  Maybe the snake had slithered into some hole?  Didn’t matter, there wasn’t any doubt.  A rattler had been there.  Elk Knob wasn’t happening.  Not today.  No way!

Looking NW back up at the Twin Sisters Range High Point. This was as far as Lupe got on her way to Elk Knob due to the rattlesnake she’d heard only a few minutes ago.

Lupe didn’t go back up to the Twin Sisters Range summit.  She took a shortcut going SW down off the ridge.  This route was more direct and less steep than the way she’d come up.  She came to no more snakes.

The return trip to USFS Road No. 373 was uneventful.  SPHP did see the one and only cactus patch of the day, but it was easily avoided.  The most exciting thing Lupe encountered along the way was some sort of huge ant festival going on at a rotting log.

Lupe starts down the S side of the ridge. If you want a good idea of what prime rattlesnake territory looks like, this is it. Photo looks W.
Lupe saw no more snakes. The most exciting thing she saw coming down off the ridge was this big ant festival being held at a rotten log.

All’s well that ends well.  Loopster reached USFS Road No. 373.  At least she had made it to the top of the Twin Sister’s Range High Point!  Elk Knob could wait.

On the way back to the G6 along USFS Road No. 373. Photo looks WNW.

The stroll back to the G6 along the road was nice and relaxing.  The whole journey to the Twin Sisters Range High Point hadn’t taken long, only a little over an hour and a half (12:07 PM, 54°F).  There was oodles of time left in the day.

That was OK!  SPHP had a backup plan.  There was another Twin Sisters on the maps Lupe could visit.

On the way back to Hwy 89 on Dog Song Road, SPHP stopped the G6 for this look back at the Twin Sisters Range High Point (L). Goodbye Rattler Ridge! Photo looks E.

Well, Loopster, that was it!  We are done with this low country stuff now until it gets cold again in the fall.  No more cactus.  No more snakes.  We are staying high.  If we manage not to fall off of anything and can avoid the barbed wire, we should be golden.  Of course, there’s always mountain lions, and hunters, but oh well, never mind.  We’ll be fine.

That sounds, great!  I can’t tell you how sick I was getting of cactus.

No doubt, but you were getting better at handling it, too.  We had fun!  Saw some great stuff.

Maybe, not nearly enough squirrels, though.  So where we going now?

Twin Sisters again.  Another Twin Sisters (5,920 ft.), a different one.  These next Twin Sisters are W of Custer.  They are nearly 1,000 feet higher than the ones we just left.  Should be plenty of trees, no cactus, no snakes, and maybe you will see some squirrels.

I hope you’re right.  Strange that both places have the same name.

Yeah, actually, there is a third set of Twin Sisters (5,244 ft.) in the Black Hills, too.  It’s even farther N, between Pactola and Sheridan Lakes, practically right off the Centennial Trail.  You’ve already been there, but it was a long time ago.  You weren’t even 14 months old yet.  So after this next set, you will have visited 3 different Twin Sisters in the Black Hills.

Like a whole litter of sisters!

You could say that.

When Lupe jumped out of the G6 again at Comanche Park campground off Hwy 16, she knew instantly this place was more to her liking (12:59 PM, 52°F).  She sniffed the air briefly, then took off running in circles.  It was true!  No more cactus!  One of the first trees she checked even had a squirrel in it!  Things were definitely looking up.

The new Twin Sisters were less than 2 miles away.  Lupe and SPHP headed S through Comanche Park campground.  A little beyond it, a few houses were around, part of some subdivision, but the private property wasn’t hard to avoid.  Most of the area was national forest land.

The terrain Lupe traveled through was rolling and forested.  Much of the forest had been thinned, so it was quite open and easy to see what was ahead.  Before long, the N Twin Sister (5,920 ft.) was in view.  It was the highest of the two.

The N Twin Sister comes into view S of Comanche Park campground. Photo looks S.

Lupe headed straight for the mountain.  As she got closer, it looked like it might be best to start up along the NW ridge.  The climb wasn’t difficult, although it became steeper as Lupe got higher up.

When she was already fairly high, Lupe reached a prominent point capped by some unusual looking rocks.  The rocks formed a couple of platforms, one large and one small.  Lupe got up on both to look around.  From the smaller platform, she had a decent view to the NNE.

Lupe on the small platform of cool rocks on her way up the N Twin Sister. She was already high enough to have a pretty decent view from here. Photo looks NNE.
A happy finally-out-of-cactus-country American Dingo on the smaller platform. Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.) is the distant ridge on the R. Photo looks NNE.

Trees blocked the views from the larger platform.  Still, it was fun climbing around on the interesting rocks.

Lupe below the highest rocks of the larger platform.

Lupe finished her climb following the N ridge.  The route was modestly steep, but not difficult.  Soon Looper was standing on a stump at the very top of the N Twin Sister.  Since this was the highest sister, she’d already accomplished her peakbagging goal here.  Easy, squeezy!

Ta da! Lupe stands on a stump at the summit of the N Twin Sister. Since this was the highest one, she was able to claim another Dingo peakbagging success! The S Twin Sister is in view beyond her. Photo looks S.

The summit area was plenty roomy.  Three prongs radiated out from the central high point.  One off to the N, one to the E.  The third and longest prong sloped down to the SW.  The views were best from the two shorter prongs, due to breaks in the forest.

Looking NNW from the N prong.
Lupe at the edge of the E prong. Northeast Cicero Peak (6,240 ft.) (Center) is the high point on the horizon. Photo looks ESE.
The summit area on the N Twin Sister was plenty roomy. This photo looks W from the E prong, and shows more than half of the summit area.

Lupe and SPHP took a break near the summit.  Lupe had her Taste of the Wild and water.  SPHP consumed an apple.

A number of birds were flying around.  The Bluebird of Happiness showed up and hung around for quite a while.  Lupe was glad to see him!  She was certain now that her past few months of cactus ordeals were over.  The Bluebird of Happiness would never steer you wrong, would he?

The Bluebird of Happiness paid Lupe a visit up on the N Twin Sister. It had been a year since she’d last seen him up on Twin Buttes (4,949 ft.) during Expedition No. 166.  Maybe the Bluebird of Happiness had a thing for twins?

After the break, Lupe went down into the saddle leading to the S Twin Sister.  It was an easy jaunt down a modestly steep slope.  The climb up the S Twin Sister was steeper, but not bad.  A lot more rocks were over here.  Lupe went up along the NW side since there were cliffs on the N and NE sides.

Lupe got up on the cliffs for a look back at the N Twin Sister.

Lupe on top of the cliffs along the NE edge of the S Twin Sister. The N Twin Sister where she had just been is in view. Photo looks N.

The S Twin Sister had a much larger summit area than the N Twin Sister.  There were two high points, one to the N and one to the S.  The N one seemed to be a little higher than the S one, but Lupe found great viewpoints from both.  Trees always blocked the views to the NW, but it was possible to see in any other direction from some part of the mountain.

Lupe took a tour of the entire summit area.  She enjoyed lots of fabulous views.

Lupe at the edge of the S rim of the S Twin Sister. Parker Peak (4,848 ft.) (L) and Matias Peak (4,780 ft.) (Center) are barely in view in the haze on the horizon. Photo looks S.
Peak 5846 is the closest big ridge on the R. Photo looks SE.
Lupe stands at the SW end of the S Twin Sister. A lower rock platform seen on the R stuck out a little farther to the W. A small connecting saddle made it possible to get onto the lower platform. Photo looks SSW.
Looking down across a gap toward the lower platform. Photo looks SW.
The view through the gap between the platforms. Photo looks SSE.
Looper on the lower platform. Photo looks S.
Can I come down yet? …. Sure, that was great Loop, thank you!
Lupe at the S high point of the S Twin Sister. The topo maps give the elevation here as 5,889 ft. Photo looks NNE.

After touring the whole area near the S high point, Lupe returned to the cliffs near the N high point for a final look around.

The N Sister (L) from the cliffs at the N end of the S Sister. The large gray rock formation sticking up out of the forest on the R is Castle Rock. Photo looks N.
Loop on top of the cliffs along the far NE edge of the S Sister. Peak 5846 (Center) is the first big ridge seen in the distance beyond her. Photo looks SE.
Looking S across the summit area of the S Twin Sister from near the N end.

Having completed her explorations of the S Twin Sister summit, Lupe went back down the NW slope and crossed the saddle over to the N Twin Sister.  Down in the saddle she found a pretty grouping of crocuses.

Crocuses (officially Pasque flowers) are the state flower of South Dakota. They bloom in early spring in the Black Hills.

Lupe returned briefly to the summit of the N Twin Sister before heading down the N ridge.

Lupe back at the summit of the N Twin Sister. Photo looks N.

On the way down the N ridge, Lupe could sometimes see a large, gray rock formation off in the forest to the NNE.  This was Castle Rock (5,600 ft.).  SPHP had also caught a glimpse of Castle Rock off to the E on Lupe’s way to the Twin Sisters.  It wasn’t terribly high, but the sides looked like nearly vertical walls – not anything a Dingo could climb.

Castle Rock as seen on Lupe’s way down the N ridge of the N Twin Sister. Photo looks NNE using the telephoto lens.

Despite not being any larger than hundreds, maybe thousands, of similar rock formations in the Black Hills, Castle Rock had its own name and was shown on the maps.  Since it was kind of on the way back to the G6, SPHP thought Lupe might as well go check it out.  Even if she couldn’t climb Castle Rock, she could say she’d been there.

Surprisingly, when Lupe arrived, it looked fairly easy to climb at least partway up from the S end.  Lupe began climbing.  She needed a boost at one scrambly spot, but to SPHP’s amazement, she made it all the way to the top of Castle Rock!

To SPHP’s amazement, Lupe made it all the way to the top of Castle Rock. Photo looks N.

Castle Rock wasn’t all that tall, but it jutted up high enough to be well above the surrounding forest.  Consequently, Lupe had views in every direction.  The true summit of Castle Rock was near the N end of the formation where several large boulders sat on the rest of the granite.  Lupe got up on one of these boulders.

Lupe on one of the huge boulders at the true summit near the N end of Castle Rock. Photo looks N.
Hah! And you thought I couldn’t do it, SPHP. Not a bad Dingo perch either, I can see for miles! Photo looks SSW.

After scanning the forest below for deer and squirrels from her lofty perch, Lupe got off the big boulder to explore the summit area some more.  It wasn’t very large, but was kind of dramatic with all the huge rocks around and cliffs to the E & W.

Lupe exploring the summit area. Twin Sisters are in view on the L. The highest boulder of all on Castle Rock is seen on the R. Photo looks SSW.

Of course, the Twin Sisters where Lupe had just been were in view to the SSW.

Twin Sisters (Center) from Castle Rock. Photo looks SSW.

After a brief summit area inspection, Lupe returned to the huge boulder.

Lupe returns to her lofty perch. Photo looks N.

After a few more minutes enjoying the views from her favorite lofty perch, it was time to go.  Retreating back down the S end the way she had come up was the only feasible route.  Soon Lupe was down and on her way back to the G6.

Looking back at Castle Rock from the W.

Expedition No. 199 should have been over now for all practical purposes, but by the time Lupe made it back to the G6 (5:34 PM, 52°F), SPHP had hatched a new plan.

Near Mount Rushmore is another mountain shown on the maps called Old Baldy Mountain (5,605 ft.).  Lupe had never been there, even though it was in the data base.  SPHP had always assumed based on its location near many other impossible-for-a-Dingo-to-climb soaring granite formations that Lupe wouldn’t be able to climb Old Baldy.

However, Loopster’s unexpected success reaching the top of Castle Rock made SPHP start thinking maybe she could also get to the summit of Old Baldy Mountain?  Time to check it out!

On the way home, Lupe dropped by the Wrinkled Rock Climbing Area (6:09 PM, 50°F).  A short walk along one of the paths brought Lupe to a view of Old Baldy Mountain.

Forget about this one, SPHP, unless you’re ready to spring for a helicopter ride! This one’s not happening! Old Baldy Mountain (Center). Photo looks ENE.


Twin Sisters Range High Point: Dog Song Road (USFS Road No. 682.1) leaves Hwy 89 1.7 miles S of Pringle.  The junction with USFS Road No. 373 is 3 miles from the highway.

Twin Sisters (W of Custer): Comanche Park campground where Lupe started is 6 miles W of Custer on the S side of Hwy 16.  However, it may be possible (and necessary when the campground is open) to start much closer on an alternate route from the E.  Click here for details.

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

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 198 – Peak 4160 & Unkpapa Peak (4-2-17)

Start (9:50 AM, 61°F), intersection of 7-11 Road & Red Valley Road several miles SE of Wind Cave National Park.

Wow!  A perfect spring day for bagging a couple more Black Hills peaks – blue skies, calm, almost room temperature.  Even though April was barely underway, it might even get a little too warm in another couple of hours.

Lupe was excited.  She’d already had a great time barking at cows and horses from the G6 all the way to Buffalo Gap.  She’d seen one of her two peakbagging goals for the day, too.  SPHP had let her out of the G6 for a couple of minutes for a quick look at Unkpapa Peak (4,280 ft.).

Unkpapa Peak from Red Valley Road (County Road No. 5). Photo looks S.

Before taking on Unkpapa Peak, Loop had other business to attend to.  For the past several months, she had been working on climbing southern Black Hills peaks Brian Kalet had added to the data base last May.  Now she was almost done.  One more Brian Kalet peak remained – Peak 4160.  Lupe was going to get Peak 4160 over and done with first.

Crumbly and steep – a bad combination!  The route SPHP choose to start off with was silly and unnecessary.  The red dirt of the steep hillside was damp and messy.  The white gypsum rock crumbled easily, providing unreliable support.  Lupe didn’t have a problem negotiating the hillside, but it took SPHP a while to reach the more solid gypsum cap at the top of the hill.

Lupe had no problem climbing this steep, crumbly hillside, but it sure slowed SPHP down. This was a crazy route up Peak 4160, anyway. Lupe would soon have to lose nearly all the elevation she gained climbing this hill before even starting up the main ridge.

On the other side of the hill was a pine forest and easier terrain.  Unfortunately, Lupe had to lose nearly all the elevation she had just gained.  The ground sloped down into a series of ravines she had to go around or through.

Once she was past the last of the ravines, Lupe started a steady climb up the W face of Peak 4160.  The forest thinned out rapidly.  On the upper slope few trees were left to block the steadily improving views.

As Lupe climbed the W face of Peak 4160, the forest dwindled away rapidly. From the upper slopes she had a great view of Unkpapa Peak (L). 7-11 Road is seen below. Photo looks SSW.

Down in the forest Lupe hadn’t seen much cactus, but up on the sunny, barren, upper slope it was a different story.  The higher Lupe went, the more cactus she found.  By the time she reached the ridgeline, Lupe was not a happy Dingo.  She begged SPHP to carry her, or at least scout out the route ahead.

With so much cactus on Peak 4160, Lupe insisted that SPHP scout ahead for danger before she would follow. Here she’s on her way having received the signal that this next part of the route was cactus-free. Photo looks SE.
Good job, SPHP! No cactus at all on that last stretch. Take your time and keep up the good work. I’ll wait here until you give the signal. Make sure you don’t miss any!  My paws are at stake!

Peak 4160 is a long ridge running almost straight N/S.  The W face is quite steep, but the mountain slopes away only gradually to the E.  Lupe had come up well S of the high point, which the topo map showed was somewhere quite close to the W edge.  She headed N along the edge looking for the true summit.

Cactus was the only serious obstacle.  With SPHP’s scouting help, and an occasional lift over the worst of the cacti, Lupe arrived at a line of small rocks of almost equal elevation.  These rocks were the true summit of Peak 4160.  It was a great moment.  Lupe had done it – she had climbed the last of her Brian Kalet peaks in the southern hills!

Lupe reaches the true summit of Peak 4160, the last of the Brian Kalet peaks she was going to climb in the southern Black Hills. She was pretty happy, thinking this was the last cactus-infested mountain she would have to climb. SPHP hadn’t sprung the news about Unkpapa Peak on her yet! Photo looks N.
Lupe found this line of small rocks at the top of Peak 4160. They were 20 or 30 feet away from the W edge of the mountain. Photo looks S.

The topo map showed two separate areas on the mountain within 4,160 foot elevation contours.  Brian Kalet had marked the southernmost of these areas as being the location of the true summit.  Lupe had reached this S area first, and she could see the next high point to the N from here.  It definitely looked a little lower.

Lupe was glad!  She was already at the true summit and could skip the remaining cactus-infested trek to the N high point.

The rocks of the true summit were 20 or 30 feet from the edge of the steep W face of the mountain.  Of course, the edge was where all the best views from Peak 4160 were.  Naturally, Lupe went over to check them out.

The best views from Peak 4160 were along the W edge of the mountain. Although blue skies had prevailed when she started up, Lupe could now see clouds building to the NW. Photo looks NW.
Unkpapa Peak (L) from Peak 4160. Photo looks SSW.
Gravel 7-11 Road stretches away to the SW. Lupe had come up Peak 4160 through the forest seen below on the L. Photo looks SW.

Happy with the last of the Brian Kalet peaks already in the bag, Lupe returned to the true summit briefly before starting her trek back down the mountain.

Lupe returned to the true summit briefly before starting down. Photo looks E.

She began her return to the G6 heading S along the W edge where the views were best.  Before leaving the ridgeline, Lupe stopped briefly at a couple of points along the way.

Looking W before leaving the ridgeline.
Looking NNW.

Although it had been sunny and warm earlier, by the time Lupe was down the skies were gray.  A cool wind was blowing.  Off to the NW, it looked like rain.  Lupe passed by an ancient windmill, the old blades still capable of spinning in the breeze.

By the time Lupe was down off Peak 4160, the weather had changed. The skies were gray, a cool breeze was blowing, and it looked like rain to the NW. She passed by this ancient windmill, its old blades still spinning in the wind. Photo looks SW.

At 1:15 PM, Lupe jumped into the G6 when SPHP opened the door.  Was she ever surprised when SPHP politely informed her she wasn’t going anywhere until she climbed Unkpapa Peak, too!

Loopster was fine with that!   Carolina Dogs are always ready for the next adventure.  Lupe abandoned the G6, and started for Unkpapa Peak.  Her journey began below a line of low cliffs near the edge of a dry creek bed.

Lupe passed by this line of colorful low cliffs to start her journey up Unkpapa Peak.

After crossing some easy open ground, the terrain became steeper as Lupe climbed up through a forest.  Her route was steepest near the end of the climb where only scattered trees remained.

Lupe on her way up Unkpapa Peak. The steepest part of the climb is directly ahead, but wasn’t at all difficult. Photo looks SE.

Lupe reached the top of the Unkpapa ridge at its northernmost point.  The weather had continued to deteriorate.  Up here it was windy and cool.  SPHP was putting layers back on, but Lupe had to make do with the same lovely brown and white fur outfit she wears in all kinds of weather.

Like Peak 4160, Unkpapa Peak features two different areas contained within equally high elevation contours.  That meant two possible sites for the true summit.  On Unkpapa Peak, these two areas are separated by more than a mile.  The topo map showed a survey benchmark at the N high point, which wasn’t too far away from where Lupe reached the N rim of the mountain.  The name Unkpapa Peak was also shown at this point on the map.

While Lupe headed ESE along the edge of the N face on her way to the closest summit, SPHP kept an eye out for the survey benchmark.

Looper stands in the cool wind along the N rim of Unkpapa Peak, a little E of where she first came up. American Dingoes are not fans of wind. Photo looks E.
The N high point of Unkpapa Peak is visible on the L. Lupe didn’t have far to go to get there. The skies were still blue to the E, but Loop wouldn’t see the sun in all her time up here since clouds continued to move into the area. Photo looks ESE.
Lupe still standing in the wind along the N rim. The weather looked increasingly stormy off to the NW (L). The intersection of 7-11 Road and Red Valley Road is seen below. A quarry is in view on the far side of 7-11 Road. Photo looks NNW.

Lupe hadn’t seen much cactus on the way up Unkpapa Peak, but when she reached the top of the ridge there was plenty of it around.  SPHP’s scouting and Port-A-Puppy services were called into play again.  Lupe still hates cactus, but with all the cactus-infested mountains she’d been climbing recently in the southern Black Hills, she was getting fairly used to dealing with it.

Lupe made good progress along the N rim toward the summit.  SPHP was surprised when she found a survey benchmark a couple hundred yards before reaching the high point.  The topo map only showed a benchmark at the top.

Lupe found this survey benchmark a good 200 yards W of the N summit.

The cactus was annoying, but could not stop Lupe from reaching the N summit.  She arrived to find a couple of modest rocks at the very top.  Lupe got on them to claim 1/2 of her peakbagging success on Unkpapa Peak (4,280 ft.).  This summit was quite close to the N rim, but thankfully trees along the edge helped block the N wind.

Shortly before reaching the N summit, Lupe came to this great view of Buffalo Gap. Photo looks ENE.
Almost there! A happy Carolina Dog awaits another cactus all clear signal from SPHP. She’s almost to the N summit of Unkpapa Peak. Photo looks WNW.
Ta da! Looper stands atop the N summit of Unkpapa Peak. Photo looks E.

After reaching the N summit, Lupe looked around the area close by for both the best view of Peak 4160 from Unkpapa Peak and another survey benchmark.  A break in the trees along the N rim provided a great look at Peak 4160, but there didn’t seem to be a second survey benchmark.

A break in the trees along the N rim provided a great look at Peak 4160 (the closest big ridge) from Unkpapa Peak. Photo looks NNE.
Peak 4160 with some help from the telephoto lens. Photo looks NNE.

Lupe and SPHP took a break under a big pine tree a little back from the N edge where the wind wasn’t so strong.  Lupe had eaten some Taste of the Wild up on Peak 4160, too, but she was still kind of hungry.  She had another helping.

Even under this pine tree there was cactus.  Hopefully, Unkpapa Peak was to be the last of the lower southern Black Hills peaks with cacti that Lupe would have to climb for a long time.  She sure wouldn’t miss the cactus.  Neither would SPHP.

One thing Lupe wouldn’t miss from these lower, drier southern Black Hills peaks was all the blasted cactus.

Yet it had to be admitted that despite the lower elevation of these southern peaks, the drier climate where cactus thrived and trees didn’t fare as well had provided Lupe many outstanding sweeping views unlike those found in the much more heavily forested Black Hills typical farther N.

After the short break beneath the pine tree, Lupe returned to the summit rocks, which were close by.  On the way, SPHP noticed a second survey benchmark.  So there was one here after all!  It was a little S of the highest rocks.

As Lupe returned to the summit rocks after her break, SPHP noticed this second survey benchmark a little to the S of the highest rocks.
Lupe back at the N summit after her break. Although the N and W faces of Unkpapa Peak are fairly steep, the top of the mountain is a gently undulating plain. The S summit, more than a mile to the SW is in view on the L. The trees on the R are all near the edge of the W face. Photo looks SW.

The N and W faces of Unkpapa Peak are fairly steep, but the top of the mountain is a gently undulating plain.  Looking SW across this plain from the N summit, it was possible to see several high points more than a mile away, but it was hard to tell which might be the S summit.

To really claim a completely valid peakbagging success on Unkpapa Mountain, Lupe would need to visit the S summit as well.  If the topo map was correct, odds were that the S summit was also technically the true summit, since the area enclosed by the 4,280 foot contour was much larger over there.

Lupe headed SW across the undulating plain.  Cactus was a constant threat, but wasn’t nearly as thick as it had been along the N rim.  Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the easy stroll.  The wind wasn’t nearly as bad here as along the N rim.  The air was comfortably cool.  Meadowlarks were singing.

Lupe discovered a huge bone.

Looper found this huge bone shortly after starting on her way to the S summit. Too bad it had long been completely picked over. What a prize it would have been fresh!

Unfortunately, the huge bone had been completely picked over long, long ago.  By all appearances, it had been laying here bleaching in the sun for years.  What a glittering Dingo prize it would have been when fresh!  Lupe was way too late for that.

The next thing Lupe found was of much more practical use.  She came to a trail!  The trail meant an almost guaranteed cactus-free path.  Lupe was enthused.  She took the lead, running back and forth ahead of SPHP.  She was making rapid progress now.

After finding the trail, Lupe made rapid progress. Although SPHP wasn’t certain of it yet, the barren ridge seen slightly R of Center behind her proved to be the S summit of Unkpapa Peak. Photo looks SSW.
Looking NE back at the N summit of Unkpapa Peak from a small, rock-covered hill. The trail Lupe had been following is in view on the hillside.

Suddenly there was movement ahead!  A small herd of deer had become aware of the approach of a ferocious American Dingo.  They quickly bounded out of sight over the W rim of the mountain.  Lupe raced over there.  From the edge, she was disappointed to find the deer had vanished, but she did get a good look at the stormier conditions prevailing over the higher Black Hills to the NW.

A small herd of deer bounds away before disappearing over the W edge of Unkpapa Peak. Photo looks SW using the telephoto lens.
From the W rim of the mountain, Lupe caught no sight of the deer, but did see the stormier weather prevailing over higher hills to the NW. She would rather have seen the deer.

It wasn’t much farther now to a rocky ridge that might be the S summit of Unkpapa Peak.  Lupe stayed neared the trees along the W rim of the mountain as she traveled S toward the ridge.  A disturbing amount of cactus was present whenever she ventured away from the trees.  SPHP had to help her past it in a few places.

The ridge itself was barren, but didn’t have as much cactus.  Upon reaching the top, it became clear this ridge was indeed the S summit.  Lupe had made it!  A 75 foot long line of modest to good-sized rocks and boulders of similar elevation formed the highest part of the ridge.  Lupe got up on several of the highest rocks for a look around.

Lupe reaches the rocky ridgeline at the S summit. Photo looks SW.
Looking W.
Looking NE back at the N summit. The N summit appears to be considerably higher in this photo, which is deceptive. While actually there, both the N and S summits did seem to be about the same elevation.
From a distance, it had been hard to tell if this ridge was actually the S summit or not. However, this view from the top looking WSW over the next canyon left no doubt.

The most dramatic views were off to the W and N, but Lupe could see in every direction from the barren S summit.

Pines line the edge of the W rim of the mountain. Lupe could see far beyond them. Photo looks N.
Lupe had a big view to the NW, but rain showers hid the higher, more distant hills.

Reaching the S summit meant that Lupe’s peakbagging tasks were complete on Unkpapa Peak.  Whether the N high point or the S high point was the true summit didn’t really matter now.  Lupe had been to both.

For 20 minutes or so, Lupe and SPHP remained up on the S summit.  Looper had plenty of time to get back to the G6, but there was no rush.  It was too late in the day for another adventure.

The wind blew, but not as strongly as it had earlier along the N rim.  The sky tried to spit rain, but didn’t achieve much in the way of results.  The air was cool, but not cold.  Lupe and SPHP stayed together on the rocks, enjoying the panorama from Unkpapa.

Even though she wasn’t that far from home, it might be a long time before Lupe returned for another expedition this far S in the Black Hills.  The Brian Kalet peaks Lupe intended to climb were finally complete.  Except for the cactus, the last few months climbing them had been surprisingly fun.

An American Dingo lingers atop the S summit of Unkpapa Peak. Photo looks ESE.

On the way back N, Lupe took the scenic route staying near the W rim for the huge view.  The farther N she went, the more cactus there seemed to be, but SPHP helped the Carolina Dog through it.

Looking back at Unkpapa’s S summit. Photo looks SE.
The grand view from the NW rim of Unkpapa. Photo looks N.

Lupe went back down the N face about where she’d come up.  A colorful hill to the NW caught SPHP’s fancy.

This colorful small hill caught SPHP’s fancy on Lupe’s way down. Photo looks NW.

It was still early when Lupe reached the G6 (5:11 PM, 47°F).  She had plenty of daylight for enormously satisfying frenzied barking at the numerous cows and horses she saw on the drive home.

For the 3rd expedition in a row, Lupe celebrated the end of the day with a chocolate milkshake from the Sonic Drive-In.  The milkshake was fancied up with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

American Dingoes love whipped cream!  The cherry?  It was graciously ceded to SPHP.Want more Lupe adventures?  Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 197 – Parker Peak & Horse Trap Mountain (3-27-17)

Start (10:49 AM, 54°F)

Crocuses!  Lupe discovered pale, lavender crocuses along the trail, not many, but a few here and there.  No denying it now, spring had arrived in the Black Hills!  As far as Lupe was concerned, crocuses were infinitely better than the cacti she had been reluctantly dealing with on her recent Black Hills expeditions.  SPHP couldn’t have agreed more.

Crocuses herald the arrival of spring in the Black Hills.

The trail had led Lupe right up to the top of the broad ridge.  The ridge ran for miles E/W, and had a number of large extensions to the S.  Most of the ground up here was rolling grasslands, rimmed by Ponderosa pines along the edges, with more pines scattered in various places across the open ground.

Lupe arrives up on the broad ridge that ran for miles E/W. The survey benchmark, at the top of the pipe seen sticking up out of the ground beneath her, provided SPHP with a good indication of her precise location. Photo looks SW.

The question was, which way to go from here?  The plan was to follow 4WD roads up on this huge ridge to Lupe’s two peakbagging objectives of the day – Parker Peak (4,848 ft.) and Horse Trap Mountain (4,682 ft.), but neither mountain was in sight, nor was any road visible.  Maybe the old roads shown both on the topo map and SPHP’s old Black Hills USFS map didn’t even exist anymore?  Entirely possible.

What was for certain was that Parker Peak, the high point of Fall River county, was miles away at the far W end of this ridge.  Horse Trap Mountain, however, was somewhere closer by to the S.  Maybe it was still E of here?

Lupe explored E along a fence line, going up to the crest of a gentle rise where a few large pines were clustered.  Looking E and SE from here revealed nothing.  All the terrain was nearly as high, and a lot of it was forested.  No sign of Horse Trap Mountain.

The only thing Lupe discovered by going E was that crocuses weren’t present up on top of this ridge.  Instead, her feared cactus nemesis was.  Not a lot of cactus, but enough so SPHP carried her over one small patch.  The cactus wasn’t a surprise, SPHP had expected it.  Even up on this high ridge, Lupe was still below cactus line.

Going farther E didn’t look promising.  Lupe retraced her steps, returning to where the trail had first brought her up to the top of the ridge.  At the fence corner, Lupe came to a pipe sticking up out of the ground.  SPHP hadn’t noticed it before.  A survey benchmark at the top of the pipe provided a clue, such a good clue that after consulting the maps, SPHP knew exactly where Lupe was.  Horse Trap Mountain was more than 2 miles SSW of here.

SPHP started leading Lupe WSW down toward an earthen dam for a dried up stock pond.  However, Loop was now wary.  The foray to the E had shown her that cactus was present.  She followed SPHP reluctantly.

Crossing the earthen dam, Lupe didn’t notice the one cluster of cactus growing on it.  Her confidence started returning.  SPHP enticed her SW up to the top of the next rise without much of a problem.  By staying where there were trees, the chance of encountering more cactus was reduced.

Unfortunately, the ridge didn’t have enough trees to provide continuous shade.  Lupe soon realized cactus was up here, too.  She insisted upon returning to her now familiar method for dealing with cacti.  The Carolina Dog stood or sat motionless while SPHP scouted ahead.  She would only come when SPHP sat on the ground to signal that the route was safe.

In some places it wasn’t safe.  SPHP had to carry the American Dingo a few times over the thicker cactus patches.  It would sure help to find a road, any kind of a road.  Lupe would be willing to trot along a road confident that cactus wouldn’t be on it.

Lupe was in luck!  A little down over the other side of the rise, she did find a road.  The road was faint and seldom used, even grassy, but it was a road.  Upon reaching it, Lupe was immediately relieved of the worst of her cactus worries.  She was willing to travel the road without her time consuming cacti technique being employed.

The grassy road went S.  Within minutes, Lupe passed by the ruins of an old cabin.  A little farther on, the road came to a major intersection in a clearing.  Dirt roads radiated out in 4 or 5 directions.  Ahead, across a tree filled canyon, Lupe saw an interesting butte in the distance.  SPHP didn’t realize it at first, but this was Lupe’s first view of Horse Trap Mountain.

Lupe near the major dirt road intersection. The butte in the distance is Horse Trap Mountain. Photo looks SSW.

A canyon was between Lupe and the interesting butte.  Consulting the topo maps, SPHP realized the interesting butte was very likely Horse Trap Mountain.  To get there, Lupe would have to take the road leading W.  If it was the road shown on the topo map, it would soon make a big detour to the NW to get Lupe around the end of Falls Canyon.

The road did exactly as the topo map showed.  Not only was Lupe ever more confident about the cactus situation, but SPHP was increasingly confident of the existence of the road system shown on the topo map.  Things were going well!

After rounding the NW end of Falls Canyon, the road turned S.  Lupe hadn’t gone as far S as the map showed she would need to in order to reach a turn to the W, when another road angling that direction appeared.  After another quick map consultation, SPHP concluded this road was most likely a short cut to Parker Peak.  Did Lupe want to go there first or to Horse Trap Mountain?

Lupe went W for Parker Peak.  The short cut worked.  The new road eventually intersected the main route shown on the topo map.  Everything went fine.  The roads, which were only a mix of dirt and grass the entire way, served as a Dingo superhighway.  Lupe was making great progress!  It was an easy trek.  The route was level or close to it most of the time.  What elevation changes Lupe came to were all gradual.

She often had beautiful views along the way.

Lupe enjoyed beautiful views on her way to Parker Peak. The high ridge in the distance is more than a mile SE of Parker Peak. Photo looks SW across Hell Canyon.
The high point straight up from Lupe is the top of Parker Peak protruding barely above an intervening lower ridge. Photo looks W.
View to the NW. The dark high point on the far horizon a little R of Center is Wildcat Peak (5,500 ft.).  The ridge on the far R is Elk Benchmark (5,669 ft.). The closer forested hill on the L is an unnamed peak a couple miles N of Matias Peak.

As Lupe got closer to Parker Peak, the views gradually changed.

The same unnamed ridge SE of Parker Peak, but now looking SSW at it across Hell Canyon.
Another view to the NW, this time looking a little more N with less help from the telephoto lens.
Looking down Hell Canyon toward Horse Trap Mountain (R of Center). Photo looks SE.

The road passed to the N of a skinny lower ridge 0.5 mile E of Parker Peak.  Lupe left the road to climb up on the skinny ridge for a good view of her objective, now in clear view.

Parker Peak from the skinny ridge 0.5 mile to the E. The skinny ridge was topped with colorful rocks. Photo looks W.

Lupe returned to the road after leaving the skinny ridge.  She was closing in on Parker Peak rapidly now!  In hardly any time at all, she was on her way up.

After leaving the skinny ridge, Lupe rapidly closed in on Parker Peak. Photo looks W.
Starting up!

The road Lupe was on reached the roomy summit area near the S end.  The true summit was along the W side almost at the N end.  On her way there, Lupe saw 4 concrete foundation corners, and discovered 2 survey benchmarks.  The foundation corners were all that were left of a former fire lookout tower.

Lupe stands on one of the old concrete foundation corners. All four of them are in view. They were all that remained of the old fire lookout tower. Photo looks SW.
The first survey benchmark Lupe came to on Parker Peak as she headed N along the W side of the summit area.
Lupe on top of Parker Peak. Part of the town of Edgemont, SD can be seen in the distance on the far R. Photo looks SW.
The second survey benchmark Lupe came to. This one was also near the W side of the summit area. By the time Lupe reached it, she was within a few tens of feet of the N end of the mountain.
Lupe stands next to the northernmost survey benchmark. Part of an old retaining wall is behind her on the L. Edgemont, SD is now seen in the distance at Center. Photo looks SW.

Lupe arrived at the highest rocks on Parker Peak (4,848 ft.) at the N end of the summit area to claim her peakbagging success of Fall River county’s highest point.  The views were splendid!

Success! Lupe at the true summit of Parker Peak. Wildcat Peak (straight up from Lupe’s rump) and Elk Benchmark (a little to her R) are in view again on the far horizon. Photo looks NW.
Matias Peak (4,780 ft.) is the forested hill on the R. Photo looks WNW.
Lupe starts settling in at the Parker Peak summit for a little rest break. Far below her lofty perch, the intersection of Hwys 89 & 18 is seen on the far L. The Mickelson Trail slants from the L to the Center before turning due N. Photo looks N.
Horse Trap Mountain (L) from Parker Peak. Photo looks SE.

At the summit, Lupe was ready to relax.  She was thirsty and hungry, lapping up a couple bowlfuls of water, and crunching up most of the Taste of the Wild supply.  Then she rested while SPHP petted her.  She encouraged SPHP to continue whenever it looked like there might be a break in the Dingo lovefest.

What? You aren’t done giving me love already are you? Please continue!

The sun was still fairly high in the sky.  Lupe had plenty of time to get to Horse Trap Mountain.  Lupe and SPHP loitered at the summit for a long time.  Parker Peak was the highest point around.  Lupe could see long distances in nearly every direction.

The time came to move on.  Lupe had a last look at the fantastic view to the N.

A last look to the N.

Then Lupe began working her way toward the S end of the summit area.  She posed for a few photos along the way.

Near the edge of the W face. Photo looks SW.
Matias Peak (R) from Parker Peak. Photo looks WNW.
At the S end of the summit area. The curved road on the far R is the old highway to Edgemont. Photo looks SSW.
Looking from the S end of the summit area back toward the true summit. Photo looks NNE.

After going all the way to the S end of Parker Peak’s summit area, Lupe started her journey to Horse Trap Mountain.  She took the road she had come up back down off Parker Peak, and headed E retracing her route.

All the roads shown on the topo map really did exist!  In fact, even more roads existed than shown.  None of these roads amounted to much.  They were all simple grass and dirt pasture trails, but they allowed Lupe to occasionally take minor shortcuts.  Surprisingly little cactus was around, but the Carolina Dog was happiest staying right on the roads where she didn’t even have to think about her sharp, spiny enemy.

Lupe went 2 miles E before turning S for Horse Trap Mountain.  It was still 1.5 miles away.  The trek S was easy and relaxing.  Lupe stopped briefly at a few of the better viewpoints along the way.

The trek to Horse Trap Mountain was relaxing and beautiful. Photo looks SW towards highlands on the far side of Hell Canyon.

As she drew near Horse Trap Mountain, Lupe came to a place where she had an impressive view of Falls Canyon.

Nearing Horse Trap Mountain, Lupe had this impressive view of Falls Canyon. Photo looks SSE.
Horse Trap Mountain from the W edge of Falls Canyon. Photo looks S.

At last, Horse Trap Mountain was dead ahead.  However, a large ravine was between Lupe and the mountain.

Lupe reached this open ground where Horse Trap Mountain was dead ahead. However, a large ravine was between Lupe and the mountain. Photo looks S.

The road brought Lupe down to a narrow saddle leading to the NNE ridge going up Horse Trap Mountain.  To the W was the large ravine.  To the E was Falls Canyon.  The road turned sharply and began to descend into Falls Canyon.

No road went up Horse Trap Mountain, but the NNE ridge was an easy climb for Lupe.  She soon arrived up at the NE end of the football fields long summit area.  First she took a look at the grand views to the E and SE from here.  She could see Flagpole Mountain (4,320 ft.) and several other peaks she had visited on recent expeditions.

It was fun to see them all again from this new vantage point.

Lupe on the rocks at the E edge of the Horse Trap Mountain summit area. Flagpole Mountain (4,320 ft.), which she had visited recently on Expedition No. 195, is seen in the distance at Center. Impressive Falls Canyon is in the foreground. Photo looks SE.

A couple of peaks Lupe had visited in the Seven Sisters Range exactly a month ago on Expedition No. 193 are in view on the far horizon. Peak 4371 is near the L edge of the photo, and Peak 4310 is a little to the R of it. The closer barren hill only 2 miles away at Center is Roundtop Hill. Lupe has never been there. Photo looks ESE.

The top of Horse Trap Mountain was mostly open grasslands dotted with Ponderosa pines.  The summit area was shaped like an elongated circle, longest NE/SW, and sloped gradually to the S.  The summit’s edges were rimmed all around with cliffs of modest height.

The true summit of Horse Trap Mountain (4,682 ft.) was evidently somewhere along the N or NW rim.  After admiring the views of spacious Falls Canyon and the distant peaks to the E and SE, Lupe went to find it.

The summit of Horse Trap Mountain was open grassland dotted with Ponderosa Pines. Photo looks W from the NE end of the mountain where Lupe came up. From here, Lupe went to find the true summit, heading beyond the trees seen on the R.

A short, easy stroll brought Lupe to the highest rocks and true summit of Horse Trap Mountain along the N rim.  She could see the top of Parker Peak (4,848 ft.), where she had been only a couple hours ago from here.

Lupe at the true summit of Horse Trap Mountain. The top of Parker Peak, where she had been only a couple hours earlier, is on the horizon at Center beyond a branch of Hell Canyon. Photo looks NW.
Looking N from the true summit at the territory Lupe traveled across to reach Horse Trap Mountain.
Looking SE from the true summit.
Looking SW from the true summit. Lupe’s a little hard to see, but she’s right in the center of this photo.

Lupe and SPHP took a 15 minute break to enjoy the views from the true summit.  Lupe polished off the rest of her Taste of the Wild supply, and tanked up on water again.

When break time was over, the American Dingo took a counter-clockwise tour of the edge of Horse Trap Mountain’s summit.  Beautiful views were in every direction.  Some of them were quite different from the usual Black Hills terrain, and reminded SPHP vaguely of sights seen in much higher mountain ranges.

Looking WNW. Parker Peak is in view again on the R.
Lupe along the NW rim. The rough, rocky terrain seen here was fairly typical along the edges of Horse Trap Mountain’s summit. Photo looks NE.
SPHP was impressed with this view of the lower part of Hell Canyon, which seemed to be on a rather grand scale for the Black Hills. Photo looks SW.
Another look at Parker Peak. Photo looks NW.
Looking WSW across Hell Canyon.
Lupe liked this big view of Hell Canyon, too. Photo looks WSW.
Looking S. The high plains of western South Dakota are seen beyond the end of the Black Hills.
Lupe at the S end of the summit area. The cliffs along the escarpment here weren’t as high as elsewhere around the mountain, but the views were still great. Photo looks W along the S escarpment.
Falls Canyon and Flagpole Mountain (R) from the S end of Horse Trap Mountain. Photo looks SE.

After going clear around the W end of the mountain all the way to the S end, Lupe traveled N across the grassy center of the summit area to return to the true summit of Horse Trap Mountain for a final time.  She took a second 15 minute break here.  It was a glorious place to be!

The sun was starting to sink in the W.  Lupe still had a couple of hours left before sunset, but it was miles back to the G6.  The vast majority of her journey would be a pleasant trek along the same dirt and grass roads up on the big ridge, but near the end Lupe would have to navigate that field with cactus and then find the trail down.

It was time to leave Horse Trap Mountain.

Looking NE along the way to start back down off Horse Trap Mountain.

The return journey in the evening light was wonderful!  Spring was in the air, and by now Lupe realized there really wasn’t much cactus around.  She romped through the fields and forests.  To complete her joy, the Carolina Dog even found a squirrel to bark at.  No cactus bothered her.  Lupe found the trail leading down off the big ridge.

The sun was long down.  Not much twilight remained by the time Lupe reached the G6 again (7:36 PM, 50°F).

On the long drive home, Lupe barked at cows and horses until it was so dark SPHP concluded she could only smell them, not see them.  Expedition No. 197 wasn’t officially over until the American Dingo finally decided there was nothing left out there worthy of being barked at.

Maybe a dry barker would like something cold and wet to soothe it?  The Sonic Drive-Inn was still having its half price drink sale after 8 PM, and it was already after 9 PM.  Would Looper like to go get a milkshake?  Yes, indeed!  SPHP didn’t have to ask twice.

A great day of adventure finished with Lupe relaxing on the bed slurping up chocolate milkshake from a bowl, while SPHP worked on the strawberry one.  And then it was lights out.

A Carolina Dog twitched now and then during the night, but whether she was dreaming of Parker Peak, Horse Trap Mountain, adventures past, or adventures yet to come, was impossible to tell.

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