Lupe has been on Peakbagger.com since May, 2014 when SPHP first discovered that site. Peakbagger.com has maps and many great features for tracking ascents of mountains, hills, state and county high points, etc. One of the first things Lupe and SPHP started doing once Lupe had her free Peakbagger.com account set up, was to start climbing all of the peaks shown on Peakbagger’s list of Black Hills 6500-foot peaks. Although Lupe and SPHP had already climbed a number of the peaks on this list, it was fun to work towards completing it.
Peakbagger’s list of Black Hills 6500-foot peaks has 24 ranked peaks with at least 280 feet of prominence, plus another 20 unranked peaks lacking the minimum prominence required to be ranked. On November 6, 2014, Lupe and SPHP climbed Peak 6733, which completed all of the peaks on the list that SPHP thought Lupe would be able to climb. A few Black Hills peaks are beyond Lupe’s ability, since they would require rock climbing equipment (or wings), or climbing them is prohibited for one reason or another.
After November 6, 2014 there were only 4 peaks remaining of the 44 peaks total on the Peakbagger.com Black Hills 6500-foot peak list that Lupe had never climbed. Only 1 of them was a ranked peak, which was Peak 6920, a huge granite outcropping between Harney Peak (7,242 ft.) and Little Devil’s Tower (6,960 ft.) which looks from afar like it has sheer cliffs for sides.
The other 3 unranked peaks were the Cathedral Spires (6,840 ft.) (rock-climbing equipment clearly required), Thunderhead Mountain (6,567 ft.) (the privately owned mountain where the Crazy Horse Memorial carving has been underway for decades – climbing it is prohibited without special permission from the owners), and Gap Lode Peak (SPHP was never certain from afar which granite outcropping might be the summit of Gap Lode Peak (6,560 ft.) , but judged it likely that rock climbing equipment would be necessary).
SPHP had been thinking recently that Lupe really ought to go get her picture taken at the most famous mountain in South Dakota and the Black Hills, which she has been past many times. That mountain is also well known both nationally and internationally – Mt. Rushmore. SPHP knew that dogs would likely be prohibited in most of the areas near Mt. Rushmore, so there wouldn’t be much for Lupe to do there once a couple of photos were obtained.
Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 124 would need another objective in addition to Mt. Rushmore. Since Gap Lode Peak is a relatively short drive from Mt. Rushmore, SPHP decided that Lupe may as well go and take a close look at Gap Lode Peak to see if there was any way she could climb it. If she could, Lupe could claim an ascent of one more peak on Peakbagger’s list of Black Hills 6500-foot peaks!
The first stop on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 124 was at the little parking lot along Hwy 244 just 0.25 mile past the entrance to Mt. Rushmore (5,725 ft.). There was only one other vehicle at this parking lot when Lupe and SPHP arrived. This parking lot has the great advantage of being free, unlike the parking garage in front of Mt. Rushmore. Another advantage is a very nice view of George Washington’s profile between a gap in the steep granite rock outcroppings near Mt. Rushmore.
Lupe and SPHP walked along Hwy 244 back up to the entrance to Mt. Rushmore. Just past the grand entrance was a no dogs sign. A park ranger promptly came over to make certain SPHP had seen the sign. Lupe could go no further, but the ranger at least allowed SPHP to take a few photos of Lupe with Mt. Rushmore in the distance. That pretty much concluded Lupe’s limited exploration of Mt. Rushmore, although she did get quite a bit of attention from some of the tourists who wanted to pet her. She was a bit nervous about it at first, but sat obligingly still while making some new friends.
On the way back to the G6, Lupe and SPHP climbed up on some rocks across Hwy 244 where there was another view of Mt. Rushmore from another angle. A couple of pictures here and Lupe’s little photo op trip to Mt. Rushmore was complete. Once back at the G6, Lupe and SPHP headed out on the 10-15 minute drive to the Palmer Creek trailhead. The sky was totally clear and it was an incredibly warm (for March) 70 °F out at 11:10 AM when Lupe and SPHP started the trek to Gap Lode Peak.
A short spur trail from the Palmer Creek trailhead took Lupe to Lost Cabin Trail No. 2, part of the fairly extensive trail system in the Black Elk Wilderness area. Harney Peak, the highest mountain in the Black Hills and South Dakota is in the Black Elk Wilderness area, which lies between Mount Rushmore National Monument to the NE and a small section of Custer State Park to the SW. Lupe took Lost Cabin Trail No. 2 climbing all the way up to a high saddle area. There were increasingly nice views as Lupe gained elevation.
At the saddle, SPHP stopped to consult the topo maps printed out from Peakbagger.com. They showed that Gap Lode Peak was less than 0.5 mile to the SW from this saddle area. Even though it was only 0.5 mile away at most, SPHP knew it was going to take quite a while for Lupe to get to Gap Lode Peak. Pine bark beetles have caused extremely heavy damage in this portion of the Black Hills. Lupe would need a lot of patience while SPHP slowly worked through a jungle of deadfall timber as soon as the trail was left behind.
The first task was to find Gap Lode Peak. SPHP left the trail and began working through all the deadfall up a reasonably gentle slope to the W. Reaching some granite outcroppings, SPHP was encouraged to see a higher hill of granite in the right direction and about the right distance away to be Gap Lode Peak. Clearly it was not anything Lupe could climb from the E or the S. However, a long slope led up toward the big granite rocks at the top from the N or NW. Perhaps Lupe could climb Gap Lode Peak from that direction?
A rather steep ravine was between Lupe and the N or NW slope leading up to Gap Lode Peak. Lupe would have to lose a fair amount of elevation to get over there. It was abundantly apparent there was going to be nothing but endless deadfall timber the whole way too. SPHP dithered. Was it worth struggling through this mess only to very likely be confronted just short of the goal by a summit too rugged for Lupe to reach it? There were other nice peak objectives reachable by trail in the area.
For 5 or 10 minutes SPHP headed slowly towards Gap Lode Peak half convinced it was really smarter to just turn around. What could be seen of Gap Lode Peak looked like Lupe could eventually get close to the top of it from the N or NW, but she probably couldn’t get to the summit. Once SPHP started losing elevation down into the ravine, however, the decision was made. Lupe was going to climb Gap Lode Peak or at least know for sure why she couldn’t.
It took a very long time for the amount of distance covered for SPHP to get through all the deadfall timber down to the bottom of the ravine, and then back up on the N or NW slope that headed up to Gap Lode Peak. Even Lupe was having to work to get through the maze of dead trees, although she was much better and faster at it than SPHP. Still she was having to go over, under or around a lot of stuff. The going got a little bit easier though, since the ground was more level, as Lupe approached the summit.
It turned out that the N or NW slope led Lupe to a place where there were two possible candidates for the true summit of Gap Lode Peak. The first one SPHP had seen was now to the ESE, and the other newly discovered possibility was to the SW. The first one still seemed likely to be the highest, so Lupe headed in that direction first. It looked from a distance like a granite wall with no way for Lupe to climb it. However, as Lupe got closer, SPHP started seeing that there were some clefts in the rock that might make it possible to get up there safely.
Upon reaching the two clefts just a couple of feet apart, SPHP abandoned the backpack. It turned out that the climb up wasn’t bad at all. Before long Lupe was up on top of Gap Lode Peak! SPHP was very pleased and Lupe looked pretty happy about it too. There were some really nice views towards Harney Peak and Little Devils Tower. Far to the S, even Northeast Cicero Peak (6,240 ft.) was in view. There was a huge amount of Black Hills territory in view off to the N towards Custer (6,804 ft.) and Terry (7,064 ft.) Peaks.
Looking to the W, the other high point which might be the true summit of Gap Lode Peak could be seen. It looked just about even with where Lupe was already. SPHP still thought the high stuff to the W didn’t look quite as high, but the difference couldn’t be much. Perhaps it was even a bit higher? It was hard to tell for certain. Naturally, SPHP decided it had taken so long to work through the deadfall timber to get to Gap Lode Peak, Lupe might just as well go and explore the W high point too. After all, Lupe was already very close to it. So after climbing down from the E high point, Lupe headed W.
Lupe climbed up on some of the highest rocks at the W high point. After seeing both high points from one another, SPHP concluded they were so very near the same elevation, it was impossible to say for certain which was the absolute highest, but it still seemed that the E high point Lupe had visited first was the true summit of Gap Lode Peak. Regardless, Lupe had succeeded in reaching both! She could claim a successful summit.
There was more to do near the W high point. The area had nice granite outcroppings with pretty green kinnikinnick growing in many places between the rocks. The granite also extended some distance off to the W and SW without losing much elevation. Lupe went and explored some of this area, which was fun to climb around in. There was still deadfall timber to deal with, but not as much of it as in other areas. There were even better views to the W from some of the rock outcroppings than Lupe had seen from either of the two high points of Gap Lode Peak.
As the afternoon started wearing on, what had been a breezy day up until now started to get pretty windy. SPHP knew that high winds were in the forecast for this evening. It was time to get going. There were still plenty of dead trees standing which might fall over in a high wind situation. So after a good time exploring Gap Lode Peak, Lupe started the return trip to the G6. She retraced the same short, but time consuming trek back to the saddle area to get back to Lost Cabin Trail No. 2 that she had made to reach Gap Lode Peak. Once on the trail again, it became an easy hike back down to the Palmer Creek trailhead.
Lupe arrived back at the G6 at 5:48 PM. It was 71 °F – just amazing for late March. The skies were still totally clear, but way down here there really wasn’t even much of a breeze. It seemed premature to be heading home before dark, but Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 124 had been a success. Lupe made a few new friends and had her picture taken at Mt. Rushmore. She had even found and climbed Gap Lode Peak. SPHP now wonders if she shouldn’t go take a closer look at Peak 6920…