Day 25 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Lupe wanted out twice during the night. Both times it was nice out, a hopeful sign. Dawn arrived a few hours later to dash those hopes. Steady rain beneath a drearily overcast low-ceiling sky. The forecasts were going to be right, weren’t they? Three more full days of rain before things might improve.
A little after 10:00 AM, Lupe and SPHP left Palmer on the Glen Highway (Alaska Route 1) heading E. Sad, very sad, but SPHP was resigned to it. There was no beating this endless rain on the Alaska S coast. Lupe wasn’t going to get to do any of the fun adventures around Anchorage or on the Kenai Peninsula.
The plan was to go as far as it took to get out of the rain, even if that meant going back to Canada. Lupe still had a couple of peakbagging objectives on her list not too far E of Palmer, if the rain would let up. There didn’t seem to be much hope of that. SPHP was prepared for a long drive. Lupe stared out the rain-streaked window of the G6 at the beautiful Matanuska River valley she was leaving behind.
The rain didn’t extend nearly as far as SPHP feared. Surprisingly, by the time Lupe was nearing the Matanuska Glacier, the sky had stopped its seemingly endless dripping. The glacier was visible from the highway, so Lupe stopped for a look.
Conditions improved rapidly as Lupe and SPHP continued E on the Glen Highway. That was great news! Two of Lupe’s peakbagging objectives were coming up soon.
The first was Lion Head(3,185 ft.). Lupe found the road that serves as a trailhead near milepost 106. Beyond a parking area, a closed gate was across the road. A “No Trespassing” sign said AT&T owned the property. No one allowed in without permission from AT&T. Most disappointing.
Surprising, too! SPHP had read online accounts touting the climb up Lion Head for the spectacular views of the Matanuska Glacier. None of them had mentioned an access problem. Several vehicles were parked along the road near the closed gate. Others must be making the hike. SPHP hesitated. Gunsight Mountain was another 10 or 12 miles E. Maybe Lupe should check out Gunsight instead?
Near milepost 117, Lupe and SPHP stopped at a large empty pullout on the SE side of the Glen Highway. A sign said this was the Camp Creek trailhead. Absolutely no other information was available. Not a soul was around. Gunsight Mountain loomed to the NW right across the highway.
Despite involving 3,400 feet of elevation gain, the climb up Gunsight was supposed to be easy and straightforward. Was this the trailhead for Gunsight? Except for those tall bushes low down on the mountain, the climb looked easy enough whether there was a trail or not. SPHP grabbed the backpack, crossed the highway, and Lupe was on her way! (1:29 PM, 54°F)
Five minutes after Lupe started her assault on Gunsight, SPHP was beating a retreat. Those tall bushes were an impassable jungle! There certainly didn’t seem to be any trail. Lupe had no choice, but to follow SPHP back to the G6. So far, Lupe’s day had been nothing but frustration. Another mile E, near milepost 118, her luck changed.
A green street sign read “Trailhead Access Road”. A short road on the NW side of the highway led to a large paved parking lot. A posted map showed several trails in this area, including one leading to Gunsight Mountain(6,441 ft.). Twenty minutes after launching her first attack on Gunsight, Lupe set out again.
An old road led to an ATV trail that climbed rather steeply at the start. Things leveled out after 200 feet of elevation gain. The ATV trail had turned N. Lupe reached an intersection where a small pond was a short distance ahead.
Lupe didn’t need to go N. She turned W on another ATV trail leading toward Gunsight Mountain. A huge, colorful hillside, was ahead. The top of Gunsight Mountain appeared above it in the distance.
The ATV trail was full of big, muddy potholes, and soon gave out. A single track trail led into the bushes which dominated the landscape. It too, disintegrated before long. A bewildering maze of little trails went in all directions, appearing and disappearing in no discernable pattern. Lupe thought this was great! She could prowl around unseen until she was almost upon SPHP.
The bushes down where Lupe had made her first brief assault on Gunsight had towered over SPHP. They had strong, thick branches. Fortunately, the bushes here were only chest high on SPHP. It was possible to push through these smaller bushes along the myriad of little trails, though it was preferable to follow the occasional strips of open ground between them whenever possible.
Getting to the top of this first big hillside took a while. The climb gradually steepened along the way. On the bright side, the open ground between bushes started to dominate as Lupe gained elevation. If there was any organized trail up this long hill, Lupe never found it. During short rest stops, SPHP consumed wild blueberries, which grew in great profusion on the hillside.
By the time Lupe reached the top of the big, colorful hillside, the bushes had disappeared entirely. Only the low, delicate plants of the tundra remained. Lupe already had some fabulous views from here.
The best route to the top from here was obvious. Lupe headed W across a broad area of fairly level tundra toward the NE ridge of the mountain. She even lost a little elevation along the way, before the climb resumed.
Lupe was still on her way up toward Gunsight’s NE ridge, when suddenly there was a voice coming from above. A young woman was cheerily hailing Lupe and SPHP as she hiked down the mountain. SPHP hadn’t even seen her. Her name was Laura. She was here in Alaska visiting friends who had to work today, so she had just trotted on up to the top of Gunsight Mountain for something to do.
Laura was from Montana, which made her practically a neighbor to Lupe. She was very friendly. Was the guy following Lupe and SPHP part of the group? SPHP turned around. There was someone coming! He was still over toward the top of the long, colorful hillside, but heading this way fast. No, Lupe and SPHP had never seen him before.
Laura and SPHP chatted pleasantly for a few minutes, before she went onward. A few minutes later, she could be seen talking to the guy who was hot on Lupe’s trail coming up. Meanwhile, Lupe reached the NE ridge. Staying on the less steep SE side of the ridge, Lupe and SPHP continued toward the summit.
Within a few hundred feet of the summit, the tundra finally gave way to a long, scree slope. During the fairly steep ascent up the scree, the guy who had been following Lupe overtook SPHP. He promised to save Lupe and SPHP good seats with a view at the top.
Coming up the easy, broad E slopes of Gunsight Mountain, SPHP had come under the impression that the summit might well be a large plateau, with plenty of room for Lupe to run around. However, when Lupe reached the top of the scree slope, the mountain simply ended. On the other side of the little summit ridge was a gaping chasm.
Standing out at the very end of a small, narrow prominence, surrounded on 3 sides by nothing but air, was the guy who had promised to save Lupe and SPHP good seats with a view. He stood on the brink of destruction at the chasm’s edge surveying the spectacular views, as calmly as any mountain goat might to whom it was all old hat, part of a daily humdrum routine.
His precarious position made SPHP nervous for him, but he calmly walked over to greet Lupe and introduce himself to SPHP. His name was Luke Hall. He was originally from Sidney, Australia. Luke had left Sidney 3 years ago. Since then, he’d worked for a while in Banff, Canada and London, England, and a few other places around the globe. At the moment, Luke was in the middle of an already months long trip exploring and climbing peaks in Alaska.
Wow! Sounded like Luke was adventure personified! Lupe, Luke and SPHP spend 30 minutes together on Gunsight. A lot of chatting, comparing notes, and taking photos went on. Luke had been to Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park in Canada. Lupe had been there on her Summer of 2013 Dingo Vacation, too. Luke and Lupe had both been to several other places, among them Sukakpak Mountain(4,459 ft.), N of the Arctic Circle.
Luke was surprised to learn that Lupe had made it to the top of Sukakpak. He had been there a couple of weeks ago. He’d made it very high up on the mountain, but hadn’t found the route to the summit. Lupe and SPHP shared how Lupe managed to get there.
Of course, as long as Luke had already been exploring Alaska, he’d seen a lot of places Lupe hadn’t. There was so much to talk about! Fun times, but it was getting to be evening, and this was, after all, the top of a mountain in Alaska. Luke was wearing shorts. Not too surprisingly, he started getting cold standing around. He needed to get moving again, so good-byes were said. Luke started down the mountain.
After Luke departed, Lupe and SPHP spent another 20 minutes at the summit. The views were tremendous in every direction. The day had started discouragingly, but was ending on a literal high note here with Lupe at the top of splendid Gunsight Mountain!
After nearly an hour at the top, Lupe started back down the NE ridge. The evening and surroundings were incredibly beautiful. Most encouragingly, the patches of blue sky and sunshine which had started appearing on Lupe’s way up seemed to be spreading.
Luke had said he was planning on going to Anchorage and the Kenai peninsula. Maybe Lupe should, too! Maybe the weather was going to improve, and Lupe wouldn’t have to miss out on all the fun that had been planned there. She was only an hour’s drive E of Palmer. Lupe could climb Lion Head tomorrow, and then return to Palmer! It was too soon to leave Alaska, if Lupe didn’t have to.
Although the plan seemed to change with each passing cloud, these happy thoughts accompanied Lupe and SPHP as they took their time on the descent. The long, colorful hill was easier descending than ascending. It was possible to see the pattern of the open areas between the bushes from above, which made it easy to avoid the worst of the bushes. Of course, Lupe thought the bushes were fun, but she didn’t mind being able to run in the open, too.
A tired, but happy American Dingo arrived back at the G6 (9:29 PM). This had turned out to be a great day after all. Maybe things were looking up. Tomorrow, Lion Head!
Even standing right next to the marker, the numbers on it were so faded SPHP could barely make them out. 313.1G. Excellent! No doubt about it now, this icy dirt road leading into the trees was a USFS Road. Come on out, Loop, this is it! Lupe was out of the G6 in a flash (8:58 AM, 39°F). She thrashed around rolling on the ice in her excitement and desire to cool off.
Most of the land right along Carroll Creek Road (County Road No. 313) was privately owned in this area, but SPHP’s old USFS map did show national forest land coming right down to Carroll Creek Road in a few places. Finding USFS Road No. 313.1G meant Lupe had national forest access around the private property nearby. She could get to Peak5360.
Much of the snow that had been in this vicinity a week ago had melted. What was left had turned to ice on No. 313.1G, making it quite slippery. Off road, patches of crusty, crunchy snow lingered in shady spots.
Peak 5360 was another of the series of peaks in the southern Black Hills that Brian Kalet had added to the Peakbagger.com data base last spring. On recent expeditions, Lupe’s adventures had been focused on climbing these Brian Kalet peaks. She now had a good start on visiting all of them. A successful summit of Peak 5360 would “X” another one off the list.
Peak 5360 was only 0.67 miles N as the crow flies. Lupe would have to go more like a mile to actually reach the summit. No. 313.1G started out curving across the lower end of a draw to the NE. It then went around the SW end of a forested ridge before turning NE. Here, Lupe already had a view of Peak 5360 to the N beyond a field of private property.
Displaying limestone cliffs at the SW end, Peak 5360 looked like it was probably easiest to climb from the NE. Lupe followed No. 313.1G up the valley. After the road got beyond the end of the private field, Lupe came to two intersections in rapid succession. At the second one, she left No. 313.1G to continue NE on No. 313.1H. She hadn’t gone far at all before reaching a fence with a “No Trespassing” sign.
SPHP checked the USFS map again. Yes, a very narrow strip of private property within the national forest extended farther up the valley from here. Lupe ought to be able to go around it easily enough. SPHP led Lupe NW directly toward Peak 5360. Sure enough, the fence ended shortly after reaching the trees. Lupe turned NE again.
As she got closer to the NE end of the mountain, Lupe started climbing. She had already gained a fair amount of elevation by the time she was able to turn SW to tackle the steepest part of the slope leading to the summit. The remaining snow was getting soft and starting to melt, making things slick for SPHP. The Carolina Dog had no problem, though. She was rapidly approaching the small limestone outcroppings near the top of the mountain.
The exposed limestone cap at the NE end of Peak 5360 was not thick or continuous enough to create a solid line of cliffs. Lupe had no problem reaching the top of the mountain. The mountaintop was heavily forested, but she had good views from an opening looking NE.
Now that she had made it up here, it was time for Lupe to explore the top of Peak 5360 to find the true summit. The summit ridge extended another 0.125 mile to the SW, so the high point might be some distance away.
As it turned out, Lupe didn’t have far to go. The true summit was only 100 feet from where she’d reached the top of the mountain’s limestone cap. Brian Kalet had marked the true summit on Peakbagger.com as being close to the NE end of the mountain. Brian was absolutely correct.
A dead tree had fallen over right at the actual summit, and made a great prop from which Lupe could claim her 1st peakbagging success of the day.
Simply because she had reached the true summit of Peak 5360 so quickly didn’t mean Lupe was done here. Loop was ready to explore the entire summit area to see what else she might discover. Two ridges converged at the true summit. The shorter one went W, while the longer one went SW. Lupe went SW first.
The SW ridge varied from 50 – 200 feet wide. Although the ridge was fairly level, Lupe lost elevation steadily as she conducted her exploration. From cliffs along the SE edge, Lupe often had nice views in that direction, but the forest hid everything to the NW.
Lupe had lost significant elevation by the time she reached the cliffs at the end of the SW ridge. Unsurprisingly, the best views were to the SSW. Lupe could see both Parker Peak(4,848 ft.) and Matias Peak(4,780 ft.). Both were far away on the horizon and looked like mere bumps from here.
Since the views were better here at the end of the SW ridge than back at the true summit, SPHP suggested taking a short break. Lupe was fine with that for 10 minutes. Then she disappeared. SPHP had to call her. She came running back from the NE. Apparently she had seen enough of this end of the mountain!
Lupe and SPHP started back up to the NE. When the Carolina Dog was getting close to the true summit again, she turned W to explore the shorter W ridge. This was the only part of the mountain with decent views toward the N or NW. Lupe saw both Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) and Thunderhead Mountain(6,567 ft.), but they were quite a long way off.
Lupe’s explorations of Peak 5360 were now complete. She returned briefly to the true summit before heading back down the NE slope. She retraced her entire route back to the G6 (11:12 AM, 46°F).
Lupe wasn’t done with Brian Kalet peaks yet today. Another one, Peak 5240, was her next destination. Peak 5240 is nearly 4 miles SE of Peak 5360 on the opposite side of the little town of Pringle. Ordinarily that would have been close enough for Lupe to consider simply exploring a route to it through the hills, but the USFS map showed a lot of private property in the Pringle area. Lucky Lupe was going to get a ride over to Peak 5240 in the G6.
That was fine with the American Dingo! She kept a keen eye out for cows and horses to bark at along the way. She saw several on the way to Pringle, and hit the jackpot when she got there. A whole herd of black cattle was grazing SE of the intersection of Hwy 385 and Hwy 89. Peak5240 was close by, in full view beyond the herd.
The old USFS map made it look like there was national forest access to Peak 5240 starting less than 1 mile E of Pringle on the S side of Hwy 385. A possible USFS road shown on the Peakbagger.com topo map was nowhere in evidence, though, when SPHP drove by. Quite a bit of private property was in the area.
In fact, an apparently long-established commercial business, the Pringle Bed & Breakfast resort, sat on fenced land S of Hwy 385 where SPHP had expected to find the national forest. The Pringle Bed & Breakfast looked affordable to begin with, and they were advertising winter rates. SPHP was in a generous mood. Did Lupe want to go in for a luxurious, comfy snooze and hearty, nutritious breakfast?
SPHP still thought the land the Pringle Bed & Breakfast sat on was national forest ground, but the expected access road didn’t seem to exist and there was nowhere to park. Maybe there was access from the W? SPHP drove back W to Shirttail Canyon Road and turned S. After passing by several private properties, a USFS marker appeared near the start of a dirt side road. Lupe was in luck! SPHP parked the G6, and Lupe was back in business (11:41 AM, 47°F).
The USFS road led up the W slope of Peak 5240 through an open forest of Ponderosa pines. It soon ended at the old Townsite Mine, where a couple of signs indicated someone from Oklahoma had recently staked a new mining claim. Lupe found nothing else here other than the big scar in the hillside left by the original mining operation. She did have quite a good view back toward Pringle to the NW.
It doesn’t take a Carolina Dog long to look at a hole in the ground, even if it’s a fairly big one. Lupe left the Townsite Mine going a little S before turning E. She had to make her way up a short, fairly steep slope, but quickly reached the top of a limestone outcropping. Lupe stopped briefly here for a look at the already great view to the SSW.
The view from here was similar to the one Lupe had from the SW ridge on Peak 5360, but was more open and panoramic. Loopster could see Parker Peak(4,848 ft.) and Matias Peak(4,780 ft.) again. They were still far away, but a little closer than before.
The rest of the climb up Peak 5240 was only moderately steep. At the top of the mountain, one medium-sized rock stood out as being the true summit of Peak5240. Lupe stood on it to claim her 2nd peakbagging success of the day, striking a somewhat dramatic pose. There was little doubt she was merely following a tradition already established by Brian Kalet.
Near a cairn E of the true summit, Lupe found a survey marker, but it seemed to have more to do with a section line than anything having to do with Peak 5240. The top of the mountain formed a ridge running E/W. The ground was close to level for about 200 feet in this direction. Lupe had surprisingly good views in most directions except to the W and NW, where pines blocked the view toward Pringle.
After looking at the views from the E end of the summit, Lupe and SPHP took a break over toward the W end. The trees here provided welcome shade. Lupe wasn’t really hungry yet, but she stayed close by while SPHP munched an apple.
The view down the S slope was lovely. On the horizon was a distant blue ridge that might be part of the Seven Sisters Range(4,420 ft.), where Lupe hopes to visit some more Brian Kalet peaks in the relatively near future. SPHP must have been daydreaming and munching away for a while. Suddenly an American Dingo was right there, demanding an explanation.
Lupe was ready for action! OK, OK! SPHP finished the apple. Lupe cooperated with SPHP for one last photo looking down the S slope. She returned briefly to stand atop the summit rock one more time. Then she headed down the S slope to continue her exploration of Peak 5240.
Lupe went all the way down to the drop-off at the bottom of the S slope. Although she had lost a fair amount of elevation, she still had a great panoramic view.
Lupe’s investigations on Peak 5240 were now complete. She left the mountain, stopping by the Townsite Mine one more time along the way. Soon she was back at the G6 (1:04 PM, 47°F).
More than 4 hours remained before sunset. Lupe had run out of Brian Kalet peaks to explore near Pringle. However, while Loopster had been climbing all the Brian Kalet peaks farther N in recent weeks, SPHP had noticed a mountain not in the Peakbagger.com data base that Brian had somehow missed. Buckhorn Mountain(6,330 ft.) was just N of Custer, SD.
Lupe had seen Buckhorn Mountain from Peak6181 only a few weeks ago. It looked like a fairly impressive peak which might have some pretty sweet views from the top. The Custer area, especially to the N, is rugged territory for the Black Hills featuring lots of huge granite rock formations. SPHP wasn’t even certain if Lupe could get to the top of Buckhorn Mountain, but she was about to find out!
After driving to Custer, SPHP parked the G6 again at the intersection of Hwy 89 and USFS Road No. 362, about a mile N of Hwy Alt 16 (1:33 PM, 45°F). Buckhorn Mountain was only 1.5 miles to the NW.
On the first half of the trek to Buckhorn Mountain, Lupe followed USFS Road No. 362. The road wound NW through a forest which had been thinned by loggers fairly recently. Lupe liked the open forest, and trotted along on or near the road sniffing happily. She gained elevation steadily, but only gradually, on the way. She passed by a private drive on the N side of the road, but No. 362 continued on beyond it.
At the high point on No. 362, Lupe found an intersection. From here, No. 362 went W starting downhill. USFS Road No. 362.1C went N. By now, Lupe was very close to the end of the part of the forest the loggers had thinned. Buckhorn Mountain’s thickly forested SE ridge came right down to No. 362.1C nearby. Lupe took No. 362.1C going N, but arrived almost immediately at a gate barring the road. A sign said she had reached private property.
Lupe didn’t need to go any farther N anyway. Time for the American Dingo to begin her ascent of Buckhorn Mountain! Lupe and SPHP plunged into the forest, starting up the SE ridge.
The climb was really fun! It was steep, but not too steep. At first the forest was the only obstacle to navigate, but very quickly Lupe began coming to granite rock formations along the top of the ridge. The higher up Lupe went, the more the rock outcroppings grew in size. At any moment Lupe might come to a wall of solid rock preventing further advance along the ridge, but she didn’t. Each time that kind of situation seemed to be developing, Lupe found an easy way over, around, or through.
SPHP knew that Lupe would eventually come to an intermediate high point, sort of an ESE shoulder of the mountain. The shoulder area had some towering granite at the top. It was the first area of real concern. Would Lupe be able to get past this area without having to lose a bunch of elevation going around it?
A wall of rock 40 feet high appeared ahead. Lupe’s prospects weren’t looking too good, but she kept climbing right up to it. The luck of the Dingo held. Looper found an easy route around the NE side of the rock formation. She was past the ESE shoulder. Nothing to it!
Now that she was beyond the ESE shoulder, Lupe could see the top of Buckhorn Mountain ahead. It was still a bit of a climb, but wasn’t that far away!
Lupe lost only a little elevation traversing the saddle from the ESE shoulder to start the remaining climb up the E slope of the mountain. The forest in the saddle had been thinned by loggers. SPHP staggered through all the annoying slash the loggers had left behind. Before reaching the end of the slash, Lupe was already climbing again.
It still wasn’t clear if Lupe would be able to reach the top of Buckhorn Mountain or not. The final climb had stretches near the top which were even steeper than before. SPHP had to grab onto rocks and trees in some places to get up. None of this was difficult or scary – just a little light scrambling, but with snow and some deadfall timber around, it was slow going.
Near the top, suddenly the ridge was much flatter and easier than before. Lupe and SPHP went W making rapid progress. High rocks appeared ahead. SPHP’s heart sank. There was no way Lupe could reach the top, at least not from what SPHP was seeing from this direction. The rocks were nearly vertical and way too high.
Nothing to do, but check it out. Lupe worked her way around the N side of the rock formation, and found herself in a saddle between it and another rock formation to the N. It still didn’t look like Lupe would be able to climb up the first rock formation. So disappointing! The rocks to the N looked easier, so Lupe went that way first.
The rocks extended farther N than SPHP had seen at first. Lupe kept climbing along a surprisingly easy route. As she reached the N end, SPHP looked back and saw that she appeared to be every bit as high as the highest rocks to the S! In fact, the very highest rocks at the N end looked like they might even be slightly higher. Lupe had reached the true summit of Buckhorn Mountain(6,330 ft.)! Easy as pie in the end!
The views were fabulous! Poor Brian Kalet had really missed out by not getting to this peak. Lupe had a sweeping 180°+ panoramic view everywhere to the N. The Carolina Dog could see lots of the highest, most rugged territory and peaks of the Black Hills from here.
Lupe decided to celebrate her successful ascent of Buckhorn Mountain by taking a break. She feasted on Taste of the Wild, then curled up for a rest at a comfy spot in the warm sunlight.
While Lupe relaxed, SPHP took a couple of close-ups using the telephoto lens.
After her short rest, Lupe got back up on the true summit at the N end of Buckhorn Mountain again.
The time had arrived to explore the rest of the summit area. Maybe it was possible for Lupe to reach the top of the first rock formation she had come to farther S? If she could, there wouldn’t be any question whether she had reached the true summit of Buckhorn Mountain. The Carolina Dog headed S to check it out.
It turned out that the S rock formation was really the middle high point on Buckhorn Mountain. Between the trees, another high point could be seen even farther off to the SSW. However, it was clear that the actual S high point wasn’t as high as either the central or N ones were.
From the NW, the middle rock formation didn’t look nearly as daunting as it had from the E. Lupe could probably climb it from the SW!
A couple of minutes later, Lupe and SPHP were at the top of the middle summit. Getting there was an easy little scramble. The area at the top was all lumpy granite, but Lupe had a little room to move around. From here, she had terrific views to the E. She could see part of the town of Custer to the SSE, and beyond all the way to Northeast Cicero Peak(6,240 ft.).
Having climbed both the N and Central high points now, no matter which one was actually the true summit of Buckhorn Mountain, Lupe had been there. All that was left to do was check out the views from the lower S high point. As Lupe approached it from the N, there seemed to be little prospect of reaching the top. The rocks were vertical.
Sadly, SPHP didn’t think Lupe could even reach the S end of this rock formation, where there ought to be a sweeping panoramic view. Wrong! Lupe discovered an easy way around the W side that led directly up to a fantastic viewpoint.
Lupe couldn’t get to the top of the highest rocks at the S high point, but reached a point that wasn’t too much lower. It didn’t matter anyway, since the S high point was definitely not the true summit. After enjoying the grand view, Lupe returned to the N end of the mountain. SPHP needed to retrieve the pack, which had been left there.
After SPHP retrieved the pack, Lupe left Buckhorn Mountain. What a splendid fun climb and summit it had been! Lupe went back to the G6 following the same scenic route she had taken up. Near the wild-looking rock with a hole in it, SPHP found the topo maps on the ground. SPHP had dropped them on the way up.
Fortunately, when the route is obvious, a map isn’t required. Just keep following that curly Dingo tail onward and upward! (5:27 PM, 36°F)
Days 22, 23 & 24 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
8-20-16, 8:00 AM. Gray, gloomy, light rain. Disappointing, but it didn’t matter too much. Lupe was at Byers Lake in Denali State Park in Alaska. She’d spent the last two days exploring fabulous K’esugi Ridge. She’d had a wonderful time, but after dragging back in to the G6 after 3:30 AM last night, both Lupe and SPHP were in real need of a rest day. Even if the skies had been crystal clear and blue, there wouldn’t have been much on the agenda today.
SPHP drove over to pay the $5.00 daily parking fee, as strongly suggested by the official pay envelope waiting on the G6’s windshield upon Lupe’s return last night. Then it was back to the parking lot. Lupe was going to get her $5.00 worth today. Time for more shuteye.
Of course, it would have been nice if the skies had cleared. Although Lupe had been in the Denali State Park area for nearly 3 days now, she still hadn’t gotten a good, clear view of Denali(20,310 ft.). She’d seen the incredibly massive white mountain from an enormous distance earlier, while still close to Fairbanks, but had only caught brief glimpses since.
Nature doesn’t care what might be nice. The clouds did not part. Not even the tiniest speck of blue sky appeared. The dreary, light rain fell sporadically all day. Lupe and SPHP mostly snoozed. Maybe tomorrow Lupe would finally get that superb view of Denali?
8-21-16, morning. See Denali? Hah! Not a chance! The sky had wept all night. Rain was still falling, steadily, and much harder than yesterday. Time to give up on the Denali Dream. Lupe was all rested up now. She had other adventures to get to! Good-bye Denali State Park. Good-bye fabulous K’esugi Ridge!
Rain poured down, as SPHP drove S on the George Parks Highway (Alaska Route 3). The truth was, nearly all of the Alaskan adventures left on Lupe’s list of possibilities were somewhere relatively close to the S coast. The coast had been socked in with rain and fog for weeks. Conditions weren’t likely to be any better along the coast than at Denali State Park. Maybe Lupe’s time in Alaska was drawing to a close?
The sky remained overcast, but the rain ended before Lupe reached Wasilla. Civilization! Lupe and SPHP shared a box of ice cream bars and a couple of cheeseburgers. SPHP killed some time at the laundromat, and taking care of a few other chores. Already 5:00 PM. This day was slipping by, too.
One adventure still seemed like a possibility. If the rain would hold off, maybe Lupe could climb Skyscraper? Less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain was required. The mountain’s summit wasn’t even a mile from Hatcher Pass, a scenic 20 or 30 minute drive NW of Palmer.
Palmer wasn’t far from Wasilla. At Fishhook Junction, a mile N of Palmer, SPHP turned W (L) off the Glenn Highway (Alaska Route 1) onto Fishhook Willow Road. Fishhook Willow Road went W 2 miles then turned N following the Susitna River valley. After a sharp L turn onto Willow Creek Road, SPHP figured Lupe must be getting close to Hatcher Pass. SPHP parked the G6 at a pullout near the Fishhook Trailhead, right off Willow Creek Road.
Conditions weren’t so great. Mist was falling here. Low clouds draped over every mountain peak, threatening to unleash more serious moisture at any moment. If Lupe did make it to the top of Skyscraper Mountain, she might not see anything except fog.
However, Lupe desperately wanted to go. She’d been cooped up in the G6 for nearly 2 days now. The mountain looked only moderately steep, and appeared to be an easy climb. A maze of soft, damp trails wove among low, wet bushes toward the S spine of the mountain. Lupe and SPHP started up.
Everything was going fine. Lupe was having a good time. She’d already gained perhaps 250 feet of elevation, when SPHP paused for a quick breather. So far, so good. Except for that view to the W. Something was wrong over there. A road snaked up the main valley into a side valley, continuing on up to a big saddle even higher than where Lupe was now. How could that be?
Mist turned to light rain, as it all sunk in. That road was the Willow Creek Road going up to Hatcher Pass. It had to be. For pity’s sake! Lupe wasn’t even climbing the right mountain. Skyscraper Mountain(4,825 ft.) was over there! No doubt about it.
Sheesh! SPHP had no idea where this trail Lupe was on went, how far it went, or what mountain Lupe was on. (She was on the 1.2 mile long trail up Marmot Mountain.)
Oh, well. Conditions were deteriorating anyway.May as well call it. Back to the G6! At least Lupe had some exercise and fun. As an added bonus, SPHP finally understood where Hatcher Pass and Skyscraper Mountain were.
Who knew? With a little luck, tomorrow would be a better day. Lupe might be glad her climb of Skyscraper had been postponed.
Dream on! The G6’s radio said differently. Rain continuing through tomorrow, extending into blah, blah. Enough of that! Outside the G6, the world continued dripping.
8-22-16, morning again. Still heavily overcast, but not raining. Maybe Lupe could climb Skyscraper right now, first thing? SPHP drove up to Hatcher Pass. The pass wasn’t far at all, but conditions were a lot different here. Steady rain, 52°F, a chilly breeze, and fog. Umm, no thank you! When it comes to adventure, Lupe and SPHP are fair weather friends. No need to star in a private episode of Survivor!
Civilization has its advantages. Lupe and SPHP left Hatcher Pass and drove down to Palmer. A roasted chicken was obtained and shared. Lupe gnawed on a rawhide stick for a while, then snoozed. SPHP read. Palmer was overcast, of course, but it wasn’t raining.
Early afternoon. Still no rain in Palmer. Maybe things were better by now at Hatcher Pass? Lupe and SPHP went back up there. No rain until just before reaching the pass, where nothing had changed since this morning. Aggravating. Lupe would just stay here and wait it out. Sooner or later, there had to be a break didn’t there?
Despite the cold rain, a surprising number of people came and went. Most were well equipped with umbrellas and rain gear. Many took short walks on trails over the gently sloping tundra beyond the Hatcher Pass monument, but few remained in the area for long.
SPHP talked to a couple of guys getting back into their vehicle with Alaska plates. Did they know anything about the long range weather forecast? It was a rental car. They were Germans, but they did know something about Alaskan weather. They’d been in Alaska for 2 weeks and had been going to extremes to try to find a little sunshine.
The Germans said 3 more days of rain were in store here, then it was supposed to clear. As soon as they left Hatcher Pass, they were headed for Anchorage to fly to Nome. Nome was sunny. In 3 days, they would fly back to Anchorage. Now, there was an idea. Lupe could fly to Nome!
Perhaps SPHP lacks imagination. Flying Lupe to Nome on the spur of the moment seemed a bit extreme. No doubt a spontaneous trip to Nome would have been a grand adventure, though!
There were brief lulls, but mostly the rain went on and on. The afternoon ticked away. Lupe had been snoozing, but during a lull in the rain, she finally woke up. She just had to get out and run! Off like a shot, the Carolina Dog flew across the heather until she was a distant speck. SPHP stood in drizzle watching from afar, waiting for Lupe to tire of her big romp and return.
A couple of women walked by with 3 kids. The older woman was telling the children to be careful not to slip on the muddy trail. Moments later, the oldest child slipped and fell in the mud. She started crying. The older woman lost it, and started screaming at the girl. She was glad Michelle was hurt! It served her right for not listening and being careful. Hadn’t she just been told to be careful? Michelle wouldn’t get any help from her!
The obscenity-laden rant went on for several minutes while Michelle cried. The other woman at least helped her back on her feet. Michelle was what, maybe 9 – 11 years old? SPHP was on the verge of going over to have a few choice words with Cruella de Vil, when she finally shut up. The immediate crisis was over. Even so, Michelle’s problems in life were far from over, not by a long shot, if that witch was her mother.
The glorious human race! So capable of both the very best and very worst the planet has on offer. Carolina Dogs are better company – active, friendly, sensible and loyal! Speaking of which, where was Lupe? Here she came, racing back from her romp. She was eager for SPHP to join in the fun. It had only been misting lightly during Michelle’s ordeal. Might as well try Skyscraper now, before things changed.
SPHP drove down to a slightly lower pullout at the base of the informal trail up Skyscraper Mountain. Lupe could hardly wait. As soon as she was out of the G6, she took off again, racing hundreds of feet down the tundra on the other side of the road. She came right back, panting hard, and was overjoyed to see SPHP getting the pack ready.
A volley of raindrops splattered SPHP, but didn’t last long. Yes, raingear was in order. SPHP dug it out of the pack, and put on a green plastic rain poncho. Ready for another attempt. How far Lupe would get was in serious doubt, but at least she would be on the right mountain this time around. Lupe and SPHP started up the slope. (6:20 PM, 48°F)
The longest, steepest part of the climb came right at the start. Skyscraper is one of those mountains where the top always looks only another 50 feet higher. By the time Lupe reached the first high point, she had already gained 2/3 of the total 950 feet of elevation gain required to reach the summit.
From a rock formation at the first high point, Lupe got her first view of what lay ahead. Not far to the N, an orange windsock floated on the breeze above a broad, rounded ridge. From the windsock, Lupe would have an easy time traveling over gently rising tundra toward a couple modestly higher points along the ridge.
Looking back, Lupe could see Summit Lake on the W side of Hatcher Pass. April Bowl and Hatch Peak(4,811 ft.) on the S side of the pass were in view, too.
Lupe checked out the orange windsock, before turning NE to start the easy stroll up toward the next couple of high points. She had a blast running around sniffing and exploring the tundra. By now, Skyscraper Mountain’s entire summit ridge was in view, including the little bump up at the N end where the true summit is located.
The path along the higher part of the SW ridge undulated from one minor high point to the next. Through the light mist, Lupe could see mountains in every direction. If it had been a clear day, the scene would have been really gorgeous. Lupe had nothing to complain about, however. She was lucky the rain was holding off for the time being.
Beyond the minor high points of the SW ridge, the trail lost some elevation heading down to a saddle leading to Skyscraper’s summit ridge. Another steep climb ensued from the saddle, but it was only half as long as the first big climb had been. Soon Lupe was up at the S end of the summit ridge. The Pass survey benchmark was right there.
Skyscraper’s summit ridge is nearly level until it reaches a modest bump up at the N end where the true summit is located. The ridge was much narrower than the SW ridge Lupe had come up, especially toward the N end. The true summit was only 150 yards N of the Pass survey benchmark.
Lupe was there in practically no time at all. After days of waiting, success rewarded patience! Congratulations, and the usual paw-shaking ceremony ensued.
Mist and drizzle had occasionally given way to light rain on the way up. Lupe was fortunate to have reached the summit of Skyscraper. Conditions might worsen at any moment, so Lupe and SPHP didn’t stay at the summit too long. There was time enough for some photos, and a good look around at what could be seen of the rugged surrounding peaks of the Talkeetna Range.
Time to go. Lupe and SPHP started back S along the summit ridge. In the saddle between the summit ridge and the SW ridge, Lupe met two young guys from Wasilla on their way up Skyscraper. They said the weather was typical of this time of year around here.
Out of curiosity, SPHP asked them what trails/peaks they recommended Lupe save for a sunny day in the area? Reed Lakes was the immediate response. It wasn’t far from here. SPHP had heard of it. Good information. Never hurts to ask the local experts!
A thick fog rolled in as Lupe descended the last little stretch of the steep final slope to the G6. Rain came with it. Back just in time (9:13 PM)! Those poor guys from Wasilla hadn’t looked prepared for this.
Fifteen minutes later they appeared running across Willow Creek Road toward Hatcher Pass, where their vehicle must have been parked. Had they made it to the summit of Skyscraper? Probably, but they couldn’t have been there long enough to enjoy it. Lupe would never know for sure. At least they were back safely, though cold and soaking wet.
Lupe’s Skyscraper Mountain adventure had reached a successful conclusion, despite all the doubts of the last several days. Time to celebrate! SPHP drove down out of the soup back to Palmer. All remaining roasted chicken was devoured, along with a second course of cheese and crackers.
Carolina Dogs love cheese! Lupe always gobbled the cheese first before she would touch the cracker. American Dingoes always go for the gusto, then mop up whatever remains later on. But then, you probably knew that already.
Note: A number of trails exist near Skyscraper Mountain, including the Reed Lakes trail recommended by the two guys from Wasilla. Gold was discovered near the summit of Skyscraper Mountain in 1906. Nearby is the Independence Mine State Historical Site. The following links may be of interest:
Busy Carroll Creek Road (County Road No. 313) wasn’t a very good place to park, but would have to do. SPHP pulled as far over on the W shoulder of the wide county road as possible. With so much snow around, this was as good as it was going to get for the G6. Lupe bounded out, eager to begin her day of fun in the Black Hills (9:59 AM, 49°F).
Only 100 feet back to the N, Lupe reached the intersection with Fox Ridge Road. A short trek on Fox Ridge brought Lupe to her originally intended starting point at USFS Road No. 685. The road was unmarked and snowy. Fortunately, some vehicle with knobby tires had packed the snow down in a couple of tracks, making the hike along the road a lot easier than it otherwise would have been.
Lupe was about 5 miles SSW of Custer, SD. Her mission on Expedition No. 190 was to climb 3 more Brian Kalet peaks. Peaks5846,5880&5840 were all strung out along a line running roughly NW/SE. None of them were in view yet. Lupe would have to follow USFS Road No. 685 more than 2 miles, just to reach the pass between Peaks 5846 & 5880.
With so much snow around, Lupe couldn’t easily go running off exploring the forest like she usually does. She tried a few times, but bounding through snow almost up to her neck was hard work. Like SPHP, Lupe soon resigned herself to trudging along in the tire tracks on the road. She alternated between leading and following, often pausing right in front of SPHP to sniff the air, thereby forcing a temporary halt.
SPHP tried switching tire tracks frequently to avoid trampling the Carolina Dog, but each time SPHP switched, Lupe switched, too. She wanted to be in the exact same tire track as SPHP. Sigh. Good thing there wasn’t any big rush. Between the snow and Dingo delays, Expedition No. 190 was off to a leisurely start.
After the first big bend in the road, Lupe was out of sight of any sign of civilization other than the snowy road going forward. A S breeze was blowing. The sky was blue with a few thin clouds. Despite the snow, at close to 50°F, this was a warm day for early February. The road hike was a nice one, winding mostly SW through the forest.
No. 685 gained elevation gradually for a while before leveling out. Eventually it started a long, slow decline into a valley. By now, Lupe could see part of the middle mountain, Peak 5880, ahead through the trees.
A little farther on, Lupe left the road briefly to climb up on a rock formation to the N. SPHP thought she might have a good view of Peak 5846 from here. She could see it, but the vantage point wasn’t as good as SPHP had hoped.
As the road descended, Lupe lost all of the elevation she had gained, and then some. At the lowest part of the valley, the road skirted the S side of a big field of private property. When the road curved S away from the field, Lupe started seeing deer in the forest. Deer aren’t quite as much fun as squirrels, but they do hold Lupe’s interest.
After leaving the big field behind, No. 685 gained elevation again. Lupe eventually reached the pass between Peaks 5846 & 5880. The pass wasn’t as snowy as the road had been. Perhaps that was why a large herd of deer was hanging out here. The deer promptly fled into the forest as Lupe approached.
Only Peak5846 was NW of the pass. SPHP decided Lupe should climb it first. Peak 5846 has two high areas. Lupe climbed the closest S one first, coming up near the NE end of this area from the SSE. The climb was steep, but only required Lupe to gain a few hundred feet of elevation. When Lupe got up to where the terrain started leveling out again, she had a halfway decent view of Peak 5880 back to the SE.
The highest part of the S high area is at the far S end of Peak 5846. Lupe wasn’t anywhere near the S high point where she came up. However, the true summit of the mountain was in the opposite direction at the N end of the N high area, anyway.
Lupe’s first task was to reach the true summit. Off to the W, Lupe saw a thinly forested snowy hillside. To the R of the hillside appeared to be a saddle leading over to the N high area.
Lupe went to the top of the snowy hillside, before crossing the saddle to the NW. The NE side of the saddle was full of snow, but the ground to the SW was largely snow-free. Unfortunately, a hazardous downed barbed wire fence was in the saddle. SPHP lifted Lupe over it, but kept finding more barbed wire on the ground ahead. The barbed wire made this a dangerous place for Lupe! SPHP made her stay close.
The N high area of Peak 5846 is irregularly shaped. The highest ground is near the NE edge of the mountain along a ridge leading NW. Right away, Lupe came to a line of small cliffs along a narrow, rocky part of this ridge.
Although the ridgeline was quite narrow immediately N of the saddle, Lupe and SPHP had no problem following it NNW. Lupe still had to be careful, though. SPHP found one more section of downed barbed wire partially hidden in the snow.
After going a few hundred feet, the ridge broadened out greatly. Lupe was now gaining very little additional elevation as she continued NW. Right out in the open, she soon discovered a small cairn in the snow.
Was Lupe at the true summit of Peak 5846 already? SPHP wasn’t sure. The map showed the true summit at the far N end of the peak. It looked like Lupe might still have farther to go. Continuing onward, only 50 feet N of the little cairn, she came to a great open view to the NE.
Lupe entered the forest again, still going N. Yes, there was higher ground ahead! Lupe didn’t have much farther to go, though. Soon she was up on a big snowy level area at the highest point on the mountain. She had reached the true summit at the N end of Peak5846!
The most dramatic view from Peak 5846 is toward Black Elk Peak off to the NE, but Lupe had already seen the best view of it from the viewpoint near the little cairn before she even reached the true summit. Lupe and SPHP wandered over to the W end of the summit area, to see what Lupe could see over that way.
She had quite a nice view of Twin Sisters 2 miles to the NW. Beyond Twin Sisters, Lupe could see higher hills in the distance.
A little down the NW slope was a patch of snow-free ground. Even though the wind had shifted to the W now, Lupe and SPHP took a break here. SPHP ate an apple while enjoying the view. Lupe wasn’t too hungry yet, but she had a little Taste of the Wild.
The W breeze wasn’t terribly strong, but still felt chilly. The day wasn’t getting any warmer, that was for sure. Lupe was happy when SPHP wrapped a spare purple Columbia pullover around her.
Lupe still had two more mountains to climb. Break time was limited to 15 minutes. When it was over, the American Dingo returned briefly to the true summit of Peak 5846. She then started S, retracing her route past the great NE viewpoint, the little cairn, along the narrow rocky ridge, and across the saddle leading back to the S high area.
However, Lupe did not turn E here to go back down the SE face of the mountain. Instead, she continued S all the way to the S high point of Peak 5846, which she found at the top of a small forested knoll. Lupe paused only briefly here before beginning her descent. The S face of the mountain was steeper than where she’d come up, but had very little snow.
Lupe went all the way down to the pass where she’d left USFS Road No. 685 earlier. She crossed the road a little SW of the high point of the pass, and began climbing from the NW up to the N ridge of Peak5880. The N face of the mountain was all forested, snowy, and fairly steep. As Lupe reached the N ridgeline, the terrain started leveling out, although Lupe continued to gain some elevation.
Shortly after the slope of the terrain decreased, Lupe made a most interesting discovery. Proceeding S along the ridgeline, the American Dingo found tracks – really big tracks – in the snow. These weren’t the normal deer, wild turkey or rabbit tracks that Lupe usually comes across. Not at all! Lupe sniffed very carefully – mountain lion!
No doubt about it. A very big kitty was around here somewhere! The lion tracks looked fairly fresh, perhaps only 2 or 3 hours old. The lion had been heading S along this same N ridge. Lupe started following the mountain lion’s trail.
Fortunately, the N ridge was short. To continue on to the summit of Peak 5880, Lupe soon needed to make a loop toward the E in order to stay on the high ground. The lion hadn’t gone this way. Lupe was disappointed when she had to quit following the lion, but SPHP thought perhaps it was best not to make a mountain lion’s acquaintance anyway.
Lupe was still gaining elevation as she followed the ridge ESE. On her way, she came to a snowy clearing where she had a good view off to the N. To the NW, she could see Twin Sisters again, poking up behind Peak 5846, where she had just been.
The Peakbagger.com topo map showed 3 small areas on Peak 5880 enclosed by the 5,880 ft. contour. Lupe was now approaching 2 of them midway along the ESE trending portion of the ridgeline. Theoretically, any of these 3 areas might be the true summit of Peak 5880, although Brian Kalet had marked the 3rd, slightly larger area as the true summit.
Lupe came to only one high spot in the region where the topo map showed 2. It was clearly the highest point around this part of the mountain. This NE high point was located very close to a junction of ridges where Lupe needed to turn SW to reach Brian Kalet’s chosen summit.
From the NE high point, Lupe followed a broad ridge going SW intending to find Brian Kalet’s true summit. She lost a little elevation at first, but the terrain soon leveled out and began a gradual rise again. Lupe came across another set of mountain lion tracks, but they were older than the tracks she had been following earlier.
After a 5 minute trek to the SW, a snowy hill became visible to the W through the forest ahead. Climbing it from the E, SPHP was quickly convinced that Lupe was indeed about to reach the true summit of Peak 5880. This hill was easily higher than where Lupe had been before. Brian Kalet was right!
Lupe found the true summit of Peak5880 in a large, flat, thickly forested area at the top of the hill.
The snow was nearly a foot deep on the densely forested hill. Lupe had no views of anything except more forest from the true summit. She sniffed around the area for only 5 or 10 minutes. The day was wearing on. If Lupe was still going to try to climb Peak 5440, as well, she needed to get going.
Lupe retraced her route back to the NE high point, then turned ESE staying near the NE edge of the mountain. An annoying barbed wire fence went this direction, too. SPHP had to help Lupe across it several times.
Lupe was now gradually losing elevation. She came to small cliffs at the ESE end of the ridge. However, the way was open to turn S. Lupe lost more elevation crossing a wide expanse of forest. A fair amount of deadfall timber in this area forced lots of little detours.
By the time Lupe reached the last high point toward the S end of Peak 5880, she had seen 4 sets of mountain lion tracks, although only the first set had looked really fresh. At the S high point, Lupe was ready for another break. SPHP found a small snow-free spot among a stand of little pines. Lupe had more Taste of the Wild. SPHP wrapped her in the purple Columbia pullover again. After 10 or 15 minutes, she was ready to continue onward.
Following a ridge that curved around to the SW, Lupe lost elevation steadily. The topo map showed a minor road ahead, and Lupe reached it at a saddle. This whole area was full of snow. Lupe crossed the road going S. The road was heading ESE and about to lose elevation. Lupe plunged onward through the snowy forest, trying to maintain elevation up on the hillside. The terrain forced her SE.
The topo map showed another lower pass a short distance ahead. Lupe successfully maintained elevation until she reached the slope leading down to this second pass. She found another road down here, and an intersection just to the E. Lupe left the roads, and began her climb up the N ridge of Peak5840.
At first, Lupe was climbing from the NW along a fairly steep snow-covered slope. She gained a couple hundred feet of elevation before the slope became more gradual and the ridgeline turned S. Higher up, Lupe came to a couple of halfway decent viewpoints along the way, but she didn’t linger long this late in the day.
Lupe reached the true summit of Peak 5840 at a junction of three ridges. The summit area was much smaller than on Peaks 5846 & 5880, but had plenty of room to move around. Once again, forest prevented Lupe from getting more than a glimpse of any distant views from the top of the mountain.
Upon reaching the summit of Peak 5840, Lupe had successfully concluded her mission to climb 3 more Brian Kalet peaks today. Even though the sun was getting quite low by now, she still had a little time to relax up on top of the mountain. SPHP put the purple Columbia pullover back around her to keep her warm while she rested.
Lupe had a couple of requests.
First, she wanted love. SPHP gave her a generous dose, and praised her for her 3 latest peakbagging successes earned despite having to spend so many hours in the cold, deep snow.
All the tender love made Lupe happy. Next, she thought more Taste of the Wild would hit the spot.
The Taste of the Wild disappeared. Lupe begged for a little more loving, because, well, Carolina Dogs give away tons of love and enjoy receiving lots, too. SPHP was most happy to comply with Lupe’s request. Soon Lupe was feeling pretty good about the situation.
After a relaxing break on Peak 5840, it was time to get going again. The sun would still be up for a little while, but the G6 was miles away. Lupe posed for her final summit photo before heading down the mountain.
On the way down, Lupe and SPHP paused briefly at one of the viewpoints.
There wasn’t time enough left in the day for Lupe to retrace her original route to Peak 5840 back over Peak 5880, and then back along USFS Road No. 685. When Lupe reached the pass N of Peak 5840, she turned NE following USFS Road No. 308.1F (Reservoir Road).
SPHP was surprised when No. 308.1F quickly led Lupe into a residential area. The road eventually took Lupe N of these homes before winding NE through the forest again.
The light of day was fading, and so was No. 308.1F, by the time Lupe reached Carroll Creek Road. SPHP was glad No. 308.1F hadn’t disappeared entirely in the dark forest. The short cut back to Carroll Creek Road had worked! Lupe had saved a lot of time and distance.
Lupe’s adventures on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 190 were almost over. Together, Lupe and SPHP started the 1.5 mile trek N along Carroll Creek Road back to the G6. As stars began to appear overhead, Lupe and SPHP wondered if somewhere up on Peak 5880, a giant cat was beginning its nightly prowl? (5:41 PM, 41°F)
Day 21 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Lupe was still in Alaska in gorgeous Denali State Park. Unfortunately, she wasn’t going to get a clear view of Denali(20,310 ft.) today, either. Rain had fallen overnight. It wasn’t raining now, but the morning sky was socked in with clouds. Looked like another morning would be wasted waiting on the weather.
SPHP drove to Byers Lake at milepost 147.0 along the George Parks Highway (Alaska Route 3), and found a picnic ground. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed a leisurely brunch. After Lupe’s long day yesterday spent climbing Indian Benchmark(4,558 ft.) and K’esugi Mountain(4,700 ft.) near the N end of the K’esugi Ridge Trail, maybe a restful morning was a good thing.
Nearby, a man sat under a large canvas canopy. He worked for a company renting out canoes and kayaks for short term use on Byers Lake. The company also offered rafting trips on the Chulitna River. Despite the cool, overcast weather, he was doing some business.
Finally, noon was approaching. Still nothing, but gray skies and the occasional stray raindrop. Was Lupe going back up to K’esugi Ridge, or not? It was a long way to the Golog Benchmark(2,970 ft.). Decision time. Even though Lupe was unlikely to see Denali(20,310 ft.), she would undoubtedly enjoy the trek. Best get going.
Signs said the suspension bridge over Byers Creek NE of the lake was unusable. Lupe would have to go the long way on the Byers Lake Trail around the SW end of the lake to get to the Cascade Trail. The long way added an extra 1.3 miles, but there was nothing to be done about it. So what? Lupe didn’t care.
At the SW end of Byers Lake, Lupe came to a long wooden bridge across the Byers Creek outlet. The smooth flowing stream was very wide and several feet deep.
Three people were standing on the bridge, peering into the water. SPHP asked what they were doing. They were watching salmon swim upstream, came the reply. SPHP looked into the water, but saw nothing. Just wait, SPHP was told. The salmon come swimming up in small groups every 3 to 5 minutes. Sometimes they swim downstream from the lake, too.
Sure enough! In only a couple of minutes, several salmon did come swimming upstream. They passed beneath the bridge, swimming slowly. The salmon appeared tired, perhaps exhausted, from their long migration all the way from the ocean to Byers Lake.
The poor salmon were already starting to disintegrate. They were arriving at Byers Lake battered and scarred from their heroic journey. They bore long white wounds on their backs where scales had flaked off, or been torn away from the flesh. The sight was both tragic and inspiring. The salmon deserved pity, respect, and admiration.
One salmon was all red, except for its green head. That was a sockeye salmon. Lupe and SPHP stayed watching the salmon for 20 minutes before continuing on.
On the SE side of Byers Lake, the Byers Lake Trail was often muddy and slick. A great many tree roots made the trail rough and uneven. In places, large mushrooms grew near the trail. A few of them were brilliantly colored, and quite striking in appearance.
Lupe passed by a small remote campground near the NE end of the lake. No one was there. Lupe was well beyond Byers Lake by the time she reached a junction with the Cascade Trail.
The Cascade Trail connects the Byers Lake Trail to the long K’esugi Ridge Trail popular with multi-day backpackers. Lupe had gained very little elevation coming around Byers Lake. Most of her elevation gain for the day would come along the Cascade Trail.
The Cascade Trail started off rising gently, but that changed pretty quickly. Soon Lupe was gaining elevation steadily at a good clip. The first part of the Cascade Trail was still down in a forest. Ferns grew in great abundance on the forest floor.
Before long, a roaring waterfall could be heard off to the NE, no doubt the cascade the trail was named after. Lupe never had a good view of it, however. The trail never got that close.
The trail passed over a small hill, then lost a little elevation going down to a creek. Lupe was still seeing colorful mushrooms along the way. Once down by the creek, the trail started a more serious climb. There were two creek fords, which were easily passable this time of year using stepping stones.
The trail followed the creek up a narrow ravine for a while, then finally left it and began to switchback up onto K’esugi Ridge. The map SPHP had along showed the Cascade Trail was only 2.0 miles long. Maybe SPHP was just worn out from Lupe’s previous day’s adventure, but it seemed twice that long.
After an endless stretch down in the forest and then among tall bushes, Lupe was finally high enough above the dense vegetation to get a view of the progress she’d made. Byers Lake already looked surprisingly far away.
Lupe left the switchbacks behind. The Cascade Trail began to straighten out, climbing more directly up the slope toward the top of K’esugi Ridge. Gradually the slope of the terrain lessened. There was more good news, too! The sky was getting brighter. The clouds weren’t as gloomy and gray as before. Little patches of blue sky began to appear.
Before reaching the top of K’esugi Ridge, the Cascade Trail ended at an intersection. Lupe avoided taking the Upper Troublesome Creek Trail, which turned S (R). Both of her peakbagging objectives, Whimbrel Hill and the Golog Benchmark, were to the NE. Lupe headed ESE (L) on the K’esugi Ridge Trail.
The top of K’esugi Ridge wasn’t much farther. Lupe gradually gained another 200 feet of elevation. The trail had nearly topped out by the time Lupe reached a barren hillside overlooking Mini-Skinny Lake to the S.
The K’esugi Ridge Trail gradually turned NE as Lupe continued on past Mini-Skinny Lake. For a while the trail was nearly level, passing over open tundra. Large boulders dotted the landscape, especially toward the NE end of the hill Lupe was on. With encouragement from SPHP, she got up on one of the biggest ones, which was sporting a cairn. From the boulder, Lupe could see her two peakbagging objectives for the day, still miles away.
Lupe had reached the NE edge of the big hill she was on. Ahead, K’esugi Ridge was miles wide, all wind-swept tundra. Lupe saw scattered lakes and ponds. A few trees struggled for survival. Bushes several feet high clustered near some of the creeks and wetlands. The terrain was undulating. From here on, all elevation changes would be gradual.
Whimbrel Hill(2,645 ft.) was the closest of Lupe’s objectives, still a couple miles to the NE. Lupe started down the hill, following K’esugi Ridge Trail toward it.
After losing a fair amount of elevation, the K’esugi Ridge Trail disappeared as Lupe reached a marshy valley full of bushes. A stream with significant flow weaved through it all. Water seemed to be everywhere. Right next to where the trail had been heading, there was even a small pond with a couple of ducks on it.
Lupe had no problem leaping over the stream, but SPHP went upstream, hoping the flow diminished in that direction. The stream was only a few feet wide, but it was fairly deep. Swampy ground made it hard to even get close to the stream’s edge, which was often poorly defined.
What SPHP didn’t realize was, this stream comes from the largest of the small lakes in the area. The flow wasn’t going to diminish upstream. Nevertheless, SPHP finally found a way across. Lupe continued NE on the K’esugi Ridge Trail, which reappeared on drier ground about where it could have been expected, if SPHP had simply splashed directly across the marsh.
The K’esugi Ridge Trail brought Lupe fairly close to the largest lake in the area, passing to the NW of it. N of the lake, the trail reached its closest point from Whimbrel Hill, which was still almost 0.5 mile farther N.
Lupe and SPHP left the K’esugi Ridge trail, and made the easy trek across the tundra to Whimbrel Hill. At the summit, Lupe found a rock shaped like a pedestal, or very flat mushroom. Rocks piled on top served as a rough cairn. Lupe jumped onto the pedestal to claim her first peakbagging success of the day! She graciously received congratulations from SPHP.
At Whimbrel Hill, a decision had to be made. Due to Lupe’s very late start, it was already late in the day. Golog Benchmark was still a long way off to the NE. Going all the way to it clearly meant getting back to the G6 well after nightfall. Was Whimbrel Hill the end, or should the American Dingo forge on ahead to Golog?
The weather was basically good and seemed stable. Off to the NW, Denali and the Alaska Range were still cloaked in dark clouds. Rain showers could always be seen drifting NE along the Chulitna River valley in that direction. Over K’esugi Ridge, however, the clouds weren’t nearly so dark. Occasionally, Lupe basked in sunshine.
The terrain was easy, and Lupe would have trails to follow all the way back. This was probably Lupe’s only chance to ever get to Golog. If she left K’esugi Ridge now, who knew when, or if, she would ever return? The sun would still be up for another couple of hours.
Chance of a lifetime! If the Carolina Dog was ever going to see Golog Benchmark, she had best get going. Lupe and SPHP headed SE down Whimbrel Hill angling to meet up with the K’esugi Ridge Trail farther NE than where Lupe had left it.
Lupe had a blast on K’esugi Ridge! She displayed enormous energy racing across the tundra, sometimes so far from SPHP that she had to be called back to make certain she didn’t get lost. The distant tiny Dingo always returned at top speed, full of enthusiasm. It was still disappointing to SPHP that Denali wasn’t going to make an appearance, but that was the hand that had been dealt.
Lupe wouldn’t have changed a thing. Of all the grand adventures Lupe had on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon, and Alaska, Lupe might well rank this day roaming free on K’esugi Ridge as the best.
Lupe came to many little streams and ponds. The K’esugi Ridge Trail had lots of mucky, wet sections, and minor creek crossings. SPHP soon learned how to tell where the wetlands were by the appearance of the vegetation in the area. Lupe climbed rocks and hillsides. She investigated holes in the ground. She sniffed everywhere, discovering whatever mysteries float in the Alaskan breeze.
The tundra was alive with brilliantly colored low-lying plants. Crowberries and other berries were in great abundance. Beauty spread from beneath Lupe’s paws as far as the eye could see in every direction. What a fabulous place and wonderful day to be alive! The trek to Golog was long, but easy and magnificent.
At last, Lupe drew near Golog. The trail rose steeply, twisting to avoid boulders. The climb took only a few minutes. Lupe arrived up on a fairly level summit area perhaps 60′ x 100′ in size. There was little vegetation. Most of the area was exposed bedrock. A huge boulder coated with light green lichens, was perched at the very top.
A chill and rather strong breeze was blowing. Although it had been sunny out not long before, the sun had sunk into the storm clouds to the NW hanging over the Alaska Range. Lupe took a break and had some Taste of the Wild, partially sheltered from the wind by the huge boulder. Meanwhile, SPHP searched around for a survey benchmark, but found none.
Lupe climbed to the top of the crowning boulder, to see if the actual survey benchmark was there. No, not here either, but Lupe had made it to the top of Golog Benchmark hill! Congratulations were in order once more. SPHP shook her paw, praising the energy, endurance, and enthusiasm she had displayed coming all this way.
Lupe jumped down off the huge boulder to escape the cold SW breeze. SPHP searched the larger summit area again, but never found the actual survey benchmark. That was a bit surprising. There was no question that Lupe was on the highest point around, and the trail had come right to it. This had to be Golog!
For 20 minutes, Lupe and SPHP remained on Golog. Lupe had seen only one person on K’esugi Ridge all day. In the chilly breeze, beneath the cloudy sky, the beautiful, vast, wild tundra felt desolate, forlorn, forgotten. The K’esugi Ridge Trail went on past Golog continuing NE for miles. Lupe could see Skinny Lake ahead (the big Skinny Lake, not Mini-Skinny), hundreds of feet lower than Golog.
Somewhere out there, miles beyond Skinny Lake, the N end of the trail passed near K’esugi Mountain where Lupe had such a good time yesterday. Wouldn’t it be fun to backpack the entire trail someday? Yes, someday. A someday that likely would never come. Yet Lupe was here now, still young, strong and happy. A moment to be cherished and enjoyed.
Lupe’s time on Golog passed quickly.
After Lupe left Golog, the sun managed to break through the clouds. Briefly, the tundra glowed, illuminated by weak, slanting rays. Earth’s star was fighting a losing battle. Gloom swallowed it whole a final time. Shadow spread over K’esugi Ridge.
For a while, Lupe resumed her energetic forays racing over the tundra, but even Carolina Dogs eventually tire. After two long days exploring the glories of K’esugi Ridge, Lupe was out of gas. She returned to SPHP on the trail. She begged SPHP to carry her, or stop and rest.
SPHP was close to being played out, too. There was no way Lupe could be carried any significant distance. There wasn’t time to take long rest breaks, either. Lupe needed to make it back to the junction with the Cascade Trail before it got too dark. It was important not to miss the turn. Lupe got a few short rest breaks, but that was all she was allowed.
Lupe arrived at the Cascade Trail while there was still enough twilight for SPHP to spot the junction. Lupe made the turn. The Cascade Trail hadn’t gotten any shorter, even though Lupe was now going downhill. When the American Dingo reached the black forest, the headlamp had to come out.
On and on, in the dark. Lupe seemed to have gained a second wind. SPHP, on the other hand, was dragging. By the time Lupe made it back to the Byers Lake Trail, each step was painful. Tree roots on the trail didn’t help.
Finally, it was over. SPHP limped back to the G6. Lupe jumped inside, anxious to lay down. Gads! 3:37 AM. No wonder. A piece of paper was under the windshield wiper. A reminder from officialdom that the $5.00 parking fee for the new day was already due. Splendid.
Well, Loop, we should get our $5.00 worth tomorrow. I doubt I’ll be able to budge from this spot. No response. Lupe was gone – still running joyful and free across the Alaskan tundra in Dingo Dreamland. Run, Loop, run!
9:49 AM, 44°F, junction of Lower French Creek Road & USFS Road No. 341. Hmm, more snow around than SPHP expected. Although lots of snow had finally started melting back home, not much appeared to have melted around here. Either that, or this part of the Black Hills had received considerably more new snow out of the last little storm.
Whatever. Lupe didn’t care. She was just happy to be doing something again. January had been a tough month on the American Dingo. Way too much time had been spent staring out the window at the cold, barren winter landscape. This was only her 2nd Black Hills, SD expedition of 2017. By this time in 2016, she’d been on 5. Lupe was raring to go!
The Carolina Dog was here to continue her explorations of the southern Black Hills peaks Brian Kalet had added to the Peakbagger.com data base last spring. Her first objective was Peak5778, located 0.33 mile SE of Stockade Lake, and 1 mile due E of where Lupe was starting out from. She crossed over to the E side of Lower French Creek Road, and headed ENE into the snowy forest.
A gradual climb ended on a forested ridge where Lupe had a nice view to the N. She could also see part of Stockade Lake.
From this first viewpoint, Lupe turned E, following the ridgeline down through the forest. She hadn’t gone too far before the road leading to the Stockade Lake dam came into view below. Lupe went N down a short, snowy slope to the road.
Here in the shade, the road was snow-packed and slippery, but it soon led Lupe E to sunshine at Stockade Lake. Peak5778 was now in view dead ahead.
Before crossing the bridge over French Creek, Lupe left the road to take a quick look at French Creek below the spillway. The stream was mostly iced over, but part of it was open and free flowing. A little downstream of the bridge, it went over another drop where a small waterfall was bordered on each side by ice formations.
After checking out French Creek, Lupe returned to the road, crossed the bridge, and continued on around the SE end of Stockade Lake. From a deserted picnic ground along the S shore, Lupe had a view of the biggest part of Stockade Lake. Some of the highest and roughest ground in the Black Hills could be seen beyond the lake in the distance.
Lupe continued on around the SE shore of Stockade Lake until she was almost even with the far E end of the lake. She then left the road to scramble up a bank to the E which brought her to the top of a small ridge. Upon reaching the ridgeline, Lupe was excited to see a few deer. The deer ran off, but Lupe found a squirrel tree, too, another encouraging development!
Lupe was now directly NW of Peak 5778. It was time to begin her journey up the NW slope. The minor ridgeline she was on slowly faded, blending into the rest of the slope. The terrain gradually became steeper as Lupe climbed. The forest in this area had been thinned by logging operations. Lupe had some tree-broken views, but no clear views.
The climb was steady, but only moderately steep. A good 6″ of snow covered the entire slope most of the way up. The snow, and a fair amount of slash left behind by the logging operations, were the only obstacles. The route up wasn’t very rocky. Lupe had an easy time, but somehow the climb seemed tougher to SPHP than it should have been. All that sitting around during the holidays and cold weather in December and January hadn’t done SPHP any good, either.
After a steady slog up the snowy slope, Lupe was finally getting close to the summit. The ground started leveling out. Lupe encountered much less snow up here, but many more rocks.
At the top of Peak 5778, Lupe reached a narrow summit ridge oriented NW/SE. It wasn’t very long, maybe 40 or 50 feet. Lupe found the highest rocks of the true summit near the SE end. SPHP congratulated Lupe on her successful ascent of another Brian Kalet peak!
The forest on much of the NW slope of Peak 5778 had been thinned by loggers, but the logging operations hadn’t extended to the upper part of the mountain. The summit ridge was still heavily forested. Although glimpses of nearby mountains could be seen between the trees, the only even partially clear view from the top of Peak 5778 was toward Custer Mountain(6,089 ft.) to the WSW.
Lupe had been on top of Custer Mountain only 12 days ago near the end of Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 188.
It hadn’t taken Lupe long to climb Peak 5778. With no views to ponder, there wasn’t much reason to stick around and take a break this early in the day. Lupe and SPHP stayed only 10-15 minutes up on Peak 5778 before starting down again.
Lupe explored a different route on the way down the mountain. She followed a ridge going WSW. This was actually a more interesting route than the NW slope had been. The Carolina Dog discovered a series of rock outcroppings in the forest along the way. Before losing much elevation, Lupe found a fairly decent viewpoint.
From one of the rock outcroppings, Lupe could see several peaks she had been to before. Kruger Peak(5,838 ft.) and Daisy Peak(5,948 ft.) were both lined up directly in front of higher and more distant Northeast Cicero Peak(6,240 ft.).
After losing quite a bit of elevation going down the WSW slope of Peak 5778, Lupe started turning NW. By the time she reached the base of the mountain, Looper was close to the road near the SE end of Stockade Lake. Upon reaching the road, Lupe retraced much of her original route back to the G6 (12:28 PM, 48°F).
With the days still being as short as they are in late January, Lupe got a ride in the G6 closer to her next Brian Kalet peak objective, Peak5834. S of Custer Mountain, SPHP parked the G6 again along USFS Road No. 337 (Glen Erin Road) about 0.33 mile S of County Road No. 343 (the Hazelrodt Cut-Off). Lupe was still a couple miles NNE of Peak 5834 (12:43 PM, 48°F).
Lupe followed No. 337 going SSW for 1.5 miles, passing to the W of both Kruger and Daisy Peaks. The road was snow-packed and quite slippery. Even Lupe skidded around on some wet, icy spots. However, there was no traffic at all, and the road was an otherwise easy stroll. Lupe gained elevation along the way, but very slowly.
When Lupe was getting close to Peak 5834, she saw a big rock formation of rounded boulders on the W side of No. 337.
Peak 5834 was soon in view ahead.
Lupe followed USFS Road No. 337 until she was at the base of Peak 5834. She wasn’t quite far enough S to be directly E of the summit yet, but left the road here to follow a drainage leading up to the WNW. She followed this draw almost all of the way up to a saddle N of the mountain. Nearing the saddle, she turned S to start her climb up the N slope of Peak 5834.
Peak 5834 was densely forested. Many trees had been killed by pine bark beetles, but there were still plenty of live trees, too. Once again, there were no views to speak of as Lupe climbed.
For some reason, the snow was even deeper on the N slope of Peak 5834 than it had been on the NW slope of Peak 5778. For most of the way up, Lupe was having to leap through foot deep snow. In places, it had drifted even deeper. As usual, Lupe did fine, though, leading the way while SPHP brought up the rear. Other than the deeper snow, the climb was pretty similar to Lupe’s trek up Peak 5778.
However, when Lupe reached the summit, she found the top of Peak 5834 was quite different. The summit area on Peak 5778 had only been a short narrow ridge. The top of Peak 5834 included a much larger area. Peak 5834’s summit was shaped like a big boomerang, with the center of the boomerang toward the NW. Two big arms extended out from the center, one to the E and the other to the SW. Lupe reached the summit area near the middle of the E arm.
Lupe explored the E arm of the boomerang, but found no clear views. She then went W toward the high point, perhaps 200 feet away. This was the true summit of Peak 5834. It was none too pretty. Lupe got up on the highest rocks of a small rock formation to claim her latest peakbagging success, but dead pines were all she could see.
A dead tree trunk extended out to the W from the true summit. The W end of the dead tree was even a little higher than Peak 5834’s summit. Lupe readily agreed to strike a dramatic conquering Dingo pose from this lofty dead tree.
A little to the W of the true summit was another minor high point, but it wasn’t quite as high. More interesting was a ridge only a few feet high toward the end of the SW arm of the boomerang. It looked sunnier and more open over there. Maybe there would be some views and less snow?
Lupe went over to the little ridge at the end of the SW arm of the boomerang. The ridge was very small, just a line of medium-sized rocks really. However, the SW side of the little ridge was snow-free and dry. Lupe did have better views from here, too. Trees still interfered to a significant extent, but Lupe could see a few things.
With a bit of a view and some nice dry, snow-free ground on the SW side of the little ridge, this was the place to finally take a break. Before settling down, Lupe posed for a photo of the best view from here, a distant forested ridge off to the SW. Somewhere in that direction 3 more Brian Kalet peaks were lined up in a row.
Maybe that distant ridge was where those Brian Kalet peaks were? It seemed quite likely. If so, Lupe would probably soon be exploring that ridge on Expedition No. 190. It was fun to think about the adventure to come, and fun to simply relax and enjoy being right here, right now, with Lupe on seldom visited Peak 5834.
SPHP sat on the ground beside Lupe, while eating an apple. Lupe was offered some Taste of the Wild, but she wasn’t hungry. Instead, she sat contentedly basking in the sunshine.
Lupe had plenty of daylight left to get back to the G6, but not enough to tackle any more peaks on Expedition No. 189. For now, she was happy right here on quiet Peak 5834, staring off toward that distant blue ridge.
All told, Lupe and SPHP spent 40 minutes or so up on Peak 5834 before it was time to mosey on. On the way back, Lupe went down the N slope again, but a little farther to the W. When she reached the saddle to the N, instead of going down the draw to the ESE to the road, Lupe angled NNE staying on higher ground. Together, Lupe and SPHP explored the snowy forest.
Lupe went quite a distance NNE before she finally lost the rest of the elevation she’d gained, and hit USFS Road No. 337 again. From then on, it was an easy trot back along the road to the G6 (4:31 PM, 38°F).
It had been a nice day, a beautiful outing. Lupe had successfully climbed 2 more Brian Kalet peaks. They weren’t the most spectacular peaks around, but it was still fun to be out and seeing someplace new.
Sometimes that, and being together, is all it’s about.
Days 18, 19 & 20 of Lupe’s 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
8-16-16. Morning in the Arctic. Still lots of clouds around, but the sun was shining promisingly on a field W of the Dalton Highway. Lupe and SPHP weren’t going anywhere.
Yesterday had been incredible! Lupe had succeeded in climbing Dillon Mountain(4,820 ft.), close to 90 miles N of the Arctic Circle. Cold and soaking wet, Lupe and SPHP had returned after midnight, only to find the G6’s battery was dead.
Fortunately, the G6 was parked at a small pullout N of milepost 207 right alongside the Dalton Highway. SPHP raised the hood. Someone would stop to help. While Lupe sniffed around outside, SPHP arranged sopping wet clothes to dry on top of the G6, then proceeded to put things back in order inside. About the time SPHP was finishing up, a vehicle pulled up.
A couple of guys jumped out, and asked if everything was OK. Well, not quite. SPHP had jumper cables along, could they give the G6 a quick jump? Yeah, no problem. A couple minutes later, the G6 was purring again. Thanks, so very, very much! Would they take payment for their assistance? Nope. What great guys!
Lupe’s benefactors were Devon Drayton and John Antes. Devon had gotten a job and moved to Fairbanks 2.5 months ago. John lives in Pennsylvania, where he works as a website graphics designer. They were on their way N to Deadhorse on Prudhoe Bay to see the Arctic Ocean.
Devon and John were both friendly and kind to Lupe. After the jump start, they stayed chatting with SPHP for a while. They were impressed that Lupe had climbed Sukakpak and Dillon mountains. Devon had a scary tale about a narrow escape from being alone half-buried in snow. John described difficult hikes and mountain climbs in virtually impenetrable forests. The visit was fun, but eventually Devon and John had to hit the road.
Thanks to Devon and John, the G6 was running! Lupe and SPHP spent the whole day driving S. Lupe crossed the Arctic Circle. She shared a beef stew picnic with SPHP at the Yukon River. By evening, Lupe was way down S in Fairbanks. She visited Pioneer Park there shortly before sunset.
The next morning, Lupe left Fairbanks on Alaska Route 3, the George Parks Highway. Half an hour after leaving town, SPHP stopped at a pullout at a high point. Far away to the S were many impressive peaks. Even more remotely off to the SW, however, was a shocking sight.
Visible across an incredible distance, a colossal mountain clad in white rose to an impossible height! Otherwise totally exposed, the monster’s summit scraped the clouds. There could be no mistaking that gigantic peak. Lupe was getting her first look at Denali(20,310 ft.), the highest mountain in North America!
The sight of Denali was exciting! Often the mountain is obscured by clouds for many days at a time. Today, it appeared Lupe had an excellent chance of getting a grand view of the mountain up close! Plans for the day changed instantly. Suddenly, Lupe’s primary objective was to reach the N Denali viewpoint at milepost 162.6 along the George Parks Highway as soon as possible.
It was farther to the viewpoint than SPHP realized. Traffic was heavy. There was considerable road construction. A lot of time was lost waiting for pilot cars. Hours went by. When Lupe arrived at the N Denali viewpoint in Denali State Park, the mountain had vanished. A bank of clouds hung over the Alaska Range. Most disappointing.
SPHP drove over to the Little Coal Creek trailhead at milepost 163.9. Lupe could take the Little Coal Creek trail up onto K’esugi Ridge. If Denali reappeared, Lupe would have a fantastic view from up there! The sky had been clouding up, though. It was already after 3 PM. How likely was it Denali would reappear today? No, maybe it was best to just go back to the original plan for the day.
That meant driving 50 miles back to Cantwell. The plan had been for Lupe to check out a couple of mountains in that area, and get positioned to be ready to climb one or the other of them tomorrow.
The drive back to Cantwell was gorgeous. Some of the rugged lower peaks of the Alaska Range, were in view N of the highway. They weren’t Denali by a long shot, but they were still impressive.
About 10 miles NE of Cantwell, Lupe checked out Panorama Mountain(5,778 ft.) from the George Parks Highway. There was no trail up Panorama Mountain as far as SPHP knew. Almost none of the route up Slime Creek that SPHP had hoped Lupe might be able to take was visible from the highway. Panorama Mountain looked challenging. The probability of success was too low.
Next Lupe went to check out Reindeer Hills(5,102 ft.), situated 6 or 7 miles E of Cantwell, and 2 miles N of gravel Denali Highway (No. 8). There was no trail up Reindeer Hills, either, but Reindeer Hills looked much easier to climb than Panorama Mountain. SPHP liked the idea. Lupe would easily be able to do this! Reindeer Hills looked like a fun climb.
Unfortunately, as SPHP drove E on Denali Highway No. 8 looking for the best point for Lupe to start her trek up the Reindeer Hills, there were “No Trespassing” signs posted all along the road. Land in the area was owned by a Native American tribe. The signs said a permit was required to enter.
Lupe made stops at a number of scenic points along Denali Highway No. 8. Near a small lake of SE Reindeer Hills, an old map was posted showing the extent of the Native American lands. Reindeer Hills didn’t appear to be included, but there was no reasonable access point that didn’t cross the Native American property.
Sadly, the Reindeer Hills idea had to be abandoned. The long drive back to the Cantwell area had been a waste, but at least the situation was clear. Tomorrow, Lupe would go to K’esugi Ridge in Denali State Park. Her objectives would be to climb to the Indian Benchmark and K’esugi Mountain. SPHP hoped the weather would be clear, so Lupe would get a great view of Denali.
Lupe and SPHP enjoyed a beautiful evening drive back toward Denali State Park.
As Lupe got closer to Denali State Park again, there it was, off in the distance. Denali was back! SPHP hoped it was a good omen for Lupe tomorrow.
The next morning, conditions weren’t nearly as encouraging. The sky was totally overcast. Rain looked like a real possibility. Low fog drifted among the mountains. Denali was nowhere in sight.
SPHP wasn’t at all certain Lupe should even attempt the climb up to the Indian Benchmark and K’esugi Mountain. No point in going in rain or fog. SPHP drove to the Little Coal Creek trailhead at milepost 163.9 along the George Parks Highway, anyway. At the trailhead, Lupe waited in suspense, while SPHP checked maps and prepared for the trek.
There was no discernable change in the weather by the time everything was ready. May as well try it, and hope for the best. Lupe could always turn back, if conditions deteriorated. Lupe and SPHP set off on the Little Coal Creek Trail (11:10 AM, 56°F).
The trail started out in the forest. At first, there no views and only gradual elevation gain, but that began to change when the trail got closer to Little Coal Creek. The trail turned ESE staying N of the creek, and began to climb steadily. Little Coal Creek was seldom seen, down in a deep ravine.
Lupe’s first real views came when the trail reached treeline. The sky was still overcast. Clouds clung to the mountaintops. At least it wasn’t raining.
The last part of the climb along the Little Coal Creek Trail was fairly steep. The trail then leveled out entirely, even beginning to lose a little elevation as it turned SW. Lupe was almost to the end of the 3.3 mile long Little Coal Creek Trail. Soon it would become the K’esugi Ridge Trail where it crosses the ravine Little Coal Creek originates from N of K’esugi Mountain.
Lupe had already gained 1,750 feet of elevation from the trailhead. By now she was well above treeline, even bushline, up on open tundra. The views would already have been spectacular, if it had been a clear day.
Lupe wasn’t continuing on to the K’esugi Ridge Trail. Her first peakbagging objective, the Indian Benchmark(4,558 ft.) was off trail to the SE. Ahead, Lupe could see a large ridge that swept around to the E before curving to approach Indian Benchmark from the NE. The long ridge looked like an easy climb. Only the last little bit near the summit, partially hidden in the clouds, looked like it might present a problem. What could be seen from down here didn’t look too bad.
Lupe abandoned the Little Coal Creek Trail, and made for the start of the long sweeping ridge to the Indian Benchmark. The ridge route was easy. So easy that Lupe followed the sweeping ridge only partway. To save time, she cut straight across the tundra past a small pond on her way SSE to the base of a higher saddle. After a steep climb, she regained the ridgeline only 0.33 mile NE of the summit.
When Lupe regained the ridgeline, SPHP was concerned. The upper slopes of Indian Benchmark looked mighty steep. Lupe went SW along the ridge to get as close and high as possible prior to a final assessment.
As Lupe drew near the base of the sharp final rise up to the top of Indian Benchmark, SPHP became increasingly dismayed. The N face of the mountain was way too cliffy to consider, as expected. Any hopes of climbing straight up the narrow NE ridge were dashed, too. Lupe could get partway up, but then it looked way too intimidating.
However, the previously unseen SE face was the real disappointment. A very long, steep, rocky slope plunged far, far below to the Indian River valley. Above Lupe’s current position, the slope began at the base of even steeper, more intact rock formations, almost cliffs, close to the top of the mountain.
Had coming this way all been a huge mistake? Lupe was only 100-150 feet below the summit. Up to this point, her route up Indian Benchmark had been simple and sweet. Now there appeared to be no safe way up the final short stretch.
Maybe Lupe should have climbed K’esugi Mountain first? The topo map showed a gently sloping ridge 0.125 mile wide going all the way to the summit of Indian Benchmark from K’esugi Mountain. In fact, Lupe could see part of that wide ridge from here. There was no way over to it. Lupe would have to traverse the N face of Indian Benchmark to get there. That just wasn’t happening.
Time to calm down and consider the possibilities, all the possibilities – including retreat. Lupe and SPHP milled around on the ridgeline, studying the views, especially the view of that unexpectedly steep SE face of the mountain. The N face was definitely out. It didn’t take long to conclude the narrow spine of the NE ridge to the top wasn’t worth trying, either, but that SE face … maybe it was possible to traverse that SE face and find a way?
If it hadn’t been for some of the experiences Lupe had already been through on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, SPHP would most certainly have called a retreat. King’s Throne and Decoeli in the Yukon, Sukakpak and Dillon here in Alaska N of the Arctic Circle, they had all been challenging, daunting, even scary. Yet Lupe had made it to the top of them all.
Most of those rocks on the SE face were fairly large. They looked pretty stable.
Loop, let’s see how it goes!
Despite the dizzying view, things went fine, at first. The rocks were mostly stable. Lupe and SPHP picked a way along to the SW, gaining elevation gradually. After some of Lupe’s other recent climbs, this wasn’t even scary. Hopes began to soar.
Soon Lupe was near the base of some of the larger intact rock formations. There appeared to be a reasonable route higher near one of the first ones. Lupe and SPHP started up. After a little progress, it was a no go. Too cliffy! Lupe retreated. She continued working SW.
Another opportunity to climb higher soon presented itself beyond another rock formation. Up and up. Slowly, carefully. The route got steeper, but there were handholds and footholds for SPHP. Somehow, Lupe never seems to have a problem scrambling. She was getting close to the top of the ridge visible above.
A false summit! The top couldn’t be much farther, though. Wrong again. Lupe climbed and climbed. The route was getting steeper. Progress was slow. There was starting to be more exposure than SPHP cared for. The intrepid Carolina Dog showed no concern, but SPHP was on the verge of retreat again.
Another 5 or 6 feet almost straight up, there appeared to be some kind of a top, or at least a ledge. SPHP made Lupe wait below, carefully climbing and then hoisting up onto the ledge, face and stomach down on the rock. SPHP looked up, legs still dangling over the edge. The view ahead was amazing and unexpected.
SPHP was at the far NE end of a narrow ridge. The ridge was flat, perhaps 3 or 4 feet wide, 20 feet long, and covered with smallish to medium-sized rocks. Drop-offs were on both sides. After 20 feet, the ridge broadened out tremendously.
Looper! You’ve done it! We’re here!
Lupe was up in a flash. SPHP literally crawled along the ridge, not daring to stand up until it had broadened out. As soon as SPHP stood up, there it was! One step to the N, sat the Indian Benchmark.
This was it! The summit of Indian Benchmark mountain. SPHP congratulated Lupe heartily on her latest peakbagging success! Somehow Lupe had reached the top of the mountain right at its very NE end. SPHP must have turned to climb directly up the SE slope much sooner than intended. Lupe hadn’t been very far from coming right up that NE spine of the mountain SPHP had supposedly ruled out.
The sky was clearing. Off to the NW, the top of a gigantic peak peered over the remaining clouds. Denali!? For 10 minutes, Denali spied on Lupe, then vanished.
That was a little spooky, Loop! It’s as if Sauron has taken over Denali and is spying on you! You aren’t carrying some ring of power on a necklace concealed under your fur with the intention of destroying it at Mt. Doom are you?
Mind your own business, SPHP! The burdens of an American Dingo are no concern of yours. My precious is … I mean, my burdens are my own.
Just wondering, for a few minutes there, I was starting to believe we were climbing Mt. Doom.
By the way, SPHP, is Mt. Doom somewhere around here? Is it on our itinerary?
No, not as far as I know.
Not far from the survey benchmark, a little out onto the broad summit area, Lupe came to a ridiculously small cairn for a mountain covered with loose rocks. A heavy-duty registry container leaned against it. Lupe’s name is not on the registry. Someone had closed the container so tightly, SPHP couldn’t get it open. Oh well, time for a short break and photos.
As glorious as the views were, Lupe and SPHP stayed only 15 or 20 minutes up on Indian Benchmark. Time waits for no Dingo. Although it had certainly turned into a beautiful day with blue skies and white clouds, Lupe had gotten a rather late start due to the questionable morning weather. Lupe still had to get to K’esugi Mountain(4,700 ft.), her next peakbagging objective.
Lupe went W, crossing the huge ridge over to K’esugi Mountain. Along the way, Lupe had a great view back at Indian Benchmark and much of the NE ridge she had traveled to get there.
Less than an hour after leaving Indian Benchmark, Lupe arrived at the summit of K’esugi Mountain. A 3 or 4 foot high semi-circular rock wall served as a summit cairn. Lupe liked the rock wall. It provided a bit of shelter from a cold breeze.
A registry was in a sturdy container nearly identical in every respect to the one on Indian Benchmark, with the single important exception that SPHP was able to get this one open. While Lupe hid out in the semi-circle, SPHP logged her K’esugi Mountain peakbagging success into the summit registry.
Lupe spent nearly an hour up on K’esugi Mountain. She explored parts of the huge summit area. SPHP had the idea that she would be able to go down the NW side of the mountain. Not terribly thorough investigations in that direction were not encouraging.
It would have been absolutely awesome fun if Denali would have come out to play. The views would have been so tremendous! To the S, skies were blue with puffy white clouds, but Denali and the rest of the Alaska Range to the NW stubbornly remained hidden in the clouds. If anything, the sky was gradually clouding up even more in that direction again.
Lupe never went back to the NW end of the mountain to see if there really was a way down, or not. There seemed to be enough time left in the day for Lupe to explore a longer route. When it was time to leave, Lupe went S instead of N.
The route became a little worrisome. The S ridge Lupe was going down became progressively narrower and steeper. SPHP feared Lupe might cliff out, but she didn’t. Lupe made it down to a big saddle leading over to the next high hill to the W.
Lupe left the saddle going NW down a long rocky slope. She lost another 300 feet of elevation before the terrain leveled out. SPHP took a long time, but finally made it down. Lupe turned N.
Ahead was rough terrain, an open wilderness filled with a variety of features. There were rocks and ridges, hills and drop-offs, large boulder fields left by landslides or erosion. Green oases surrounded diminutive mirror-like ponds connected by sparkling streams. Soft tundra, easy on the paws, blanketed part of the scene. A slowly melting snowbank invited Lupe to cool off.
The air was cool; the evening light, dramatic; the solitude, complete. Lupe dashed around at great speed, abruptly changing directions, exploring wherever she wanted to go. She stopped to drink cold water, and sniff the wild world. As far as Lupe was concerned, this was the best part of the day. For an hour, she was in Dingo Paradise.
At a little pass near 3,500 foot elevation, Lupe found the K’esugi Ridge Trail. She followed it E back to the Little Coal Creek Trail she had left many hours before. Three guys from Houston, Texas were standing on the trail. They had expensive wonderful cameras, and were planning to camp nearby, hoping to get some shots of Denali at sunrise tomorrow.
Twilight was already fading fast, but for a few minutes, a little patch of Denali peered stealthily at Lupe through a hole in the clouds. Everyone was tremendously excited and encouraged. SPHP wished the guys from Houston well. Then Lupe proceeded down Little Coal Creek Trail looking forward to a meal and 40 winks at the G6. (11:31 PM)
Note: The 3.3 mile long Little Coal Creek Trail is the northernmost of several access routes to the K’esugi Ridge Trail in Denali State Park. The K’esugi Ridge Trail is popular with multi-day backpackers for its alpine terrain and sweeping views to the N of Denali and the Alaska Range. The traverse of K’esugi Ridge from the Little Coal Creek trailhead is as much as 37 miles to the Upper Troublesome Creek trailhead, but shorter treks are possible using other access trails.