Day 29, Part 1, of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
No sign along the Sterling Highway (Alaska Route 1) mentioned beach access. There had to be a way to get there, though, didn’t there? The first road W that SPHP tried in the small community of Anchor Point led to a housing subdivision on a bluff overlooking Cook Inlet. No way down. This couldn’t be right. Back to the Sterling Highway.
There had been a sign a little S of here for the Anchor River State Recreation Area. SPHP drove back to try that. This was it! The road wound downhill, crossed the Anchor River, and ended a mile or so later at a parking lot next to Cook Inlet. SPHP parked the G6 (8:10 AM), and Lupe jumped out.
It was a beautiful morning – bright, mostly sunny, with a cool fresh ocean breeze. Lupe and SPHP headed down to the beach. A little to the N, a tractor was busy launching a boat into the ocean. Across Cook Inlet of the North Pacific Ocean, two massive volcanoes, Iliamna and Redoubt, white with ice and snow, stood out as giants among lesser peaks on the far shore.
According to legend, Anchor Point got its name in 1778 when famous explorer Captain James Cook of the British Navy lost an anchor somewhere near the mouth of the Anchor River.
Lupe wasn’t here to search for Captain Cook’s anchor. She was here to reach a personal milestone, one that would likely endure the rest of her life. No road connected to the North American highway system goes any farther W than the road she had just taken to Anchor Point. Somewhere along the gently curving stretch of beach to the S, a mile away or less, was the westernmost point on earth Lupe would ever reach.
Despite having had a huge adventure yesterday crossing Kachemak Bay aboard the water taxi XtraTuff to climb Grace Ridge(3,136 ft.), Lupe was energized! She raced along the deserted sand and mud flats exposed by low tide, seagulls swirling overhead. SPHP plodded along after her, enjoying every moment of the exhilarating seaside stroll.
The shoreline headed only slightly W of S from where Lupe and SPHP started. It would gradually curve back to true S, and then slightly E of S. SPHP had no way of knowing which particular spot was the farthest point W along Lupe’s route. It would hardly matter, since the entire beach was only marginally farther E than the exact westernmost point.
Lupe posed nicely in the sun for a couple of shots looking W toward the open ocean. If Lupe wasn’t at her westernmost point here, she was very close to it.
Lupe and SPHP continued S, and perhaps a bit farther W along the shore. Seagulls took flight whenever Lupe or SPHP got too close, only to land again a short distance away to resume strutting about the beach.
The exposed beach was very flat. Most of it was quite damp. In some places it was simply muddy. Lupe passed over large patches of seaweed left stranded by the ocean. Strange odors arose from the seaweed. Lupe sniffed to her heart’s content, learning about life in and near the ocean.
Far to the SW, barely visible on the horizon, was another volcano. It was much smaller than Iliamna or Redoubt, and looked blue instead of white. This was Augustine Volcano(4,025 ft.), which sits on an island presumably of its own making, in Cook Inlet.
Not a soul was around. The shoreline was deserted, except for the seagulls. The fresh ocean breeze blew. Waves rolled endlessly ashore. Lupe explored and sniffed. SPHP continued S. Finally, a long straight stretch of beach was ahead. To the E was a bluff. To the W, several large rocks could be seen at or near the edge of the water.
Beyond the bluff, the beach made a more noticeable turn E. If Lupe hadn’t already passed by her actual farthest point W, it was almost certainly near one of those big rocks W of the bluff. That was as far as Lupe needed to go. SPHP christened the largest, most distant rock as the “Rock of the West”.
Although the Rock of the West had appeared to be on shore when SPHP first spotted it, by the time Lupe reached it, the tide had come in further. The Rock of the West was now a small island.
This point on the beach was the end for Lupe. She must have been at least a mile from the Anchor Point parking lot by now. More of the Kenai Peninsula across Kachemak Bay to the S was gradually coming into view as Lupe had approached the Rock of the West. Either this was it, or Lupe had already completed her last mile W somewhere along the way.
Here, a few feet from the Rock of the West, Lupe was as far W as she would ever be in her whole life.
Only 13 days ago, Lupe had reached her farthest point N along the Dietrich River nearly 90 miles N of the Arctic Circle. Now she had reached another milestone in life. Both moments were beautiful and wonderful, but also bittersweet.
It was wonderful that Lupe had journeyed so far, and expanded her world so much. She had seen so many new places, and had so many memorable experiences. Yet it was sad to think that this was also an end, a boundary beyond which she would never go.
For a while, Lupe and SPHP stayed together, looking out to sea near the Rock of the West. The same sea encircles the globe. Far beyond the horizon was a world of exotic lands, entire continents to explore. Lupe would never see them.
So, Looper, if you had a ship like Captain James Cook did so long ago, where would you sail? What distant, exotic lands would you explore?
Oh, for Pete’s sake! Come on, let’s go!
The return trip along the beach was every bit as relaxing and beautiful as Lupe’s journey to the Rock of the West had been. Sea and sky were blue. Seagulls and mighty volcanoes were white. Boats bobbed on the water or zoomed away over the waves, no doubt in a rush to reach Squirrel Island. Surf exhausted itself uselessly against the edge of North America, but made the most calming, relaxing sound on earth doing so.
Right here, right now, was a glorious place to be!
Despite an unrushed, easy pace, Lupe’s last mile West hadn’t taken long. By 9:35 AM, she was back at the G6. A major milestone was now behind her, but more adventures were in store, this very day! This afternoon she would be on the Skyline Trail to the Mystery Hills, which certainly sounded like fun.
(Start, 9:11 AM, 37°F, West Cascade Mountain Road a few miles S of Hot Springs, SD off Hwy 71.)
Well, that was easy! Except for the cactus, of course. Lupe hated the cactus! SPHP had had to carry her to the summit of Peak4340 for short stretches where the cactus was worst. Fortunately, the summit had only been a couple hundred yards W of West Cascade Mountain Road. Even carting a Dingo around, it had only taken minutes to get here.
The topo map on Peakbagger.com showed only one contour where the true summit of the mountain could be, but things seemed a little different when actually here. SPHP thought another place a couple hundred yards farther SW looked possibly even a little higher. Naturally, Lupe had to visit that high point, too.
The top of Peak 4340 was a large area of gently rolling terrain and open forest, but offered only teaser glimpses of distant views. Close to a rural housing subdivision, it really wasn’t a terribly interesting place. With cactus around, Lupe didn’t think much of it either, but at least she could now cross another Brian Kalet peak off her list. She only had a couple of them left to visit in the southern Black Hills.
Lupe was happy to put a quick end to her visit of Peak 4340, and return to the G6 (9:41 AM, 38°F).
The trivial trek to both possible summits of Peak 4340 was only a warm-up exercise. Lupe had a much more interesting peakbagging goal in store. Flagpole Mountain(4,320 ft.) sits at the far SE end of the Black Hills, N of the Cheyenne River and W of Angostura Reservoir. Lupe might have some fantastic views far out across the prairies beyond the hills from there.
SPHP’s old USFS map showed that Flagpole Mountain was on USFS land, but surrounded by private property. Before Lupe could begin her climb, SPHP needed to find legal access. The shortest route up Flagpole Mountain would be from the SW. SPHP drove S on Hwy 71 intending to scout out the approach.
On the way, Lupe stopped briefly by Cascade Falls. She had been here before, but it’s always fun to see the falls!
For some reason, Cascade Creek always seems to have good flow, no matter what the season. Cascade Falls was looking good today, too, but it was too chilly out to stay and enjoy it. The middle of July is better for that! Lupe and SPHP continued S on Hwy 71.
Just N of the Cheyenne River, a gravel road headed ESE from Hwy 71. The road wound around to the SE for more than a mile. It deteriorated at the end of a short stretch that went E. A log-sided home was on the N side of the road. Before SPHP even got out of the G6, a man opened the door of the house.
His name was Mike. When SPHP told Mike that Lupe would like permission to cross his land to climb Flagpole Mountain, the answer was flatly “no”. Mike didn’t exactly come right out and say it, but his attitude was clearly “Get Off My Property”. Mike didn’t want to talk about it. The matter was not up for discussion.
Mike was still helpful, however. He told SPHP that 5 or 6 years ago, the state of South Dakota had purchased land leading to the national forest on the other side of the mountain. Lupe would have legal access from Sheps Canyon.
That was good news! Well, at least pretty good news. Sheps Canyon was an alternate route that SPHP had intended to check on if things didn’t work out here. The route to Flagpole Mountain from Sheps Canyon would be a lot longer than if Lupe had been able to start from Mike’s ranch.
No is no. SPHP thanked Mike for the tip. Lupe left his property.
Driving down Sheps Canyon was not initially encouraging. Lupe passed by housing developments and more ranches. “No Trespassing” signs were all along the S side of the road at frequent intervals. Lupe was all the way down to the lower end of the canyon not too far from Angostura Reservoir before SPHP spotted the Hill Ranch Game Production Area. This had to be the legal public access Mike had mentioned!
A good dirt and gravel road led into the Hill Ranch GPA. SPHP parked the G6 at a curve at the far E end of the road only a short distance from Sheps Canyon Road (10:48 AM, 43°F). Lupe could regain her confidence trotting along the cactus-free road for a while.
The road went steadily uphill at a moderate pace, heading W for the most part. Lupe passed by a parking pullout and then a small lodge. The lodge appeared to be closed. A couple of parking pullouts farther, Lupe had quite a good view of Angostura Reservoir.
The road went 2 miles before ending near a couple of gates at the edge of the national forest. (Even the G6 would have made it this far easily enough, if SPHP had chosen to drive to this point.) A map of the Hill Ranch GPA was posted here.
Lupe went through the smaller gate, continuing W into the Black Hills National Forest. The good road was behind her. She followed faint traces of an old jeep trail, still gaining elevation steadily.
A ridge coming in from the ENE soon merged with the ground Lupe was traveling. Shortly after that, she came to a place where she had a great view to the N. She could see Peak4310, which she had visited only a couple of expeditions ago. Today the scene wasn’t all snowy like it had been then.
From this first viewpoint looking far to the N, the faint trail turned SW. It soon came to a saddle between two hills. Flagpole Mountain was in view!
Flagpole Mountain was only 1.5 miles off to the SW when Lupe first saw it. However, she would have to go a lot farther than that to get there. Green Canyon was in the way.
To get to Flagpole Mountain, the plan was to go around the W end of Green Canyon. Lupe would follow a couple of long ridges shown on the topo map. The first ridge went first W then NW for nearly 1.5 miles. The map showed a substantial part of this ridge as being very skinny. SPHP wasn’t certain what Lupe might encounter along the way.
Lupe turned W and started around the S side of the highest little hill in this area. The hill was the first part of the ridge leading W. The ridge wasn’t narrow here, but going around the S side of the hill quickly proved to be a mistake. The grassy open ground below the forested summit was full of cactus! Lupe was immediately seized with fear.
Although the hill wasn’t all that big, it took a while to get past it. Lupe was scared to move. The cactus had her mentally paralyzed. SPHP had to carry her repeatedly.
Once beyond the hill, the ridge narrowed considerably, but was still plenty wide. Cactus continued to be a near constant problem, but Lupe gradually made progress. SPHP had to carry her less and less.
Nearly a year ago, Lupe had developed a system on her way up Matias Peak(4,780 ft.) for dealing with cactus. She would wait in one spot while SPHP scouted the area ahead. When SPHP sat down, she considered it a signal that all the ground to that point was cactus-free. She then came running.
Now Lupe wanted SPHP to do the same thing. Doing a good job of scouting was important, so Loop would continue to have confidence in the system. This process was sort of slow, but much easier than carrying the Carolina Dog any significant distance. Stop, scout, go. Stop, scout, go. Lupe progressed along the ridge.
Lupe wasn’t any closer to Flagpole Mountain yet, but the route was beautiful. Loop could see Flagpole Mountain almost the entire time. She often had grand views to the N, or down into Green Canyon. She came to a place with huge boulders, and many more places with interesting rock formations. The route was up and down, but none of the elevation changes were too drastic.
The part of the ridge that angled NW was the skinniest. Up and down one narrow little hill or rock formation after another. At one point, Lupe had to do a teensy bit of scrambling, but only once and it hardly amounted to anything. Eventually, the much, bigger, wider hill at the NW end of the ridge came into view. Lupe was almost there!
Soon she was there. Lupe didn’t go quite all the way to the top. She stayed in the trees a little S of the summit. Loop went over to the W edge of another ridgeline heading S from here. She had her first look at a vast new territory to the W and SW.
Going 1.5 miles along the skinny W and NW ridge hadn’t brought Lupe any closer to Flagpole Mountain as the crow flies, but she was now past the W end of Green Gulch and could turn S. A much broader ridge went SSW from here. The W edge of this ridge dropped steeply, but sloped much more moderately toward Green Canyon to the E.
Going S meant traversing several more drops and hills along the way. These were larger than the bumps Lupe had gone over along the skinny ridge, but she didn’t have climb to the top of each one. At the bottom of the first drop was good news. A dirt road climbed up to this point from the W. It turned S here, just the direction Lupe needed to go. Lupe could follow the road!
Reaching the road quickly restored Lupe’s confidence. She wasn’t afraid of cactus on the road. Suddenly she was making great progress. SPHP didn’t have to carry her, or play the scouting ahead game at all. Lupe trotted right along. It wouldn’t take her long to get to Flagpole Mountain at this pace!
The road stayed E of the top of the ridgeline most of the time, but was occasionally near it. At once place, Lupe went over to the W edge for another look at the big views.
The weather had been changing in the short time she’d been traveling S. The light NW breeze present earlier, had turned into a gale! Lupe did not like the fierce wind at the W edge of the ridge, but the views were still excellent.
The helpful road Lupe had been following ended a little before reaching the S end of the ridge, but had brought the Carolina Dog a long way. She was getting close to Flagpole Mountain, but now nervous about cactus again. She was right to be. More patches of dreaded cactus were scattered here and there. SPHP had to resume cactus scouting operations. Once again, Lupe got carried over the worst of it.
For the last 0.25 mile to the summit, the ridgeline turned SE. Lupe was high on broad open terrain where she had expansive views to the S. To the N was forest. The sight of several deer running on another minor ridge excited her so much she forgot all about the cactus and dashed about unsure how to get over there. Fortunately, she didn’t run into any cacti.
The top of Flagpole Mountain(4,320 ft.) appeared ahead. A short, grassy slope led to a summit crowned by big rocks, bare bushes and a few pine trees. In a flash, Lupe was there. She stood on the highest boulders at the very SE end of the Black Hills with a grand sweeping view of miles and miles of desolate territory stretching to the horizon.
Although partially protected by pines trees to the N, the top of Flagpole Mountain was windy. A powerful NW wind was blowing a series of snow squalls over the mountain. Each time a line of clouds passed over, a brief, but exciting snowstorm developed. The wind raged at the height of its fury beneath an ominous sky.
When the squalls hit, Lupe took shelter at the base of the big rocks at the S end of the summit. She nestled on SPHP’s lap, wrapped in a fuzzy blue pullover sweater, enjoying the incredible views and dramatic weather.
Though each squall was exciting and began impressively, the snow flakes were tiny and melted as soon as they hit the ground. The squalls never lasted more than a few minutes. Gorgeous blue skies reappeared as soon as they were over, and the winds calmed down somewhat.
Between squalls, Lupe explored the summit area, while SPHP enjoyed the views from various vantage points. By going only a little down the S or SE side of the mountain, it was possible to almost entirely escape the wind. The day felt pleasant, warm and sunny.
Lupe and SPHP stayed for an hour or more at the summit of Flagpole Mountain. Although the trek here had been amazing and beautiful, the presence of so much cactus meant it might be a long time, if ever, before Lupe would return. These distant views beyond the Cheyenne River across the vast, lonely prairies were a rare treat.
An hour went by. It had been a while since the last snow squall had blown through. Apparently they were all over and done with. Sadly, it was time for Lupe to leave Flagpole Mountain. She had to take the same long route all the way back to the G6.
On the way back, SPHP took a few minor shortcuts, but they saved only a little time. More time was saved by staying on the N side of slopes where there were fewer cacti. Lupe’s increased confidence in SPHP’s cacti scouting skills saved the most time of all. She still appreciated being carried for short distances wherever the cacti was worst.
The trek back along the ridges was beautiful, and went faster the second time around. Lupe had time to stop and sniff the air at various places along the way.
Lupe’s cactus worries were all behind her before she even reached the good dirt road at the Hill Ranch Game Production Area. The rest of the trek was a long, relaxing downhill stroll all the way. Lupe stopped by the same boulder with a view of Angostura Reservoir again.
Lupe was content to trot along the good road all the way through the Hill Ranch GPA to the G6 (5:38 PM, 37°F). Her Flagpole Mountain adventure was over, but it was the first day of Daylight Savings Time in 2017. The sun would still be up for another 1.5 hours.
SPHP used the extra hour of evening daylight to drive Lupe down to Angostura Reservoir. She had seen it from afar from several different mountains on recent expeditions. Now she would get to see it up close.
The drive was beautiful. SPHP was surprised to find a good gravel road winding S for miles along the W shore of the lake. Lupe stopped at a boat ramp. The wind was out of the NE here and still strong. The temperature was in the 30’s and dropping. It felt cold out. Waves crashed into the shore. Lupe drank a little water out of the lake, then got up on the swaying dock. Tepee Mountain, which she had seen earlier from Flagpole Mountain, was in view in the distance.
SPHP was curious. How far did this road go? Lupe and SPHP drove farther SW. The road went by many great campsites up on the bank above the shore of the lake. Lupe stopped at another place offering lake access.
Lupe and SPHP drove all the way to the end of the road. Surprisingly, at the end was a horse camp. Maps and information at the horse camp said a riding trail went 5.1 miles farther along the lake and up the Cheyenne River. Horses were restricted to the trail while in the Sheps Canyon Outdoor Recreation Complex, but the trail went all the way to the Black Hills National Forest, where horses could be ridden anywhere.
It was a beautiful area. The trail along the lake and up the river would be an awesome place to ride horses. Once to the national forest, maybe horses could even climb Flagpole Mountain? One thing was for certain, an American Dingo could!
Day 28 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Ugh, what is it Loop? What now? Lupe kept pawing at SPHP. Oh, Loopster, what do you want? Do you need out? … 7:00 AM! … Oh, my gosh, Loop! Thanks for waking me up! We’ve got to get going!
Lupe may have just saved the day. SPHP meant to be up an hour ago. The sun was already above the horizon. Was there still time? The day was perfect – clear and bright, as SPHP drove out to the Homer Spit.
Narrow Homer Spit protruding 6 miles into Kachemak Bay was awesome! Hundreds of boats of all descriptions were moored in a gigantic pack on the protected NE side. Sea gulls whirled overhead. The one road along the spit was lined with restaurants, colorful tourist shops, and fishing and sight-seeing charter businesses. People were up and about. The whole place hummed with activity.
SPHP drove slowly, looking for Homer Ocean Charters. There it was, on the SW side of the street! SPHP parked and went in, while Lupe waited in the G6. SPHP asked the lady at the counter about getting a water taxi ride over to Grace Ridge in Kachemak Bay State Park.
The good news was that dogs were welcome, and Lupe could come along for free! The bad news was they had a 2 person minimum requirement. Grace Ridge wasn’t that popular. They had no one else scheduled to go to Grace Ridge today. The lady suggested either a different destination, or trying Mako’s Water Taxi across the street.
Mako’s wasn’t right across the street, although it wasn’t far away. It took SPHP a few minutes to spot it. Once again, Lupe waited in the G6 while SPHP went in, a little fearful of another negative response. Mako’s was busy. It took a few minutes for SPHP’s turn to come. Another woman behind a counter asked what SPHP wanted.
Water taxi service to Grace Ridge? They had only one group scheduled for Grace Ridge today. Three people were leaving right now. Round trip price was $81 plus tax (total a bit over $91). Pickup at 6 PM. Lupe could come along, no extra charge. Was now OK?
Perfect! Now was absolutely perfect! SPHP paid up, then ran out to move the G6 to free parking a couple blocks away next to the Homer Grill. As SPHP and a somewhat alarmed Lupe started running back to the dock, Mako’s captain of the water taxi XtraTuff was already yelling at SPHP to hurry up. When Mako says now, they mean NOW! They were leaving!
Lupe was afraid of the open metal grate dock. She could see the water below her. SPHP picked the surprised Carolina Dog up, and ran carrying her to the XtraTuff. Moments later, she was aboard. Immediately, the captain put the engine into reverse, and started easing the XtraTuff away from the dock. Lupe and SPHP sat out in the open air on a bench in the front of the boat.
The XtraTuff cruised slowly, leaving little wake, while maneuvering around all the other boats on the way out of port. The XtraTuff picked up a little speed once it was clear of the moored boats. The captain steered SE toward the end of Homer Spit.
As the XtraTuff rounded Homer Spit and headed out across Kachemak Bay, the captain put her in high gear. XtraTuff was fast! The water taxi bounded across the waves.
Even though the sea wasn’t that rough, it was a bumpy ride. Every now and then XtraTuff hit a wave with a jarring jolt. The morning’s cool breeze became rather chilly, as the XtraTuff raced toward Eldred Passage. SPHP hung onto Lupe, so there wouldn’t be an American Dingo overboard.
The captain asked if Lupe and SPHP would like to come in the enclosed cabin to get out of the cold wind. Thanks, but hell no! This was what Lupe had come for! Here she was, bounding across Kachemak Bay of the North Pacific Ocean on her way to Grace Ridge(3,136 ft.) in Alaska with fabulous views everywhere. This was exciting! This was glorious!
The Grace Ridge Trail is 9 miles long. Lupe was going to take the entire trail from one end to the other, making only a single traverse. A water taxi would pick her up at the other end. SPHP had a choice of where to get dropped off. At the N end, closest to Kachemak Bay, is Kayak Beach. The more remote S trailhead is along the NE shore of Tutka Bay. The other 3 passengers were going to the S trailhead. SPHP told the captain that was where Lupe wanted to be dropped off, too.
The XtraTuff raced over smoother waters through Eldred Passage. Lupe passed by the entrance to Sadie Cove to the E. XtraTuff sailed S around the NW end of Grace Ridge. Entering Tutka Bay, XtraTuff was still making great time. After a few miles, though, a dense fog bank was dead ahead right on the water.
The captain slowed XtraTuff to a crawl as Lupe entered the fog. Everything disappeared from view. The drop-off point wasn’t much farther. XtraTuff crept cautiously forward, the captain straining to see something, anything. After 5 minutes, a tiny beach appeared close by and directly ahead. The captain had found it! This tiny beach was the Grace Ridge S trailhead.
XtraTuff glided into shore. Lupe, SPHP, and the other 3 passengers disembarked. It only took a minute. As the XtraTuff backed slowly away, everyone waved and thanked the captain, who waved back. XtraTuff disappeared like a ghost.
Wow! Incredible! If the 3 other passengers hadn’t been here, this place would have been just plain spooky. A dark, dense, primeval forest extended right down to the tiny beach at water’s edge. Leafy ferns, thick clumps of moss, ancient trees. In the fog, it all looked unnervingly prehistoric. It could have been 10,000 years ago, maybe 10,000,000 years ago. What was out there? Bears? Dinosaurs!? Lupe was lost in time.
The other 3 passengers seemed to know where they were. They set right off, following a good single track trail through the jungle. The trail gained elevation slowly at first, but soon started switchbacking up a steep slope. Lupe and SPHP followed the rest of the group, trailing a little behind.
The fog bank was dense, but wasn’t all that thick. Soon Lupe was getting up high enough to where sunshine could be seen filtering through the trees. The other 3 XtraTuff passengers set a fairly brisk pace. Lupe and SPHP continued following along behind.
The trail was good. The switchbacks made the pace of elevation gain moderate. Lupe was making great time and gaining elevation steadily. The rest of the group was traveling almost too fast for SPHP’s taste. What was the hurry? Lupe had been dropped off at the S trailhead around 9 AM. She didn’t need to be at the N trailhead until 6 PM, 9 hours later. Since the trail was only 9 miles long, she only had to travel one mile per hour.
Soon everyone, except Lupe, was sweating. The group stopped for a break. SPHP stripped down to a T-shirt. The woman of the group introduced herself as Sandy. With her were Kevin and Billy. They were all friendly, but spent much of their time deeply engaged in their own conversations. They were friends who all live in Homer, as near as SPHP could gather.
Everyone set off again. The rapid pace continued. Lupe and SPHP lagged behind when Lupe found, not a bear or a dinosaur, but a squirrel in the forest. A brief, enthusiastic barkfest ensued. A bit later, Lupe and SPHP caught up with the group again. As Lupe gained elevation, the primeval forest gave way to a more normal looking forest minus all the moss and ferns. The normal forest then began to thin out, with some of the tall bushes common in Alaska starting to take over.
There were other people on the trail! The XtraTuff group overtook and passed a family of four. Soon after that, Lupe got her first look at a barren high point ahead.
The trail reached the ridgeline. The switchbacks were done. From now on, the trail would stay up on the ridgeline following it all the way NNW to the summit. Tall bushes and scattered trees dominated at first, but that didn’t last long. The moderate pace of elevation gain enjoyed while on the switchbacks was over. The trail climbed steeply, quickly bringing Lupe up above all the tall vegetation.
The American Dingo wasn’t anywhere near the summit of Grace Ridge yet, but truly awesome views were opening up all around.
Ahead, Grace Ridge was covered only with alpine tundra. A marvelous ridgeline trek of sweeping unobstructed panoramas was in store for Lupe. The Carolina Dog still had a long way to go to reach the summit. It wasn’t even in view yet.
From her vantage point high on Grace Ridge, Lupe was now able to see great distances over the tundra. She saw something move far below. Suddenly, Lupe took off straight down the steep W slope toward Tutka Bay. SPHP called her, but she disappeared over the edge of an embankment. She had lost hundreds of feet of elevation in hardly any time at all! SPHP kept calling her.
After a few minutes, here came the American Dingo, charging straight back up almost as fast as she had gone down. Lupe arrived with a long pink tongue dangling from her mouth, panting as though she might burst. Did she ever look happy, though! Wow, what would SPHP give to be in that kind of shape? Simply amazing! However, Lupe was now under orders not to go running off like that again. SPHP never did see whatever it was she chased after.
Lupe and SPHP had fallen a little behind the XtraTuff group, but caught up with them again between two small rocky hills where they had stopped for a snack. Up on the exposed ridgeline, an E breeze was blowing, but between these small hills the trail was protected from the wind.
While everyone was still eating, Lupe climbed up the small hill on the E side of the trail for a look around. The views were getting better! Lupe could even see Iliamna Volcano(10,016 ft.) faint and far away across Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet to the NW.
When the rest of the XtraTuff group moved on, Lupe and SPHP stayed at the sheltered spot between the two hills. Everyone else seemed to be in a hurry to get to the summit. No reason for it that SPHP could see. Lupe had plenty of time.
SPHP had asked how much more elevation was left to be gained. Sandy, Keven and Billy had all insisted Lupe was only halfway up, but that seemed to be a gross underestimate of the progress already made. Lupe must have gained at least 67% of the 3,136 feet required to reach the summit. Probably more like 75% or even 80%.
After a nice break, Lupe and SPHP continued on. The trail remained good. The route was obvious, in any case. The exposed ridge hike was a ton of fun. Fantastic views everywhere, all the time. After passing through a dip into a big saddle, there was one more fairly long steep climb.
Grace Ridge’s easily recognizable big summit ridge came into view ahead. There was no mistaking it. The trail headed straight for it, passing over several prominent high points. This part of the ridge was often narrow and steep.
Beyond the last of the prominences, Lupe had an unobstructed view of the big summit ridge running SE/NW ahead. Getting there was going to be a piece of cake. The ridgeline became much wider here. The trail would take Lupe up to the SE end of the summit ridge. The true summit of Grace Ridge was a knob of rock relatively close to that end. Lupe was almost there!
Fifteen minutes later, Lupe was up at the SE end of the summit ridge. While it had been breezy down along the lower ridge, it was just plain windy up here. The E wind was strong! Lupe didn’t like the wind one bit, but tried to wait patiently for SPHP to finish loitering around.
The true summit of Grace Ridge was only 200 yards away. Sandy, Kevin and Billy were all over there, sitting below the SW side of the summit sheltered from the wind. Lupe was going to get a lot more fresh air on her way over there.
Of course, before rejoining the rest of the XtraTuff gang, Lupe had to climb up on top of the true summit to claim her windy Grace Ridge peakbagging success!
Lupe was glad to get down off the true summit to take refuge from the wind on the SW side of the big rock outcropping. Sandy, Kevin and Billy were still relaxing and finishing up lunch there for a little while longer. They said it was noon, which meant it had taken Lupe only 3 hours to get here from the S Grace Ridge trailhead. Lupe had 6 whole hours until she needed to be down at the N trailhead for the scheduled water taxi pickup at Kayak Beach.
Before long, the rest of the XtraTuff gang moved on. Lupe and SPHP stayed alone, enjoying the solitude and the magnificent scenery. The family of 4 that had been passed on the way up came by, continuing farther NW along the summit ridge. For more than half an hour, Lupe and SPHP did not stir from the sheltered spot below the summit. What a magnificent place! Eventually, though, the time came to start exploring the big summit ridge.
First, Lupe returned to the SE end of the summit ridge near the survey benchmark. The views of the mountains to the S were best from this end of the ridge. Lupe and SPHP wanted to see them from this vantage point one more time before leaving.
Bidding farewell to the S mountain views, Lupe headed NW, passing by the true summit for the final time.
Grace Ridge’s big summit ridge is about 0.25 mile long. Unlike the lower SSE ridge Lupe followed to get here, which was narrow and steep in some places, the big summit ridge is broad and flat to gently rolling. No clear trail exists most of the way, but the general route is totally obvious. If you still don’t get it, NW of the true summit the route is marked by a series of big cairns.
Going NW along the big ridge, Lupe was heading away from the mountains and toward the ocean. There was one impressive mountain view, however, which she was going toward. Faint and far away, beyond Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet, was Iliamna Volcano(10,016 ft.).
Naturally, faint and far away aren’t normally associated with impressive. A look through the camera’s telephoto lens told a different story.
A 0.25 mile long summit ridge is a pretty big summit, but even at a very leisurely pace with stops to sniff and admire the views, it took Lupe only half an hour to reach the NW end where the best ocean views were.
Lupe and SPHP had first reached the SE end of the Grace Ridge summit ridge an hour and forty minutes ago. If the wind hadn’t been so strong, Lupe would have remained at least another hour. However, as wonderful as the views were, the wind was wearing enough to make starting down sound like a good idea.
The wind soon abated as Lupe lost elevation, a welcome development as far as she was concerned. Going down the NW end of Grace Ridge was a lot different from coming up the SE end. Lupe was facing views of the ocean. The trail going down didn’t follow any distinct ridgeline, but wound around in open country.
Lupe had already lost a lot of elevation when she reached some flat ground. Ahead was a small rise the trail was about to go over. People were down here, and up on the rise, too.
Kevin from the XtraTuff group was in the flat area picking blueberries using a blueberry rake, a simple contraption SPHP had never seen before. A woman named Poppy was picking blueberries, too. Sandy and Billy were up ahead on the rise talking to still more people.
It was sunny and comfortably warm out. The air was still. Lupe had hours to reach Kayak Beach. Picking blueberries sounded like a good idea. The others were saving blueberries in plastic bags, but SPHP sat on the ground picking and eating them on the spot. Lupe dozed contentedly in the shade of an evergreen tree.
Lupe’s nap and SPHP’s blueberry feast went on for 30 or 40 minutes. Then almost everyone decided it was time to mosey on down the trail to the Kayak Beach pickup point. Lupe and SPHP went with, tagging along at the end of the group. Only Kevin and Poppy remained, picking blueberries for a while longer.
As Lupe lost more elevation, the trail entered steeper terrain. Tall bushes and trees hid the views. The forest was full of Devil’s club, a tall plant with very large leaves, a thick and thorny stem, all crowned by numerous clusters of bright red berries. A sort of giant blueberry plant grew 5 or 6 feet high here, too.
The trail was much wetter and muddier down here than anywhere else. A couple of times, people fell on the slick mud. Fortunately, no one sustained any injury beyond wounded pride.
This larger group Lupe and SPHP were now part of traveled very slowly down the steeper part of the trail. The pace finally picked up lower down, when the slope of the incline finally decreased. Near the coast, the trees of the forest took over. There were fewer bushes and tall plants.
Lupe reached Kayak Beach about 5:15 PM. Kayak Beach proved to be much larger than the tiny beach at the S trailhead. Still more people were on the beach, and several dogs, too. Even though pickup time wasn’t supposed to be until 6:00 PM, Mako already had two water taxis here, ready and waiting.
Surprisingly, Lupe wasn’t interested in the other dogs. Something else had caught her attention! In the ocean, right next to the shore, was something very odd. Lupe had never seen anything like it before! A round translucent creature marked with an emblem of the sun moved with each wave. Lupe was fascinated, but regarded the strange creature with deep suspicion.
There was quite a large group of people milling around on the beach. In addition to the two Mako water taxis, there was a third water taxi from another company waiting to return passengers to Homer Spit.
Apparently, there is a regulation prohibiting the water taxis from carrying more than 6 passengers at a time. Everyone seemed worried about securing a spot on the water taxis. Everyone except Lupe and SPHP, and two women who were staying to camp out at Kayak Beach.
Yes! Mako had 13 passengers waiting for pickup, but could only take 12. The water taxis filled up. Lupe and SPHP were left standing on the beach. Totally awesome! Mako promised another water taxi was on the way. It would be here in 15 minutes. Whatever. As long as it came eventually, Lupe and SPHP were happy.
The two women who were going to camp out here had two large dogs with them. The biggest one, Ruby, acted so aggressively toward Lupe, that Ruby got put on a leash. The women invited SPHP to join them for a cup of wine. Who was SPHP to disappoint them? While Lupe and the friendly dog played and explored, SPHP and the two women sat watching the ocean, chatting, and sipping wine.
Fifteen minutes was a lousy estimate. The water taxi, Orca, didn’t show up until 7:00 PM, which was totally cool as far as Lupe and SPHP were concerned. SPHP bid farewell to the two women, thanking them for the wine. Lupe and SPHP boarded the Orca, and it pulled away from shore.
A guy came running out of the woods from the direction of the trail. Wait!!! Come back!!! His group had a 7:00 PM scheduled pickup with Mako. Two more were still coming. They would be here shortly.
Mako was confused. The guy’s story didn’t seem to add up at first. The confusion arose, because, just like the original XtraTuff group of 3, this group of 3 also had a Kevin and a Sandy. For a few minutes, Mako thought they had already done their duty and picked up everyone they needed to. However, instead of a Billy, this group had a Mark.
It all got straightened out over the radio. Back to shore. The two remaining members of the new Kevin, Sandy, and Mark group appeared. Everyone boarded. Out to sea again. Soon the Orca was dashing over a glassy sea through Eldred Passage. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the ride seated out front in the open air again.
Turned out the Orca wasn’t going directly back to the Homer Spit. A package needed to be delivered to China Cove farther N on the E side of Kachemak Bay. Fantastic! A free extra long water taxi ride on a gorgeous evening! The farther away China Cove was, the better.
The side trip to China Cove added an extra half hour. Flocks of seagulls raced the Orca. Lupe saw boats and ships on Kachemak Bay. Beauty, light, and the cool, clean Alaskan air Orca rushed through were everywhere. Life couldn’t be better!
It had to end. The Orca returned to Homer Spit.
What a day! What an adventure! Lupe and SPHP were famished. Back in the G6, SPHP drove to Safeway in Homer and bought a whole roasted chicken. Then it was back to a park on the SW side of Homer Spit. Lupe and SPHP dined in the G6 watching gentle waves roll into shore.
The tide was coming in. Across Kachemak Bay, there was Grace Ridge in the evening light. Full of chicken, Lupe and SPHP left the G6 and strolled down to the ocean shore. A woman from Homer was gathering pretty or unusual rocks she would use to line the sides of her driveway. Most everyone else had gone home.
Well, Looper, you did save the day! I’m sure glad you woke me up in the nick of time when you did. There aren’t many days like this one in a lifetime. We are so lucky we didn’t miss it!
And so it ended, with Lupe standing at the edge of the North Pacific Ocean on Homer Spit, Grace Ridge in view, beneath the fading glory of a rare epic day.
Of course! But, really? Do you mean it?You’re not just pulling my curly Dingo tail? Lupe was incredulous. SPHP had just asked if she wanted to go up into the mountains? Half the day was almost shot already. Until a moment ago, SPHP hadn’t shown the least inclination to go anywhere. Loop was mentally prepared for another idle day lounging about the house.
SPHP sprang into action. To the Carolina Dog’s utter amazement and joy, suddenly preparations were underway! The reason? A neighbor had casually mentioned winds gusting to 70 mph tomorrow. Lupe was supposed to go on one of her Black Hills expeditions tomorrow, not today, but SPHP had quickly checked the forecast. It said more like 30 mph winds with occasional stronger gusts. Not nearly as dramatic, but combined with temperatures in the low 40’s, no picnic either.
Today was an unseasonably warm 65°F with a gentle breeze. Given the circumstances, waiting until tomorrow was nuts. As late as it was, there wasn’t time to go clear down to the southern Black Hills to continue Lupe’s adventures there. That would have to wait for another day. However, there was still time for some kind of an expedition closer to home.
Ever ready for adventure, Lupe was soon leaping out of the G6. She found herself at the intersection of Old Hill City Road and USFS Road No. 357 (1:06 PM, 57°F).
Lupe began by heading SW on No. 357. A big pasture, part of a private ranch, was right next to the road. Lupe’s first peakbagging objective was all on Black Hills National Forest land, however, so she wouldn’t have any access issues. Summit Peak(5,655 ft.) was less than a mile from the G6. Soon Lupe was leaving the road to start her climb.
In an open forest thinned by logging operations, Lupe came to a spiffy rock outcropping before she had even gained much elevation. She hopped up on the rocks and struck a happy American Dingo explorer pose. Who knew what the top of Summit Peak might be like? From a distance, the mountain was heavily forested. There might not be anything to look at up there except trees. At least this rock formation looked good in a photo.
Lupe continued upward. She quickly came to another, higher road. This grassy road was apparently seldom used. Instead of charging right up the N slope of Summit Peak, Lupe followed the grassy road. She gained elevation gradually as the road went SW along the NW flank of the mountain.
When the grassy road seemed to be getting close to topping out, Lupe left it to start climbing directly up a heavily forested hillside. She arrived up on a saddle between rock formations. A rusty barbed wire fence ran along the ridgeline, a hazard for Lupe and an unwelcome sight. SPHP made certain she stayed away from it.
The topo map showed the true summit of Summit Peak at the SW end of the mountain, but Lupe was much closer to the NE end now. Another high point was supposed to be to the NE, so Lupe explored that direction first. The rock formation on the ridgeline was much larger and more rugged than it initially appeared. Before long, Lupe was forced to make a choice on how best to try to reach the NE end of the mountain.
Lupe got off the rocks to continue NE along the SE side of the formation. She soon found herself below a solid wall of rock, but had no problem continuing NE along its base. She was gaining elevation along the way, but so was the wall of rock. After going hundreds of feet, it became clear that she was nearing the far NE end of the ridge.
Fortunately, gaps in the rock wall provided the Carolina Dog a relatively easy way to scramble to the top.
The rocks at the very NE end weren’t the absolute highest. A couple of massive rocks only 20 or 30 feet farther SW were clearly the high point. These rocks were too large for Lupe to get up on them from this direction.
The only hope for Lupe to climb onto the highest rocks was if there was a route up from the SW. To find out, she went down a narrow gap right next to them. Small bushes grew thickly in the gap, but Lupe had no problem getting through.
The wall of rock was too high for Lupe to climb by herself, but she found a spot where it was possible for SPHP to scramble up. Lupe waited anxiously below while SPHP scouted around above. She didn’t like being left behind, especially when SPHP disappeared from view.
Yes, there was a way up to the highest rocks along the SE side of the rock formation! SPHP came back to tell Lupe the good news. She was mostly relieved that she hadn’t been abandoned. SPHP scrambled down, then lifted Lupe up, giving her the boost she needed to get on the rock wall. SPHP then climbed back up to join her.
The route to the top was short. To get up on the very highest rocks Lupe needed another boost, but with SPHP’s help she made it! A look back to the SW convinced SPHP that Lupe was now on the true summit of Summit Peak(5,655 ft.). The topo map showing the true summit at the opposite SW end of the mountain was wrong. SPHP would have bet money on it!
SPHP was surprised at the size and length of the rock formations on Summit Peak. Lupe had some terrific views! When she was ready to get down, SPHP helped her off the true summit. While she explored among rocks nearly as high nearby, SPHP took pictures.
After enjoying the impressive views from the summit area, Lupe and SPHP left by the same route Lupe had come up. Loop was willing to leap off the rock wall, but SPHP helped the Carolina Dog so she wouldn’t risk joint damage.
Lupe headed SW exploring the NW side of the rock wall along the ridgeline. The rocks were even more impressive over here than on the SE side she had investigated earlier.
Once beyond the long rock wall, Lupe continued SW along the ridgeline. SPHP was convinced she had already been to the true summit, but she was going to see what the official summit according to the topo map was like. Was there any chance it actually was higher?
Lupe had to dodge the rusty barbed wire fence a couple of times again. SPHP wondered for the 10 millionth time, why it was so common to find barbed wire fences so incredibly high up on rugged mountains and ridges in the Black Hills? These hazardous fences were useless and silly. They always had been. No cow or horse would ever attempt this kind of terrain of its own free will!
As Lupe continued SW, she came to more high points. Near the first big one was a very odd rock formation. The rocks formed a large square surrounding a depression full of boulders, branches and pine needles. Strange! SPHP decided to name this formation Box O’ Rocks.
Lupe had lost quite a bit of elevation coming down from the NE, but she eventually regained a fair amount of it. After a fairly big climb, she arrived at a high point SPHP suspected might be the location of the (erroneous) true summit shown on the topo map.
Trees made it hard to see much in most directions, but the nice flat rock at the top did offer lovely, clear views to the N and NW. Lupe had a great look at both Bishop and Ford mountains, her next peakbagging objectives.
Lupe had to retreat off this possible SW summit going back down toward the NE. She then circled around the SE side of the ridgeline to continue SW. She went some distance before finding an easy way over to the NW side of the ridge. SPHP was again surprised at the size of some of the rock formations that continued SW from here.
When Lupe made it over to the NW side of the ridge, she started working her way down the mountain. Looking back up, SPHP began to have doubts if Lupe had actually been to the true SW high point. Maybe one of those towering rocks was actually it?
Lupe continued on down for 10 minutes while SPHP dithered. Finally, SPHP decided Lupe had better go back up to check it out. It’s a good thing American Dingoes have a lot of patience and a forgiving nature. Lupe didn’t complain in the least about having to return to the ridge. She didn’t bite SPHP even once.
SPHP wasn’t even certain Lupe could make it to the top of the towering rocks, but investigation revealed a surprisingly easy route. Lupe was soon perched at the highest point. She was maybe a couple hundred yards SW of the last high point she’d been at. SPHP could sort of see the other high point between the trees, but not clearly. This final spot seemed to be about as high.
From here, Lupe had some fabulous views. She could also clearly see there weren’t any higher points farther SW along the ridge.
SPHP was now completely satisfied that Lupe had been to every possible location of the true summit on Summit Peak. So much time had been spent on the mountain, it was doubtful Lupe had time to climb any others. Maybe she could still try to make it up Bishop Mountain(5,706 ft.)?
Lupe went back down to the NW side of the ridge. She resumed following the ridgeline SW, but was losing elevation steadily. Large rock formations continued much farther than SPHP expected, but there was no need to climb any of these rocks. None were as high as where Lupe had already been. When she finally reached the end of the rock formations, Lupe turned NW descending as quickly as possible.
Bishop Mountain was less than 2 miles NW, but Lupe first had to detour nearly a mile to the WSW to get around private property. She was now making rapid progress, but SPHP had made her dilly-dally a long time up on Summit Peak. By the time she was approaching Bishop Mountain, it was clear she wouldn’t have any time to waste here.
Lupe started up Bishop Mountain. At first her course aimed between two high points midway up, but she eventually drifted over to the E to reach the S ridgeline. As soon as she was on the ridge, she came to big rock formations. Due to the forest, good viewpoints were rare, but Lupe came to a few along the way.
The higher Lupe went, the more rock formations she encountered. However, they did not form continuous walls like on Summit Peak. Lupe could wind around among them easily enough while working her way higher. Loopster was quite high on the mountain, but not at the summit yet, when she saw the golden glow in the W. The sun had already set.
The sky had been almost totally overcast for a while. Lupe hadn’t seen sunshine since leaving Summit Peak. However, there must have been a small break in the clouds. Off to the S, suddenly Elkhorn Mountain and Black Elk Peak were aglow in the final rays of sunlight on those higher peaks.
With light fading fast, Lupe pressed on looking for the true summit of Bishop Mountain. The top of the mountain was a fairly big area dotted with large rock outcroppings. The farther N Lupe went, the higher the rock formations were. She’d made it quite a long way N when one rock formation appeared higher than all the others so far.
Looper scrambled to the top.
The true summit of Bishop Mountain proved to be a less dramatic place. Only a little farther, way at the N end of the mountain, Lupe came to a modestly sloping area with a couple of minor high points so nearly equal in elevation that either might have been the true summit. She also discovered 3 cement pillars. The pillars were likely part of the foundation of some former structure, though they looked almost new.
It was already so dark out when Lupe arrived, even the highly light sensitive camera lens had a hard time producing a clear image.
With darkness growing by the minute, it was time to get off the mountain. The G6 was less than 1.5 miles to the E, so the return trip seemed like an easy, done deal. SPHP became careless about the route Lupe would take back. Down, down the mountain she went, but SPHP missed the saddle between the two high points to the S.
Suddenly there were houses ahead. Somehow Lupe was on private property instead of USFS land. What had happened? The realization grew that SPHP had taken Lupe in totally the wrong direction. The best guess was that she was now somewhere SW of Bishop Mountain. In the dark with an overcast sky, it was hard to know exactly where she might be, or what direction she was headed.
So the wandering began. Back up away from the homes, then up and down over ridge after ridge. Lupe came to lots of little dirt roads in the forest, but none had any signage. In the darkness, the mountains loomed much higher than seemed possible. How much elevation had Lupe lost? Nothing was familiar. Peachy.
Lupe was still having fun! She loved prowling around in the night. Fortunately she stuck close to SPHP. On and on. SPHP thought Lupe was now heading mostly N or E, but wasn’t sure.
Finally, the Carolina Dog came to a big power line up on a hill. The USFS map showed a power line going NE/SW about a mile E of Hill City. A few stars were now out, so it was possible to be more certain which way Lupe was going. She followed the power line NE. At least it went straight, although the route was still up and down.
Lupe eventually left the rugged power line route. She wound up in Hill City! She had been considerably farther S than SPHP believed. The poor American Dingo had to traipse the entire boring length of the town to get back to Old Hill City Road. Sadly, it was Sunday, so the Alpine Inn was closed. If it had been open, Lupe have been delighted to stop in for a delicious filet Mingon steak.
Still two miles to the G6! Funny how things work out. Clouds dissipated from the night sky. Stars and a half moon lit the way through the quiet countryside. Lupe trotted along alertly checking fields for signs of deer or wild animals. Truth was, the happy Carolina Dog may have been a little sad when her beautiful moonlit stroll and Expedition No. 194 came to an end. (9:21 PM, 37°F)
Day 27 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Everything hung on what the radio would say in the morning. Yesterday evening, the rain had started in again in Palmer, Alaska before the light had faded completely away. Every time Lupe woke up during the night, the relentless rain continued. Once there was only fog, but that was hardly any better.
As near as SPHP could tell, the S coast of Alaska had already seen a solid month of rain and gloom. A couple days ago, the forecast had been for 3 more days of rain, then clearing skies. Lupe had left Palmer then, resigned to going all the way back to Canada. Luckily, only an hour’s drive away, the skies had cleared enough so she could spend a couple days climbing Gunsight Mountain(6,441 ft.) and Lion Head(3,185 ft.). Lupe was still in Alaska! She had returned to Palmer hoping for the best.
Morning came. Still raining. For the 3rd time on this Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, SPHP cheated and turned on the radio. If the forecast was unchanged, if the skies really were going to clear in only another day or two, Lupe would stay in Alaska. On the other hand, if the forecast had been revised again to yet another vague promise of better days another 3 or 4 or 5 days in the future, this was it. Lupe was abandoning hope, and going back to Canada.
Finally, the weather report came on. Rain continuing throughout the day in Anchorage … yes, yes, and then? … clearing skies into the weekend, with highs near 70°F. Click. That was enough. No Pepper Peak(5,381 ft.) today, but that was OK. The clearing skies would likely be coming from the SW. Lupe was going to greet them. Well, Loopster, you lucky Dingo, you’re going to get to see Anchorage after all, and a whole lot more!
Anchorage was a big city, like other big cities. Rush hour traffic slowed to a crawl for miles on the wet Glenn Highway due to an accident. Downtown, SPHP missed the turn S on the Seward Highway, but managed to get back to it. S of Anchorage, the rain was lighter. Skies were still overcast, with occasional patches of fog.
The Seward Highway turned SE following the railroad right along the Turnagain Arm of the North Pacific Ocean. At Beluga Point, Lupe and SPHP stopped for a look.
Beluga Point is a popular place for watching Beluga whales. Although the white whales are usually easy to spot, Lupe didn’t see any. Several people at the Beluga Point pullout told SPHP they often saw whales here. One claimed to have seen 28 Beluga whales during a single recent visit.
A powerful tide was coming in. The strong, rippling current looked dangerous, as the ocean surged SE into the Turnagain Arm past Beluga Point. Less than 10 miles away on the misty far shore, Lupe had her first glimpse of the Kenai Peninsula.
Lupe and SPHP continued on. The murky brown waters of the Turnagain Arm didn’t look very deep. From the G6, Lupe saw huge expanses of exposed mud flats. The incoming tide was in the process of inundating them again. When the SE end of the Turnagain Arm came into view, Lupe made a brief stop at another viewpoint.
The last several miles of the Turnagain Arm was nothing but mud flats and marshlands with a river flowing through it all. Rounding the very SE end, Lupe and SPHP left the Seward Highway, turning E (L) on Portage Glacier Road. Lupe didn’t take the road quite all the way to the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel to Whittier. Instead, she went to see Portage Lake, bypassing the Begich Boggs Visitor Center along the way.
Note: The Begich Boggs Visitor Center is located at the NW end of Portage Lake about 6 miles from the Seward Highway. It was built in 1986 on the 1914 terminal moraine of the Portage Glacier. The Portage Glacier used to be visible at the far SE end of the lake from the visitor center, but has since retreated out of sight. Among other services, commercial boat tours to see the glacier are available at the visitor center.
The Portage Glacier can also be viewed from Portage Pass, accessed via a good hiking trail with 800 ft. of elevation gain. From the pass, it is possible to hike on toward Portage Lake for a closer look at the glacier, which is less than a mile directly across the lake. The turn to the Portage Pass trailhead is located on the SW (R) side of the road to Whittier about 0.25 mile after going through the 2.5 mile long Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. A $13.00 round trip fee (passenger car, 2016) is charged to go through the tunnel.
Even under drippy, overcast skies, Portage Lake was very beautiful. On the opposite NE shore of the lake, Lupe saw waterfalls cascading down from a hanging glacier on Maynard Mountain(4,137 ft.).
Less than 0.5 mile before Lupe reached Portage Lake, she had passed by the trailhead to the Byron Glacier. This easy trail with very modest elevation gain leads about a mile up a valley to the SW where the Byron Glacier can be seen. Lupe and SPHP left Portage Lake to go check it out, parking the G6 at the trailhead (11:52 AM, 53°F).
The first part of the trail was an easy stroll through a forest. Meltwaters from the Byron Glacier formed a rushing stream on the SE side of the trail. The trail did not cross the stream, but followed it up the valley. When the trail left the forest, the Byron Glacier, which has retreated up onto the steep N slopes of Byron Peak(4,700 ft.), was in view ahead.
The official Byron Glacier trail ended at a low rock wall. The trail was busy, even on this overcast day, and some people turned back here. However, many went farther up the valley to get closer to the glacier, scrambling among the rocky terrain left by the glacier’s retreat. Lupe and SPHP continued beyond the trail’s end, too.
The Byron Glacier is famous for having accessible ice caves. Lupe didn’t go that far, but she did go beyond the official end of the trail far enough to see what appeared to be a large ice cave ahead.
The closer Lupe got, the easier it was to see the blue ice high up on the Byron Glacier. The glacier was a beautiful sight with the gorgeous blue and white ice above, and waterfalls plunging down the gray mountainside below.
Lupe explored up the valley far enough to where she could look back down and see Portage Lake surrounded by mountains in the distance.
Lupe and SPHP returned to the G6 (1:51 PM). Even at a leisurely pace, the easy trek to see the Byron Glacier had only taken a couple of hours. At least it had given Lupe a chance to get some exercise. Most of the rest of the day would be spent in the G6 looking for those sunny skies.
SPHP drove back to the Seward Highway and turned S (L). Almost immediately, the highway curved around to the NW. A few miles later, it turned SW where a big sign welcomed Lupe to the Kenai Peninsula!
The drive through the Kenai Peninsula was gorgeous. Lupe saw forests, towering mountains, big lakes and rivers. At a junction, SPHP took the Sterling Highway toward Soldotna. Lupe passed Kenai Lake, traveled for miles along the beautiful blue-green Kenai River, saw the turnoffs for huge Skilak Lake and the Russian River where bears fish for salmon.
A few miles after passing the Mystery Hills trailhead, the Sterling Highway left the mountains. This part of the Kenai Peninsula was low, forested, flat, and dotted with lakes and marshlands. Sterling was hardly noticeable as a community, but Soldotna was a thriving, busy place. A quick stop for supplies at the Safeway in Soldotna, and Lupe continued on.
The Sterling Highway headed SW from Soldotna, eventually reaching bluffs above the Cook Inlet of the North Pacific Ocean. By now the skies had cleared. At last, Lupe basked in sunshine! Perched along the bluffs overlooking Cook Inlet were homes, campgrounds, RV parks and restaurants. They all had a stupendous view.
Far to the W across Cook Inlet was a grand, lofty mountain. At first, SPHP wasn’t sure what mountain that was, but Lupe was seeing the highest peak of the Aleutian Range, the Redoubt Volcano(10,197 ft.), for the first time.
Near the tiny village of Ninilchik, SPHP left the highway to drive a couple miles down a deeply potholed road to the beach. Lupe and SPHP left the G6, and walked down to the shore of Cook Inlet.
Faintly, beyond the shining sea, Lupe saw not just one, but two magnificent peaks! To the NW was the Redoubt Volcano, which she had already glimpsed from the highway. To the W was another glacier-covered stratovolcano, nearly as high, the Iliamna Volcano(10,016 ft.).
Lupe had seen the ocean twice already on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, once at Hyder, Alaska on her trip to see the Salmon Glacier, and then again earlier today at Beluga Point. At Ninilchik, though, for the first time since she was only 1.5 years old during her 2012 Dingo Vacation to the West Coast, Lupe got to go for a walk along the ocean.
SPHP wondered if Lupe remembered playing at the ocean? Did she remember what a fabulous time she had on the West Coast in 2012 racing along the beach, while barking at seagulls flying overhead? At first, Lupe seemed uncertain about the ocean, but somewhere in that Dingo mind, she did recall something.
Soon she was watching for seagulls again, but saw only one fly by. She made up for it by barking at some crows. She began to run around exploring, stopping to sniff the very strange smells of seaweed, dead crabs, and other things washed up on the beach. She remained cautious, though, when it came to the cold waves rolling in to shore. She was careful not to let more than her paws get wet.
The evening stroll along Cook Inlet was fantastic! Living in the Black Hills of South Dakota more than 1,000 miles from any ocean, being here was a rare treat. The glowing sunlight, the sound and motion of the surf, and the distant wild mountains of Alaska on the far shore watched over by the giant Redoubt and Iliamna Volcanoes were an unforgettable combination.
Lupe went SW along Cook Inlet as far as Deep Creek, right across from Cape Ninilchik. She was perhaps 2 miles from where she’d started near Ninilchik village. Then it was time to turn around, and enjoy it all over again.
A woman was searching for her lost 9 year old dog named Ola, when Lupe and SPHP neared Ninilchik again. Unfortunately, Lupe and SPHP hadn’t seen Ola, and couldn’t help her. Lupe’s fur was full of sand from her romp on the beach, so SPHP drove her over to a campground to rinse it off.
It wasn’t long until sunset now, but there was still time to go take a look at Ninilchik’s most famous building. On a steep bluff above the village of Ninilchik sits a Russian Orthodox church dedicated on this site in 1901. Lupe and SPHP went to pay it a visit. When Lupe arrived, the lady looking for Ola was there, too. Someone had seen Ola not too far from here a short time ago.
Since Ola was likely to be found soon, Lupe went on to take a look at the little church.
The Russian Orthodox church was a quaint reminder of the Russian origins of Ninilchik back in the 1800’s before the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. Lupe had a good time sniffing among the many flowers growing in the churchyard, but she couldn’t stay long.
Before the sun was down, Lupe returned to the beach on the Cook Inlet. A handful of other people and dogs were around (though not the elusive Ola), too. Everyone was gathered here to enjoy sunset over Cook Inlet and the mountains on the far shore.
Sunset at Ninilchik was an amazingly beautiful and peaceful time. Everyone was friendly and happy. Lupe had found her sunshine at last, after many long days of trying to dodge, or wait out, frequent rain beneath dark skies.
And then it was over. The last rays of sunset disappeared from view.
The sun was down, but Lupe’s day wasn’t over yet. As golden twilight faded to night, SPHP drove SSW on the Sterling Highway. Near Anchor Point, Lupe was running out of land farther W on the Kenai Peninsula. The road curved S, then SE.
It was 10:30 PM, by the time Lupe rolled into Homer. Her next big Alaska adventure would start here. Today, Lupe had reached and enjoyed time spent along the North Pacific Ocean at Cook Inlet. Tomorrow, if the weather held, explorer Lupe would set sail.
Good grief! The temperature, already chilly enough back at home, was dropping instead of rising. Maybe a Black Hills expedition today wasn’t such a great idea after all? Lupe had been as enthusiastic as always, though. Hopefully the morning would warm up as forecast. This afternoon it was supposed to get a little above freezing, a heatwave compared to the 14°F the G6 was registering.
By the time Lupe was on East Cascade Mountain Road off Hwy 71 approaching the Seven Sisters Range High Point(4,420 ft.), the G6 said it was 20°F out. Better, but still a crispy start. SPHP parked the G6 just N of the junction with Big Buck Boulevard (7:49 AM). A few minutes later, Lupe had permission to enter and inspect the private property to the E.
20 acres were for sale by owner E of Big Buck Boulevard. The property was all barb wire fenced and had a small, partially finished cabin on it. The acreage was tucked in a scenic spot at the base of the Seven Sisters Range High Point, and went partway up the mountainside. Although some of the land was a bit steep and rocky, most of it was horse pasture. The asking price was $100,000.
Two horses were supposedly on the property. Lupe saw no sign of them, but did see horses in pastures to the N and S. Cows at a cattle operation W of Big Buck Boulevard were mooing loudly. The property had an ambiance that an American Dingo could certainly appreciate! Lupe went to sniff around the little cabin. She got up on the deck that faced N toward the best view.
The cabin was 7 years old, but only partially completed. No heat, no power and no water. Kind of a Spartan existence. Lupe couldn’t go inside, and it didn’t take her long to complete her outside inspection. She left the cabin to head up the mountain for an even better look at the view.
Lupe kept climbing. The higher she went, the better the views were.
Lupe reached the top of the W face of the mountain near the N end. For the most part, trees hid the views. Lupe could no longer see the little cabin, but managed to find a few gaps between the trees from which she could see off into the distance.
The mountain’s true summit was clearly farther S, somewhere close to the edge of the W face. Loopster led the way S to go look for it.
Winter had made a comeback in the past week. It certainly felt like February again! When Lupe came to a small snow-free patch of ground before even reaching the high point, SPHP called a halt. Time to warm up! Lupe huddled inside SPHP’s jacket. She was shivering a little. SPHP took off a shoe to warm up a foot.
After a few minutes resting quietly, Lupe tensed up. Off to the NE, a herd of deer was running through the snow. Although quite a distance away, the deer were of keen interest to the Carolina Dog. Lupe watched excitedly until the last deer disappeared into the forest.
When Lupe quit shivering and SPHP’s foot had warmed up, it was time to carry on. The high point couldn’t be much farther.
The Seven Sisters Range High Point(4,420 ft.) wasn’t far from where Lupe had warmed up. The summit area turned out to be quite large, 200 – 300 feet long N/S and not quite as wide E/W. The whole area was thinly forested. The terrain was so flat it was hard to discern any definite exact highest spot among the snow drifts.
The best views were along the edge of the steep W face of the mountain, though the ground seemed slightly higher a little farther E. Lupe toured the summit area hoping to find a squirrel in one of the trees, but it was so cold out any squirrels must have been curled up in their holes and wrapped in their bushy tails for warmth.
Disappointed by the lack of squirrels, Lupe continued S near the W rim of the mountain. Grand open vistas were on display to the SW. Under the overcast sky, the snow made the scene look clean and white, remote and desolate. What a great place to be! Off to the E, South Knapple Canyon was in view.
When Lupe got to the area near High Point 4360 on the Peakbagger.com topo map, she had a clear view of her next peakbagging objective, Peak4371, ahead.
Beyond High Point 4360, the ridgeline turned SE. Soon Lupe could see far below a snowy pass she would have to traverse to get to Peak 4371.
As Lupe continued SE, she discovered a snow-covered road. The road descended gradually at first, but became steep, rocky, and soft as it made a sharp turn down to the pass. Following the road made it much easier for Lupe to get down to the pass than it would have been otherwise.
The road did not continue up Peak 4371. Upon reaching the pass, Lupe left it. She enjoyed a snowy romp over to the base of Peak 4371’s NE ridge. The NE ridge was the steepest part of the climb up the mountain, but wasn’t bad at all. When Lupe was halfway up, the ridgeline turned W gaining elevation at an easier pace.
Peak 4371 had looked fairly heavily forested from a distance. SPHP wasn’t certain if Lupe would find any clear views from the top. On her way up the W ridge, Looper agreed to pose for a photo at nice viewpoint, just in case the summit was buried in trees.
Lupe didn’t reach the summit of Peak 4371 until she made it all the way to the far W end of the mountain. The summit area here was much smaller than at the Seven Sisters Range High Point, though there was still plenty of room to move around. The whole area sloped moderately down toward the E. A rock very close to the W edge of the mountain was clearly the true summit.
Trees were at the summit of Peak4371, but the top of the mountain wasn’t buried in them as SPHP had feared. Views could be seen in most directions, although Lupe often had to move around a bit to get a clear look. The whole summit area was only 50 or 60 feet in diameter, so it didn’t take Lupe long to explore it.
The best view from Peak 4371 was a sweeping panorama to the SSW. Lupe was fortunate to be here on a day when the white snow made the scene particularly beautiful. Lupe could see her next peakbagging objective, Peak4310, plus a couple other peaks of interest.
Lupe left the summit of Peak 4371 following the SE ridge. She was losing elevation steadily, but it was soon apparent that she was going to have to lose it even faster. Below to the S, she could see the wide pass leading to Peak 4310. The slope leading down to it was rather steep.
This time there wasn’t any road to follow. Lupe started directly down the steep S slope. She had barely left Peak 4371’s SE ridgeline, however, when suddenly Lupe wanted to stop. Exactly why wasn’t clear. Nevertheless, only 10 or 12 feet below the edge of the ridge, Lupe and SPHP stopped to rest on a small rock ledge.
Even though it had warmed up enough to be helpful by now, SPHP let Lupe huddle inside the jacket. She wasn’t shivering, though, like last time. Maybe she had stepped on a cactus under the snow? Maybe she had heard something that had made her nervous? Her reason for wanting to stop wasn’t clear, but Lupe seemed happy resting right here. At least the view of Peak 4310 was splendid.
Another idea. Maybe Lupe was hungry? She was! She devoured an entire bowl of Taste of the Wild. The poor Carolina Dog was famished! Climbing two mountains already had built up an appetite.
While Lupe was crunching happily away, SPHP noticed what appeared to be a structure near the W end of Peak 4310 where the true summit was supposed to be. A house or some sort of outbuilding? A tower was in view near it, too. Using the camera’s telephoto lens, SPHP saw that the structure was a shed of some sort, not a home. A road could also be seen winding up the NW side of the mountain to reach a high saddle E of the true summit.
Even after dining, Lupe was perfectly content right where she was. However, it was time to press on. Puppy, ho! Picking a way down the steep, snowy slope took a while, but Lupe made it down to the pass. From the pass, she took the road up to the high saddle in the middle of Peak 4310. On the other side of the saddle, off to the SE, was another surprise. A rather nice cabin was situated in a wooded area.
Peak 4310 has two high points at opposite ends of the mountain. The true summit is to the W. Slightly lower High Point 4304 is to the E. Lupe went to check out High Point 4304 first, passing to the N of the hidden cabin.
At High Point 4304, Lupe found a large rock. From it, she had a great view to the SE down Red Canyon. She could see Angostura Reservoir, the largest lake in the Black Hills region. The lake is formed by a dam on the Cheyenne River.
The view toward Angostura Reservoir was the best, but Loop could also see Flagpole Mountain(4,320 ft.) to the S.
Having seen what there was to see from High Point 4304, Lupe headed W to visit the true summit of Peak 4310. She passed by the hidden cabin again.
Although Peak4310 was the lowest hill Lupe climbed on Expedition No. 193, the true summit was the most barren and open here. Consequently, the views were amazing! The summit area was larger than Peak 4371’s, but smaller than at the Seven Sisters Range High Point.
With fantastic views in practically every direction, Lupe and SPHP lingered on top of Peak 4310 longer than anywhere else. A medium-sized flat rock was at the true summit of the mountain. Lupe and SPHP sat here for a while admiring the wintery scenes all around. SPHP ate an apple. Lupe sat contently on SPHP’s lap, enjoying being petted and adored.
Upon reaching Peak 4310, Lupe had achieved all of her primary peakbagging goals for Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 193. Yet the position of the sun, seen dimly through the clouds, indicated it was only mid-day. Lupe had a few secondary goals in the general area. Maybe she still had time to climb another peak, if she got back to the G6 soon enough?
After the apple was gone, Lupe and SPHP spent an extra 10 minutes on Peak 4310, simply wandering around looking at all the splendid views again. Before departing, Lupe returned to the rock at the true summit. It was a little sad to be leaving such a great place.
To return to the G6, Lupe had to retrace her entire route. She took the road from the high saddle on Peak 4310 all the way back down to the pass leading to Peak 4371. She climbed Peak 4371’s steep S slope, passing by her prior rest stop at the little rock ledge just below the SE ridgeline. Here she turned for one last look at Peak 4310. It was as beautiful as a Christmas card.
Since it was on her way, Lupe tagged the rock at the true summit of Peak 4371 again. Then she went back down the E ridge along the N side of the mountain. Where the E ridge angled NE, the Carolina Dog climbed up on a big rock outcropping for yet another look around.
As Lupe continued down the NE ridge to the next pass, the sun made its best effort of the day to break through the clouds. Patches of blue sky began appearing. The day felt warmer. Snow softened and began to melt.
Down at the pass, Lupe got back on the road leading up to the Seven Sisters Range High Point. Approaching High Point 4360 again, she saw another herd of deer up there. The Carolina Dog raced off to investigate, perhaps with the intention of procuring dinner, but the deer had a huge head start on her. They were long gone well before she reached High Point 4360.
As far as Lupe was concerned, it was still an exhilarating experience!
SPHP went back up to High Point 4360 with Lupe to see where the deer had been. No telling if this had been the same herd Lupe saw early in the day when she stopped at the snow-free spot to warm up. Probably not, since this was the opposite S end of the mountain, and those deer had been heading N.
Back to the road. Lupe didn’t have much farther to go to reach the Seven Sisters Range High Point again.
Lupe had to leave the road to return to the Seven Sisters Range High Point summit. Another mountain successfully ascended for a 2nd time today!
This time, Lupe didn’t linger very long. She already knew there weren’t any squirrels to be found here! She continued N along the scenic W rim of the mountain.
Lupe went all the way back to the N end of the mountain for a final look at the view there. Then she started down the W slope where she had originally come up early in the day. SPHP took a long time to picking a way down the steep slope, but Lupe eventually arrived back at the rustic cabin and 20 acres for sale (2:04 PM, 35°F).
With 3.5 hours left before sunset, it seemed like Lupe ought to be able to climb another peak today. However, the G6 fell just short of making it up a long snowy slope on West Cascade Mountain Road. SPHP wasn’t even certain this was the way to Peak4340, so decided to forget this one until the snow was gone. Miles farther N, the road to Peak4160 was a muddy, sloppy mess.
So that was it. No more peaks. Expedition No. 193 was over. Oh, well! Lupe didn’t care. She had a wonderful time barking at cows and horses all the way home. SPHP didn’t really care either. What a wonderful day it had already been, roaming the Seven Sisters Range with the plucky Carolina Dog, exploring an unexpectedly gorgeous part of Lupe’s world!
Day 26 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
For once it wasn’t raining when Lupe woke up. However, evidence some moisture had been received overnight was present S of the Glenn Highway (Alaska Route 1). The highest peaks of the Chugach Range had a light dusting of new snow.
No rain was good news! Lupe could climb Lion Head today, famous for its fabulous views of the Matanuska Glacier. The trail up Lion Head is short, but steep, gaining over 1,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile. The climb wouldn’t take Lupe very long. She had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast. Beef stew was on the menu. Carolina Dogs love beef stew!
Lupe had a pleasant surprise when Luke Hall, the Australian whom she had met at the top of Gunsight Mountain(6,441 ft.) yesterday, dropped by for a visit. Luke showed Lupe and SPHP his gray Chevy van that has served as both transportation and base camp on his extended adventures in Canada and Alaska over the past 3 years.
Luke and SPHP chatted about past adventures and plans for the day. SPHP told Luke about Lupe’s intention to visit Lion Head to see the Matanuska Glacier. Luke said he was heading for Long Lake. After a good visit, Luke bid Lupe and SPHP farewell, and was off.
With the American Dingo contentedly full of beef stew, SPHP drove over to the S side of the Glen Highway, taking the Alascom Access Road leading to the Knob Lakes. The intention wasn’t to go all the way to the lakes, only far enough to get a good view from a distance of Gunsight Mountain.
After a good look at Gunsight Mountain from the E, Lupe and SPHP returned to the Glenn Highway and headed W. The turn onto the short Lion Head access road at milepost 106 was only 12 miles away. On the approach, Lupe had a fantastic view of Lion Head(3,185 ft.) from the highway.
SPHP parked the G6 along the Lion Head access road. Half a dozen other vehicles were around, all parked before the gate across the road. Yesterday the gate had been closed, but today it was standing wide open.
Within a few minutes of Lupe’s arrival, Luke Hall appeared again! He was already on his way back from climbing Lion Head. He pronounced the climb a lot of bang for one’s hiking buck. The views of the Matanuska Glacier were fantastic! After a brief conversation, Luke was on his way to Long Lake.
Lupe and SPHP left the G6 (1:19 PM, 63°F) taking the access road through the open gate. The road started out going SW, but almost immediately started curving around to the E, where a trail left it going S. There was no sign, but the trail had to be the one going up Lion Head.
A woman from Girdwood, Alaska came along, and confirmed this was the trail. She had two dogs with her, one larger than Lupe and one much smaller. The little dog was 9 years old, a purebred, and totally deaf. Lupe liked the little doggie, but was snarly toward the larger one. She’s often that way. She feels threatened by bigger dogs, and wants them to understand from the start not to mess with a Carolina Dog.
For a little while, the woman from Girdwood, her two dogs, Lupe and SPHP all took the trail climbing Lion Head together. Since she was from Alaska, SPHP asked what she knew about the “No Trespassing” sign AT&T had on the access road gate. Evidently no one pays any attention to that sign. What was the real deal?
The Girdwood woman said the AT&T guys were really nice. AT&T has a big tower on the N side of Lion Head. AT&T doesn’t want people wandering over by the tower, but doesn’t care if people climb Lion Head, if they act responsibly. Of course, without official permission from AT&T, it’s all at your own risk. If you get hurt, AT&T doesn’t want you and your lawyer to come crying to them.
The trail was steep most of the way. Trees and large bushes blocked the views most of the time. In places, the trail was braided, with two or more possible routes up. It wasn’t until Lupe started getting close to the top of the mountain, that the trail began to level out. Fewer trees and bushes were here. Tremendous views started opening up!
The last part of the climb was easy. Lupe reached her peakbagging goal for the day up on the highest rocks on Lion Head. What a gorgeous place! The stunning view of the Matanuska Glacier winding for miles down a broad valley between snow-capped peaks was the main attraction, but glorious sights were in every direction.
When Lupe reached the top of Lion Head, she found 3 more people with 2 more dogs already there. Both dogs were much bigger than Lupe, and she stayed away from them. Fortunately, the summit area was roomy enough for everyone to enjoy it from their own space.
The views were so wonderful, Lupe was in no hurry to leave. Eventually everyone else did. Lupe and SPHP stayed to enjoy this special place. The Matanuska Glacier was simply awesome!
Before long, someone else appeared at the top of Lion Head. Incredibly, it was someone Lupe knew! Laura from Montana, who had hailed Lupe and SPHP on her way down Gunsight Mountain yesterday, had arrived. She was equally astonished to find Lupe here.
Once again, Laura was very friendly. She was so, so kind to Lupe, and spent a long time talking with SPHP. After climbing Gunsight Mountain yesterday, she’d had a dinner date that went well. Today was her last day in Alaska. Tomorrow she would fly home to Montana. She was thinking about her college options, whether to complete a degree she had been working on, or switch majors. She talked about going to school in Vermont.
Laura happened to come up Lion Head on the recommendation of friends she was visiting in Alaska. They worked nearby for a private company offering guided ice-climbing tours on the Matanuska Glacier. They also told Laura that AT&T had no problem with people climbing Lion Head.
Laura and SPHP conversed for a long time. Lupe enjoyed all the loving attention Laura gave her. For an hour and a half, Laura, Lupe and SPHP shared the top of Lion Head and all the amazing sights.
The time spent with Laura was fun, but eventually the moment arrived to leave Laura alone with her thoughts. She retreated to the E end of the summit area, and sat on the brink of a precipice contemplating the Matanuska River valley, and the decisions she would face upon flying home to Montana tomorrow. Lupe and SPHP spent a short while taking a final look around at the magnificent scenes from Lion Head, then bid Laura good luck and good-bye.
Lupe never saw Laura again, but she did hear her once. Laura hadn’t stayed much longer up on lonely Lion Head after Lupe and SPHP departed. She wound up on a different part of the braided trail on the way down, but saw Lupe from above. Laura shouted a final farewell to Lupe. SPHP answered for Lupe in return.
Back at the G6 (5:29 PM), Luke and Laura were gone. Lupe’s Lion Head adventure was over. Of course, Lupe and SPHP still had each other. The question was, which way from here? Easy answer. Since the weather was good, back to Palmer! Maybe Lupe could climb nearby Pepper Peak(5,381 ft.), tomorrow?
The road stayed dry all the way back to Palmer, but in town dark clouds could be seen hanging low in a valley to the SE. Before the evening’s light was gone, rain started in again. As usual, nothing could be done about it, except wait to see what tomorrow would bring.
Nope! No way! I’m not budging from this spot. Take it off! Take it off, now!
Tugging on the leash only made Lupe dig in and resist. She wasn’t going anywhere.
OK, Loop, but you gotta stay close to me. Let me lead the way.
The American Dingo had won. SPHP couldn’t drag her all the way up the mountain by the neck. The leash came off. Would Lupe follow? Reluctantly she did. Her adventure had hardly begun, and she was already terrified. SPHP had spoken the dreaded word: cactus. Ever since her adventure in the Wildcat Hills of Nebraska with mountaineer, Jobe Wymore, cactus has been a greatly feared nemesis.
Lupe followed right at SPHP’s heels. A very faint remnant of a road led W up the mountain. Lupe wasn’t about to go running around off the road, or take the lead. She did plod steadily along, however, which was all it would take to ultimately be successful. Onward and upward!
SPHP had been afraid of this. Lupe was on her way up Maverick Mountain (3,750 ft.) on the SE edge of the Black Hills. The southern part of the Black Hills region is the driest and lowest. Cactus line (sort of like tree line) tends to be in the 4,500 to 5,000 ft. range. Maverick Mountain is well below that, so cactus wasn’t unexpected.
Lupe had arrived early at the Romney GPA (Game Production Area) parking lot (7:39 AM, 45°F), which serves as the Maverick Mountain trailhead. On recent expeditions, she has been working on climbing peaks in the southern Black Hills that prolific climber Brian Kalet visited and added to the Peakbagger.com data base in May of 2016. Maverick Mountain was yet another Brian Kalet peak.
Counterintuitively, being lower meant that climbing Maverick Mountain was a more daunting task for Lupe than the higher Brian Kalet peaks she had been to farther N – all because of the cactus. If Lupe was going to climb Maverick Mountain at all, though, this was the time of year to do it. Once the weather warmed up consistently, another even greater danger might be present. SPHP wouldn’t even consider bringing her here then to risk a prairie rattlesnake bite.
Lupe’s Maverick Mountain adventure had begun only a few minutes ago, when she passed under a short wooden section in an otherwise barbed wire fence near the N end of the Romney GPA parking lot. She’d paused by a fallen steel tower, and then headed straight past it to start up the base of a forested ridge. She’d barely reached the trees when SPHP realized the situation, and spoken the dreaded word that brought Lupe to a screeching halt.
Lupe resumed her trek with trepidation, as SPHP watched carefully for cacti on the way up the first hillside. The Loopster wasn’t at all eager to move quickly, which was good, since there was plenty of cactus SPHP needed to guide her around.
Lupe had initially started up toward a bare spot on the ridgeline ahead. Before she even got that far, she came across a trail angling to the W (L) that was so faint, at first, that SPHP wasn’t even certain it wasn’t imaginary. However, it quickly improved and soon proved to be the old dirt road leading to the summit.
The road became easy to follow. Fortunately, there wasn’t any cactus on it. Lupe’s confidence began to return. Although she now trotted ahead on the old road, she was careful not to leave it. She understood perfectly well that the horrible cactus was waiting for her off the road.
Things were going well, again. Lupe gained elevation steadily. The road passed through a mixed forest of Ponderosa pines and junipers. Spiny Yucca plants grew in sunny spots between the trees. Occasional open views of the prairie to the E improved rapidly. The highlight was the Cheyenne River sparkling in the morning sunlight.
Once Lupe found the old road going W up Maverick Mountain, it was typically easy to follow. Where it wasn’t, straight ahead was always a good assumption. The road kept progressing steadily W, with few twists or turns.
Fairly high up on the mountain, Angostura Reservoir came into view to the S. Only on the edge of the Black Hills, and not actually in them, Angostura Reservoir is the largest lake in the entire Black Hills region. Popular for fishing and boating, the lake was created by a dam on the Cheyenne River.
The old road faded away as it leveled out neared the top of Maverick Mountain. Ahead of Lupe was an open field. A dried up stock pond was in the middle of the field toward the S. Trees rimmed the N and W edges of the field. A small hill straight ahead was clearly the location of the true summit.
Lupe was worried about cactus when the road disappeared. She had good reason. Even though the cactus had been worse lower down, there was still some scattered around. Lupe followed SPHP closely across the field. She made it to the summit of Maverick Mountain(3,750 ft.) without incident.
Ordinarily, Lupe would have lingered on top of the mountain for a little while, exploring the summit area and seeing what there was to see. With cactus on the mountain, though, she wasn’t about to get too rambunctious, or hang around for very long. The views toward higher hills to the N and W were almost completely blocked by trees, anyway.
Lupe did roam around enough, though, to see the highlights of what views Maverick Mountain had to offer off to the S and E.
After a 15 or 20 minute stay up on the Maverick Mountain summit, Lupe headed E back across the N side of the field where the dried up stock pond was to start her trip back down the mountain. The Carolina Dog was eager to get off this pin cushion!
Besides, Lupe had other higher peaks to climb not too far away near Hot Springs, SD.
When Lupe reached the last hillside at the bottom of the mountain, SPHP made her stop and stay put. Due her fear of cactus, she didn’t dare disobey.
SPHP started searching around. Earlier, SPHP had noticed Lupe wasn’t wearing her pink collar. She’d had it on when she started out. Where had it gone? After some thought, SPHP had decided it must have come off in this area during all the commotion with the cactus and the leash right near the start of Lupe’s excursion.
The search was a failure. Lupe’s pink collar was nowhere to be seen. Lupe stood motionless wondering what was going on? An idea! SPHP took the leash out of a pocket. Hah! There it was! Lupe’s pink collar had gotten tangled up with the leash, and been in SPHP’s pocket all along. Doh!
Sorry, about the wait Looper. Guess I’m losin’ it. Come on, let’s go! Lupe was more than ready. She returned to the G6, leaving Pin Cushion Mountain behind forever! Even Brian Kalet couldn’t get her to come back a second time. (9:25 AM, 48°F)
Maverick Mountain had only been a warm-up. Lupe had other higher peaks to climb not too far away near Hot Springs, SD. Soon SPHP was parking the G6 on Sheridan Street in the N part of Hot Springs. (9:40 AM, 50°F) A stroll S to the end of the block brought Lupe to the start of Battle Mountain Road.
Lupe turned E on Battle Mountain Road. The road climbed relentlessly all the way up to almost the top of, you guessed it, Battle Mountain(4,434 ft.)! A short ascent up a jeep trail and rotting wood-framed steps brought Lupe to the rocks at the S end of the summit near the old fire lookout tower. Looper got up on the rocks for a look around.
Lupe had been up on top of Battle Mountain once before, nearly two years ago on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 126. Back then a tribe of Neanderthals, still hanging around Hot Springs long after the woolly mammoths Hot Springs, SD is famous for (see Mammoth Site of Hot Springs) were gone, had left a lot of trash including broken glass strewn around the summit. Due to all the sharp broken glass, SPHP had had to carry Lupe all around the summit area.
The summit of Battle Mountain was in considerably better condition today. Almost no trash around. Although there was still some broken glass, it looked weathered and old, lacking sharp, stabby points and edges. SPHP was still cautious about letting Lupe get near the worst of it, but for the most part she could roam the top of Battle Mountain at will.
The reason for Lupe’s return to Battle Mountain didn’t seem to be in view from the summit. Pine trees blocked the views to the NE. Less than 2 miles that way was where Lupe’s next peakbagging goal was. Friendshuh Mountain(4,450 ft.) was barely higher than Battle Mountain. Lupe would have to go considerably farther than 2 miles to get there. Dudley Canyon was in the way.
Friendshuh Mountain wasn’t actually another Brian Kalet peak. Gustav Sexaur added it to the Peakbagger.com data base. However, Gustav had never been there. So far, Brian Kalet was the only Peakbagger.com account holder to have ever actually climbed Friendshuh Mountain. Either way, it was another red circle on Lupe’s Black Hills map that needed to turn green!
Lupe left the Battle Mountain summit heading N into the forest. She was barely below the summit’s limestone cap when a glimpse of Friendshuh Mountain appeared between the pines.
Friendshuh Mountain isn’t in the Black Hills National Forest. Neither is Battle Mountain. Both are in the Battle Mountain GPA (Game Production Area), however, so there is public access.
Coming down the N slope of Battle Mountain, SPHP was looking for the Battle Mountain GPA access road, which leads to the N end of Dudley Canyon close to Friendshuh Mountain. Lupe found a way down off the limestone escarpments she ran into along the way, and very quickly came to a road. Was this it? The road headed E through a cut in the mountain. SPHP was pretty certain this wasn’t the right road.
As Lupe had come up Battle Mountain Road, fairly close to the top of the mountain there had been 3 roads she could have taken. None of them had any signs. The first (lowest) turned N and went by a small building with a tower or big antenna next to it. The second road also angled N, and came only 100 or 150 feet before Battle Mountain Road turned sharply S on its final short leg to the summit.
Where Battle Mountain Road had turned S, a third road had continued E uphill and then turned N. Lupe was on this third, highest road.
Despite the lack of a sign, SPHP was pretty sure that the second road was actually the Battle Mountain GPA access road Lupe needed to be on. Instead of going E through the cut, Lupe followed the high road S and then W back down to the intersection with Battle Mountain Road. When she reached the second road, she turned and started following it N.
For about 0.25 mile, the road was quite level. It headed N on the W side of Battle Mountain. When the road started curving NE making its way around the NW slope of Battle Mountain, Lupe was surprised and happy to find snow and ice. From here on, she came to frequent stretches of snow, ice and mud wherever the road was shaded.
On the N side of Battle Mountain, the road began to lose elevation, going all the way down to about 4,080 ft. There it crossed a saddle heading ENE toward Dudley Canyon. This was the first drop.
By now SPHP was certain Lupe was on the correct road. It began winding around to the N and sometimes NW, slowly regaining nearly all of the elevation Lupe had just lost. The road stayed on the upper W slopes of Dudley Canyon. Due to the forest, most of the time the canyon wasn’t even in view. Lupe had fun. She found a few squirrels to bark at.
The Battle Mountain GPA access road eventually turned E. When it did, Lupe started losing elevation again. She had barely started down when Friendshuh Mountain came into view to the SE.
The road turned briefly toward Friendshuh Mountain before turning back to the NE and making its second and final significant drop down into the N end of Dudley Canyon.
At around 4,135 ft. elevation, Lupe reached the bottom of Dudley Canyon. Next to the road, a map was posted of the Battle Mountain Game Production Area. Apparently not enough game was being produced. The map itself had been a frequent target. It was riddled with bullet holes.
A parking area was S of the map, and a dirt road headed N through an open gate. Lupe followed the road 100 yards to a double gate which was padlocked shut. Another dirt road headed ESE up the draw behind it.
Lupe and SPHP went under and over the double gate respectively. Lupe followed the dirt road up the draw. Part of the road shaded by pines was snowy and muddy, but it wasn’t long before Lupe was up on a sunny hillside. The road now went E along the N side of a barbed wire fence.
Lupe came to another set of double gates, both of which were standing wide open. Friendshuh Mountain was in view beyond them directly to the S only 0.33 mile away. Lupe was almost there!
The Carolina Dog didn’t head directly for Friendshuh Mountain, however. The top of the barren ridge the road had been climbing was only a little farther uphill. An interestingly shaped flat rock up there looked like it might offer a great unobstructed view of whatever was over on the E side of the ridge. SPHP wanted to go see the views.
Lupe was a little reluctant to leave the road. Her concern was justified. On the way to the odd flat rock, SPHP saw her nemesis again. Cacti were scattered on the dry, sunny ridge. Not as many as at Maverick Mountain, but enough to be a concern. Still, it was a good thing Lupe had come this way. Upon reaching the odd flat rock, she made a discovery even more interesting than the sweeping views to the N and E.
Long, long ago, something else had come this way. Something gigantic and dangerous! Pressed deep into the rock next to the odd flat rock was a dinosaur track! Other similar depressions were nearby, but none were so clear as this one.
The huge dinosaur track was pretty cool, and the wide open views on the barren ridge were great, too. The summit of Friendshuh Mountain was covered with pines, so the views might be limited up there. Why not take a break here? Lupe was happy with that idea. She curled up inside the dinosaur track while SPHP ate an apple.
After her brief rest stop in the dinosaur track next to the odd flat rock, Lupe returned to the road and went S through the open gates. The dirt road went up a gradual slope heading almost straight for Friendshuh Mountain.
Lupe soon arrived at a large water tank, which had plenty of water in it. Here the dirt road angled SE going over a gentle pass on its way around the E side of Friendshuh Mountain. To the SW, a faint single track trail went up toward the trees N of the summit. Information SPHP had previously found online indicated that the two routes made a loop around Friendshuh Mountain, but didn’t go to the summit.
The area near the water tank was Lupe’s least favorite part of the journey to Friendshuh Mountain. Cacti grew in scattered clumps in the grassland. Some other plant with thorns was around, too. Lupe had a couple of painful thorns in her right front paw by the time she reached the water tank. SPHP pulled them out, but Lupe wasn’t happy. She demanded to be carried from here.
Fortunately, the summit of Friendshuh Mountain was very close by now. SPHP carried Lupe up the faint trail to the SW. From the top of a little ridge N of the mountain, Lupe could see that the trail soon became a dirt road a little farther to the SSW. The views to the W and SW were quite nice here. SPHP put Lupe down for a couple photos. She seemed a little more confident again.
Lupe made the final climb from the trail up to the summit of Friendshuh Mountain(4,450 ft.)on her own. She felt safer and more confident among the trees than out on the open grasslands. She came to no cactus up on the summit area, but she did find a limestone summit cairn next to a big melting snow bank. The cold snow felt good on sore paws.
Friendshuh Mountain had a roomy, flat summit area about 250 or 300 feet long N/S. It sloped gradually down toward the E. The top was open forest, but around the edges, the forest was thicker and effectively blocked the views in most directions.
After a short exploration, Lupe spent most of her time on Friendshuh Mountain at the S end of the summit area where there were fewer trees, and the best views were on display. Lupe and SPHP rested here, enjoying the scene and simply being together in the warm sunshine.
After a pleasant half hour on Friendshuh Mountain, the time came to think about beginning the return trip to the G6. Before leaving the mountain, Lupe returned briefly to the area near the summit cairn.
Lupe was fine going down the forested N slope of Friendshuh Mountain on her own. However, when SPHP wanted to cut directly across the open land back to the road leading to the gates near the dinosaur track, it was a different story.
Carolina Dogs have no fear of dinosaurs, but cacti are another matter. SPHP had to carry Lupe all the way down to the road. Even then, she wasn’t thrilled about being put down again.
Since it was a little later in the day, SPHP wanted to return to the odd flat rock and the dinosaur track. The sun would be lighting up more of the dino track now. Loopster was dubious about wisdom of leaving the road, even for such a short distance. When she managed to trot over to the dino track without incident, she cheered up.
From the odd flat rock and the dinosaur track, it was about 4.0 miles back to the G6 in Hot Springs. Lupe got to follow the road back the entire way, retracing her earlier route to Friendshuh Mountain.
When Lupe got to the forest on the W side of Dudley Canyon again, she forgot all about cactus when she saw a squirrel. She dashed off into the forest without a moment’s hesitation. From then on, she left the road to roam through the forest whenever she felt like it. Although there were still a few cacti scattered around, she didn’t step on any and had a great time.
Since the side trip up to the top of Battle Mountain(4,434 ft.) was so short, Lupe returned to the summit again when she got back to Battle Mountain Road.
Wow, it was 62°F out when Lupe reached the G6 (4:08 PM)! What a fabulous, warm, bright day it had been for February! Despite repeated cactus concerns, overall Expedition No. 192 had been a fun time with several more peakbagging successes for the Looper.
On the way home, Lupe got a ride in the G6 through beautiful Wind Cave National Park. She did see a few buffalo roaming, but not a single dinosaur. Dinosaurs just aren’t that common any more, even way out here in the remote Black Hills of western South Dakota.
Maverick Mountain – The parking lot for the Romney GPA serves as the trailhead. From Maverick Junction (intersection of Hwys 18, 79 & 385 about 5 miles E of Hot Springs, SD), go 0.7 mile W on Hwy 18/385. Turn S (L) on Scenic Road immediately after crossing Fall River. Follow Scenic Road 1 mile S to the Romney GPA parking lot on the R (W).
Battle & Friendshuh Mountains – A few blocks E of Evans Plunge in Hot Springs, SD, Hwy 385 turns N on its way to Wind Cave National Park. Take Thompson Avenue E (R) just N of the turn. A couple of blocks to the E, Thompson Avenue feeds straight into Battle Mountain Road (also known as Skyline Road), which goes 1.2 miles to the summit of Battle Mountain. Another 2.5 miles on the unsigned Battle Mountain GPA access road leads to the parking area at the bullet hole riddled map about 0.5 mile NW (as the crow flies) of Friendshuh Mountain.