Day 8 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range & Beyond!
Colorado! For pity sake! Edward Earl’s trip report had warned that the sign for the turnoff to Pine Mountain was difficult to see from the highway. Supposedly, SPHP had been watching carefully for it. Not carefully enough, apparently! SPHP turned the G6 around. Lupe headed N back into Wyoming.
After leaving Prior Flat and the Shirley Mountains this morning, most of the day had been spent traveling. The afternoon drive S from Rock Springs on Hwy 430 had been gorgeous. High, remote ridges and hills stretched to the horizon, separated by dusty oceans of undulating sagebrush prairies. Classic Wyoming!
On the way S, Lupe had finally seen a mountain SPHP figured might well be Pine Mountain(9,550 ft.). Even with this advance warning that Lupe must have been getting close, the turnoff had been missed.
The turnoff to Pine Mountain was supposed to be about 5 miles N of the Colorado border. Of course, Edward Earl had been here way back in July, 2002. Maybe the sign at the turn he referred to in his trip report was damaged, no longer existed, or had fallen over? SPHP drove slowly N staring down each dirt road leading W from Hwy 430.
Maybe SPHP was just driving super slow, but it seemed like Lupe had gone well over 5 miles from the Colorado border. Still nothing. SPHP was considering turning around again for another pass at it going S, when at the top of a rise, there it was! A BLM sign in perfectly good condition said “Pine Mountain 12”. How had SPHP missed that? Didn’t matter, Lupe was on her way!
It remained to be seen how far Lupe would get, however. Edward Earl mentioned several sharply eroded ruts across the road within the first couple of miles. Maybe the G6 wouldn’t be able to get past them? That would be bad news. A hot, dry 10 mile one-way march just to get to Pine Mountain wasn’t going to happen.
Fortunately, the sharply eroded ruts no longer seemed to exist. Most encouraging! The road was supposed to be good the rest of the way. The next landmark Mr. Earl said to watch for was a fork in the road 4 miles from the highway. A BLM sign on the L would say 8 miles to Pine Mountain.
At 3 miles, and again at 4 miles, Lupe came to unsigned 4-way intersections at minor crossroads. Hmm. Edward Earl hadn’t mentioned these. SPHP drove straight at each one. 5 miles from the highway, Lupe did come to a fork in the road. A BLM sign near the L fork said “Red Creek Basin, County Road #71, Titsworth Gap”. No mention of Pine Mountain, or any clue as to where the road to the R went.
Pine Mountain was nowhere in sight. The sign looked fairly new, but even if it had been replaced since Edward Earl was here, why didn’t it mention Pine Mountain? None of the places listed meant anything to SPHP. Still, the road to the L was going the right general direction. It was probably the way. Maybe best, though, to go a little farther on the road to the R, just to make certain another fork wasn’t coming up soon?
A 0.5 mile jaunt down the R fork revealed nothing other than that the road deteriorated rather quickly. No other turns to the L could be seen for at least another 0.5 mile. That settled it. Lupe returned to the “Y” and took the road to the L.
Six miles later, SPHP parked the G6 at the base of Pine Mountain’s long NE ridge in a saddle just S of High Point 8510, a small butte mentioned by Mr. Earl. It was getting late in the afternoon (5:17 PM), and the 9,550 ft. summit was still more than 4 miles away.
After being cooped up in the G6 most of the day, Lupe was ready for action! A road goes all the way to the top of Pine Mountain, so getting to the summit would be a cinch. The sun stays up late in June, so even on paw and foot Lupe and SPHP would have plenty of time. Maybe Loop would even get to enjoy a nice sunset up there?
The trek had barely started, when SPHP nearly stepped on a baby pronghorn antelope hiding on the ground. It was very much alive. Lupe was already off racing around the fields, so she hadn’t seen it. Best that she didn’t. SPHP hurried over to the road leading up the mountain. Lupe never did see the baby pronghorn. No doubt she would have loved to, but it wouldn’t have been a good thing.
Despite its woodsy name, only the N side of Pine Mountain turned out to be forested. Most of the mountain was bare or sported only scattered trees. The road to the top never entered the forest. Consequently, Lupe had big sweeping views all the way up the mountain. They only got better as she gained elevation.
The first 1.5 miles were by far the steepest. Near the end of it, the road made a single giant switchback followed by a short rocky section. After that the slope of the mountain decreased steadily.
Once past the steep part, the road headed SW up a wide, grassy, but otherwise barren slope. The view from the road would remain boringly the same for more than 2 miles. Far to the R was the edge of the forest. Far to the L was the SE edge of the mountain.
After trudging nearly half of this dull distance on the road, even SPHP began to realize this trek would be a lot more fun over by the edge where Lupe could see the big views to the SE.
The edge of the mountain provided splendid views the entire way. The only disadvantage was that the higher Lupe went, the windier and colder the edge became. Loop didn’t care for the wind, but it wasn’t unbearable.
The highest part of Pine Mountain forms a huge crescent pointing SW. The terrain features mostly small rocks, small plants, and is otherwise barren and flat. The topo map shows two high points near the S edge. At the far SE end, the former site of an old radio tower is shown as having an elevation of 9,546 ft. Nearly half a mile to the WNW is the official summit with an elevation of 9,550 ft.
Lupe arrived at the SE high point first. A small concrete platform only 3′ x 3′ was all that seemed to remain of the radio tower. The platform was located next to the start of a long fence which swept around to the W from here near the S edge of the mountain.
A two track dirt road ran along the N side of the fence close to the edge of the mountain. Since she still hadn’t made it to Pine Mountain’s official summit, Lupe followed this road W, continuing on it as it curved gradually to the WNW, then NW.
Edward Earl had mentioned that each of the two spot elevations on the topo map appeared higher when viewed from the other. In Mr. Earl’s opinion, HP 9546 near the old radio tower site was likely the true summit, not HP 9550 which was the true summit according to the map.
Like Mr. Earl, Lupe visited both of these points. In the end, SPHP had no firm opinion where the true summit actually was, only that Lupe must have reached it somewhere along the way. No matter where Lupe was along the rim of the mountain, the terrain in the distance always looked definitely somewhat higher!
Perhaps the American Dingo knew exactly when she reached the true summit, but she maintained silence on the point. Dingoes don’t fret about such things. As far as Lupe was concerned, she’d done her peakbagging job and reached the top of Pine Mountain(9,550 ft.).
Near the SW end of the mountain, not too far from the official 9,550 ft. summit on the topo map, Lupe came to a green gate in the fence. She went through the gate, and started a little down the slope before stopping near the edge of the steepest part. A fairly strong wind still blew out of the SW, making things rather chilly on the totally exposed edge.
As far as the Carolina Dog could see, unspoiled open territory stretched past grand valleys and hills to distant mountains, some snow-capped, on the far horizon.
Nearly an hour remained before sunset. Other than the wind, which seemed to be gradually weakening as the sun sank, there wasn’t a reason in the world why Lupe shouldn’t stay to enjoy the show. Seldom has she had such a tremendous vantage point near the end of a day, plus a great route back to the G6 that would be easy to follow even after dark.
Lupe had water and Taste of the Wild, then curled up in the breeze to see how the evening would turn out.
For a while, the already splendid scene didn’t change much. The sun was still too far above the horizon. Lupe and SPHP sat huddled together against the breeze, gazing off toward Colorado and Utah, enjoying the solitude.
Slowly, the sun’s rays slanted more sharply. A golden glow crept over the land. Contrasts deepened between light and shadow, highlighting features of the terrain. In the distance, outlines stood out, sky now easily differentiated from mountains and ridges.
Lupe bathed in the golden glow, too.
The light intensified rapidly in the final brief moments before sunset. Lupe was transformed to a brilliantly illuminated Dingo goddess!
The golden glow faded. Shadow spread over the earth. Sunlight retreated to the realm of sky and clouds.
The show wasn’t over yet, though. Not until the sun disappeared completely did the evening sky rise to its colorful peak of glory.
And then it was over. Colors collapsed. The sky turned gray, the earth black. Lupe had remained to the end. Now the former Dingo goddess started the long trek back, traveling in deepening shadow the barren, breezy surface of this lofty dark underworld.
The sky grew black. So black, the ancient dim light of stars and galaxies blazed above, a shining echo from the edge of infinity of what once was eons ago. Miles to the E, a single small grouping of bright electric lights. On the far N horizon, a faint glow that must have been Rock Springs. Elsewhere, the pitch black unbroken reign of night.
On the move, heading down, the beautiful, quiet evening slipped by. The dying breeze brought the only news, subtle hints from the wild, to a still curious, quivering nose on Pine Mountain. (10:52 PM)
Start: 8:35 AM, 42°F, at the first pullout SE of USFS Road No. 157 along West Deerfield Road near Castle Creek
A week shot by. The American Dingo was back! The G6 was parked no more than a mile NW of where it had been at the start of Expedition No. 212 only 7 days ago. Back then Lupe had gone N visiting 4 peaks along the E edge of the limestone plateau. Today she would be going mostly W farther into the high country.
A short walk NW along West Deerfield Road brought Loop to the start of USFS Road No. 157. Close to the intersection, a bridge went over Castle Creek. Lupe had started off Expedition No. 212 by checking out Castle Creek. May as well make it a tradition! Before crossing the bridge, Lupe went down near the stream. As always, Castle Creek was looking good!
Returning to No. 157, Lupe crossed the bridge. The road went past a house over to the SW side of the Castle Creek valley, before turning SE for 0.5 mile. Lupe could still see the G6. Beyond it was a forested ridge featuring an impressive limestone cap. This late October morning was cool and bright. Everything was bathed in sunlight. What a beautiful day!
The first part of the plan for the day was to take No. 157 from the Castle Creek valley up into the limestone plateau country. Lupe didn’t start gaining elevation until she was getting close to a big bend where No. 157 makes a nearly 180° turn going around the SE end of a forested ridge. After making the turn, the road climbed steadily heading WNW high on the SW side of the ridge. Private property down in the Silver Creek valley could be seen below.
About 0.33 mile from the big bend, Lupe reached an intersection with USFS Road No. 157.1A. Loop had followed No. 157 up the Silver Creek valley at least a couple of times on previous Black Hills expeditions, but she’d never been on No. 157.1A before. The topo map showed that No. 157.1A stayed higher up near the spine of the ridge, and would eventually feed back into No. 157 again in a couple of miles.
Why not? Exploring a new route is usually fun. Lupe took No. 157.1A.
No. 157.1A went NW for a while. Low juniper bushes provided scattered ground cover beneath a pine forest. The terrain sloped moderately up to the NE. The road stayed within a few hundred feet of the top of the ridge.
Lupe gained a fair amount of elevation. However, the day’s early sunshine seemed to have vanished. It actually seemed colder now than when Lupe had started out. The mood of the day had really changed. Gone was the bright cheerfulness. Suddenly the forest felt quiet, remote, sullen – like late fall of a dying year, with more than a hint of winter.
Lupe might get a decent look at the Castle Creek valley from the top of the ridge, if a place could be found where trees didn’t block the view. As she went on, a few rocks appeared near the ridgeline. Close to one of these rocks a narrow, gray opening could be seen between the pines. Might as well take a look! Lupe sniffed her way through the forest to the top of the ridge.
No wonder the mood had turned grim and chill! Lupe could see Castle Creek valley alright, but the sky was completely overcast. Not a speck of blue anywhere. Mountaintops across the valley were shrouded in fog.
Lupe went NW through the forest a little way, then returned to the road. She reached it near a “Y” intersection. USFS Road No. 157.1C branched off to the N here, going over a small saddle. The maps showed it would eventually dead end.
The American Dingo stuck with No. 157.1A, which headed more W than before. The road climbed more steeply for a little way before leveling out. Lupe had left the edge of Castle Creek valley behind now.
As Loop traveled onward, it appeared as though there were high points off to the SW which might provide a view of Silver Creek valley. She didn’t bother going over there, though. Probably not worth the effort with low clouds and fog around. The Carolina Dog stayed on the road, which wound around still heading W.
Suddenly, Lupe noticed a pickup truck ahead parked on the road. Two men dressed in camouflage were standing near it. Hunters! Lupe and SPHP had to go right by them. Neither looked or acted friendly. The younger one asked SPHP only where Lupe was going, and seemed suspicious of the answer – Crows Nest Peak. Meanwhile, the older man fiddled with a bow and ammunition.
No doubt Crows Nest Peak(7,048 ft.) was an unlikely response. Crows Nest Peak was still miles away. Furthermore, though one of the highest points in the Black Hills, Crows Nest Peak wasn’t much of a peak at all, just a spot in the woods nominally higher than the surrounding terrain. Why would anyone be going there? Wandering alone way out here on a gloomy day like this was probably suspicious enough itself. Crows Nest Peak must have seemed a doubly suspicious and evasive answer.
Lupe went right on by the hunters. SPHP had no intention of stopping to explain. If the hunters were surprised to see Lupe, seeing them had been a surprise, too. Best to avoid any possibility of getting into a quarrel with armed strangers with unfriendly dispositions, especially in such a remote place. These guys were weird – in an unbalanced, slightly threatening way.
That was it, though. Nothing happened. Lupe reached the end of USFS Road No. 157.1A where it met up with No. 157 again. This was familiar territory, although it had been 2 years since Looper had last been here. For more than a mile, she continued WNW on No. 157. She reached a junction with No. 157.1F, which headed N to Fulton Draw.
Lupe didn’t need to go to Fulton Draw. It only led back down to Castle Creek. She stayed on No. 157, which gradually began curving SW. The terrain was flat along in here. Lupe had already gained most of the elevation she would need to on the way to Crows Nest Peak.
More than 0.67 mile beyond No. 157.1F, Lupe reached another junction. An unmarked road branched off to the R. Just beyond this intersection, a barbed wire fence crossed No. 157. Lupe made a short foray along the unmarked road. She came to a place where ice rested in large, muddy ruts at a curve in the road.
Hmm. If Lupe managed to make it to Crows Nest Peak today, it would be her 4th successful ascent. However, she had only reached it once before coming from this general direction. On that occasion, traveling through the forest, Lupe had come to a small pond with cattails.
Was the cattail pond where this road was heading? It seemed likely. SPHP remembered a road near the pond, but Lupe hadn’t taken it. Instead, from the cattail pond she’d followed a barbed wire fence a long way N or NW through the woods. Although Lupe had ultimately made it to Crows Nest Peak, she’d gone a long way through a trackless stretch of forest with no real landmarks. Trying that again in this weather seemed unwise.
Lupe returned to No. 157 and continued past the barbed wire fence. SPHP expected her to reach a road going to Procunter Spring pretty soon, but she didn’t. Odd. After more than 0.5 mile, Lupe reached a “Y”. Only the branch to the R could possibly be the way to Procunter Spring, but even it didn’t seem quite right.
The Carolina Dog had been here before. Loop wasn’t far from Coulsen Hughes Draw. SPHP was certain of that. Yet it had been years since she had been at this exact spot. Being here now in the fog felt like a dream where things look familiar, yet are all jumbled up. Which way?
SPHP checked the map. Somewhere around here, Loop was supposed to leave No. 157 and travel NW staying on high ground. The actual terrain didn’t seem to match up very well with what the map showed, though. Slightly higher ground was back the way Lupe had come to reach this intersection. Maybe it made sense to retrace her route a little before plunging into the forest?
So that’s what Lupe did. She went back to a place where there was a bit of a hill off to the L. Despite misgivings, SPHP then followed her into the trees. In the fog, the forest seemed mysterious, abandoning the road faintly dangerous. The only real landmark Lupe would come to was a huge field 1.5 to 2 miles off to the NW. It might be terribly easy to get turned around and lost before ever getting there.
Lupe hadn’t gone far before there was reason for concern. She’d climbed the small forested hill, but the high ground she was supposed to follow NW from here didn’t seem to exist. Instead, the forest sloped gradually down in every direction. Not far ahead, a meadow could be glimpsed through the trees, which didn’t seem right either. May as well check it out, though.
Lupe reached the edge of the meadow. What she saw was surprising, almost shocking. The meadow was wide and very long, so long the end couldn’t be seen in either direction. It made no sense. How could Lupe have missed this huge meadow on her prior attempts to reach Crows Nest Peak from this direction? It seemed impossible, yet here it was.
Which way? Lupe looked expectantly at SPHP. What was the holdup? SPHP stood staring at the meadow, pondering the view first in one direction, then the other. Not a clue. Everything looked wrong. Nothing made sense. There had to be an explanation, though. What was it?
Confusion vanished. Certainty came flooding back. Oh, yeah, it all made sense now! This long meadow was the NW branch of Coulsen Hughes Draw. Had to be! SPHP had become disoriented in the fog, apparently even before Lupe had left the road. This meadow didn’t run E/W like SPHP initially believed. Lupe had been traveling W, not N, going over the hill. This meadow went N/S.
Lupe turned N, gradually gaining elevation. As expected, the American Dingo soon came to an old wooden sign where the road to Procunter Spring crossed Coulsen Hughes Draw. Whew! Back on track. Simply amazing how easy it had been to get turned around in the fog!
Puppy, ho! Lupe still had a long way to go to get to Crows Nest Peak. At least she knew which way to go now. From the sign, Loop followed No. 157 going NE. When the road curved E, she took a side road heading N through a gap in a fence.
The side road had a lot of deadfall timber on it. Lupe soon left it heading WNW across the upper end of Coulsen Hughes Draw. Moderately higher ground was ahead. Lupe reached the top of a broad forested ridge. This was part of the high ground she had been supposed to take NW, though she was farther W on it than SPHP had intended. No matter, Lupe could get to Crows Nest Peak this way. Onward!
For 0.75 mile, Lupe traveled N or NW on top of the broad ridge. It was still overcast, but not as foggy up here as it had been back at Coulsen Hughes Draw. Lupe ran and sniffed. There was no road or trail to follow. Lupe loved exploring, and things seemed to be going well.
At the N end of the ridge, the terrain began sloping down. Lupe came to another road, which seemed vaguely familiar. Lupe had been here on one of her previous expeditions, hadn’t she? The American Dingo followed the road downhill to the W a short distance, before leaving it to continue N.
Lupe went over a small forested hill, and quickly arrived at the edge of a big field. Yes! Reaching this field meant Loop was less than a mile from Crows Nest Peak.
At the far side of the field, Lupe could see a road heading N into the forest. This might well be USFS Road No. 266. Lupe crossed the field. The road wasn’t marked, but it was going the right way. Loop and SPHP took the road.
After passing through a stretch of forest, what looked like the level top of an earthen dam for a stock pond could be seen off in the woods. Lupe went over to check it out. Sure enough, a small iced-over shallow pond was on the other side. Not 15 feet away, down next to the pond, was the carcass of a deer.
Something alive was feeding on the carcass! An instant after Lupe arrived on the scene, a head turned and fixed a beady yellow eye on her. Unhappy at being disturbed, a huge feathery eagle launched into the sky and flew off. It wasn’t a bald eagle, but the giant bird was still a sight to see. You would have had to been there, though. SPHP was way too slow to get a photo.
From Eagle Pond, the road Lupe was following turned W or WNW. Loopster hadn’t gone too far on it when another road came in from the ENE. A marker showed this was USFS Road No. 377.1B.
Finding No. 377.1B confirmed that Lupe had been following USFS Road No. 266 since crossing the big field. Lupe took the road leading W from the junction. Crows Nest Peak was no more than 0.25 mile away now. In fact, Loop could soon see a hill N of the road. The summit had to be up there.
Even though it was a slightly longer route, the Carolina Dog stuck with the road. When she reached a familiar meadow SW of the summit, she turned N on a spur road that would take her there. The spur is so seldom traveled that it didn’t even seem much like a road anymore. It was more like a single track trail.
The spur road went N climbing a hill before leveling out. A little farther on it curved E. Lupe immediately arrived at the frozen remnant of a tiny pond. She climbed up on a mound of red dirt at the W end. She’d made it to Crows Nest Peak! This wasn’t the official summit, which was still a football field E, but had to be about as high, and was the landmark Lupe always went by.
Lupe had come a long way. Time to claim her peakbagging success! The Carolina Dog left the frozen pond heading E. She crossed a small grassy area. There used to be a road here, but no trace of it remained. At a small opening in the forest maybe 60 or 70 feet back into the trees, Lupe came to a survey stake and benchmark.
This was it! This flat place in the forest entirely lacking views in any direction, a total and complete mockery of its name, was one of the highest spots in the whole Black Hills. Lupe was at the official summit of Crows Nest Peak(7,048 ft.).
It had been a long, and occasionally confusing trek. Lupe and SPHP took a half hour break near the survey marker. Taste of the Wild, water, and an apple. Tiny snowflakes drifted down on a light swirling breeze. The temperature must have been at or below freezing, but the tiny flakes all melted as they hit.
Cold, humid, quiet. SPHP sat on the ground petting Lupe’s soft fur. She liked that. Snowflakes filled the air. It felt again like winter was coming. Hidden in the remote high country, despite the absence of views, Crows Nest Peak was still a magical place.
This foggy, overcast day had been the perfect day to come here. It didn’t matter that there weren’t any views. Lupe wouldn’t have been able to see them anyway, even if there had been some. Her journey here had felt more mysterious and adventurous beneath the close gray sky.
It seemed like Lupe still had plenty of time; she’d gotten off to a fairly early start this morning. Hard to tell for certain, though, without being able to see the sun. It was one thing to wander around in the fog, entirely another to get caught in darkness away from any road on a cold, snowy night. Lupe at least better get back to No. 157 before it got dark.
On the way back, Lupe had many more adventures. Although she was following the same basic route, she varied it enough to explore a fair amount of previously unseen territory along the way. The temperature slowly dropped. It didn’t snow all the time, but it did more and more often. Never too hard, and the snowflakes were never too big.
This seemed to be a big day for discovering frozen ponds. A little E of the ridge Lupe had followed N from Coulsen Hughes Draw earlier, Loop found yet another one in a shallow valley.
A faint road leading S from this pond ultimately proved to be the same one where she’d left USFS Road No. 157 hours ago. This proved that the pond was situated at the far, far N end of Coulsen Hughes Draw.
Upon reaching No. 157 again, Lupe followed it E. She hadn’t gone too far, when she came to a barbed wire fence. Beyond it was the old cattail pond!
The cattail pond was the last pond of the day. No. 157 turned S here, and quickly led Lupe past the muddy ruts with ice in them she had seen before. Another mystery solved!
The Carolina Dog’s explorations were nearly over now. Lupe stuck to No. 157 going E. She passed by No. 157.1F again. She returned to No. 157.1A. The weird hunters were gone. Good!
It snowed harder. In a few places, a little began to stick. A 15 minute off-road foray to a potential viewpoint revealed only snow and fog. OK, that was it. The rest of the way back was all business. Lupe watched, but didn’t even bark at a herd of cows grazing near the junction of USFS Roads No. 157.1A and No. 157.
Lupe hopped into the G6 without hesitation (5:57 PM, 29°F). Moments later, a frigid wind came out of the NW blowing snow much harder than before down Castle Creek valley.
During October, 2017, Lupe had visited many of the highest peaks in the Black Hills along the E edge of the limestone plateau. In most cases she hadn’t been to these peaks in more than 2 years. Expedition No. 213 had been a fun day out, but suddenly it was looking like Crows Nest Peak would be the last the Carolina Dog would see of the high country this year.
Day 7 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range, Wyoming & Beyond!
S of Casper, roughly a mile W of Hwy 77, the wide, dusty gravel road (County Road No. 105) came to a “Y”. Off to the SW, beyond an expanse of prairie, rose an isolated mountain range. Although reaching more than 9,000 feet in elevation, these mountains didn’t appear particularly high, rugged or striking. The Shirley Mountains looked more like a collection of big forested ridges.
Lupe was coming to visit the Shirley Mountains High Point(9,151 ft.), but SPHP knew next to nothing about this place. Copies of an old topo map showed a long dotted road winding 7 miles or so in from the N that passed near the high point. A 4WD road? Probably. In that case, the G6 wouldn’t be able to do it.
That wasn’t the real issue. The Carolina Dog could travel the 7 miles on her own easily enough. Two other questions loomed larger. First, was there even access? This might be all private land. In that case, some landowner would have to be sought out, and permission obtained to even enter the area.
Second, even if access was available or could be obtained, did the road shown on the map exist in good enough condition so Lupe could follow it? If not, the American Dingo might end up lost in the forest, as SPHP tried to make sense of a multi-mile bushwhack based solely on the old topo map. These mountains didn’t appear to have many prominent features to orient by. Wandering around up there might prove confusing.
A sign at the “Y” was somewhat encouraging. Left was BLM Road No. 3115 (E end). Right was the way to BLM Road No. 3115 (W end) in 6 miles, County Road No. 291 in 19 miles, and Miracle Mile in 25 miles. A BLM road going up into the Shirley Mountains at least meant there was public access!
SPHP took a L driving S toward (on?) BLM Road No. 3115 (E end). Lupe rode with her head out the window. She was loving this! Herds of pronghorn antelope were out on the prairie. Unlike cows and horses, the antelope paid attention to the yippy-yappy Dingo. Racing across the prairie, they inspired even more vigorous, frantic Dingo antics. No doubt about it, as far as Loop was concerned, the day was off to an exciting, exhilarating start!
SPHP wasn’t nearly as thrilled. The whole trip S on BLM Road No. 3115 (E end) was a fiasco. After exploring 3 more “Y’s”, including a useless trip W partway into the impressive Creek Land & Livestock Company ranch, a road could be seen going W up into the Shirley Mountains. The stony, rutted remnant of a road the G6 was on appeared to link up to it a few miles farther on.
No way! The G6 was getting beat to death on this miserable excuse for a road. Continuing without high clearance and a rugged suspension system was a disaster waiting to happen. Disaster wasn’t likely to hold off much longer, either. SPHP did the prudent thing and turned around.
Another jarring, nerve-wracking, exciting ride back past the antelope ensued. To SPHP’s great relief, Lupe reached the first “Y” again. This time, SPHP drove W on County Road No. 105. This road did not deteriorate, and some 6 miles farther on Lupe reached another intersection. A sign indicated that a side road going S was Shirley Mountains Loop Road No. 3115. Prior Flat Campground was 0.4 mile away.
Hmm. It was a bit odd that BLM Road No. 3115 (West End) apparently entered the Shirley Mountains from the N instead of W, but whatever. No point in quibbling. SPHP was actually rather pleased. This might be the same road shown on the topo map, in which case Lupe would have public access all the way to the Shirley Mountains High Point.
SPHP made the turn S. 0.4 mile up a grassy slope, Lupe arrived at Prior Flat Campground.
Prior Flat Campground was awesome! Two loops with campsites were tucked up in or near the trees at the base of the N end of the Shirley Mountains. To the N was an expansive view of Prior Flat, a broad prairie. Beyond were thirsty-looking low mountains, ridges and hills.
The whole place felt remote, abandoned. Not a soul seemed to be around, and apparently the campground was free! No mention of fees or registrations required anywhere. A most excellent situation! Lupe and SPHP grabbed a spot along the W loop, backing the G6 into the shade of aspen trees near a picnic table.
After a quick bite to eat, Lupe and SPHP left the G6 at the campground, and started up Shirley Mountain Loop Road No. 3115 (11:04 AM, 52°F). For nearly a mile, the road went steadily SW up a forested valley. SPHP was quickly convinced this was Prior Draw. Lupe was on the exact same road on the old topo map that would lead her close to the Shirley Mountains High Point.
At the upper end of Prior Draw, the road turned E near a saddle on a ridge to the S. Lupe left the road and climbed up to the saddle. She had a view to the SW, but was more interested in a lone snow bank back in among the trees. After frolicking and cooling off on the snow, Loop returned to the road.
No. 3115 now went 0.5 mile SE, then 1.0 mile S. Lupe gained elevation the whole time. The forest sometimes gave way to large, open meadows. A high, distant mountain could be seen off to the W, but SPHP was uncertain what mountain that might be. After passing by driveways to a couple of cabins in a more wooded area, Lupe reached flatter, open ground.
The Carolina Dog was getting fairly high up now. Ahead she could see a tower at the top of a ridge. This tower was at High Point 8712 on the topo map.
Lupe followed No. 3115 to the top of the ridge. Two side roads, not far from one another, led off in different directions. The first road went NE to the tower, which was now close at hand. The second road disappeared into a forest to the WSW. Instead of going to the tower, Loop took the road into the forest. This had to be the way to Peak 8720.
Peak8720 was a Brian Kalet peak, meaning simply that Brian Kalet, a prolific peakbagger, had entered the mountain into the Peakbagger.com database that Lupe also uses to track her ascents. Early in 2017, Lupe had visited quite a number of Brian Kalet peaks in the southern Black Hills.
Since the Peak 8720 summit was only a 0.5 mile side trip, Lupe might as well visit this Brian Kalet peak, too! She’d already basically climbed it. The top of the mountain was no more than 40 to 60 feet higher than where she was now.
The side road going through the forest brought Lupe to a humongous snow drift. The road disappeared beneath it.
The giant snow bank was just inside the W edge of the forest. The snow must have drifted in last winter driven by winds sweeping over a huge flat meadow that was directly ahead beyond the trees. Since the road disappeared beneath the snow, Lupe had no choice but to go right over the drift, a task she thoroughly enjoyed.
On the other side of the snow bank, the road reappeared. Lupe followed it as it emerged from the forest and continued through the meadow. The terrain was flat as a pancake. The meadow extended all the way to the edge of a canyon, but the road turned N halfway there. Lupe left the road to go find out what could be seen from the meadow’s edge.
A strong W wind swept across the meadow. Lupe was traveling right into the teeth of it. The wind grew stronger and stronger as she neared the edge of the meadow. By the time she got there, Loop was standing in a gale. She had a good view of the Cave Creek valley below, and mostly forested mountains and ridges beyond.
The view was nice, but Lupe didn’t want to linger in this gale any longer than she had to. According to the topo map, the true summit of Peak 8720 was somewhere in the nearby forest to the N. Among the trees and away from the edge, it wouldn’t be nearly so windy over there. Lupe was more than happy to go looking for the summit.
As the map indicated, the terrain was somewhat higher in the forest than in the meadow, but not by an awful lot. This whole area varied very little in elevation. Lupe and SPHP marched around for a while looking for a clear high point, but found nothing obvious. Close enough for Dingo work! Lupe posed for a photo at a point that seemed to be about as high as anywhere else, and called it good.
No more time to waste on this! Lupe still had miles to go to get to the Shirley Mountains High Point. She left Peak 8720’s official Dingo summit heading back out of the woods and across the big, windy meadow.
Lupe returned to BLM Road No. 3115 again near the tower at High Point 8712. No. 3115 had been quite a good road all this way. SPHP might easily have driven the G6 this far. This would have been about it, though. As Lupe continued SE on No. 3115, the road lost elevation steadily and became rougher than the G6 would have liked.
More than a mile S of the tower, No. 3115 bottomed out where it crossed a small, clear stream only a few feet wide. This was Cave Creek. Lupe took a little break here for water and Taste of the Wild. She had lost more than 450 feet of elevation since leaving Peak 8720, and was about to have to regain all of it and more.
Break time done, Lupe crossed Cave Creek. A long, dull, dusty road trek ensued. No. 3115 went SW for 0.80 mile, ultimately climbing a good way up a steepish hill. It then turned and went S more than a mile before bending to the SE. Most of the terrain was forested, but Lupe came to scattered meadows, too. A few brief downhill sections broke an otherwise steady grind higher.
Lupe passed a few minor side roads, which went who knows where? None of these roads, including No. 3115, had any traffic at all. Signage was missing or meaningless. No. 3115 eventually topped out at a large, tree-rimmed meadow. The road turned E here, then began losing elevation. Lupe quickly came to what appeared to be a more significant intersection.
A sign at the intersection meant nothing to SPHP, but less than a mile off to the SE Lupe could see a forested hill a couple hundred feet higher than where she was now. The Shirley Mountains High Point? Although certainly ready to get there by now, SPHP hoped that wasn’t it. It didn’t look like Loop would see anything but trees from there.
Lupe stayed on No. 3115 going E from the intersection. The road dipped a little more, then angled SE climbing the forested hill she had seen. When No. 3115 looked like it was about to start losing elevation again, Lupe left it. If this hill was really the Shirley Mountains High Point, the summit ought to be only a couple hundred yards to the SW from here.
A small meadow sloped up toward open forest. In the forest, Loop found several rock outcroppings higher than anything else around. The two highest were separated by 200 feet. A big snow bank was melting quietly away on part of the ground between them.
The rock formation to the S, a short ridge of white rocks 15 feet taller than the surrounding terrain, was clearly the highest point on this hill. Lupe scrambled up. Ten feet S of the highest rocks at the N end of the little ridge, Lupe found what she was looking for – a survey benchmark stamped “Shirley”.
Old pieces of wood and long strands of smooth wire no longer serving any discernable purpose were scattered around the summit ridge near the benchmark. Odd. Lupe went and stood on the highest rocks at the N end of the little ridge to claim her peakbagging success.
Sadly, after coming all this long way, Lupe had no views of anything other than the forest from the Shirley Mountains High Point. Unsurprising after seeing this forested hill from the NW, but still disappointing to SPHP. Lupe seemed happy enough, though.
Lupe’s last rest break back at Cave Creek had been a while ago. Now that she’d made it to the Shirley Mountains High Point, it was time for another one. Loop went NNW from the summit over to the snow bank closer to the 2nd highest rock formation. Here she had some Taste of the Wild and relaxed in the shade.
Lupe had followed No. 3115 a good 7 miles to get here. Yes, it was great that Loopster had reached the Shirley Mountains High Point, but SPHP remained dissatisfied with the lack of any significant views. From the top of an entire mountain range, you’d think you would see something. Not here. Even on the long trek, Lupe hadn’t seen too much of interest.
Hours had gone by and it was a long way back, but maybe Lupe wasn’t done yet? The map showed another benchmark on another mountain 1.25+ miles to the SE as the crow flies. Quealey Benchmark(9,150 ft.) was only 1 foot lower than the Shirley Mountains High Point. Maybe Lupe could see something from over there?
Going to Quealey Benchmark actually meant another mile E on BLM Road No. 3115, plus a 0.67 mile bushwhack S of the road. By the time Lupe reached Quealey Benchmark, she would be nearly 9 miles from Prior Flat Campground. Worth it? Unknown. Now or never, though. When her break was done, Lupe returned to BLM Road No. 3115 and headed E.
A long forested ridge came into view. Not too promising. Somewhere near the S end of it was Quealey Benchmark. The road lost 250 feet of elevation before starting to climb the ridge. Instead of following the road all the way to its next high point, Lupe cut SE through the forest to save a little distance.
Once the American Dingo reached the ridgeline, she turned S. The broad ridge sloped gradually upward. This was easy terrain. At first, Loop was in open forest. She eventually came to meadows, but even at the meadows, forest always prevailed along the edges of the ridge. No views.
At the first big meadow Lupe came to, a rocky high point was in view not too far away. She went to it and scrambled to the top. No sign of the actual benchmark.
Onward! Continuing S, suddenly there was movement! Close by, a coyote emerged from the forest heading E across the meadow. When Lupe saw it, she trotted toward the coyote wagging her tail. She recognized it as another canine and was hoping to make a new friend.
The coyote didn’t want to be friends with Lupe, and most certainly didn’t want to be friends with SPHP. As Lupe approached, the coyote fled. Instantly, the emboldened American Dingo gave chase!
It was an exhilarating moment, but the coyote was gone in a flash. Lupe returned to SPHP. She continued S finding more rock formations, each one higher than the last. Lupe investigated them all, but turned up nothing.
The big meadow ended. Forest was ahead. Lupe plunged right into it. She was still gaining elevation, so it was no wonder she hadn’t found the Quealey Benchmark yet. She emerged from the forest at a second big meadow. Another rock formation, largest of any she’d come to so far wasn’t far off.
As Lupe drew near it, SPHP could see some wood and smooth wire up there. Oh, that was promising! Lupe led the way up.
When SPHP joined Lupe at the top, it was clear in an instant that this was the highest point on the ridge. Another substantial high point off to the SW wasn’t quite as high as this one. Everywhere else, the terrain was sloping down. Best of all, Lupe had a sweet view of a big snow-capped mountain far to the S from here.
Lupe was at the true summit of this whole long ridge! The Quealey Benchmark had to be around here somewhere, didn’t it?
A shiny metal hubcap was hidden under a juniper bush. Moving the hubcap aside revealed – yes, a survey benchmark!
To SPHP’s surprise, the benchmark was not stamped “Quealey” as shown on the old topo map. Instead it was stamped “Que Ley”, Spanish for “What Law?”.
Quealey or Que Ley, which was right, the map or the survey benchmark? No telling. Lupe and SPHP preferred Que Ley! What Law? was a cool name for a mountain. It conjured up images of outlaws hanging around in this territory back in the days of the Old West. Maybe a really Old West, if the Spanish had named this place.
At any rate, Que Ley Benchmark(9,150 ft.), though officially one silly foot lower than the Shirley Mountains High Point, was everything the Shirley Mountains High Point was not. Coyotes roamed this place. The Que Ley name was cool. The view of the distant snow-capped peak was awesome. The summit was farther from the road, and felt even more remote. SPHP was glad Lupe had come here!
Yes, Que Ley Benchmark was worth the extra effort!
After enjoying the views up on Que Ley Benchmark, Lupe went to visit the other high point to the SW. Just to make absolutely certain it wasn’t higher, you know. It wasn’t, but also offered some decent views.
And that was that. Except for the long trek back, nearly all of it retracing her route here, Lupe’s big adventure in the Shirley Mountains was over.
Of course, the Carolina Dog made the most of the return trip! She ran, explored, and sniffed.
Loop even made the 0.5 mile side trip back to look for Peak 8720’s Dingo summit again. The sun was down by the time she got to the big, flat meadow. The wind, which hadn’t been much of an issue up on the Shirley Mountains High Point or Que Ley Benchmark, was still blowing here, though not nearly as powerfully as earlier in the day.
Lupe and SPHP searched around for the same Dingo summit as before, but couldn’t find it. Light was fading and the forest was getting gloomy, so a new Dingo summit had to be selected. Naturally, this still counted as an official ascent as far Lupe and SPHP were concerned!
Once Looper was back at BLM Road No. 3115 following her 2nd visit to Peak 8720, it was all downhill the remaining 2.5 miles to Prior Flat campground. The Carolina Dog was still on high ground, but twilight was fading fast, when she saw the distant high peak to the W again.
Start – 10:28 AM, 46°F, at the first pullout along West Deerfield Road near Castle Creek W of the intersection with Deerfield Road (County Road No. 306)
Fall colors were over and done with. Sad, but the glories of autumn fade quickly. Nothing new about that. Lupe was still enthused! This bright, comfortably cool day in late October was made to order for a continuation of the Carolina Dog’s recent tour of some of the highest peaks of the Black Hills along the E edge of the western limestone plateau.
Today, Lupe would visit 4 such peaks. She’d been to all of them before more than once, but it had been well over two years since her most recent visit and would be fun to see them again. Besides, SPHP had promised Loop she would get to explore a whole new canyon on the way back at the end of the day.
Something old, something new, that’s what we’re gonna do!
If that’s supposed to be poetry, SPHP, don’t quit the day job.
Hah, too late, I already have!
My, what a big deficit you’re running, SPHP!
Never mind that, the better to go adventuring with you, my dear Dingo!
Loopster was totally in favor of that. She started off with a quick look at pretty Castle Creek, which somehow always has good flow even during seasonally dry periods like this. Then the American Dingo crossed West Deerfield Road and began the climb toward her first peakbagging objective, South Castle Rock(6,840 ft.).
A short climb through a pine forest brought Loop to a grassy field. The upper S face of South Castle Rock was already in view. This was going to be a nice, easy stroll most of the way. Lupe headed N through the field, passed through another forested stretch, and was soon back out in the open again. The only short steepish part of the whole climb was up in the trees directly ahead.
The best views from South Castle Rock aren’t from the summit, but from limestone cliffs high up on the far S ridge. That was right on Lupe’s way to the summit, so she went there first. She had a great panoramic view to the S and E from here. To the N, Loop could see the end of nearby Castle Rock’s E ridge.
South Castle Rock has two high points. Being slightly higher, the N high point is the actual summit. From the cliffs along the S ridge, Lupe circled well W of the S high point before turning N again.
The summit wasn’t far off, but the discouraging sight of all the deadfall timber Lupe had to traverse to get to there made SPHP realize the Komperdell trekking poles generously gifted by Jobe Wymore had been forgotten in the G6. Doh! SPHP had used them for the first time a week ago on Expedition No. 211. The poles had been quite useful for nagivating deadfall then, and would have been handy to have here. Oh, well!
The true summit of South Castle Rock(6,840 ft.) sits at the N end of a fairly large limestone cap surrounded by low cliffs. Getting through the deadfall to reach the cap was the hard part. That done, Lupe circled to the SW where the cliffs were lowest. One mighty, unassisted, clawing leap, and she was on top!
At the highest point at the N end, someone had built a cairn since Lupe was last here. Trees hid the views in most directions, but Loop did have a tremendous view of Reynolds Prairie to the E. She also had a clear view of Castle Rock’s E ridge to the NE.
After a short break near the cairn, Lupe left South Castle Rock’s limestone cap at the same SW point where she’d leapt up. Less than a 0.25 mile trek brought her to Castle Rock’s E ridge.
The E ridge was 200 feet wide and rounded, sloping down toward cliffs on both sides. The top was nearly level along most of its length. Lupe followed the ridge ESE all the way to where the ground started dropping toward the cliffs at the far end. The true summit seemed to be here near the ESE end, but it was hard to tell for certain. Having traveled the whole length of the ridge, Loop must have been at the actual high point somewhere along the way.
The apparent summit of Castle Rock(6,783 ft.) was forested and clogged with deadfall, but Lupe had great views from the cliffs along the edges of the ridge in every direction except back to the W.
After visiting Castle Rock’s summit on the E ridge, Lupe headed back W. Although the mountain’s long, skinny N ridge is somewhat lower, she went out onto it. A big, flat, barren area at the southern end of the N ridge provides good views to the W and NE. This area is Lupe and SPHP’s favorite part of Castle Mountain. Despite the openness, the whole place has a secluded, tucked-away feel.
The easy way off Castle Rock’s N ridge is found on the E side almost at the S end. Lupe followed an animal trail down there. She lost elevation traveling N well below Castle Rock’s N ridge where the slope wasn’t too bad. This was a forested area full of long grass hiding an annoying amount of deadfall timber. SPHP was soon wishing for those Komperdell trekking poles again.
Nipple Butte(6,810 ft.), Lupe’s next destination, was 0.5 mile away. The deadfall didn’t let up until she reached the saddle leading to Nipple Butte from Castle Rock. Once she traversed the saddle, the climb steepened quickly. Lupe was approaching from the S, but the best way up is a chute on the WNW side of the mountain, so she circled around to the W as she went higher.
The top of Nipple Butte is a ragged, rugged chunk of limestone with lots of broken rock below on most of the surrounding slopes. Of all the peaks Lupe was visiting on Expedition No. 212, Nipple Butte was the only one that was at all scrambly. The Carolina Dog got a bit too high, too soon, reaching the rocky slopes while she was still SW of the summit.
It would have been faster, if Loop and SPHP had circled around farther to the W before getting so high, but it didn’t really matter. Lupe crossed a slope of broken limestone scree, and reached the chute on the WNW side of the mountain.
The chute was steep, but not long. Lupe was at the top in no time. Before going to Nipple Butte’s true summit, she got up on the high point N of the upper end of the chute.
From the top of the chute, a six foot high wall of limestone was all Lupe had to get up to reach the summit. The six feet were simply too high and vertical for her to manage on her own. However, there were a couple of rocks SPHP could stand on from which she could be boosted to the top.
Meekly, the American Dingo lifted one of her front paws. She needed help and was ready for assistance. SPHP picked her up, stepped into position, and lifted her to the small limestone platform at the top of Nipple Butte. SPHP then scrambled up after her.
A single chunk of limestone 1.5 feet higher than the rest of the summit platform is the true summit. It was large enough for Lupe to stand on. So easy, yet dramatic. She’d made it! There Lupe stood, on the tiny absolute top of Nipple Butte(6,810 ft.) with 360° views!
Oh, yeah! Nice work, Loop. Photo time!
Lupe and SPHP sat together up on Nipple Butte for a little while. The sense of space and airiness from the tiny platform is among the best on offer anywhere in the Black Hills.
When the time came to go, SPHP climbed down first. The American Dingo remained on top for one last photo atop the summit rock.
One more peak to go! SPHP helped Loopster off the summit platform. Puppy, ho! Back down the steep WNW chute to broken limestone scree leading to scattered boulders, and finishing it all off with the usual deadfall infested trek in the forest.
Lupe reached USFS Road No. 189 at the saddle leading to Flag Mountain. Half a mile NW of here a spur road leaves No. 189. The spur winds 0.75 mile NE almost to the top of Flag Mountain.
Nah, not that way! Instead, Loop crossed No. 189 heading N. Traveling directly up Flag Mountain’s S ridge would be shorter and more fun. An hour after leaving Nipple Butte, the Carolina Dog was standing in the remnant of the old fire lookout tower on Flag Mountain(6,937 ft.).
Flag Mountain was the highest of any of the peaks Lupe climbed today. The views were grand, though this much larger summit area did not give quite the same feeling of exposure and airiness she’d had up on Nipple Butte.
Early in the day, there had only been a light NW breeze. By the time Lupe reached Nipple Butte, the wind had switched to the SW and picked up to about 15 mph. The same SW wind was still blowing up here. With the sun now noticeably progressing toward the horizon, the breeze felt a bit chilly.
Lupe and SPHP lingered up on Flag Mountain anyway. This was warm compared to what would likely be coming before too long. Who knew how many more weeks it would be before cold and snow would take over up in this western high country?
With 4 successful ascents, Lupe had completed all of her peakbagging objectives for Expedition No. 212. The time had come for SPHP to honor the promise to let her roam some never before explored territory in the big canyon W of South Castle Rock, Castle Rock and Nipple Butte.
Lupe left Flag Mountain traveling W. She ultimately took a route down similar to her path up, following the S ridge much of the way. An early turn to the SW served as shortcut to USFS Road No. 189.
Once across No. 189, the American Dingo began her explorations of the big canyon traveling SSW. It was downhill from here all the way to West Deerfield Road.
Lupe saw lots of deer. She got muddy paws and drank from a small stream, a tiny tributary of Horsethief Creek, itself no great torrent. Looper was one busy Carolina Dog the whole way, free to run and play.
The sun was close to setting by the time Lupe neared West Deerfield Road. The G6 was a only short walk SE along the road. Expedition No. 212’s adventures were almost complete. Behind Loop, the top of South Castle Peak still glowed in the last light of day.
That glow was gone before Lupe even got to the G6 (6:01 PM, 36°F). Expedition No. 212 might be officially over, but Lupe’s fun wasn’t. She was back early enough so twilight would last a long time.
For nearly an hour on the ride home, a frantic American Dingo watched for deer, cows and horses to bark at. Many decibels provided near constant earsplitting proof of the success of this project. No doubt a hugely satisfying encore to a splendid day!
Part 2 of Day 5, plus Day 6 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range, Wyoming & Beyond!
Reluctantly, Lupe left the huge old squirrel tree at the edge of the beautiful green glade. She quickly forgot about squirrels, sniffing her way NNE. The Carolina Dog came to a burned forest, passed through it, and entered another section of live forest where she crossed a dirt road. By the time she reached the W side of the Meadow Creek valley, Loop was back in burned out forest again.
After having a great time climbing nearby Squaw Mountain(9,313 ft.) earlier in the day, Loop was on her way to Buffalo Peak(9,387 ft.). The summit was now less than a mile to the NE. Unfortunately, the weather was deteriorating. Clouds were moving in. A sudden wind arose, and distant thunder could be heard. Better take cover, but where?
Glancing around, SPHP spotted a square recess in a big rock formation. The opening appeared to have a bit of an overhang. The recess was 70 feet higher up a moderately steep slope to the SW. Lupe could hide out there until this squall passed.
No other option was readily available. Loop and SPHP climbed the slope up to the square recess. The opening was large enough to accommodate both Lupe and SPHP, with sufficient overhanging rock to provide decent protection from rain or hail. Sweet!
While the American Dingo watched from the safety of the square recess in the rock, storm clouds swept across the sky from the SE. Only a small patch of blue sky remained to the N. Lupe saw a single bolt of lightning miles to the E. An eerie, angry buzzing or humming sound filled the whole valley. The peculiar noise went on and on.
The wind blowing among the dead trees must be making that strange sound! From here, Lupe could see nothing but burnt forest in Meadow Creek valley. On the other side of the valley, the entire SW face of Buffalo Peak had burned, too.
Thunder rumbled constantly. While Lupe waited for the storm to hit, SPHP had plenty of time to check maps and study the SW face of Buffalo Peak. The plan had been to go N up the Meadow Creek valley, gradually turning NE. When Lupe got high enough she would turn SE, approaching the mountain from the NW. The topo map seemed to suggest this would be the easiest way up.
However, the SW face of Buffalo Peak didn’t look all that bad. It appeared Lupe might be able to go right on up a long, wide slope between two large rock ridges. Above this wide chute, she would need to turn E to reach the top of the mountain, but that looked feasible from down here, too.
After a huge, suspenseful buildup, nothing happened. No hail, no rain – not even a drop. The distant thunder and the odd buzzing sound both faded away as storm clouds sailed off to the NW. Blue skies returned. Buffalo Peak was in sunshine. More than 40 minutes had gone by. This was her chance! Lupe had better get going!
The American Dingo headed NE down into the valley. She crossed Meadow Creek, which was only a small stream. Soon she reached the base of the long slope up the SW face of Buffalo Peak. Even from here, it didn’t look bad.
Lupe began climbing. The long chute was very wide, bordered by large rock formations on both sides. At first, Looper encountered quite a lot of deadfall timber. Higher up, less deadfall existed. The slope was steep, but not at all scary. Lupe traversed a mix of bare ground, scattered yellow flowers, and numerous small to medium-sized loose rocks.
The American Dingo made great progress, especially after SPHP got above the worst of the deadfall. Lupe made it up to the top of the long chute. She now needed to angle more to the E. What appeared to be Buffalo Peak’s summit was still a good 300 feet higher. Getting up there looked somewhat more complicated from here than it had appeared from below. However, Lupe was able to gain elevation traveling ENE below a high ridge of rock.
Shortly after reaching the upper end of the SW chute, it became clear another squall was on the way. More clouds were approaching rapidly, blown in on a strong SE breeze. No lightning was seen, but initially faint thunder grew steadily louder. Time to seek refuge again!
A great many large rocks were in the area, but places to hide beneath an overhang were scarce. Lupe and SPHP scouted out possibilities with increasing urgency. A couple of tight spots were all that could be found. SPHP stuffed the backpack beneath a small overhang. Loop and SPHP jammed together into a different barely large enough space under a big rock nearby.
Wind blew. Thunder rumbled, but no lighting was seen. A series of threatening clouds raced by. From the cramped space, SPHP had a glimpse of wild-looking clouds and blue sky far to the S.
Ho hum. Dullsville. Lupe had gotten used to this routine. She dozed on SPHP’s lap, waiting for the squall to pass.
Eventually, the distant blue sky to the S appeared to be heading this way. Once again, not a drop of rain, despite all the sound and fury! When thunder could no longer be heard, and sunshine reached Squaw Mountain 1.5 miles away, Lupe and SPHP clambered out from under the boulder.
Another 30 minutes had been lost. The summit of Buffalo Peak was still 200 feet higher. Lupe resumed her ascent.
Within 10 minutes, the American Dingo had scrambled up enough boulders to reach a large amphitheater where the ground sloped toward the NW. The amphitheater contained burnt trees, quite a few large low rocks, and a fair amount of bare earth with little vegetation. Around the perimeter were 3 large ridges of rock, with openings to the SW and NW.
Of the 3 high points on the rocky ridges around the amphitheater, the lowest was clearly the one to the SW. From below, the one to the SE had appeared to be the mountain’s summit. However, from the amphitheater it looked fairly certain the large ridge to the N was actually highest.
Lupe went to check out the SE ridge first, in case part of it was hidden from view. The possibility that the true summit was over here hadn’t been completely ruled out yet. As soon as Loop got up on top, though, it was clear this was not the true summit. Nevertheless, the views were awesome!
From the high point on the SE ridge, the true summit of Buffalo Peak was clearly seen off to the NNW. Lupe had to get over there to claim her peakbagging success. Off Lupe went. A scramble up from the SE was easily accomplished. The mighty Carolina Dog stood at the very top of Buffalo Peak(9,387 ft.)!
A plastic jar tucked next to the two highest rocks on the mountain contained a registry. Six people ranging from 10 to 64 years old had made the trek up Buffalo Peak and started the registry on Memorial Day, 2013. Since then, only one other person had signed in on 7-12-16. Naturally, Lupe’s name got added.
It was a good thing Lupe made it to the top of Buffalo Peak when she did. Before long, the weather was deteriorating again. The entire sky grew dark. Distant peaks disappeared in a soft, gray haze. Nearby peaks could still be seen clearly, except when wisps of fog streamed by on the relentless SE breeze. Thunder roared threats from afar.
SPHP started down first. At the top of Buffalo Peak, Lupe stood alone in the wind waiting for the signal to come.
The signal was given. Lupe bounded down. Now it was a race against the storm! She scrambled down to the amphitheater of dead trees, crossed it heading S, and started descending the mountain’s SW slope. Loop hadn’t lost much elevation before it was necessary to hide again.
Another overhanging rock was found to squeeze in beneath. This time there was room for the backpack, too. Lupe and SPHP waited. No blue sky could be seen, only a light band of weird yellow sky on the SW horizon. The wind picked up. Sprinkles of rain dashed against the rocks.
Thunder echoed closer than before, but Lupe remained calm. She dozed while SPHP stroked her warm fur and soft ears. It rained harder. Water began dripping into Lupe’s refuge, ultimately becoming a steady stream. The Carolina Dog curled up on SPHP’s lap, comfortable and dry, while SPHP sat on increasingly muddy ground.
Half an hour passed with no changes. How long was this going to go on? The Carolina Dog might be fine here, but SPHP was not looking forward to a long night crammed under a rock. That was what it would come down to if the storm didn’t let up. Getting drenched didn’t seem like a good plan either. Better stay as dry as possible. No reasonable choice other than to wait it out.
An hour went by. It began to hail. Nothing major. Pea-sized hailstones ricocheted off nearby rocks. A few struck stinging glancing blows, but did no real damage. Fun, fun!
After 10 minutes, the hail let up. It had been the storm’s last hurrah. A SE breeze remained, but now the sky was clearing again. Not a moment too soon, either. The sun was getting low. Better make tracks. Lupe and SPHP set off down Buffalo Peak, retracing the Carolina Dog’s earlier route up.
The sun was still up when Lupe reached the top of the long, wide SW chute leading down to the Meadow Creek valley. By the time she reached the worst of the deadfall timber at the lower end of the slope, sunlight remained only high up on Squaw Mountain.
Puppy, ho! Onward! No time to lose. Lupe crossed Meadow Creek again, and turned S. As twilight weakened, she passed through the burnt forest and reached the live forest. A dark, shady gloom prevailed. Lupe kept going. Across the dirt road, out of the gloom, and into another burnt forest.
Little light remained by the time Lupe made it back to the gnarled old squirrel tree. The tent and sleeping bags hung in it were only slightly damp. At least that had worked. In almost total darkness, SPHP pitched Lupe’s “tiny house” beneath a starry sky. What a day it had been! Sweet success! Lupe had managed to climb both Squaw Mountain(9,313 ft.) and Buffalo Peak(9,387 ft.).
Once safely inside her “tiny house”, Lupe was ravenous. She gobbled down her Alpo, before curling up on her red sleeping bag. In no time, she was out like a light. (End of Day 5)
It was a cold night. The wind blew for hours, yet the American Dingo hardly stirred. When she did, SPHP kept wrapping the red sleeping bag over her for warmth. She must have snoozed well, much better than SPHP. When dawn arrived, Loopster was ready for action. She demanded to be let out!
No problem. Loop wouldn’t run off, not with a giant squirrel tree right outside. SPHP unzipped the tent door. Out she went. An excited yipping and yapping commenced immediately. The squirrel tree hadn’t failed her. An annoyed squirrel scolded the Carolina Dog for rudely breaking the early peace and tranquility of the new day. The scolding only egged her on.
The excitement finally died down and became an occasional thing. SPHP dozed fitfully for another 2 hours, checking on Looper every so often. She was always there, waiting and watching beneath the huge squirrel tree.
The sun was well up by the time SPHP managed to spring back to life. A stroll out in the sunny green glade to take off the morning chill was in order. The warm sunlight felt good.
The original plan had been for Lupe to climb Buffalo Peak today, but she’d already done it. Fortunately, there was something else fun to do on the way back to the G6. Looper could climb Twin Peaks(9,280 ft.) again. Twin Peaks was the mountain Lupe had climbed a year ago where she’d first spotted Squaw Mountain and Buffalo Peak.
Lupe stood guard at the base of the squirrel tree while SPHP packed everything up. When all was ready, Loop had to leave the squirrels in peace. She didn’t mind. By now she was ready for more exploring. She crossed the green glade heading S and entered the forest.
It was 2 miles back to the minor pass S of the big rock formation close to where Lupe had left Twin Peaks Trail No. 618 yesterday. On the way, Loop stayed W of the route she had taken to Squaw Mountain. Much of the time she was in forest, but a brighter, more open forest than she’d been in before.
Loop made it back to the minor pass. SPHP ditched the tent and sleeping bags near some rocks. The Twin Peaks summit was only 0.5 mile S from here. Lupe crossed Twin Peaks Trail No. 618 and took off into the forest again, starting her ascent. At first, she had only the forest and deadfall timber to contend with. Higher up, she reached rock formations, much steeper ground, and even some snow.
The Carolina Dog came to a rocky high point SPHP recognized from last year. As she continued higher, the mountain seemed more and more familiar. For the most part, Lupe took a more direct route straight up from the N this time. She didn’t scramble up onto the same NW ridge she had approached from last year until very near the summit.
On the way up the N slope, the NW ridge protected Loopster from the weather. Upon attaining the summit, however, she was exposed to the full force of a gale blowing out of the SW. Puffy white clouds floated swiftly by. The sky was mostly blue, and the day sunny, but it wasn’t warm or relaxing up here.
Lupe detested the wind. She stood on the summit long enough for a short photo session. After that, SPHP could gaze at the views without her. Loop hid down in a grassy slot between some of the highest rocks where she was at least partly sheltered from the relentless, stiff breeze. The American Dingo had some sense, even if SPHP did not.
The views from Twin Peaks were fabulous! Seeing them again was great fun, especially looking over at Squaw Mountain and Buffalo Peak now that Lupe had been to both. While Lupe hid out, SPHP endured the gale a little longer.
It was a shame it was so windy up on Twin Peaks, but SPHP was glad Lupe had returned. Still, 20 minutes of this gale, and even SPHP was ready to retreat. Lupe was more than happy to start the descent. She definitely preferred roaming the forest to the conditions at the top.
Looper returned to the minor pass N of Twin Peaks. SPHP retrieved the tent and sleeping bags. Together, Lupe and SPHP started E back down Twin Peaks Trail No. 618.
At 2:19 PM, Loop arrived back at the trailhead. After a bite to eat, both Lupe and SPHP were overcome with weariness. Adventuring can take it out of you! Nothing wrong with taking a nap, is there?
Naptime lasted nearly 3 hours. When she awoke, Lupe’s adventures in the Laramie Mountains were about over for now. During the last 6 days, she’d had peakbagging successes and failures, spent countless hours sniffing and exploring, seen many beautiful things, and even faced some dangers. As wonderful as it had all been, the moment had come to move on.
On the way back to Douglas, Lupe rode with her head out the window of the G6, barking vigorously and happily at everything she saw along the way. SPHP stopped at several scenic spots. The SW wind still blew hard, but that didn’t detract from the beautiful western scenery.
Upon reaching Douglas, WY, Lupe and SPHP headed W on I-25. A side trip S to Ayer’s Natural Bridge ended in disappointment. A sign said the park closes at 5 PM, and it was more than an hour later than that. Didn’t matter. The sign also said no pets allowed. Oh, well.
Lupe was happy anyway, barking at the buffalo she saw from the G6 in a big field along the gravel road.
Back at I-25, SPHP drove W. Bright-eyed Lupe rode up even with the dash, comfy on her pile of pillows and blankets. With the Laramie Mountains to the S, and high plains to the N, the sinking sun shone upon her eager face. Loop was on the road to adventure once more! Tomorrow she’d be in unexplored territory beyond the Laramie Range.
Wow, surprising! Snow on the road here. Only a dusting really, but it was the first snow Lupe had seen up in the Black Hills so far this fall. A harbinger of things to come, but probably not in quantity for another month yet. American Dingoes love snow, if there’s not too much of it. Lupe was in a cheerful mood as she began her trek up Bear Mountain along USFS Road No. 299.1C.
Bear Mountain(7,166 ft.) was only a couple miles SW, so it wouldn’t take her long to get there.
More than 0.5 mile from where she’d started, Lupe reached an intersection. USFS Road No. 299.1C turned N here. Loop took No. 299.1J heading W instead. Up until now, the road had been in the forest, but No. 299.1J soon curved SW entering more open territory.
Although Lupe came to no more intersections, by the time she reached a barbed wire fence practically at the top of the mountain, a marker said she was on No. 299.1K. Exactly where the transition occurred wasn’t clear. It hardly mattered. Lupe didn’t care. The important thing was she had made it to the top of Bear Mountain.
Lupe went over to the base of the fire lookout tower to claim her latest peakbagging success!
This was Lupe’s 3rd ascent of the 3rd highest mountain in the Black Hills. On one of her previous visits, Lupe had actually gone all the way to the top of the lookout tower. She and SPHP had paid a visit to the friendly forest ranger on active duty inside the ranger quarters.
No one was around today. With no opportunity for another social visit in the comfort of the ranger station, Lupe didn’t bother to climb the tower. A chilly 15 mph breeze blew out of the N. The cold wind would only be worse higher up.
Instead, Lupe went to a small limestone outcropping SE of the tower to check out the views.
The best views were off to the E where Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, dominated the scene. Lupe also enjoyed a panoramic view to the S. The American Dingo could see much of the southern Black Hills from here.
Climbing Bear Mountain was only the beginning for Lupe. The plan was to visit Odakota Mountain(7,200 ft.) nearly 4 miles to the N, too. Since Lupe and SPHP had gotten off to a rather late start, it was already past noon. With days getting short in mid-October, Lupe couldn’t linger on Bear Mountain too long.
After checking out the views, Loopster briefly dropped by the Bear Mountain fire lookout tower again before continuing on her way.
Both Bear Mountain and Odakota Mountain lie along the E edge of the high limestone plateau country of the western Black Hills. The first part of Lupe’s journey N to Odakota Mountain would be along the E rim of the high country.
From the Bear Mountain fire lookout tower, Lupe took the same road she had come in on NE a short distance. When she got close to the E rim, she followed another road that angled N. This road eventually turned NW. Lupe left the road to continue N along the rim. Odakota Mountain was already in sight!
The terrain along the E rim was hilly. The area was forested, but generally not too densely. However, a fair amount of deadfall timber existed in spots. In a couple of places, the deadfall was dreadfully thick.
Back this summer, Lupe’s mountaineering friend Jobe Wymore had given SPHP a free pair of excellent Komperdell trekking poles. SPHP had never used trekking poles before, and until today had done nothing with Jobe’s gift. SPHP quickly discovered that the poles really did help going through the deadfall!
For 1.5 miles, Lupe traveled N near the E rim of the limestone plateau country. When the American Dingo finally reached a road, SPHP knew she had arrived at an intermediate objective, the Boy Scout overlook.
Coming from the W, USFS Road No. 291.3K leads almost to the edge of the E rim here. A short path goes from the highest ground down to a large, flat limestone platform perched at the top of sheer cliffs. A pond a mile to the NE near the Medicine Mountain Boy Scout camp can be seen far below. The platform also provides sweeping views of the Black Hills to the E.
The Boy Scout overlook is a favorite spot. Lupe had been here before on other Black Hills expeditions. Before taking a Taste of the Wild and water break, Lupe took a look at the glorious views.
Although Odakota Mountain was now only 2.5 miles away to the N as the crow flies, Lupe’s break at the Boy Scout overlook had to be kept short. To actually get to Odakota Mountain, she had to swing more than 1.5 miles W going down Grand Vista Draw. She would then have to go another 1.5 miles back E again on her way up Long Draw. All that extra mileage, plus the distance N!
Loop curled up next to SPHP on the limestone platform for a few minutes, but soon it was back to business. Lupe left the Boy Scout overlook heading W on USFS Road No. 291.3K.
In the upper end of Grand Vista Draw, Lupe reached an intersection. The Carolina Dog left No. 291.3K to take No. 291.3A down the wide, shallow canyon. Beautiful light brown grass lined the road. Lupe passed through a stand of aspens where a few colorful leaves still held on.
The trek down Grand Vista Draw was easy. On the way, Lupe saw scattered limestone formations along the canyon sides, but they weren’t high or dramatic. Meadows dominating the upper end of the draw gave way to pine forests lower down. Finally, near the low point where Grand Vista Draw and Long Draw meet, Lupe reached a line of boulders placed across the road.
A few boulders couldn’t stop Lupe! She continued N on the road, but it ended abruptly in the forest. A short, shady trek brought Lupe to Spring Creek.
Loop and SPHP crossed Spring Creek (those Komperdell trekking poles proving useful once again!), and climbed through a small meadow to reach a minor road. The minor road quickly brought Lupe to USFS Road No. 693, which she could follow all the way up Long Draw.
Long Draw did seem long. Along the way, Lupe saw deer. She found squirrels to bark at. She had a fun time, but at last the Carolina Dog reached the high point of No. 693 at the upper end of Long Draw where the road turned N.
At the high point, Lupe abandoned the road. The summit of Odakota Mountain was now only 0.25 mile ESE through the forest. SPHP was surprised when Lupe drew near the small, slightly higher ridge where the summit is located. A barbed wire fence crushed in many spots by collapsing trees killed by pine bark beetles had been repaired since Lupe was last here.
The repaired fence was good news! Lupe has been seriously injured by downed barbed wire several times in the past. This had been a dangerous place. It still was to some degree. Even though the fence was fixed, a tremendous amount of deadfall timber still infested the area. Lupe and SPHP cautiously picked a way through the mess.
Lupe found the small cairn near the E end of the relatively short summit ridge. She had made it to the top of Odakota Mountain(7,200 ft.), the 2nd highest mountain in South Dakota!
Although Odakota Mountain is the 2nd highest in South Dakota, the summit doesn’t provide much in the way of views. Despite how many trees have died and fallen over, more still remain. A tree-broken view to the S was about all there was to see.
Cliffs at the far SE end of Odakota Mountain do offer unobstructed views. Lupe had seen them once, long ago. However, getting there from the summit requires a bushwhack through a significant stretch of bad deadfall timber. Lupe didn’t have time to go see those views today.
Lupe relaxed next to the summit cairn. Once again, a short break was all she could afford to take.
Odakota Mountain is one of the mountains Lupe has visited most. This was her 8th time at the summit. The first time the Carolina Dog had come here nearly 3.5 years ago, there hadn’t even been a cairn. The last time she’d been here was over 1.5 years ago, when she had first met her friend Jobe Wymore and guided him to the mountain. Sadly, Jobe wasn’t here to share the mountain with her today.
Snap out of it, Loop! Enough reminiscing! We’ve got to get going. You still have to go all the way back to Bear Mountain and then back down to the G6!
The American Dingo sprang to her paws! Time for action? She was ready! Isn’t she always?
Leaving Odakota Mountain, Lupe got to do something she had never done before. For over 0.5 mile, she explored the high ground along the edge of the mountain’s SW ridge. SPHP wanted to see if she could find any unobstructed views from this area. She did, too!
Lupe had a great time exploring Odakota Mountain’s SW ridge, but only got to go about halfway along it. Too much deadfall timber was slowing things down, and the American Dingo no longer had time to waste. She returned to Long Draw. Lupe traveled through the fields paralleling the road.
Hurry, hurry! Now it was a race against time. The sun sank ever lower, then disappeared. Lupe and SPHP made good time, but twilight was fading fast as Lupe came back up Grand Vista Draw.
Looper followed USFS Road No. 291.3A S beyond its junction with No. 291.3K. For a while she stuck with it, but when the road turned SW it was decision time. Staying on the road meant miles and miles of extra distance. The other option was to bushwhack SE to the E edge of the limestone plateau country on the most direct route to Bear Mountain.
SPHP led Lupe SE. Leaving the road was contrary to long-standing rules against trying to bushwhack after dark. On the other hand, Lupe had already traveled much of this same territory earlier in the day. SPHP felt confident that having the E rim to follow meant she wouldn’t get lost.
Faint twilight lingered only far to the W now. Stars shone above, but no moon. Black night took over. Somehow the Carolina Dog always seems able to navigate in the dark without any problem. Not SPHP, who was walking unseeing straight into waist-high pines.
SPHP ran into a barbed wire fence. No damage done. Lucky! SPHP was blind as a bat. Better bring out the flashlight. The fence was good news, actually, it meant Lupe was getting close to the E rim. Deadfall timber was bad here, though. The Komperdell trekking poles were enormously helpful! SPHP would have tripped and fallen a jillion times without them.
After getting past the worst of the deadfall, Lupe reached the E rim! She saw a great many lights glittering far to the NE. That was Rapid City! An amazing number of lights were also scattered toward the SE in the general direction of Custer, but the town was not in view. Guided by the lights of Rapid City, Lupe and SPHP worked S along the E rim. Sooner or later, Looper would come to Bear Mountain again.
Despite initial confusion over exactly where Lupe was upon reaching a road, she had made it! She was back at Bear Mountain. A cold N wind still blew up here. Despite the wind, Lupe returned to the fire lookout tower. So what if it was cold, windy and dark? She’s a peakbagging Dingo, and this was another successful ascent! (End – 9:10 PM, 30°F)
Day 5, Part 1, of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range in Wyoming & Beyond!
What a glorious day! Spirits were soaring as Lupe and SPHP left the Twin Peaks trailhead on Trail No. 618 (7:14 AM, 59°F). The lucky American Dingo was setting off on a 2-day trek to a couple of fabulous peaks she’d seen for the first time a year ago when she’d taken this same trail and climbed Twin Peaks(9,280 ft.).
Trail No. 618 started off as an old jeep trail that headed W up a rise. The E end of Lupe’s first peakbagging goal, Squaw Mountain(9,313 ft.), was soon in sight ahead.
Even though the summit of Squaw Mountain was less than 2 miles WNW of the trailhead, Lupe was going to have to travel a lot farther than that to get there. According to the topo map, the easiest way up was from the NW. The plan was to circle more than halfway around the mountain to approach it from those NW slopes.
Loop wasn’t the least bit worried about how far it was to Squaw Mountain. She was just looking forward to a fun time exploring. On this long day in early June, the Carolina Dog would have plenty of time to get to the top of the mountain.
The jeep trail passed over the small rise, then dipped down close to Roaring Fork Creek. Lupe couldn’t resist going in for a cool drink.
Although there were a few muddy areas along Trail No. 618, it never did cross Roaring Fork Creek. Instead, the trail went W up a deep, forested valley staying a little S of the creek. After a mile or so, the jeep trail turned SW heading up a steep slope. At the base of the slope, Trail No. 618 veered off to the R, becoming a single track going down a much smaller slope almost to the edge of Roaring Fork Creek again.
Lupe stayed on Trail No. 618, continuing W up the valley. Now that the wider jeep trail had been left behind, it really did seem like Lupe was in a wilderness.
Lupe knew what to expect, though. She had been this far before. Lupe continued along No. 618, which stayed relatively close to Roaring Fork Creek.
Before long, Lupe arrived at a fence with a sign saying “Please! Close the Gate”. A year ago, SPHP hadn’t seen a gate to close, just the fence, which ended right over the trail next to some rocks. Puzzled, Lupe and SPHP had climbed up onto the rocks to get around the end of the fence.
Not a thing had changed, but this time SPHP had a hunch. Doh! Yes, the entire fence across the trail was a gate. It swung open without much effort.
How about that, Loop? Learn something new every day!
Having a year to think about it helped, aye? Glad you passed the intelligence test this time around, SPHP!
Just call me Einstein and keep going, smart-alecky Dingo.
Eventually, Trail No. 618 moved farther away from Roaring Fork Creek and began to fade. A few cairns helped show the way. Sometimes sticks had been placed across what otherwise might have looked like the route. The surest way of being certain Lupe was still on the trail was to watch for blazes on the trees. Generally there were two blazes, a small upper one with a larger blaze below.
About a mile after it became single track, Trail No. 618 angled SW leaving Roaring Fork Creek behind. SPHP expected it to continue SW to a minor pass about 0.6 mile farther on. A year ago, Lupe had followed this same trail to that pass.
However, after going SW for 0.25 mile, this time the trail turned SE and kept going that way. Something was wrong. SPHP kept expecting the trail to bend back around to the W, but it didn’t. Hmmm. SE was definitely the wrong way.
SPHP had been watching for, and caught a glimpse of, a tall rock formation that SPHP remembered was immediately N of the minor pass. May as well head straight for it. Lupe left whatever trail she was on, going W through the forest. She soon came across another trail, which must have been No. 618, because it went the right way.
Lupe made it to the minor pass.
A year ago, Lupe had gone S from here to climb Twin Peaks, the summit of which was only 0.5 mile away. After a successful ascent, Lupe had come back down to this pass, crossed over No. 618, and proceeded N around the E side of the tall rock formation. She’d gone quite a distance bushwhacking through forests and bogs, but had never made it to the W end of Squaw Mountain before she ran out of time and had to turn back.
Last year’s march through the forests and bogs had been intriguing, but maybe there was an easier way? From up on Twin Peaks, Lupe and SPHP had seen large meadows in the valley W of this pass. SPHP didn’t remember how far N they went, but looking for the meadows seemed like a good idea.
Lupe followed No. 618 going W over the minor pass. The topo map showed the trail continuing W, but Lupe needed to start turning N. Once she’d lost a little elevation, the Carolina Dog left No. 618 heading NW through the forest. From here on, she wouldn’t have any roads or trails to follow the rest of the way up Squaw Mountain.
That suited Looper just fine. American Dingoes love exploring off trail! Lupe raced through the forest sniffing like a Dingo possessed. She soon sniffed her way far enough NW to arrive at one of the big meadows she had seen a year ago from the top of Twin Peaks.
The big meadow meant easy traveling, much easier than going through the forest. SPHP had hoped the meadow would extend a long way N, but was disappointed to see it didn’t go much farther that way. A short stroll brought Loop to the NE corner of the meadow.
Squaw Mountain wasn’t even in sight, but there was no other choice. Without the slightest hesitation, Lupe plunged headlong back into the forest. She traveled N or NNE through rolling terrain slowly gaining elevation along the way.
For close to a mile, there was no sign of Squaw Mountain. Looper had never been here before, and it seemed like she had been wandering the forest for a long time. Presently, though, she saw a creek to the E at the base of an embankment. She scrambled down, leapt over the little creek, and found herself on the W side of another meadow of bright green grass.
To the ENE was another tall rock formation. That had to be the W end of Squaw Mountain! Lupe had just crossed Roaring Fork Creek, which was much smaller up here. Hah! Progress!
The meadow of bright green grass was only a few hundred feet wide, but extended NNE for a long way. Perfect! Just the direction Lupe needed to go from here.
Actually, it wasn’t so perfect. The bright green meadow quickly proved to be mostly bog. The ground was soft, wet and mucky. Standing water was here, there and everywhere. Not good!
SPHP led Lupe across the bog the shortest and driest way possible. Back into the forest! The forest on the E side of the bog was dense, but without much deadfall, so it wasn’t too bad to go through. Lupe had a blast! She thought this place was great. She explored this way and that. Whenever she felt like it, she wandered over into the bog for a drink.
The dense forest was nearly level near the bog, but Lupe eventually got far enough N to where she needed to start angling NE. Once she left the bog behind, the terrain started rising and became rougher. Lupe continued on until she was NW of Squaw Mountain.
This was supposed to be the easiest side of the mountain to go up. Lupe turned SE to begin her ascent, but soon faced a jumble of large boulders on a still densely forested and now much steeper slope. Deadfall timber was more abundant here, too, creating more obstacles. How tough was this going to get? For a while, progress was slow.
After gaining a couple hundred feet, Lupe found the terrain wasn’t as steep as before. Fewer large boulders were in the way. The forest wasn’t as dense, either. SPHP found it much easier to maneuver around.
The topo map showed there was no rush to reach Squaw Mountain’s main E/W ridgeline. Reaching the top of it too far W meant Lupe would have to go over a couple of potentially rough high points. The Carolina Dog would likely have an easier time angling gradually up the N side of the mountain traveling ESE. If she could reach the ridgeline about halfway to the E, that should be perfect. From there, it shouldn’t be too hard to get to the summit at the far E end.
Lupe went E for a little while climbing more slowly, and unexpectedly arrived at the edge of the living forest. Ahead the entire forest had burned. The vast majority of the dead trees were still standing. The burnt forest wasn’t pretty, but it was certainly easier to see the terrain. Loop didn’t care for the dead forest nearly as much as the living one, but it made the trek easier for SPHP.
Lupe arrived at what seemed to be the ridgeline a little E of a tall rock formation. There were a few live trees here. The forest hadn’t burned at all on a nearby slope to the SE which rose steeply toward an unseen high point still far above where Lupe was.
A patch of ground E of the tall rock formation was level and not rocky. Lupe was going to have to camp somewhere tonight. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad place? After pondering for a couple minutes, SPHP decided against leaving the tent and sleeping bags here. It might be hard to find this place again, and it was still quite early in the day.
Lupe pushed on, continuing E or ESE through the burned forest. She did not climb through the living forest leading to the much higher point to the SE. Instead she stayed to the N until she was past it, trying to avoid gaining too much elevation too soon.
The American Dingo was still steadily gaining some elevation, though. After a while, Looper was clearly getting quite high on the mountain. Shortly before reaching the main summit ridge, Lupe found something that delighted her – snow!
Lupe did a little slipping, sliding and sledding on the soft, deliciously cold snowbanks. No doubt it was refreshing. Loop was clearly pleased with the experience and somewhat re-energized.
Squaw Mountain’s main E/W ridge wasn’t far off now. Beyond the snowbanks, Lupe turned SE climbing more aggressively. Reaching the ridge was easy, and she was soon there.
Lupe had reached the main ridge at a great point. She was well past the high point she had skirted to the N. It’s rocky summit was now in view a little off to the W. Lupe had saved some unnecessary elevation gain by going around it. Squaw Mountain’s true summit was still unseen somewhere off to the E, but the path to it looked open and easy.
The main ridge was level and several hundred feet wide here. Toward the N, the trees had burned. However, the S half of the ridge was all living forest. This was a good place to take a break. Lupe found a spot in the shade to lay down. She had her usual fare of Taste of the Wild and water. SPHP dropped the tent and sleeping bags. This place would be easy enough to find again. Maybe Lupe should camp here?
When her break was over, Lupe traveled E along the broad ridge staying near, but not in, the living forest. She soon came to a N/S running line of boulders. Up ahead a much larger rock formation was in sight. Was that the summit? Lupe pressed on toward it.
The Carolina Dog climbed a broad, thinly forested slope between the big rock formation and a smaller one to the S. The high point she had seen from the line of boulders wasn’t the summit, but part of a ridge of solid rock that went even higher. Lupe got up on the smaller rock formation for a better look.
A path led toward a wall of rock roughly 40 feet high. The wall appeared to extend NW/SE across the entire main ridge. The high point on the wall might well be Squaw Mountain’s summit, but was there even a way up onto it? Who knew?
No one yet, but Lupe was about to find out! She took the path leading to the wall of rock.
The path ended at the base of the rock wall. There was certainly no way up that Loop or SPHP could manage from here. Lupe headed SE along the wall, looking for some sort of a break providing a route to the top. She came to a place where a big knob of rock sat up on top of the wall. It looked like there was a place right next to it where Lupe could scramble up with a little help from SPHP.
Lupe climbed as high as she possibly could. SPHP then gave her a boost up the last few feet. She’d made it! Lupe was up on the rock wall. SPHP scrambled up after her. A quick look around revealed a couple of surprises.
First of all, SPHP had expected Lupe might be able to simply walk NW back along the top of the rock wall to the highest rocks to claim a peakbagging success. She could go that way, alright, but Squaw Mountain’s summit wasn’t over there. Lupe could now see the summit, but it was some distance away off to the ENE. She still had farther to go.
The second surprise was that if Loop had only gone a little farther SE along the base of this rock wall, there was an opening where she could have easily gotten past it without having to climb up on top. Oh, well! At least that was news she could use on the way back.
There didn’t seem to be any reason to dilly dally around on the rock wall. It was easy to get down off the NE side of it. Once down, Lupe trotted through the forest heading ENE toward the summit. She discovered a couple of fun things to do along the way.
She dug furiously at the base of a tree for several minutes. She didn’t turn up anything, but the American Dingo left the freshly undermined tree looking quite cheerful. Apparently, digging like that had been a good time. Loop also found a few more small patches of snow. They were melting fast, even in the shade. Lupe availed herself of these opportunities to cool off again.
It really wasn’t that far from the rock wall to the true summit, only a few hundred yards. A short, easy scramble up white rocks brought Lupe to the summit of Squaw Mountain(9,313 ft.). At the very top, a white rock about 3 feet high leaned at a steep angle. Loop bounded up in a single leap. Sweet success!
The trek up Squaw Mountain had been really fun! The views at the top were rewarding, too. A few trees existed around the summit area, but not enough to block the views. By moving around a bit, it was possible to get a clear view in any desired direction.
A small wooden structure a couple feet NW of the summit rock had collapsed long ago by the looks of it. There was some smooth wire around, too. However, the one man-made thing SPHP hoped to find up here was nowhere to be seen. A search for the Squaw Mountain survey benchmark yielded nothing. Where was it? The entire summit area was only 15′ x 10′. It should have been easy to find.
Nope, nada. SPHP eventually gave up the search.
After spending a little time gazing at the tremendous views, Lupe was ready for another break. Even up here, the day was getting kind of hot for wearing a fur coat. Loopster took shelter in the shade of a couple of small trees SE of the summit rock. SPHP gave her water and Taste of the Wild again. She would have preferred steak and ice cream, but at the top of a remote mountain in the Laramie Range, even an American Dingo has to take what she can get.
After dining, Lupe looked ready to doze off. However, some pesky flies arrived and wouldn’t leave her alone. She spent her time snapping instead of napping. Meanwhile, SPHP went back to looking around.
A large bird swooped by. No doubt some loyal reader of this blog will once again suggest the bird was both a vulture and an evil omen. Fortunately, with all the snapping at flies going on, and SPHP apparently still conscious, the evil omen did not yet feel confident enough about the situation to drop in for a meal.
A rare moment arrived. SPHP had an idea! Peering down among cracks between the rocks under the collapsed wooden structure, there it was! The Squaw Mountain survey benchmark. Hah! SPHP had to wait until the angle of the sun illuminated it better before taking a photo.
Lupe had been up at the summit of Squaw Mountain for half an hour now. Unfortunately, the weather to the SW seemed to be deteriorating. It looked like rain showers might move in from that direction. Maybe it was time to think about moving on?
Loop was fine with that. Snapping at flies had grown old. Before leaving, though, she returned briefly to both her Dingo Throne and the true summit for a last look around.
SPHP started down first. Lupe waited for the signal to follow.
From the summit, the rock wall Lupe had climbed up earlier had looked equally high. A quick check of the topo map revealed that the highest part of the wall was also enclosed by the 9,280 foot contour. So the rock wall was conceivably just as high or higher. SPHP didn’t really believe the rock wall was higher, but she may as well tag this “W summit” on her way back, too.
Even including time spent frolicking in the snow again, it only took Looper 10 or 12 minutes to get back to the rock wall.
Coming from the E, it wasn’t hard to get up on the highest rocks of the rock wall. In the short time it had taken to get here, though, clouds had spread across a large portion of the sky. A cool breeze blew out of the SW. Lupe better not stay up here long.
After a good look around from the top of the rock wall, Lupe circled down around to the SE, passing through the break in the wall she had discovered earlier. With the weather clearly deteriorating, she made a beeline W back to the place where SPHP had left the tent and sleeping bags on Squaw Mountain’s main ridge.
Too bad the weather was threatening. It would have been fun for Lupe to spend the night up here and get some sunset photos. However, considering the situation, it seemed better to get down off the mountain. SPHP grabbed all the gear. Lupe left the main E/W ridge going NW down Squaw Mountain’s N slope.
Looper lost elevation faster than she’d gained it coming up. She was somewhere N of where she’d been before, but she was still angling W, too. It seemed to take a long time to get through the burned forest. The sky became so threatening, it became prudent to look for a place to take shelter. Widely scattered big raindrops started falling. Lupe finally found a place to hide under a small overhanging rock formation.
The rain shower didn’t amount to anything. It was over only a couple of minutes after Lupe took cover. Figures. When nothing further happened for another 10 minutes, the Carolina Dog went on. Down, down, down, trying to go WNW now. Lupe was aiming for relatively level ground SW of Buffalo Peak and the Meadow Creek valley.
Lupe finally reached the living, unburned forest. She liked this better, but now it wasn’t possible to see much at all. SPHP was surprised when Lupe came across a logging trail or some kind of road not long after reaching the living forest. First she followed it SW, the direction where she ought to run into the bright green bog and Roaring Fork Creek again. Before long, though, the road simply dead-ended.
Oh, well. Other than to get re-oriented, there wasn’t much reason to return to the bog anyway. May as well turn around and see where this road came from. At first, it took Lupe NE, but soon began curving N, then NW, and finally clear around to the W. N was fine. NW was fine. W into unexplored territory was not. Lupe didn’t need to go any farther that way.
Even so, the road was a nice luxury. After all the bushwhacking, SPHP was reluctant to leave it. Maybe it would curve back N again? It did, but only for a short stretch, then it curved W again. Gah! Who knew where it went? SPHP was about to abandon the road to head N when it briefly curved SW. Ahead beyond a huge gnarled tree with 3 trunks was a sunlit meadow. A squirrel chattered. Lupe streaked over to bark at it.
An omen! A good one, too! To heck with buzzards and vultures! Lupe needed a place to camp tonight, and a beautiful green meadow next to a giant squirrel tree would be perfect!
The rain shower had passed on by. Clouds remained in the sky, but the meadow was sunny and bright. The sun was still high, looking like it would be up for another 5 or 6 hours. Twilight would linger for another hour after that. Buffalo Peak(9,387 ft.) couldn’t be much more than a mile away to the NE.
Why wait until tomorrow? Lupe had time. The tent and sleeping bags could be left here. In case it rained again, SPHP hung them up in the ancient squirrel tree. Less surface area would be exposed to the sky that way.
Lupe wanted to linger at the old tree and watch squirrels. For a few minutes, SPHP indulged her. Then it was time for the next big thing. Lupe and SPHP left the grand old squirrel tree heading N for Buffalo Peak.
Start – 10:44 AM, 57°F at the Gold Run trailhead near Deerfield Reservoir
Sunny skies, a light S breeze, and pleasant early October temperatures – a great day for a romp in the Black Hills! Lupe would likely get to see some fall colors, too. First things first, though. Loop hadn’t been to Deerfield Reservoir in a while. She may as well take a quick look at the lake before dashing off on her peakbagging adventures.
Only a small portion of the lake was visible from here, but the deep blue waters were a pretty sight surrounded by low pine-covered hills.
After admiring the lake, Lupe set off for her first peakbagging destination of the day. She left Deerfield Reservoir heading SW up a forested embankment. It wasn’t far to Deerfield Road, which she followed W to USFS Road No. 691 (Williams Draw Road). Traveling S along No. 691, Loop came to a small field where she could see Hat Mountain(6,779 ft.) up ahead.
Hat Mountain was only a mile away, so it wouldn’t take Lupe long to get there. That is, if cows blocking the road could be convinced to get out of the way. Not to worry! The cattle were mightily and speedily impressed by the Carolina Dog’s enthusiastic persuasive abilities. They complied immediately with her wishes.
A little farther on, Lupe left the road herself. She started her trek up the lower NE slope of Hat Mountain passing through a beautiful stand of yellow aspens.
Above the aspens, Lupe climbed through a pine forest. Above the pines, the upper N slope of Hat Mountain was grassy and treeless.
When Lupe reached the summit, the first thing she did was to go over to the survey benchmark. It was easy to find toward the E side of the flat, barren summit area.
Next Lupe went to see the sights. She had unobstructed views in every direction. Simply fabulous!
Carolina Dogs aren’t fans of wind, and it was rather breezy up on Hat Mountain. The steady 15 mph SW breeze was enough to make Lupe want to look for a sheltered spot. She found that the small depression near the S end of the summit area worked fine. She curled up there and took a little break.
SPHP joined Lupe in the depression for a short break, then left to stroll around the summit again for another look at the views. Meanwhile, Loop dozed off for a few minutes in her sunny, sheltered spot before SPHP announced it was time to move on.
Lupe left Hat Mountain heading S. Green Mountain(7,164 ft.), her next peakbagging goal was still close to 4 miles away even as the crow flies.
The first part of the way to Green Mountain was easy. Lupe descended mostly open ground into the Heely Creek valley where fall colors were on display.
Heely Creek was very small this time of year, only a foot wide and a few inches deep. As soon as Lupe crossed it, her long gradual climb to the top of Green Mountain began.
Once she entered the forest S of Heely Creek, Lupe followed old logging trails and minor USFS roads. Sometimes she was on faint roads abandoned so long ago that pine trees were growing on them. Other times she simply went through the forest not on any road or trail at all.
About 2 miles from Hat Mountain, Lupe reached USFS Road No. 691 again. She followed it S for a mile. When it began angling SW, she left No. 691 going SE up a forested slope with enough deadfall on it to slow progress down for a while. Eventually she came to a minor USFS road, which she was able to follow E the rest of the way to Green Mountain.
Green Mountain(7,164 ft.) is one of the highest points in the entire Black Hills. However, the only distant views available are obtained along the E rim of the mountain. The best views are toward the SE from limestone outcroppings right along the edge.
While Lupe was enjoying the big views, SPHP noticed a chipmunk. Lupe hadn’t spotted it yet. The chipmunk was scrambling around the limestone, appearing and disappearing right along the brink of the cliffs.
SPHP kept a watchful eye on the Carolina Dog. These limestone cliffs were no place to go chasing around after chipmunks or anything else! The chipmunk was sure-footed and could cling to the vertical face of the limestone. Lupe could not. Fortunately, she never saw the crafty, quiet “tiny squirrel”.
After taking in the views, and enjoying a Taste of the Wild and water break, Lupe agreed to let SPHP give her a boost up onto the limestone pillar where the cairn was. The pillar was an excellent American Dingo display platform with a tremendous view.
Ordinarily, Green Mountain offers complete solitude. That wasn’t the case today, however. Upon arrival at the E edge of the mountain, Lupe and SPHP had both seen a hunter perched on the limestone. He had a tremendous view, and was using binoculars to scan a wide swath of territory below. The hunter and SPHP had waved at one another, but did not speak.
Lupe hates gunfire. If that hunter took a shot at anything from so close by, poor Loopster would have been terrified. Having seen the views and had a little break, it was probably best not to tarry here any longer. It was a long way back to Deerfield Reservoir, anyway.
Of course, before leaving Green Mountain, Lupe still needed to visit the true summit to claim her peakbagging success. Lupe and SPHP headed N from the limestone pillar. The highest ground on Green Mountain was somewhere back in the forest only a little W of the E rim.
A fairly large area was nearly level. It wasn’t really possible to identify an exact high point. A variety of potential highest spots existed, none convincingly higher than the others. Most of them featured small mounds of broken limestone. After searching around for a few minutes, it was time to pick one. Close enough for Dingo work!
Although Lupe had been to Green Mountain 3 times before, it was a big place. She’d never explored some of the territory toward the N end. Enough daylight remained today so she could go sniff about over there on her way back to Deerfield Reservoir. Looper headed NW through the forest looking for a couple of sub-peaks shown on the topo map. Both were still over 7,000 feet elevation.
The first hill she would come to was High Point 7062. Plentiful deadfall timber slowed SPHP’s progress, but High Point 7062 eventually did come into view.
As it turned out, High Point 7062 was worth visiting. The small summit was capped with a limestone outcropping from which there were 180° views to the N. Lupe climbed up for a look around. She could see the top of Hat Mountain(6,779 ft.) from here.
From High Point 7062, Loop could also see her next objective, High Point 7025, more than 0.5 mile to the W. High Point 7025 had a much larger summit area in the form of a 400 to 500 foot long ridge. The fairly narrow ridge was all about the same elevation, but heavily forested. Lupe wouldn’t have much in the way of views over there.
Even so, when Lupe left High Point 7062, she headed W for High Point 7025. She enjoyed a beautiful early evening trek, while exploring new territory.
Lupe made it to High Point 7025. She traversed the entire summit ridge from N to S, then back again. As anticipated, there wasn’t much to be seen in the way of views due to the forest.
The sun was getting low. Deerfield Reservoir was still 4 miles N as the crow flies. Better keep going! Lupe left High Point 7025 heading N. She explored more beautiful territory, saw lots of deer, and eventually found minor roads that led her back to USFS Road No. 691.
Darkness fell on the long road hike back to the G6. Stars glittered above in a moonless sky. The wind had died down hours ago. SPHP tramped along, Lupe trotting nearby. No lights, no traffic, no noise. Everything as it should be when adventure’s done. Quiet time together, then the long drive home. (End – 8:09 PM, 44°F)