Day 12 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range in Wyoming & Beyond!
Lupe could hardly believe her big soft Dingo ears! Her spine tingled with excitement. She stared at SPHP in wide-eyed wonder and disbelief. Was it true? Was she really on her way to fabled Squirrel Mountain? Oh, joy!
Not Squirrel Mountain, Loop – Jack Squirrel Peak.
Mountain, peak, what difference did it make? Loop didn’t know and didn’t care. She was certain Squirrel Peak would be every bit as fabulous as Squirrel Mountain. How could it not be? In fact, the notion that there might be both a Squirrel Mountain and a Squirrel Peak was an exciting idea she’d never even thought of before.
I’m not even certain what a jack squirrel is, Looper. Maybe a jack squirrel is just larger than ordinary squirrels with a super long bushy tail? Kind of like a jack rabbit is bigger than ordinary rabbits and has longer ears and legs.
The American Dingo’s eyes grew even bigger. This was too good to be true!
Oh, I hope you’re right, SPHP! This is going to be the best mountain ever! I never should have doubted you. Your the best friend a Dingo ever had! This is going to make up for when you forgot the whiskey on Whiskey Peak, and then some.
Well, maybe it would, and maybe it wouldn’t. SPHP parked the G6 on the S side of County Road No. 710 where it turned W near Silver Tip Creek (10:43 AM, 62°F). Jack Squirrel Peak(8,942 ft.) was only 1.5 miles SSE from here at the S end of the long Eagle Mountain ridge.
Most of the territory E of here, including Jack Squirrel Peak, was all national forest land. However, by far the easiest way to the mountain was to head S across a big field N of the confluence of Silver Tip and Bear Creeks. Though this field was private property, signs on the fence said this land was open to the public for hunting.
We’re hunting jack squirrels, right Loop?
Of course! We’ll be back soon with passels of ’em! We’re entirely legit.
I’m not even sure if it’s jack squirrel season. You’ll vouch for me if anyone objects?
Don’t be ridiculous, SPHP! It’s always squirrel season, jack or not. We Dingoes are experts on the subject. Carry on! Just point me to Squirrel Peak!
As excited as she could be, Lupe crossed the big field sniffing madly trying to pick up a scent. Nearing Silver Tip Creek, she found a dirt road that got her over to the E side of the creek. Once across, Loop followed the road S beyond Silver Tip’s confluence with Bear Creek.
A low hill was up ahead. Loop left the road to climb it. Reaching the top, she had a view of Hidden Gulch.
Hidden Gulch was part of the planned ascent route up Jack Squirrel Peak. Lupe left the low hill heading E. She stayed N of a tributary of Bear Creek flowing down the valley. The intention was for Loop to go all the way up Hidden Gulch to the main N/S ridgeline at a saddle just S of High Point 8608. At the saddle she would turn SW and follow the ridgeline to the summit.
Things started out OK, but Lupe soon came to a thick forest down by the stream. The valley was already increasingly rocky, full of boulders and deadfall timber. The forest appeared impenetrable. It looked far easier to avoid the forest entirely. Lupe and SPHP crossed over to the S side of the stream, and began climbing.
The forest had burned on the S side of the valley. The slope was fairly steep and quite rocky, but the rocks were good-sized and mostly stable. It wasn’t hard scrambling up among them.
The new plan was to keep proceeding ESE up Hidden Gulch as Lupe gained elevation. She might not have to go all the way to the main ridgeline S of High Point 8608. Maybe she could manage a more direct route up Jack Squirrel Peak from the N or NW.
The American Dingo climbed and climbed. The mountain kept getting steeper. Despite what the topo map showed, the easiest way up always seemed to be more toward the W slope. Lupe was already quite high by the time SPHP realized how far around to the W she’d gotten.
Lupe started coming to massive rock formations separated by wide chutes of loose rock and boulders. She went around the first one or two staying toward the SW. However, the SW side of the mountain was becoming more intense. Lupe was finally forced to climb NE up a long chute full of boulders. Near the top she reached less difficult terrain.
Lupe was certainly getting up in the world! Off to the NNE she now had a tremendous view of Eagle Peak(9,167 ft.) at the opposite end of the long Eagle Mountain ridge. Only 10 days ago, Loop had nearly made it to the top of Eagle Peak, but had failed to find a route up onto a vertical rock wall at the top of the mountain.
Unfortunately, the American Dingo’s ability to get to the top of Jack Squirrel Peak was fast becoming a concern, too. Although most of the terrain ahead was much easier than where Lupe had just been, a rock formation higher than anything else in sight sat perched high above the opposite side of the long chute she’d just come up.
Was that rock formation Jack Squirrel’s summit? SPHP hoped not, but feared it might be. The formation wasn’t all that large, but was at least 20 or 30 feet high. The part of it in view from here had nearly vertical sides. Unless the unseen side was a lot easier to climb, Lupe didn’t stand a chance of getting to the top.
Loop and SPHP headed for the rock formation. When Loop got there, it turned out that the knob of rock was actually more like a narrow ridge. It was long and skinny, not round. The E side looked virtually the same as the W side Lupe had seen first. Loop got up within 20 or 25 feet of the top, but that was as far as she could go.
Fortunately, Looper didn’t need to get to the top of this rock formation. It was only a false summit. Beyond it, not too far away, was even higher ground. The Carolina Dog could keep climbing!
The higher ground nearby was it! Just like that, Lupe was at the summit of Jack Squirrel Peak(8,942 ft.). It hadn’t been all that hard to get here after all. The last part of the climb had been easy!
SPHP was ecstatic. Loop seemed shocked by the news. This was it? The summit of Jack Squirrel Peak? She got up on the highest rock for a photo as requested, but her heart didn’t seem to be in it.
The views were enormous, but the first to capture SPHP’s attention was an impressive wall of rock SSE of the summit. It towered hundreds of feet above surrounding terrain, and looked virtually as high as the summit where Lupe stood. In fact, parts of the wall appeared slightly higher. Wasn’t Loop at the true summit of Jack Squirrel Peak?
SPHP checked the topo map. Lupe was at the point where a site elevation of 8,942 ft. was shown within the larger of two 8,940 foot contours, the smaller contour being located along part of the rock wall to the SSE. No site elevation was shown in that contour.
Well, Loop, I could convince myself there are parts of that gigantic rock wall that are higher than we are here, if I wanted to. It kind of looks that way. On the other hand, having terrain at some distance falsely appear higher is a pretty common optical illusion, too, as we’ve seen on other peaks. The highest elevation shown on the topo map is right where you are now.
In any case, we’re claiming a peakbagging success for you! If some purist wants to risk their neck to possibly gain 6″ or 2 feet more, or whatever it may actually be over on that rock wall, they are welcome to it. It’s way too dangerous over there for us. It may not be any higher anyway. So this is it! Good enough for Dingo work! Congratulations, Looper on reaching the top of Jack Squirrel Peak!
SPHP shook Lupe’s freckled paw. She smiled weakly, but said nothing. She looked despondent.
Time for a break. Lupe got down off the summit rock, and curled up near the backpack. SPHP munched an apple, but Looper refused her Taste of the Wild. She drank only a little water.
You OK, Loop? What’s wrong?
Lupe stood up, gazed sadly at SPHP, then lowered her head.
SPHP gave her a pat.
It’s terrible! Simply awful, SPHP! Just ….. sickening!
What is, Loop?
Lupe puked. Three times. It took her a moment to recover.
Jack Squirrel Peak! Don’t you pay any attention, at all, SPHP? Practically the whole mountain has burned. The forest is ashes. All the jack squirrels are dead and gone. We haven’t seen a single one! It’s horrible! I thought we were coming to a squirrel paradise, but everything’s in ruins. We’ve come all the way to the top, and it’s clear we aren’t ever going to see a jack squirrel. My hopes are nothing but ashes now, too!
SPHP hugged Lupe, then sat with her stroking her soft fur.
Oh, Loop! I’m sorry you feel so bad! You’re right, the forest has all burned. We haven’t seen any squirrels, jack or otherwise, at all. It must be terribly disappointing to you. You know what, though? Since there weren’t any jack squirrels here, I’ll take you to some other mountains where there will be plenty of squirrels. They may not be jack squirrels, but you’ll still have fun!
Really? I thought we were just going home after this. Isn’t my Dingo Vacation almost over now?
Yes, we are going home after this. Only for a little while, though. Your Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Mountains is about done, but in July you’re going on another Dingo Vacation to even bigger mountains. You’ll see lots of squirrels, and other animals, too! Plus I’ll have a big surprise for you before it’s over!
Promise! You can count on it. You’re going to be one busy, lucky Dingo this summer! Say, you’re looking a little better. Listen, now. The forest and the jack squirrels may be gone, but Jack Squirrel Peak is still quite a mountain. The views are stupendous here. Let’s look around a bit, get some photos, then we can head down. Whad’dya say?
OK, sure. I do feel a little better. Thanks, SPHP!
Lupe got up on several different high rocks for photos. Then she curled up to rest a bit longer, while SPHP took a few more pictures.
On the way back, Lupe took a much different route. Instead of going down the W slope, she tried heading NNE to the saddle near High Point 8608, but it was tough going and Loop didn’t stay the course very long. She ended up descending the N face of Jack Squirrel Peak. It was steep with lots of rocks, deadfall timber, and some live trees as well. For a while, SPHP was afraid the Carolina Dog might cliff out, but she didn’t.
It took a long time for Loop to work her way down to the upper reaches of Hidden Gulch. The forest had all burned here, but the forest floor sported a grand profusion of green plants with showy yellow flowers. Lupe was feeling better by now.
Lupe made her way to the tributary of Bear Creek. Staying to the N, she followed it W down Hidden Gulch. When Loop finally got out of Hidden Gulch, the rest was easy. Soon she could see the G6 parked across the green meadow near County Road No. 710. On the other side of the road, the old wooden barns and outbuildings sat quietly at the foot of Jaybird Peak.
This was it. The final stroll of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range in Wyoming & Beyond lay before her. She’d had a great time on this trip, and more Dingo Vacations and adventures would be coming soon, but they didn’t matter yet. It was still June, and a gorgeous evening.
The Carolina Dog ran down to Silver Tip Creek for a drink of cold water, then trotted into the big green field. Sniffing and exploring happily, she played a little longer in the evening’s glow before heading home (7:03 PM, 65°F).
Lucky Dingo! Expedition No. 216 was going to have two parts. Mark and Hillary were in the Black Hills! Their time was limited, but they could spend a few hours hiking with Lupe and SPHP. Boulder Hill(5,331 ft.) would be a good destination. A trail goes all the way to the rocky top, and the summit offers some pretty nice views for moderate effort.
Loop and the gang arrived at the Boulder Hill trailhead of Flume Trail No. 50 before noon. Everyone hit the trail, heading SE through a Ponderosa pine forest which had been greatly thinned since the last time Lupe and SPHP were here. Only 0.33 mile from the trailhead, a saddle was reached between Boulder Hill and Storm Hill to the NE.
Beyond the saddle, a spur off Flume Trail No. 50 followed a dirt road S. The spur soon left the road, leading around the S side of Boulder Hill to the SW. Although Boulder Hill was only 0.5 mile S of the trailhead where Lupe had started, by the time she had circled around to the SW base of the rocky summit ridge, the Carolina Dog had already gone more than 0.75 mile.
The fun part of the climb was all that was left now! The trail leading up the ridge wound around among the rocks, passing near numerous viewpoints along the way.
The trek to the top only took 5 or 10 minutes, plus a little time spent checking out views along the way. Although this was Lupe’s 6th ascent of Boulder Hill, Mark and Hillary had never been here before. They both seemed pretty happy with the interesting hike up, and the views available from the summit.
Of course, Lupe and SPHP never tire of seeing the world from a nice high point like Boulder Hill. Having Mark and Hillary’s company was a big added bonus!
Boulder Hill has two separate summit areas. They are practically right next to each other, and of about equal height. Naturally, Lupe, Mark, Hillary & SPHP visited both. It was only about 40°F and a chilly breeze was blowing, so the stay on top of the mountain was fairly brief. Soon everyone started down again.
Lower down, on part of the ridge better protected from the breeze, everyone stopped to relax and have a longer look around. Mark & Hillary had brought sandwiches. SPHP had apples and chocolate chip cookies. Lupe had Taste of the Wild.
Surprisingly, it turned out that Lupe wasn’t the only Carolina Dog conducting tours of Boulder Hill today. Another Carolina Dog named Legos appeared! Legos was snappily dressed, and leading a man and a girl up the trail. In an odd coincidence, it turned out Mark and Hillary had met the man at a store only yesterday.
Legos eventually led his party on up the trail. Mark and Hillary needed to get going, too. They had a social engagement this evening, and would return home to Colorado tomorrow. Except for the return trip to the trailhead, Lupe’s trip to Boulder Hill was over.
Lupe had enjoyed the outing, and SPHP really had fun visiting with Mark and Hillary. They’d had a good time, too, and felt Boulder Hill had been a great choice for the amount of time they’d had available.
The next morning the lucky Dingo was back in action, again! Things were back to normal. Just Loop and SPHP set out on Deerfield Trail No. 40 going up Rapid Creek from Silver City (10:13 AM, 41°F).
Lupe has been on this section of the Deerfield Trail many times. In fact, she first came here in January, 2012 on both Black Hills, SD Expeditions No. 1 & No. 2. In a sense, this was where her life of adventures began. SPHP had a new peakbagging destination in mind for her today, but the first part of the journey along Rapid Creek, was familiar territory.
Lupe had a great time exploring the forests alongside the trail. She was mainly looking for squirrels to bark at. She found a few, which made her very happy. She checked out the views along Rapid Creek. She visited an old abandoned horizontal mining shaft which she ventures into every time she comes this way. The shaft is only 20 or 25 feet long, but would make a great Dingo shelter in wet weather.
Deerfield Trail No. 40 is a beautiful, easy trek along Rapid Creek. After she’d gone about 2 miles, though, Lupe was getting close to the Canyon City area where she would leave the trail.
No town or much of anything else is at Canyon City these days. It’s only a spot along the trail, and a point on the map. About 0.25 mile before she got there, Lupe left Deerfield Trail No. 40 and Rapid Creek behind. She turned N following a path up Kelly Gulch.
Kelly Gulch was the start of Lupe’s search for her peakbagging goal for the day, the summit of Tunnel Ridge(5,905 ft.). Loop wasn’t in Kelly Gulch very long, though. After only 0.2 mile, she came to a little parking area. Two roads left this point. The better road continued on up Kelly Gulch. Lupe took USFS Road No. 142.1D up Spurgeon Gulch instead.
Lupe had gained very little elevation down along Rapid Creek. She gained some coming up Kelly Gulch. Her climb really began in earnest, though, here in Spurgeon Gulch. The Carolina Dog gained elevation steadily now. She came to an unmarked intersection where a side road turned W, but she continued straight ahead. USFS Road No. 142.1D, if that’s what it still was, deteriorated and steepened.
After going 0.75 mile up Spurgeon Gulch, Lupe arrived at a saddle in a small grassy open area where the road reached a “T” intersection. Some heavily forested hills could be seen from here. They weren’t far away, and the terrain seemed confusing. SPHP wasn’t certain which way Lupe should go.
Loop needed to work her way N, but straight N went down into another deep ravine. Staying on the roads, she had her choice of NE or W. The American Dingo tried the road going NE first. This road climbed gradually and seemed promising, but it soon turned R wrapping around a hillside until the position of the sun told SPHP that Loop was going S.
Going S wasn’t going to work at all. Lupe had a decent view of the hills nearby. It didn’t look like there was any way this road could turn N without losing a bunch of elevation.
Loop turned around and returned to the saddle. Time to try the road going W. Almost immediately, it angled NW and started gaining elevation steadily. Promising once again, but Lupe hadn’t gotten too far before she reached a bend where this road curved sharply around to the S, too. Hmm. What now?
At the bend, the ravine the road had been climbing continued NW. Lupe could see a stand of large brown-barked Ponderosa pines on a slope below rock outcroppings. Why not keep going that way? It seemed like the best option. Lupe left the road, continuing NW up the ravine.
Loop only had to follow the ravine a little way before she appeared to be approaching the upper end of it. She turned N, scrambling up between the rock formations to reach a small ridge. On the other side, not very far below her, Loop saw another road heading NW. That was promising! Lupe worked her way down to the road and followed it.
Loopster was still gaining elevation, though more slowly than before. Eventually this new road joined another one heading NNW, exactly the direction Lupe needed to go.
The road leading NNW gained only a little more elevation before topping out. The terrain ahead was now mostly flat to rolling. Lupe had succeeded in reaching the top of Tunnel Ridge, but exactly what part of it wasn’t clear yet.
Tunnel Ridge(5,905 ft.) is roughly 3 miles long N/S, and as much as 0.50 to 0.75 mile wide E/W. It was all forested, so it was hard to see very far ahead. There didn’t seem to be any definite ridge line to follow. Loop was probably only 0.33 to 0.50 of the way from the S end. The true summit was near the N end, which meant it was probably 1.5 to 2 miles N of Lupe’s position.
The road eventually bent NW and started going downhill. By now, Lupe had seen occasional glimpses of higher ground perhaps a mile or more to the NNW. Trying not to lose elevation, Lupe left the road traveling N through a level forest, hoping this area would connect somehow with the higher ground she’d seen in the distance.
Instead, Loop eventually found that the terrain dropped off rather steeply. This was a dead end. She had to return to the road. This happened once more, a little farther on. The road went NW downhill again, and Lupe made another foray off the road. She climbed N toward a high point, but on the other side, the terrain dropped steeply.
From the high point, Lupe went NW down a long slope, rejoining the road again at a gate near a saddle. At the saddle was a “T” intersection with another road passing E/W over the mountain. No road continued N from here, but the land sloped up, so Lupe left the road a third time.
Lupe was only partway up when she saw the high point to the N again. She was definitely getting closer.
By now, SPHP was confident Lupe was closing in on the summit of Tunnel Ridge. The topo map showed 4 separate areas enclosed within 5,880 foot contours. The central contour enclosing the most area contained a site elevation of 5,905 feet, which was likely the true summit. On the way there, Lupe explored the SW 5,880 foot contour, which contained the 2nd largest amount of territory.
The terrain within the SW 5,880 foot contour was pretty flat, but Lupe found a spot with a view toward Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.).
From the SW high point, Lupe headed for the true summit. As she got close, she reached yet another unmarked road.
A short trek on this latest road led Lupe gradually up to a flat area which had to be the true summit. No views, really. The summit of Tunnel Ridge(5,905 ft.) was just another slightly higher spot in the woods.
Partly to check out another small area enclosed within a 5,880 ft. contour, and partly just to see what was there, Lupe left the true summit to explore a broad ridge to the SE. Loop went all the way to the end. The terrain was all lower than where she’d just been.
There wasn’t anything much different to see on the SE ridge, so Lupe returned to the true summit. On the way, she posed on a mighty, massive rock outcropping.
It was only mid-afternoon, but the sun was already low in the sky. The G6 was 5+ miles away. Loop needed to get going. There wasn’t much reason to hang around the summit, anyway. On the way back, Lupe retraced virtually the exact same route she’d taken to Tunnel Ridge, minus some of the unnecessary forays that led to dead ends in the forest.
Looper’s journey to Tunnel Ridge had been a peakbagging success. She’d made it up onto the ridge and found the true summit. Of course, other than the pretty spots down along Rapid Creek, she hadn’t really come to much in the way of views. Due to the forest, Tunnel Ridge didn’t have much to offer in the way of scenic rewards.
Yet the journey to Tunnel Ridge had been a good day. The maze of unmarked roads and promising routes that led nowhere had been confusing, but solving the puzzle was a fun challenge. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed unbroken peace and solitude from start to finish. And now a previously unknown part of the map was at least partially explored.
Just being on the move, exploring and sharing this cool day outdoors in the pine forest, made Lupe’s journey to Tunnel Ridge another adventure worth remembering (5:14 PM, 35°F).
Day 11 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range in Wyoming & Beyond!
On the way to Casper, Lupe was going to go right by a famous landmark from the days of the early pioneers – Independence Rock(6,028 ft.) in the Sweetwater River valley. She had been by it before a time or two, but had never stopped to take a look around. Today she had the time, and it seemed like just the sort of thing an adventurous American Dingo ought to do!
Independence Rock was once an important landmark on the Oregon, California & Mormon Pioneer trails. Hwy 220 goes right past it now. Just off the highway, there’s a rest area with bathrooms, water fountains, and shaded picnic tables. A sidewalk leads to displays detailing the history and importance of this site to the pioneers, and on to Independence Rock itself. Lupe and SPHP set off on the short stroll.
SPHP stopped to read some of the displays along the sidewalk, but the Carolina Dog had limited patience with that. She wanted to get there and experience Independence Rock for herself!
One of the dangers the early pioneers faced here so long ago was still around. Near the base of Independence Rock a man was sitting on a bench where the sidewalk divided to make a loop around the rock. He said he had just seen a 4 foot long rattlesnake slither across the sidewalk only a few minutes ago. The rattler appeared to be hunting the numerous gray rabbits hopping about all over the place.
That rattlesnake had the right idea! Lupe was also keenly interested in hunting rabbits! Sadly, party-pooper SPHP didn’t think racing around in the tall grass among rabbits and rattlesnakes was such a hot idea. A very disappointed Lupe was forced to stay on the leash.The good news was that it was permissible to climb right up onto Independence Rock! The best way up was from the NW. Used to climbing mountains, getting to the top was easy for Lupe. She was there in practically no time.
Also known as the Great Register of the Desert, thousands of pioneers had painted or chiseled their names on Independence Rock by various means. Only the names actually carved into the granite still remain.Lupe saw some names carved in the rock, but as SPHP read them off, it turned out that Loop didn’t personally know any of these pioneers. The Carolina Dog lost interest. She wanted to look and sniff around. A view of a herd of delicious black cows grazing down by the Sweetwater River was especially interesting.
The view to the E was disappointing. Loop couldn’t see any horses or covered wagons on the way. Apparently she wasn’t going to be lucky enough to meet any pioneers at Independence Rock this morning. She’d thought her chances were pretty good, since it was such a beautiful day for pioneering. Oh, well! When she’d seen enough of the views, the American Dingo decided she may as well head back down.
More people who were coming up reported that they’d just seen the 4 foot long rattlesnake again down below, still on the prowl for rabbits. Loop thought that if she were a rabbit, she’d probably hit the trail W like the pioneers. Independence Rock was a dangerous place!
On the sidewalk on the way back to the rest area, Lupe kept a pretty good eye and keen nose out for the rattlesnake, but she didn’t see it. SPHP dawdled again looking at displays.SPHP wanted to do one more thing here, which was to walk down to the Sweetwater River. Lupe thought that might not be such a bad idea, since those black cows were somewhere along the river.
Lupe and SPHP followed an old abandoned road near Hwy 220. Unfortunately, it ended at some fences before Loop got all the way to the river. She never did get close to the black cows, but at least SPHP got a photo of Independence Rock and the Sweetwater River from this angle.
Time to move on. Lupe still had a long way to go today. After a brief stop for supplies in Casper, SPHP drove W on Hwy 20/26. A R turn at Waltman onto Natrona County Road No. 104 (Buffalo Creek Road) got Lupe headed NNW toward the small community of Arminto. Arminto was located N of some railroad tracks 8.5 miles from the highway.
Arminto was a pretty quiet place. The pavement ended a mile N of town. Buffalo Creek Road continued on, though, now as Natrona County Road No. 105. Lupe had a good time barking at scattered herds of cattle as the G6 climbed steadily through classic western scenery.
Lupe was on her way to Mine Benchmark(9,121 ft.), the high point of Natrona County. Once again, SPHP was using a trip report by famed peakbagger Edward Earl for directions. 15 miles N of Arminto was a 4-way intersection. Mr. Earl’s instructions said to turn L on Bighorn Mountain Road (Natrona County Road No. 109). No. 109 wound W & N for a few miles, then began to climb more steeply.
How far the G6 might be able to get along Bighorn Mountain Road wasn’t clear. Edward Earl had a Nissan pickup truck, and had reported slipping on a steep uphill section, then having to stop soon afterward at a very muddy spot. He’d had to walk half a dozen miles from there, just to get to where he’d originally intended to park.
The road was a bit damp and muddy, but the G6 made it to the top of the steep section just fine. Lupe had an advantage being here in mid-June. Edward Earl’s trip report was for an ascent of Mine Benchmark dated 5-26-2009. With nearly a month extra of warm, sunny weather to dry things out, there was at least some hope the G6 would be able to get farther than the Nissan had.
The next test came soon. Beyond the steep climb, the road leveled out and reached a small stream 4 or 5 miles from the turn onto Bighorn Mountain Road. From Mr. Earl’s description, this was likely the muddy point where he’d had to park the Nissan and continue on foot. The topo map showed this stream as First Waters Creek.
Lupe and SPHP got out of the G6 for a look. First Waters Creek was only 4 or 5 feet wide and a foot deep, but the bottom appeared rutty. Hmm. It ought to be OK. Lupe stayed outside while SPHP gave it a go. The G6 hit bottom lightly in one of the ruts, but made it across undamaged. Lupe waded over and hopped in. Onward!
Edward Earl mentioned two more streams ahead, still several miles away. Bighorn Mountain Road resumed a steady climb. After a few miles, Lupe reached a high point at a 8,300 foot saddle. So far so good, but soon the South and Middle Forks of Buffalo Creek would have to be crossed. This saddle wouldn’t be a bad place to park the G6, though, if it became necessary.
Only 0.25 mile N of the 8,300 foot saddle, Lupe arrived at the South Fork of Buffalo Creek. Once again, Loop and SPHP exited the G6 to assess the situation. The creek crossed the road in two separate little streams. The streams were stony, but only a few inches deep. Yeah, the G6 could do this! SPHP drove slowly across. It went fine. Puppy, ho!
Another 2 miles. The G6 confronted the last stream, the Middle Fork of Buffalo Creek. The Middle Fork was wider and deeper than the South Fork, but still only 6 inches deep. Stones were the only worry. Slowly, carefully, the G6 inched across and triumphed again. Hah!
Lupe was less than 1.5 miles from the 8,450 foot saddle where Edward Earl had intended to park his Nissan pickup. With no more streams to cross, the G6 was going to get there. However, on the way up to the saddle, the road passed by a huge purple slope covered with lupines. Lupe had to get out of the G6 for this!
After a romp through the lupines, Lupe returned to the G6. At the 8,450 foot saddle, SPHP parked along a side road leading E toward High Point 8509. It wasn’t yet 4 PM, and Mine Benchmark(9,121 ft.) was only a couple miles away now at most. Plenty of time to get there and back!
Lupe was certainly out W. Perhaps there was a wicked witch around? The lupines had the same effect on Loop and SPHP as the poppies had on Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz. Instead of setting out promptly for Mine Benchmark, both were soon fast asleep.
More than 2 hours went by before the spell was broken. After 6 PM! Loopster had better get going! The topo map showed a survey benchmark at 8,463 foot elevation on the W side of Bighorn Mountain Road. The marker ought to be near the start of the side road Lupe was supposed to take to Mine Benchmark. Leaving the G6, Loop and SPHP set out in search of the 8,463 foot benchmark (6:21 PM).
Sure enough, the American Dingo found the survey marker right about where the map showed it. Until now, she hadn’t even noticed the road she was supposed to take to Mine Benchmark. It could be seen from here, though, grassy and faint, heading SW toward a forest.
Lupe and SPHP struck out on the faint grassy road for Mine Benchmark. Once in the forest, SPHP began to worry about the possibility that the road would deteriorate beyond recognition. It seemed abandoned. Deadfall timber blocked it in places. Lupe reached a locked gate in a barbed wire fence, but went under it.
Half an hour after Loop left the 8,463 foot survey benchmark, she emerged again from the forest. Suddenly she was out on open ground where it was possible to see. There wasn’t much left of the road most places, but it hardly mattered now. Lupe could see a big hill to the W. That had to be it! Getting to the Mine Benchmark was going to be easy!
This was just the type of high, open territory Lupe loves. The lupines had lost their effect. The Carolina Dog was energized now! She raced away to explore this beautiful place.
Lupe soon reached a slope immediately S of Mine Benchmark. Large boulders were scattered here and there. It wasn’t far to the top. A little bird, probably the same one that tells all sorts of news and rumors, watched Lupe with curiosity as the Carolina Dog began the final part of her ascent. The easiest way up was from the SE.
The scramble to the top took only a few minutes. The summit area was roomy and fairly flat. The highest, rockiest parts were toward the SW end. Big rocks along the S and W edges of the summit area sat above cliffs of modest height. Many of the big rocks were separated by sizable gaps that had eroded out between them.
Loop got out on the big rocks for a look around. Panoramic views of beautiful, rolling Bighorn Mountain meadows spread out before her! It was the kind of territory that made you want to wander forever.
Pieces of an old wooden structure were laying around the summit area, and some smooth wire was draped among the rocks. These were reminiscent of what Lupe had found up on Squaw Mountain(9,313 ft.), the Shirley Mountains High Point(9,151 ft.), and Quealey Benchmark(9,150 ft.) earlier on this Dingo vacation. Lupe also found the actual Mine survey benchmark nearby.
Although a couple of big rocks looked almost equally high, SPHP thought a large slanty one toward the N was clearly the highest. Lupe needed a boost to get up on top, which SPHP was glad to give her.
The Carolina Dog let SPHP help her get down from the true summit, though she had appeared imminently ready to leap off all on her own. Once down, Lupe did some more exploring of the summit area.
A chilly NW breeze kicked up while Lupe was exploring some of the NE part of the summit ridge. Loop and SPHP left the ridge to get out of the wind. Loop circled back around to the SW side of the Mine Benchmark summit formation.
It was a gorgeous evening. The sinking sun would be down within the hour. Although Lupe had successfully completed her Mine Benchmark peakbagging objective, maybe sunset was worth sticking around for?
Lupe and SPHP hung around S of the high point for 20 minutes to see what might develop. Loop was greatly entertained watching several nervous pronghorn antelope.
The chilly NW breeze was still blowing when Lupe returned to the Mine Benchmark summit. The sun would be down pretty soon now. Quite a few clouds were off to the W. Hope existed for a brilliant display, but maybe the sun would just disappear behind the clouds.
Day’s end was beautiful, but the eagerly anticipated spectacular display never developed. Though Lupe waited hopefully, clouds ultimately swallowed the sun. It was gone. The sky darkened. Everything began fading to gray. Night was coming. Time to go.
Two stars, or perhaps planets, twinkled above by the time Lupe made it back to the G6. She had dinner, then rested outside on the ground watching, listening, and sniffing the air. Meanwhile, two lonely stars were joined by 2,000 more in the black void above.
Right on time, the guest of honor dashed into Grandma’s house wearing her party hat. Lupe has always celebrated her birthdays at Grandma’s, and wasn’t about to break with tradition. Good things always happen to her here, and there was no sense in taking any chances on her big day.
Of course, Grandma was the first to greet Lupe and welcome her to her home.
Most years the only guests at Lupe’s birthday party are Grandma, Grandma’s 3-legged cat Butterfly, and SPHP. This year was different. Mush was here, too!
In 2016, SPHP had baked Lupe a birthday cake for her 6th birthday. It had turned out pretty well, especially considering SPHP’s general level of culinary skills. This year, though, it was time for a step up. For the first time ever, Lupe had a store-bought birthday cake. It was decorated with colored sprinkles and pink, purple, and yellow balloons made of whipped cream icing.
No birthday party for a 7 year old girl is complete without presents! SPHP had brought 4 wrapped presents for Loop. What was inside? Lupe was dying to know, but she couldn’t open them quite yet.
Next came the scary part about birthdays – all those dangerous flaming candles! Lupe tried to be calm, but it took all her bravery and a command to sit right there from SPHP to avoid fleeing the scorching bonfire her birthday cake had become.
Mush blew out Lupe’s birthday candles for her to end the terror. The only bad part was that Mush only blew 6 out on her first try. She used a 2nd breath to blow out the 7th candle. Did that mean Lupe’s birthday wish wouldn’t come true? The Carolina Dog certainly hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but what was done was done.
Anyway, now that the scary part was over, it was time for presents! Mush helped Lupe open them. The first present was an instant hit – a T-bone steak from SPHP.
Next came a new Kong squeaker ball.
The 3rd present turned out to be a bag of Purina Waggin’ Train Chicken Jerky Tenders. Even though Grandma was already broiling her T-bone steak for her, Lupe decided maybe she should have a chicken jerky tender as an appetizer. Not that there was a thing wrong with her appetite, you understand. The jerky tender vanished in nothing flat.
Lupe’s 4th and final present from SPHP was a new Tuffy UltFlyer flying disc. It’s very strong and made of cloth, so it doesn’t hurt to catch it. The new flying disc was exactly like one Lupe had received from Erik & Ana a year ago in the PupJoy box they’d ordered for her. Loopster still has and uses her old flying disc practically every day, but it’s looking pretty frazzled by now. The squeaker inside hasn’t worked for months.
That was all the birthday loot Loop got from SPHP, but she wasn’t done yet. Grandma also had a present for Lupe, a big bag of Nudges Chicken Jerky Cuts. They also looked delicious!
Loop thought maybe she should sample one of the Nudges Chicken Jerky Cuts, too, just to keep her appetite up. SPHP said even though it was her birthday she shouldn’t open a 2nd bag of treats. She would have to save the Nudges until the 1st bag was gone so they would stay fresh. Besides, she’d already proven there wasn’t a thing wrong with her appetite.
Lupe now had a little time for some Kong squeaker ball fun with Mush and SPHP while Grandma was busy broiling her T-bone steak for her.
It wasn’t long before Grandma had the T-bone broiled to perfection. It was nice and hot, yet still a bit pink and bloody. The squeaker ball was a blast, but T-bone steak is Lupe’s favorite meal. She was able to tear herself away from the squeaker ball long enough to devour her scrumptious steak. SPHP cut the steak into bite-sized pieces for her.
The Purina Waggin’ Train Chicken Jerky Tender had done its job. Lupe’s appetite was great! In fact, she was famished! The entire T-bone steak disappeared as fast as SPHP could cut it up.
Everything disappeared except the actual T-bone, that is. SPHP made sure to leave some meat clinging to it. Lupe would get the bone later on at home.
Cake and ice cream was coming, but a little exercise was in order first. Lupe is a regular visitor at Grandma’s house. She always likes to go the cul-de-sac at the end of the street with SPHP at least once every time she’s here. This time of year, Loop enjoys the pretty Christmas lights while still keeping an eye out for bunnies and deer.
It was another warm evening for December. For the first time SPHP could remember, there wasn’t any snow on Lupe’s birthday.
When Lupe got back from the cul-de-sac, she went to see Butterfly, Grandma’s 3-legged cat. Butterfly always used to be at Lupe’s birthday parties, but now she likes to stay upstairs all the time. Lupe at least wanted to say hello to Butterfly on her birthday.
After her visit with Butterfly, it was time for cake and ice cream. The cake was rainbow colors inside. Lupe mainly liked licking the whipped cream icing off the cake. She devoured all the cookies ‘n cream ice cream SPHP would give her.
Full of cake, ice cream and T-bone steak, Loop spent the rest of the evening snoozing peacefully on Grandma’s soft carpet until it was time to go home.
At home, SPHP presented Lupe with her T-bone with meat still clinging to it. Lupe gnawed and gnawed. The T-bone was a very satisfying way to end another great birthday.
Lupe’s 7th birthday party had been a big success! Now she’s going to be 7 for a whole year. Lupe has never been 7 years old before, and isn’t certain what the coming year will bring. 7 is supposed to be a very lucky number, though, so she’s looking forward to many more Dingo Adventures, and hopes you are, too!
Day 10 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range & Beyond!
As you drive along I-80 through Rawlins WY, you can see in the distance about 35 miles north a mountain range with a very striking feature: a zigzagging white cliff band running nearly the entire length of the range from left to right. That band is the Madison formation, an upended layer of limestone which has subsequently been eroded into a series of V-notches by a succession of streams coming down from the crest above. I first noticed this mountain range in the late 1980s, and that zigzagging line reminded me of the zigzagging line across the bottom of the shirt that Charlie Brown wears. For this reason, I personally dubbed the range the “Charlie Brown Mountains”.– excerpt from Edward Earl’s trip report on his 9-5-2014 ascent of Ferris Mountain on Peakbagger.com
Rain! Not good. If it rained too hard, the dirt road would turn to mud. The G6 might get stuck way out here NW of Bairoil. Better get back to pavement, now!
It was still dark out, but Lupe was already awake. SPHP had just come to. In pre-dawn rain and fog, SPHP drove back to Bairoil. The rain had already let up to a light sprinkle, by the time Lupe reached the pavement on Hwy 73. May as well keep going.
Eight miles E of Muddy Gap, SPHP turned S off Hwy 220 onto Carbon County Road No. 499. The rain and fog were gone, but dark clouds still hid the Charlie Brown Range. It was light out now, but still very early. Lupe was ready for action! SPHP wasn’t.
Gimme a few more hours snoozing time, Loop. Need to wait a bit to see what the weather’s going to do anyway. And with that, SPHP parked the G6 and went back to sleep.
A few hours later, SPHP was ready. Time for Lupe to take on dreaded Ferris Mountain(10,037 ft.), high point of the entire Charlie Brown Range! Of course, that was provided she could even get close enough to make an attempt feasible.
The first part of the way ought to be easy enough. Lupe could follow directions in peakbagging hero Edward Earl’s trip report. She was already at the first place Mr. Earl mentioned, the sign for Pete Creek Road & Cherry Creek Road at the turn off Hwy 220.
Mr. Earl’s trip report contained detailed instructions on how to get to Ferris Mountain. The next thing to look for was 0.9 mile from Hwy 220 along Carbon County Road No. 499, where a road branching off to the R was marked only by an unreadable sign. This intersection quickly came into view.
Mr. Earl’s instructions said to go straight at this first intersection, avoiding the R turn on the unmarked road. 2 miles from Hwy 220 was another R turn, this time onto Cherry Creek Road, which was also to be avoided. Lupe and SPHP stayed on Carbon County Road No. 499 both times, and came to the Handcart Ranch sign 2.5 miles from Hwy 220.
Edward Earl mentioned a fork in the road 4.3 miles from Hwy 220. The R branch goes to a ranch, while Carbon County Road No. 499 continues to the L. Lupe arrived at this fork just as Mr. Earl said.
Edward Earl also said that the condition of Carbon County Road No. 499 worsened beyond this intersection. He cited frequent mud holes which were dry when he was here, but correctly surmised they were mud puddles during wet weather.
SPHP had scarcely made the L turn at the fork, when there was trouble ahead. A large mud puddle fed by a small stream completely blocked the road. Lupe and SPHP got out for a look.
Nope! Not gonna try it! This mud puddle was as far as the G6 was going. Mr. Earl’s trip report indicated that it wouldn’t be much farther before high clearance would be needed anyway. Even though the base of the Charlie Brown Range where Mr. Earl had parked his Nissan pickup truck was still 6.5 miles away, it was going to be paw and foot for Lupe and SPHP from here. Loopster was in for a very long day!
SPHP parked the G6 in the field next to Carbon County Road No. 499, and proceeded to get ready for Lupe’s long march. The ranch headquarters was in sight from this location, not too far away. Soon a vehicle was seen leaving HQ. A couple minutes later, Lupe and SPHP met Kyra Torgensen and her son. The G6 was parked on the ranch Kyra and her husband own. Naturally, she wanted to know what was going on.
SPHP explained that Lupe was here to climb Ferris Mountain. It was only another 0.2 mile to BLM land. SPHP would have parked over there, but the G6 couldn’t get past the mud puddle. Did she mind if the G6 was parked here for the day?
Mrs. Torgensen was a little reluctant at first. However, Carbon County Road No. 499 had to be a public right-of-way, which she must have known. SPHP didn’t mention this fact, though, hoping to avoid an argument. In the end, while she may not have been thrilled with the idea, Kyra Torgensen was fine with the G6 where it was. Before she drove away, she warned SPHP not to stay out too late, and to beware of wolves.
A few minutes later, Lupe and SPHP jumped the little stream, and began the long trek to Ferris Mountain (10:17 AM, 68°F). Only 0.2 mile farther, the Carolina Dog went through a gate onto BLM land. The road forked again. Following Edward Earl’s instructions, Lupe took the road to Pete Creek.
Lupe and SPHP weren’t worried about wolves. However, Ferris Mountain had long been the most dreaded peakbagging goal of this entire Dingo Vacation. The mountain itself wasn’t the worry. Distance wasn’t either. Forewarned by Edward Earl’s trip report, SPHP had realized all along that Lupe would likely have a 6+ mile trek just to get to the Charlie Brown Range.
The problem was the sagebrush prairie Lupe would have to cross. Two of Lupe’s nemeses might well be out there – cactus and rattlesnakes. If Lupe became scared of cacti, she would refuse to move. Rattlesnakes, of course, would be far worse.
For these reasons, SPHP encouraged Lupe to stay very close, preferably right on the road. Most of the time she did.
Fortunately, Lupe saw only a few cactus and no rattlesnakes. Meanwhile, the weather remained questionable. Dark clouds hung around. Sometimes they obscured virtually the entire Charlie Brown Range. Other times, they lifted to reveal the mountains. A significant storm was brewing off to the SE. For a while it came closer, but eventually it sailed off to the NE.
Roughly 4 miles from the G6, Lupe came to a cairn on the L side of Pete Creek Road. Edward Earl mentioned 3 cairns in this area, but the Loop only saw 1.
6.5 miles from the G6, Lupe finally reached the base of the Charlie Brown Range on a grassy ridge E of the mouth of Pete Creek Canyon. A white pickup truck was parked here near the edge of the forest, right about where Edward Earl must have parked his Nissan pickup. Pete Creek Road, which had been going due S for miles, turned SE here.
Lupe still had another 0.5 mile to go on Pete Creek Road along the base of the mountains. On the way, she lost 120 feet of elevation crossing the Rush Creek drainage, where she saw a salt lick noted by Edward Earl. By the time she reached a green metal gate near the mouth of Pole Canyon, she had regained all of the lost elevation and a good deal more.
Beyond the green metal gate, Loop finally left Pete Creek Road. She headed into Pole Canyon, and quickly came upon a different faint road heading up the valley.
Edward Earl had followed this same road up Pole Canyon. His trip report mentioned fallen trees and a few marshy spots, but Mr. Earl had been here in September when conditions are much drier. Pole Creek was no occasional marshy spot in the middle of June, but a clear running stream. It was easy enough to wade across, however, and Lupe enjoyed the cold water.
The road crossed Pole Creek more than once. Lupe also came to marshy glades, where the road hardly existed, but she could usually find it again a little higher up. After a while the road completely disappeared, lost for good.
At 8,450 feet, Loop arrived at the place where Pole Canyon splits. When Edward Earl had been here, only the R (W) branch had flowing water. Both branches had flowing water now. Like Edward Earl, Lupe stayed L (E). As she continued gaining elevation, the creek was increasingly hidden beneath snow.
Lupe stayed to the W (R) of the creek, but it started getting harder to make progress. The forest was dense, and the American Dingo came to more and more rocks and deadfall. The canyon sides steepened, becoming more difficult to traverse. SPHP decided Loop might have an easier time up on the ridge W of the creek.
For a while, leaving the canyon seemed like a good decision. Lupe had no problem reaching the ridgeline. It went straight S rising relentlessly at a pretty good clip, but there was less deadfall to deal with. Sometimes there was even some open ground. When she did come to rock formations, they usually weren’t much trouble to get around. Lupe gained elevation rapidly.
It was a long way up. Lupe gained lots of elevation, but the ridge started getting ever steeper and rockier. Huge rock formations appeared above. Looper ended up on steep slopes of broken rock interspersed with spruce trees. This was challenging terrain. SPHP began to fear there wouldn’t be a way to the top.
The ridgeline had basically disappeared. Lupe now seemed to be going straight up the N face of a mountain. She needed to get to easier terrain. SPHP led her up a very steep rocky chute toward a forested saddle between two massive rock formations.
Loop never made it to the saddle. Everything got so steep, progress ground to a halt. At the top of a long, narrow snow bank, SPHP realized that even if Loop could get up to the saddle, she probably didn’t stand much chance of getting over or around the giant rock formations towering above. She would be trapped between them.
Lupe had to down climb. She needed to get farther E. She didn’t have to lose all that much elevation, but it took a lot of time. Fortunately, it wasn’t terribly far around the huge rock formation above her. Once she managed to get around it, things became easier. The Carolina Dog was still on steep, rocky stuff, but the route up was more manageable.
Loop climbed and climbed. She was very high, and getting close to the top of something! Her luck needed to hold only a little longer. It did. Suddenly she was there! Lupe stood next to a wooden pole at the top of a big cairn. The views were spectacular!
Had Lupe arrived at the top of Ferris Mountain(10,037 ft.)? The grand views, and presence of the big cairn with the pole sticking out of it made SPHP think so.
A more careful look at the views and a glance at the topo map revealed this wasn’t the case. Lupe was already nearly as high as the true summit, but she was actually on Ferris Mountain’s most westerly sub-peak over 10,000 feet. The true summit was in view from here, still 0.5 mile away to the SE.
Clearly, the vast majority of the work of climbing Ferris Mountain(10,037 ft.) was done. Getting over to the true summit didn’t look hard. This appeared to be the 2nd highest point on the mountain, and an amazing place. Lupe had time to take a rest break and enjoy the views.
After relaxing on fabulous Ferris Mountain West, it was time to move on. The ridge Loop had to follow wasn’t difficult. Her first objective along it was a slightly lower subpeak only 0.1 mile E. She was soon there, looking down on the 9,900 foot saddle where Edward Earl had first reached the ridgeline.
Loop went down to the 9,900 foot saddle and crossed it. Edward Earl hadn’t gone all the way up to Ferris Mountain West, but the American Dingo was back on his trail again here. She was now approaching Ferris Mountain Middle(10,000 ft.), the next high point along the ridge.
The Carolina Dog stayed high as she went around the N side of Ferris Mountain Middle looking for a way to the top. She had to get E beyond the high point before she found a route. Ferris Mountain Middle(10,000 ft.) was another rather dramatic place to be!
Ferris Mountain’s true summit was now no more than 0.25 mile away. A lot of time had gone by. Lupe and SPHP were anxious to get there. The terrain wasn’t difficult, so Loop made great progress.
Near the very end, everything was rocky. Fortunately, it still wasn’t too hard getting around. Lupe seemed to be running out of mountain, when suddenly the summit appeared ahead. Right below the highest rocks, a metal sign said “Ferris Peak, Continental Divide, 10,037 ft.” Lupe had made it!
What a tremendous mountain! The views were superb. The weather was vastly improved from what it’d been this morning. Beauty shone forth in every direction in the early evening light. A glorious day! SPHP congratulated Lupe on her grand success, shaking her freckled paw.
Scrambling the short remaining distance to the highest rocks, Lupe came across two survey markers. At the very top, tucked among rocks near the metal sign, she found a plastic jar. Inside was a registry. SPHP was eager to have a look at.
Was it there? Yes, it was! Happy day! SPHP found the entry by Edward Earl.
Seeing that Edward Earl had written about the Charlie Brown Mountains made SPHP smile. Lupe had been to quite a few mountains with assistance from Mr. Earl’s detailed trip reports. Once again, she was at the top of a mountain Edward had been to before her. Sadly, Lupe would never get to meet him.
Edward Earl had perished tragically nearly 2 years ago on 6-19-2015, drowned in the rushing Jago River in the Brooks Range in NE Alaska following two failed attempts to climb Mount Isto(8,976 ft.).
Lupe rested among the rocks, while SPHP fiddled with the registry. When SPHP was finally done, it was time to spend a while contemplating the tremendous views.
All too soon, the angle of the sun insisted it was time to move on. Lupe left Ferris Mountain starting back the way she’d come up. SPHP figured the American Dingo still had some time to spare. She revisited the summit of Ferris Mountain Middle.
From Ferris Mountain Middle, Lupe went down to the 9,900 foot saddle. She was about to leave the mountain’s main ridgeline. Before continuing down, she took a last look at the huge expanse of prairie S of the Charlie Brown Range.
She then turned her attention to her final peakbagging objective of the day, Ferris Mountain North(9,740 ft.).
Looper headed down to the 9,700 foot saddle leading to Ferris Mountain North. She went N toward the high point. As she got close, she circled around to the E where it wasn’t as steep. Lupe quickly found a rocky route to the top.
To the S, were the forested upper N slopes of Ferris Mountain leading to the ridge where the Carolina Dog had spent the last several hours atop the Charlie Brown Range. To the N, thirsty sagebrush prairie stretched away to distant hills. Shadows of ridges made the land look like ripples on a sea.
Lupe couldn’t linger long on Ferris Mountain North. She was 2 miles from the green metal gate near the mouth of Pole Canyon. Another 7 miles to the G6. After a good look around, and a little time spent in contemplation, Lupe headed back to the 9,700 foot saddle.
Downhill all the way now! The Carolina Dog plunged N down into the E branch of Pole Canyon. The forest was a maze of 3 to 5 foot high snow drifts and deadfall timber, but this route was easier than the way Lupe had gone up. The terrain was only moderately steep, and not too rocky.
Loop soon discovered that the roughest ground was at the bottom of the canyon. For a long way, she stayed E and higher up, sometimes more than 100 feet above the creekbed. The snowbanks shrank and became less numerous, as she lost elevation.
By the time Lupe was low enough so most of the snow was gone, the deadfall wasn’t as bad either. She now made fast progress, which was a good thing. The sun, though still up, was hidden behind the mountains. Sunset couldn’t be too far off.
As Lupe drew near the point where both branches of Pole Canyon converge, the terrain changed. Lupe made her way to the bottom of the canyon, and leapt over to the W side of the creek. She soon came to the stream confluence, and had to make one more crossing. For a while she traveled down Pole Canyon staying W or NW of the stream.
To avoid the larger stream crossings and swampy ground closer to the mouth of Pole Canyon, Lupe eventually got up on the side of the ridge to the NW. Nearing the base of the Charlie Brown Range, she reached the ridgeline. The sun was down, the land dark. Thin clouds glowed brilliantly orange in a pale sky.
The colorful display faded to gray. Lupe managed to reach the green metal gate before it was too dark to see. Still 7 miles to go, but Loop had made it to Pete Creek Road. After crossing the Rush Creek drainage, the road turned N. All gently downhill from here.
Lupe and SPHP marched away from the Charlie Brown Range, never looking back. Only blackness was behind. Ahead, distant headlights on Hwy 220. The infinite universe glittered above.
Every now and then Lupe heard something, and went racing away into the night. Antelope? Rabbits? No telling. Fortunately, the luck of the Dingo held. She always came streaking back, panting happily. No cactus had stabbed her. No rattler had bit her. No wolves had devoured her.
Ferris Mountain had been a fabulous day! Yet, things don’t always go one’s way. Luck can run out. Perhaps weariness, or the silent black night was to blame, but during the long trek back it was hard not to think about another adventurer who had come this way. An adventurer who ultimately helped make this day a success for beloved Lupe, but whose luck had run out nearly 2 years ago.
It was hard not to ponder the life and times, and tragic fate of Edward Earl. (12:05 AM)
Start – Fort Meade National Cemetery near Sturgis, 8:46 AM, 35°F
Lupe arrived at Fort Meade National Cemetery the day after Veteran’s Day. The cemetery was officially closed this time of year. Loop wouldn’t have gone in even if it wasn’t. Some might consider an American Dingo prancing around a cemetery disrespectful, even though she wouldn’t have done any harm.
Lupe was actually here to visit a few peaks near Sturgis she’d never been to before. Once SPHP was ready, she crossed the road W of the cemetery, and started climbing along a ridgeline through a pine forest. She didn’t have far to go before reaching a broad meadow of tall grass.
In the meadow, Loop happened upon a dirt road that curved SW. She followed it higher back up into the forest. A huge dead tree had fallen over the road, blocking it completely. From the trunk of the dead tree, Lupe could see Bear Butte(4,422 ft.) off to the NE rising dramatically from the surrounding prairie.
The road climbed steadily through the forest. Before long, though, the terrain began to level out. The forest became more open and park-like, and the road curved NW.
Off to the SW, it looked like there might be views from the edge of the mountain. Lupe left the road to explore in that direction. Several deer fled as she approached the edge. Loop had a nice view of the valley S of Sturgis.
Peak3950 was Lupe’s destination. The summit was only 0.5 mile NW from here. Lupe traveled NW near the sharp SW edge of the mountain. At first, the terrain was level or rolling. The American Dingo had her choice of staying in the pine forest or out on another tall grass meadow, and did some of both. Bear Butte was still in view from the meadow.
In the meadow, Loop came upon the road again. She followed it NW back into the forest, gaining elevation at a moderate pace. Lupe stayed on the road until she was close to Peak 3950’s summit. The final part of the climb was an easy romp through the woods.
Peak 3950’s summit area was large and relatively level. The highest part was near the N end. No single point stood out as the exact location of the true summit, but Lupe was satisfied. Climbing Peak3950 had been easy and fun.
At the top of Peak 3950, trees hid the views in most directions. However, along the edge of the steep W slope, Lupe found rock outcroppings from which she could see the town of Sturgis.
Lupe could also see her next two peakbagging objectives. Oyster Mountain and Sly Hill were both in sight to the NW.
Names, dates, and initials had been carved into the rocks Lupe was standing on. One rock S of the summit area even had a whole phrase carved into it.
Lupe lingered on Peak 3950 for a little while, but didn’t stay terribly long. She still had more peakbagging to do. After sniffing around some and enjoying the views, it was time to head back to the G6.
Once Loop made it back to the G6 (10:41 AM), SPHP drove into Sturgis looking for a way to Oyster Mountain or Sly Hill. A mile NW of town, a road went N over a saddle on the ridge connecting the two mountains. A mile beyond the saddle, SPHP parked the G6 again (11:10 AM, 49°F).
Lupe got out ready to climb Oyster Mountain’s NE ridge. At first, she was in a mixed oak and pine forest, but she didn’t have far to go before reaching a meadow. Bear Butte was once again in view.
Just like on Peak 3950, Lupe found a dirt road in the meadow which took her higher and back into the forest. Loop followed this road SW most of the way up Oyster Mountain’s NE ridge. Sometimes she had glimpses of views along the way, but usually there were too many trees to see much of anything.
The road eventually reached a saddle. Loop would start losing elevation if she stayed on the road, so she left it. She headed W, still climbing steadily.
Before long, the Carolina Dog arrived at the top of a small hill. Maybe this was Oyster Mountain’s summit? SPHP wasn’t certain. The topo map had been forgotten in the G6.
Lupe continued W from the small hill, and soon reached a slightly higher hill. A ridge nearly the same height was in view to the SW across a small valley. The valley drained toward a depression to the W.
SPHP remembered the topo map had shown a depression close to Oyster Mountain’s true summit. Loop ought to be able to find the summit by crossing the valley, then following the ridge on the other side.
So that’s what she did. When Lupe made it up onto the ridge, she could see I-90 in the valley below on the other side.
Lupe followed the ridge WNW. The terrain was nearly level for a little way, but soon Loop saw slightly higher ground ahead. The summit had to be over there.
Shortly before reaching the top of Oyster Mountain(4,040 ft.), Loop came to a sparsely forested sunny hillside. Snow was visible on Terry Peak(7,064 ft.) on the far horizon. Closer by, Lupe had a nice view of heavily forested Crook Mountain(4,930 ft.).
Oyster Mountain’s summit proved to be a relatively narrow, 150 foot long, flat ridge. Forest blocked any views. Minor rock outcroppings that didn’t amount to much were on the S side near the far W end.
Loopster took her only Taste of the Wild break of the day up on Oyster Mountain. The shady summit ridge was a pleasant place. Traffic noise from I-90 only partially marred the sense of isolation.
On the way back to the G6, Lupe stopped by the sunny slope E of the summit again for a final look. She then left the ridgeline, cutting down to the depression in the small valley. The depression was bone dry now, but looked like a seasonal pond forms here during wet periods.
After leaving the depression, the American Dingo retraced her route up all the rest of the way down. Lupe had fun running and sniffing around, but it was only 1.25 miles back to the G6. It didn’t take her all that long to get there. (1:09 PM)
Loop still had one more peak to climb near Sturgis. SPHP drove to the saddle between Oyster Mountain and Sly Hill, parking near a fence surrounding a “rubble site” (1:16 PM, 52°F). A sign nearby indicated Dingoes might not be entirely welcome on Sly Hill, the top of which was only 0.5 mile to the SE. Hmmm.
American Dingoes can be quite foxy, and the name of her objective was Sly Hill, after all. Lupe wouldn’t hurt a thing. Off she went, slinking through the forest. It didn’t take her long to reach a wide flat meadow rimmed with pines. The topo map showed this area as the true summit of Sly Hill(3,920 ft.).
The topo map showed another high point on Sly Hill only 0.25 mile to the SE. High Point 3917 was supposed to be almost as high as the official summit. Maybe Lupe should go on over there to check it out while she was still in the area? It seemed like the thing to do.
Off Lupe went. She lost a bit of elevation exploring a narrower part of the ridge that forms Sly Hill. Soon Loop was approaching High Point 3917, a far smaller area that came to much more of a definite peak than the official summit. She caught a glimpse of Bear Butte as she began the short climb.
Climbing High Point 3917 was easy. Lupe got up on the top rocks at the foot of a big pine tree. Up until now, SPHP hadn’t been totally certain where Lupe was on Sly Hill, but the views from here confirmed her position. Parts of Sturgis could be seen, though trees obscured some of the town.
Lupe’s exploration of Sly Hill was now complete, except for one thing. On the way to the official summit shown on the topo map, Lupe had passed N of some high ground that seemed like it might actually have been higher than the official summit.
So Lupe returned to Sly Hill’s official summit, then proceeded W looking for the high ground she’d bypassed earlier. She climbed a heavily forested narrow ridge. The official summit could not be seen from here, but SPHP would have bet money that this high point to the W was actually the true summit of Sly Hill.
Lupe had done about all there was to do up on Sly Hill. The Carolina Dog left the W high point (and likely true summit) traveling NW along the ridgeline. This proved to be the most rugged terrain she’d come to on Sly Hill. She went by several interesting rock formations on the way down.
The Sly Dingo of Sly Hill made it back to the G6 without incident (2:34 PM). At least a couple of hours of daylight remained. With visions of Lupe making one more peakbagging attempt at yet another modest, seldom-visited hill, SPHP drove Lupe to the Whitewood area. She even got close to Spearfish. However, she had no luck at any other hills or mountains.
So Sly Hill was Lupe’s final peakbagging success of Expedition No. 215. That didn’t bother the Carolina Dog at all. She didn’t mind riding around barking at deer, cattle and horses at all! She had a blast the whole time, yipping and yapping until it was way too dark to see.
Day 9 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range & Beyond!
Though shown on the road map, Lamont didn’t even seem to be a town. Sagebrush, a few cattle, and a highway intersection was about it. After turning W off Hwy 287, SPHP found a place to park. Lupe got out for a look around. Off to the NW, she could see her next peakbagging objective, Whiskey Peak(9,225 ft.), the highest point in the Green Mountains.
The view was encouraging. Whiskey Peak looked like an easy climb for the Carolina Dog. The big question was access. If Lupe could get to Whiskey Peak, SPHP was certain she could climb it. The only roads into the area that the G6 might be able to manage were NW of the town of Bairoil. Even those roads might quickly deteriorate to high clearance or 4WD vehicles only.
Hwy 73 was paved all the way to Bairoil. So far, so good. Bairoil didn’t really seem to be much of a town either, but there was a lot more here than at Lamont. Bairoil appeared to be more of an energy-related industrial center. Metal buildings, industrial equipment, and vehicles were widely scattered along a network of dirt and gravel roads. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot going on right now. Maybe because energy prices were still relatively low in 2017?
The street layout in Bairoil didn’t seem to match up very well with what was shown on the old topo map. SPHP drove NW through town, staying mostly to the L at turns, and continued this same practice once Lupe was N of town. A number of gravel roads headed out this direction, none marked in any way that meant anything to SPHP.
After bumping along for 2 or 3 miles, SPHP parked the G6 near an intersection on relatively flat, sparsely vegetated ground. There hadn’t been any signs indicating private property or prohibiting public access on the way here. Close enough! Situation excellent! This was about as far as SPHP had dared hope the G6 would be able to make it, anyway. Lupe could start for Whiskey Peak from here. (10:35 AM, 62°F)
A strong breeze was blowing out of the W as Lupe set out. She didn’t head straight for Whiskey Peak, which was now to the NE, but followed a road leading NW from the intersection. This road, which was in such good condition the G6 might easily have followed it farther, appeared headed for a ridge a few miles away. The ridge was mostly bare, but dotted with scattered pines or junipers.
A fence ran parallel to the road, not too far off to the R (NE). Lupe stuck with the road only until the fence ended. Staying on the road would have taken Loop up to Whiskey Ridge, but a more direct route to Whiskey Peak appeared to be an option. Up on more heavily forested slopes along a higher part of Whiskey Ridge straight N from here, another road could be seen.
Lupe abandoned the road she’d been following, and headed NE avoiding the fence. She crossed the Abel Creek drainage, which was dry and fairly shallow here. A faint, grassy road led out of the drainage to a better road that headed for Whiskey Ridge. Loop followed it N across high prairie toward the forest, gradually gaining elevation all the way.
The road Lupe was on led right to the road she’d seen from a distance high up in the forest on Whiskey Ridge. As she got near the trees, the slope began to increase dramatically. Soon Lupe was climbing steeply. The road up was in bad shape. For a long way, it was deeply eroded and full of loose rocks. As a road, it was nothing but a disaster, though it still made a good trail.
By now, it was quite warm in the sun. The steepness of the route caused SPHP to stop many times to rest. Lupe was eager to escape the heat. She curled up in the shade whenever SPHP stopped, and frequently accepted water.
By and by, Lupe finally reached the top of the ridgeline. The remnant of the road she’d been following went right on over the saddle where she came up. Oddly enough, what appeared to be a large electrical service box was close by.
Not realizing how much of a shortcut Lupe had taken, SPHP was puzzled to find no other roads around. The topo map showed a road following closely along the top of Whiskey Ridge for nearly 2 miles from a pass NE of Stratton Rim North. The plan had been for Lupe to follow this road all the way to Whiskey Peak. However, it was nowhere in sight.
SPHP failed to realize Lupe had arrived at the 8,730 foot saddle at the E end of the 2 mile stretch where the road to the summit abandons the ridgeline. Very close to where Looper was, it jogged N going downhill a short distance before turning SE to head for Whiskey Peak. If Lupe had just stuck with the road she’d been on a bit farther, she would soon have come to it.
Instead, Loop and SPHP turned E, and began climbing a grassy slope which led to a forested high point. It seemed like the most reasonable thing to do, since it was clear Whiskey Peak was still well to the E from here. As Lupe went up the grassy slope, she started getting her first look at some impressive views.
Loop entered the forest above the grassy slope, and continued on up to the high point. The high point itself wasn’t heavily forested. Lupe could see a tower up on Whiskey Peak from here.
SPHP was surprised by how close Lupe was already. She was over 9,000 feet, and the summit was only a mile away. Getting there would be a cinch! A long grassy slope went all the way to the top.
A small ridge led E from the first high point Lupe had reached to another slightly higher one no more than 0.25 mile away. (High Point 9041 on the topo map) Loopster started for the next high point following this little ridge.
Lupe never got to High Point 9041. Instead, she spotted a small pond to the N at the bottom of a short slope. The pond looked refreshing! Naturally, the American Dingo had to go check it out.
After wading around to cool off and drinking her fill, Lupe left the pond. She traveled E through an open forest where yellow wildflowers grew in sunny glades.
Beyond the forest, Lupe reached the long grassy slope that went the rest of the way up to the top of Whisky Peak. As she approached, a small herd of 5 horses watched with concern. These horses seemed to be wild, and living up on Whiskey Peak permanently. They were curious, but gave Lupe and SPHP a wide berth.
Lupe reached the summit of Whiskey Peak(9,225 ft.). The highest point was near the S end of a long, spacious ridge. Pink, orange, tan and white rocks and boulders were plentiful. The biggest, most eye-catching view was off to the ESE toward Ferris Mountain(10,037 ft.).
Whiskey Peak featured plenty of impressive views in other directions, too. Lupe and SPHP hung out around the summit quite a while taking it all in.
The W wind hadn’t been bad most of the way up, but was practically a gale on top of Whiskey Peak. Loop took little breaks now and then between photo sessions. She usually sought out the lee side of rocks, or sat next to SPHP for shelter.
Mighty breezy up here, SPHP! Is this it?
Sure is, Loop. Is this what?
The top of the mountain, silly. Is this it?
Oh, yes, of course! Yeah, this is the top, alright. Look at those views!
Yes, yes, quite splendid. And windy. So it’s time to celebrate, right?
Oh, sure! Congratulations, Looper, you’ve climbed another magnificent mountain! All the way to the top. Great job, Loop!
Thanks for shaking my paw and all, SPHP. I do appreciate your sentiments, but I was hoping for a bit more actually. This is sort of a special place, right?
Yes, I suppose it is special. What were you hoping for? Water, Taste of the Wild? I brought plenty of both.
Umm, no. Those are fine usually, but I was hoping for something a little more appropriate for the occasion.
Huh, like what?
You’re a bit slow as usual SPHP. Where are we after all?
Ruh, roh! Lupe gazed expectantly up at SPHP, her eyes shining merrily with a big smile on her face. The wind ruffled her fur, but she was momentarily unperturbed.
For a moment, not knowing what to do, SPHP did and said nothing. Gradually, the smile began to fade from Looper’s face. As SPHP began to pet her, Loop’s ears drooped. Gone was the look of a 4 year old on Christmas morning. Tears glistened in her always trusting light brown eyes.
So, there’s nothing else in the pack for me, for us, then?
No, sorry Loop.
No Glenfiddich? Not even a little Jack Daniels?
Not a drop. Guess, I didn’t think. I didn’t realize you might be expecting anything like that.
Lupe blinked back the tears.
Oh, it’s OK. I suppose I should have known. We’ve been to Elk Mountains and there haven’t been any elk. Deer Mountain and there weren’t any deer. Bear Mountain and there weren’t any bears. I never will understand you humans. I just thought that this time, after all the mountains we’ve been to, maybe this one was a really special place. Maybe this time you really were planning a special celebration for me. I got my hopes up.
Sorry to have disappointed you, dearest Dingo. I’ll make it up to you somehow, before too long. Whiskey Peak is a really special place. Just like all the other mountains we’ve been on. There are countless mountains in the world, and we will only ever see the world from a tiny fraction of them. Seeing these fabulous views, even if for only a little while, and even if we never ever come back to see them again, makes this place special. And what makes it really special is that we are both here to share it together, sweet Dingo of mine!
Lupe sighed, then smiled weakly.
I know you’re right, SPHP. But promise me one thing. If we ever do come back to Whiskey Peak, you won’t disappoint me again. Deal?
Lupe lifted her freckled paw and let SPHP shake it.
OK, SPHP. Let’s go see what else there is to see from here before I get blown off clear to the next county.
After taking a break and spending a while near Whiskey Peak’s true summit, Lupe went N along the summit ridge toward the tower close to the N end. The ground near the tower was definitely lower than where she’d already been, but this area provided a different vantage point for another look around.
Lupe still had a long way to go, so she couldn’t stay up on Whiskey Peak too long. The wind being what it was, she was glad of that. From the tower, she started down the huge grassy slope to the W. The wild horses saw her coming again, and circled back around the S side of the slope up towards the true summit to stay out of the Carolina Dog’s way.
On the way down, Loop stuck to the road that came up the center of the grassy area for a considerable distance.
Lupe eventually left the road to go back to the pond she’d gone wading in on the way up. From the pond she went NW through the forest, hoping to avoid having to climb the high point W of the pond again by staying N of it.
This turned out to be the worst possible route back to the saddle where she’d first reached Whiskey Ridge. Either staying on the road from the tower, or climbing from the pond back up to the high point would have been better. The forest NW of the pond was full of deadfall timber, plus a steep drainage that was a bother to cross.
Nevertheless, Loop made it back to the grassy slope leading down to the saddle where she’d first reached Whiskey Ridge. The shortest route back to the G6 would have been to leave the saddle going S right back down the steep rocky road she’d come up earlier in the day. However, by now, SPHP had seen the road following Whiskey Ridge farther WSW, and understood where Lupe was on the topo map.
Instead of going straight back to the G6, following the road along the ridge would eventually get Lupe to where she could peakbag Stratton Rim North(8,740 ft.) today, too. This was a long detour, but Loop still had time enough to do it. It seemed like a fun idea, and she wasn’t likely to ever have another chance like this one.
So from the saddle, Lupe followed the ridge road.
After 2 miles on the winding road traversing Whiskey Ridge, Lupe reached Low Pass. Several roads intersected here. Stratton Rim North was still another 0.75 mile away. Only an ATV trail went the remaining distance to it, but that was plenty good for Loop.
The ATV trail didn’t go quite all the way to the top of Stratton Rim North, passing N of the high point only a short distance below it. The wind was howling here, even worse than it had been up on Whiskey Peak. Lupe wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but she did manage to climb to the top of Stratton Rim North(8,740 ft.).
SPHP was glad she did. The views were really terrific!
Lupe’s journey to Whiskey Peak and Stratton Rim North had been a success! However, the American Dingo was anxious to escape the powerful blasts of the gusty W wind. SPHP briefly considered the possibility of going straight on down Stratton Rim North’s E slope, but decided it was too steep to be worth the trouble. May as well take the ATV trail back to Low Pass.
Before she got all the way back to Low Pass, though, Loopster did take a shortcut. She left the ATV trail descending E down a minor ridgeline into a valley. She intercepted a road going S down the valley from Low Pass. The road gradually curved SE.
Lupe was still high enough to have panoramic views to the S and E, but far enough down so Stratton Rim sheltered her from the wind. The evening trek back to the G6 was easy, beautiful, and fun. Lupe saw a larger herd of wild horses, and several pronghorn antelope on the way.
It was still light out when Lupe got back to the G6 (7:42 PM, 65°F). After having her evening Alpo, she wanted out again. She wandered around sniffing for a bit, then found a place to curl up. This far from Stratton Rim, the W wind swept over her, though not nearly so strongly as up on the ridge.
And there Lupe stayed, listening and watching, as clouds swept past overhead and light of day faded away. Whiskey Peak disappeared from view as the world turned black. And if SPHP had had any Glenfiddich or Jack Daniels, Lupe surely would have gotten a shot or two before bed, but alas, the poor doggie had none!
October 21st dawned bright and breezy, the air exceptionally crisp and clear. Puffy white clouds sailed the blue sky. SPHP knew instantly that cancelling had been a mistake, but nothing could be done about it. Yes, this was a breezy day, but nothing approaching the forecast 40+ mph wind gusts would ever materialize.
Lupe’s opportunity to meet new friends had been rescheduled. November 4th arrived, and she was finally on her way! What a day this was, though! Heavily overcast, dark and cold. Only a couple of days ago, the forecast had looked fine. Now this! Again too late to do anything about it. Expedition No. 214 was on, come what may!
At 7:59 AM, with exactly one minute to spare, Lupe arrived at the Latchstring Inn at Savoy in Spearfish Canyon. No sign of Rizzo, Buddy & Josh, yet. No worries, they’d be here soon enough. In the meantime, Lupe went over to take a look at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.
Looper also had time to check out Little Spearfish Creek.
Rizzo, Buddy & Josh soon arrived. Rizzo and Buddy were so excited about going on an expedition, they weren’t about to hold still for a group photo. Lupe and her new friend, Josh, posed together, though.
The date wasn’t the only thing that had changed for this first outing together. Only a couple of days ago, Plan A’s chosen destination had fallen through. A major disappointment at the time, but now clearly a good thing given the weather.
Josh had expressed interest in any routes Lupe knew of up into the country E of Spearfish Canyon. On prior expeditions Lupe had explored two such routes. Plan B was that Loop would take Rizzo, Buddy and Josh on one of them. Two specific destinations became Expedition No. 214’s objectives – Elk Mountain(6,422 ft.) and the cliffs overlooking Savoy.
Lupe’s route to Elk Mountain started at Annie Creek Road near Elmore, 4 miles up Spearfish Canyon from Savoy. The weather remained cold and heavily overcast, even a bit foggy, but everyone was in good spirits as the trek began. (8:36 AM, 32°F)
Annie Creek Road went N for 0.75 mile. Upon reaching the side canyon Annie Creek flows down, it turned NE for another 0.75 mile. The snowy road was an easy romp, being nearly level this whole way. It was a good place for everyone to become acquainted.
Lupe wasn’t used to having so much company, but the dogs all got along just fine. Buddy and Rizzo were adventure dogs, too! In fact, Rizzo and Josh have been enjoying their own weekly adventures in the Black Hills even longer than Lupe and SPHP. Buddy wasn’t as experienced in the adventuring business, having only recently joined the Hilpert family. However, it was clear he was relishing his good fortune.
The first big decision came at an intersection 1.5 miles from the start. The only time Lupe had been to Elk Mountain before was nearly 1.5 years ago. Back then, she had taken the road to the L, which went W back to Spearfish Canyon before turning NW. The road stayed level, but ultimately came to two places where old bridges had collapsed. Lupe had made it past the first resulting gap, but not the second. In the end, she’d had to climb a very steep slope, though once on top, this had ultimately proven to be a good direct route to Elk Mountain.
The other option was take the road to the R, which went NE up the Annie Creek valley. Last time, looking for a shortcut back to the G6 late in the day, Lupe had gone down a different steep slope that had brought her into this valley. SPHP remembered it had looked like Lupe could have followed roads all the way down, if she had been willing to take a somewhat longer route.
It was cold and damp. Ice and snow might make hillsides treacherous. It seemed best to avoid the steep climb up from the road to the L. The decision was made to turn R, following the road up Annie Creek valley.
Another intersection was reached only 0.25 mile farther on. Rizzo and Buddy crossed Annie Creek for a brief exploratory foray on a side road going SE up Lost Camp Gulch. That wasn’t the way to Elk Mountain, though, so they quickly returned.
Lupe and SPHP had never been this far up Annie Creek before, but it seemed reasonable to continue on the road following the creek a little farther before looking for a way up onto higher ground to the N. Rizzo, Buddy and Josh had never been here before either, so they simply tagged along.
The road following Annie Creek headed NE, beginning to gain significant elevation above the stream on the way. Eventually a minor side road appeared on the L. It went N up a steep, forested slope. N was the right direction, so the side road seemed like a good way to reach higher ground quickly.
After a steep climb, the side road leveled out as expected. The forest was pretty foggy up here.
Elk Mountain couldn’t have been much more than 1.5 miles to the NW as the crow flies from here. Due to the fog, though, the mountain wasn’t in sight. No other landmarks more than a couple hundred feet away could be seen, either. As long as Lupe kept heading N or NW, though, SPHP was confident she would eventually find the mountain.
The minor road eventually faded and curved off in the wrong direction. Lupe and SPHP led everyone N or NW, traversing snowy slopes. The terrain was more convoluted here than where Lupe had been on her first visit to Elk Mountain. Lupe tried to keep gaining elevation, but often she had to lose some. She finally came to a big fence.
Reaching the fence was encouraging! Beyond it were extensive gold mining operations. Lupe had seen them before. She had followed this fence N on her first trip to Elk Mountain. She hadn’t had to follow it more than 0.25 mile before she’d seen a big pond inside the fence. If the American Dingo could find that pond again today, SPHP was certain of the rest of the route to Elk Mountain.
Everyone trudged NW along the fence. The terrain went up and down, but eventually seemed to be going more down than up. On and on, much farther than Lupe had followed the fence the first time. SPHP had expected it to be farther coming this way, but quite a bit of time went by. The pond didn’t materialize. By now it was so foggy Lupe might not even be able to see it.
Why hadn’t the pond appeared? Had the Carolina Dog passed it in the fog? Could it really be this far? Josh and SPHP stopped to consult the topo map and discuss things. The problem was, the topo map SPHP had was old. The mining operations, which had altered a great deal of terrain, were newer and not shown on the map. SPHP knew the mine was SE of Elk Mountain, but only had a general idea of how far SE.
Consulting the map without being able to see some landmark shown on it, was no help. Even more disturbing, it turned out that Josh and SPHP had completely different ideas on what direction Lupe had been going! Knowing the truth about that was sort of important. Critical, one might say.
15 or 20 feet beyond the fence, a mine worker was standing on a knoll. He was busy watching or directing someone else operating a truck or other equipment that could be heard, but wasn’t in sight from outside the fence. Josh suggested asking him where this spot was on the map. Sure, why not?
The miner was friendly, and glad to be of service. He said this was the Wharf Mine. No doubt that was true. Other than that, he was a wealth of misinformation. Before even looking at the topo map, he volunteered that Lupe and company were somewhere between Foley Mountain(6,640 ft.) and Terry Peak(7,064 ft.).
What!? Impossible! If true, Lupe had been going in completely the wrong direction for a long time. Another glance at the map convinced SPHP that couldn’t possibly be right. Lupe would have had to take the road up Lost Camp Gulch to be anywhere close to the area between Foley Mountain and Terry Peak. Rizzo and Buddy had started up that road, but that hadn’t been where everyone had ultimately headed.
Josh and SPHP showed the miner the topo map. He ultimately pointed out a different area ESE of Elk Mountain, and said that was where this place was. That didn’t seem right either, but it wasn’t outlandish. Lupe might not be too far S of there. If so, that was good news.
Nearby, a road headed away from the fence. The miner said to follow it to get to Elk Mountain. Worth a shot, maybe. After thanking the miner for his assistance, everyone took the unmarked road.
The snowy road was fairly level. The forest was foggier than ever. Away from the fence, all sense of direction, accurate or not, was lost. Rizzo, Buddy, Lupe, Josh & SPHP arrived at a fork in the road. Which way? The road to the L led to a hill. The road to the R was level or losing elevation gradually as it disappeared into the fog.
On the vast majority of mountains, the summit is kept at the top. SPHP suggested taking the L fork going up the hill. If Lupe was anywhere on the slopes of Elk Mountain, going up would eventually get everyone to the summit.
The hill proved to be a small one. The road soon leveled out. It began curving to the L, then disappeared beneath a pile of deadfall. In every direction, the terrain sloped down. Gah! SPHP thought higher ground was visible in a small opening between trees off to the R, then became convinced it might only have been fog.
Josh had a compass! He’d mentioned it before. SPHP was completely turned around, so when Josh mentioned the compass again, suddenly it seemed to be the crucial missing link. Was the compass accurate? Josh was convinced it was. According to the compass, this road up the hill had been going W before turning SW.
No one was going to get to Elk Mountain going SW! SPHP still believed the mountain was NW from here, but NW was down a slope. Lupe and SPHP led everyone N off the road, into the forest. The terrain to the N lost elevation, too, but more slowly than going NW would have. It wasn’t long before Lupe was gaining elevation again. SPHP found a road! Yes!
No! Josh had the temerity to point out this was the very same road that had just been left behind. Really? Yeah, really. There were the fresh foot and paw prints. Proof positive. Good grief! Better go back to the fork and try the road to the R. Josh headed off in the wrong direction. Everyone arrived again at the place where the road turned SW and disappeared under the deadfall. Company halt! About face, and march!
Back once again at the fork, the road to the R was the next subject of exploration. After 5 or 10 minutes, a long straight section was reached that stretched ahead as far as could be seen into the foggy forest. What direction was that? Josh checked the compass. The road went W.
This wasn’t going to work either. SPHP was convinced Lupe was still too far S. Going a long way W would only bring everyone to cliffs at Spearfish Canyon. A lot of time was being chewed up wandering all these roads. Best to go back to the fence at the mine, and keep following it as before. If that didn’t work, Expedition No. 214 was doomed to failure. Sad, but true.
The terrain went down at first, as Lupe followed the fence. This didn’t seem right, but she hadn’t gone far when suddenly, there was the pond! It was faintly visible in the fog beyond the fence. Confusion vanished. Lupe was going to get Rizzo, Buddy and Josh to the top of Elk Mountain after all! Puppies, ho! Onward!
After crossing shallow McKinley Gulch, a rough road was reached. This road went NE to an intersection near the upper end of the gulch. A much better road ran E/W here. W was now the way to go! Still unseen, Elk Mountain was only 0.5 mile away.
The road W soon arrived at another fork. Lupe took the L branch going SW. She followed it looking for one more turn, a driveway on the R. Found it! Gaining elevation all the way, the driveway headed W to the S side of Elk Mountain, then curled all the way around to the mountain’s E and then N slopes.
It was only early November, but the top of Elk Mountain was a winter wonderland! Snow, frost, cold and fog. It could have been January, the way things looked and felt.
Due to the fog, the success of the whole expedition had been in doubt for hours, but everyone made it to the top of Elk Mountain(6,422 ft.).
Of course, all views from Elk Mountain on this glorious day were hidden in the fog. Right on the summit, though, was a sight that brought cheer to the whole group. Lupe and SPHP had known it was here, but it was a complete and welcome surprise to Rizzo, Buddy & Josh.
At the top of the mountain is a small octagonal structure with 7 windows and a little door. It appears to be a child’s playhouse. Nothing of significance was inside. Hundreds, maybe thousands of dead flies covered the carpeted floor. On this cold, snowy day, that didn’t matter.
The playhouse was unlocked, a little warmer, and much drier than being outdoors. It was just large enough so Rizzo, Buddy, Lupe, Josh & SPHP could all get inside. Everyone got in to rest and warm up a bit. Lupe had water and her usual Taste of the Wild. Rizzo and Buddy tried some Taste of the Wild, too, and found it to their liking.
Josh and SPHP discussed options for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, it had taken so long to find Elk Mountain, there wasn’t going to be much time for extras. The other original objective for the day, going to the cliffs overlooking Savoy, was out. It would take too long to get there, and nothing would be gained from going to a fabulous viewpoint in the fog, anyway.
Ragged Top Mountain(6,200 ft.) was only 1.25 miles NW, but other than peakbagging for peakbagging’s sake, again there didn’t seem to be any point in the fog. The old townsite of Preston was closer, but consists mainly of a single decaying old building. Not too scintillating. It wasn’t enough of an enticement on such a wintery day.
In the end, no other easily attainable objectives nearby came to mind. Days are short in November, and it was already early afternoon. In this weather it would get dark even earlier than normal. Just getting back to the vehicles was going to take hours.
So once everyone had taken a break and warmed up a little in the charming, dead-fly decorated playhouse, it was time for another look around Elk Mountain’s summit before beginning the journey back.
With no views to linger for, final inspection of Elk Mountain’s relatively small summit ridge didn’t take much time. Soon the descent through the mountain’s winter wonderland began.
The first part of the journey back was a simple retracement of the ascent. By the time everyone was S of McKinley Gulch, back at the fence on the W side of the Wharf gold mine again, the fog had lifted to a degree. The pond Lupe had been looking for on the way to Elk Mountain was now in clear sight.
While heading S from the pond not far from the fence, SPHP saw terrain to the SW that looked familiar. Hadn’t Lupe been over there the first time she went to Elk Mountain? Yes! A quick foray in that direction brought the expedition to a road Lupe had been on before.
From here, it was possible to follow a series of unmarked roads S or SE that ultimately led back down to Annie Creek. The clouds had lifted enough to reveal partial views from a few points along the way.
Light was beginning to fade by the time the last intersection 1.5 miles from the vehicles was reached. The rest of the way back was a snap from here. Maybe enough time remained for a little more exploring? SPHP talked Josh into checking out the road Lupe had taken to Elk Mountain the first time.
It was farther along this road to where the first bridge had collapsed than SPHP remembered. After 0.5 mile or more, it was time to forget it and turn around.
In increasing darkness, the march back along Annie Creek Road seemed longer than it had early in the day. The adventure dogs all had a fine time, though, while Josh and SPHP chatted.
There had been plenty of opportunities to visit during the day. It had been fun to compare notes and have wide ranging discussions on peaks, places, and a variety of other topics. Rizzo, Buddy and Lupe had gotten along well together. The weather hadn’t been conducive to enjoying scenery, but had made Expedition No. 214 seem far more mysterious and challenging than it otherwise would have been.
It had been a good day, a fun time for all. Rizzo, Buddy & Josh Hilpert live in Sturgis, SD, so perhaps more adventures are in store with Lupe’s new friends from time to time. It’s something to look forward to!