Start 8:23 AM, 50°F, USFS Road No. 203.5 just off Rochford Road
Lupe liked the looks of this place – green grass, a bubbling creek, choice of sun or shade. A slice of American Dingo paradise, that’s what it was! Loopster was all smiles.
Smiles and energy, that is! Lupe took off running. She bounded through the tall grass wet with dew near Gimlet Creek. Of course, she tested the waters of the creek itself, too. They quickly earned the Carolina Dog seal of approval.
As SPHP started up USFS Road No. 203.5, Lupe raced through fields on both sides of the creek. Sometimes she scrambled partway up the sides of the valley. She was looking for squirrels, but didn’t find any. A great many of the large trees on the hillsides were dead, killed by pine bark beetles.
Lupe remained hopeful, though. The day was just beginning. Having a creek to follow was simply glorious! Loop loved being able to cool off in the stream. At intervals, the road had big mud puddles, too. Lupe strolled through each one, slurping up cloudy brown water as she went. She was definitely getting her mineral requirements met.
Only a week ago, Lupe had found snow up in the hills on Expedition No. 202. No chance of that today. Not even close. Beneath a cloudless blue sky, the day was warming up fast. In fact, the forecast was for near record temperatures in the 80’s °F. From winter to summer with scarcely any transition between. Not good, but not that unusual in the Black Hills.
After 2 miles, the road forded Gimlet Creek. Lupe was already slowing down due to the rising temperatures. She stayed closer to SPHP and the road. Fur coats are wonderful when it’s cool out, but not so great when it’s warm. Lupe’s tongue hung out. She wore a perpetual smile whether she wanted to or not.
Beyond the ford, the valley widened out considerably.
About 0.25 mile N of the ford, Gimlet Creek turned E. From a side valley to the W, a smaller tributary stream flowed into a pond before continuing over to its confluence with Gimlet Creek. Several ducks flew away as Lupe drew near the pond.
A family of Canadian geese had made this pond home. When Lupe arrived, they were out for a stroll on the green grass nearby.
The little geese were far too young to fly, so when momma and papa saw Lupe, they led the chicks back to the safety of the water. In the meantime, the ducks had already returned.
For a few minutes, Lupe and SPHP enjoyed watching the ducks and geese. Unseen frogs sang a noisy tune. It was a pleasant scene, but Lupe was soon eager to press on.
Immediately N of the pond, USFS Road No. 203.5 left the valley and disappeared up a forested hillside. Lupe didn’t follow it. Instead, she went W on a fading side road, which paralleled the tributary of Gimlet Creek. She had to go around deadfall timber blocking the road in a number of places.
The side road soon ended at a marshy area where another small valley came down from the N. Lupe crossed the marsh, still heading W. She stayed in the valley the tributary of Gimlet Creek flowed through. Eventually this valley turned N, too.
The tributary of Gimlet Creek was a very small stream, but did have flow. After the valley turned N, Lupe came across another minor road following this stream. The road forded the tiny creek 5 or 6 times. Lupe was always glad to have another chance to cool her paws off.
Lupe was 1.25 miles from the pond when she came to a pole fence across the valley. On the other side was a better road. Lupe went around the fence and continued N on this new road. She met a little green snake basking in the sun. Though it was warm out, the snake didn’t move even when SPHP prodded it with a stick.
Why the snake didn’t move wasn’t clear. It looked fine, but perhaps something was wrong with it? The only sign of life it gave was to flicker its tongue when lightly poked.
The new road quickly brought Lupe to a junction. A sign said Lupe had been on Killoern Springs Road (USFS Road No. 204.1B). The other road at the junction was USFS Road No. 204.1. Lupe sat in the shade of a big pine tree while SPHP checked the maps.
The maps confirmed that Lupe was now more than 3 miles from where she’d left the G6. She actually did have a peakbagging goal today. She was on her way to Minnesota Ridge (6,240 ft.), the summit of which was still another 2 miles to the NW. Only a little farther N on No. 204.1 was another junction, this one with Minnesota Ridge Road (USFS Road No. 203). In fact, Lupe could see the junction from here.
Minnesota Ridge Road wouldn’t take Lupe all the way to the summit, but it would get her reasonably close. Lupe headed for it.
The march up Minnesota Ridge Road was sunny. The day was very hot for early May. The little stream Lupe had been following had completely disappeared. Lupe panted. Her tongue hung out as she plodded along the dusty road behind SPHP. A couple of times, SPHP stopped to give her water.
The road didn’t climb all that steeply, but it was steep enough. The heat sapped both Lupe’s and SPHP’s energy. A mile from the last junction, the road finally began to level out. Lupe reached another intersection with Greens Gulch Loop.
SPHP checked the maps again. Lupe could go either way, W on Greens Gulch Loop or N on Minnesota Ridge Road. No matter which way she went, she would have to leave the road before long.
Loop stayed on Minnesota Ridge Road for another 0.25 mile. She reached a big mud hole where frogs were singing noisily.
Lupe left the road heading WNW through the forest. The true summit of Minnesota Ridge might be as much as 0.5 mile away or even a little more. SPHP was more concerned with how difficult it might be to find the summit, than how far away it was. The topo map showed only a gradual rise in the terrain toward the W. The top of Minnesota Ridge was likely to be flat, forested, and cover a lot of territory.
Although many trees were still green and growing, the forest floor was thick with beetle-killed deadfall timber. Lupe wound around trying to avoid the worst of it. At least it was clear Lupe actually was gradually gaining elevation as she continued WNW. Nothing except more forest was in view in any direction.
After a long wandering way, Lupe started catching glimpses of distant ridges miles away to the W. She was nearing the W edge of Minnesota Ridge, which was the steepest side of the mountain. As she reached what seemed to be the highest terrain, Lupe found a series of boulders scattered along a line running roughly N/S.
Lupe had hardly seen any rocks in the forest until now. Maybe this was Minnesota Ridge’s summit area? It seemed likely. Perhaps one of these boulders would be clearly higher than all the others? Maybe it wasn’t going to be as hard to find the true summit as SPHP expected.
Lupe explored S along the line of boulders. She didn’t have to go too far before it became clear the terrain was definitely going to start dropping off if she went any farther this way.
Once it was established that there was no point in going any farther S, Lupe turned N again. She followed the line of scattered boulders looking for the highest one.
Lupe willingly leapt up on each boulder SPHP thought might be the true summit of Minnesota Ridge (6,240 ft.), but the process soon became somewhat of a comedy. Each time SPHP believed Lupe had been at the true summit, another boulder that seemed clearly a little higher would be found hidden in the forest another 20 to 50 feet farther N.
Finally after standing on 6 different “true summit” boulders, the line of boulders faded away. The ground to the N seemed to dip slightly, so No. 6 was probably it. To be certain, though, Lupe continued N near the W edge of the mountain. Only when it was clear that the terrain was going to start dropping off decisively would Lupe claim her peakbagging success.
It didn’t happen. Beyond the slight dip, the ground rose slowly again. Lupe went hundreds of feet N before coming to another area where the terrain leveled out. She was almost certainly higher now than she had been back at boulder No. 6. This large area of flat ground was sunny and open. Most of the trees had been killed by pine bark beetles, and had subsequently snapped and fallen over.
SPHP didn’t like it. This area now had to be considered the true summit, but the place lacked charm. All the deadfall was just plain ugly. A couple of modest-sized rocks about equal in elevation were now joint contenders for true summit. Once again, Lupe willingly got on each one.
“True summits” 7 and 8 were in such a hideous place, there was no point in lingering. The terrain to the N was still flat, so Lupe needed to explore it too, in order to make certain this was actually the top of the mountain.
The deadfall was bad for hundreds of feet. Lupe and SPHP made slow progress, but nearing the end of it, a rock ledge appeared ahead. It was definitely at least 5 feet higher than anywhere Lupe had been yet! SPHP was glad. Lupe worked her way over to it.
From the S end of the rock ledge, Lupe could see that the ledge continued on to the NNW for some distance. Lupe was at the top of a line of small cliffs which became larger off to the NNW, but only because the terrain below the cliffs was dropping off faster than the ledge above. The S end of the ledge where Lupe first reached it appeared to be the highest point.
The rock ledge definitely made a better looking “true summit” No. 9. Lupe perched on top while SPHP scrambled down through rocks and deadfall to get her official Minnesota Ridge (6,240 ft.) summit photo.
Lupe even enjoyed a bit of a view from the ledge, making it even more worthy of being the summit.
Lupe and SPHP explored a little farther to the NNW along the rock ledge. The ledge lost elevation gradually in this direction, but continued onward.
Beneath the shade of a big pine tree, not far from “true summit” No. 9 at a point where the views to the W were pretty good, Lupe and SPHP took a break. Lupe crunched some of her Taste of the Wild. SPHP munched an apple. The water in the water bottles was icky warm now, but that couldn’t be helped. Warm water or none at all. Take it or leave it.
After 5 or 10 minutes, a couple of large birds came sailing by. They circled and soared in updrafts near the ledge. They circled around many times, but were moving so fast through the small patch of sky where Lupe had a clear view of them between the pines, it was hard for SPHP to get a good photo.
When the big birds soared away for the final time, Lupe’s break was over. She returned briefly to “true summit” No. 9. Since the terrain 30 to 50 feet back from the edge of the ledge seemed to be slightly higher, Lupe resumed her search for the absolutely highest point.
Nothing really stood out as being the exact spot, so Lupe chose a small rock that looked as high as anything else around for her final “true summit” No. 10 photo. If this wasn’t the real deal, SPHP was convinced it had to be within a foot or two of the actual high point, which might be hidden anywhere among all the deadfall nearby. This was close enough as far as Carolina Dogs are concerned!
Ten true summits were more than enough for any mountain. Lupe claimed her peakbagging success. Now what? The sun was still high in the sky. Hours and hours of daylight remained. May as well explore NNW along the rock ledge to see how far it went. Maybe there were places with better views than Lupe had seen so far?
Lupe did come to a few places where the rock ledge provided better views! All of the views were to the W where Lupe could see the edge of the higher limestone plateau country of the western Black Hills. She could see Nipple Butte (6,800 ft.), Flag Mountain (6,937 ft.) and other high points she had been to before on prior expeditions, but they were all miles away.
The rock ledge eventually petered out. The views were gone. It was clear Lupe really had been to the summit. She had lost enough elevation by now so there was no doubt. With all the time left in the day, Lupe could still do some exploring.
Years ago, back during the days of her early expeditions, Lupe had come to the Minnesota Ridge area on several different occasions, although she had never sought out the summit before today. Somewhere to the W was a road she had followed as a very young Dingo a couple of different times. It would be fun to travel it again. Somewhere to the N was a road she had been on before that would lead her to it.
Lupe and SPHP went N looking for the road. Lupe was losing elevation steadily now. She came to a big field that didn’t seem familiar.
The big field led down to another good-sized field, where Lupe discovered an American Dingo display stand.
From the American Dingo display stand, Lupe headed NW. She picked up a faint road she had never been on before. Eventually it turned W and led her to the USFS road SPHP remembered W of Minnesota Ridge.
Lupe traveled S on this road, which ultimately proved to be USFS Road No. 204.1A. It was fun to recognize a few places along the way. Lupe took a short break at a tiny creek she had been to years before. This creek flows down into Greens Gulch, but Lupe did not follow it as she had done on one prior occasion.
The road went up and down. It was surprising how much of it still seemed familiar, despite the years gone by. The uphill stretches weren’t that long or difficult, but made the heat more oppressive. Lupe had plenty of time. After climbing past one uphill stretch, Lupe and SPHP took a water break.
Yes, the water was warm, but it did feel good to sit down and rest a bit. A few clouds were drifting through the blue sky. Lupe seemed content to lay panting on the ground, watching and listening. Why not? SPHP stretched out, too. The heat made being lazy easy.
SPHP watched clouds. Lupe listened to birds and watched for signs of activity in the forest. Half an hour went by. Then Lupe spotted a deer peering at her through the forest. For a couple of minutes, Lupe and the deer stared at each other. When the deer finally looked away and started moving, it was too much for Lupe. Instinct took over and she was off like a shot. A minute later she was back. Lazy day break time was over.
Lupe’s trek along the road continued. She soon came to a familiar intersection where she turned E on USFS Road No. 204.1. She completed her big loop around the W side of Minnesota Ridge and arrived back at Killoern Springs Road.
On the remaining 3 miles back to the G6, Lupe retraced her route taken earlier in the day. The ducks and Canadian geese were still at the pond. Lupe and SPHP stopped to watch them for 15 minutes before pressing on S down Gimlet Creek valley.
The G6 wasn’t far from the confluence of Gimlet Creek and East Gimlet Creek. On her last exploration of the day, Lupe visited the confluence. She drank the refreshing cold water, and cooled her paws off one more time in the combined stream.
Expedition No. 203 had been different from most in recent years. It was more of a throwback to the long treks of Lupe’s early years, with less emphasis on peakbagging. Lupe had really enjoyed Gimlet Creek, the pond, and the easy strolls through the long valleys. She still made it to the top of Minnesota Ridge, and got to see territory she hadn’t been to in years.
The unseasonal heat showed one thing, though. It was soon time to think about heading to higher ground and cooler climes. For a little while yet, that still meant higher terrain in Lupe’s Black Hills. However, it wouldn’t be long before more distant adventures beckoned.
The start of Lupe’s grand summer of 2017 was fast approaching.
(End 6:04 PM, 77°F)