Day 3 of Lupe’s 2017 Dingo Vacation to the Laramie Range, Wyoming & Beyond!
SPHP drove slowly. Ahead Eagle Peak (9,167 ft.) was lit up by the early morning sunshine. The E face of the mountain looked tough. Not that it mattered now. Yesterday Lupe had come close to reaching the top of the mountain from the SE and SW sides. She hadn’t quite made it, though, and there wasn’t going to be another attempt today.
I hope we have better luck today at South Sawtooth, Loop.
SPHP spoke without much conviction. Those contours on the topo map were as tight near the top of South Sawtooth Mountain (8,723 ft.) as they were at Eagle Peak. Success was far from guaranteed.
Success was guaranteed at Prairie Dog Hill (6,400 ft.) a mile N of Esterbrook. County Road No. 5 went practically right over the top of it. Lupe sniffed her way through a nearly flat field. Elevation gain to what seemed to be as much the high point as anywhere else was trivial, less than 10 feet. Whoop-de-doo! At least there was a bit of a view.
Although South Sawtooth Mountain is only 9 miles NNW of Eagle Peak as the crow flies, it was many times that far by road. Lupe first had to go clear to Douglas, WY. While in town, SPHP picked up a few supplies. At very small Locomotive Park where the Douglas Railroad Interpretive Center is located, Lupe got to visit a very large Jackalope.
Lupe was disappointed to find that the Jackalope was merely a statue, but as large as the Jackalope was, perhaps that was for the best. In any case, the Carolina Dog was soon ready to move on.
The long drive out Hwy 91 SW of Douglas is one of SPHP’s favorites for gorgeous western scenery. Lupe likes it for all the cows and horses to bark at along the way. The highway eventually ends and turns to gravel. Many more miles of dusty road eventually brought Lupe to the Curtis Gulch campground along La Bonte Creek.
SPHP parked the G6 near the campground entrance. Lupe set out for South Sawtooth Mountain (10:36 AM, 68°F) heading SW on USFS Road No. 658. On the way in, SPHP had seen a sign for Big Bear Canyon about 0.33 mile away. Lupe soon reached this side road (USFS Road No. 657.01), which almost immediately led to a ford of La Bonte Creek.
The water was high this time of year. Although the surface looked calm, La Bonte Creek was wide at the ford, and over Lupe’s head. Upstream and downstream, the current was clearly strong. American Dingoes like wading, not swimming, but SPHP knew Lupe could swim if necessary. She ought to be able to manage this crossing.
Still, SPHP wasn’t thrilled to see the ford. Only 3 days ago, SPHP had bought new boots for this Dingo Vacation, and they weren’t waterproof. To keep from getting the new boots soaking wet, SPHP decided to take them off and wade the stream barefoot. SPHP stuffed a sock inside each boot, laced them together, and draped a boot over the back of each shoulder with the knotted laces across the throat.
While Lupe watched from shore, SPHP waded into La Bonte Creek. The current was fairly strong, and the water as much as thigh deep. Rocks on the bottom were loose and sometimes slippery. Concentration was required to maintain balance, but SPHP managed to get most of the way across uneventfully.
Was Lupe following? Yes and no. SPHP turned around to see the Carolina Dog still near the opposite shore. She wanted to come, and had waded chest deep into La Bonte Creek, but was reluctant to go any deeper.
Loopster was going to need some encouragement. SPHP waded the rest of the way across, then turned around again to call to her.
Meanwhile, desperate not to be left behind, all on her own Lupe had decided to try crossing La Bonte Creek on the downstream side of the ford. The water wasn’t as deep here, but the current was powerful. SPHP was alarmed to see Lupe neck deep struggling to cross without being swept downstream. Fortunately, her legs were just long enough for her paws to touch bottom. Lupe clawed her way forward despite the current.
In a flash, Lupe was past the moment of danger. She reached much shallower water, and came trotting across just fine.
Glad that’s over with Loop! Good girl! You did great, but maybe we can find a safer way across on the way back? Not looking forward to doing that again.
SPHP put socks and boots back on again. The trek along USFS Road No. 657.01 resumed. Lupe reached two more creek crossings in quick succession.
Fortunately, La Bonte Creek had already forked by the time these next stream crossings were reached. Flow was less than half of what it had been at the first ford. Lupe had no problems crossing now. SPHP again crossed barefoot each time, the creek still being too large to leap over.
USFS Road No. 657.01 now went steadily SSE up Big Bear Canyon. Lupe came to no more creek crossings for more than 0.5 mile. When she did reach more crossings, the creek was considerably smaller than before. SPHP could now leap across, avoiding the tedious necessity of removing the precious new boots each time.
The day was sunny and warm. Lupe was now enjoying cooling off and getting drinks from the stream.
Big Bear Canyon was heavily forested most of the way. Sometimes there were views of large rock formations hundreds of feet higher up along the E side of the canyon. Farther on, high forested mountainsides were visible on the W side of the canyon, too. Mostly though, the views were only of the forest along USFS Road No. 657.01.
Lupe followed USFS Road No. 657.01 for more than 3 miles all the way up Big Bear Canyon. The road gained elevation more quickly toward the end. About the time the rate of climb began to diminish again, SPHP spotted a mountain off to the NE. The view was partially obstructed by trees, but what could be seen was concerning.
Was that South Sawtooth Mountain? If so, Lupe wasn’t likely to have much luck reaching the summit. The rocky upper slopes looked nearly vertical. Sigh. Not another defeat! Nothing to do, though, but carry on. Maybe that wasn’t South Sawtooth, or there actually was a way up. Hard to tell from here. The mountain was still a couple miles away.
The terrain completely leveled out as the road left the upper end of Big Bear Canyon. Lupe soon arrived at a 3 way junction. A sign identified the road Lupe needed to take as Sawtooth Road. On the topo map it was USFS Road No. 615, which started out heading ENE from here.
Before taking No. 615 toward South Sawtooth, Lupe explored another road leading a short distance SW to USFS No. 610. She passed a sunny meadow full of lupines along the way.
Lupe went far enough to have some views of mountains off to the SW and NW before turning around. She then returned to the first junction, and started along USFS Road No. 615.
Before long, No. 615 emerged from the forest. The road began climbing steadily up a draw which was mostly meadow. At the upper end of the draw, Lupe re-entered the forest. The road wound around to the E and NE, but after a mile or so, turned N. The topo map showed that right after reaching a crest, No. 615 would turn W and start losing elevation. Ultimately it would dead end in a canyon.
Lupe reached the crest of USFS Road No. 615. Time to leave the road! Lupe and SPHP turned NE, and started climbing a heavily forested hillside. Little could be seen except trees until Loop reached the top of a broad ridge. Here there were big rocks and some open ground. From one of the higher rocks, the American Dingo had a view of the mountain SPHP had seen earlier.
Yes, that was it. That had to be South Sawtooth Mountain (8,723 ft.)!
Up on the broad ridge, there was enough open ground to make travel much easier than in the dense forest Lupe had left behind. Lupe and SPHP continued NE, skirting a series of rock formations along the NW side of the ridge.
Another large ridge could soon be seen. It trended NW to join the ridge Lupe was on. Beyond the junction, the combined ridge went N and narrowed somewhat. Lupe came to a rock formation larger than any of the others she had passed to this point. South Sawtooth Mountain was now less than a mile away.
Beyond the first large rock formation, Lupe came to some beautiful open ground leading to a second, even grander rock formation.
From the W side of the second rock formation, Lupe had the best view of South Sawtooth Mountain she’d seen yet. However, the sight caused SPHP to lose all hope that Lupe would succeed in reaching the top. The mountain was simply too vertical and rough. Most disappointing!
Maybe Lupe could still reach the top of the high point on the lower W ridge, though? That looked easy enough. At least the Carolina Dog had a new objective to pursue. Who knew, maybe things would look different from up there?
Lupe and SPHP tried to get around the E side of the second rock formation, but a long wall of rock blocked the way. Lupe was forced to retreat back to the W. What could be seen of the rest of the ridge leading to South Sawtooth looked forbidding. The ridge dropped sharply beyond this rock formation, before rising again and continuing N as an impossibly rough series of huge rock outcroppings. No way!
A grassy opening was visible to the W down at the bottom of a valley about 150 feet lower than where Lupe was now. Time to abandon the ridge. Lupe and SPHP started W down a fairly steep forested slope. As the ground began leveling out near the bottom, there was movement. Instantly, Lupe dashed away in hot pursuit!
SPHP never had a clear view of what she was after. Whatever it was had a huge lead, and bounded S through the forest at very high speed. Loop never got anywhere close, and soon gave up. SPHP got only tree-broken glimpses. The creature was gray and bounded like a rabbit, but it was far, far larger than any rabbit. Even Lupe was tiny by comparison.
A bear? Are bears still found in the Laramie Mountains? SPHP didn’t know. Maybe. Lupe returned with a huge grin on her face, panting hard. That was fun!
So what was it, Loop? A bear, or one of those giant jackalopes?
Lupe kept smiling, but didn’t say. Hardly mattered now. It was gone. Puppy, ho! Onward!
Lupe and SPHP reached the meadow at the bottom of the valley, crossed it to the W, and went over a small rise to another valley. This valley was mostly forested, and looked like it would take Lupe up to the saddle between South Sawtooth Mountain and the high point on the ridge to the W. Lupe turned N and began to climb.
Lupe made it up to the saddle with no problem at all. The whole W face of South Sawtooth Mountain was now in view. Unfortunately, no matter what route SPHP considered from here, there just didn’t appear to be a way for Lupe to reach the top. She could have climbed somewhat higher, but every possible path to the summit looked blocked by boulders or vertical rock walls somewhere along the way.
Defeat again! First at Eagle Peak, now here. No use fretting about it. The sky was clouding up. Rain showers looked like a possibility in some directions. If Lupe was going to reach the high point on the mountain’s W ridge, she had better get there before the weather deteriorated.
Piece of cake! Lupe was soon up on the W shoulder of South Sawtooth Mountain. A half acre of relatively flat ground contained two distinct high points. They were so close to each other in elevation, Lupe would have to climb both to be certain she’d reached the highest one.
Before Lupe climbed up on either high point, she took a general look around at some of the views available from various other vantage points.
Although not as good as they would have been if Lupe had been able to reach the summit of South Sawtooth Mountain, the views from the W shoulder were really quite nice. Lupe could see a lot of territory from up here.
After looking around some, Lupe got up on top of the N high point first, since it seemed easiest.
The best views of Middle and North Sawtooth Mountains were from rocks near the N high point. Though equally rugged, neither mountain was as high as South Sawtooth. Even here on South Sawtooth Mountain’s W shoulder, Lupe was higher than either Middle or North Sawtooth.
Shortly after visiting the N high point, Lupe went and climbed the S one. Even after being up on both, it wasn’t clear which was the highest.
Lupe and SPHP lingered up on South Sawtooth Mountain’s W Ridge for 30 or 40 minutes before starting back. The plan was to retrace the same route, except Lupe would try to cut through the forest and find USFS Road No. 615 again without getting up on the broad ridge S of South Sawtooth Mountain.
Loop left the W ridge going down to the saddle next to South Sawtooth Mountain. She then turned S traveling down the same valley she had originally come up. This valley would turn and take her too far W before long, so she soon had to make a jog to the E over a minor ridge into the next valley over.
After losing considerable elevation, Lupe gradually started regaining some as she traveled S through the forest. She was somewhere not too far W of the broad ridge she had reached N of High Point 8401 on the way to South Sawtooth, but it was hard to tell exactly where she was, or how much farther it might be to the road.
After a while, the terrain became a little rougher and rose more steeply. Some things looked vaguely familiar. Lupe continued S and eventually reached a meadow up on the ridgeline again. Now it was possible to see that Lupe was only a little SW of High Point 8401. That was good news! It meant that USFS Road No. 615 was close by.
Lupe headed SW down a forested slope. She soon reached No. 615. Now all she had to do was follow the road back to No. 657.01, which would take her back down Big Bear Canyon.
The sun had set and light was fading by the time Lupe made it all the way back down Big Bear Canyon. She was now approaching the last big creek ford across La Bonte Creek. As promised earlier, SPHP searched upstream of the ford for an easier place for Lupe to cross, but found nothing. Lupe was going to have to brave the ford one more time.
Once again, SPHP went barefoot with boots tied together and dangling behind the neck. Lupe wanted to cross the same downstream side of the ford where she had made it across before. SPHP went with her to keep a better eye on how she was doing. The water wasn’t as deep here as in the main part of the ford, but the current was far stronger.
Once again, it was alarming to see how close the Carolina Dog came to being swept downstream. As Lupe fought and clawed her way across La Bonte Creek, barely able to hang on against the swift current, SPHP started having problems, too. The creek bottom was covered with larger, slippery rocks here. They weren’t visible in the dim light. One of the rocks moved unexpectedly.
SPHP gyrated wildly trying to maintain balance. The American Dingo had made it! She stood safely on the opposite shore. SPHP recovered and avoided a fall, but out of the corner of an eye saw something hit the water. The new boots were bobbing away downstream! In seconds, they vanished from view.
Gone for good. Sheesh!
It was a good thing there wasn’t more gravel on USFS Road No. 658. The 0.33 mile barefoot trek back to the G6 was slow and painful enough as it was. Lupe ran back and forth on the road wondering what was wrong with SPHP? She was hungry! C’mon, hurry it up! Stars were shining by the time Alpo was served. (9:43 PM)
Although Lupe initially seemed tired out from the long trek to South Sawtooth Mountain, the Alpo soon revived her. She couldn’t sleep. SPHP finally let her out of the G6. She sniffed around in the night for a while, then laid down on the ground near the G6.
For a long time the Carolina Dog stayed out there alone, bathed in moonlight beneath the starry sky, watching the dim forest and listening to the soothing sound of the flowing waters of boot-eating La Bonte Creek.
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