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!