Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 99 – Peak 6820 & Crook’s Tower (10-8-14)

11:00 AM (60°F).  Rather a late start for Lupe’s expedition, but she would still have fun.  She was about to spend the rest of this glorious early fall day roaming the high country of the western Black Hills.  The sky was a clear blue with a few wispy clouds.  The air was calm, stirred only by an occasional light breeze.  The American Dingo was raring to go!

The G6 was parked just S of the W end of Besant Park at the junction of USFS Road No. 206 (Besant Park Road) and No. 206.2D.  As soon as SPHP let Lupe out of the G6, she streaked off across No.  206 racing N into a huge field that was part of Besant Park.  Oh, no!  She had T-bone steak on her mind!  Two black cows fled at the sudden noisy appearance of the bold Carolina Dog.  SPHP hadn’t noticed them, but Lupe sure had.

Lupe barked a couple of times just for good measure as she gave up the chase.  From far away, a brown and white streak came racing back across the field to SPHP.  The cows, also now very far away, mooed unhappily at having been disturbed.  A couple minutes later, Lupe arrived back at SPHP out of breath and panting hard.  She had a huge grin on her face.  Yes, this was already a glorious day!

It was time to move on before Lupe really got into trouble.  While she had been running around in Besant Park, SPHP saw something Lupe hadn’t noticed.  Quite close by, off in a much smaller unfenced field to the SW, a huge black bull was grazing.  SPHP hurried Lupe S on No. 206.2D.  Let’s go find Peak 6820 and leave the cows alone!

Peak 6820 was Lupe’s primary peakbagging goal for the day.  SPHP wasn’t entirely certain Lupe hadn’t been there once before.  Back on Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 58 on 5-11-13, Lupe had climbed a high ridge somewhere not too far to the E.  Maybe it was possible that ridge was part of Peak 6820?  It would be fun to find out.

Lupe didn’t stay on No. 206.2D very long.  After she had gone several hundred yards, SPHP noticed a trail heading E.  Peak 6820 was only about a mile to the E, so Lupe and SPHP followed the trail.  It climbed through the forest and arrived up on a high ridge.  SPHP recognized the ridge as the same one Lupe had been to on Expedition No. 58.  It wasn’t part of Peak 6820, though.  About 0.75 mile away, SPHP could see a modestly higher forested hill to the E.  That hill had to be Peak 6820!

Even though it wasn’t going to take Lupe any closer to Peak 6820, Lupe and SPHP explored the ridge Lupe was on around to the NNE.  At first the ridge was fairly broad, open and grassy.  The N end, though, was all in the forest.  SPHP had been hoping for a view of Besant Park to the N, but any view was hidden by the trees.  Lupe and SPHP returned S to where Lupe had come up.

Lupe could have gone down into the valley heading straight toward Peak 6820. However, it looked like she might not have to lose so much elevation, if she followed the ridge she was already on to the S.  It looked like this ridge would eventually swing around to the E toward Peak 6820.

Lupe and SPHP headed S following the ridgeline.  The ridge stayed about the same elevation, but gradually grew narrower.  Lupe came to several rock outcroppings, but the rock formations ended as Lupe approached a shallow saddle.  The saddle led over to the next ridge to the S.  Down in the saddle, Lupe found a dirt road, possibly another part of No. 206.2D.  She followed the road only a short distance before leaving it to angle SE up onto the next ridge.

The next ridge did go E.  As Lupe followed this second ridge, she could sometimes see White Tail Peak (6,962 ft.) to the S.  The second ridge started out as a broad, level mix of forest and meadows, but became narrower and rockier as Lupe went E.  The level part of the ridge ended at a small limestone cliff.  Lupe and SPHP had to double back to the W, and then turn SE to get past the cliff.

Lupe came to another saddle.  Everything to the NE was down in a thickly forested valley in the direction of Peak 6820.  To the SW, the land sloped down more gently into a sunnier, thinly forested area.  Ahead, another ridge rose to the SE.  Lupe and SPHP went up to the high point.  Lupe could see Peak 6820, but she wasn’t much closer to it.  Peak 6820 was still 0.5 mile away, but now to the NNE.

By now, it was clear that Lupe was going to have to lose some elevation to get to Peak 6820.  Lupe and SPHP went NW back down to the saddle, turned NE and plunged down into the forest.  There was quite a bit of deadfall timber, which slowed SPHP down considerably.  It wasn’t too far to the bottom of the valley, however, and once down there, Lupe came to a faint road.

Lupe followed the road NNW, slowly regaining elevation.  She soon arrived at an odd place.  Hidden down here in a small glade, was a huge metal water tank.  Nearby stood a an old tower with a rickety ladder leading up to a small warped platform at the top.

Lupe reaches the hidden water tank and tower down in the forest SW of Peak 6820. Photo looks N.
Lupe reaches the hidden water tank and tower down in the forest SW of Peak 6820. Photo looks N.

The water tank was nearly full to the top with a rusty brown water so murky SPHP could see only an inch or two into it.  Perhaps the tower had featured a windmill at some point in time?  A horizontal pipe stuck out over the water tank from near the base of the tower.

This photo shows the horizontal pipe hanging out over the water tank, and the sagging platform at the top of the tower. Photo looks NE.
This photo shows the horizontal pipe hanging out over the water tank, and the sagging platform at the top of the tower. Photo looks NE.

Not too far to the NNE, Lupe came to another odd place.  A square area about 25 feet long on each side was fenced off by a barbed wire fence.  Inside the fence was a wooden framed structure only 6 inches high.  The wooden framework was completely covered with sheets of metal nailed to it.

Lupe sniffs around near the possible mine shaft cover SW of Peak 6820.
Lupe sniffs around near the possible mine shaft cover SW of Peak 6820.

SPHP didn’t like the looks of it.  The only reason SPHP could think of for such an odd structure was that it served as a cover for a large, deep mine shaft.  If so, it was there to protect people or animals from a potentially fatal fall.  The cover looked like it had been here for years.  Who knew how structurally sound it still was, or how deep the hole hidden beneath it?

One thing about SPHP’s theory didn’t make sense.  There didn’t seem to be a tailings pile anywhere around.  There should have been a pretty big one nearby, if this was really the site of an old mine shaft.  Very strange!  Whatever the explanation, SPHP didn’t think anything good could come from lingering around here.  Lupe continued NNE toward Peak 6820.  She soon found another old road, or maybe it was the same one that had led to the water tank and tower.

The old road went NNE up the side of Peak 6820.  Parts of the road were clear, but much of it was choked with deadfall timber.  Lupe and SPHP spent more time off the road than on it trying to get past all the deadfall.  Shortly before reaching the top, the road veered E.  It emerged up from the forest at a fairly large clearing on Peak 6820.

The first thing Lupe noticed was a mud puddle large enough to bathe in.  She ran over to it, plunked herself down to cool off, and lapped up lots of very murky-looking water.  She emerged refreshed and well supplied with both essential and non-essential minerals, evidently quite satisfied with the experience.

The summit area on Peak 6820 is large and flat.  Much of it is open meadow, but the meadow is entirely fringed by forest.  There was hardly even a glimpse of a view in any direction.  Lupe and SPHP set off to explore the area.  The highest ground seemed to be a little way E of where Lupe had come up.

Lupe on Peak 6820. This point toward the S central part of the summit area seemed to be as much the true summit as anywhere else.
Lupe on Peak 6820. This point toward the S central part of the summit area seemed to be as much the true summit as anywhere else.

After exploring to the S and E, Lupe and SPHP returned to the mud puddle on the way to explore the N and W parts of the mountaintop.  Naturally, Lupe couldn’t resist taking another dip.

Double-dipper Lupe emerges from her Dingo-sized mud hole on Peak 6820 for a 2nd time.
Double-dipper Lupe emerges from her Dingo-sized mud hole on Peak 6820 for a 2nd time.

Explorations to the N and W revealed only that the jeep trail Lupe had followed up the mountain continued over the top and on down the other side to the NNE.  There were some cliffs lower down toward the NW, but they weren’t terribly tall and were buried so deeply in the trees that even the cliffs didn’t provide any views.

With the summit area now fully explored, Lupe and SPHP left Peak 6820 heading WNW.  This time Lupe went down into the valley between Peak 6820 and the ridge to the W.  The terrain forced SPHP to the WSW for a little while, but eventually Lupe and SPHP were able to turn WNW again.  There was no trail and a considerable amount of deadfall timber to contend with, but this was a more direct route back to the G6.

The climb back up onto the ridge to the W was rather slow due to the deadfall, but once there, Lupe and SPHP made rapid progress again.  Lupe followed the ridge N to the trail she had been on early in the day.  She followed the trail W back to No. 206.2D, and then N to the G6 (2:46 PM, 66°F).

Approaching the G6, SPHP saw that there was now a big herd of black cows across USFS Road No. 206 in Besant Park.  This time, Lupe didn’t get to run after them.

Lupe would have loved to have more fun with these cows in Besant Park, but party pooper SPHP wouldn't permit it.
Lupe would have loved to have more fun with these cows in Besant Park, but party pooper SPHP wouldn’t permit it.

There was still plenty of time left in the day for Lupe to do some more exploring.  Crooks Tower (7,137 ft.) was only 3 miles away to the WSW as the crow flies.  Lupe had been there before, but it would still be fun to see it again.  It was still quite a long winding way to Crooks Tower from here, though.  To save some time, Lupe and SPHP hopped in the G6 and drove around to a closer point.

SPHP parked the G6 again at 3:09 PM (61°F).  Lupe was now only 0.33 mile W of Crooks Tower at the intersection of USFS Roads No. 189 and No. 189.4A.  Lupe and SPHP headed E on No. 189.4A.  Before long, Lupe had completed her 5th ascent of Crooks Tower!

Lupe relaxes on Crooks Tower. This was her 5th ascent.
Lupe relaxes on Crooks Tower. This was her 5th ascent.

The summit of Crooks Tower is a relatively small (large room-sized), level limestone platform.  Although Crooks Tower is one of the very highest mountains in the Black Hills, there are plenty of ridges almost as high in the area.  The ridges and forest block the views in most directions, but Harney Peak (7,242 ft.) can be seen far to the SE.  There is a less dramatic distant view off to the N, too.

SPHP had never realized it before, but by standing at just the right spot and peering between tree branches, it was possible to get a look at Inyan Kara (6,360 ft.) off to the WNW in Wyoming.

Harney Peak (L) can be seen on the far horizon from Crooks Tower. Photo looks SE.
Harney Peak (L) can be seen on the far horizon from Crooks Tower. Photo looks SE.
Looking N from Crooks Tower.
Looking N from Crooks Tower.

After enjoying the views from Crooks Tower, Lupe and SPHP returned to the G6.  There were still at least a couple of hours of daylight left.  SPHP pondered what Lupe should do next?  The top alternatives were a visit to Clayton Pond, or exploring USFS Road No. 189.4B.  Since Lupe was practically at No. 189.4B already, it won out.

Lupe and SPHP left the G6 where it was, and went right on by to USFS Road No. 189.4B.  The only marker at the start of the road wasn’t entirely legible, but seemed to indicate this was No. 189.4C or 189.6C, but that didn’t agree with SPHP’s USFS map.

No. 189.4B led Lupe WNW down a shallow valley.  The ridge to the N was sunny and thinly forested.  The S side of the valley was shady and densely forested.  Tall grass, taller than Lupe, lined both sides of the road.  Lupe virtually disappeared on her little side excursions.  She soon tired of having to leap up to see where she was, and stayed mostly on the road.  The road gradually and steadily lost elevation.

After more than a mile, there was a fence with a gate.  Ten minutes after going through the gate, Lupe reached an intersection.  USFS Road No. 189.4C went S.  No. 117.6B went N.  Off to the NNW, a curve in No. 117 could be seen up ahead across a big open field in a larger, wider valley.  Lupe and SPHP followed No. 117.6B all the way to No. 117.

USFS Road No. 117 as seen from No. 117.6B. This corner of No. 117 was as far as Lupe managed to get on her explorations WNW of Crooks Tower. Photo looks WNW.
USFS Road No. 117 as seen from No. 117.6B. This corner of No. 117 was as far as Lupe managed to get on her explorations WNW of Crooks Tower. Photo looks WNW.

By the time Lupe reached No. 117, she was 2 miles from the G6.  The sun was getting low.  It was time to turn back.  SPHP checked the maps for an alternate route, hoping Lupe could make a loop.  No, she really couldn’t.  Other roads in the area were too long, and it was too late in the day to cut directly through the forest.  Lupe and SPHP returned on No. 189.4B, this time going up the valley, instead of down.

On the way back, SPHP started thinking it might be fun to watch the sunset from Crooks Tower.  Even though forest hid the views to the W at the very summit, there was a ridge almost as high just S of USFS Road No. 189.4C a short distance SSW of the true summit.  Maybe Lupe could see the sunset from there?

Lupe arrived up on the ridge with a little time to spare.  The W end of the ridge ended at a small limestone cliff.  It wasn’t high enough to really get a good view to the W, but the view in that direction was better than it would have been at the true summit of Crooks Tower.  SPHP sat down next to a tree to wait.  A chipmunk darting around on the rocks nearby entertained Lupe.

Lupe watching the chipmunk (not pictured).
Lupe watching the chipmunk (not pictured).

The chipmunk eventually ran off.  Lupe rested on the ground near SPHP.  The edges of her big, soft attentive ears glowed in the last rays of sunlight.Lupe near Crooks Tower, 10-8-14

Waiting for sunset.
Waiting for sunset.

Sunset from SSW high point on Crooks Tower, 10-8-14When the show was over, Lupe and SPHP continued on to the true summit of Crooks Tower.  Lupe made her 2nd ascent of the day, and 6th all time.  The full hunter’s moon was due to come up soon.  Darkness fell and stars began to appear.  Lupe and SPHP waited.  As the pale moon rose, a lone coyote began to howl.  Lupe was entranced.

For several minutes, the lone coyote howled, pausing now and then to listen.  At last, very faintly from far to the W came a few answering howls.  That was good.  The coyote had a friend.  So did SPHP.  It was time to take her home.  (7:06 PM, 41°F)Lupe at sunset SSW of Crooks Tower, 10-8-14Want more Lupe adventures?  Choose from Lupe’s Black Hills Expeditions Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index.  Or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures.

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