Day 39 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
6:20 AM on this beautiful early September morning found Lupe already on the road, heading SE on Yellowhead Highway No. 16. Ever since leaving Alaska, Lupe had made her 450 mile daily quota or a little more. Today she didn’t need to go so far. She could spent part of the day visiting some favorite places in the Canadian Rockies.
Lupe’s first stop came before mid-morning when she reached her favorite picnic ground in Jasper National Park. For some unknown reason, there’s no signage for this great picnic area right along the E bank of the mighty Athabasca River. It’s located 5 or 6 miles S of Athabasca Falls along the W side of Icefields Parkway Hwy 93.
The Athabasca River was much lower than Lupe had ever seen it before, but until today she had never been here this late in the season. Previously, the river had always come right up to the bank at the edge of the picnic ground. Now a wide expanse of riverbed was exposed beyond the bank. Lupe went down to the riverbed, and trotted over rounded stones to the water’s edge.
Every other time Lupe had seen the Athabasca River, it had been a light gray color, running high, and full of silt. Now the river was a beautiful blue.
Time for a late breakfast. After checking out the river, Lupe returned to the picnic ground. While SPHP heated up soup and Swiss Miss, Lupe had a fine time barking at squirrels in the trees. When breakfast was ready, Lupe helped SPHP devour the soup. She didn’t get any Swiss Miss.
Lupe got to spend nearly 2 hours at the picnic ground. She took short walks through the forest along the river with SPHP, barked at squirrels, and returned to the Athabasca River.
Late in the morning, another vehicle pulled in to the picnic ground. No doubt more would be coming as lunch time approached. Lupe and SPHP hit the road again. Icefields Parkway Hwy 93 through the majestic Canadian Rockies is always a spectacular drive.
Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the scenery, passing by many gorgeous places Lupe had explored on her 2013 and 2014 Dingo Vacations. Lupe didn’t stop again, however, until she reached the trailhead for Parker Ridge(7,612 ft.). By now it was early afternoon, and the trailhead parking lot was packed. SPHP had to wait for a parking spot to open up.
Parker Ridge is Lupe and SPHP’s favorite short day hike in the Canadian Rockies. A well-traveled trail switchbacks up the side of the ridge. On the other side is a tremendous view of the huge U-shaped valley carved long ago by the Saskatchewan Glacier. The glacier can still be seen in the upper part of the valley flowing down from the Columbia Icefield. The trail gains over 800 feet of elevation on its way to the ridgeline.
The Parker Ridge Trail was very busy, but the glorious view of the Saskatchewan Glacier from the other side of the ridge made dealing with the crowd totally worthwhile.
The way the terrain is configured, Lupe’s view of the Saskatchewan Glacier actually improved as she followed the trail on the other side of Parker Ridge away from the glacier. More of the toe of the glacier could be seen from here.
Lupe followed the Parker Ridge trail far enough away from the Saskatchewan Glacier to where she could see its entire toe.
Several groups of people had gone this far along the trail, too. Everyone was hanging around enjoying the glacier view. After several minutes, Lupe realized people and Carolina Dogs weren’t the only ones interested in being here. A mountain sheep wandered up the steep side of Parker Ridge from the valley below, likely more interested in finding something to eat than the grand view.
After all, mountain sheep are so used to splendid scenery they pretty much take it for granted. A good meal can be harder to come by.
For a few minutes, Lupe and the mountain sheep had a stare down. Lupe was a very good American Dingo. She did not bark or lunge at the sheep. She wouldn’t have gotten anywhere anyway, since she was on her leash.
When Lupe didn’t do anything except stare in rapt attention, the mountain sheep decided maybe it was safe to come farther on up Parker Ridge. It turned out this sheep was an advance scout. Several more mountain sheep suddenly made their appearance.
A total of six mountain sheep came up onto Parker Ridge from below. Lupe still didn’t bark, but the sight of all these mountain sheep wandering around nearby was almost more than she could bear. The Carolina Dog was trembling with excitement from nose to tail. She kept glancing up at SPHP pleading to be turned loose. She was absolutely 110% certain fresh mutton would taste better than the soup she’d had for breakfast.
This situation wasn’t going to be sustainable. To Lupe’s enormous disappointment, SPHP insisted that she head back away from the mountain sheep. She was most reluctant to comply, but in the end, she had no choice. Parker Ridge had certainly been an exciting adventure, but oh, how much better it might have been!
Lupe and SPHP returned to the G6 (3:48 PM, 48°F). Lupe continued S on Icefields Parkway Hwy 93. Her biggest adventure for the day up on Parker Ridge was over, but she still had some fun ahead of her. Overcome with drowsiness from the gorgeous, relaxing drive, SPHP eventually parked the G6 at Lupe’s favorite picnic ground in Banff National Park on the SE side of Bow Lake.
After an hour’s nap, Lupe got to go see wonderful Bow Lake.
The picnic ground was completely deserted, even though it was dinnertime. After a good look at Bow Lake, SPHP prepared dinner at a table near the shore. At this late stage of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, supplies were almost completely exhausted. Lupe and SPHP shared the last of the soup and sardines.
Good thing Lupe was well on her way home! Swiss Miss and tea was all that remained to sustain SPHP, though Lupe still had some Taste of the Wild and Alpo in reserve.
By the time this feast was over it was 7:00 PM, but there was still light in the sky. Lupe and SPHP drove over to the Num Ti Jah Lodge at the N end of the lake. Lupe went down to the shore and saw a curious thing. A piece of wood was swimming around as if it were alive!
Lupe had spotted a beaver! The beaver paddled around near the shore completely unconcerned by Lupe’s presence. Lupe wasn’t really certain why that piece of wood seemed so lively, but finally lost interest in it since it never came out of the water where it could be properly sniffed and inspected.
The beaver eventually swam away farther out into the lake. Lupe never did figure out what made that floating piece of wood so much livelier than any other she’d ever encountered.
Off to the SW, part of Bow Glacier and Bow Glacier Falls were in view. A trail that Lupe took once before on her Summer of 2013 Dingo Vacation goes all the way to the base of Bow Glacier Falls. It would be dark long before Lupe could do that again, but there was still time to follow the trail partway along the N shore of Bow Lake.
Lupe and SPHP only took the trail to Bow Glacier Falls along the N shore of Bow Lake for 20 minutes. Lupe hadn’t even made it to the end of the lake yet when the time came to turn around. Darkness was coming, maybe rain, too. The sky was clouding up.
On the way back to the Num Ti Jah Lodge, a gentle steady rain did start falling. The lodge was lit up and looked inviting when Lupe returned. The soggy Carolina Dog couldn’t go in, though. She had to return to the G6.
Around 8:30 PM, SPHP parked the G6 for the final time. The steady rain was coming down harder. The temperature was only 38°F. Maybe Lupe was going to get snowed in overnight in the Canadian Rockies? It sure seemed like a possibility.
Lupe had only made 250 miles today, but that was OK. She’d spent a lovely day in the Canadian Rockies. Maybe it wasn’t the most spectacular day she’d ever spent here, but she’d seen many beautiful sights, gone to some favorite places, and had several pleasant, relaxing outings.
Lupe’s only regret was that with supplies running desperately low, SPHP hadn’t allowed her to secure a great new supply of fresh mountain sheep mutton!
Sigh … Carolina Dogs try to be man’s best friend. They really do. Humans are hard to understand, though. Sometimes they don’t have any sense at all.Note: The Parker Ridge trailhead is located at a pullout right along the southbound side of Icefields Parkway Hwy 93 several miles S of Sunwapta Pass, the border between Banff & Jasper National Parks.
Start 7:35 AM, 46°F, USFS Road No. 352 just NW of the end of Sylvan Hill’s N ridge.
Expedition day! Lupe was excited! She frolicked and rolled in tall green grass, wet from overnight rain showers. Before SPHP was even ready to set out, Loop was already a soggy doggie, but happy as a clam. She led the way, trotting S on perfectly good USFS Road No. 352, expecting SPHP to follow.
Instead, SPHP left the road right at the G6, climbing a slope to the SE to begin the 1.75 mile trek up Sylvan Hill’s N ridge. The Carolina Dog doubled back. This was more good news! Loop loves off-road, off-trail exploring most of all.
Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) is the high point of Custer County, SD. Situated only 3 miles SW of Black Elk Peak(7,131 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, and a mile W of Sylvan Lake, it lies near the heart of the most rugged territory in the Black Hills, an area characterized by large ancient granite formations.
As the Custer County high point, Sylvan Hill gets climbed more frequently than many Black Hills peaks. The vast majority of ascents are made by the shortest route possible starting from a dirt parking lot off Hwy 87/89 located 0.5 mile W of Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park.
From the dirt parking lot, a short trek up a switchback on a gated side road ends at a sod-covered water storage facility. A subsequent steep climb WSW through the forest skirts around the S end of a big granite formation, and leads to a saddle on a ridgeline with more granite to the S (High Point 6849). The summit of Sylvan Hill lies less than 0.25 mile NW of this saddle along a deadfall infested ridge.
This popular route from the E is no more than 0.75 mile one way, and involves less than 800 feet of net elevation gain. The first time Lupe climbed Sylvan Hill slightly more than 3 years ago on Expedition No. 89 (5-17-14), she had also used this route. Not today, though! Now she was intent upon exploring the longer N ridge.
Lupe gained a little under 200 feet of elevation going up the slope to the first high point on the N ridge. Scattered boulders were at the top, but no large rock formations. Lupe angled S, losing a little elevation. Off to the W, a short stretch of USFS Road No. 352 was in sight again a little lower down. Lupe had been right, it would have been easier to follow the road this far. Ahh, well. Que sera.
Continuing on, Lupe’s climb resumed. This next section was shorter, and led to more boulders strung out along a higher part of the ridge. Lupe got up on one of the biggest boulders offering a partial view of what lay ahead.
For a while, the ridge narrowed considerably. The edge was steeper than before. Sometimes Lupe could go over the top of rock formations she came to. Other times, it was easier to go around. SPHP often expected Lupe was about to have to lose some elevation, but she seldom lost much. A way through to higher ground always seemed to appear.
The ridge widened out again, and Lupe came to an abandoned road. The road was switchbacking its way up, so Loop followed it. Why not? It was the easiest way.
The road didn’t take Lupe very far. It ended at what appeared to be an old prospecting site where a hole had been blasted in the side of the ridge.
With the forest also blown away in this area, Lupe would have her first real shot at some distant views from rocks she could see above the blast site. Loop scrambled up for a look around. She had a nice look back to the N at Saint Elmo Peak(6,458 ft.) and Zimmer Ridge(6,600 ft.).
Dingo, ho! Lupe was climbing steadily now. The ridge was getting steeper. The longest, steepest part of her journey up the N ridge was underway. Loop was approaching the high forested area she had seen from the first big boulder early on. Before the final big push, she reached another high point with a view.
Onward! Up and up. After several hundred feet of sharp elevation gains, the terrain began to level out. Lupe was still going up, but at a more moderate pace. The forest started thinning out. Lupe came to meadows with minor high points a short distance off to the SSW. She went over near the top of the first one.
Lupe had her first view of Sylvan Hill’s true summit ahead.
The rest of the way was easy. The slope of the terrain was gradual. Lupe romped through open fields. To the E, she had views of impressive rock formations and many peaks she had been to before. The true summit wasn’t far off now.
The NW slope of the knobby summit would have been an easy climb, but was full of deadfall timber amid a thick stand of young aspens. Lupe found it easier to circle around to the SW, where she faced a momentary scramble between a few big rocks. A couple of bounds up, and she was there! Lupe sat comfortably on a small grassy spot on top of Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) for the first time in over 3 years.
The views from Sylvan Hill were magnificent! Lupe could see far off in every direction. The summit area was small, but not the least bit scary. The American Dingo had plenty of room to relax and take life easy. First, though, it was time to enjoy those views!
The cairn at the top of the mountain had been considerably improved upon since the last time Lupe had been here on Expedition No. 89. She got up near it for a good look around.
N of the true summit was another rock ledge Lupe could comfortably pose on. She happily agreed to get up on it for a few photos in this direction, too.
Before taking her break, Lupe returned to the summit cairn for another look. Of all the grand views available from Sylvan Hill, the best was toward Black Elk Peak, South Dakota’s loftiest mountain.
That was a bunch of pictures. Lupe was ready for her break. She curled up to enjoy her usual Taste of the wild. SPHP had nectarines instead of the usual apple. After devouring both nectarines, SPHP wandered around the summit a bit more while Lupe continued chilling out.
The weather had been becoming increasingly unsettled while Lupe came up the N ridge. After 20 minutes at the summit, the first of a series of squalls blew in. Suddenly, Lupe really was chilling out. SPHP feared a cold, drenching shower was imminent, but none materialized.
What did materialize was a snow storm! The micro-blizzard was dramatic, and came on driven by a frigid, stiff N breeze. The snow wasn’t flakes, but arrived as tiny pellets. Neither the Carolina Dog nor SPHP was particularly pleased with this turn of events, but snow was better than a bone-chilling rain.
The Sylvan Peak micro-blizzard lasted all of 3 or 4 minutes before it began to taper off again. Typical in this country. More squalls would come, but in the meantime, Lupe would have 20 minutes or more when the skies would clear somewhat and the sun might shine.
Loop was ready to move on. A few more minutes at the summit, and SPHP was ready, too.
Lupe’s next peakbagging goal for Expedition No. 206 was Peak6733, located nearly 1.5 miles SW of Sylvan Hill across the upper end of Bear Gulch. The plan wasn’t to head directly for it, but to explore the entire length of the long, undulating ridge going all around the S end of Bear Gulch.
The first part of Looper’s route to Peak 6733 would follow the same SE ridge which is the last segment of the popular route to Sylvan Hill from Hwy 87/89. SPHP remembered this trek from Lupe’s Expedition No. 89 as being dreadfully slow due to all the deadfall timber killed by pine bark beetles.
The deadfall situation hadn’t improved at all over the last 3 years.
Fortunately, it wasn’t nearly as far to the first big granite formation SE of Sylvan Hill as SPHP remembered. Despite the deadfall, Lupe made her way over there fairly quickly. She climbed most of the way up the granite into a narrow crack between nearly vertical walls.
Lupe was near High Point 6849 on the Peakbagger.com topo map. She needed to get past the highest vertical wall of granite blocking her way S. SPHP didn’t see an easy way over it, and was fearful of the potential drop that might be waiting for Lupe on the other side.
After a half-hearted search for a way over, Lupe and SPHP gave up. Lupe went W looking for a way around High Point 6849.
Loop had to lose more elevation than SPHP expected, but she did get around the W end of High Point 6849. Good thing Lupe went around it, and hadn’t tried too hard to go over the top! Looking back after regaining the ridgeline on the other side, it was clear that going around had been the only feasible option.
Now that she was past High Point 6849, Lupe followed the ridge SW. The ridge was broad, and the terrain wasn’t bad at all, with no big climbs or drops. Lupe still had excellent views to the S.
Despite these advantages, the ridge walk wasn’t fun. Deadfall timber was strewn so thickly about, Lupe’s progress was excruciatingly slow. She did reach one area that was kind of cool. A lumpy platform of solid granite had a few big puddles on it, and was free of the aggravating deadfall.
The views were great, but beyond the platform, Lupe was forced right back into the deadfall infested forest. Up ahead, High Point 6855 loomed as the next obstacle. It really didn’t look like Lupe could get all the way to the top, but she could clearly get quite high. She shouldn’t have a hard time finding a way past the summit.
Another squall came and went. Cold N breeze, same deal as before, except this time it was a mix of snow then rain. As before, it didn’t last long. These squalls might come and go for hours. If they turned completely to rain and got worse, Lupe’s long trek around the deadfall infested ridge was going to be unpleasant. She still had a long way to go to Peak 6733.
Upon reaching a saddle leading to the now imminent climb up High Point 6855, the American Dingo discovered a faint road. Lupe was doing fine, but SPHP was fed up with all the deadfall on the ridge. Come on, Looper, let’s just take this road down into Bear Gulch. Even though you’ll have to regain a lot more lost elevation, we’ll get to Peak 6733 way faster.
Lupe didn’t mind. In fact, she preferred the road, too. The road went by meadows where she could run around, instead of wasting her energy hopping over dead trees. The faint road led to a better one, which ultimately brought Lupe down into the upper end of Bear Gulch from the E.
Lupe came to USFS Road No. 352 again 2.5 miles S of where the G6 was parked along it. Nearby, a little stream crossed the road. Lupe crossed the road, too, staying S of the creek. Boggy forested terrain interlaced with small rivulets trickling through it all forced her SW.
Loop drank from the rivulets. She loved the feel of the soft, damp, boggy ground on her paws. SPHP was less enthused by the mud, but managed to avoid the worst of it. Before long, the Carolina Dog was beyond the bog and climbing a hillside. She had skipped past a big part of the long ridge to Peak 6733, but now she needed to get back up there again. SPHP had her aim for the saddle between High Point 6627 and Peak 6733.
About the time Loop regained the ridgeline, a third squall hit. This squall was mostly dark clouds and wind, accompanied by only a little rain. Apparently the squalls were weakening instead of strengthening. Good! Lupe turned NW following the ridge. She still needed to regain another 300 feet of elevation to reach Peak 6733’s summit.
In keeping with its annoying tradition, the upper part of the ridge was strewn with deadfall. At least it wasn’t quite as bad here as before.
The summit of Peak6733 is a block of granite with small cliffs facing NE. Lupe had an easy time scrambling up from the SE. The views were superb in most directions, except to the W toward Thunderhead Mountain(6,567 ft.) and the Crazy Horse Memorial where trees interfered.
After a look around, Lupe and SPHP took a break. Lupe had water and more Taste of the Wild. SPHP had foolishly devoured both nectarines back on Sylvan Hill.
By the time Lupe’s break was over, another squall could be seen coming in from the N.
This fourth squall was the weakest and final one of any note. The sun soon came out again. Lupe made another tour of Peak 6733’s summit before beginning her descent.
The easiest way down seemed to be to the SE back the way Lupe had come up.
Once Lupe was down off the summit, she stopped briefly by another high point a little to the SE. It was somewhat lower, of course, but offered a final, unobstructed view of Sylvan Hill(7,000 ft.) and Bear Gulch.
From here, Lupe headed N, passing below Peak 6733’s summit along the base of the NE facing cliffs.
Once beyond the cliffs, Lupe and SPHP stayed on the N ridge making a long trek through a battle zone of deadfall timber. The terrain was easy enough, but the deadfall was horrid the entire way. Lupe finally reached a road at a gated pass immediately S of High Point 6634.
Once again, Lupe was glad to reach the road! She made another descent into Bear Gulch. The road took her a long way back to the SE, before eventually curving N again. Lupe didn’t care. She was free of the deadfall. Now she could have fun sniffing around. She was entertained by numerous deer she saw along the way.
The road finally reached USFS Road No. 352 down by the creek at the bottom of Bear Gulch. Here, the side road Lupe had been following was marked as No. 352.2B. The G6 was still a good 2 miles N along No. 352.
It was only mid-afternoon. The sun would be up for hours. However, Lupe had gotten off to an early start this morning, and the long stretches of deadfall had been wearying. The Carolina Dog turned N on No. 352, and headed for her ride home. (5:01 PM, 59°F)
Note: USFS Road No. 352 (marked by a brown fiberglass wand) leaves the W side of Hwy 87/89 in Sunday Gulch (S of Hill City) less than 0.25 mile S of privately owned Horse Thief Campground & RV Resort just as the highway begins a 3 mile climb up to Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.
Stay to the L at a “Y” where No. 352 levels out. Park along the road here (like Lupe did), or go a little farther to a small parking area at a locked gate in Bear Gulch less than a mile from the highway. High clearance vehicle not required.
Day 38 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Lupe’s morning started at 7:00 AM with a quick side trip into nearby Fort St. John for fuel for the G6. Then it was back N a few miles to the turn SW onto Hwy 29 to Chetwynd. Making that turn, Lupe left the Alaska Highway for the final time on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation.
Hwy 29 was a beautiful drive. For a while, the road followed a stretch of the Peace River valley. However, that feeling of being in the truly far N, which Lupe had while in the Yukon and Alaska, was fading fast. At Chetwynd, SPHP turned W on Hwy 97. It would eventually turn S and take Lupe to Prince George. This was still gorgeous, unspoiled territory, all wild, forested, and full of rivers and lakes, but Lupe saw no more snow-capped mountains, not even on the most distant horizon.
Nearly all day would be spent driving, but Lupe did have one adventure in store for her. She was going to take the trail up Teapot Mountain, sometimes touted as one of the best day hikes of central interior British Columbia. The trail isn’t long, only 0.9 mile (1.4 km). It climbs an ancient steep-sided basaltic plug which survived the last ice age, while gaining 650 feet of elevation (200 meters).
The sky clouded up. Light rain showers dampened the highway. Miles rolled by. Suddenly, ack! Talus Road! Wasn’t that it? Yes, and SPHP had missed the turn. Oh, well. At least the sign had been spotted. SPHP found a place to turn around. A few minutes later, Lupe was turning W onto gravel Talus Road.
A kilometer later, SPHP missed the R turn onto Caine Creek Forestry Road, too. The whole area seemed to be a maze of gravel roads, and the signage wasn’t great. Nevertheless, after a brief exercise in futility, Lupe did make it back to Caine Creek Forestry Road, which wound around for 2 miles (3 km) before crossing a bridge over a creek connecting a couple of skinny, swampy lakes on either side.
As the road started curving L after crossing the bridge, a sign could be seen tucked back at the edge of the trees near a dirt side road on the R. Nearby was enough parking space for several vehicles. The sign said Teapot Mtn. An arrow pointed into the forest along the side road. Not another soul or vehicle was around, but this had to be the trailhead.
SPHP parked, and Lupe got out of the G6. The sky was clearing a little again. The sun was trying to break through. On the way here, Lupe had seen densely forested Teapot Mountain a little to the W. It didn’t look very big after all the mountains Lupe had seen on this Dingo Vacation. The trip up Teapot Mountain(3,009 ft.) wouldn’t take long.
Lupe had plenty of time. Why not take a look at the swampy lakes and the creek from the bridge, before going up the mountain?
The water in the creek, which was actually the Crooked River, looked clean and clear. From the smaller skinny lake, it flowed N under the bridge. Both skinny lakes were part of the river system. Lupe didn’t see any fish in the river, but no doubt there must be some. The lakes had plenty of water and looked like great habitat.
In the 15 minutes Lupe spent sniffing around the Crooked River and the swampy lakes, 2 vehicles had arrived and parked at the Teapot Mountain trailhead. Hikers were already somewhere on the trail ahead of her by the time Lupe started out. The first part of the trail followed the side road, which curved NW as it led Lupe into the forest. The side road dead-ended after only a few hundred feet.
Where the side road ended, a wide path strewn with leaves led off to the W toward Teapot Mountain. Lupe hadn’t gained any elevation yet, but she was about to. The path started climbing steadily, slowly at first, but it quickly became steep.
The well worn trail was easy to follow, but soon became a real challenge for heart, lungs and legs. It worked its way over to the SE face of Teapot Mountain, where it began to climb even more steeply heading almost straight up the mountain.
The dense, lush forest hid all views. Many tree roots and rocks were exposed on the trail, which was hard packed. This part of the Teapot Mountain trail must be very slick when wet, but it wasn’t bad as Lupe made her ascent.
Teapot Mountain hadn’t looked that big from below, but felt bigger with each step up. The relentless steep rate of climb continued until Lupe reached a junction close to the top of the mountain. Here, the trail divided. Lupe could go L or R. It didn’t really matter which way she went, since both directions were part of the circular loop trail around the upper rim of Teapot Mountain. Lupe went R (N), hoping to catch a view of the Crooked River below.
Just because Lupe had reached the loop trail didn’t mean she could see anything. The top of Teapot Mountain was as densely forested as all the rest of it was. The trail had come up near the SE end of the mountain, at a part of the rim that proved to be a little lower than most of it. The summit area contained within the loop trail was acres in size. The interior terrain sloped gradually and unevenly up toward some unseen high point.
The loop trail was an easy, almost level stroll. Lupe didn’t have to go very far N before she came to a break in the trees where she could see a long, skinny lake down along the Crooked River off to the NE.
On her way around the N rim of Teapot Mountain, Lupe came to no more viewpoints until she reached some cliffs at the NW end of the mountain. Lupe could see a large shallow pond in a clearing far below.
From the cliffs at the NW viewpoint, Lupe didn’t have far to go to reach a big tan-colored rock formation at the SW end of the mountain. Up until now, Lupe hadn’t seen anyone along the trail. She found everyone here, congregated on the rock formation which offers the premier view from Teapot Mountain.
A friendly dog wanted to play with Lupe, but with cliffs so close by, the humans put a quick end to all the mad dashing and chasing around. A wooden bench was nearby to the E. Lupe got up on it for a look at the big view. Summit Lake, which is quite large and has an interesting irregular shape, was the main attraction. Lupe could see the N end of Summit Lake dotted with forested islands not too far away to the S.
While everyone else remained congregated on the tan rock formation, Lupe and SPHP went off in search of the true summit of Teapot Mountain. The highest point Lupe found was a nice mossy spot at the end of a very faint trail into the interior. The summit wasn’t far from the SW viewpoint at all.
Lupe returned to the loop trail. People were getting ready to depart. Before long, Lupe had the premier viewpoint on Teapot Mountain all to herself.
For a little while, Lupe and SPHP stayed together up on the tan rock formation enjoying the view of the lakes and forests of central British Columbia. Before long voices were heard approaching from the E. More hikers. Time to go and let them enjoy this beautiful spot in peace. Loop still had many miles to go today anyway.
Lupe saw more teapots placed on rocks and in trees along the S rim of Teapot Mountain as she completed the loop back to the trail down. The clouds hadn’t so much as sprinkled any rain for a while. On her way down, Lupe encountered several more groups of people who had decided to come up. Apparently, Teapot Mountain really is quite a popular hike.
It was mid-afternoon by the time Lupe arrived back at the G6 (2:55 PM, 50°F) ready to resume the long drive S. Teapot Mountain had been a pleasant break from being cooped up. The whole trek had taken a little over 2 hours at a leisurely pace.
By evening, Lupe was far SE of Prince George near the small town of McBride. Her day ended with a pleasant twilight stroll exploring a quiet park next to the Fraser River. Up until her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, Lupe had never been even this far N before in her whole life. Tomorrow she would return to more familiar territory in Jasper and Banff National Parks in the fabulous Canadian Rockies!
Start, 11:04 AM, 33°F, intersection of USFS Roads No. 189, 189.4A & 631.2C about 0.33 mile WSW of Crooks Tower
This was supposed to be an expedition to celebrate the rapid approach of a glorious new summer! Lupe would explore mysteriously named Balm of Gilead Gulch before continuing on to Cement Ridge. There, beneath cotton ball clouds sailing a crystal blue sea, the Carolina Dog would sniff colorful wildflowers swaying in warm breezes. She would gaze upon panoramic views of Inyan Kara, the Bear Lodge Mountains, and far into eastern Wyoming.
Hah! Dream on. Even before leaving home, SPHP knew the forecast didn’t include much in the way of warm breezes.
A week ago on Expedition No. 204, Lupe had visited Crooks Tower(7,137 ft.), one of the highest points in the Black Hills. She’d made a day of it coming up from Merow Spring and Clayton Pond, and subsequently continuing on to Peak6820. Now, driving W on South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231), it occurred to SPHP that Loop was very close to Crooks Tower again. Why not go back for a good look at how much conditions had changed?
It wasn’t necessary to spend a whole day on foot and paw to get to Crooks Tower. In fact, a 2 mile detour S on USFS Road No. 189 would bring Lupe to a point only 0.33 mile WSW of the summit. Let’s do it! SPHP made the turn. Five minutes later, Lupe sprang out of the G6 into a world where the mood was better suited to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than 4th of July fireworks.
Although the forecast called for 0% chance of precipitation, the sky was heavily overcast. Any more overcast, and Lupe would have been in a fog. Humidity filled the air. It felt like it could rain buckets at any time. Or snow. At a chilly 33°F, snow seemed equally plausible. The ground was already white with the stuff.
Lupe concealed her disappointment with summer’s non-arrival well. In fact, she seemed thrilled and energized by the snow. She charged through fields and forests as SPHP began a mucky march E along USFS Road No. 189.4A.
About 0.33 mile from the G6, the road passed just S of the summit of Crooks Tower. Lupe and SPHP left the road to take the short path leading to the top from the SW. Only a week after her 8th ascent, Lupe was here for the 9th time.
Having been here only a week ago, Lupe and SPHP dawdled only a little while on Crooks Tower. It was fun to be there again, but the plan was still to explore Balm of Gilead Gulch and reach Cement Ridge today. Lupe returned to the G6 (11:35 AM, 33°F), and SPHP drove onward.
N of Highway 85, a little W of O’Neill Pass, SPHP parked the G6 again (11:53 AM, 39°F) near corrals S of the junction of USFS Roads No. 175 (Willow Springs Road) and No. 106 (Riflepit Canyon Road). Here Lupe was only 0.67 mile W of Laird Peak(6,906 ft.), another mountain along the way. SPHP figured she might as well climb it, too, since it was an easy peak and wouldn’t take long.
An unmarked grassy road led E from the parking area up a little valley past Tom Spring. This area was hundreds of feet lower than Crooks Tower, so there wasn’t nearly as much snow around. What snow there was in the pines was melting fast. Snowmelt dripped to the ground in such abundance, Lupe was getting rained on beneath the trees.
Tom Spring was a muddy area. Water poured from a pipe into a circular water trough. Not too exciting. Lupe didn’t seem interested. She pressed on up the valley. The road faded somewhat beyond Tom Spring, but could still be followed.
Upon reaching a ridgeline where several better dirt roads intersected, Lupe took a road going N. She stayed on it for only 100 feet or so to get past a fence running E/W. She then turned E following the N side of the fence line. Laird Peak’s summit was only a couple hundred yards ahead. The summit appeared only as a small hill in the forest.
Lupe quickly reached the top. The summit area was easily the size of a modest yard in town and quite flat. Deadfall timber lay scattered about the perimeter of a small clearing. A sign marking the location of the survey benchmark was in sight near the N edge of the clearing.
Pine bark beetles had damaged the surrounding forest enough to provide tree-broken glimpses of distant views in various directions, but only enough to tantalize. Lupe couldn’t really see much from here other than the immediate area. With no clear views to contemplate, the American Dingo was soon ready to go.
The sky was still overcast, but not as darkly as before. Now and then a small patch of blue sky appeared. SPHP kept expecting the clouds to burn off, but they didn’t. Instead the clouds kept closing up the gaps, and the sunshine would disappear. Nothing had really changed by the time Lupe reached the G6 again (12:45 PM).
A winding drive NW down Grand Canyon ensued. USFS Road No. 175 turned to No. 875 at the Wyoming border. By the time SPHP parked the G6 at the intersection of No. 875 & No. 804, it was already 1:23 PM (47°F). If Lupe was going to explore Balm of Gilead Gulch and still have time to reach Cement Ridge, she had best get on with it. The Carolina Dog and SPHP took off heading E up Rattlesnake Canyon on No. 804.
The stroll up Rattlesnake Canyon was easy. A couple of miles E of the G6, SPHP started looking for a R (S) turn on USFS Road No. 804.1A which would take Lupe up into Balm of Gilead Gulch. A road going S up a hill did appear. There weren’t any signs at the turn, but a forest service gate was in view a little way up the hill.
Was this No. 804.1A? It didn’t seem quite right. The topo map showed a 4WD trail heading S up a smaller valley about 0.5 mile before (W of) the turn to Balm of Gilead Gulch, and this was the first side road Lupe had come to. SPHP almost led Lupe past this road, but decided she might as well check out the forest service gate for any clues first.
Good thing! Nearing the gate, Lupe found a marker showing this was USFS Road No. 804.1A.
So this was it! Lupe was bound for Balm of Gilead Gulch! Except for one thing that raised doubts again. As the Carolina Dog trotted past the gate, SPHP noticed large white letters on the round metal swivel housing on the L. The letters read OLDB 05. What did that mean? SPHP was suspicious.
It might mean that this road had been renumbered. USFS Road No. 805 went up Wagon Canyon 1.5 miles to the S. Was this possibly a connecting spur, formerly known as No. 805.B? Seemed like a possibility, but who knew? May as well try it. After all, the official sign did say this was No. 804.1A, which was supposed to be the road into Balm of Gilead Gulch.
Lupe continued up No. 804.1A. The road turned SE and led up a small forested valley. The day had warmed up some, and Lupe was still considerably lower here than she had been at either Crooks Tower or Laird Peak, so she didn’t find any snow in this area. There had been some, though. The road was damp, nearly muddy.
Although no tire tracks were to be seen, an amazing number of animal tracks crisscrossed the soft road. It wasn’t long before Lupe started seeing wildlife – whitetail deer and Lupe’s giant deers – the elk.
It was fun being where there were so many animals in the forest, and sort of easy to see why they were here. No tire tracks on the road at all meant people seldom come here. The forest was full of hidden grassy glens. This was a good place to hide and hang out.
Lupe gained elevation steadily for perhaps a mile before the road leveled out. Here, the main road turned SW and started going downhill. A fainter road curved ESE. Lupe needed to go E, so she took the fainter road. When she wanted to stop for a water break 5 or 10 minutes later, SPHP took a look at the maps.
Hmmm. SPHP was soon convinced that Lupe hadn’t been traveling through Balm of Gilead Gulch at all. Where the main road had turned SW, it almost had to be headed for Kirley Gulch on its way down to Wagon Canyon. Apparently the road numbers really had been changed. The old No. 804.1A leading into Balm of Gilead Gulch that Lupe had been looking for was no more. The new No. 804.1A actually was a road connecting No. 804 in Rattlesnake Canyon and No. 805 in Wagon Canyon.
The inescapable conclusion was that Balm of Gilead Gulch was 0.5 mile N or NE of where Lupe was now. She could have gone through the forest looking for it, but that would have meant losing elevation she’d already gained. Furthermore, she would only get to travel through part of the gulch. Instead of doing that, SPHP decided Lupe might just as well continue on to Cement Ridge. She could hit Balm of Gilead Gulch on the way back.
Break done, Lupe roamed happily in the forest along a series of remote USFS roads. She traveled E or SE, and once in a while NE. She was generally still gaining elevation, but at a slow rate. Sometimes there were markers at the road junctions, but even when there were, usually only one road was marked. It wasn’t always clear which road the marker was meant for.
This was pretty high country, but due to the forest, Lupe seldom had any distant views. Some ridges did eventually appear off to the S and SW. Loop was already nearly as high as they were.
On her explorations, Lupe either traveled along or passed by USFS Roads No. 805.3J, 805.3G, and 805.3A. About two miles E of where she’d left No. 804.1A, she came down a side road marked No. 105.1B to arrive at the first major gravel road she’d seen since leaving No. 804 down in Rattlesnake Canyon.
A check of the maps revealed that Loop was now only 0.25 mile S of No. 105’s junction with No. 804. Cement Ridge(6,674 ft.) was only 1.5 miles NNW beyond the intersection. Before setting out again, Lupe was ready for more water and Taste of the Wild. SPHP ate the only apple, which was supposed to have been saved for Cement Ridge, but, oh well.
All tanked up again, Lupe set off along No. 105 for Cement Ridge. Upon reaching the junction with No. 804, she followed No. 804 NNW a good 0.5 mile to its high point, then plunged into the forest. The American Dingo loves being off road most of all, so she had a grand time. Gradually things got steeper, but it was never more than a straightforward trudge up a hill.
When Lupe reached the ridgeline along the N face, she turned W and followed the ridge a short distance to a pathetic little limestone cairn at the high point. This was it, the true summit of Cement Ridge!
Virtually no one from the Black Hills region would recognize this place where Lupe was now as the summit of Cement Ridge. This might be the true summit according to the topo maps, but only a handful of peakbagging Dingoes would even be aware of its existence. Cement Ridge is well known locally as one of the Black Hills’ premier viewpoints, but what everyone around here is referring to are the views from the Cement Ridge fire lookout tower.
The fire lookout tower is located on a barren highpoint near the NW end of Cement Ridge over a mile from the true summit. According to the topo map, the lookout tower is 27 feet lower than the true summit. Nevertheless, the views from the tower are far superior to those available from the heavily forested true summit.
Lupe could see the lookout tower from the true summit. Perhaps it was only an illusion, but it actually looked higher to SPHP.
Lupe had no comment on which point she thought might be highest, the lookout tower or this pathetic little cairn. She was content to let surveyors battle that one out. However, when SPHP asked if she wanted to go see the fabulous views at the tower, she was all for that!
A 10 minute trek N down through an aspen forest brought Lupe to a saddle where USFS Road No. 850 coming up from the W turns N. Loop followed the road all the way to the lookout tower. Not a soul was around.
Instead of cotton ball clouds sailing a crystal blue sky, Lupe saw scattered tiny patches of blue lost in a gray-white ocean. She felt no warm breezes. There were wildflowers to sniff, but they tossed about tormented by a chilly N breeze. The views were wonderful, but felt remote and forlorn, not bright and inspiring.
With sweeping views in nearly all directions, Lupe saw a great many Black Hills peaks she had been to before. The wind was coldest and strongest, though, up near the fire tower. Lupe and SPHP retreated a bit down the W slope to an old picnic table. Conditions were only slightly better here, and only the views to the W could still be seen, but they were grand.
Looper and SPHP stayed at the lower picnic table soaking it all in.
Cement Ridge would be a great place to see the sunset, but Lupe was here too early for that. The sun wouldn’t set for another couple of hours. Even if she waited, the sky was so overcast, it wasn’t likely she would see much. Besides, if she was ever going to see Balm of Gilead Gulch, she needed to get going.
Puppy ho! After a little rest curled up beneath the old picnic table, Lupe set out for Balm of Gilead Gulch again. The first part of the journey took her SE back along the length of Cement Ridge. This time, instead of following the access road, she stayed up on the highest parts of the ridge where she could see the terrific views to the E.
On her way, since she had to pass so close to it again, Lupe returned to Cement Ridge’s true summit.
Since Looper was now in a hurry to get to Balm of Gilead Gulch before the sun set, she stayed only a couple of minutes at the summit before pressing on to the S. She came across a dirt road going SSE, which was faster for SPHP than traveling through the forest.
Going down this road, suddenly sunshine was filtering through the trees. The sky, which had been 90%+ overcast all day long, was almost completely clear! SPHP was astonished at how fast this transformation had taken place. Only a few clouds remained. The rest hadn’t floated on by, they had simply dissipated into thin air.
The sun was noticeably lower now, but would still be up for a while. The evening light brought out even more wildlife. Lupe saw more whitetails and giant deers.
The road eventually reached USFS Road No. 105, this time a little E of its junction with No. 804. A marker showed Lupe had been coming down USFS Road No. 105.1A.
A short trek to the W on No. 105 brought Lupe to the junction with No. 804 again. This time she turned S on No. 105, following it back to the turn W onto No. 105.1B.
Earlier in the day, before ever reaching No. 105 on her way to Cement Ridge, Lupe had reached a broad gentle saddle where there was a 4-way intersection. This was probably where she’d gotten on No. 105.1B as she continued E at the time. However, SPHP had seen that the road going NW from there sloped gradually into a wide valley. That wide valley was likely the upper end of Balm of Gilead Gulch.
With the sun getting ever lower, Lupe and SPHP hurried back along No. 105.1B, hoping to reach the broad saddle before the sun was down. Even hurrying along, it was hard not to appreciate the beauty of the sunlight filtered by the trees. What a wonderful evening trek! Lupe was enthusiastic. She raced through the forest exploring everything.
Lupe did make it to the broad saddle before the sun was down. She turned NW on the road leading through the wide valley. She followed the road a little way, but left it to follow a single track trail W down into Balm of Gilead Gulch.
Lupe traveled the entire length of Balm of Gilead Gulch, as sunlight left the valley floor to linger on the forested hillsides. The pale golden light of day retreated to the uppermost treetops, and was lost. Lupe saw deer. She saw elk. A hawk screeched and flew away. Lower down where the valley narrowed, the Carolina Dog came to a tiny stream.
It was all beautiful, but though she sniffed and looked everywhere she could, the Carolina Dog never found it. If a different road to a different place hadn’t been relabeled as USFS Road No. 804.1A, she would have been here much earlier and had more time. Maybe, maybe then, she would have found it. As it was, twilight faded, darkness descended, stars glittered in the night sky.
But Lupe never did find the fabled Balm of Gilead. (End 9:32 PM, 32°F)
“Prophet! said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by Horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me, tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
from The Raven, Edgar Allen Poe
Note: The Cement Ridge fire lookout tower is accessible by road from the W or SE by following USFS Road No. 804 to No. 850. The true summit is the hill immediately S of where No. 850 reaches a saddle on the ridgeline, and turns N to continue on to the lookout. Another route exists from the E on USFS Road No. 103 to this same point, but requires a high clearance vehicle.
Days 36 & 37 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Day 36, 9-3-16, 6:40 AM, 32°F – Time for Lupe’s last walk down to the shore to say farewell to Kluane Lake. As soon as the G6 defogged, Lupe would be leaving. Another 450 miles to go today. By the end of the day, she would leave the Yukon and reach extreme northern British Columbia.
The huge lake was calm, the smoothest Lupe had ever seen it. More exciting adventures remain for Lupe in Kluane National Park in this wild, remote corner of Yukon Territory, but not on this Dingo Vacation. Who knew when, or if, Lupe would ever return to do them and see fabulous Kluane Lake again? No matter. It was time to go.
The sun wasn’t even above the horizon yet, as Lupe and SPHP started S in the G6, but would be illuminating the Kluane front range peaks of the Saint Elias mountains before long.
Yesterday evening, SPHP had seen Mount Decoeli(7,650 ft.) from afar. Lupe climbed Mount Decoeli earlier on this Dingo Vacation. What a tremendous adventure that had been! Now Decoeli was sporting a cap of new snow. The Alaska Highway would soon take Lupe only a few miles E of the mountain. She wasn’t too many miles from Kluane Lake, before there it was, looking majestic, clean and white!
The Kluane front range mountains all looked even more impressive with snow on them, than when Lupe had been here in early August. SPHP stopped frequently for photos. These were the biggest, most gorgeous mountains Lupe would see all day!
Lupe enjoyed all the stops. She didn’t mind posing for pictures. Each stop was another chance, however brief, to explore fields and forests near the Alaska Highway.
On the way to Haines Junction, SPHP decided Lupe ought to take the 14 mile (one way) detour S to have a look at King’s Throne(6,529 ft.) and Kathleen Lake. King’s Thronewas the first mountain Lupe had climbed in Kluane National Park, and another super adventure! Maybe Lupe could get a great photo of King’s Throne covered with new snow and shining brightly in the morning light?
Lupe only got 10 miles S of Haines Junction, though, before it was apparent there wasn’t much point in going farther. Clouds already screened King’s Throne from the sunlight, and more clouds were moving in fast. From what could be seen, King’s Throne hadn’t received any of the recent new snow either, perhaps because it is lower than Decoeli.
Near Quill Creek, Lupe and SPHP turned around to head back N. The mountains here were still in brilliant sunshine. However, large clouds were moving in from the SE. Lupe’s best bet was to enjoy these gorgeous mountains while they were still in view. All the way back to Haines Junction, Lupe and SPHP stopped frequently to gaze upon the beautifully sunlit Kluane front range.
At Haines Junction, Lupe headed E on the Alaska Highway. The dazzling splendor of the Kluane front range of the Saint Elias mountains receded in the rear view mirror. Within a few minutes, the mountains disappeared entirely as Lupe entered a dense fog bank.
For miles SPHP drove slowly in the fog. Lupe finally emerged from the fog bank, but the mood of the morning was different here. The sky was overcast. The dull, gray clouds weren’t dark or threatening, but the cheerful sunshine was gone. Lupe snoozed as the miles rolled by. E of Whitehorse, Lupe crossed the Yukon River again. By now it was 11:15 AM, and even SPHP was drowsy.
Lupe and SPHP stopped at a rest area on the E bank of the Yukon River. Even though it was practically the middle of the day, and the Alaska Highway was busy, SPHP took a nap. An hour later, feeling better, it was time to press on. Before leaving, Lupe was ready for a short stroll down to the river.
The clouds were lighter and starting to break up as Lupe continued E on the Alaska Highway. After a slow start in the morning, Lupe was behind schedule on reaching her mileage quota for the day. She needed to keep rolling. She was allowed fairly frequent short stops at rest areas, but other than that, Lupe had little to do but continue dozing or watch the scenery go by.
Forests were everywhere. Lupe saw many lakes and streams. Although Lupe saw lots of mountains, too, they weren’t nearly as large or rugged as the ones back at Kluane National Park. Hours went by. Finally, a cluster of higher, more impressive mountains appeared in the distance ahead. They had a good dusting of snow and were quite beautiful.
On the way to the Yukon near the start of her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation, Lupe had traveled up the Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37). This time, when she reached the junction, Lupe stayed on the Alaska Highway going E instead of turning S. This was an alternate route home. Lupe was going to see a lot of new territory!
The new territory featured forests. Trees stretched from horizon to horizon. Mile after mile. Not that there hadn’t been plenty of vast forests before. Here, though, there were hills, ridges, and deep river valleys, but no real mountains, not like Lupe was used to seeing up to this point. Everything was forested. Nothing was above treeline.
E of Watson Lake, the Alaska Highway left the Yukon for good. Lupe was now back in far northern British Columbia. The highway wound around near the Liard River valley. In many places, the forest was clear cut for 50 to 100 feet and mowed on both sides of the highway. The resulting miles long skinny clearings proved attractive to wildlife.
Lupe sprang to life when she realized there were animals out there! She’d been mostly resting in the G6 for two whole days. The American Dingo was bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Time for the barkfest to end all barkfests! Many buffalo, 3 bears, and 1 fox were all cause for ear-splitting excitement.
A little after 8 PM, with light fading fast, Lupe arrived at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. (Note: The 6.5 minute video on the front page of this link is worth watching. Be sure to expand it!) SPHP drove in at the entrance finding no one at the entry booth. It was Saturday night and lots of people were around. SPHP parked the G6, and Lupe was happy to get out.
The main attractions at Liard Hot Springs are a couple of hot water bathing pools along a flowing stream. A wide boardwalk led off toward the hot springs. Lots of people were coming and going on the boardwalk, so Lupe and SPHP took it, too.
The boardwalk went through a forested swamp. It was far longer than SPHP expected – 700 meters! Lupe did get to see the hot springs, although, sadly, it was already too dark for pictures. A couple of wooden changing rooms were next to a deck overlooking the hot springs, which had significant flow. A warm fog rose from the waters where bathers were enjoying soaking in two natural pools.
SPHP asked around how this all worked? As it turned out, there is normally a seasonal day use fee ($5.00 adult, $3.00 child, $10.00 family) charged for park admission at the entry booth at the front gate. A camping spot costs $26.00. However, the entry booth closes at 8 PM, and no day use admission is collected after that. Somewhat oddly, the gates close at 10 PM, after which no entry or exit is permitted.
Of course, Lupe couldn’t go in the hot springs, but there was still time for SPHP to enjoy them. Back to the G6, where Lupe was sad and worried about being abandoned. SPHP tried to cheer her up, promising to return before too long.
The changing rooms at the hot springs were rustic, with only benches and hooks. No lockers, showers, restrooms or anything like that. Not even electricity or any lights. The upstream pool was too hot for SPHP, but the downstream pool was great. Despite the excellent flow, the water cooled off quickly going downstream, so it was easy to choose the temperature zone that felt best.
Liard Hot Springs was totally awesome! Where else can you relax in soothing warm (hot, if you like!) waters outdoors in the middle of a boreal spruce forest in a giant swamp? SPHP soaked and chatted with people, who were mostly from Fort Nelson.
At 9:15 PM, someone came to announce the time, and that the park’s gates closed in 45 minutes at 10:00 PM. SPHP soaked for 10 more minutes, then got out into the chilly night air to get changed and return to Lupe. After a joyous reunion, Lupe and SPHP left the park at 9:48 PM with 12 minutes to spare. Onward! But only for a little way. Lupe had already made 500 miles today.
Day 37, 9-4-16, 6:19 AM, 35°F – Beneath a bright blue sky with thin little clouds, Lupe was underway early. She was in far northern British Columbia, only a little S of Liard Hot Springs. The terrain rapidly became increasingly mountainous as Lupe headed SE on the Alaska Highway. For a while, a long stretch of road construction slowed progress to a crawl.
SPHP hadn’t done a bit of research during pre-Dingo Vacation planning on Muncho Lake, and it was a real surprise. This was an area of unspoiled, remote snow-capped peaks. The Alaska Highway went right through it all, and hugged the E shore of beautiful Muncho Lake for miles. Lupe was thrilled to see more buffalo, and even another black bear.
Such beauty was cause for several stops. Lupe was only too glad to get out of the G6, if even only for a short time. Too bad Lupe’s time was so limited now. Muncho Lake Provincial Park was surely worth exploring!
S of Muncho Lake, the Alaska Highway lost elevation and entered the beautiful Toad River valley. Although it was still early in the day, SPHP was overcome by drowsiness. Lupe and SPHP wound up taking a nap at a pullout along the highway. Nearly two hours slipped by before SPHP woke up again, feeling much revived.
However, Lupe hadn’t needed reviving. By now she was so bored, she was desperate to get out of the G6. For the next half hour she had a great time sniffing around a young forest near the pullout while SPHP picked up copious amounts of trash. People! Trash containers were provided right at the pullout, yet way too many people don’t bother using them. Totally disgusting!
A little farther on, Lupe left Muncho Lake Provincial Park. Before long she crossed a bridge over another wonderful stream, the Racing River. SPHP parked the G6 again at a pullout near the bridge. Lupe found an old road leading through the forest. The primitive road paralleled the Racing River downstream for a little way. Evidently this route is sometimes used for dispersed camping. Lupe passed several old campfire sites before the road turned and ended at the river.
After 25 minutes near the Racing River, Lupe and SPHP continued on. The Alaska Highway quickly left the Racing River valley, going around the N side of a mountain into another big valley. The highway now followed the course of McDonald Creek upstream toward impressive white mountains. Lupe was nearing Stone Mountain Provincial Park.
Shortly after entering Stone Mountain Provincial Park, Lupe saw something she had never seen before. A small herd of caribou were trotting across an open field toward a forest! By the time SPHP could stop and turn around, they had vanished into the trees. The field the caribou had crossed was at quite an elevation above McDonald Creek, and offered a good lookout point toward the mountains. Lupe and SPHP got out of the G6 to take a look.
After getting a little exercise and seeing the grand view of Mount Saint George(7,402 ft.) and the McDonald Creek valley from Caribou Point, Lupe and SPHP drove on. The Alaska Highway turned NE and in only a few miles reached Summit Lake at the top of a pass. At the NE end of Summit Lake were a campground and picnic area. Lunch time! Lupe and SPHP pulled into the picnic area.
Soup, sardines and crackers were on the menu. While SPHP was heating the soup up, Lupe found a new friend. A big dog arrived to sniff and wag tails with her. A young woman from Fort Nelson came over to retrieve Grommet, which was the big dog’s name. She stayed chatting with SPHP while Lupe and Grommet did dog stuff – sniffing, playing and growling.
The friendly young woman mentioned a trailhead over on the opposite (N) side of the Alaska Highway. When lunch was over, Lupe and SPHP went over to check out the trailhead. A map showed a 2.5 km (one way) trail going to Summit Peak(6,611 ft.) on the N side of the Alaska Highway, and several other trails S of Summit Lake.
It all looked very interesting, but Lupe didn’t have time to explore any trails. In fact, it was 2 PM already. Lupe hadn’t even gone 100 miles yet today! Definitely time to get underway again.
E of Summit Lake, the Alaska Highway lost elevation again on the other side of the pass. Soon Lupe was out of Stone Mountain Provincial Park, leaving the big, snowy peaks of the Muskwa Ranges behind. At Fort Nelson, the Alaska Highway turned S again. Off to the W, Lupe could still see high mountains with snow. The highway got close to them at one point, but then veered away.
After a great morning and early afternoon, with lots of little hikes and scenic stops along the way, the rest of the afternoon and evening proved disappointing for the intrepid American Dingo. She spent nearly all of her time stuck in the G6, traveling through the endless forest. The road wound over and around high ridges. Sometimes the Alaska Highway dropped down into big valleys to cross rivers, but it never took Lupe back to the high mountains.
Lupe had few chances to get out of the G6 again, but by evening she did make her 450 miles for the day. Most of northern British Columbia was now behind her. That feeling Lupe’d had for most of the past month of being in the far N, in Arctic lands, was fast slipping away.
Start: 9:43 AM, 68°F, intersection of Long Draw Road (USFS Road No. 209) & USFS Road No. 209.2D
Loop barely got started on USFS Road No. 209.2D when it curved to the N and started going uphill. Not the way she needed to go. An unmarked grassy side road curved W continuing down the valley. Lupe took it instead.
As usual, Lupe was in a great mood! She was ready for action on this gorgeous spring morning. She trotted ahead of SPHP, frequently leaving the road to sniff and explore the narrow, forested valley.
The downhill grade gradually became steeper. The road turned to dirt and rock. After 0.5 mile, Lupe came to an ancient trough brimming with water. A steady stream trickled out over one edge. Below the trough was a muddy pool, where additional water seeped out of the ground. A separate clear stream bubbled right up out of the road.
Lupe had reached Merow Spring.
The Carolina Dog helped herself to a drink from Merow Spring, but finding nothing else of interest here, she continued on down the road. For a little way, the tiny stream originating at Merow Spring wound around in the nearby forest, before sinking back underground.
The day was unseasonably warm. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the shade of the heavily forested valley.
Less than 0.5 mile W of Merow Spring, the narrow valley merged with a wider valley of sunny green meadows.
Lupe turned S, roaming freely through the bright meadows, exploring up the larger valley. She soon discovered a stream. The stream, though quite small, was much larger than the one at Merow Spring.
This stream was actually upper Spearfish Creek, the same Spearfish Creek that carved famed scenic Spearfish Canyon in the northern Black Hills. This far upstream the valley did not exhibit the huge limestone cliffs present in Spearfish Canyon, but rock walls were exposed in a few places along the valley’s edge.
Loop was super excited when she heard a squirrel in the forest! For some odd reason, the squirrel did not immediately climb a tree when it saw Lupe racing straight for it. Instead, the squirrel waited until the last possible moment to scramble to safety beneath a large fallen tree.
The American Dingo was frantic to get at the poor squirrel! The foolish squirrel was down on the ground, cornered beneath the fallen tree! This was the opportunity of a lifetime! Lupe bounded and danced around the tree, stopping to dig furiously in several places. The dirt flew, but she couldn’t get at the squirrel, which was by now chattering loudly, thoroughly alarmed by the situation.
When digging didn’t work, Lupe decided to rip the tree apart!
SPHP called Lupe away, spoiling all the fun.
Loop, come on! Leave that squirrel alone!
Don’t you humans have any survival instinct at all, SPHP? Help me, don’t scold me! Squirrels that aren’t smart enough to climb a tree are what we Dingoes call lunch!
Come! Now! I brought lunch, and you know it. Taste of the Wild, good for Dingoes!
Yeah, but not as much fun!
Oh, all right. Sheesh.
Lupe came. Puppy ho! Onward! Meanwhile a greatly relieved nervous wreck of a squirrel made a mental note to climb way, way up a tall tree immediately if it ever caught so much as a glimpse of a ferocious Carolina Dog again. Whew!
Loop trotted along happily for a few minutes before deciding to drag herself on her belly through Spearfish Creek to cool off. She dried herself off on the green grass, then continued her upstream explorations. About 0.75 mile from where she’d reached the Spearfish Creek valley, the terrain opened up where several valleys came together. The creek curved away up into a small valley to the E.
SPHP recognized this place. Lupe had been here once before over 4 years ago on Expedition No. 57 way back on 5-4-13. Back then she had come down Clayton Draw from the S looking for Clayton Pond. She had found it, too, up in a side valley off to the NW. Visiting Clayton Pond again was Lupe’s first real objective for today’s Expedition No. 204.
Where Spearfish Creek turned E, Lupe left it to follow the main valley curving W. Soon she was going up a wide, shallow side valley to the NW. Clayton Pond wasn’t much farther now.
When Lupe reached Clayton Pond, SPHP couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed. Clayton Pond hadn’t been very large at all when Lupe had first seen it on Expedition No. 57. Now it was even smaller. It was easy to see why. A breach in the earthen dam showed where the pond had overflowed and eroded away part of the dam. The water level was now permanently a foot lower than before. Not much, but to the shallow pond, one foot made a huge difference.
Loop and SPHP strolled completely around the pond before taking a break at the edge of the forest to the E.
Since squirrel wasn’t on the menu due to SPHP’s confounded interference, Lupe settled a little glumly for her usual Taste of the Wild snack. SPHP relaxed while looking at the topo maps, and enjoying the view of what remained of Clayton Pond. Who knew? Another 4 years of erosion, and Clayton Pond might pass into history. May as well appreciate what remained of it while one could.
After 15 minutes of laziness, Lupe was ready to press on. She departed Clayton Pond going SE back to the main valley, where she followed a road S. Her next objective was a mountain 4 miles S of Clayton Pond – Crooks Tower(7,137 ft.), one of the highest points in the Black Hills.
A mile S of Clayton Pond, Lupe reached a part of the valley where she’d had a strange experience back on Expedition No. 57 with a type of creature she’d never seen before or since. At Yellow Jacket Spring she had been, if not pursued, at least vigorously followed, by an odd, fearless, furry black and white creature – a skunk!
The Yellow Jacket Spring skunk had headed straight for Lupe and SPHP the moment it became aware of Lupe’s presence. Lupe began running over to greet it, but fortunately returned to SPHP when called. The skunk followed (pursued?) Lupe for 10 minutes thereafter, but failed to catch her before giving up.
SPHP had thought the skunk’s behavior peculiar. Maybe it was rabid? Whether it was or not, a Dingo/skunk encounter was not likely to end well. Much better to avoid any such event. Now, as Lupe approached Yellow Jacket Spring again, SPHP couldn’t help but wonder if the Yellow Jacket Spring skunk or its relatives were still around, but Lupe passed through the area uneventfully.
Lupe made good progress going S up the wide valley, but the day was sunny and warm. No stream or pond was to be found. SPHP stopped several times along the shady edge of the forest to give Lupe water. Dingo explorations can be a thirsty business!
Two miles S of Yellow Jacket Spring, Lupe came to an intersection with South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231) near a couple of cabins and a big power line. She was now half way to Crooks Tower from Clayton Pond. She turned ESE on No. 231, but followed it only far enough to get E of private property associated with a cabin to the S. Here she came across a side road heading SW into the forest.
The side road looked promising, so Lupe took it. Being back in the shade of the forest again was nice.
The road curved WSW for a little way, then bent back to the S. Before long, the road divided. Lupe took the L branch, which started a long climb up a moderately steep slope. A couple of water breaks later, the road finally leveled out. Ahead was a limestone platform that looked familiar. SPHP was almost certain Lupe had been up there before on several other occasions.
The limestone platform wasn’t a bad viewpoint. Lupe left the road. She found a place where she could climb up onto the ridge, then went out to the far W end of the platform. Yes, this was the same place!
The views were nice enough to entice Loopster and SPHP to take another 10 or 15 minute break here. Crooks Tower was only a mile away to the S, but still couldn’t be seen. All the views from the platform were toward the N or W.
Even though Crooks Tower wasn’t in view yet, Lupe knew the way when the time came to get going again. She ran through the forest sniffing everywhere, as she worked her way S. Finally, she could see part of the N ridge ahead.
Despite having a rather dramatic name and being one of the highest points in the Black Hills, Crooks Tower is in an area where much of the nearby terrain is heavily forested and almost as high. Consequently, the views from the top aren’t dramatic, and there aren’t many places from which it is even possible to recognize the mountain from a distance.
Several nearby high points on the topo maps are enclosed by contours of the same elevation as the contour enclosing the true summit. The N ridge led Lupe naturally SE up to the high point in the contour NE of the true summit. Lupe found a crumbling limestone cairn.
Loopster didn’t dilly dally long at the NE high point. She was going to get a good half hour break up on Crooks Tower’s true summit, which was only a couple hundred yards away. She easily climbed the mountain’s 20 foot high limestone crest by circling around to the SW, where a short footpath leads right to the summit.
Ta da! Lupe stood on Crooks Tower(7,137 ft.) for the 8th time, making it once again the peak Lupe has visited more often than any other.
What a beautiful day! Loop and SPHP took it easy for a while. The sun was still very high in the sky. Puffy white clouds floated by. Lupe had plenty of time. SPHP ate the only apple. Lupe had more Taste of the Wild. Water for all.
Poor Lupe! She’d come staggering back to SPHP after her operation looking drugged with tears in her eyes. No more Trebor Draw today! That wasn’t going to happen again. Yet Lupe had so much time left in the day, a new plan was hatching in SPHP’s mind. Why not go to another peak Lupe had been to a couple of times before? Peak 6820 was less than 4 miles away to the NE as the crow flies.
Going to Peak6820 would make for a long day, and there were no views at all from that forested hill, but so what? May as well do something. Lupe returned to the true summit of Crooks Tower for a final goodbye.
SPHP tried to persuade Lupe to remain up on the summit block long enough for a bold American Dingo photo taken from below, but Lupe wasn’t having any of that. If SPHP was starting for Peak 6820, she was too. She did consent to a photo of a bold American Dingo beneath the summit block, but somehow it wasn’t quite the same.
Oh, well. Onward! Even though it was nearly 4 miles to Peak 6820 as the crow flies and Lupe knew a good shortcut, so many hours of daylight remained that SPHP led her on a long way around she had only taken once before long ago. Lupe started off going SW instead of NE. She ended up taking a considerably longer-than-SPHP-remembered tour of the entire region along USFS Road No. 631.
This route was scenic and easy, but time slipped by as Lupe traveled all the way from a valley SW of Crooks Tower around to the S, then E and NE sides of the mountain. On the way, Lupe passed by the road leading NE into dangerous Trebor Draw. A little later on, she discovered Dingo Arch.
The long march on USFS Road No. 631 eventually brought Lupe to a valley leading all the way down to South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231). Lupe followed this major gravel road N until she was within sight of the junction with Besant Park Road (No. 206). Many deer were grazing in a lovely green field here, but they fled at Lupe’s approach.
By now, the angle of the sun was noticeably lower. The blue skies and puffy white clouds prevalent earlier in the day had given way to a more darkly overcast scene.
Lupe was still 1.5 miles from Peak 6820 as the crow flies. She wouldn’t have the benefit of a road the rest of the way. Was there still enough time remaining for all the bushwhacking she would have to do? Yeah, Loop could make it. She had been through parts of this region before.
Lupe and SPHP left South Rapid Creek Road, crossed the green field, and headed SE up into the forest.
The forest was a complete mess. Deadfall timber everywhere. Slow, slow, slow! After a long struggle, Lupe finally made it up to a clearing at the top of a ridge. She was already almost as high as Peak 6820, but still quite a distance from it. Exactly how far was impossible to tell. The flat terrain and dense forest at the edge of the clearing made it difficult to see a thing.
Peak 6820 was somewhere to the NE. Lupe and SPHP plunged into the forest again. More deadfall. Tons of it. Zigging and zagging like drunks looking for a way through. Nothing looked the least bit familiar. Everything was just a jumble of dead trees beneath the still standing forest.
Lupe came to a higher, short rocky ridge. High Point 6801? Who knew? No views were available even from here. The only other time Lupe had come to Peak 6820 from this direction was her first time up it on 10-8-14, more than 2.5 years ago. It hadn’t been this difficult then. Lupe had at least caught a few glimpses of Peak 6820 from a distance to orient by. Now, nothing.
N, E, SE – Lupe went which ever way seemed easiest to avoid the worst of the deadfall. None of the strange structures she had seen on her first trip to Peak 6820 appeared. She had to be getting close, but in the gloom of the forest, it was becoming confusing as to which way Lupe should even try to go. Speaking of gloom, the forest seemed prematurely dark.
Thunder in the distance. First drops. Rain! No matter. Onward! The rain was light, but even so, before long Lupe was wet. She reached another high point. Was this it? Had Lupe stumbled upon Peak 6820? It didn’t look right. SPHP remembered a clearing with a mud hole where Lupe had bathed both times she’d been to Peak 6820 before. Lupe searched all around the top of this hill for it. Nada. Wrong hill.
It must be farther N. Lupe went N on the big hill until she began to lose elevation. No sign of Peak 6820 here or anywhere else. Had Lupe gone too far SE earlier? SPHP led her NW down off the big hill. The deadfall wasn’t quite as bad here, but Peak 6820 did not appear. Lightning flickered in the clouds, thunder rumbled constantly. The rain remained light and sporadic, but might become a cloudburst at any time. The forecast hadn’t even mentioned rain today. Figured.
The Carolina Dog wanted attention.
What’s wrong with your senses? Don’t you hear or see anything, SPHP? Lightning, thunder! Let’s hide! A storm is coming! I’m already all wet.
Yeah, I know, but we’ll be OK. Besides there isn’t any place to hide, and we need to get to Peak 6820 soon, or forget about it. We can’t let it get dark while we sit around out here. We’ll never find a way out of this deadfall at night.
Well then, let’s get there fast! What’s in that water bottle of yours anyway? You’ve been stumbling around out here like you’re totally wasted.
I’m trying to find it, Looper.
What, the mountain?
Yes, of course. I’m just not totally sure which direction it is from here.
You mean it’s lost?
No, of course not, silly Dingo. Mountains don’t move. They always stay in the exact same place.
Oh, I get it. You mean we’re lost.
No, well, I mean we are imprecisely located right now. I know about where we are, just not exactly, which makes it hard to say where the mountain is from here, but I know it can’t be too far away.
Lupe wasn’t buying it. The Carolina Dog looked worried.
Oh, OK! I suppose you’re right Looper. Apparently it’s later than I thought. Maybe we better give up on Peak 6820. I shouldn’t have taken the long way. Let’s get out of here.
Lupe was in favor of that. SPHP led her NW through the forest. Even though this was the shortest way out, the Carolina Dog had at least a mile of bushwhacking ahead of her.
Ten minutes later, there it was! Peak 6820! SPHP saw it off to the NE. That hill had to be it, and wasn’t too far away. Lupe could make it. There was still time. SPHP turned on a dime.
Change of plans, Looper! Forget NW, we’re going NE. Peak 6820 is right over there. Come on!
Lupe led the charge through the forest. Apparently she wanted to get Peak 6820 over and done with fast. The rains came more often and harder. More lightning! More thunder! As the first tiny hailstones bounced on the ground, Lupe and SPHP both saw it. Up a short slope at the base of a limestone outcropping was a perfect little Dingo Cave. Lupe and SPHP scrambled up the bank to safety.
It hailed briefly twice, but not hard. The hail was only pea-sized at most, so it wasn’t that bad. Rain poured down, though, for 20 minutes. Never a deluge, but by the time it was all over, everything was sopping wet outside. Lupe and SPHP watched it all happen from the bone dry shelter of the Dingo Cave. Not a drop fell inside. What were the odds?
Loopster, my friend, you are one lucky Carolina Dog! We never would have found this place, even if we’d known it was here ahead of time.
Pushing past soaking wet bushes on the forest floor, Lupe still got drenched, but the top of Peak6820 was only 5 minutes from the Dingo Cave. She did get there. This was it! The familiar mud hole in the clearing didn’t have much water in it, but what was there was fresh. Heh. As sopping wet as Lupe was, she felt no need for a bath this time around.
The top of Peak 6820 is nearly level over a large area, but slightly higher ESE of the mud hole. Lupe and SPHP went over that way to visit the true summit. Someone else had been here! Lupe came across a cairn she never seen before.
Lupe and SPHP continued E beyond the cairn. Lupe went to the spot she has always considered the summit, even though it was scarcely any higher than where the cairn was. And that was it. Success! Peak 6820 visited for a 3rd time!
Sunset in 30 minutes. Lupe now faced a race against time. The shortest route back to the G6 was to the NW. Lupe had been that way before, but it was too late to even try that direction. It was a total bushwhack through forest and deadfall timber for more than a mile to any road.
The second time Lupe had come to Peak 6820, SPHP remembered she’d followed a faint road up from the E, arriving at the N end of the summit area. Going E meant going away from the G6, but the faint road led to USFS Road No. 234, a better road which went around the W end of Swede Gulch. If Loop could make it to No. 234, she wouldn’t get stuck out here in the deadfall all night.
The road to the E was even fainter now. SPHP had a hard time even finding it at first, but it was there. Good thing! Hurry, hurry Dingo! Lupe and SPHP followed the faint road as quickly as possible. SPHP briefly lost track of the road a few times, but the American Dingo kept finding it again. The road was longer than SPHP remembered. The sun set, twilight was fading, but Lupe made it to No. 234.
Seven miles at least back to the G6. The long march began. It rained again, but not as hard as before. Lupe and SPHP found partial shelter beneath a big pine along No. 234. In 10 minutes it was over. Lupe left the road to take a shortcut through big fields heading W along Tillson Creek. On and on. A couple miles later she reached Besant Park Road (USFS Road No. 206) near the SE end of Besant Park.
The rest of the way back was entirely along good gravel roads. The Carolina Dog trotted along sometimes leading, sometimes at SPHP’s heels. It was an amazing evening. Lightning flashed among clouds in ever changing directions, but always some distance away. Now and then a brilliant bolt struck the earth. Thunder rolled louder, fainter, then louder again. Dark rumbling clouds threatened rain, but never did more than sprinkle.
Once Lupe begged SPHP to stop for a rest along South Rapid Creek Road. OK. For 10 minutes, Lupe curled up next to a tree stump, wearily licking tired, muddy paws. Rain threatened again. Still nearly 4 miles to go. Puppy ho! Let’s get this over with!
At exactly 11:00 PM (50°F), Lupe made it back to the G6. She was thirsty. SPHP gave her a big drink. Then she jumped in and curled up. Her 13+ hour adventures on Expedition No. 204 were finally over.
Or were they?
Ten minutes later, heading E on South Rapid Creek Road, the high beams illuminated something scurrying along as fast as it could. Big, furry, low to the ground, black and white. SPHP shouted a word Lupe had never heard shouted before – skunk!
Lupe leapt to her paws in time to see it. Dead ahead a huge skunk was racing E for the exact same spot where Lupe had taken her last rest break by the tree stump! The Carolina Dog barked furiously as the G6 sped by, and the skunk dashed into the darkness.
By golly, Looper, that Yellow Jacket Spring skunk is still on your trail after all these years!
The end of Day 34, plus Day 35 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Day 34, 9-1-16, 4:00 PM, 72°F – Well, it was over. After 7,500+ feet of elevation gain in the past 31 hours, Lupe was back at the Lazy Mountain Recreation Site trailhead. Blisters and a pulled muscle in the front right leg, suffered yesterday while coming down Pepper Peak, caused SPHP to hobble slowly onto the parking lot behind her.
Make that almost over. A tall, lanky, young guy immediately struck up a conversation. Both Lupe and SPHP just wanted to go the remaining 50 feet to the G6 and sit/lay down. Instead this complete stranger launched into a monologue about mountains and trails. He talked with a strange accent, or maybe a lisp, and seemed kind of, well – “off”, somehow.
Remind you of anyone, SPHP?
Oh, please! Silence, wisecracking Dingo of mine!
Actually the friendly stranger’s conversation would normally have been of great interest. He was a wealth of knowledge about Alaska, and what there was to do outdoors around here. Moreover, he was eager to share his experiences.
Where had he been for the last 3 weeks? Off or not, any other time SPHP would have enjoyed talking to him for hours, but not now. Not his fault, but his timing was atrocious. No need for his insight now. Lupe had just returned from Lazy Mountain(3,740 ft.), the last mountain she would climb in Alaska in 2016. Recuperation at the G6 was priority one.
After a seeming eternity, a brief lull came in the one-sided conversation. SPHP used the opening to wish the stranger well, and encourage his speedy enjoyment of the Lazy Mountain trail. Off he went, happy as a clam. SPHP limped 50 feet and unlocked the G6. Lupe eagerly leaped in. Now it was over! No more climbing mountains in Alaska. Sad, tragic really, but paws, feet, legs, and lungs all advised getting over it. Wow, it did feel good to rest!
With the G6’s windows down on this beautiful, warm afternoon so Lupe could sniff the air, SPHP drove the few miles back to Palmer. Brief stops for groceries and gas. A trip to McDonald’s. Lupe ate only one bite of cheeseburger. Surprising, but she knew how she felt. She seemed cheerful and perfectly fine.
At long last, off with the boots. What a relief! So much better! In stocking feet, SPHP drove E out of Palmer on the Glenn Highway, marvelously equipped with cheeseburgers, fries and a Coke. Lupe panted happily, looking out the window at the splendid scenery of the Matanuska River valley going by. A relaxing, astonishingly beautiful evening drive was ahead. After 22 unforgettable days in Alaska, Lupe was starting for home.
In a sense, Lupe had already been going home for 5 days, ever since she left Grace Ridge(3,136 ft.), back near Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. So far, though, every day had been mostly filled with adventures. She hadn’t really gotten all that far. The Carolina Dog was still more than 3,000 miles from home in the Black Hills. Time to make tracks. 450 miles per day for the next week should about do it.
The return trip would be fabulous! Endless forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, sky and clouds. A road trip made in heaven. Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon and Alaska had been a huge success! Time to kick back and enjoy the road home. Lupe would still have a chance for a few adventures along the way, if they weren’t too long, and there would be plenty of stops to stretch, sniff the air, and admire the world.
Lupe’s first stop this evening was to see the Matanuska Glacier again. She’d had absolutely fabulous views of it earlier on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation when she’d climbed Lion Head(3,185 ft.).
Lupe didn’t make it much beyond the Matanuska Glacier this evening, stopping near Gunsight Mountain(6,441 ft.) for the night. Gunsight Mountain was the highest peak in Alaska that Lupe had climbed. She had met Laura from Montana, and Luke Hall from Australia up there.
The best views from the highway near Gunsight Mountain were to the S. The peaks in that direction appeared to have fresh new-fallen snow.
Day 35, 9-2-16, Predawn, 32°F – Orion hung low in the E. The pale light of dawn hadn’t arrived yet, but there was a hint of it on the horizon. The North Star was high overhead. Northern lights, not a great display, but easily seen, streamed from the N toward the coming sun.
With the G6’s right headlight not working, it was still too early to leave the Gunsight Mountain area. Lupe and SPHP walked W along an abandoned stretch of the old Glenn Highway. Chilly out, but Lupe was in fine form, sniffing like mad among the bushes lining the old road. A mile, maybe a mile and a half later, it was time to turn around.
The were-puppy attacked SPHP! Once the were-puppy was fended off, the Carolina Dog showed off how fast and agile she was, racing up and down the road, running circles around SPHP. Ahh, to feel like that! So much energy and joy of living! Shrill Dingo barking filled the air for a couple of minutes before Lupe returned to sniffing.
On the way back to the G6, sunrise was on its way. Soon time to depart.
Heading E toward Glenn Allen, Mount Drum(12,010 ft.) came into view. Lupe hadn’t seen it before. When she’d first arrived in Alaska, the towering white monsters of the Wrangell Range were all shrouded by clouds. Now they basked in brilliant sunshine. Lupe saw them from various angles as SPHP followed the highway beyond Glenn Allen around to the Tok Cut-Off.
SPHP meant to stop at the same viewpoint overlooking the Copper River where Lupe had stopped before, but somehow missed it. The white monsters were far from the highway, but could be seen for many miles. After a while, though, they receded from view as the miles clicked by.
After all her many Alaskan adventures, Lupe was feeling pretty relaxed on this first full day of driving on her way home.E of Tok, Lupe crossed the Tanana River. She was happy to get out of the G6 to stretch her legs a bit.
With the majestic high peaks of the Wrangell Mountains now far behind, Lupe traveled through an area of lower hills, ridges and distant mountains. Fall was coming to Alaska, as Lupe was leaving. There were many hills with colorful displays of fall colors.
Lupe left Alaska, returning to Yukon Territory in Canada around 2 PM Alaska Time (3 PM Pacific Time). Soon she was seeing bigger mountains closer by again. She crossed the White River without stopping. A few weeks earlier, it had been wide and impressive, but now it was mostly dried up.
By the time Lupe reached the Donjek River, it was getting to be late afternoon. The Donjek was running low, too, but it seemed like a good time to get out of the G6 to stretch and walk around a bit. Lupe went for short walks on both sides of the scenic river, spending about 45 minutes in the area.
A little S of the Donjek River, a mountain with new snow on top caught SPHP’s fancy.
For the last 5 or 6 days Lupe had been in Alaska, the sky had been almost totally clear. However, there were quite a few clouds here in the Yukon. Near Destruction Bay on Kluane Lake, Lupe and SPHP drove through rain showers. Lupe saw a rainbow.
In Kluane National Park, Lupe and SPHP stopped again at the Tachal Dahl visitor center in the Slims River valley at the S end of Kluane Lake. The visitor center was closed. Not a soul was around. SPHP made use of one of the picnic tables to prepare dinner. Lupe was eager to help SPHP make the last can of beef stew and remaining cheese disappear, but she buried a cracker with her nose.
The mood had changed remarkably since Lupe had been here in early August. Back then, there had been activity. It hadn’t been crowded at all, but people had been around. The Alaska Highway had lots of traffic. The days were warm and bright, and the sun stayed up late. Dust had been blowing dramatically down the Slims River valley toward Kluane Lake.
Now there was new snow on the mountaintops. The air was chilly. The Slims River valley was still dry, but no dust blew. No one at all was around. Traffic on the Alaska Highway was only a trickle. The whole place felt deserted, like late fall with early winter knocking on the door. SPHP ate while watching two large herds of wild sheep high up on Sheep Mountain(6,400 ft.). Lupe sniffed around nearby.
Lupe was more than 500 miles from Palmer, Alaska now. She’d made her 450 miles for the day from where she’d left Gunsight Mountain this morning, so it was time to stop for the night. As the light of day faded much earlier than it had only 3.5 weeks ago, Lupe got to spend time playing and sniffing around the S shore of Kluane Lake once more.
One thing hadn’t changed. Beyond Kluane Lake, a line of mountains marched endlessly away to the N horizon toward the Arctic. The remote peaks were part of a vast wilderness only a little less mysterious than before, and as beautiful and romantic as ever.
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.
Day 34 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska
Pepper Peak(5,381 ft.) had been a stupendous day and a glorious summit, but Lupe and SPHP hadn’t really recovered yet from yesterday’s huge 4,500 feet of elevation gain. No matter. Feeling it or not, Lupe was climbing one more mountain today. The calendar now said September. After 3 fabulous, unforgettable weeks in Alaska, this was the American Dingo’s last full day in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Lazy Mountain(3,740 ft.) was destined to be the last peak Lupe and SPHP would climb together in Alaska in 2016, or maybe forever. Tired or not, it was time to begin (9:55 AM, 48°F). At least Lupe had another clear, bright day. She was guaranteed some great views of Palmer, the Matanuska River valley all the way to the Knik Arm off Cook Inlet, and mountains in all directions.
Right away, Lupe had a choice to make. Two trails diverge near the trailhead parking lot. They both go about halfway up Lazy Mountain to where they meet again near a picnic table situated on a point with a view. A single combined trail goes the rest of the way to the summit. The old Lazy Mountain approach was supposed to be the steepest. The newer Lazy Moose trail is an easier climb, but winds around a bunch on switchbacks that add considerable distance.
Even though energy levels were low, Lupe and SPHP started straight up the Lazy Mountain trail. The reports were no joke. The trail started out steep. It didn’t stay that way long. It soon got steeper, and then stayed that way. Whoever named Lazy Mountain must have realized what they were in for, and decided they were too lazy to even attempt it. Otherwise, the name makes no sense at all.
As usual in most of Lupe’s Alaskan trail experiences, the Lazy Mountain trail started in a forest. Gradually the forest thinned, and tall bushes started to dominate. The forest had thinned out considerably, by the time Lupe reached the picnic table near the intersection with the Lazy Moose trail. It had been a long, hard climb with frequent rest breaks, but Lupe was halfway up the 3,000 feet of elevation gain needed to reach the summit.
At the picnic table, SPHP chatted for a little while with a guy who came running (yes, running!) up the same Lazy Mountain trail Lupe and SPHP had just staggered up. He said he lives in Palmer, and runs this far up Lazy Mountain 3 times a week. He plays in a Christian music band, and was very surprised to hear that Lupe lives in South Dakota.
Why he was flying to Sioux Falls, SD tomorrow to play in a big concert there! He had been with his band to South Dakota many times, including Pine Ridge and Lupe’s Black Hills. South Dakota was a hot spot for his kind of music. He wished Lupe and SPHP well, before running off down the longer Lazy Moose trail.
Small world. Sort of. Lupe still had another 1,500 feet of mountain climbing left to do in Alaska. Somehow it still loomed large, not small. Lupe’s trek resumed. Still steep, but perhaps not quite as steep as before. Tall bushes dominated, but most of the trees were gone. On and on. Up and up, for a while longer.
Finally, Lupe was past the bushes. She was up in the tundra zone. Some places were devoid even of the tough, beautiful, little tundra plants. Bare dirt and small rocks were exposed. Lupe had made a lot of progress up the mountain by now. For a while, the trail leveled out. There was even a completely flat section! A high point that might be the summit was in view ahead.
The trail soon started climbing again, but never as steeply as earlier on. Below a ridge, Lupe passed a second picnic table. The built-in benches were in good shape, but nearly all the boards forming the table part were missing. Lupe did not stop. She kept on going. Her final climb in Alaska was dead ahead.
Lupe gained the summit ridge. It wasn’t terribly long, maybe 100 feet. At the far NE end, was a smaller ridge of solid lumpy-looking rock. The true summit of Lazy Mountain was perched at the far end of the little ridge, perhaps an extra 20 feet above the main ridge.
Lupe scrambled up to the highest point at the far end of the lumpy rock ridge. She was done mountain climbing in Alaska! This was it, the true summit of Lazy Mountain(3,740 ft.)!
Lupe could not be persuaded to stay up at the highest point on Lazy Mountain when SPHP tried to back down off the lumpy ridge for a more distant shot of her at the summit. There was quite a bit of exposure up there, and not a lot of room to maneuver.
It was OK, she had made it to the top for a good close up. Not to mention all the many other dramatic peaks she had climbed on her Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation! If the Carolina Dog felt better a little lower down, she had certainly earned a reprieve from posing at the top of precipices.
Mountain climbing in Alaska was over. Time to take a look around at what Lupe could see from her last Alaskan mountain. Unlike most of the mountains Loop had climbed, where the most impressive views were of other mountains, Lazy Mountain’s most dramatic views were down toward the Matanuska River valley.
More than 3,000 feet below Lazy Mountain, the braided confluence of the Matanuska River and Knik River could be seen to the SW near the start of the Knik Arm of the North Pacific Ocean off Cook Inlet. Bodenburg Butte(886 ft.) rising more than 600 feet above immediately surrounding terrain, looked like a little hill.
The most dramatic mountains Lupe could see from Lazy Mountain were very far away to WSW, in the direction of Mount Susitna(4,396 ft.), also known as Sleeping Lady. (See The Legend of Sleeping Lady) Well beyond Mount Susitna were impressive white mountains on the edge of vision.
Considerably closer, it was possible to see several smaller peaks with snow and ice on them in other directions.
Matanuska Peak(6,093 ft.) to the SE was easily the most impressive of the nearby mountains.
Even including the larger summit ridge, and not just the small, final lumpy rock part leading to the true summit, there wasn’t much exploring to be done up on Lazy Mountain. Lupe could see virtually the entire summit area at a glance. However, there was plenty of room to move around some from one end to the other, gaining slightly different vantage points.
Lupe found a shady spot close to the lumpy rock ridge to doze a bit. SPHP relaxed gazing off first in one direction, then another, seeing dazzlingly beautiful Alaska from the top of a mountain Lupe had climbed for possibly the last time.
Lupe stayed up on Lazy Mountain for 45 minutes. The time came to start thinking about moving on. Despite the rigors of the steep trail up, the perfect day and wonderful views at the top had made Lupe’s final climb in Alaska a lovely, memorable experience. Now only the return trip down the mountain remained.
When Lupe got down close to the first picnic table, she took the Lazy Moose trail instead of the Lazy Mountain trail. The Lazy Moose trail was considerably longer, but not nearly so steep. The trail had markers along it, which seemed to represent feet traveled along the trail, starting from the lower end.
The first marker Lupe came to said 15,800, implying that Lupe was about 3 miles from the trailhead. The markers were about 1,000 feet apart on the higher part of the trail. Lower down, they were consistently 200 feet apart. The Lazy Moose trail had lots of switchbacks and general winding around. The markers told the story of Lupe’s progress down her last Alaskan mountain.
Lupe enjoyed trotting and sniffing along the easier trail. Late afternoon on the first day of September was comfortably sunny and warm. Lupe led SPHP down Lazy Mountain, exploring for only a little longer the fabled Land of the Midnight Sun (4:23 PM, 72°F).
Note: Directions to the Lazy Mountain Recreation Area trailhead – From the Glenn Hwy in Palmer, go E on Arctic Road (Old Glenn Highway) for 2.5 miles. Take a L on Clark-Wolverine Road, 0.5 mile after crossing the Matanuska River. Proceed 0.5 mile to a T intersection. Take a R on Huntley Road, following it to the end. Stay to the R going down to the trailhead parking lot.
Start – Old Hill City Road near the 1880 Train crossing NNE of Ford Mountain (10:13 AM, 40°F).
The week after Joe & cousin Dusty headed back home to Colorado was overcast and cold. On the 25th, Lupe stared bored out the window all day as light snow fell. Winter’s last blast didn’t amount to much, but snowflakes were still sailing on the breeze the next morning. Although only an inch or two had fallen, once again Lupe’s world was all white.
By afternoon, the snow ended. By evening, it had warmed up enough to melt almost everything that had fallen. The world reverted to green, but gray clouds remained. The next few days weren’t much warmer. Now and then a cold rain or mist fell.
When Lupe finally got to venture up into the Black Hills again, it wasn’t surprising Expedition No. 202 got off to a snowy start. The snow hadn’t melted yet up here. Lupe, of course, was delighted! She frolicked and cooled off on the clean new snow with enormous enthusiasm. It was a great start to her journey up Ford Mountain(5,641 ft.).
The snow was only a couple of inches deep, but it was everywhere on the N slope. Fortunately, the slope wasn’t too steep. SPHP was able to follow Lupe up despite the slick snow. Before long, Lupe had gained enough elevation to see another mountain she hoped to climb today. Storm Hill was off to the NE.
At first, going up Ford Mountain was easy. Less than 1/3 of the way up, though, Lupe reached a zone covered with a lot of deadfall timber. Progress up the mountain slowed considerably.
The deadfall didn’t diminish until Lupe neared the top of Ford Mountain’s NE shoulder. The NE shoulder featured scattered rock outcroppings. Lupe got up on the highest one, but the forest was so thick she didn’t have any distant views. She could barely make out Ford Mountain’s summit off to the SW.
Lupe lost only a little elevation traversing the snowy saddle leading to the final climb. Deadfall was a problem here, too, though not quite as bad as earlier on. This climb was noticeably steeper, making footing more difficult for SPHP with the snow around.
The final 50 feet up was much rockier than the rest of the mountain had been. Lupe still had an easy time of it, while SPHP scrambled slowly to the top.
When Lupe reached the top of Ford Mountain(5,641 ft.), she found a roughly circular summit area 100 feet in diameter. The area was nearly flat, but slightly higher toward the center. All along the edge, from the NE around to the E and S, an uneven rock ledge perched above cliffs offered sweeping unobstructed views.
After checking out the splendid views, Lupe visited Ford Mountain’s true summit. The center of the summit area was so flat, she really didn’t find any one point that looked noticeably higher than the rest. No cairn or survey benchmark was to be seen either, but Lupe did find something way cooler than that – a stone fortress!
On her many adventures in the Black Hills, Lupe sometimes comes across small structures which could serve as Dingo Outposts, but seldom anything as elaborate as the Dingo Fortress on Ford Mountain. Someone had spent a lot of time moving a lot of heavy rocks building it.
An opening to the WNW served as a doorway. Lupe went inside to inspect her latest Black Hills Dingo Bastion.
The stone fort met with Lupe’s approval. Best, most elaborate summit cairn ever! After sniffing around the interior a bit, Lupe came out to see what else there was to see up here.Part of Hill City was in view off to the NW.
The view of Bishop Mountain(5,706 ft.) to the SW was partially blocked by the forest, and wasn’t that impressive. So that was about it. Lupe made a final tour of the sights from the cliff edge.
Lupe retraced her original route up on the way down Ford Mountain. She was surprised when she arrived at G6 and SPHP walked right on by without even stopping. She was even more surprised when SPHP started following train tracks on the other side of Old Hill City Road. It was the first time she’d ever followed train tracks.
SPHP knew they would lead her to the base of Storm Hill.
Lupe wouldn’t see a train today, but the tracks aren’t abandoned. They only see use during the summer, when the 1880 Train runs from Hill City past Oblivion to Keystone and back. The round trip is a popular sightseeing excursion for tourists. A few more weeks, and the 1880 Train would be running again.
Fortunately, there was something else Lupe didn’t see as she was busy sniffing along the tracks in the first gap the railroad passed through. The bunny saw Lupe, though. It remained absolutely still on a bank only a few feet above the tracks.Lupe followed the 1880 Train tracks for 0.5 mile to the base of Storm Hill.
The first part of Lupe’s ascent went through a gently sloping pine forest. The day had warmed up enough so the snow on the ground was melting. Lupe ate snow and had a fun romp in the open forest as she headed NE toward a saddle.
Upon reaching the saddle, Loop turned E. The mountain was getting progressively steeper and rockier. Lupe reached the part of the forest that had burned years ago. With less shade, the snow was vanishing fast here.
So many dead trees were still standing that the amount of deadfall timber laying on the ground wasn’t too bad yet. Lupe could still easily run around exploring.
Of course, it got rockier and steeper the higher up Lupe went. However, her route was never too difficult, even for SPHP. As Lupe neared the top of Storm Hill, she could see a tower and a solar panel up there.
It turned out that by coming up from the W, Lupe arrived at the true summit right away without having to traverse any of the summit ridge. Most of the summit ridge was off to the E and notably lower. The area around the true summit was very rocky and much, much smaller than on Ford Mountain.
Ropes and guy wires supported the small tower. Electrical wires were around, too. At first, it wasn’t clear if they were live or not.
Lupe and SPHP approached the tower cautiously paying special attention to electrical cords and wires. Lupe made it up onto the highest rocks with no problem. Although someone had gone to considerable effort to set all this stuff up, nothing appeared to be in working condition. It was all dead.
The solar panel appeared to have been meant to charge a bank of 7 batteries. What purpose the tower used to serve wasn’t clear. All the wires and equipment around made moving about the summit a bit tricky.
After taking a look around from the true summit, Lupe and SPHP retreated a little down off the high point just to get away from the wires and equipment. It was time for a break. At least SPHP thought so, but Lupe wasn’t hungry. She was happy enough to curl up for a rest, though, while SPHP consumed the usual apple.
Since Lupe wasn’t really into it, break time didn’t last any longer than the apple did. When it was over, Lupe briefly returned to the true summit. SPHP took a few more photos before Lupe started back down the mountain.
Once again, Lupe returned to the G6 (1:52 PM) by the same route she had taken to the mountain. This time SPHP let her in. She still had plenty of time to climb another peak, but a ride was in order to get closer to her next objective. Lupe enjoyed barking at several cows and horses along the way.
SPHP parked the G6 again 3 or 4 miles farther E where Centennial Trail No. 89 crosses Old Hill City Road (2:07 PM, 46°F). Ingersoll Peak(5,356 ft.) was Lupe’s next destination. It was somewhere not too far off to the NE, but SPHP wasn’t completely certain exactly how far away it was. A mile or two, maybe? The plan was to follow Centennial Trail No. 89 going N a little way before leaving it to turn E to search for the peak.
Lupe set out crossing the 1880 Train tracks and Battle Creek immediately N of Old Hill City Road. She continued N on Centennial Trail No. 89. The trail led gradually up a side valley where a mix of pines and aspens lined both sides of the trail.
Lupe hadn’t gone too far when a logging road left Centennial Trail No. 89 heading up the ridge to the E. Why not follow it to see if Ingersoll Peak could be seen from up there? Lupe took the logging road.
The logging road faded away before even reaching the top of the ridge. Lupe kept going, though, and managed to get there. The forest had been thinned, but not enough to see much off to the E. However, it appeared the ridge gained more elevation to the NE, which seemed to be the right direction to go.
Lupe struck off following the ridgeline. It had minor ups and downs, but on the whole she was gaining elevation. After reaching a couple of high spots where there still wasn’t much to see, she finally came to a rock outcropping on the E side of the ridge where there was a view. Ingersoll Peak was in sight, but farther away than SPHP expected.
It took a while to get there. Lupe tried to go around the N end of an intervening valley to avoid losing elevation, but it didn’t work. The valley was too long. She wound up turning E and going down into two sizable valleys separated by a lower ridge before the terrain allowed her to climb out again and regain all her lost elevation.
Once she was out of the second valley, Loop came across a dirt road leading NE toward even higher ground. Before long it curved around to the SE and brought her to the base of Ingersoll Peak’s W slope. Here Lupe followed an abandoned side road that made a big switchback to the NE and then S, gaining more elevation along the way.
The side road leveled out near a huge rock, turned SE and looked like it was about to start losing elevation. Lupe left the side road near the huge rock to climb Ingersoll Peak’s W slope. The slope was heavily forested, so it wasn’t possible to see very far ahead. After gaining 200 feet of elevation, suddenly the slope leveled out rapidly.
A rock formation 50 feet away looked higher than anything else around. Subsequent exploration proved this rock formation was the true summit of Ingersoll Peak(5,356 ft.). Lupe needed a boost from SPHP to get up on the highest rocks.
Ingersoll Peak was so heavily forested, Lupe didn’t have much of a view. She saw no reason to dawdle on the highest rocks, preferring to explore the summit area as soon as SPHP told her it was OK to jump down.
Most of the large summit area was off to the E. It was so heavily forested, a couple inches of snow remained up here. Lupe didn’t find any views, but sunlight filtered by the trees created a pleasing pattern of shadows and highlights on the snow. The top of Ingersoll Peak felt secluded and still a bit wintery.
When exploration confirmed Lupe had already been to the true summit, Lupe returned to it. This time she didn’t want to get up on the highest rocks where there wasn’t any room to move around. However, she did agree to hang out among the slightly lower rocks for a few more photos.
Lupe left the summit of Ingersoll Peak going back down the W slope. She had already lost substantial elevation when she came to a rock outcropping where she could see Storm Hill off to the NW.
Lupe came to the abandoned road near the huge rock again. She followed the switchback down to the lower road, which she took back to the area where she first found it. W of the road was a barren hill strewn with scattered deadfall. Lupe went over there for a look at the view, which was far better than any she’d had from Ingersoll Peak.
Lupe returned to the road. She wasn’t going to cross the two valleys to the W this time. Instead she followed the road down into a long valley.
At the end of the valley, Lupe arrived at Old Hill City Road again. For more than a mile, she followed the 1880 Train tracks as they wound around toward the W. Along the way, she saw a single Canadian goose floating on a tiny pond. The lonely goose honked a hopeful greeting.
Canadian geese and Carolina Dogs aren’t likely to become best of friends. SPHP encouraged Lupe to keep trotting right on by. (End 5:52 PM, 44°F)