Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 206 – Sylvan Hill & Peak 6733 (5-27-17)

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.

Lupe on her way up the N ridge of Sylvan Hill. Her route eventually took her up to the high ground seen on the R. Photo looks S.

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.

Lupe on the faded, abandoned road. Yellow flowers like these grew scattered in the forest, but were more abundant along the road’s edge.

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.

The abandoned road ended at this old prospecting site where part of the ridge had been blasted away. Photo looks E.

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.).

Above the blast site, Lupe had a nice view to the N. Zimmer Ridge (6,600 ft.) is seen on the L. The G6 was parked back near the base of closer Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) (R).

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.

Shortly before starting the longest, steepest push up Sylvan Hill’s N ridge, Lupe arrived at this high point with a view. Photo looks NNW.

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.

After the last big steep push up Sylvan Hill’s N ridge, the true summit (L) came into view from the first minor high point Lupe came to. Photo looks S.

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.

Getting closer! Lupe reaches another minor high point along the way. Photo looks SSE.
Sylvan Hill summit from the NW.

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.

A short bounding scramble between a few boulders brought Lupe to the top of Sylvan Peak for the first time in over 3 years. Photo looks NE.

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.

Black Elk Peak (7,131 ft.) (L) is seen straight up from Lupe’s head. Straight up from the tip of her tail is Little Devils Tower (6,960 ft.). The Cathedral Spires (6,840 ft.) are on the horizon a little L of the cairn in the same area. Photo looks ENE.
Lupe’s ear on the L points to Black Elk Peak. Little Devils Tower is up and to the R of the tip of her tail. Photo looks ENE with help from the telephoto lens.
Looking E. Little Devils Tower (L) and Cathedral Spires (a little to the R of LDT) are in view on the horizon. Hwy 89/87 is seen below. The dirt parking lot for the shortest and most used route to the top of Sylvan Hill from the E is on the R side of the closest part of the Hwy seen here. A sliver of Sylvan Lake is even in view on the L. (Click photo to expand.)
Mount Coolidge (6,023 ft.) is on the horizon between Lupe and the cairn. Photo looks SSE.
Looking S across the small, but perfectly adequate summit area.
Another look SSE. Mount Coolidge (6,023 ft.) is on the L. Farther away, Northeast Cicero Peak (6,240 ft.) peers around the R side of the cairn.

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.

Lupe on the N ledge. Zimmer Ridge (6,600 ft.) (L) is the closest big ridge beyond Lupe. Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) is on the R. The big hill on the far horizon straight up from Lupe’s tail is Terry Peak (7,064 ft.) (Center). Also on the far horizon, the largest of the smallest bumps above the W (L) flank of Saint Elmo Peak is Custer Peak (6806 ft.). Photo looks N. (Click photo to expand.)
Some of the territory Lupe traversed along Sylvan Hill’s N ridge to get here is seen below on the L. Photo looks NW.
Lupe could see Thunderhead Mountain (6,567 ft.), site of the Crazy Horse Memorial carving from Sylvan Hill. Crazy Horse is a major tourist attraction in the Black Hills. Photo looks W using the telephoto lens.
When Lupe first caught sight of Sylvan Hill’s summit on the way up, the big granite formation on the L was also in view. At first it appeared to be as high as Sylvan Hill. By the time Lupe reached the summit, the big rock formation was clearly significantly lower. Photo looks NE with help from the telephoto lens.

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.

The best of all the views from Sylvan Hill was the rugged scene culminating at Black Elk Peak (R), South Dakota’s loftiest mountain. Photo looks NE.
Black Elk Peak (L), Little Devils Tower (Center) and the Cathedral Spires (a little to the R) are all on display. Sweet! Photo looks ENE.

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.

Looper curls up to enjoy her Taste of the Wild.
The summit of Sylvan Hill sported two varieties of yellow wildflowers. Lupe had seen quite a few of these on the way up the N ridge.
SPHP hadn’t noticed any of these on the way up, but this nice specimen was at the top.
Looking SE from the summit. This is the direction most climbers ultimately approach Sylvan Hill from when starting at Hwy 87/89 to the E. The rugged, rocky stuff seen here is easily avoided, but bountiful deadfall timber still makes this last part of the approach a real pain. Fortunately the distance traversed along this upper SE ridge is less than 0.25 mile.

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.

The snow pellets of the micro-blizzard melted the instant they hit the ground. When it was all over, Lupe was ready to move on. The plan was for her to traverse the near ridge seen beyond her from L to R. It was part of the route to her next objective, Peak 6733. Photo looks S.
Last moments at the summit of Sylvan Hill. Black Elk Peak on the R. Photo looks NE.
Loop awaits the signal from SPHP that it’s OK to come on down. Photo looks N.

Lupe’s next peakbagging goal for Expedition No. 206 was Peak 6733, 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.

Yuck! The deadfall was just as thick as ever on the ridge SE of Sylvan Hill. Photo looks SE.
Lupe would face at least a couple of massive granite formations that might pose difficulties on her way along the ridge leading to Peak 6733. High Point 6855, the knob of rock in the sunlight on the R, was one of them. Photo looks SW.

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 reaches the crack in the first big granite formation SE of Sylvan Hill. Somehow she needed to get over or around the rock wall seen on the R. Photo looks ESE.

Lupe was near High Point 6849 on the 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.

Looking NW back at Sylvan Hill from the vicinity of High Point 6849.

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.

Looking SW at High Point 6855, the next big obstacle on the ridge as Lupe starts down to the W (R) to go around High Point 6849, which had her blocked.

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.

Going around the W end of High Point 6849. Lupe was on her way to the ridgeline seen ahead. Photo looks SSE.
Lupe regains the ridgeline S of High Point 6849, the wall of rock seen on the R. Clearly going around it had been Lupe’s only real option. Sylvan Hill is in view on the L. Photo looks NNW.

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.

This cool granite platform offered some great views, but the rest of Lupe’s trek along the ridge was infested by annoying amounts of deadfall timber. Photo looks SSW.

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.

Peak 6733 was now in view ahead.

From down in the upper end of Bear Gulch, Lupe could see Peak 6733 ahead. Photo looks WSW.

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.

Getting close! The upper part of the ridge leading to Peak 6733 was also strewn with deadfall timber, but wasn’t quite as bad as the deadfall Lupe had faced earlier. Photo looks NW.

The summit of Peak 6733 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.

Lupe on her way up Peak 6733’s summit block. Crazy Horse on Thunderhead Mountain is seen on the L. Photo looks NW.
Success! Lupe stands atop Peak 6733. Sylvan Hill (Center) is seen beyond her. High Point 6855, which she skipped going to, is on the R. Photo looks NE.
Another look. Sylvan Hill is now on the L. High Point 6855 is at Center. The upper portion of Bear Gulch, which Lupe had come through to get here, is down below on the L. The summit cairn was new since the last time Lupe had been here on Expedition No. 103 on 11-6-14. Photo looks E.
Northeast Cicero Peak (6,240 ft.) is the highest point on the R. Photo looks SSE.
Looking S.

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.

Lupe at the N end of Peak 6733’s summit area, which was adequate, but not terribly big. High Point 6634 (Center) is beyond Lupe in the sunlight. Meanwhile, the next squall is approaching Zimmer Ridge (6,600 ft.), the dark ridge on the R. Photo looks NNW.
Lupe at the N end of the summit area as the next squall approaches. Most of Peak 6733’s summit is in view here. Photo looks SE.
The view to the NW.

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.

Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) is in sunlight on the L. Five Points (6,621 ft.) lies in shadow at Center. Peak 5800 is in sunlight far away on the far R. Photo looks NNE using the telephoto lens.
Looper poses dramatically atop the N end of the summit once again. Sunshine was on the way now that the last squall had blown on by, but hadn’t arrived quite yet. Photo looks NE.
In sunshine again back at the summit cairn. Part of the long ridge Lupe had climbed on her way up Sylvan Hill is seen on the L. Photo looks ENE.

The easiest way down seemed to be to the SE back the way Lupe had come up.

Loopster ready to begin her descent. Photo looks NW.
Crazy Horse with help from the telephoto lens. Photo looks W.

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.

Sylvan Hill with the upper end of Bear Gulch below. High Point 6855 on the R. Photo looks ENE.
Another look showing more of Bear Gulch and a great deal of the long N ridge Lupe had climbed earlier on her way up Sylvan Hill. Photo looks NE.

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.

Peak 6733 from the horrid deadfall infested N ridge. Photo looks S.

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)

In Bear Gulch on USFS Road No. 352.

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.

Want more Lupe adventures?  Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!

Teapot Mountain, British Columbia, Canada (9-5-16)

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?

Lupe at the trailhead. There was room to park maybe half a dozen vehicles nearby.
Lupe along Caines Creek Forestry Road near Teapot Mountain. Photo looks NNW at the larger of the two skinny, swampy lakes. The swampy lakes were actually part of the Crooked River, which flows N.

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.

Lupe on the short side road which served as the first part of the Teapot Mountain trail. The road curved NW as it led Lupe into the dense forest. Photo looks W.

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.

Lupe near the start of the path to Teapot Mountain after the side road dead-ended. The path started out level as shown here, but quickly became quite steep. Photo looks W.

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.

Lupe could see one of the long, skinny lakes that was part of the Crooked River system from the loop trail. Photo looks 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 cliffs near the NW end of the loop trail, Lupe saw this shallow pond in a clearing below. Topo maps show that the top of Teapot Mountain is somewhat smaller than this pond. The loop trail around the perimeter really isn’t very long. Part of Jakes Lake, a much bigger body of water, is farther away on the L. Photo looks W.

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.

From the SW viewpoint, Lupe could see Summit Lake dotted with forested islands. Photo looks S.
Summit Lake through the telephoto lens.

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 sits comfortably on the mossy spot at the true summit of Teapot Mountain. Photo looks N.

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.

Lupe conducts her initial investigation of the premier viewpoint on Teapot Mountain. She discovers a sign indicating she is 1 km from the trailhead (by the most direct route), and aptly enough, a teapot. Part of Jakes Lake is seen in the distance. Photo looks W.
So, SPHP, is it tea time? What kind of tea are we having? Did you bring any crumpets? …… Umm, heh, sorry Looper, I didn’t remember to bring any tea. Kind of short on crumpets, too, to tell the truth. Guess I wasn’t thinking.
Loopster astride the big tan rock formation, with Jakes Lake on the L. Photo looks W.

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!

Note: The L (W) turn off Highway 97 onto Talus Road is about 31 miles (50 km) N of Prince George.  Follow Talus Road 1 km to a R turn onto Caine Creek Forestry Road (poorly marked).  Follow Caine Creek Forestry Road 3.3 km.  The Teapot Mountain trailhead is at the start of the first side road to the R after crossing the bridge over Crooked River.Want more Lupe adventures?  Choose from Lupe’s 2016 Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska Adventure Index, Dingo Vacations Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index.  Or subscribe free to New Lupe Adventures.

Black Hills, SD & WY Expedition No. 205 – Balm of Gilead Gulch & Cement Ridge (5-20-17)

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.

The scene would both excite the imagination and serve as a call to action!  Nearly 8.5 months after Lupe’s return from her grand Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska, the time for new Dingo adventures beyond the Black Hills was almost here!

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 Peak 6820.  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.

Sooooo, let me get this straight. We’re here to celebrate the imminent approach of summer, right? Did you get a really big discount for booking early SPHP, or what? At the W end of USFS Road No. 189.4A. Photo looks SSE.

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.

USFS Road No. 189.4A leads ENE from the junction with No. 189 & No. 631.2C. About 0.33 mile later, it passes just S of the summit of Crooks Tower. Photo looks E.

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.

Back on Crooks Tower for the 9th time! Photo looks SE.
On the summit, looking WSW.
Each pine needle was beautifully flocked, but that wouldn’t last long this time of year. The snow already looked like it was starting to melt.
Looking NW from the summit.
Loopster at the highest point. Photo looks N.

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.

In the valley leading E to Tom Spring on the way to Laird Peak. There wasn’t nearly as much snow here as there had been at Crooks Tower. Photo looks S.
Loop had a good time exploring on the way to Laird Peak. Photo looks E.

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.

Approaching the summit of Laird Peak from the W. The summit appears to be just another small hill in the forest. Photo looks E.

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.

Lupe at the survey benchmark on Laird Peak (6,906 ft.). A little less than half of the flat summit area is in view. Photo looks N.
This was Lupe’s 3rd ascent of Laird Peak. Other than having to deal with a little deadfall timber, it’s a quick easy climb from the W via Tom Spring. Photo looks N.
The Laird Peak survey benchmark.

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.

Lupe ready to head back down the W slope. Photo looks WNW.

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.

Dandelions prospered along No. 804 on the way up Rattlesnake Canyon. Nuisances in yards, dandelions are amazingly resilient plants.

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.

Nearing the forest service gate, Lupe found a marker showing this was USFS Road No. 804.1A after all. She was bound for Balm of Gilead Gulch! Photo looks S.

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.

Lupe saw many whitetail deer and a number of her giant deers (elk), too, as she traveled up USFS Road No. 804.1A.

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 at a grassy glen along USFS Road No. 804.1A. There seemed to be plenty more such glens hidden back in the forest, making this area popular with deer and elk.

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.

Roaming the back roads on the way to Cement Ridge. Photo looks E.
The light green of the newly emerging aspen leaves contrasted nicely with the dark green of the Ponderosa Pines. Lupe loves wandering back roads like this one. Photo looks ESE.
This was a 3 way intersection (roads also went to the L & R) where Lupe found a marker for USFS Road No. 805.3J, but which road it was meant for was impossible to tell. She had reached this point coming up the road seen on the R. Photo looks W.

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!

Lupe next to the pathetic little limestone cairn at the true summit of Cement Ridge. Photo looks WNW.
Crow Peak is seen faintly on the horizon beyond Lupe. The sky was still cloudy and rather hazy. Loop found a small amount of snow remaining here on Cement Ridge, but only close to the true summit. Photo looks NE.

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.

The Cement Ridge fire lookout tower (L) was visible from the cairn where the true summit is supposed to be. SPHP thought the lookout tower actually appeared higher, but perhaps its an illusion. Lupe offered no opinion. Photo looks NW.

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.

Lupe reaches the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower. Photo looks E.
This survey benchmark is located at the base of the flag pole NW of the lookout tower.
The Cement Ridge fire lookout tower in eastern Wyoming is only 1 mile W of the South Dakota border. The true summit is even closer to South Dakota, only 0.5 mile away.

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.

Looking SE along the length of Cement Ridge. The access road is seen below. The true summit (R) is the high point in the distance appearing almost straight up from Lupe’s head.
Inyan Kara (6,360 ft.) (R) from Cement Ridge. Photo looks SW with help from the telephoto lens.
George Armstrong Custer reached the summit of Inyan Kara on July 23, 1874, less than 2 years before his death in the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer’s Last Stand) on June 25-26, 1876 in Montana. Lupe reached the summit on November 9, 2014, more than 140 years after Custer.
Crow Peak (5,787 ft.) (R) is the most prominent peak W of Spearfish, SD. Photo looks NNE.
Looking NW toward the Bear Lodge Mountains. Warren Peaks (6,650 ft.) is the high point where another fire tower exists.

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.

Loopster up on the old picnic table. Inyan Kara is on the horizon to her R. Photo looks SW.
Warren Peaks again. Lupe made a number of expeditions to peaks in the Bear Lodge Mountains in the fall of 2016. Photo looks NW.
Looking E back toward the lookout tower from the lower picnic table. Two newer picnic tables were located up close to the tower.

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.

A glance back at the Cement Ridge fire lookout tower. Photo looks NW.
Tiny wildflowers grew in profusion. These pretty little purple/pink flowers were SPHP’s favorites.
A final look back. Photo looks WNW.

On her way, since she had to pass so close to it again, Lupe returned to Cement Ridge’s true summit.

Approaching the true summit again, this time from the N. Photo looks S.
Looper returns to the true summit. She was now in a hurry to get to Balm of Gilead Gulch, so this time she didn’t dilly dally here more than a few minutes. Photo looks WNW.

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.

Elk S of Cement Ridge. Photo looks SSE.

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.

Lupe at the marker for USFS Road No. 105.1a where it reaches No. 105. Lupe had just followed No. 105.1A SSE nearly all the way down from Cement Ridge’s true summit. Photo looks NNW.

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.

Sunlight filters through the forest nearing Balm of Gilead Gulch.

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 reaches the beautiful broad valley at the upper end of Balm of Gilead Gulch. The sun wouldn’t be up much longer. Photo looks WNW.
On the single track trail after leaving the road.

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

In Balm of Gilead Gulch

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.

Want more Lupe adventures?  Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 204 – Clayton Pond, Crooks Tower & Peak 6820 (5-13-17)

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.

Lupe leaves USFS Road No. 209.2D to take the grassy side road seen beyond her down the valley to Merow Spring. Photo looks WNW.

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.

Lupe reaches the ancient water trough at Merow Spring. It was completely full of water with a steady trickle overflowing the top of the edge on the L. Photo looks NE.
The muddy pool below the water trough. Loop started to venture into the pool for a drink, but sank into the mud so deeply that she backed off and drank from a tiny clear stream bubbling up right out of the road instead. Photo looks NE.

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.

Lupe on USFS Road No. 232.2C down in the narrow, shady valley W of Merow Spring. The morning was unseasonably warm with nearly cloudless skies, so the shade was nice to have. Photo looks W.

Less than 0.5 mile W of Merow Spring, the narrow valley merged with a wider valley of sunny green meadows.

Lupe reaches the wider valley W of Merow Spring. Photo looks SSW.

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.

Lupe exploring the green meadows along the upper reaches of Spearfish Creek. The creek is small here, but has many tributaries farther downstream. By the time it reaches its more famous lower region in Spearfish Canyon, Spearfish Creek is one of the largest streams in the Black Hills. Photo looks S.
Limestone walls exposed along the edge of the valley. Photo looks WSW.

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.

Lupe was keen on digging lunch out from under the fallen tree, but the squirrel proved elusive. How to get at it?

When digging didn’t work, Lupe decided to rip the tree apart!

The Carolina Dog resorts to ripping the dead 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.

Lupe along Spearfish Creek shortly before she left it where it turned and went up a smaller, steeper valley to the E. Photo looks S.

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.

Lupe returns to Clayton Pond for the first time in more than 4 years. SPHP was disappointed to see that the pond was smaller than before due to a breach in the earthen dam. Photo looks NW.

Loop and SPHP strolled completely around the pond before taking a break at the edge of the forest to the E.

The muddy part on the R was all under water last time Lupe was at Clayton Pond. The pond was 50% larger and had a more interesting shape back then. Photo looks SE.
Looking SSE.

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.

Nearing Yellow Jacket Spring where Lupe had been pursued by a skunk on Expedition No. 57. The spring wasn’t flowing today or back then, but probably originates at the water tank barely visible here in front of the largest pine tree on the R. Photo looks W.

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!

Lupe took one of her quick water breaks near this large limestone outcropping right along the road S of Yellow Jacket Spring. Photo looks SE.

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.

On the shady side road S of South Rapid Creek Road. Having some shade again was nice! Photo looks WSW.

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!

Looking NW from the limestone platform. Lupe had been here before on several of her expeditions. The views aren’t bad to the N & W from here. Photo looks NW.
Looking N. This viewpoint is about a mile N of Crooks Tower.
A profusion of pink and white wildflowers were growing on the limestone platform.

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.

This tree-broken view of the Crooks Tower N ridge is about as good as it gets on the approach from the N. Photo looks SSE.

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.

Lupe reaches the top of the NE high point. The true summit of Crooks Tower was only a couple hundred yards to the SW, but could still barely be seen, even from here. Photo looks NW.
Lupe astride what appeared to be a disintegrating limestone cairn on Crooks Tower’s NE high point. Photo looks N.

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.

Loopster taking it easy on Crooks Tower. Photo looks N.
Despite how high Crooks Tower is, this pleasant, but none too dramatic view is the best available from the true summit. Black Elk Peak (7,131 ft.) is seen on the far horizon on the L. Green Mountain (7,164 ft.) is the distant ridge on the R. Photo looks SSE.
On the tippy top of Crooks Tower. Photo looks N.
Crooks Tower is so easy! No wonder I like to come here. Photo looks N.
Loop on a slightly lower limestone ledge only a few feet NW of the true summit. Photo looks NNW at the other decent view from Crooks Tower.

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.

Lupe chillin on Crooks Tower. Photo looks W at the lovely view, assuming you are a Ponderosa pine tree enthusiast.

This was Lupe’s 8th time on Crooks Tower.  It had been nearly 2 years since the last time she’d been here on Expedition No. 135.  Back then she had wound up getting injured down in Trebor Draw after leaving the summit.  SPHP had rushed her (sort of – it took hours to get there) to the the Animal Clinic of Rapid City where Emergency Veterinarian Dr. Erin Brown had patched her up late on a Saturday night.

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 Peak 6820 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.

Back at the summit one more time. Photo looks SE.

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.

Bold American Dingo, Lupe, poses undramatically beneath the not-so-towering limestone cliffs of Crooks Tower. Photo looks NNW.

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.

On USFS Road No. 631 S of Crooks Tower. This route SPHP chose was scenic and easy, but miles longer than it needed to be. Photo looks E.
Looking NNE up the same hillside along USFS Road No. 631 S of Crooks Tower.
Lupe discovered Dingo Arch E of Crooks Tower, on a slope above USFS Road No. 631 near the road’s highest point. Arches are uncommon formations in the Black Hills. Photo looks WNW.

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.

Many deer were grazing in this lovely green field when Lupe arrived, but they fled at Lupe and SPHP’s approach. The junction of South Rapid Creek Road & Besant Park Road is at the far end of this big field on the R. Photo looks N.

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.

Lupe reaches the clearing at the top of the ridge after a long struggle through copious deadfall timber. Although she was quite high, Peak 6820 was nowhere in sight. Photo looks SE.

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.

Sweet! We’re lost in this wretched forest with night and a storm coming on. Any more good news, SPHP? 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.

Lupe reaches the safety of the Dingo Cave somewhere on the upper W slope of Peak 6820. Photo looks NW.

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.

Loop at the mouth of the Dingo Cave after the storm went by.

Pushing past soaking wet bushes on the forest floor, Lupe still got drenched, but the top of Peak 6820 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.

Lupe by the little mud hole in the clearing on top of Peak 6820. The glare beyond her is the sun low in the W.
No need for a mucky Dingo bath today!

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 at the new cairn she discovered on Peak 6820. Photo looks E.

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!

At Lupe’s traditional Peak 6820 summit point, perhaps 30 or 40 feet E of the cairn. Photo looks W.

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.

Lupe on USFS Road No. 234 E of Peak 6820. By reaching this better road, Lupe escaped the possibility she might get stuck spending the night out here. Photo looks N.

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!

Clayton Pond in all its glory 4 years earlier. Photo taken on Expedition No. 57, 5-4-13.
At the hidden Dingo Cave on the W slopes of Peak 6820.

Want more Lupe adventures?  Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 203 – Gimlet Creek to Minnesota Ridge (5-6-17)

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.

Lupe was all smiles at the start of Expedition No. 203. She anticipated a great day ahead!

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.

Lupe’s day started close to the confluence of Gimlet Creek & East Gimlet Creek. Here she tests the waters of East Gimlet Creek.

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.

Lupe on USFS Road No. 203.5 in lower Gimlet Creek valley. Photo looks N.
Lupe got to follow USFS Road No. 203.5 up Gimlet Creek valley for more than 2 miles. Actually, it was SPHP who followed the road. Loop was busy exploring.
Looking downstream in the Gimlet Creek valley. The lower part of the valley was fairly narrow as seen here. Photo looks S.
Looking NNW up the valley.

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.

By the time Lupe reached the Gimlet Creek ford on USFS Road No. 203.5, she was slowing down. The day was warming up fast, and the heat was starting to get to her. The creek and every mud puddle she came to were welcome sights.

Beyond the ford, the valley widened out considerably.

The valley had become much wider by the time Lupe reached the ford on Gimlet Creek. Photo looks N across the valley, which curves to the E (R) here for a short distance.

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.

Getting close to the pond, which isn’t in view quite yet, but isn’t far off to the L. The small tributary stream flows through the fenced-in area seen above Looper on its way to Gimlet Creek on the far R. Photo looks NE.
Lupe reaches the pond, the biggest water feature she would see on Expedition No. 203. Several ducks had flown off as Lupe approached. Photo looks NW.
A good bridge crossed the small tributary of Gimlet Creek where it exited the pond. Lupe had come up USFS Road No. 203.5 from the direction seen on the L. Photo looks SW.

A family of Canadian geese had made this pond home.  When Lupe arrived, they were out for a stroll on the green grass nearby.

Momma and papa goose out for a stroll with their 5 chicks.

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.

By the time Lupe circled around to the N side of the pond, the ducks had already returned. Photo looks S down the Gimlet Creek valley the way Lupe had come.
The geese returned to the safety of the water while Lupe was around.

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.

A minor road Lupe was following upstream forded the little creek 5 or 6 times. Lupe was always glad to have another chance to cool her paws off or get a quick drink. Photo looks NNE.
The tiny stream supported a lush green ribbon of life.

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.

Lupe came to this small green snake basking in the sun on the road. It wouldn’t move other than to flick its tongue now and then.

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.

Lupe relaxes in the shade of a pine tree while SPHP checks the maps.
Looking NW from the junction of Killoern Springs Road and USFS Road No. 204.1. Pine bark beetle damaged sections of the forest are a common sight in the Black Hills these days.

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.

The road leveled out about the time Lupe reached this intersection with Greens Gulch Loop (unseen to the L). Photo looks N.

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.

Frogs singing in this mud hole on the E side of Minnesota Ridge Road ceased their din when Lupe appeared. Lupe was far enough N now. It was time to leave the road to look for the summit of Minnesota Ridge. Photo looks ENE.

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.

Tree broken views of distant ridges farther W appeared as Lupe reached the W “edge” of Minnesota Ridge. A line of boulders ran N/S. Maybe one of them was the true summit? Photo looks W.

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.

Lupe on the last big boulder at the S end of the highest terrain. A short exploration to the S from here confirmed that Lupe would lose elevation going any farther that way. Photo looks S.

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.

Lupe on the 1st boulder SPHP declared the true summit. Photo looks NE.
On the 2nd “true summit”. Photo looks NW.
On the 3rd “true summit”. Photo looks E.
Lupe on the 4th “true summit”. This one was well back from the W edge of the mountain, and had an interesting knob of different colored rock firmly fastened on top. There was even a clearing in the forest nearby. Photo looks NW.
The 5th “true summit” rock had its own little ecosystem growing on it. SPHP named this one Garden Rock. Photo looks ENE.
Looper on the 6th “true summit”, the highest and farthest N in the line of boulders. Photo looks NNW.

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.

Boulder No. 7 in contention for the title of true summit. However, No. 8 only 25 feet away was about the same elevation, too. Photo looks SSW.
“True summit” No. 8 was in an ugly place with lots of deadfall. Photo looks N.

“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 perches on “true summit” No. 9 at the S end of the rock ledge. Photo looks N.

Lupe even enjoyed a bit of a view from the ledge, making it even more worthy of being the summit.

The view to the W wasn’t spectacular, but was much better than a bunch of collapsed dead trees.

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.

One of the two large birds soaring on updrafts near the long ledge. The birds circled around to swoop by many times during Lupe’s break.
Hawks or eagles? SPHP wasn’t sure. They didn’t seem quite large enough to be eagles.
Lupe on a big rectangular rock at the edge of the ledge. Her break area was just off to the L. True summit No. 9 is only a short distance beyond her. Photo looks SSE.
On the same rectangular rock.

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!

True summit No. 10. Even if this wasn’t the actual tippy top of Minnesota Ridge it had to be close. Certainly close enough as far as Carolina Dogs are concerned. Photo looks NNE.

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 explores farther NNW along the rock ledge. Photo looks SSE.

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.

Looking SW from the ledge toward the higher limestone plateau country of the western Black Hills.
Lupe out on the largest rock platform she found along the entire ledge. Nipple Butte and Flag Mountain are in view on the horizon straight up from her, but they are very far away. Photo looks SW.

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.

Lupe came to this big field somewhere on the N slope of Minnesota Ridge. SPHP didn’t recognize it. Photo looks S.

The big field led down to another good-sized field, where Lupe discovered an American Dingo display stand.

Lupe on the American Dingo display stand. What else could it be?

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.

Lupe drank again from this tiny stream that flows into Greens Gulch. It had been years since she’d last been here.

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.

Nearing the pond again. Photo looks E.
The Canadian geese were still at the pond. Lupe and SPHP watched them for a little while before pressing on.

The G6 wasn’t far from the confluence of Gimlet Creek and East Gimlet Creek.  On her last exploration of the day, Lupe visited the confluence.  She drank the refreshing cold water, and cooled her paws off one more time in the combined stream.

Expedition No. 203 had been different from most in recent years.  It was more of a throwback to the long treks of Lupe’s early years, with less emphasis on peakbagging.  Lupe had really enjoyed Gimlet Creek, the pond, and the easy strolls through the long valleys.  She still made it to the top of Minnesota Ridge, and got to see territory she hadn’t been to in years.

The unseasonal heat showed one thing, though.  It was soon time to think about heading to higher ground and cooler climes.  For a little while yet, that still meant higher terrain in Lupe’s Black Hills.  However, it wouldn’t be long before more distant adventures beckoned.

The start of Lupe’s grand summer of 2017 was fast approaching.

(End 6:04 PM, 77°F)

At the confluence of East Gimlet Creek (L) and Gimlet Creek (R) at the end of the day.

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Lazy Mountain, Chugach Range, Alaska (9-1-16)

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.

Getting there! Lupe climbing Lazy Mountain. She’s up above tree line here. Only scattered clumps of bushes and the tundra remained. Photo looks NE.
For a while, SPHP wasn’t sure which high point might be the true summit of Lazy Mountain. It turned out to be the one on the L that the trail is heading for. Photo looks NE.

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 on her final climb in Alaska. The top of Lazy Mountain is in view only a short way ahead. Photo looks NE.

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 rests in the shade at the base of the lumpy rock ridge at the far NE end of Lazy Mountain’s main summit ridge. Matanuska Peak is the high point in the background. Photo looks SE.

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 perched at the true summit of Lazy Mountain, having just completed all of her mountain climbing in Alaska in 2016. Photo looks NNE.

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.

Lupe on the lumpy rock ridge. The true summit of Lazy Mountain is on the L. Lupe couldn’t be persuaded to remain at the high point long enough for SPHP to scramble back down for a more distant photo of her up there. The high point had a lot of exposure and not a lot of room. Photo looks ENE.
Matanuska Peak from Lazy Mountain. Photo looks SE.

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 Matanuska River (Center) flows toward the Knik River (L). They have a braided confluence near the Knik Arm seen on the upper R. Bodenburg Butte(L) looks like a little hill from Lazy Mountain. Photo looks SW.

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.

Mount Susitna (Sleeping Lady) is the long blue ridge, subject of a local legend. Photo looks WSW from Lazy Mountain using the telephoto lens.
High, white mountains could be seen faintly very far away beyond Mount Susitna. Photo looks W using the telephoto lens.

Considerably closer, it was possible to see several smaller peaks with snow and ice on them in other directions.

Unknown peak with snow in view from Lazy Mountain. Taken using the telephoto lens.

Matanuska Peak (6,093 ft.) to the SE was easily the most impressive of the nearby mountains.

Matanuska Peak (L) was easily the most impressive of the mountains nearby. Photo looks SE.
Matanuska Peak through the telephoto lens.

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.

Except for the highest lumpy rock part where the true summit is, most of Lazy Mountain’s summit area is in view here. The town of Palmer is below, mostly on the far side of the Matanuska River. Mount Susitna can be made out on the far horizon. Part of the Talkeetna Range is seen on the R. Photo looks W.

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 dozes a little below the true summit. Photo looks NE.
Looking NNE toward the Talkeetna Range.

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.

Lupe ready to leave the mountaintops of Alaska. The lumpy rock ridge and true summit of Lazy Mountain are on the R. Photo looks NE.
Looking down on the town of Palmer, situated mostly on the far side of the Matanuska River. Photo looks WSW.
The Matanuska flows away toward the Knik Arm. Photo looks SW.
Starting down the trail. Several peaks of interest are seen along the far ridge. Straight up from Bodenburg Butte, the little hill in the valley at (Center), are 3 dark wavy peaks. The two on the L are East Twin Peak (5,840 ft.)(L) and West Twin Peak (5,472 ft.)(R). To their L across a gentle saddle is a seemingly unimpressive hill in sunlight. That hill is actually Pepper Peak (5,381 ft.) where Lupe had such a tremendous adventure only a day earlier. The high point of the dark peaks to the L of Pepper Peak is Pioneer Peak (6,398 ft.). Photo looks SW.

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).

Loop on the Lazy Moose trail, Lazy Mountain, Chugach Range, Alaska.

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.

Want more Lupe adventures?  Choose from Lupe’s 2016 Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska Adventure Index, Dingo Vacations Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index.  Or subscribe free to New Lupe Adventures.

Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 202 – Ford Mountain, Storm Hill & Ingersoll Peak (4-29-17)

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.).

Lupe was delighted to find a couple inches of snow to frolic on as she set out for Ford Mountain.

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.

Storm Hill, another mountain Lupe hoped to visit today, came into view as she climbed Ford Mountain. Photo looks 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.

Lupe arrives at the zone of heavy deadfall timber. The deadfall greatly slowed SPHP’s progress up the mountain. Photo looks SSE.

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 on the highest rock outcropping on Ford Mountain’s NE shoulder. The mountain’s summit is barely discernable between the trees beyond her. Photo looks 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.

The last 50 feet to the top were steeper and much rockier than the rest of Lupe’s route up had been. Photo looks SSW.

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.

Lupe close to where she first reached the summit area. Five Points (6,221 ft.) (R) is the highest mountain seen beyond her. Union Hill (6,120 ft.) is the snowiest high point on the far L. Photo looks N.
Storm Hill (5,656 ft.) is on the L. Farther away R of Center is Mount Warner (5,889 ft.). Samelius Peak (5,856 ft.) is on the far R. Photo looks ENE.
Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, is straight up from Lupe on the horizon. Photo looks S.
Sylvan Hill (7,000 ft.) is the most distant peak L of Center. Saint Elmo Peak (6,458 ft.) is the smaller, snowy mountain in the distance beyond Lupe. Photo looks SSW.

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!

Another look at Black Elk Peak. This photo shows more of Ford Mountain’s summit. Photo looks S.
No cairn or survey benchmark could be found on Ford Mountain, but Lupe did find this cool stone fortress! Photo looks WNW.

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.

Yes, a Carolina Dog would be safe in this solid stone fort. It was almost a Dingo Castle! Photo looks E.

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 NE end of Hill City is in view in the valley below. The highest peak on the R is Union Hill (6,120 ft.). Photo looks 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.

A nice look S all the way from Black Elk Peak (L) over to Sylvan Hill (far R).
Storm Hill, Lupe’s next peakbagging objective. She would travel up the W slope seen on the L. An intense fire on the mountain destroyed most of the forest some years ago. Photo looks NE with help from the telephoto lens.
Looking N at Five Points (Center) using the telephoto lens. The peak on the L is known to Lupe as False North Point.

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 was surprised to be following train tracks on her way to 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.

Storm Hill dead ahead! Photo looks NE.
Lupe left the railroad tracks here where they turned SE. The back side of Mt. Rushmore is seen in the distance. Photo looks SE.

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.

The real climb began when Lupe reached the charred forest. Photo looks ENE.

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.

Lupe exploring the charred W slope of Storm Hill.

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.

As Lupe neared the top of Storm Hill, she could see a tower and solar panel at the summit.

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 reaches the top of Storm Hill. It wasn’t initially clear if the tower, solar panel, and all the wires running around still served a purpose, or not. Photo looks SW.
The true summit of Storm Hill was quite a small area dominated by the tower and associated paraphernalia perched on top. Photo looks SW.

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 view of Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) still sporting a dusting of snow at the end of April  was gorgeous. Summit Peak (5,655 ft.) is the lower forested ridge to the L of Lupe’s ears. Lupe had been there on Expedition No. 194. Although the topo maps show the true summit of Summit Peak at the SW (R) end of the ridge, Lupe remains quite certain it is at the NE (L) end. Photo looks S.

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.

The solar panel was probably meant to charge this bank of 7 batteries.
Lupe enjoys a bit of shade from the solar panel. Ford Mountain (5,641 ft.) is the closest rock-capped hill on the L. Bishop Mountain (5,706 ft.) is the ridge immediately beyond it. Photo looks SW.
Loopster on the very highest rock on Storm Hill. The EverStart battery appeared more likely to be a NeverStart battery at this point in time.
Part of the notably lower portion of Storm Hill’s summit ridge is seen on the L. On the horizon, Mount Warner (5,889 ft.) is the highest point straight up from Lupe’s head. Samelius Peak (5,856 ft.) is the high point straight up from her tail. Photo looks E.
Another look E.

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.

After break, Lupe returned briefly to the true summit. Photo looks S from the break area.

Looking N. Hwy 385/16 E of Hill City is seen below. Part of Mitchell Lake is, too. The highest peak on the L is Five Points.

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.

After crossing the 1880 Train tracks and Battle Creek, Lupe followed Centennial Trail No. 89 going N up a gentle side valley. A mix of pines and aspens lined both sides of the trail. It was now close to mid-afternoon. Only a little melting snow remained. Photo looked NNE.

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.

From this rock outcropping, Lupe got her first look at Ingersoll Peak. It was farther away than SPHP expected. Photo looks E.

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.

Lupe reaches the summit of Ingersoll Peak! The mountain was so heavily forested she didn’t have much of a view. Photo looks NW.
On the very highest rock. Photo looks N.

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.

More of the summit rock formation is seen here. The highest rocks are just to the L of Lupe and a bit behind her. Photo looks NNW.

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.

Looking back toward the true summit (hidden by the trees on the R) from near the NE end of the larger summit area. The dense forest, snow, shadows, and filtered sunlight made Ingersoll Peak feel secluded and remote. Winter still lingered here. Photo looks SW.
The wily Snow Dingo on secluded Ingersoll Peak.

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.

Among the rocks of the summit formation. Photo looks WSW.
Looking N.

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.

From this rock outcropping well down the W slope, Lupe got her only decent view from Ingersoll Peak. Storm Hill (5,656 ft.) is in the distance straight up from Lupe. Samelius Peak (5,856 ft.) is the high point on the R. Photo looks 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.

From this barren hillside, Lupe had a much better view than she’d found anywhere on Ingersoll Peak. The rugged terrain near Black Elk Peak (Center) can be seen. Photo looks SW.

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.

Lupe near the start of the road’s descent into the long valley. Photo looks SW.
Heading down. Photo looks SSW.

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.

From the 1880 Train tracks on the way back to the G6, Lupe saw this solitary Canadian Goose floating on a tiny pond. It honked at Lupe, but didn’t fly away.

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)

Want more Lupe adventures?  Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!

Pepper Peak, Chugach State Park, Alaska (8-31-16)

Day 33 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska

Yowser!  Over 4,500 feet of elevation gain!  Most definitely a long day ahead.  Yet it would be a glorious one, if Lupe and SPHP could make it to the top of Pepper Peak.  Soup, Swiss Miss and sardines for breakfast.  SPHP was sick of sardines, but Lupe devoured the rest of the tin with gusto.  Thank heavens!

SPHP paid the $5.00 daily trailhead parking fee, then Lupe went down for a look at gorgeous Eklunta Lake.  Totally clear skies and nearly calm.  Conditions were going to be perfect!  After a few minutes along the lakeshore, Lupe and SPHP went looking for the trail to Twin Peaks.  (9:19 AM, 39°F)

Lupe’s long last day of August 2016 started on the shore of beautiful Eklunta Lake. Photo looks SE.

On the way to the trail, Lupe got a glimpse of what was in store for her – the long, long SW ridge of Pepper Peak (5,381 ft.).  The view was a bit daunting.  It didn’t look scary, or like something Lupe couldn’t do, just exhaustingly long.  As they say, though, every journey starts with that first step.  Lupe’s paws were already trotting right along.  She would get up Pepper Peak, if SPHP could.

The sheer size of Pepper Peak from down near lake level was a bit daunting. However, it didn’t look like anything technical or too scary. Lupe could do that! Photo looks NE.

Lupe crossed a bridge over Thachkatnu Creek.  The Twin Peaks trail headed off to the L (NNW).  Lupe’s long climb began.

Such a beautiful day!  The Twin Peaks trail started in a forest.  There wasn’t much to be seen except the trees.  The trail zigged NE.  Right away, Lupe gained 300 or 400 feet of elevation on a relentless, fairly steep climb.  The trail then zagged NW for a longer stretch on the way to the Thachkatnu Creek valley between Twin Peaks and Pepper Peak.

The trail wasn’t as steep along in here.  Autumn was already on its way to Alaska.  Leaves were beginning to turn yellow.  Lupe sniffed and explored along the newly carpeted Yellow Leaf trail.

Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the Yellow Leaf Trail! Toto on the way to the Emerald … no wait, make that Lupe on a relatively flat section of the Twin Peaks trail on her way to the Thachkatnu Creek valley between Twin Peaks and Pepper Peak. Photo looks NW.

As the Twin Peaks trail reached the Thachkatnu Creek valley, it turned NE again, staying high up on the Pepper Peak side.  Near the gradual turn, the trail had become steeper, gaining elevation even faster than before.  Lupe gained another 300 or 400 feet before the slope slackened as the trail zigged back to the SE.

Lupe had gained enough elevation by now so that she was getting close to tree line.  The forest was starting to thin out a bit.  Along another steep climb to the NE, Lupe reached an opening with a gorgeous view of Eklunta Lake.

Lupe reaches the first clear view of Eklunta Lake from the Twin Peaks trail. Photo looks SE.

Two benches are positioned along the Twin Peaks trail.  Lupe was almost to the first one.  Another steep little climb and she was there.

SPHP had been looking for the benches for a while.  Lupe had already come so far, SPHP thought it was possible she had somehow missed the first bench, but this was actually it.  As SPHP learned a little later on, only the first bench has a view of Eklunta Lake.

Lupe reaches the first of two benches along the Twin Peaks trail. Only the first bench has a view of Eklunta Lake. Photo looks SE.

From the first bench, the trail turned back to the NW again leaving Eklunta Lake behind.  Lupe was still mostly in forest, but tall bushes were becoming more prominent.  From here on, the trail kept climbing steadily.  Lupe came to no more relatively level sections.  It was all sort of steep.

Soon Lupe was back over toward the Thachkatnu Creek valley again.  Once more, the trail turned NE going up the valley, remaining high up on the Pepper Peak side.  The forest gave way to the tall bushes as Lupe went up.  Lupe could see Twin Peaks towering over the opposite side of the valley.

Twin Peaks from the Twin Peaks trail before reaching the 2nd bench. Photo looks NNW.

Lupe must have been almost a mile from the first bench, when she reached the second one.  This bench was located on the Thachkatnu Creek side of Pepper Peak’s SW ridge.  Twin Peaks were in view, but not Eklunta Lake.  There were still lots of tall bushes near the second bench, but Lupe wasn’t far from reaching bush line where the views would really open up.

At the second bench, Lupe faced a choice.  She could continue following a trail, presumably part of the Twin Peaks trail, up the Thachkatnu Creek valley toward the saddle between the Twin Peaks and Pepper Peak.  The other choice was to take a side trail going SE up to the SW ridgeline coming down from Pepper Peak.

According to information SPHP had found online, Lupe could eventually reach the top of Pepper Peak either way.  However, the trail going up the Thachkatnu Creek valley would have limited views for a long way.  On Pepper Peak’s SW ridge, Lupe would be able to see Eklunta Lake the entire time, plus lots of magnificent mountains beyond.

With no more to go on than that, the choice was easy.  Lupe left the second bench following the trail toward the SW ridge.

Lupe takes a break while SPHP checks the map. She is already a little past the second bench back at the Twin Peaks trail, on her way over to the SW ridgeline coming down from Pepper Peak. By now, she was above the forest and tall bushes, but still faced a tremendous climb to the top of Pepper Peak. Photo looks NE.

The ridgeline was farther from the second bench than SPHP expected, but it didn’t take Lupe too long to get there.  Beautiful Eklunta Lake was in sight again.

Lupe reaches Pepper Peak’s SW ridgeline after leaving the Twin Peaks trail and the second bench behind. Even though a very long way remained to the top of Pepper Peak, she had definitely made some progress. The view of Eklunta Lake was getting better and better. Photo looks SE.

Lupe had already come a long way, but the real climb, the long one up Pepper Peak’s SW ridge was just about to begin.  Lupe was no longer on any formal, maintained trail, but there was still a path leading higher.  Even without the path, the route was plain to see.  Just keep heading up the ridge.

Lupe climbed and climbed.  The views kept improving with every step higher.

Going up Pepper Peak’s SW ridge. Photo looks NE.
West Twin Peak (5,472 ft.) (L) and East Twin Peak (5,840 ft.) (R) from Pepper Peak’s SW ridge.  Sorry ’bout making you stare into the sun, Looper! Photo looks NW.

For a long way, Pepper Peak’s SW ridge was broad and rounded.  Other than the steepness, there were no other issues at all to deal with.  Up and up was all there was to it, as fast as heart, lungs, legs and desire allowed.  SPHP was getting close to a high point near the end of this relatively easy part of the climb, when suddenly Lupe let out a tremendous WOOF!

SPHP looked around.  Nothing.  What on earth was she woofing at here?  Lupe WOOFED again.  Oh, there!  SPHP looked up, straight up.  Two parasailers were floating high above!

Lupe spotted these two parasailers high above Pepper Peak’s SW ridge. Photo looks, yes, UP!

Wow!  That looked both scary and amazingly fun.  Time for a parasailer break!  Lupe and SPHP went just a little higher to the top of the nearby high point, then stopped to watch the parasailers for a while.

The parasailers were moving quite fast.  They lost elevation relatively quickly, but seemed to have no problem finding thermals to take them soaring again.  It was incredible how far and fast they flew.  The one with the pink chute soon flew miles away to the SE far beyond Shaker Peak, and ultimately completely out of sight.

The parasailer with the green, white and blue chute hung around for a while.  He made a couple of passes not terribly far above Lupe, which excited her tremendously.  She had never seen such a huge bird in all her life!  Why it must be a Roc, or a Pterodactyl!

The parasailer with the pink chute soon flew miles away out of sight far beyond Shaker Peak, but this one stuck around to buzz Lupe a couple of times. Was she ever excited! She had never seen a Pterodactyl so close up before! It’s wingspan was HUGE! However, even a Pterodactyl didn’t have the guts to come all the way down to the ground to tangle with an American Dingo!
Simply WOW! What else is there to say?

The second parasailer drifted away out of sight.  Wow!  SPHP wondered where they had started from, and how they would ever get back.  Who knew?

Time to press on again.  The way forward was becoming steeper and rockier.  The toughest part of the climb was about to begin.

Lupe at Parasailer Point. The toughest part of the climb up Pepper Peak was about to begin. Photo looks NE.
Salt Peak (5,455 ft.) (L) and Shaker Peak (5,089 ft.) (R) from Parasailer Point. Photo looks E.

The ridge became rockier and rockier as Lupe progressed.  There was still a trail, but it was less well-defined and harder to follow.  The slope became steeper.  Exposure increased.  Lupe encountered more and more loose rock.  She tried to stay up near the ridge line, but wound up a little below and to the SE of it.

Looking NW toward Twin Peaks just before tackling the last, big ragged rocky section of Pepper Peak’s SW ridge.
The last ragged, rocky section nearing the top of Pepper Peak. Lupe stayed a little below the ridgeline on the SE (R) side. The trail was hard to follow here. Lupe encountered quite a bit of loose rock and some exposure. Photo looks NE.

Although the ragged part of the ridge wasn’t terribly long, it took a while to navigate it.  Lupe finally got past it, though.  The ridge was now leveling out.  The going was getting a lot easier.  It couldn’t be much farther to the top of Pepper Peak!

Ahead was one more big knob of rock.  Lupe and SPHP had seen it from far, far below.  SPHP believed it was the summit.  Lupe seemed to be way up in the sky.  Who knew what kind of precipice might be on the other side?

The trail was in much better condition again here.  It wound up the SE side of the knob.  Lupe headed up.  SPHP followed close behind.

Lupe on her way up the last craggy knob. Photo looks N.

Lupe reached the top of the craggy knob.  SPHP was glad to see Lupe had not arrived at a pinnacle surrounded by dangerous cliffs.  The top of the craggy knob wasn’t terribly large, but had a nice, flat area where Lupe could relax with a fantastic view of Eklunta Lake.

Lupe arrives up on top of the last craggy knob of Pepper Peak’s SW ridge. She had a nice flat area on which to relax. The view of Eklunta Lake more than 4,000 feet below was fantastic! Photo looks SE.

As Lupe had approached the craggy knob, SPHP caught a glimpse of a rounded hill some distance beyond it.  The truth became clear even before Lupe reached the top of the knob.  This last knob of rock was not the summit of Pepper Peak.  The true summit was over at the top of the rounded hill.

This wasn’t bad news.  In fact, it was good news!  The remaining distance to the true summit was an easy trek.  The trail followed an almost level final stretch of ridgeline straight toward it.  Piece of cake!  When Lupe arrived, she was going to find a nice, big, roomy summit.  She could be there in minutes!

Even before Lupe reached the top of the final crag of rock coming up the SW ridge, the last stretch of the ridgeline leading to the true summit of Pepper Peak came into view. Getting there was going to be a piece of cake! Photo looks N.

The views were so amazing, Lupe and SPHP stayed on the last craggy knob of rock for a few minutes before continuing on.

The final journey to the true summit was joyous.  Lupe was going to make it to the top of Pepper Peak!  She arrived to find a large cairn at the high point at the N end of a spacious summit.  This was it.  More than 4,500 feet above where she’d started, Lupe stood at the very top of Pepper Peak (5,381 ft.)!

Lupe reaches the true summit of Pepper Peak! Twin Peaks, and the saddle leading over to them, are in view beyond her. Photo looks NW.

The summit of Pepper Peak was an amazing place!  Lupe had sweeping 360° panoramic views.  Nearby, she could see many peaks of similar elevation.  Long, barren ridges, many knife-edged, connected one peak to another to another.  In between the ridges were deep U-shaped valleys carved by long departed giant glaciers of the ice age.  Eklunta Lake was a beautiful highlight, with big snow and ice-covered peaks in sight miles away beyond its S end.

However, Pepper Peak had a lot more to offer than just the glories relatively close at hand.  Pepper Peak is a place for binoculars.  Despite not being the highest peak around, Lupe could see tremendous distances in most directions.  On the far horizons gleamed many white wonders of Alaska.  SPHP knew the names of a few, but most were unknown places of mystery, glimpsed for the first time from afar here on Pepper Peak.

One of the more spectacular high peaks in the distance far from Pepper Peak. Photo looks ESE using the telephoto lens.
Many of the grand peaks visible in the distance from Pepper Peak were so far away, it was next to impossible to get both Lupe and the distant mountain in focus in the same photo.

To the SW, barely visible beyond shimmering Cook Inlet, Lupe could make out Redoubt Volcano (10,197 ft.) and nearby white mountains of the Aleutian Range.  Redoubt was so far away, it hardly even showed up in a photo.  To the NW, still far off, but somewhat closer, were the colossal peaks of the Alaska Range.  Mount Foraker (17,400 ft.) and Denali (20,310 ft.) at least showed up using the camera’s telephoto lens.

Denali, the highest mountain in North America, from Pepper Peak using the telephoto lens. Photo looks NW.
Mount Foraker. Photo looks NW.
Unknown peaks of the Alaska Range visible from Pepper Peak. Photo looks NW.

To the ESE, Lupe saw a huge, long snowy ridge.  SPHP had no idea what the names of any of those mountains along the ridge were, but the sight was spectacular, and not quite so far away.  In fact, the views toward the E and S were the most amazing of any Lupe saw from Pepper Peak.  The amount of snow and ice visible, even from a distance, was incredible!

Amazing sights were to the E & S of Pepper Peak. Lupe saw this huge, long, towering ridge of white mountains. Photo looks ESE.
Looking ESE with even a little more help from the telephoto lens.
Many people only go as far on the Twin Peaks trail as the first or second bench. Nice, of course, but only by coming all the way up to the top of Pepper Peak will you see this!
The huge snowy ridge connected to an enormous snowfield to the S. Photo looks SE.
Wow! Gorgeous! Love that soft appearing pure white ridge on the R.

Of course, Eklunta Lake to the SSE and the snowy peaks beyond it were highlights of the views from Pepper Peak, too!

Eklunta Lake from the summit of Pepper Peak. The high peak on the left is Bold Peak (7,522 ft.). Photo looks SSE.
Peaks beyond Eklunta Lake through the telephoto lens. Photo looks SSE.
More peaks beyond Eklunta Lake. Still looking SSE, but a bit more toward the S.
Bold Peak (7,522 ft.), seen again here, is a couple miles E of the S end of Eklunta Lake. Photo looks SE.
S end of Eklunta Lake using the telephoto lens.

Before arriving at the summit of Pepper Peak, SPHP had given some thought to having Lupe go on to Shaker Peak (5,089 ft.), about a mile away to the SE.  However, the views were so splendid from Pepper Peak, and it had been such a long climb to get here, that the Shaker Peak idea got dropped.

Lupe was fine with the decision.  It meant she got a nice long rest on Pepper Peak, while SPHP continued to stare off into the distance in fascination.

Anyone out there know the name of this eye-catching mountain?
Looking N toward Palmer and the Matanuska River. Lazy Mountain (3,740 ft.) is seen on the R. Lupe hoped to climb Lazy Mountain tomorrow!
It was hard not to keep coming back to this view again and again. It made such an impression! Photo looks ESE.
SPHP believes the top of Shaker Peak is in view here on the lower right. Photo looks SE.
Looking ESE again.
Lupe at Pepper Peak’s summit cairn with Mount Foraker(L) and Denali(R) in the distance. Photo looks NW.
Lupe with Denali in the background. Lupe never got a clear view of Denali when she had been in Denali State Park. The titanic mountain had almost always been completely hidden in the clouds. She had a clear, if distant, view of it from Pepper Peak, though! Photo looks NW.

Looper and SPHP stayed up on Pepper Peak for more than 2 hours.  Only one other person came up to the summit during all that time, despite the perfect weather.  An Alaskan named Craig appeared from the Twin Peaks route.

SPHP raved about the views from Pepper Peak.  To Craig, though, Pepper Peak was just another pleasant summit among many in Alaska.  Craig stayed all of 10 minutes on top, then headed for the SW ridge Lupe had come up.  Another day, another amazing mountain in Alaska, ho-hum.

SPHP’s enthusiasm wasn’t diminished in the least.  Lupe seemed happy here, too!

Loopster on Pepper Peak with gorgeous Eklunta Lake as a backdrop. Photo looks SSE.
Lupe keeps an eye on the sky. You never know when another Pterodactyl might choose to come swooping down on you around here!
Did you bring any water, SPHP? I’m getting thirsty just looking at this.
Well, did you? Bold Peak on the L.
Hmmm, this is starting to look faintly familiar. Sure is beautiful, though! Loopster, we need one of these for the back yard!
This would do nicely, as well.

Lupe was just chillin’ up on Pepper Peak, while SPHP took more photos of photographed photos.  Although time was moving on, SPHP found it difficult to tear away from the tremendous views.  Mountain mania continued a little longer.

Lupe chillin’ on Pepper Peak with the Twin Peaks in view beyond her. Photo looks WNW.
Lupe wasn’t in any big hurry to leave either. She liked Pepper Peak just fine. Photo looks SW.
See that white peak poking up on the far left? SPHP wondered if Lupe hadn’t also seen it from The Ramp (5,240 ft.) a couple of days ago.
Looking S.
This photo doesn’t make as much use of the telephoto lens, but shows the relationships between some of the peaks better.
Sweet! Cranking up the telephoto lens for an even closer look than before.

After more than 2 hours on Pepper Peak, it really was time to go.  Even so, it was hard to tear away from the incomparable views.  This climb had been so worthwhile!  SPHP was very glad Lupe had made the trip.  At last, though, Lupe had to begin the trek back to the G6.

On the way down, Lupe was going to take the Twin Peaks route, even though it meant not being able to see as much along the way.  The Twin Peaks route did have one advantage.  Lupe would avoid the rocky scramble along the upper part of Pepper Peak’s SW ridge.

Exactly how to get to the Twin Peaks route wasn’t entirely clear.  One thing was for certain.  Lupe needed to get down to the saddle between Pepper Peak and Twin Peaks.  Craig had reached the summit cairn coming up from the N, which was the shortest route and probably made the most sense.

Lupe, however, started off going S back down toward the last rocky knob she’d reached on the SW ridge on the way up.  Before she quite got to it, she turned sharply back toward the N, following sheep trails below and to the W of the summit of Pepper Peak toward the saddle to Twin Peaks.

Approaching the last rocky knob of Pepper Peak’s SW ridge (seen on the L) on the way down from the summit. From here, Lupe turned sharply almost 180° back toward the right. She followed sheep trails below the summit over to the saddle between Pepper Peak and Twin Peaks. This worked just fine, though Craig’s more direct route going N from the summit was shorter and probably just as easy. Photo looks WSW.
Looking back up toward Pepper Peak from the saddle leading to Twin Peaks. Photo looks SSE.
Lupe saw a couple herds of sheep way over on the slopes of the Twin Peaks. Several dozen sheep were in sight. Photo taken using the telephoto lens.

The trail Lupe was following along the saddle seemed determined to stay up on the ridgeline.  Perhaps SPHP gave up on the trail too soon?  Lupe and SPHP left it to start heading down into the Thachkatnu Creek valley, expecting to find another trail down there before too long.  That didn’t happen.

As is often the case, Lupe had most of her fun on the Pepper Peak excursion on the way back to the G6.  She loved roaming the tundra in the Thachkatnu Creek valley!  She ran far and wide, sniffing and exploring.  At times she was just a distant speck of a Dingo.  Once she reappeared from a completely unexpected direction after being out of sight for a few minutes.

Pepper Peak from the upper part of the Thachkatnu Creek valley, still not terribly far below the saddle between Pepper Peak and the Twin Peaks. Photo looks SE.

The route back down via the saddle and Thachkatnu Creek valley had absolutely no scrambling, exposure, or areas of loose rock.  So it’s perfectly possible to reach the top of Pepper Peak completely avoiding that kind of thing.  Somewhere, there’s probably a decent trail much of the way, but it must have been closer to Twin Peaks than Lupe and SPHP went.

For a long, long way, Lupe and SPHP lost elevation without coming to a trail.  The vegetation became denser and taller as Lupe went lower.  However, she didn’t get quite all the way down to where the tall bushes and forest started in earnest.  Lupe finally found a trail when she was about at the elevation of the second (higher) bench on the Twin Peaks trail.  By then, she wasn’t that far away from it.

Lupe and SPHP lost even more elevation crossing Thachkatnu Creek, but immediately had to regain it, climbing steeply on the other side.  Not too surprisingly, Lupe arrived at the Twin Peaks trail right at the second bench.  All that remained was a long, pleasant downhill stroll on the Twin Peaks trail.

Near the first bench, Lupe saw Eklunta Lake in the evening sunlight one more time from above.

Eklunta Lake in the evening sunlight from near the first bench on the Twin Peaks trail. Photo looks SE.

And one more time, Lupe followed the Yellow Leaf trail, this time all the way to the end of her magnificent Pepper Peak adventure.  (8:38 PM, 58°F)

On the Yellow Leaf trail once more.


Chugach State Park

Chugach State Park Map

Chugach State Park Brochure

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Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 201 – Summits on the Air! (Silver Mountain, 4-22-17)

Start 9:16 AM, 48°F, Boulder Hill Road (USFS Road No. 358) 0.5 mile N of Hwy 16.

Note: Summits on the Air is an awards scheme for radio amateurs that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas.  A point system awards points for both transmitting (“activating”) from a mountain or picking up the signal (“chasing”).

Joe & cousin Dusty were in town!  That meant one thing – time for some Summits on the Air action!  Lupe was all for it.  She and Dusty arrived at the top of Silver Mountain around 10 AM.  It was a beautiful day to be on the mountain.

Lupe hadn’t been on Silver Mountain in more than 2 years. Although the views are excellent, Silver Mountain is not one of Lupe’s favorites. Target practice gunfire can usually be heard off to the W, which makes her nervous. To Lupe’s dismay, the guns were blazing away again today. Boulder Hill (5,331 ft.) is in view on the L. Photo looks NE.
Cousin Dusty just below the summit. The distant gunfire didn’t bother Dusty at all. She paid not the slightest attention to it.
Dusty lives in Arvada, Colorado, but was up in South Dakota for a weekend visit. Dusty really likes exploring the Black Hills with Lupe.

Joe had posted notification on the Summits on the Air website that AA0Q (his call letters) would “activate” (start transmitting from) Silver Mountain at 11:00 AM.  With an hour to go, he had plenty of time to set up his antenna and portable Ham radio.

Preparations to start transmitting from Silver Mountain included setting up this 16 or 17′ long antenna with four lateral wires at the very summit. Photo looks NE.

Joe said he liked the layout on Silver Mountain (5,405 ft.).  The forest had burned years ago, so there were no big trees around to obstruct the views in any direction.  The mountain sloped away fairly steeply on most sides with nothing any higher for at least a couple of miles in any direction.

Although Silver Mountain was a good physical setup for Ham radio transmissions, Joe wasn’t at all certain how well things were going to work out.  The 11 year sunspot cycle hits its low in just a couple more years, and atmospheric conditions are usually best for amateur radio band transmissions when sunspot activity is high, not low.

As it got close to 11 AM, everything was ready to go.  The antenna and portable radio were all set up.  SPHP was trained to keep a simple log of Joe’s contacts.  Lupe and Dusty were prepared to ward off any intruders.

At 10:55 AM, Joe started transmitting in Morse code, receiving a first response almost instantly.  That contact “spotted” AA0Q on SOTA’s website confirming contact with Joe.  Silver Mountain was on the air!

An immediate explosion of activity came from dozens of “chasers” all trying to make contact at the same time.  AA0Q was overwhelmed by the response, as usual.  Joe did his best to make rapid contact with as many of the chasers as possible, but it was impossible to respond to more than a fraction.

AA0Q hard at it shortly after “activating” Silver Mountain. Photo looks SE.
Dusty relaxes nearby while Joe works the Ham radio. Response from the chasers, as usual, was initially overwhelming.

Atmospheric conditions were changing rapidly.  Joe and the chasers often exchanged signal strength information, which varied wildly over the span of only a few minutes.  Of course, part of the variation was due to the different locations of the chasers.  Successful contacts were made with operators in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and several other states.

With chasers lined up in droves trying to get through, each contact had to be brief.

So, Uncle Joe, how is it going? Heard anything from anyone on Squirrel Mountain, yet? Lupe checks on AA0Q’s SOTA progress. Photo looks E.
This photo shows the overall setup. The rocky summit ridge wasn’t the best for comfort, but AA0Q managed pretty well. Photo looks NNE.
AA0Q’s portable radio in use on Silver Mountain.

For the first 10 or 15 minutes, conditions gradually improved.  Signals were getting a little stronger on average, despite bouncing around.  Later on, conditions deteriorated.  At times the “bands” were down for a minute or two.  AA0Q got a chance to shift to a more comfortable position.

As time went by, the bands went down intermittently, giving Joe a chance to shift to a more comfortable position. Photo looks SSW.

By 11:30 AM, 35 minutes after Joe started transmitting, it was over.  The bands were consistently weak.  The chasers had either made contact with AA0Q, or given up by now.  Even when conditions improved momentarily, no one was left still trying to make contact.  Evidently it was time to take down the antenna and put the radio away.

Joe at the top of Silver Mountain shortly before taking the antenna down. Photo looks NNE.
Silver Mountain was the 3rd Black Hills peak AA0Q has activated. In July, 2016, Lupe and SPHP had accompanied Joe & Dusty to Custer Peak and Boulder Hill.

AA0Q had made 27 contacts in 35 minutes, so Joe was pleased with the overall results.  Despite spotty atmospheric conditions, Silver Mountain had been a successful Summits on the Air outing.  There always seem to be way more chasers than it’s possible to make contact with right after activating a peak, but Joe had done all he could.

Lupe got a pat from AA0Q for her guide services.

Lupe earns a pat from AA0Q for her Black Hills peak guide services. Photo looks NE.

Once the radio equipment was put away, it was time for a final look around at the views, followed by a short exploration of Silver Mountain’s summit area.  Of course, the most impressive view was toward Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota.

Black Elk Peak (7,231 ft.) (R of Center) from Silver Mountain. Hwy 16 is seen below. Photo looks SW.

Silver Mountain’s summit area features two ridges running roughly N/S.  The E ridge where Joe had set up the radio equipment is the highest.  However, only a short distance to the W is an even rockier and more interesting ridge.  The W ridge is only slightly lower than the E one.

The slightly lower, but more dramatic W ridge. Photo looks NW.

Between the two ridges, at the base of the E one, is one of many Dingo outposts Lupe has discovered scattered throughout the Black Hills.

Joe inspects Lupe’s Silver Mountain Dingo outpost. Joe was pretty certain it didn’t meet current building codes, but adventurous American Dingoes don’t give two hoots about that. Boulder Hill is in view beyond it. Photo looks NNE.

Joe was intrigued by the W ridge.  He got up on top for a few minutes for a look around.  Lupe and Dusty stayed below.

Joe got up on the W ridge for a look around. Slightly lower, Lupe is partially hidden among the small trees on the L, while Dusty sniffs around in the foreground. Photo looks W.

With Silver Mountain’s summit area explored, everyone headed back to the G6.  There was still tons of time left in the day.  Joe wanted to go climb Boulder Hill (5,331 ft.) again.  Everyone piled into the G6.  Joe drove 0.5 mile N to the start of the access road only 0.25 mile SW of the summit.

An easy trek along the access road led to a scenic path that winds up the large rock formation at the top of the mountain.  Soon Lupe was at the summit with a great view looking back at Silver Mountain (5,405 ft.).

Silver Mountain (Center) from Boulder Hill. Photo looks SSW.

Joe has liked Boulder Hill ever since first climbing it with Lupe, Dusty and SPHP exactly one year ago on 4-22-16.  In fact, he liked it so much that first time, everyone had come back to make a second ascent the very next day!  On the 4th of July, Joe had even done a Summits on the Air activation of Boulder Hill.

Today’s Expedition No. 201 was Joe and Dusty’s 4th time up on Boulder Hill with Lupe and SPHP.  Good times!

Joe on Boulder Hill near the area where he’d done a Summits on the Air activation of the peak on 7-4-16. Back then his antenna had been propped up in the big pine tree seen directly beyond him. Photo looks NW.
Joe & Dusty together with Lupe on top of Boulder Hill for the 4th time. The first time up for Joe and Dusty had been exactly one year ago! Photo looks SE.

No Summits on the Air activation of Boulder Hill was planned for today.  This was a pleasure excursion, just to see the views.

Silver Mountain (L). Photo looks SSW.
Silver Mountain with a little help from the telephoto lens. The more dramatic, rocky W ridge is seen to the R of the true summit. Photo looks SSW.

After lingering at the top of the mountain for 15 minutes, everyone started back down.  Time to head back to Lupe’s grandma’s house for food, fun and games.  Lupe and Dusty looked forward to an afternoon of squeaker ball, tennis ball and flying disc action in grandma’s front yard.  (End 2:00 PM, 62°F)

Joe (lower R) starts the trek down. Photo looks S.
Lupe’s cousin Dusty on Boulder Hill. Photo looks E.


Summits on the Air official website

Expedition No. 174(a) – Summits on the Air!  (Custer Peak, 7-2-16)

Expedition No. 174(b) – Summits on the Air!  (Boulder Hill, 7-4-16)

Want more Lupe adventures?  Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!

Flattop Mountain, Blueberry Knoll & Thunder Bird Falls, Chugach State Park, Alaska (8-30-16)

Day 32 of Lupe’s Summer of 2016 Dingo Vacation to the Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska

The replacement part didn’t look the same as the original one.  Figures.  SPHP didn’t have the tools, or the knowledge required to fix the problem.  Better not mess with it any more.  For some reason, lots of bees were flying around the O’Reilly Auto Parts store parking lot, and SPHP is allergic.  Time to get out of here!  Even though the G6’s right front headlight still wasn’t working, SPHP reassembled everything.

When SPHP had taken it all apart, hoping to simply replace the low beam headlight bulb, it turned out that wasn’t the problem.  The bulb was fine, but the socket it fit into was partially melted.  O’Reilly had the replacement part, or something that was supposed to work, for less than $10.

However, there was no telling what it would take to find someone here in Anchorage who knew where that extra wire on the replacement socket should go, and had both the time and tools needed to install it.  A simple oil change had been $60, and taken hours to line up this morning.

When Lupe got home to the Black Hills in South Dakota, SPHP was going to just order a whole new headlight assembly and be done with it.  That meant the $50 fix-it ticket would have to be paid, since there was no way an Alaskan state trooper would ever get to inspect the new headlight to confirm it worked, but that’s life.  Que sera, sera.

No more wasting Lupe’s precious time in Alaska!  The morning had already shot by.  Fortunately, there was a nice little adventure she could do this afternoon.  Lupe could climb Flattop Mountain (3,510 ft.), the most frequently climbed mountain in Alaska, with great views of Anchorage from the top!

Back to the Glenn Alps Trailhead (2:39 PM, 61°F)!  Only yesterday, Lupe had started off from here for a fabulous day spent climbing The Wedge (4,660 ft.) and The Ramp (5,240 ft.).  Glenn Alps, located on the SE side of Anchorage, was also the trailhead for Flattop.  Having spent all morning lazing around resting up in the G6, Lupe was ready and raring to go.

Lupe starts off for Flattop Mountain, seen beyond her. The trail to the top of Flattop from the Glenn Alps trailhead is about 1.6 miles long and gains about 1,300 feet of elevation. Photo looks SE.

Climbing Flattop wasn’t going to be the solitary, wilderness type experience Lupe had enjoyed most of yesterday climbing The Wedge and The Ramp.  On this beautiful, warm summer afternoon, the trail to Flattop Mountain was packed with hikers (and dogs) of all descriptions.

The trail started off entering a forest, but Lupe was soon beyond that.  She followed the trail gaining elevation gradually as it led her around the SW side of Blueberry Knoll (2,625 ft.).  Flattop Mountain was directly ahead.

Flattop Mountain from the SW slope of Blueberry Knoll. Reportedly, there are 2 ways up Flattop. Everyone seemed to be taking the steepest, most direct route, which climbs up the ridge on the L protruding toward the camera. Lupe took the steep route, too. Lupe never saw the easier route, which presumably goes up somewhere more to the W (R). Photo looks SE.

Once around Blueberry Knoll, the trail swept around the SW (R) side of another, steeper hill, part of the ridge extending NNW from Flattop Mountain.  The trail steepened as it turned E (L) again back toward a saddle between this higher hill and the rest of Flattop Mountain.  Lupe encountered a long series of wood framed steps filled with dirt and gravel on the way to the saddle.

Reportedly, there are two popular routes up Flattop Mountain.  The steepest, most direct, route switchbacks right up the slope from the saddle to the top of Flattop.  An easier route presumably goes somewhere more to the W (R).  Lupe and SPHP never saw the trail for the easier route, although it likely separates from the steeper route somewhere close to, or a little above the saddle.

On this warm, dry, summer day, everyone seemed to be taking the steepest route right on up.  Lupe took the steep route, too.

Lupe on the switchbacks of the steep route. After a bit of a light scramble, the trail eventually reaches the top a little to the R of Center.

The switchbacks brought Lupe quite close to the top of the mountain, but the last 50 to 75 feet of elevation gain was more difficult.  Here, the going was steeper, with large rocks and big steps up.  A little light scrambling was required to reach the top.  Nothing too tricky, but a bit of caution needed to be exercised along in here.

Lupe reached the top of Flattop Mountain a short distance W of an American flag flying at the N end of the summit area.  Everyone was busy getting their pictures taken next to the flag.  While Lupe was waiting for the crowd to clear out for her turn, she went to investigate some big cairns nearby.

Climbing Flattop Mountain, Lupe had gained about 1,300 feet of elevation, only a fraction of what she’d gained climbing The Wedge (4,660 ft.) and The Ramp (5,240 ft.) yesterday.  However, she had a decent view of both mountains from Flattop.

Lupe waits for her turn for a picture at the American flag on Flattop Mountain from a big cairn nearby. Beyond her are O’Malley Peak (5,150 ft.) (L), The Ramp (pointy peak L of Center), and The Wedge (on the R straight up from Lupe’s head). Lupe had climbed both The Ramp and The Wedge yesterday. Photo looks E.

Soon it was Lupe’s turn for a picture at the American flag.

An American Dingo stands proudly next to the American flag on Flattop Mountain. Photo looks N.

Of course, with a name like Flattop Mountain, the summit area was very large, and rather, umm, flat.  The top of the mountain was stony, and completely open with very little vegetation.

Still, there were a few things to explore.  People had constructed big cairns, and even a large, circular stone fort.  The true summit was at a collection of rocks off toward the SW.  The mountain offered 360° views.  While most people congregated near the American flag, Lupe went off to see what there was to see.

Powerline Pass is seen on the L. Just to the R of it is South Powerline Peak (4,500 ft.). The greenish near hill should be Peak 2 (3,609 ft.), with Peak 3 (4,068 ft.) seen beyond it on the R. The highest peak near Center is either Ptarmigan Peak (4,910 ft.) or possibly Flaketop Peak (4,488 ft.). Photo looks SE.
A closer look through the telephoto lens. Peak 2 at lower L, Peak 3 on the R, with either Flaketop or Ptarmigan Peak in the distance near the Center. Photo looks SE.
Lupe near the circular stone fort. Photo looks S toward McHugh Peak (4,308 ft.).
Loop at the true summit of Flattop Mountain. Photo looks NW toward Anchorage and Cook Inlet.
Downtown Anchorage seen through the telephoto lens. Nearly all of Anchorage is in view from Flattop Mountain. The view of the city lights at night must be grand!
The Turnagain Arm from Flattop Mountain. S Anchorage is seen below. Photo looks SW.
Although Lupe was here on a cloudless day, the air was still somewhat hazy, perhaps due to humidity. This photo looks NW using the telephoto lens to see past Anchorage and Fire Island toward the giant snowy peaks beyond Cook Inlet. Sunsets must be awesome from Flattop Mountain with the city of Anchorage, ocean, and impressive mountains all in view!
Looper on top of Flattop with Peak 2, Peak 3 and Ptarmigan or Flaketop beyond. Photo looks SE.
The Ramp(L) from Flattop. Photo looks E.

Too bad Lupe and SPHP didn’t do things in reverse order this day!  The views of the Turnagain Arm, Cook Inlet, and Knik Arm of the ocean, plus all the surrounding mountains at sunset would have been a sight to behold!  Shortly after that, Lupe would have had a sweeping view of all the lights of Anchorage at night.

Still, Lupe got a great look at everything under bright, blue skies on a warm, calm day, so she had to count herself lucky.  Sunset was hours away, so it was time to press on.  Lupe could have gone on to Peak 2, but after yesterday’s big adventure, SPHP wasn’t up to it and had something milder in mind.  Lupe started back down Flattop Mountain the same way she’d come up.

Looking back down toward the Glenn Alps Trailhead from Flattop. Blueberry Knoll is the large gently rounded hill with the trail on it to the L, and the trailhead parking lot just beyond it on the R. Lupe would make the minor climb to the top of Blueberry Knoll on the way back to the G6. Photo looks N.

On the way back to the G6, Lupe and SPHP left the main trail to make the almost trivial trek to the top of Blueberry Knoll.  The views were good even from here!

Looking back at Flattop Mountain from Blueberry Knoll. Photo looks S.
Lupe balances precariously atop the soaring spires of Blueberry Knoll! Oh, OK, so it was almost as flat as North Dakota, so what? The views were still sweet, and Blueberry Knoll is worth the climb if one doesn’t have the time or energy to go all the way up Flattop. Photo looks SSW.
A final look at Flattop Mountain from Blueberry Knoll.

Lupe reached the G6 again early in the evening (6:09 PM).  Soon she was saying good-bye to Anchorage for the final time, heading NE on the Glenn Highway (Alaska Route 1).  The drive was wonderful!   It was 75°F!  Lupe road perched high on her pillows and blankets with the windows open and a warm breeze blowing in her face.

Near milepost 25, SPHP took the Thunder Bird exit, parking less than 0.5 mile off the highway at the Thunder Bird Falls trailhead next to the Eklunta River (7:10 PM).  Lupe’s last adventure of the day was to go see Thunder Bird Falls, a 200 foot waterfall on Thunder Bird Creek.

A wide, well groomed trail goes for nearly a mile through a forest to the Thunder Bird Falls viewing platform perched along the side of a bluff.  The trail gained only 100 feet of elevation along the way.  Lupe passed by private homes in the forest W of the trail.  To the E, the Eklunta River flowed at the bottom of a deep, narrow gorge.

At one point, the trail went right to the edge of the cliff.  A fenced viewing platform let Lupe peer straight down to the river.

Looking down on either the Eklunta River or Thunder Bird Creek from a viewing platform along the Thunder Bird Falls trail.

Thunder Bird Creek is a tributary of the Eklunta River.  At some point along the way, Lupe passed by their unseen confluence.  The trail was now above Thunder Bird Creek.  Shortly before reaching the Thunder Bird Falls viewing platform, Lupe passed by a short side trail that goes down to the creek near the base of the falls.

The view of Thunder Bird Falls from the platform at the end of the trail was somewhat surprising.  The falls cascades down a very narrow gorge, twisting along the way.  Only part of Thunder Bird Falls was actually in view.

Lupe on the Thunder Bird Falls viewing platform.
Thunder Bird Falls plunges 200 feet down a very narrow gorge, twisting as it goes. Even from the viewing platform, only part of it could be seen. Note the trail on the lower L. It is not part of the Thunder Bird Falls trail, and can only be reached by fording the creek. It leads to a much closer, dramatic, and precarious view of the falls.

Naturally, Lupe and SPHP were curious about what could be seen of the falls from below.  After leaving the viewing platform, Lupe took the nearby trail down to Thunder Bird Creek.

Lupe on the side trail down to Thunder Bird Creek. The entire Thunder Bird Falls trail was wide and well-groomed as seen here. Round trip from the trailhead is less than 2 miles, perhaps a bit more if you go down to the creek like Lupe did.
Of course, no trip to a creek is complete without sampling the water quality. Clear, cold Thunder Bird Creek got the Carolina Dog seal of approval!

As it turned out, unless one is willing to get wet, there was little to be seen of Thunder Bird Falls from below, although the valley was humid with mist and the roar of the falls came from just around a corner.

This was as close as Lupe got to Thunder Bird Falls, and all that could be seen of it from below, unless you were willing to get wet and cold.

Thunder Bird Falls did provide a bit of excitement while Lupe was there.  Three teenagers were crossing Thunder Bird Creek, intent on climbing the short, slick, steep muddy trail to a much closer and precarious viewpoint right next to the falls.  The last girl slipped on her way across the creek.  She plunged in getting soaking wet with a shriek that made certain big soft Dingo ears momentarily stand on end!

Despite her chilly reception in Thunder Bird Creek, the girl was tough enough to get herself up and out pronto.  She continued across the creek and joined her friends to climb the muddy trail and see Thunder Bird Falls close up.

Three teenagers (the last one totally drenched from a spill in the creek) climb the steep, slick trail to a close up view of Thunder Bird Falls. It was a trek Lupe and SPHP decided to forego.

Lupe would soon make the peaceful, pleasant return trip along the Thunder Bird Falls trail as sunlight filtered through the trees on her way back to the G6 (8:11 PM).  She’d had a pretty easy, relaxing day.  Tomorrow she had a much bigger, tougher adventure ahead.  For now, though, we leave Lupe along clear-running Thunder Bird Creek, near the roar and mist of Thunder Bird Falls.

Lupe along Thunder Bird Creek, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Glenn Alps Trailhead directions:  In Anchorage, from the Seward Highway take O’Malley Road E toward the mountains.  Turn R on Hillside Drive, then L on Upper Huffman Road.  Follow signs to the trailhead at the end of Toilsome Road.  $5.00 daily parking fee applies.

Thunder Bird Falls Trailhead directions:  From Anchorage or Eagle River, take the Glenn Hwy (Alaska Route 1) going NE to the Thunder Bird Falls exit near milepost 25.  The trailhead is on the R about 0.5 mile from the highway.  From Palmer, take the Glenn Hwy going SW.  Turn at the exit for Eklunta Lake (milepost 26 or 27) to get on the old Glenn Hwy.  Go SW past the turn for Eklunta Lake.  The Thunder Bird Falls trailhead is on the L immediately after crossing the Eklunta River.  $5.00 daily parking fee applies.


Chugach State Park

Chugach State Park Map

Chugach State Park Brochure

Want more Lupe adventures?  Choose from Lupe’s 2016 Canadian Rockies, Yukon & Alaska Adventure IndexDingo Vacations Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index.  Or subscribe free to New Lupe Adventures.