Start – 10:28 AM, 46°F, at the first pullout along West Deerfield Road near Castle Creek W of the intersection with Deerfield Road (County Road No. 306)
Fall colors were over and done with. Sad, but the glories of autumn fade quickly. Nothing new about that. Lupe was still enthused! This bright, comfortably cool day in late October was made to order for a continuation of the Carolina Dog’s recent tour of some of the highest peaks of the Black Hills along the E edge of the western limestone plateau.
Today, Lupe would visit 4 such peaks. She’d been to all of them before more than once, but it had been well over two years since her most recent visit and would be fun to see them again. Besides, SPHP had promised Loop she would get to explore a whole new canyon on the way back at the end of the day.
Something old, something new, that’s what we’re gonna do!
If that’s supposed to be poetry, SPHP, don’t quit the day job.
Hah, too late, I already have!
My, what a big deficit you’re running, SPHP!
Never mind that, the better to go adventuring with you, my dear Dingo!
Loopster was totally in favor of that. She started off with a quick look at pretty Castle Creek, which somehow always has good flow even during seasonally dry periods like this. Then the American Dingo crossed West Deerfield Road and began the climb toward her first peakbagging objective, South Castle Rock(6,840 ft.).
A short climb through a pine forest brought Loop to a grassy field. The upper S face of South Castle Rock was already in view. This was going to be a nice, easy stroll most of the way. Lupe headed N through the field, passed through another forested stretch, and was soon back out in the open again. The only short steepish part of the whole climb was up in the trees directly ahead.
The best views from South Castle Rock aren’t from the summit, but from limestone cliffs high up on the far S ridge. That was right on Lupe’s way to the summit, so she went there first. She had a great panoramic view to the S and E from here. To the N, Loop could see the end of nearby Castle Rock’s E ridge.
South Castle Rock has two high points. Being slightly higher, the N high point is the actual summit. From the cliffs along the S ridge, Lupe circled well W of the S high point before turning N again.
The summit wasn’t far off, but the discouraging sight of all the deadfall timber Lupe had to traverse to get to there made SPHP realize the Komperdell trekking poles generously gifted by Jobe Wymore had been forgotten in the G6. Doh! SPHP had used them for the first time a week ago on Expedition No. 211. The poles had been quite useful for nagivating deadfall then, and would have been handy to have here. Oh, well!
The true summit of South Castle Rock(6,840 ft.) sits at the N end of a fairly large limestone cap surrounded by low cliffs. Getting through the deadfall to reach the cap was the hard part. That done, Lupe circled to the SW where the cliffs were lowest. One mighty, unassisted, clawing leap, and she was on top!
At the highest point at the N end, someone had built a cairn since Lupe was last here. Trees hid the views in most directions, but Loop did have a tremendous view of Reynolds Prairie to the E. She also had a clear view of Castle Rock’s E ridge to the NE.
After a short break near the cairn, Lupe left South Castle Rock’s limestone cap at the same SW point where she’d leapt up. Less than a 0.25 mile trek brought her to Castle Rock’s E ridge.
The E ridge was 200 feet wide and rounded, sloping down toward cliffs on both sides. The top was nearly level along most of its length. Lupe followed the ridge ESE all the way to where the ground started dropping toward the cliffs at the far end. The true summit seemed to be here near the ESE end, but it was hard to tell for certain. Having traveled the whole length of the ridge, Loop must have been at the actual high point somewhere along the way.
The apparent summit of Castle Rock(6,783 ft.) was forested and clogged with deadfall, but Lupe had great views from the cliffs along the edges of the ridge in every direction except back to the W.
After visiting Castle Rock’s summit on the E ridge, Lupe headed back W. Although the mountain’s long, skinny N ridge is somewhat lower, she went out onto it. A big, flat, barren area at the southern end of the N ridge provides good views to the W and NE. This area is Lupe and SPHP’s favorite part of Castle Mountain. Despite the openness, the whole place has a secluded, tucked-away feel.
The easy way off Castle Rock’s N ridge is found on the E side almost at the S end. Lupe followed an animal trail down there. She lost elevation traveling N well below Castle Rock’s N ridge where the slope wasn’t too bad. This was a forested area full of long grass hiding an annoying amount of deadfall timber. SPHP was soon wishing for those Komperdell trekking poles again.
Nipple Butte(6,810 ft.), Lupe’s next destination, was 0.5 mile away. The deadfall didn’t let up until she reached the saddle leading to Nipple Butte from Castle Rock. Once she traversed the saddle, the climb steepened quickly. Lupe was approaching from the S, but the best way up is a chute on the WNW side of the mountain, so she circled around to the W as she went higher.
The top of Nipple Butte is a ragged, rugged chunk of limestone with lots of broken rock below on most of the surrounding slopes. Of all the peaks Lupe was visiting on Expedition No. 212, Nipple Butte was the only one that was at all scrambly. The Carolina Dog got a bit too high, too soon, reaching the rocky slopes while she was still SW of the summit.
It would have been faster, if Loop and SPHP had circled around farther to the W before getting so high, but it didn’t really matter. Lupe crossed a slope of broken limestone scree, and reached the chute on the WNW side of the mountain.
The chute was steep, but not long. Lupe was at the top in no time. Before going to Nipple Butte’s true summit, she got up on the high point N of the upper end of the chute.
From the top of the chute, a six foot high wall of limestone was all Lupe had to get up to reach the summit. The six feet were simply too high and vertical for her to manage on her own. However, there were a couple of rocks SPHP could stand on from which she could be boosted to the top.
Meekly, the American Dingo lifted one of her front paws. She needed help and was ready for assistance. SPHP picked her up, stepped into position, and lifted her to the small limestone platform at the top of Nipple Butte. SPHP then scrambled up after her.
A single chunk of limestone 1.5 feet higher than the rest of the summit platform is the true summit. It was large enough for Lupe to stand on. So easy, yet dramatic. She’d made it! There Lupe stood, on the tiny absolute top of Nipple Butte(6,810 ft.) with 360° views!
Oh, yeah! Nice work, Loop. Photo time!
Lupe and SPHP sat together up on Nipple Butte for a little while. The sense of space and airiness from the tiny platform is among the best on offer anywhere in the Black Hills.
When the time came to go, SPHP climbed down first. The American Dingo remained on top for one last photo atop the summit rock.
One more peak to go! SPHP helped Loopster off the summit platform. Puppy, ho! Back down the steep WNW chute to broken limestone scree leading to scattered boulders, and finishing it all off with the usual deadfall infested trek in the forest.
Lupe reached USFS Road No. 189 at the saddle leading to Flag Mountain. Half a mile NW of here a spur road leaves No. 189. The spur winds 0.75 mile NE almost to the top of Flag Mountain.
Nah, not that way! Instead, Loop crossed No. 189 heading N. Traveling directly up Flag Mountain’s S ridge would be shorter and more fun. An hour after leaving Nipple Butte, the Carolina Dog was standing in the remnant of the old fire lookout tower on Flag Mountain(6,937 ft.).
Flag Mountain was the highest of any of the peaks Lupe climbed today. The views were grand, though this much larger summit area did not give quite the same feeling of exposure and airiness she’d had up on Nipple Butte.
Early in the day, there had only been a light NW breeze. By the time Lupe reached Nipple Butte, the wind had switched to the SW and picked up to about 15 mph. The same SW wind was still blowing up here. With the sun now noticeably progressing toward the horizon, the breeze felt a bit chilly.
Lupe and SPHP lingered up on Flag Mountain anyway. This was warm compared to what would likely be coming before too long. Who knew how many more weeks it would be before cold and snow would take over up in this western high country?
With 4 successful ascents, Lupe had completed all of her peakbagging objectives for Expedition No. 212. The time had come for SPHP to honor the promise to let her roam some never before explored territory in the big canyon W of South Castle Rock, Castle Rock and Nipple Butte.
Lupe left Flag Mountain traveling W. She ultimately took a route down similar to her path up, following the S ridge much of the way. An early turn to the SW served as shortcut to USFS Road No. 189.
Once across No. 189, the American Dingo began her explorations of the big canyon traveling SSW. It was downhill from here all the way to West Deerfield Road.
Lupe saw lots of deer. She got muddy paws and drank from a small stream, a tiny tributary of Horsethief Creek, itself no great torrent. Looper was one busy Carolina Dog the whole way, free to run and play.
The sun was close to setting by the time Lupe neared West Deerfield Road. The G6 was a only short walk SE along the road. Expedition No. 212’s adventures were almost complete. Behind Loop, the top of South Castle Peak still glowed in the last light of day.
That glow was gone before Lupe even got to the G6 (6:01 PM, 36°F). Expedition No. 212 might be officially over, but Lupe’s fun wasn’t. She was back early enough so twilight would last a long time.
For nearly an hour on the ride home, a frantic American Dingo watched for deer, cows and horses to bark at. Many decibels provided near constant earsplitting proof of the success of this project. No doubt a hugely satisfying encore to a splendid day!
Wow, surprising! Snow on the road here. Only a dusting really, but it was the first snow Lupe had seen up in the Black Hills so far this fall. A harbinger of things to come, but probably not in quantity for another month yet. American Dingoes love snow, if there’s not too much of it. Lupe was in a cheerful mood as she began her trek up Bear Mountain along USFS Road No. 299.1C.
Bear Mountain(7,166 ft.) was only a couple miles SW, so it wouldn’t take her long to get there.
More than 0.5 mile from where she’d started, Lupe reached an intersection. USFS Road No. 299.1C turned N here. Loop took No. 299.1J heading W instead. Up until now, the road had been in the forest, but No. 299.1J soon curved SW entering more open territory.
Although Lupe came to no more intersections, by the time she reached a barbed wire fence practically at the top of the mountain, a marker said she was on No. 299.1K. Exactly where the transition occurred wasn’t clear. It hardly mattered. Lupe didn’t care. The important thing was she had made it to the top of Bear Mountain.
Lupe went over to the base of the fire lookout tower to claim her latest peakbagging success!
This was Lupe’s 3rd ascent of the 3rd highest mountain in the Black Hills. On one of her previous visits, Lupe had actually gone all the way to the top of the lookout tower. She and SPHP had paid a visit to the friendly forest ranger on active duty inside the ranger quarters.
No one was around today. With no opportunity for another social visit in the comfort of the ranger station, Lupe didn’t bother to climb the tower. A chilly 15 mph breeze blew out of the N. The cold wind would only be worse higher up.
Instead, Lupe went to a small limestone outcropping SE of the tower to check out the views.
The best views were off to the E where Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, dominated the scene. Lupe also enjoyed a panoramic view to the S. The American Dingo could see much of the southern Black Hills from here.
Climbing Bear Mountain was only the beginning for Lupe. The plan was to visit Odakota Mountain(7,200 ft.) nearly 4 miles to the N, too. Since Lupe and SPHP had gotten off to a rather late start, it was already past noon. With days getting short in mid-October, Lupe couldn’t linger on Bear Mountain too long.
After checking out the views, Loopster briefly dropped by the Bear Mountain fire lookout tower again before continuing on her way.
Both Bear Mountain and Odakota Mountain lie along the E edge of the high limestone plateau country of the western Black Hills. The first part of Lupe’s journey N to Odakota Mountain would be along the E rim of the high country.
From the Bear Mountain fire lookout tower, Lupe took the same road she had come in on NE a short distance. When she got close to the E rim, she followed another road that angled N. This road eventually turned NW. Lupe left the road to continue N along the rim. Odakota Mountain was already in sight!
The terrain along the E rim was hilly. The area was forested, but generally not too densely. However, a fair amount of deadfall timber existed in spots. In a couple of places, the deadfall was dreadfully thick.
Back this summer, Lupe’s mountaineering friend Jobe Wymore had given SPHP a free pair of excellent Komperdell trekking poles. SPHP had never used trekking poles before, and until today had done nothing with Jobe’s gift. SPHP quickly discovered that the poles really did help going through the deadfall!
For 1.5 miles, Lupe traveled N near the E rim of the limestone plateau country. When the American Dingo finally reached a road, SPHP knew she had arrived at an intermediate objective, the Boy Scout overlook.
Coming from the W, USFS Road No. 291.3K leads almost to the edge of the E rim here. A short path goes from the highest ground down to a large, flat limestone platform perched at the top of sheer cliffs. A pond a mile to the NE near the Medicine Mountain Boy Scout camp can be seen far below. The platform also provides sweeping views of the Black Hills to the E.
The Boy Scout overlook is a favorite spot. Lupe had been here before on other Black Hills expeditions. Before taking a Taste of the Wild and water break, Lupe took a look at the glorious views.
Although Odakota Mountain was now only 2.5 miles away to the N as the crow flies, Lupe’s break at the Boy Scout overlook had to be kept short. To actually get to Odakota Mountain, she had to swing more than 1.5 miles W going down Grand Vista Draw. She would then have to go another 1.5 miles back E again on her way up Long Draw. All that extra mileage, plus the distance N!
Loop curled up next to SPHP on the limestone platform for a few minutes, but soon it was back to business. Lupe left the Boy Scout overlook heading W on USFS Road No. 291.3K.
In the upper end of Grand Vista Draw, Lupe reached an intersection. The Carolina Dog left No. 291.3K to take No. 291.3A down the wide, shallow canyon. Beautiful light brown grass lined the road. Lupe passed through a stand of aspens where a few colorful leaves still held on.
The trek down Grand Vista Draw was easy. On the way, Lupe saw scattered limestone formations along the canyon sides, but they weren’t high or dramatic. Meadows dominating the upper end of the draw gave way to pine forests lower down. Finally, near the low point where Grand Vista Draw and Long Draw meet, Lupe reached a line of boulders placed across the road.
A few boulders couldn’t stop Lupe! She continued N on the road, but it ended abruptly in the forest. A short, shady trek brought Lupe to Spring Creek.
Loop and SPHP crossed Spring Creek (those Komperdell trekking poles proving useful once again!), and climbed through a small meadow to reach a minor road. The minor road quickly brought Lupe to USFS Road No. 693, which she could follow all the way up Long Draw.
Long Draw did seem long. Along the way, Lupe saw deer. She found squirrels to bark at. She had a fun time, but at last the Carolina Dog reached the high point of No. 693 at the upper end of Long Draw where the road turned N.
At the high point, Lupe abandoned the road. The summit of Odakota Mountain was now only 0.25 mile ESE through the forest. SPHP was surprised when Lupe drew near the small, slightly higher ridge where the summit is located. A barbed wire fence crushed in many spots by collapsing trees killed by pine bark beetles had been repaired since Lupe was last here.
The repaired fence was good news! Lupe has been seriously injured by downed barbed wire several times in the past. This had been a dangerous place. It still was to some degree. Even though the fence was fixed, a tremendous amount of deadfall timber still infested the area. Lupe and SPHP cautiously picked a way through the mess.
Lupe found the small cairn near the E end of the relatively short summit ridge. She had made it to the top of Odakota Mountain(7,200 ft.), the 2nd highest mountain in South Dakota!
Although Odakota Mountain is the 2nd highest in South Dakota, the summit doesn’t provide much in the way of views. Despite how many trees have died and fallen over, more still remain. A tree-broken view to the S was about all there was to see.
Cliffs at the far SE end of Odakota Mountain do offer unobstructed views. Lupe had seen them once, long ago. However, getting there from the summit requires a bushwhack through a significant stretch of bad deadfall timber. Lupe didn’t have time to go see those views today.
Lupe relaxed next to the summit cairn. Once again, a short break was all she could afford to take.
Odakota Mountain is one of the mountains Lupe has visited most. This was her 8th time at the summit. The first time the Carolina Dog had come here nearly 3.5 years ago, there hadn’t even been a cairn. The last time she’d been here was over 1.5 years ago, when she had first met her friend Jobe Wymore and guided him to the mountain. Sadly, Jobe wasn’t here to share the mountain with her today.
Snap out of it, Loop! Enough reminiscing! We’ve got to get going. You still have to go all the way back to Bear Mountain and then back down to the G6!
The American Dingo sprang to her paws! Time for action? She was ready! Isn’t she always?
Leaving Odakota Mountain, Lupe got to do something she had never done before. For over 0.5 mile, she explored the high ground along the edge of the mountain’s SW ridge. SPHP wanted to see if she could find any unobstructed views from this area. She did, too!
Lupe had a great time exploring Odakota Mountain’s SW ridge, but only got to go about halfway along it. Too much deadfall timber was slowing things down, and the American Dingo no longer had time to waste. She returned to Long Draw. Lupe traveled through the fields paralleling the road.
Hurry, hurry! Now it was a race against time. The sun sank ever lower, then disappeared. Lupe and SPHP made good time, but twilight was fading fast as Lupe came back up Grand Vista Draw.
Looper followed USFS Road No. 291.3A S beyond its junction with No. 291.3K. For a while she stuck with it, but when the road turned SW it was decision time. Staying on the road meant miles and miles of extra distance. The other option was to bushwhack SE to the E edge of the limestone plateau country on the most direct route to Bear Mountain.
SPHP led Lupe SE. Leaving the road was contrary to long-standing rules against trying to bushwhack after dark. On the other hand, Lupe had already traveled much of this same territory earlier in the day. SPHP felt confident that having the E rim to follow meant she wouldn’t get lost.
Faint twilight lingered only far to the W now. Stars shone above, but no moon. Black night took over. Somehow the Carolina Dog always seems able to navigate in the dark without any problem. Not SPHP, who was walking unseeing straight into waist-high pines.
SPHP ran into a barbed wire fence. No damage done. Lucky! SPHP was blind as a bat. Better bring out the flashlight. The fence was good news, actually, it meant Lupe was getting close to the E rim. Deadfall timber was bad here, though. The Komperdell trekking poles were enormously helpful! SPHP would have tripped and fallen a jillion times without them.
After getting past the worst of the deadfall, Lupe reached the E rim! She saw a great many lights glittering far to the NE. That was Rapid City! An amazing number of lights were also scattered toward the SE in the general direction of Custer, but the town was not in view. Guided by the lights of Rapid City, Lupe and SPHP worked S along the E rim. Sooner or later, Looper would come to Bear Mountain again.
Despite initial confusion over exactly where Lupe was upon reaching a road, she had made it! She was back at Bear Mountain. A cold N wind still blew up here. Despite the wind, Lupe returned to the fire lookout tower. So what if it was cold, windy and dark? She’s a peakbagging Dingo, and this was another successful ascent! (End – 9:10 PM, 30°F)
Start – 10:44 AM, 57°F at the Gold Run trailhead near Deerfield Reservoir
Sunny skies, a light S breeze, and pleasant early October temperatures – a great day for a romp in the Black Hills! Lupe would likely get to see some fall colors, too. First things first, though. Loop hadn’t been to Deerfield Reservoir in a while. She may as well take a quick look at the lake before dashing off on her peakbagging adventures.
Only a small portion of the lake was visible from here, but the deep blue waters were a pretty sight surrounded by low pine-covered hills.
After admiring the lake, Lupe set off for her first peakbagging destination of the day. She left Deerfield Reservoir heading SW up a forested embankment. It wasn’t far to Deerfield Road, which she followed W to USFS Road No. 691 (Williams Draw Road). Traveling S along No. 691, Loop came to a small field where she could see Hat Mountain(6,779 ft.) up ahead.
Hat Mountain was only a mile away, so it wouldn’t take Lupe long to get there. That is, if cows blocking the road could be convinced to get out of the way. Not to worry! The cattle were mightily and speedily impressed by the Carolina Dog’s enthusiastic persuasive abilities. They complied immediately with her wishes.
A little farther on, Lupe left the road herself. She started her trek up the lower NE slope of Hat Mountain passing through a beautiful stand of yellow aspens.
Above the aspens, Lupe climbed through a pine forest. Above the pines, the upper N slope of Hat Mountain was grassy and treeless.
When Lupe reached the summit, the first thing she did was to go over to the survey benchmark. It was easy to find toward the E side of the flat, barren summit area.
Next Lupe went to see the sights. She had unobstructed views in every direction. Simply fabulous!
Carolina Dogs aren’t fans of wind, and it was rather breezy up on Hat Mountain. The steady 15 mph SW breeze was enough to make Lupe want to look for a sheltered spot. She found that the small depression near the S end of the summit area worked fine. She curled up there and took a little break.
SPHP joined Lupe in the depression for a short break, then left to stroll around the summit again for another look at the views. Meanwhile, Loop dozed off for a few minutes in her sunny, sheltered spot before SPHP announced it was time to move on.
Lupe left Hat Mountain heading S. Green Mountain(7,164 ft.), her next peakbagging goal was still close to 4 miles away even as the crow flies.
The first part of the way to Green Mountain was easy. Lupe descended mostly open ground into the Heely Creek valley where fall colors were on display.
Heely Creek was very small this time of year, only a foot wide and a few inches deep. As soon as Lupe crossed it, her long gradual climb to the top of Green Mountain began.
Once she entered the forest S of Heely Creek, Lupe followed old logging trails and minor USFS roads. Sometimes she was on faint roads abandoned so long ago that pine trees were growing on them. Other times she simply went through the forest not on any road or trail at all.
About 2 miles from Hat Mountain, Lupe reached USFS Road No. 691 again. She followed it S for a mile. When it began angling SW, she left No. 691 going SE up a forested slope with enough deadfall on it to slow progress down for a while. Eventually she came to a minor USFS road, which she was able to follow E the rest of the way to Green Mountain.
Green Mountain(7,164 ft.) is one of the highest points in the entire Black Hills. However, the only distant views available are obtained along the E rim of the mountain. The best views are toward the SE from limestone outcroppings right along the edge.
While Lupe was enjoying the big views, SPHP noticed a chipmunk. Lupe hadn’t spotted it yet. The chipmunk was scrambling around the limestone, appearing and disappearing right along the brink of the cliffs.
SPHP kept a watchful eye on the Carolina Dog. These limestone cliffs were no place to go chasing around after chipmunks or anything else! The chipmunk was sure-footed and could cling to the vertical face of the limestone. Lupe could not. Fortunately, she never saw the crafty, quiet “tiny squirrel”.
After taking in the views, and enjoying a Taste of the Wild and water break, Lupe agreed to let SPHP give her a boost up onto the limestone pillar where the cairn was. The pillar was an excellent American Dingo display platform with a tremendous view.
Ordinarily, Green Mountain offers complete solitude. That wasn’t the case today, however. Upon arrival at the E edge of the mountain, Lupe and SPHP had both seen a hunter perched on the limestone. He had a tremendous view, and was using binoculars to scan a wide swath of territory below. The hunter and SPHP had waved at one another, but did not speak.
Lupe hates gunfire. If that hunter took a shot at anything from so close by, poor Loopster would have been terrified. Having seen the views and had a little break, it was probably best not to tarry here any longer. It was a long way back to Deerfield Reservoir, anyway.
Of course, before leaving Green Mountain, Lupe still needed to visit the true summit to claim her peakbagging success. Lupe and SPHP headed N from the limestone pillar. The highest ground on Green Mountain was somewhere back in the forest only a little W of the E rim.
A fairly large area was nearly level. It wasn’t really possible to identify an exact high point. A variety of potential highest spots existed, none convincingly higher than the others. Most of them featured small mounds of broken limestone. After searching around for a few minutes, it was time to pick one. Close enough for Dingo work!
Although Lupe had been to Green Mountain 3 times before, it was a big place. She’d never explored some of the territory toward the N end. Enough daylight remained today so she could go sniff about over there on her way back to Deerfield Reservoir. Looper headed NW through the forest looking for a couple of sub-peaks shown on the topo map. Both were still over 7,000 feet elevation.
The first hill she would come to was High Point 7062. Plentiful deadfall timber slowed SPHP’s progress, but High Point 7062 eventually did come into view.
As it turned out, High Point 7062 was worth visiting. The small summit was capped with a limestone outcropping from which there were 180° views to the N. Lupe climbed up for a look around. She could see the top of Hat Mountain(6,779 ft.) from here.
From High Point 7062, Loop could also see her next objective, High Point 7025, more than 0.5 mile to the W. High Point 7025 had a much larger summit area in the form of a 400 to 500 foot long ridge. The fairly narrow ridge was all about the same elevation, but heavily forested. Lupe wouldn’t have much in the way of views over there.
Even so, when Lupe left High Point 7062, she headed W for High Point 7025. She enjoyed a beautiful early evening trek, while exploring new territory.
Lupe made it to High Point 7025. She traversed the entire summit ridge from N to S, then back again. As anticipated, there wasn’t much to be seen in the way of views due to the forest.
The sun was getting low. Deerfield Reservoir was still 4 miles N as the crow flies. Better keep going! Lupe left High Point 7025 heading N. She explored more beautiful territory, saw lots of deer, and eventually found minor roads that led her back to USFS Road No. 691.
Darkness fell on the long road hike back to the G6. Stars glittered above in a moonless sky. The wind had died down hours ago. SPHP tramped along, Lupe trotting nearby. No lights, no traffic, no noise. Everything as it should be when adventure’s done. Quiet time together, then the long drive home. (End – 8:09 PM, 44°F)
Start – 10:57 AM, 52°F, intersection of South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231) & USFS Road No. 191.
Lupe’s summer of 2017 adventures were over. Her friend, Australian adventurer Luke Hall, who had recently paid her a visit here in the Black Hills, was gone. Things were finally back to normal! For the first time since early June, it was just Loopster and SPHP setting out on a Black Hills, SD expedition.
This expedition was looking promising, too! Cows, so many beautiful cows, were right here near the start! Lupe was thrilled. The cows less so. In fact, they looked on with deep concern. Wasn’t that one of those ferocious American Dingoes?!
The cattle needn’t have worried. They didn’t get chased, barked at, or devoured. Instead, SPHP started SSW on USFS Road No. 191, leading Lupe up Long Draw. When Lupe reached an intersection 0.5 mile later, she turned W on No. 191.1A.
In the next 0.5 mile, No. 191.1A curved S, then W again. Lupe reached another junction. She had been this far once before over 2 years ago on Expedition No. 138. That time she’d stayed in Long Draw, continuing W on No. 191.1A. This time, just for something different, she turned SSW up Lessering Draw on No. 191.1C.
Lupe had seen a small stream in Long Draw. A tiny, trickling tributary of it was here in the lower end of Lessering Draw. When the road entered a pine forest, Lupe spotted an abandoned cabin near the tiny stream. The Carolina Dog went to investigate.
SPHP wouldn’t let Looper go inside the old cabin for fear of rusty nails or broken glass, but she did peer in to see what it was like. “Dilapidated” pretty much sums it up. Clearly, many years had passed since this cabin was inhabitable, even in the most rustic sense of the word.
Lupe returned to No. 191.1C continuing SSW.
Not far from the old cabin, Lupe re-emerged from the forest. The road curved W passing through a lovely large meadow surrounded by low forested hills. Aspen trees, greatly in the minority along the edge of the pines, were showing a bit of fall color.
As Lupe proceeded through the meadow, No. 191.1C faded away to little more than a grassy track. At the far end was a barbed wire fence. An opening in the fence brought Lupe to USFS Road No. 125.
The Carolina Dog and SPHP continued W on No. 125. The road passed through a narrow, forested part of upper Lessering Draw, which soon divided. Lupe stuck with No. 125, as it curved N up one of the ravines to a minor pass.
Right at the pass was a barbed wire fence running roughly SW/NE. Lupe went over a cattle guard to get past it. (American Dingoes are highly skilled at crossing cattle guards!) From here, No. 125 went N down the other side of the pass. SPHP surmised it was heading for Maitland Draw.
Lupe needed to go more W than N. White Tail Peak(6,962 ft.), her objective for the day, was 1.5 miles WNW of the pass. Lupe left the road to follow the fence line WSW up a forested slope. Upon reaching a ridge, she abandoned the fence to follow the ridge NW toward High Point 6346. On the way, White Tail Peak came into view.
Loop easily leapt up onto the rock formation at the top of the ridge. She stood astride High Point 6346. That done, she pressed on to the NW toward White Tail Peak. She was looking for the easiest way to get there with minimal elevation loss. As it turned out, she could soon turn W toward the mountain without having to lose much at all. She even came across a road leading W. The road soon forked at Point 6424.
The road Lupe had been following was USFS Road No. 190, which angled NNW from here. A side road going SW was marked No. 190.1A. Lupe and SPHP had been on No. 190 before on prior expeditions to White Tail Peak. Lupe could eventually work up and around to the summit that way. A more direct route, though, would be to scale the mountain’s SE slope. Today, Lupe had a special reason for doing so.
It looked feasible. Lupe and SPHP left both roads behind, heading NW up a grassy slope of open forest. Scattered deadfall provided the only obstacles. The Carolina Dog purposely headed for the area between the mountain’s short and long SE ridges. After traveling some distance, Lupe arrived at the edge of a golden forest.
Lupe happily sniffed her way through the magical forest of gold. Above the golden forest, her climb steepened. Would she would encounter a blocking line of limestone cliffs? SPHP knew cliffs rimmed large portions of the upper E and S sides of White Tail Peak.
No cliffs appeared. The American Dingo’s ascent didn’t even get all that steep before the terrain started leveling out again. Lupe came to a faint road. She followed it a little S, reaching a line of ragged limestone outcroppings. This had to be it! The spine of White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge.
This was Lupe’s 4th Black Hills, SD Expedition to White Tail Peak. Yet to SPHP there had always been something lacking on her prior visits. Long ago, so long ago it had been before there was a Carolina Dog, SPHP had been here alone. Tattered, cobwebbed memories existed of a grand viewpoint at the end of a long march S.
To SPHP those memories were the essence of White Tail Peak. SPHP had always wanted Lupe to see those sweeping views, but she had never run across them again. Were the memories real, dreams, or confused with some other place?
On all of her prior expeditions here, Lupe had visited a limestone ledge SE of the summit where she’d enjoyed some very nice views. However, they had never seemed as dramatic as SPHP’s old memories of White Tail Peak. A sense of disappointment always lingered.
On one occasion, Lupe had specifically gone looking for the site of SPHP’s old memories. Somewhere W of her usual limestone ledge, she’d found a much longer ridge going S. Her exploration of it revealed some different vantage points. However, none seemed familiar or measured up to SPHP’s expectations. This wasn’t the place, either.
Today the plan was for Lupe to find out the truth. SPHP had never allowed her to do a truly thorough search before. And most helpfully, for the first time, SPHP had brought along a topo map.
The topo map revealed that White Tail Peak has 3 ridges protruding to the S – a short SE ridge, a long SE ridge, and a long SW ridge. Studying it had convinced SPHP that Lupe had never been to White Tail Peak’s long SE ridge. The long ridge she had visited must have been the long SW ridge. The other times she had only been to the limestone platform near the end of the short SE ridge.
Her successful ascent from the SE up a visible gap between ridges made SPHP confident Lupe now stood on the long SE ridge’s limestone spine right at this very moment! All that remained was to follow the ridge however far S or SE it went.
It was exciting to think Lupe was on the verge of discovery! First, though, SPHP thought it best to go find White Tail Peak’s non-descript summit. May as well make certain of locking in a successful full ascent before doing anything else. Peakbaggers think like that. Instead of going S, Lupe followed the faint road N.
Within minutes, the American Dingo reached a junction. Ahh, so this was the turn SPHP had always missed or dismissed before! Lupe was practically at the summit, it was only 100 feet to the NW. She went up to claim her peakbagging success.
Lupe had visited the short SE ridge every other time she’d come to White Tail Peak. Though the views didn’t completely measure up to SPHP’s old memories, they were still impressive for the Black Hills. It wasn’t far away. Lupe might as well go take another look at them while she was here. It was tradition now!
Looper and SPHP followed a familiar winding road SE through an immature pine forest. A few minutes brought Lupe to her usual White Tail Peak viewpoint. Time for a break and a look around. This was still a favorite place!
SPHP relaxed munching an apple. Lupe devoured Taste of the Wild. Water for all, though it wasn’t much needed. The day had gone from mostly cloudy to overcast and noticeably cooler than before. While Lupe and SPHP watched, even lower clouds streamed in from the NW. A chill breeze blew way up here. The incoming clouds were low enough so wisps of fog sailed by.
The low gray clouds were all part of one huge one. The monstrous cloud fanned out rapidly, spreading gloom across the Black Hills. Sunshine fled its influence, retreating far to the SE. The apple gone and Lupe satisfied, it was time for a few photos.
The photo session over, Lupe and SPHP left the short SE ridge, retreating NW back to White Tail Peak’s summit. Enveloped in a thickening fog, the mountain was growing colder and gloomier by the minute.
Good grief! After coming all this way, suddenly there wasn’t any point in exploring the mountain’s long SE ridge. Even if it led to the views SPHP remembered, Lupe wasn’t going to be able to see a thing. Disappointment reigned.
Nothing could be done about it. May as well forget about the whole thing. Another time. Would have had some nice fall colors, too. Should have gone there first! Sigh.
Reluctantly, SPHP led Lupe on the road N, away from the still unexplored long SE ridge. May as well head for USFS Road No. 190. It would take her E down off the mountain. Maybe Lupe could explore some sort of an interesting loop on the way back to the G6?
Lupe went all the way N to No. 190, and began following it E. She’d already lost some elevation, and was about to lose a bunch more, when suddenly the sky brightened. Uncertain, Lupe and SPHP paused. The trend continued.
Apparently conditions weren’t going to continue deteriorating after all. It wasn’t going to be so bad. The monstrous cloud wasn’t as dark or low as before. The breeze was dying down and the air felt warmer. Maybe Lupe could see something from the long SE ridge after all?
Worth a shot. Back Lupe went. To the summit again and beyond. Lupe made the turn onto the faint road, which wasn’t so faint near the intersection. She reached the limestone spine of the long SE ridge where she’d been before.
OK, this was it! The moment of discovery was at hand. Lupe explored S. Up and down, onto and off of the discontinuous limestone spine. Multiple times. For a while, the forest hid everything. Lupe went on, now heading SE. She lost elevation, but not too fast. Didn’t this have to be it?
Then there it was. A first small limestone ledge with a view to the SW, a view worthy of what SPHP remembered. Lupe was on the right track! Naturally, she went over to see this glorious sight.
To the SW, Lupe saw a broad canyon, created over eons by the North Fork of Castle Creek. The creek wasn’t visible, but far below aspen trees glowed with the fleeting glory of early autumn.
Across the gaping canyon was Peak6962, a remote mountain so alike to White Tail Peak(6,962 ft.), the summit was even the exact same elevation. Just below its forested upper reaches, limestone cliffs extended around the N and E edges of the mountain. Cliffs like those Lupe now perched above.
Looking SE along the edge of the long ridge Lupe was on revealed a series of similar viewpoints nearby.
Traveling onward, Lupe checked out viewpoints along both sides of the long SE ridge.
At the far SE end of the long ridge, Lupe finally found the big, nearly flat, open viewpoint SPHP remembered. Even on an overcast day, the panoramic views were fabulous!
Perhaps on some bright sunny day, Lupe will return to White Tail Peak for a 5th time to see it all again beneath crystal blue skies. For now, though, SPHP was content. Lupe had rediscovered this glorious vantage point overlooking a vast portion of the central Black Hills. White Tail Peak was everything dim memory had credited and cherished it as.
A cool breeze still blew. Hours had flown by. Time for the intrepid Carolina Dog to move on. Puppy ho! Lupe headed NW, back the way she had come.
As soon as practical, SPHP looked for a way for Lupe to get down off the long SE ridge. She soon came to one. Safely down, Lupe roamed the long slope to the SE, passing the same golden forest on her way back to the junction of USFS Roads No. 190 & 190.1A.
Lupe had fun on the way back to the G6. SPHP led her N on USFS Road No. 190 hoping to make a nice loop. The American Dingo wound up going much farther N than anticipated. A trail or road shown on the topo map failed to materialize. An unmarked side road SPHP did try did not turn E as hoped. Instead it began to fade away somewhere W of High Point 6217.
The failing road had to be abandoned. Lupe bushwhacked E a long way. Deadfall slowed progress considerably. The sun must have set or was close to it. Light was fading. Hurry, hurry!
Yes! A road! Good deal, and none too soon. SPHP quickly figured out that it was leading toward Long Draw. Immediately overconfident again, SPHP had Lupe take a turn into Maitland Draw instead.
In the dim light, Lupe saw, sniffed, or otherwise sensed a presence before SPHP realized it was there. Cows! Way out here. Enthusiastic Lupe streaked off barking.
The American Dingo returned before long, panting hard and apparently well satisfied with her romp. Certainly more pleased than the annoyed cows had been.
No more of that, Loopster! It’s getting dark anyway. Better stay close.
Just grand. The road didn’t go all the way through Maitland Draw like the map showed! It turned S instead of staying E. Maybe that wasn’t so bad? SPHP suspected Lupe was on USFS Road No. 125. Sure enough, she reached the cattle guard back up at the minor pass. The rest of the way to the G6 was known. Lupe had come this way earlier. She would soon be back in Lessering Draw.
A curious, and perhaps very sad thing had happened shortly before Lupe reached the minor pass. At first it seemed simply strange and unexpected. Lupe had quit barking at the cows some time ago, when suddenly there was an answer! A wild barking or howling, from off to the NW.
A coyote? Maybe. Lupe listened, but showed little interest and did not respond. After a few minutes, it was not heard any more. On the long dark trudge back to the G6, SPHP reflected, and eventually felt guilty and sad. Glittering stars in an ink black sky shone down with a cold, cruel light.
Maybe an answer should have been made?
The more SPHP thought about it, the more that wild sound had seemed desperate. Perhaps desperately searching. What if it hadn’t been a coyote? A poor lost or abandoned dog way out here? Maybe it had heard Lupe and thinking salvation was at hand, had come running a great distance with soaring hopes looking for her? If so, the disappointment at not hearing a response, and not knowing which way to turn, must have been crushing.
White Tail Peak had been a great and successful day for Lupe, but the accusatory thought persisted. Perhaps the day had also needlessly ended as a bitterly cruel one for an innocent, lonely creature in need of help? The uncertain truth remained somewhere out there, shivering alone in darkness, now miles away beneath eternally uncaring silvery stars. (End – 7:40 PM, 35°F)
Lucky Dingo! Australian adventurer Luke Hall was staying with her. For the second day in a row, Lupe was going to get to play host and tour guide. That could only mean another brand new adventure!
Yesterday Lupe had taken Luke up to Little Devil’s Tower(6,960 ft.) and Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota. Did Luke have any preference on what else he would like to see while still in the Black Hills region? Yes, he did, actually! Luke wanted to see Badlands National Park.
That was a great idea! Although the W end of Badlands National Park is only a little over an hour’s drive E of the Black Hills, Lupe had never been there before, either. Luke, Lupe and SPHP all piled into the G6. The miles flew by. It wasn’t long before SPHP turned onto Sage Creek Road a mile or two E of Scenic, SD.
The W end of the park’s N unit was still miles away, but Luke was ready to get out for a look around.
Once Lupe reached Badlands National Park, a series of overlooks along Sage Creek Rim Road provided increasingly dramatic views. The first views were of Sage Creek Basin. The sharply eroded hills and bluffs typical of the Badlands were still a little way off in the distance.
No one had to tell Lupe why this place was called the Badlands. It was easy to see there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in you know where of finding a squirrel out here! Most disappointing. Why on earth had Luke wanted to come way out to this wretched, forsaken land?
The answer was soon apparent. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of prairie dogs were living in large towns right along the road! Hundreds, maybe thousands, of fat squirrels right on the ground that couldn’t climb a tree even if there was one? It was an American Dingo’s dream come true! Badlands? Hardly, this place was a Dingo paradise! Luke was a genius!
Shockingly, SPHP was a total spoil sport. This could have been the greatest day of Lupe’s life! Instead, SPHP refused to let her go after those prairie dogs. Not even one! It was maddening. Sure, those prairie dogs had burrows, but this ground was soft and Lupe is a great digger. It would have been the most fun ever!
The Carolina Dog had to watch as a badger scurried across the road and disappeared down into a prairie dog burrow. Luke saw a coyote nearby. Poor Lupe could only stare out the window of the G6 and dream. SPHP decided it was best to drive on.
At the Hay Butte overlook, a plaque told about how pioneers had gone to great efforts to hay the grass off of the top of a long, flat butte seen in the distance. Why they felt compelled to do so was never fully explained. The Badlands are completely surrounded by prairie. What was so special about the grass growing on that butte?
It was a mystery of the universe. Some things can’t be explained, like why SPHP sided with the prairie dogs against the loyal Carolina Dog, a lifelong friend?
A short distance E of the Hay Butte overlook, Sage Creek Rim Road ended at the paved Badlands Loop Road, which winds through the most frequently visited part of Badlands National Park. Park headquarters and most trails, overlooks, and displays are located along the Badlands Loop Road.
Lupe’s first stop traveling E on Badlands Loop Road was at the Pinnacles overlook, where a couple of short trails led away from the road down to several viewpoints. Luke went down to investigate. American Dingoes couldn’t go on any of the trails, but the views were great right up by the road.
Most of the dramatic eroded buttes and spires of the Badlands are horizontally striped with many relatively thin layers of gray, white, or pink soils. At the Yellow Mounds overlook, however, a thick lower layer of yellow soil capped with red was exposed. The grays, whites and pinks could still be seen higher up. In some of the lowest parts of this region, the mounds were completely yellow, since the overlying layers had been eroded completely away.
While the soil colors can appear more dramatic near sunrise or sunset, or especially after a rain, even in sunshine at midday the Yellow Mounds were definitely worth a look.
10 or 12 miles E of the Yellow Mounds, Lupe arrived at a big parking lot next to the Fossil Exhibit Trail, a short loop trail where fossils are on display as originally found. Luke went to check out the trail, while Lupe and SPHP visited with a park ranger who had just finished a talk on various fossils found within Badlands National Park.
The Badlands are full of fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks. Fossils of many extinct animals from the Oligocene epoch 23 to 35 million years ago continue to be found here, including:
Leptomeryx – a small deerlike mammal
Oreodonts – common and sheeplike
Archaeotherium – a relative of pigs equipped with sharp canines
Mesohippus – an ancestor of modern horses
Hoplophoneus – an early saber-tooth cat
Metamynodon – a massive rhinoceros
After Luke got back from the Fossil Exhibit Trail, the next stop was at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Lupe couldn’t go in, but Luke and SPHP did, returning with brochures containing maps of the park. Several short trails were only a few miles away, so it was decided to go check them out.
Lupe had to wait in the G6, while Luke and SPHP went to explore the Window and Door trails.
The Window and Door Trails provided great views of some wild-looking badlands, but didn’t take long to explore. After returning to the G6, Luke continued on to explore the Notch Trail. Meanwhile, SPHP stayed with Lupe near the start of the trail.
Lupe enjoyed being out relaxing in the dry grass, surrounded by the beauty of the Badlands.
Luke was gone quite a while. People who had left after Luke did started returning. When SPHP inquired, two groups they said they had been all the way to the Notch at the end of the trail. Both groups had taken 40 to 45 minutes to make the round trip.
Lupe kept waiting. Eventually Luke reappeared.
Of course, Luke had made it to the end of the Notch Trail, too. He enjoyed the walk and the views, but especially the extra time he’d spent scrambling around on the Badlands formations.
The Badlands aren’t high at all by mountain climbing standards, but scrambling among them is tricky and potentially treacherous. The very steep sides of the formations are often loose and crumbly. Exercising considerable caution, Luke had successfully made it to the top of some of the highest formations near the Notch.
It was evening and time to start back when Luke returned. SPHP drove W back along the Badlands Loop Road. Lupe saw lots of animals to bark at from the G6. Pronghorn antelope, a buffalo, and bighorn sheep all got the enthusiastic Dingo treatment as Lupe sailed on by.
Lupe got to make a few stops to enjoy the scenery along the way, too.
The sun was sinking fast. Lupe, Luke and SPHP stopped at Panorama Point for a final look at the Badlands before it set. The evening was beautiful, and the sweeping views simply magnificent.
The sun disappeared from view. Lupe’s beautiful day in Badlands National Park with her friend Australian adventurer Luke Hall was over. It was her last big adventure with Luke before he would set out for Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.
It was sad to think that Luke would be leaving soon, but Lupe and SPHP were both glad that he had taken the time to come and visit the Black Hills and Badlands of remote western South Dakota.
Start: Hwy 87/89, 0.25 mile NW of Sylvan Lake Lodge, 9:46 AM, 46°F
Wonder of wonders! Australian adventurer Luke Hall was actually here – in Lupe’s Black Hills of South Dakota! He’d arrived yesterday afternoon only a few weeks from the end of a 6 month trip exploring the western United States.
During his recent travels, Luke had scrambled up many notable mountain peaks, including Mt. Whitney(14,498 ft.) in California and Mt. Elbert(14,433 ft.) in Colorado, the two highest mountains in the lower 48 states. He’d spent a lot of time along the Pacific coast, and visited a great many national parks – Yosemite, Death Valley, Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Mesa Verde, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Rocky Mountain – the list went on and on.
Surfing, swimming, backpacking, mountain biking, climbing – Luke had been a busy guy in 2017, but that was perfectly normal for him. In previous years, he’d explored western Canada, 10 different countries in South America, wandered through much of Europe, and toured Morocco and Egypt. He spent 2 years living and working in London, England, and another 2 years in Banff, Canada. Maybe it wasn’t so surprising that Luke had finally landed in the remote Black Hills of South Dakota after all? He did get around!
Fittingly enough, Lupe and SPHP had first met Luke Hall over a year ago on Gunsight Mountain(6,441 ft.) in Alaska. Now Luke was here to join Lupe on one of her Black Hills, SD expeditions. He had already dropped by Mt. Rushmore(5,725 ft.) on his way in, so Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota, seemed like a good destination. For Luke it would be an easy day, but maybe he wouldn’t mind dialing it down a notch after 5+ solid months of more strenuous adventures?
It was a lovely bright, clear day as Lupe, Luke and SPHP set out. First stop along the way was Sylvan Lake.
After a look at Sylvan Lake from the NW shore, Lupe, Luke & SPHP followed a trail that goes all the way around the lake back down below the dam. Lupe led Luke around to the NE & E sides of the lake.
Trail No. 9 from Sylvan Lake is the most direct and popular route to Black Elk Peak, but Lupe had another trail in mind. She led Luke past the picnic ground at the SE end of the lake, and took Trail No. 4 to the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead instead.
Taking Trail No. 4 was a longer route to Black Elk Peak, but had the advantage of giving Luke a chance to climb Little Devil’s Tower(6,960 ft.) along the way, and get a close look at the Cathedral Spires(6,840 ft.), too.
A 0.25 mile long spur trail leads from Trail No. 4 to the summit of Little Devil’s Tower. The end of the route involves a quick, easy scramble up the granite. Even small children can make it with a little supervision and an occasional boost.
Luke, Lupe and SPHP quickly arrived at the summit of Little Devil’s Tower(6,960 ft.). There were cliffs around, especially to the N, but they were of no concern. Although a bit rough, the uneven granite summit area is quite roomy.
The 360° views from Little Devil’s Tower are among the best in the Black Hills, with Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.) to the NNW and the Cathedral Spires(6,840 ft.) to the SE being the most eye-catching.
At first, no one else was around up on Little Devil’s Tower. It wasn’t long, though, before a couple appeared. Bryan and Rene Jobo from Franklin, Tennessee joined Lupe, Luke and SPHP at the summit.
Bryan and Rene were on vacation in the Black Hills, and apparently having a good time relaxing and hitting some of the area’s highlights. Bryan, Rene, Luke and SPHP were soon chatting pleasantly. Lupe got involved posing for photos.
Bryan and Rene stayed chatting with Luke and SPHP for a while, but didn’t have time to accompany Lupe all the way to Black Elk Peak. They had other adventures in mind to press on toward. Soon after Bryan and Rene said good-bye; Luke, Lupe and SPHP resumed the trek to Black Elk Peak.
Trail No. 4 went N past some of the Cathedral Spires, and eventually linked up with a short section of Trail No. 3, which led in turn to Trail No. 9. Near the end of a spur trail off Trail No. 9, a metal stairway hidden in a narrow opening in the granite spiraled up to a rock stairway leading to the old fire lookout tower on Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.).
Upon arrival at South Dakota’s highest point, Luke, Lupe and SPHP spent a few minutes out on the fire lookout tower’s W facing observation deck taking in the views. The wind had shifted to the NW by now, though, and was even colder than at Little Devil’s Tower.
Even Lupe was soon ready to retreat back into the lookout tower. The tower wasn’t very large inside, but Luke enjoyed exploring the winding passage down to the basement. An open doorway led out to a massive granite shoulder of the mountain immediately W of the tower. Everyone enjoyed a break in the shelter of a few pines growing out of the rock.
After snacks and water, it was time for photos from various points on the granite near the lookout tower.
All too soon, it was time to depart. On the way back to the G6, Lupe, Luke and SPHP followed Trail No. 9 all way to Sylvan Lake. The sun was sinking, but down out of the wind the evening was pleasant.
The light was fading fast by the time Lupe reached the G6 again at 6:45 PM (upper 50’s °F). Climbing mountains with Luke, and getting to show off her Black Hills home territory had been great fun!
The fun wasn’t over yet, though. There would be pizza and beer with Luke at home. (What, no beer for the faithful, peakbagging Carolina Dog!? No fair!) Even better, Luke was sticking around for a while. Another adventure was in store tomorrow.
There’s nothing so rare as a day in June, and June had just arrived! Both Lupe and SPHP were raring to go, even though scattered thunderstorms were in the afternoon forecast. The plan was to head way out into the high country of the NW Black Hills for some peakbagging fun. First up were Peak 6888 and the Bald Hills(6,690 ft.), both within a few miles of the Wyoming border.
Although there were already clouds around, the sun was still shining when SPHP parked the G6 more than 0.5 mile W of County Road No. 117 along USFS Road No. 109 (Parmlee Canyon Road) at 9:39 AM (59°F). Lupe and SPHP started out taking Bear Canyon Road S from No. 109. Bear Canyon Road was just a dirt road that looked like it seldom gets any traffic. It passed through a field in a shallow valley and then entered the forest, winding its way up a low ridge at a pretty decent clip.
The climb was a short one. Bear Canyon Road soon leveled out, and reached a clearing where there was an intersection with more faint roads. Several whitetail deer ran off into the forest as Lupe approached the intersection. Peak 6888 is about 0.75 mile S of Parmlee Canyon Road. SPHP figured Lupe still had to go a bit farther S to get there. The road continuing S was marked as USFS Road No. 117.5J.
Lupe followed No. 117.5J up a couple of little rises. The road leveled out again after each one. When the road seemed to be at its highest point, SPHP stopped to check the topo map. The summit of Peak 6888 was supposed to be a little W of the road. The entire area looked quite level, although the forest did look a bit higher off to the NW. Lupe and SPHP left the road exploring the forest to the NW, while searching for an obvious high point or marker.
Lupe found neither. A big area was almost as flat as a pancake. Nothing seemed discernably higher or lower than anywhere else. Lupe saw more deer, but summits were scarce. Well, Loop, looks like this is all the summit! SPHP encouraged Lupe to hop up onto a big log. This can be your summit photo, Lupe! Might as well call it good, and go on to the Bald Hills.
Peak 6888 was now in Lupe’s bag, but it hadn’t been too exciting. At least there was a little excitement when Lupe and SPHP returned to No. 117.5J. Lupe saw a female elk crossing the road. The elk saw Lupe and SPHP, too. It took off running, but seemed confused on which way it wanted to go. It finally disappeared off to the SE.
Lupe and SPHP continued S on No. 117.5J. Almost right away, Lupe came to a big square mud puddle where the road started angling SW. Lupe ran over to wade around and get a big drink of mineral water.
From the milk chocolate colored mineral water puddle, No. 117.5J started losing elevation slowly, but steadily, as it went SW for about 0.75 mile. The road appeared to end in a small valley near a couple of stock ponds. There were several barbed wire fences in the area. Lupe and SPHP headed S across the little valley, and climbed up the next low ridge ahead. Up on top, Lupe found USFS Road No. 113 at a green gate.
By now the sky was completely overcast, and it began to rain steadily. SPHP wore a blue plastic rain poncho, but Lupe was doomed to become a progressively more soggy doggie. Lupe and SPHP marched W on No. 113 in the mud and rain. The clouds grew darker. The downpour strengthened, and the woods filled with fog.
Although Lupe ordinarily loves to get wet playing with the garden hose on warm, sunny days, the dreary downpour seemed to dampen her spirits. For 2 miles, Lupe and SPHP slogged W on No. 113. SPHP began to wonder what ever happened to the “scattered” part of the scattered T-storms in the forecast. It looked like it could rain buckets all day.
After going 2 miles, Lupe started passing by minor side roads that SPHP was expecting to see, and No. 113 gradually turned S. The road had been fairly level most of the time, but now began to lose some elevation. That didn’t last long. It was soon gaining the elevation back. Lupe reached a high spot on the road as it turned W. The road continued W, but it was clear it was about to lose serious elevation in that direction.
About this time, the rain stopped. Suddenly the sky was getting brighter again. SPHP stopped to check the maps. The little green hill on the N side of the road had to be the summit of Bald Hills. Lupe was practically there!
The remains of a campfire were on the N side of the road, too. Unfortunately, trash was scattered all around it. While SPHP collected trash, Lupe sniffed around, encouraged by the rapidly clearing sky.
When the trash was all gathered up, Lupe and SPHP climbed the little green hill to the summit. The summit area was a bit surprising. It was a big flat open field, completely surrounded by pine trees.
Trees killed by pine bark beetles were still standing along the W edge of the meadow. When they eventually fall over, the view will improve dramatically. As it was, Lupe and SPHP could only get glimpses of Mount Pisgah(6,380 ft.) five miles away in Wyoming.
The meadow on Bald Hills was quite pretty and full of little flowers. It was kind of a shame there wasn’t a more open view anywhere, but that’s the way it was. As Lupe and SPHP ambled around the field, the last of the storm clouds drifted away to the E, and the sun began to shine.
Lupe and SPHP left the summit taking what was supposed to be a shortcut back to No. 113 by heading directly E. There proved to be a fair amount of deadfall timber to deal with in the forest. While Lupe might have saved some distance, it was debatable how much time was really saved.
Once on No. 113 again, Lupe and SPHP followed it back E. Where dark clouds, rain and fog had prevailed only a short time ago, now a sunny, fresh, bright green Dingo Paradise existed. Lupe’s spirits soared! She dashed through the damp woods sniffing excitedly at every tree and bush. Lupe came to a series of small pools scooped out along the road. She made frequent use of them.
When Lupe reached the green gate across No. 113 again, she turned N leaving the road. Lupe and SPHP went down off the ridge into the small valley, this time passing above (E of) the higher pond. Lupe returned to No. 117.5J. Soon Lupe and SPHP were back up on Peak 6888 again.
Lupe took a Taste of the Wild break while resting under a fallen tree trunk. SPHP sat on the tree trunk eating an apple and looking at the maps. After the break, Lupe and SPHP once again wandered around on Peak 6888, still looking for an obvious high point, but with the same negative results. Lupe chose a bright green meadow for her 2nd Peak 6888 summit shot of the day.
SPHP had noticed while looking at the maps that 0.33 mile to the NE of Peak 6888 there was a small area enclosed by a 6,900 foot contour line. Since that was somewhat higher ground, Lupe and SPHP crossed over No. 117.5J to go check it out.
NE of No. 117.5J, Lupe did seem to gain a little elevation, but it didn’t amount to much. Lupe still found no obvious high point. There weren’t any big views anywhere over here either, just more forest. Lupe and SPHP went W back to Bear Canyon Road and turned N. By 1:48 PM (65°F), Lupe was back at the G6.
Lupe’s next two peakbagging goals were both located 10 miles to the NNW. Lupe and SPHP jumped in the G6, and enjoyed a very scenic drive through gorgeous Black Hills high country near the Wyoming border. The last part of the drive was along another USFS Road No. 109. (Not the No. 109 that leads to Parmlee Canyon.) This No. 109 led N out of the Beaver Creek valley. It eventually turned NW toward the Wyoming border.
SPHP was really hoping there would be some kind of a sign and a fence at the border. Lupe’s third peakbagging goal of the day was the Weston County, Wyoming High Point(6,620 ft.). The high point is located about 0.375 mile S of where No. 109 reaches the Wyoming border. The whole key to finding the Weston County High Point was knowing where the border was.
The luck of the Dingo prevailed! There was a Wyoming sign at the border. There was also a cattle guard, a fence, and a convenient level place to park on the South Dakota side (2:28 PM, 57°F). Lupe and SPHP left the G6, crossed the cattle guard into Wyoming, and headed S along the border fence.
The entire area was forested and rolling, but without significant elevation changes. Logging trails ran this way and that through the woods. When it seemed easier, Lupe and SPHP just followed the logging trails, but never got very far from the border fence. Pretty soon, Lupe came to two high points right along the state line. One of them had to be the Weston County High Point.
The two high points were close enough to each other so it was possible to see both at the same time. However, they were so similar in elevation, SPHP wasn’t certain which was truly the highest point. The first one Lupe came to, the one to the N, seemed like it was highest, but it was hard to tell for sure. Naturally, Lupe visited both high points.
From the N high point, a small, nearly level ridge extended W about 100 feet into Wyoming. It was possible the Weston County High Point was actually somewhere along this ridge instead of right on the border with South Dakota. Lupe explored the W ridge out to where it ended at 10 foot high limestone outcroppings. SPHP was of the opinion the actual high point was back at the WY/SD border, rather than anywhere along the ridge.
After exploring the W ridge, Lupe and SPHP went over to the S high point candidate along the Wyoming/South Dakota border. A small area on the Wyoming side near the S high point had been clear cut. There were slash piles laying all around. The S high point was a limestone outcropping right at the border. There wasn’t any ridge extending out to the W here. The ground went downhill immediately W of the high point.
Wherever the actual Weston County High Point truly was, Lupe had now been there, having explored both possible candidates, plus the W ridge. The forest blocked any views, so there was no reason to linger. A short distance up a little hill to the E just inside the South Dakota border was Lupe’s fourth peakbagging goal of the day, Peak 6645.
Why Peak 6645 is on Peakbagger.com’s official list of Black Hills 6500-foot Peaks is completely beyond SPHP. There are numerous other higher points close at hand that are not on the official list. A little over 0.1 mile to the NE is High Point 6651, a mile to the SE is High Point 6807, and a little farther E is High Point 6906. The topo map shows many other examples of higher points close at hand, too. Nevertheless, Peak 6645 is on the official list and the others aren’t.
Since Peak 6645 was on the official Black Hills 6500-foot Peaks list, Lupe was going to visit it. At least it had the great virtue of being located very conveniently close to the Weston County, WY High Point. Lupe and SPHP made the short trek up the hill. Between the trees was a hint of a view off to the WSW, but that was all. Nevertheless, Lupe seemed completely happy with Peak 6645.
The actual summit of Peak 6645 was an otherwise unremarkable 5 foot high mound in the woods. Lupe sniffed around for a couple of minutes, but even she didn’t find anything particularly fascinating. While Lupe was sniffing around, clouds were moving in again. Thunder started rumbling off to the NW. Lupe and SPHP hurried NE on to High Point 6651.
From High Point 6651, Lupe was able to see USFS Road No. 109 just below to the NE. Instead of going right on down to the road, though, Lupe and SPHP turned NW, following the ridge. The ridge soon played out, and sloped on down to No. 109 closer to the G6. A quick 0.25 mile road trek, and Lupe was back at the G6 (3:17 PM, 57°F).
Hwy 85 near Buckhorn was only a couple of miles NW on USFS Road No. 809 (the road number changes from No. 109 at the Wyoming border), but it was already raining again by the time Lupe reached the highway. Another thunderstorm was passing through. SPHP stopped in at the Buckhorn Bar & Grill to grab a hamburger. Lupe stayed in the G6, entertained by barking at black cows across the road.
The owner and the cook/waitress were the only people in the Buckhorn Bar & Grill. They were both friendly, and after a reasonable delay produced a pathetic-looking over-priced hamburger, which didn’t even come with fries or chips. SPHP took the sad little thing out to the G6 to share it with Lupe while waiting for the rain to stop. Lupe’s opinion of the hamburger was far different from SPHP’s. She greeted it with enormous enthusiasm, and would have eagerly consumed far more than her fair share, if SPHP had permitted.
The hamburger was gone in a flash. Lupe retired to the back seat of the G6 for a nap, while the rain continued outside. SPHP munched an apple and looked at the maps. Lupe’s 5th and final peakbagging goal for the day was Laird Peak(6,906 ft.), which was only 6 or 7 miles to the NE, and less than a mile from Hwy 85. Climbing Laird Peak wouldn’t take long. Gradually a new plan came to mind. Lupe could go on into Wyoming to Inyan Kara(6,360 ft.), a more isolated and interesting peak!
However, the rain went on and on. Thunder rumbled repeatedly from very dark clouds overhead. Lupe snoozed contentedly full of hamburger. The windows of the G6 fogged up. SPHP finally decided that if the storm didn’t end by 6 PM, Lupe would have to forget about Inyan Kara.
At 5:30 PM, a tiny white spot appeared in the clouds to the NW. For a few minutes, the white spot grew. A little patch of blue appeared. Maybe the storm was about over? SPHP started the G6 and drove SW on Highway 85. Within a few miles, it was clear that the storm was passing. By the time Lupe reached Four Corners, the rain had stopped. Growing patches of blue sky were off to the W. SPHP turned NW on Hwy 585.
The drive toward Inyan Kara was gorgeous. The sun broke through the clouds to shine on the mountains and high plains, all fresh and green from the rain. Inyan Kara was still shrouded by dark clouds, but they were likely to dissipate soon. SPHP initially missed the turn W on County Road No. 198, but came back to it.
A lot of rain had fallen. County Road No. 198 was muddy. Despite the mud, the G6 made it 1.5 miles W of the highway to an intersection. SPHP took the sharp turn N and drove down a hill. From the G6, Lupe barked at cows grazing in the green fields. The road turned W again at some corrals shortly before disappearing beneath an enormous puddle. Beyond the puddle, SPHP could see deep muddy ruts in the road.
No way the G6 would get through this! SPHP parked near the corrals. Lupe and SPHP began a march W around the huge puddle, and then along the mucky road.
It was a longer march that it looked like at first. Even where the road looked good, it was very soft. It was a beautiful evening, though. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the trek, despite the mud. When Lupe finally got close to Inyan Kara, she reached a fork in the road. To the W were some buildings and a “No Trespassing” sign. Lupe and SPHP tried the other fork going NNW down a hill first.
Lupe hadn’t gone very far, when she came to a sign saying the county road ended here. It also said “No Trespassing without Owner’s Permission”. A yellow house was in view not much farther down the road. Lupe and SPHP continued on to beg the owner’s permission to cross the private ranch to Inyan Kara.
A bluish dog about Lupe’s size started barking as Lupe and SPHP got close to the fenced yard around the house. The bluish dog was all excited. He whined and wanted to play with Lupe. SPHP petted him, but Lupe just growled. No one came out of the house. SPHP yelled a few helloes, but there was no response. Too bad, this was the best place to gain access to Inyan Kara.
Lupe and SPHP left the disappointed bluish dog behind to go back and try the W fork of the road. The results were much the same. Two dogs were at the house at the end of that road, but again no people. A fat little Corgi stayed up on a deck and barked. A white and black dog barked as it came running up to meet Lupe. As soon as it got close enough, the white and black dog promptly peed on SPHP’s boot. Lupe growled again, this time with more justification.
Sigh. That was it. No one was around at either place to grant permission to access Inyan Kara. So much for that idea. Lupe and SPHP headed back on the muddy road toward the G6. It was still a beautiful trek.
As Lupe and SPHP neared the corrals where the G6 was parked, there was a bit of a surprise. A herd of 30 or 40 black cows was congregated on the road near the G6. Lupe would have to go right past them. SPHP put Lupe on the leash. Lupe tried to be good, but it was just too much temptation. When she got very close to the cows, she started barking. She felt amazingly powerful and ferocious when the whole herd stampeded away.
Well, not quite the whole herd. One cow was unfazed by Lupe. When Lupe and SPHP went right on by, the bold cow decided to follow. In fact, the bold cow had apparently decided that SPHP must have something good to eat. It started trotting along eager to partake of whatever delicious repast SPHP had stuffed in the backpack. The cow completely ignored Lupe, who was somewhat startled by the notion that barking at this cow made it want to come toward her instead of running away. Up close, it was an awful lot bigger than the noisy Carolina Dog!
Even more startling, was the reaction of the rest of the herd. When the other cows saw that the bold cow was not being devoured by an American Dingo, but was actually anticipating a delicious treat from SPHP, they suddenly decided they were about to miss out on something good. The whole herd came thundering back, anxious to partake in whatever happy event was about to unfold.
SPHP wasn’t too keen on being crushed by a herd of overly enthusiastic hungry cattle. Lupe and SPHP made a run for the G6, barely getting inside before being completely surrounded. Whew! Back inside the safety of the G6, Lupe regained her confidence and resumed barking furiously at the herd pressing in on every side. By now, though, the cows were totally unimpressed. They went back to munching grass, feeling a bit put out.
Slowly and cautiously, SPHP eased the G6 through the herd, stopping every few seconds to wait for another opening a little farther forward. Lupe continued having her fruitless conniption fit the whole time. Nearly all the cows continued totally ignoring her. After a few minutes, the G6 broke free of the herd. Lupe and SPHP escaped back to the highway.
The Inyan Kara jaunt had been a failure. There was still time, though, to return to the original plan. Lupe and SPHP headed for Laird Peak. A mile W of O’Neil Pass on Hwy 85, SPHP turned N on USFS Road No. 106. Less than a mile from the highway there was a big open area on the E side of No. 106, shortly before reaching a junction with Willow Springs Road coming in from the W. SPHP parked the G6 in the open area (8:04 PM, 47°F).
Lupe and SPHP started out going E up a little valley along a grassy road. Lupe passed a small stock pond on the S side of the road, and soon came to a water tank. Water was overflowing the tank, creating a small muddy stream that ran down to the stock pond. One of SPHP’s maps showed Tom Spring in this location.
Beyond Tom Spring, the grassy road disappeared for a stretch. Lupe soon found it again, now angling NE up into the trees. The road climbed until it reached a flat area where a number of roads converged. Lupe was already quite high here. Despite the forest, it was possible to get a glimpse over the other side of the mountain toward the SE.
At the intersection, Lupe took a good road N until it passed a fence. She then left the road to follow the fence E toward a 50 foot rise where SPHP expected to find the summit of Laird Peak. Near the top, Lupe and SPHP caught a last look at the fiery sun about to drop below the horizon.
The sun sank below the horizon within minutes, but Lupe had no problem finding the survey marker and benchmark at the summit of Laird Peak to complete her 5th and final peakbagging success of the day.
Lupe reached the G6 again at 9:00 PM on the dot (47°F). She’d had quite a big day in the NW Black Hills. Four mountains climbed for the first time, plus a Wyoming county highpoint reached! Perhaps the most memorable mountain, though, was Inyan Kara, the one she didn’t get to climb!
After rain and fog all weekend long, Monday had dawned clear and bright. Rain wasn’t at all unusual this time of year. In fact, today was the 42nd anniversary of the Black Hill’s June 9, 1972 flood, when 238 people lost their lives. Nothing remotely close to that dramatic and tragic was going to happen today. SPHP registered at the entrance to the Black Elk Wilderness near the Horsethief Lake trailhead (10:36 AM, 59°F).
Lupe and SPHP took off heading SSW on Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14. The normally pleasantly bubbling little creek was gushing right along, overflowing its banks and parts of the trail. Most of the time, it wasn’t hard to get over or around the wet spots. The rushing creek in the leafy canyon between towering granite spires was actually rather cheerful and beautiful.
The creek was left behind by the time Lupe reached a junction with Centennial Trail No. 89 about 0.75 mile from the trailhead. Lupe and SPHP turned right, taking a short stretch of trail going W that is part of both Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 and Centennial Trail No. 89. When the trails separated again, Lupe turned left, staying on Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14.
As Lupe continued SSW, she started encountering a fair amount of deadfall timber fallen across the trail. Huge numbers of ponderosa pine trees infested with pine bark beetles have died in the Black Hills in recent years. Over time, high winds blow over increasing numbers of the dead trees. Lupe and SPHP had to spend quite a lot of time off the trail going around the deadfall.
After about 2 miles, Lupe reached the S end of Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14 at a “T” intersection. Lupe turned right, following Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7. The trail wound around heading generally W or NW. Lupe didn’t need to follow Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7 very far, only about 0.375 mile. Lupe’s peakbagging goal for the day was Peak 6735, more than a mile to the SW. There is no trail to Peak 6735.
SPHP started looking for a way across Grizzly Bear Creek, a larger stream than the one near the start of Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14. Naturally, Grizzly Bear Creek was also running high. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to find a place where a few boulders enabled SPHP to jump over. The American Dingo, of course, had no problem getting across.
On the SW side of Grizzly Bear Creek, Lupe found herself in a meadow that sloped gradually up to the W. Parts of the meadow were soggy and marshy, but by the time Lupe and SPHP reached the trees again, Lupe was back on dry ground. An old dirt road headed S around the E side of the mountain ahead. Lupe and SPHP followed it S for a little way.
The road gradually gained elevation, but reached a high point. From here, the road turned SE. Lupe needed to go SW, and she didn’t need to lose elevation. Lupe and SPHP left the dirt road, and started climbing the mountain.
The first part of this climb was about the only place all day where Lupe didn’t have to contend with a lot of deadfall timber. She raced this way and that sniffing around in the forest, while SPHP trudged ever upwards. Before too long, the mountain began to narrow. Deadfall and a series of large granite rock formations appeared. The climb became progressively steeper and more difficult.
As Lupe and SPHP continued up, the rock formations were larger and closer together. Most of the time it was easier to go around to the S of them, although occasionally it was easier to make forays to the N. Lupe was able to climb up on top of a few of the rock formations. Eventually, SPHP was able to see that Lupe was getting up in the world. Huge granite walls were visible on nearby mountains, especially in the area to the N leading up to Harney Peak.
From each rock formation, another higher one came into view up ahead. Finally, it looked like Lupe was getting close to the top of the mountain. SPHP expected Lupe to emerge up on Peak 6710, about 0.25 mile NW of her Peak 6735 goal. When Lupe reached the high point, though, the view was disappointing. Things didn’t look right at all. There was no way Lupe was on Peak 6710.
Actually, the scenery was great! The trouble was that SPHP could see another mountain ahead to the SW. It was several hundred feet higher! So, if Lupe wasn’t on Peak 6710 now, where was she? SPHP already had a pretty good notion, even before checking the maps.
Yes, the depressing news was true. That higher mountain to the SW had to be Peak 6710. Despite how long it had taken to get here through all the wretched deadfall timber and toiling around the big rock formations, Lupe hadn’t gone nearly as far as SPHP had thought. She wasn’t as high up, either. Lupe was on top of Peak 6411, still 0.33 mile NE of Peak 6710.
It was time for a rest. SPHP had intended for Lupe to bypass Peak 6411 to the N. Instead, Lupe and SPHP had climbed SW up the spine of the mountain to get here. Lupe still had to continue on to Peak 6710, or at least close to it, on her way to Peak 6735. To get there, she was going to have to lose over 100 feet of elevation going down to a saddle before she could resume climbing.
The task of getting to Peak 6710 looked daunting. More rock formations, an exhausting maze of deadfall timber, and another steep climb were still ahead. As discouraging at it was, there was nothing to do, but get on with it. One step at a time. The rest break was over. Lupe and SPHP headed slowly down into the saddle SW of Peak 6411. Nothing had changed. The way forward was a lot like Lupe’s climb up Peak 6411.
Finally, it was over. Lupe and SPHP were close to the top of Peak 6710. The summit was a big, high steep granite rock formation. Lupe and SPHP got to within 10 feet of the top. SPHP could probably scramble up on top, but there was no way for Lupe to get up there, even with SPHP’s help. The granite was just too vertical. SPHP couldn’t quite see the top, but it felt like the summit might be a scary high place. Getting back down safely didn’t look very easy, either.
Well, it would have been nice to reach the absolute summit of Peak 6710, but Lupe’s real goal was Peak 6735. If she could reach the top of Peak 6735, that would just have to be good enough. SPHP gave up on Peak 6710. Lupe and SPHP headed SE down toward the saddle over to Peak 6735.
Lupe lost nearly 250 feet of elevation crossing the saddle. Due to the deadfall, it was all miserably slow going. The true summit of peak 6735 is more toward the S end of the summit area. Lupe and SPHP skirted the N end of the high ground to the W. Lupe had another steep climb, but eventually it got easier. There was somewhat less deadfall timber near the end. Lupe and SPHP started making faster progress.
The top of Peak 6735 was much easier to navigate than Peak 6710 had been. The whole area was rocky, but it was easy to approach the very highest rocks at the true summit by circling around a bit to the S. After a long, hard struggle, Lupe had done it. She stood on top of Peak 6735!
Peak 6735 featured marvelous 360° views. As annoyingly difficult as it was to get here, SPHP was pretty certain Peak 6735 must not be visited very often. Not many people or American Dingoes have ever been treated to these views. Lupe and SPHP were glad to be here!
It had been a long, exhausting climb through rugged territory. By far the worst obstacle, though, had been the shattered dead forest. Lupe and SPHP needed a rest break, a much longer one than Lupe had taken on High Point 6411. Rest, water, snacks and big views were all part of a most welcome respite.
After the rest break was done, it was time to do some exploring of the summit area. A big granite arm of the mountain extended off to the SW without losing too much elevation. Lupe had clear sweeping views to the S from this granite ridge. Nothing she saw to the S was as high as Peak 6735!
After a leisurely exploration of the SW arm of the mountain and around to the SE, Lupe and SPHP returned to the summit of Peak 6735 for a final look.
It would have been nice to explore the high ground N of where Lupe had come up the mountain, but it had taken a very long time to get up here. The slanting rays of the sun gave notice that it was already late afternoon. Lupe’s time on Peak 6735 was running out. The N ridge wasn’t quite as high as where Lupe had already been, anyway.
Although the world was beautiful from up on Peak 6735, it was time to move on. When darkness fell, SPHP didn’t want to be lost wandering in a wilderness of steep terrain, deadfall timber, cliffs and huge rock formations. Lupe and SPHP left Peak 6735 heading N.
It was now a race against time to get back to a trail before darkness fell. There was no need to go back up Peak 6710 again. This time, after crossing the saddle to Peak 6710, SPHP led Lupe N along the E side of the mountain aiming for the saddle over to High Point 6411.
Upon reaching the saddle, Lupe and SPHP crossed it continuing N. Lupe wasn’t going back to High Point 6411, either. The plan was to go directly down to Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7. The terrain started dropping steeply. SPHP feared Lupe would lose hundreds of feet of elevation only to find herself at the top of a cliff. If she did, there would be no choice but to climb all the way back up before trying another route.
The steep descent went on for what seemed like a long time. Close by to the E, a huge wall of granite appeared. Across the valley to the N, SPHP could see similar steep declines that ended in sheer cliffs below. Lupe was losing a lot of elevation. Luckily, the terrain wasn’t getting any steeper. Lupe forged ahead of SPHP. She could maneuver on the slope much better than SPHP could.
At last, looking down from above, SPHP saw Lupe sitting motionless, panting happily. Lupe had found it! She was sitting right on Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7. SPHP joined her on the trail. Good work, Lupe! SPHP praised her. Lupe beamed. The shortcut had worked, and there was plenty of daylight left, even though the trail was in the shadow of the mountains. Lupe and SPHP set off heading E down the trail.
It was much farther, and took much longer, than SPHP anticipated to get back to Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14. There was the usual deadfall timber plus half a dozen creek crossings to deal with along the way. SPHP managed to find a way to jump over the high-flowing creek each time. For Lupe, the stream crossings were a piece of cake. She leaped across with ease.
By the time Lupe and SPHP made it back to Centennial Trail No. 89, it was getting dark. The flashlight had to come out for the last stretch of Horsethief Trail No. 14 after leaving the Centennial Trail. In the darkness, it was much harder to avoid all the water flowing over the trail.
Lupe’s long adventure to Peak 6735 and back ended at 9:53 PM (52°F). Nearly 11.5 hours had gone by, most of it spent in rugged terrain choked with deadfall. Lupe didn’t complain. She never does. She hopped in the G6 and curled up for the ride home.
SPHP didn’t complain either. The views from Peak 6735 had been splendid. The sense of remote isolation, complete. In truth, it had been a fun and challenging day. So much fun that SPHP thought Lupe should return to Peak 6735 some day. Maybe some day, she will.Want more Lupe adventures? Choose from Lupe’s Black Hills Expeditions Adventure Index or Master Adventure Index. Or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures.
SPHP wanted to park the G6 at the start of Tree Draw on the W side of Newton Creek Road (USFS Road No. 304), but there wasn’t any place to park there. Lupe and SPHP had to abandon the G6 at a wide spot along the road about 0.25 mile farther S (11:04 AM, 53°F). Lupe trotted ahead of SPHP on No. 304 back down to Tree Draw.
The side road going W across Newton Creek was marked as ATV trail No. 6918, but SPHP’s old map showed it as USFS Road No. 304.1B. Whatever its proper designation these days, Lupe and SPHP followed it W up Tree Draw.
It was a beautiful, clear, bright morning. Less than 72 hours earlier, on the night of September 10/11, the Black Hills had experienced its earliest measureable snowfall on record. The records went all the way back to 1888. Parts of the Black Hills had received up to 8″ of snow. Lupe, of course, was delighted! She had a blast frolicking in big patches of snow still melting in shady spots.
No. 304.1B went W for 0.5 mile, then turned SSW for another 0.5 mile. The road ended at a barbed wire fence shortly before reaching the top of a saddle along a high ridge. Lupe and SPHP got past the fence, and continued up to the saddle. On the other side of the saddle, a herd of black cows was grazing in the upper reaches of a wide grassy valley.
Lupe’s first peakbagging goal of the day, Peak 6720 was in sight about 0.25 mile to the SSE along the ridgeline. A fair amount of deadfall timber laying across the ridge looked like the only obstacle in the way of an otherwise easy stroll up to the summit.
At the top of Peak 6720, Lupe found 3 separate high points strung out along the ridge. Each high point featured a rocky outcropping. The middle rock outcropping was the true summit, but fewer standing trees made the views better from the N and S high points.
Although the rock formations at the high points weren’t all that large, they were somewhat tricky to navigate. The presence of significant amounts of deadfall timber, and an annoying bumper crop of thistles didn’t help. Lupe and SPHP spent at least half an hour up on Peak 6720. Part of that time was used up just moving around between the high points.
Peak 6720 is the highest point along a long ridge that runs for several miles in a NNW/SSE direction. Although there are a number of other points nearly as high along the ridge, Lupe and SPHP had good views over a wide swath of territory in most directions.
Lupe visited all 3 of the high points on Peak 6720 before heading NW down the mountain into the long valley SSW of the saddle to Tree Draw. Well down the slope, Lupe passed to the N of a tall rock formation, turned SW, and proceeded down to the bottom of the valley.
A dirt road went along the W side of the valley. Black cows were grazing near it, but moved off up the valley as Lupe and SPHP approached.
Lupe and SPHP followed the road, which was probably USFS Road No. 297.3E, going SSW down the valley. SPHP knew there would be more cows ahead, having seen several herds from up on Peak 6720. When the next herd came into view, Lupe and SPHP crossed a tiny stream on the W side of the valley and headed up into the trees.
After going high enough to avoid disturbing the cows while passing by, Lupe and SPHP tried going SSW along the side of the hill. For a while it worked out OK. In fact, it was a rather interesting trek. The hillside had some interesting geology. Very shiny fine-grained rocks and nice specimens of white quartz formed part of the rock formations Lupe came to. There were even some pieces of rose quartz. SPHP wondered what made the shiny rocks so glittery?
The hillside became steeper. A deep, narrow side ravine coming down from the NW blocked Lupe’s way forward. Lupe and SPHP had to go down off the hillside. At the base of the hillside, Lupe found the tiny creek again. However, it wasn’t so tiny as it had been upstream. It still wasn’t all that large, but there was quite a bit of black mucky marshy ground around it.
Finding a way across the marshy creek took a little while, but Lupe and SPHP managed to get across out into the main part of the valley again. The road had disappeared. The valley was full of tall grass and scattered stands of trees. Even though this was all Black Hills National Forest land, Lupe came to several barbed wire fences.
At the lower end of the valley, Lupe found a faint road (a remnant of USFS Road No. 297.3E?) again. It soon led Lupe and SPHP to USFS Road No. 297, a major gravel road. Not too far away, a pond on Negro Creek was on the other side of No. 297. Lupe’s next peakbagging goal, Medicine Mountain(6,878 ft.) could be seen beyond the pond.
To get around some private property (the pond was part of it), Lupe and SPHP followed USFS Road No. 297 S less than 0.25 mile. Lupe then bounded over Negro Creek, and went W across a field to the edge of the forest. A rather striking hill with two big rock outcroppings at the top was back to the SE across No. 297.
Lupe and SPHP started climbing Medicine Mountain from the NNE. There was no road or trail. At first there was quite a bit of deadfall timber to contend with, and the going was slow. About 1/3 of the way up, Lupe came to a meadow. Lupe and SPHP headed W across the meadow, still gaining elevation. At the end of the meadow, Lupe turned S climbing again through the forest.
The mountain got steeper higher up, but fortunately there wasn’t as much deadfall. Medicine Mountain has two high points separated by a large saddle several hundred feet long. The N high point is somewhat lower than the S one. Near the end of the climb, Lupe and SPHP arrived at the base of cliffs at the N end of the N high point.
Lupe and SPHP couldn’t climb the cliffs. A short exploration to the E revealed discouragingly steep terrain littered with deadfall timber. The W side of the mountain looked more encouraging. The cliffs forced Lupe and SPHP to lose some elevation going around to the W, but then there was a place where it might be possible to climb up. Lupe and SPHP managed to scramble up without much difficulty.
Even though the N high point wasn’t the true summit of Medicine Mountain, Lupe was already here. It made sense to explore the N high point first. The views from the cliffs at the very N end were great. An unobstructed 180° panorama was on display. It seemed like a terrific place to take a break. SPHP filled Lupe’s bowl with Taste of the Wild, and then sat down to eat an apple while admiring the scene.
Lupe was too busy to eat her Taste of the Wild. A chipmunk scurrying around on the rocks had her bamboozled, but she remained very interested in its sudden appearances and disappearances. The entertainment went on for several minutes. SPHP wasn’t paying any attention when suddenly Lupe made a low “woof”.
Glancing over at Lupe, SPHP saw that she was standing stock still. She had forgotten all about the chipmunk. Now she was staring intently at some low juniper bushes close to SPHP. The fur on the back of her neck and all along her spine was standing on end.
Lupe didn’t move a muscle. For a couple of minutes she stood staring at the bushes. She made several deep, menacing “woofs”. What the heck was it?! SPHP hardly dared to move. Had Lupe caught wind of a mountain lion? Had it stalked Lupe and SPHP clear to the top of Medicine Mountain? The idea seemed preposterous, but something sure had Lupe’s attention.
Suddenly the menacing creature broke from the juniper bushes making a mad dash. It disappeared in a flash. A white bunny rabbit?! That was the fur-raising threat? Well, no doubt it was for the best that there hadn’t been a mountain lion, but a white bunny rabbit seemed ridiculously disappointing. Couldn’t there at least have been a bobcat or something?
SPHP laughed at Lupe. Seriously, Lupe, a bunny rabbit? I’ve never seen you react that way before to such a harmless creature! What a big, brave American Dingo! You almost had me believing there was a mountain lion or some ferocious predator.
Oh, I see. This is Medicine Mountain and the white bunny was full of bad medicine, right? It really wasn’t what it seemed when it dashed away. Probably transformed by old Indian magic and evil spirits from its true form! SPHP laughed again.
Lupe paid no attention to SPHP’s teasing. She knew what she knew. Lupe gave up on disappearing rabbits and chipmunks. Now that the bunny was gone, she relaxed. Things were back to normal.
Lupe suddenly realized how hungry she was. She devoured her Taste of the Wild. SPHP shared part of an energy bar with her. When Lupe was fueled up again, it was time to go explore the true summit at the S end of Medicine Mountain.
The saddle to the S high point was easily crossed. A faint trail led up to the summit from the NW. The S end of the summit area was grassy and open. Once again, Medicine Mountain provided an unobstructed 180° panorama, this time to the S.
Lupe and SPHP dawdled for more than half an hour on Medicine Mountain. When it was time to go, Lupe took the faint trail NW down to the saddle area. From the saddle, Lupe and SPHP went W down the slope. It was slow going. Deadfall timber lay strewn in every direction. To avoid some of it, Lupe and SPHP turned SW, finally reaching some open ground.
Lupe lost elevation rapidly and came to a road. SPHP led her W across the road to a little hill with a view toward Peak 6680. Peak 6680 was supposed to have been Lupe’s 3rd peakbagging goal of the day. It was only a mile to the WNW, but there was a big valley between here and there. The fields down in the valley would have been easy to cross, but they were private property.
Gunfire started up off to the N. Lupe didn’t want to go anywhere. She wanted to stop and hide. SPHP did stop to pet and reassure her. The sun was starting to get kind of low. OK, Lupe, no more mountains. Let’s get away from the gunfire, instead. Lupe and SPHP went back to the road and followed it SW. The road reached a “T” intersection with another road.
SPHP didn’t know it at the time, but this was USFS Road No. 297.3M. Lupe and SPHP followed No. 297.3M going SE, and then S about 0.75 mile down a long valley. The road then turned E and wound around the S end of a low ridge.
When Lupe reached the main gravel road, SPHP mistakenly assumed she was a little farther S than she really was. SPHP turned N thinking this was County Road No. 317, which Lupe could follow several miles to USFS Road No. 304, and then several more miles back to the G6.
In reality, No. 317 was a little bit farther S. Lupe was actually on No. 297. SPHP kept watching for a turn to the E that never came. It didn’t take too long to figure out what had happened. It was OK. Lupe could just keep going N on No. 297 until she got close to the pond on Negro Creek. Then she could go back up the valley of black cows to the saddle over to Tree Draw.
Along the way, Lupe came to a striking hill to the E of No. 297. It looked similar to the one she had seen just before starting her climb up Medicine Mountain. This one had three big rock outcroppings at the top. SPHP guessed that the two rock outcropping hill must not be much farther N. Pretty soon, Lupe saw the two rock outcropping hill, and then the pond on Negro Creek.
The sun was already down, and the light was fading by the time Lupe had traversed the valley of black cows to reach the saddle to Tree Draw. Lupe and SPHP went over the saddle and followed No. 304.1B back down to Newton Creek Road and the G6 (7:46 PM, 44°F). Stars were shining above. Lupe wanted to linger and sniff the air near the G6. Well, why not? It was a gorgeous evening.
Thirty minutes later, all twilight had faded from the night sky. Myriad stars glittered in the blackness above. Lupe was finally ready to go home. On the drive N along Newton Creek Road back to Deerfield Road, Lupe and SPHP both saw it! A big white animal dashed across the road heading E. It was gone in a flash. A huge white coyote, a ghost coyote!
Lupe’s hackles were up. The fur on the back of her neck and all along her spine was standing on end. The rabbit up on the N high point of Medicine Mountain had been white, too. You, don’t think?
Mush and David were in the Black Hills on vacation. Before they went back to Indiana, they wanted to hike up Harney Peak(7,242 ft.), the highest mountain in South Dakota. Naturally, Lupe and SPHP were eager to join in on the fun!
It was going to be a hot day, in the 90’s °F out on the western South Dakota prairies. Even Harney Peak would get pretty warm. A relatively early start would help make the trek more pleasant. By 8:00 AM, David was parking the Honda Fit near Sylvan Lake Lodge. The morning was totally clear, calm, and a still pleasant 60°F.
Harney Peak is located in the Black Elk Wilderness, which features a fairly extensive trail system. The most popular, and one of the shortest routes up Harney Peak, is Trail No. 9 from Sylvan Lake. The trail starts at the SE corner of Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park and climbs pretty steadily for most of the 3.5 mile (one way) trek.
Fairly early in the hike, not too long after passing by a junction with Lost Cabin Trail No. 2, there is a flat granite outcropping near Trail No. 9. This granite outcropping offers views off to the N, and a first good look at Harney Peak up ahead.
There were plenty of hikers on the trail on this beautiful, warm early fall day. A small crowd was already at the lookout tower on Harney Peak by the time Mush, David, Lupe and SPHP arrived at the summit. A woman named Vera and her friend, Marsha, took a liking to Lupe right away. Lupe basked in the attention showered on her. Vera and Marsha were here with their husbands Emil and Stan from the Washington D.C. area.
After checking out the views from the tower’s observation deck, and the tiny platform at the top of the steep narrow stairs inside the tower, it was time to make somewhat of an escape from the crowd by heading out onto the massive granite W shoulder of Harney Peak. David relieved Lupe of most of her usual photographic duties.
It was warm and breezy up on Harney Peak. Lupe had fun watching chipmunks, and barking at a helicopter that flew by giving tours. After a leisurely break for snacks and soaking in the views, it was time to go. Mush and David intended to just return to Sylvan Lake by the same route along Trail No. 9. SPHP, however, suggested making a loop past the Cathedral Spires over to Little Devil’s Tower.
Mush and David were a little leery of the idea, especially when SPHP admitted there was a bit of scrambling required to get to the top of Little Devil’s Tower. SPHP assured them the loop wouldn’t add too much time and distance to the return trip, and that the scrambling was pretty easy. With just a bit of caution, there was little or no risk. The views up on Little Devil’s Tower would be worth the effort!
Mush and David agreed to at least try the loop trail, but they weren’t certain about actually scrambling up Little Devil’s Tower. That would depend on what the scramble really looked like up close and personal.
After leaving Harney Peak, Lupe led the way on the loop by leaving Trail No. 9 to follow a short stretch of Norbeck Trail No. 3. Norbeck Trail No. 3 linked up with Trail No. 4 to Little Devil’s Tower. The trail passed near some of the Cathedral Spires along the way.
Taking a short (0.33 mile?) spur trail off Trail No. 4 is necessary to actually reach Little Devil’s Tower. Sometime in the past few years, the spur trail has been re-routed. The new route is shorter, easier, and more scenic than the old route. The spur trail now leaves Trail No. 4 at a high point with a view of the Cathedral Spires to the E. Good signage makes the turn hard to miss.
Most of the spur trail is gently rolling as it passes along the top of a ridge. Nearing Little Devil’s Tower, the trail dips down briefly, and then climbs steeply up a short badly eroding section featuring a lot of loose rocks. Above the loose rocks, the trail levels out at a little pass between large granite formations. A sharp turn to the left reveals a narrow cleft in the granite. The scrambling begins here. White or blue diamonds painted on the granite show the way.
David had no problems, but Mush was rather apprehensive during the scramble. With just a little encouragement, she made it to the top. Although there are some pretty high cliffs off the edge of Little Devil’s Tower, the summit area features fairly large areas that are quite level. Mush was able to relax on Little Devil’s Tower, and seemed glad she’d made the trip up.
Shortly after Lupe reached the summit, Lupe’s new friends Vera, Marsha, Stan and Emil appeared on Little Devil’s Tower, too! Lupe got more loving attention, and had a good time posing with them.
Mush had relaxed so much up on Little Devil’s Tower, that by the time she was on the way down, she was busy pointing out the route and encouraging others who were still on their way up. The side trip to Little Devil’s Tower was a big success. Both Mush and David enjoyed it.
Lupe returned to Trail No. 4 using the same spur trail. From there, Mush, David, Lupe and SPHP all continued on Trail No. 4 toward the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead on Hwy 87/89. This was an easy downhill hike through a scenic valley all the way.
Lupe was disappointed that the little creek near the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead was dried up this time of year. However, it was only another 0.25 mile or so from the Little Devil’s Tower trailhead to the picnic ground at Sylvan Lake.
Used to Indiana elevations, Mush and David were pretty tired by the time they reached Sylvan Lake again. It was hot out. Mush and David went wading at the Sylvan Lake beach. Carolina Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, so Lupe and SPHP hung out along a nearby stretch of shoreline. A bright orange stand of grassy reeds by the shore made for a colorful shot of the lake.
When Mush and David were done wading at the beach, everyone continued N on the Lakeshore Trail along the E side of Sylvan Lake. Mush went down close to the shore again when the area near the dam came into view. Here it was OK for Lupe to go wading and get a drink. Lupe was happy to take her turn cooling her hot paws off.
Lupe, Mush, David, and SPHP continued on the Lakeshore Trail around to the area below the dam N of the lake. From there, Lupe took a very short stretch of the Sunday Gulch trail. By 4:40 PM, Lupe was back at the Honda Fit.
Everyone agreed that the loop to Little Devil’s Tower on the return trip had been a really nice scenic addition to the hike up Harney Peak. It really hadn’t added that much distance or difficulty to the day, although it did add some time spent up on Little Devil’s Tower. Lupe’s Black Hills, SD Expedition No. 97 had been a success!