Lupe was late, a whole week late, but it wasn’t her fault. She’d spent the last several days of 2017 in the Denver area visiting babies Felix and Owen, and having adventures with cousin Dusty. The weather had been frigid, anyway, in the Black Hills. It was still 5 below zero when Lupe returned home on New Year’s Eve 2017, and that was the high on New Year’s Day 2018.
Loop had climbed Peak6046 for the first time on New Year’s Eve 2012 way back when she was barely 2 years old. Since then, returning near the end of each year or the beginning of the next, had evolved into a tradition. As far as the American Dingo and SPHP were concerned, Peak 6046 had become New Year’s Eve Peak(6,046 ft.). Now, even though Lupe was a week late, returning to New Year’s Eve Peak seemed like a must for her first Black Hills, SD Expedition of 2018.
It’s odd that it would matter, but this year felt a bit different due to the later date. SPHP decided to shake things up a bit. Lupe would take a slightly different route from her favorite one in recent years. Instead of following USFS Road No. 710 W up a valley N of Peak 5800, Lupe would start by climbing Peak 5800 instead. She’d only been on Peak 5800 once before. She’d climbed the mountain from the W after visiting New Year’s Eve Peak first on New Year’s Day 2016.
Lupe didn’t care what route SPHP wanted to try. The Carolina Dog was just glad that it was finally warm enough to go out on an expedition in the hills! So instead of taking USFS Road No. 710, SPHP had her skip the road entirely and head SW straight for Peak 5800.
Despite the recent bitter cold temperatures, this part of the Black Hills hadn’t received much snow so far this winter. Several inches blanketed the NE slopes of Peak 5800, but that was only half as much as Lupe was used to seeing in this area in recent years.
Without any definite route in mind, Lupe and SPHP wandered up the mountain. Peak 5800 has two NE ridges. Looper soon chanced upon on the one farthest S, which ultimately leads to the lower SE part of the big main summit ridge. The Carolina Dog was in snowy forest most of the way up. As she got higher, she started coming to rock formations, some of which provided decent viewpoints.
Lupe reached the top of Peak 5800’s long, broad summit ridge near a high point close to its SE end. This high point wasn’t the true summit, which was still some distance to the NW. Since the broad ridge isn’t heavily forested, Loop already enjoyed some rather nice panoramas.
After a look around from the SE end of the summit ridge, Looper sniffed her way NW to the true summit. An easy 10 minute stroll and she was there.
The sweeping views from Peak 5800 were actually grander than what Lupe would see from New Year’s Eve Peak, but Loop was still going on. A chilly W breeze encouraged her not to linger too long at Peak 5800’s summit. She left it heading W, and was soon picking her way down through boulders on the mountain’s W face.
Once below the boulder field, Lupe and SPHP headed NW across rolling fields and hills. This is a favorite area. A fire had burned the forest here years ago. Young pines now dot the landscape in some places, but most of the terrain is grassy. Sharp rock formations exist scattered along the edge of high ground overlooking territory that slopes S down toward the Horse Creek valley.
Approaching High Point 5917 from the SE, Lupe rejoined her usual route to New Year’s Eve Peak. She turned W staying S of High Point 5917, and crossed a saddle leading to the SE end of New Year’s Eve Peak’s S ridge. On the W side of the saddle she faced two steep snowy climbs in succession. Neither was particularly long, but the first one was both longest and steepest.
Looper reached Pistol Point, a traditional stopping point on the way to New Year’s Eve Peak. SPHP had named it Pistol Point after a large rock that looks like the handle of a big pistol jutting up out of the ground. The Carolina Dog could see the top of New Year’s Eve Peak(6,046 ft.) from here.
After climbing around on the rocks checking out the views from Pistol Point, Lupe headed W. She was already on New Year’s Eve Peak’s S ridge, which soon swept around to the N. The ridge became narrower, rockier, and more heavily forested as Lupe continued on, before finally widening out again upon reaching New Year’s Eve Peak’s upper S slope.
A few more minutes and Lupe was there, standing atop the boulder at the summit of New Year’s Eve Peak(6,046 ft.).
The first two times Lupe had climbed New Year’s Eve Peak, the summit area had all been heavily forested. It had been hard to get much more than a glimpse of a view in any direction. New Year’s Eve Peak used to have a shady, dark, gloomy feel to it, an atmosphere which fit in with being here alone at the end of a dying year.
Sometime during 2015, loggers had come. When Lupe had arrived on New Year’s Day 2016, the S end of the summit area and part of the S slope below it had been cleared. Lots of slash and dead logs had been left to stumble around upon. The affected area was relatively small, but the logging created good, open views to the S and SE. Ever since then, the summit has been brighter and cheerier.
Somehow Lupe and SPHP preferred it the old way, yet that didn’t mean there was any reason not to take a look around.
A chilly 20 mph W wind was blowing. It had been 40°F when Lupe and SPHP left the G6 this morning. It didn’t feel like the day had warmed up a bit since then. Lupe and SPHP sat huddled together at the W edge of the summit facing the cold wind, pondering the beautiful winter scene, the passage of 2017, and start of 2018.
Lupe munched on Taste of the Wild. She had been eating snow, and didn’t want any water. SPHP hadn’t brought anything else.
It’s funny what the mind is capable of. Every other time Loop had been here, the mood had been melancholy, especially when she’d been here right on New Year’s Eve. There was something psychologically depressing about watching the sun sink toward the horizon, and the light of day disappear for the last time on a year that had been part of the unknown future not so long ago. A year now rapidly passing away never to be seen or experienced again.
The years when Loop had been here on New Year’s Day instead of right on New Year’s Eve, some of that sadness still lingered. However, it was already being counterbalanced to a degree by the hope, brilliance and excitement of the new year just beginning.
Perhaps it was partially because Lupe was here earlier in the day today than on previous years, while the sun was still relatively high in the sky. As the Carolina Dog and SPHP sat facing the cold wind, it no longer felt possible to truly mourn the passing of 2017. Surprisingly, with only 2% of 2018 now history, the new year no longer seemed quite as completely bright and shiny as it had been a week ago, either. The mind had already made the adjustment and moved on.
It only felt cold. And like Lupe really had arrived late. Not terribly late, but late. It was good to be here, though, together again, on top of New Year’s Eve Peak peering out at the quiet, familiar wintry scene last gazed upon a little more than a year ago. Loopster’s 2018 adventures were now underway. That was a good thing. 2017 had been a fabulous year, and 2018 was still a 98% clean slate with many adventures to come. Her annual pilgrimage to New Year’s Eve Peak complete, Lupe was ready to press on.
Puppy ho! She was right, no sense sitting in the cold wind too long. Lupe returned briefly to the summit boulder.
Even though this year’s experience wasn’t quite the same, coming here today had been better late than never. Lupe and SPHP bid farewell to New Year’s Eve Peak, promising to return again, hopefully right when New Year’s Eve finally rolled around again many adventures from now. Then Lupe led the way down the mountain’s S slope to retrace her route along the S ridge back to Pistol Point.
It felt good to be moving again. Lower down the W wind was demoted to a mere breeze. The slanting afternoon sunlight highlighted details of the terrain. Growing shadows added contrast. All the way back to the G6, Lupe ran and played in a beautiful world. 2018 was finally off to a good start! (3:42 PM, 33 °F)
Start: 9:20 AM, 36°F at the Boulder Hill trailhead of Flume Trail No. 50 on USFS Road No. 358 (Boulder Hill Road)
Going to Boulder Hill with Mark and Hillary on Expedition No. 219 had reminded SPHP that while Lupe had been to Boulder Hill half a dozen times, she had never been to nearby Storm Hill. Wasn’t it about time she went?
Of course, Lupe was in favor of any idea that would get her out of the house for another Black Hills adventure! Soon she was setting out for Storm Hill(5,192 ft.) from the same Boulder Hill trailhead of Flume Trail No. 50 where she had so recently been with Mark and Hillary.
For the first 0.33 mile, Lupe followed Flume Trail No. 50. The trail went SE up to a saddle between Boulder Hill and Storm Hill. With only an inch of snow on the ground, Lupe could have run around exploring easily enough. Instead, she nervously stuck close to SPHP. Distant gunfire could be heard coming from somewhere off to the W. Someone was doing target practice.
At the saddle, Lupe was between Boulder Hill to the SW, and Storm Hill to the NE. A spur of Flume Trail No. 50 goes all the way up to the top of Boulder Hill, but there isn’t any trail going up Storm Hill. Lupe would have to bushwhack through the forest.
Carolina Dogs love bushwhacking! Despite the distant gunfire, Lupe grew bolder after leaving the Flume Trail. She followed the saddle NE over to Storm Hill. She was going away from the gunfire, which helped her confidence.
Upon reaching the SW slope of Storm Hill, Lupe traveled right on up a rocky spine of the mountain. The climb would have been easier if she had simply avoided the rocks. However, she did get glimpses of Boulder Hill from the rocks she wouldn’t have otherwise had.
The SW spine of the mountain topped out near the S end of a broader ridge. This broader ridge was also quite rocky, but wasn’t as steep. Lupe gained elevation more slowly as she followed it N. To the E, Loop could see little but forest. However, she did come across places where she had views off to the SW or W.
The summit of Storm Hill was close to the N end of the broad ridge. A fairly large summit area, perhaps 30 or 40 feet in circumference, was the highest part of the mountain. Pine trees obscured the views in some directions. However, Lupe enjoyed a panoramic view to the N and NE from the top of small cliffs.
By moving around the summit area, Lupe found at least partial views in other directions.
Storm Hill has a double summit. Two widely separated areas contained within 5,160 foot contours are on the topo map. Lupe was at the W high point where a site elevation of 5,192 feet was shown. SPHP presumed this was the true summit of Storm Hill. It was hard to get much of a look at the E high point, but there was a spot from which it could be seen.
The E high point was a long, skinny ridge. It was steeper and more rugged-looking territory. The highest parts of the E ridge appeared to be about as high as where Lupe was, but SPHP was pretty certain they weren’t any higher. Satisfied that Lupe had actually reached the true summit of Storm Hill, SPHP didn’t make her spend the extra hour it might have taken to visit the E ridge, too.
Lupe returned to the true summit of Storm Hill, before taking a little break. Meanwhile, SPHP took a few more photos of the views.
Lupe spent 20 minutes enjoying the summit of Storm Hill before moving on. The Carolina Dog started back retracing her route S along the broad ridge. She soon left the ridge, however, veering SW to explore easier terrain in the forest below. She reached Flume Trail No. 50 again well N of the saddle where she’d originally left it.
By 11:06 AM (42°F), Loop was back at the G6. Storm Hill had been fun, but had taken her less than 2 hours. Plenty of time left in the day for more adventures! SPHP drove S. Lupe had fun barking at cows, horses, and eventually even some buffalo.At 1:52 PM (41°F), SPHP parked the G6 at the mouth of a grassy valley N of USFS Road No. 336 (Flynn Creek Road) less than a mile S of Northeast Cicero Peak(6,240 ft.). Lupe had been to Northeast Cicero Peak twice before, but her most recent ascent was now more than 2.75 years ago. For fun, she would try a new route up.
Lupe started out climbing NW up a thickly forested ridge on the W side of the grassy valley. She eventually emerged from the trees. An open hilltop was only a short distance away. Loop went to the top for a look around. She was a little S of High Point 5821. Cicero Peak(6,166 ft.) was in view not quite a mile to the SW.
Continuing onward, Lupe skirted High Point 5821 to the NE. The partially forested slope was so steep, she might just as easily have gone to the top of High Point 5821, but she didn’t. Upon reaching the saddle N of High Point 5821, the American Dingo turned N. She climbed a mostly open slope up to a high grassy area with a commanding view.
From the high grassy area, Lupe headed NE gaining elevation at a slower pace. Most of this part of her climb was in a forest containing scattered lumpy rock outcroppings. In the shade of the pines, snow was several inches deep.
The final approach to the summit from the WSW was a gentle climb up a grassy slope. A N/S running rock ledge only 2 or 3 feet high was at the top of the mountain. A lone boulder sat a short distance beyond the ledge. That boulder, which appeared to be slightly higher than the ledge, was the true summit of Northeast Cicero Peak(6,240 ft.).
The summit area was large and grassy. A few pines along the N edge blocked views to the NW, while a dense forest hid views to the S and SE. In other directions, Lupe could see big swaths of the Black Hills. The most interesting views were of higher country to the N.
A cool W breeze blew. A low, weary sun, partially obscured by a bank of clouds, dangled listlessly above the horizon. Northeast Cicero Peak felt forlorn, sad. Mid-afternoon, but it felt late. Late in the day. Late in the year. Winter solstice was only 3 days away. Christmas soon after that. A week later, 2017 would be over. Another year gone forever. A depressing thought.
Neither Lupe nor SPHP knew it yet, but Northeast Cicero Peak was the last mountain Lupe would climb in 2017.
Northeast Cicero Peak was the highest mountain this far S in the Black Hills. The views were impressive. Yet the somber mood of the mountain made SPHP restless after only 10 minutes on top. Maybe action would add some cheer? Lupe set off into the forest, intent on exploring the mountain’s S ridge on the way down.
The S ridge wasn’t a very good route. It was full of obstacles. Dense stands of young pines, slick snowy spots, rough rock outcroppings, deadfall timber, all the usual rigamarole except fences to deal with. Not much in the way of views as compensation, either. For what seemed like a long way, the Carolina Dog didn’t lose much elevation.
Lupe finally came to a rare open spot in the forest where the going was easier. Beyond it, the descent began in earnest.
Once the descent really got going, it was one steep slope after another. Lupe avoided rocky areas as much as possible, which became progressively easier the lower she went. She eventually turned SW, ultimately reaching the floor of the valley W of the S ridge. Here, the American Dingo found a faint road leading back to the G6 (4:08 PM, 36°F).
The last of 33 Black Hills, SD Expeditions in 2017 was over.
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Start: 12:24 PM, 58°F at the intersection of Song Dog Road & USFS Road No. 373
Lupe hopped out of the G6. 20 expeditions and almost 8 months ago, she had come here to climb the Twin Sisters Range High Point(4,980 ft.). She’d made it to the top easily enough, but when she’d gone farther E to explore more of the area, the buzz of an unseen rattlesnake had put a quick end to that notion.
Even though it was an incredibly warm day for December, rattlesnakes weren’t likely to be stirring now. Lupe should be able to do all the exploring she wanted to today. The Carolina Dog started out heading E on USFS Road No. 373.
A mile from the G6, Lupe left the road and started the short, but steep climb up a SW slope to the W end of the Twin Sisters Range. Despite a few brief stops for SPHP to catch breath, Looper was soon at the top.
A dangerous, rusty barbed wire fence was laying on the ground. SPHP made certain Lupe didn’t get into it. A 20 mph wind blew out of the NW. Normally, it would have been frigid here in December with a wind like that. Today, though, it was so warm out the wind was only a nuisance.
Much of this area had burned in a forest fire years ago. As a result, Lupe had sweeping views of barren, forlorn vistas. Dull, dry, dead grass covering the land did little to add any cheer.
The actual high point of the Twin Sisters Range was still another 0.25 mile E. After enjoying the views from the W end of the ridge, Lupe and SPHP set off for the cairn at the summit.
The stroll to the summit was easy. Lupe had great views the whole time from the open ridge. It wasn’t long before Loop was at the summit cairn. Of course, the NW wind was blowing here, too. Not enjoying the wind, Lupe stayed only long enough at the summit for photos by the cairn, and a fairly quick look at the sights.
Loop and SPHP left the Twin Sisters Range High Point continuing E down to a lower part of the ridge. Loop regained some lost elevation climbing up to High Point 4872. High Point 4872 was windy, too, but Lupe paused briefly for a few photos.
At High Point 4872, Lupe was already well beyond where she’d been back in April on Expedition No. 199. The topo map showed another lower hill a mile off to the SE known as Elk Knob(4,752 ft.).
Elk Knob became Lupe’s next objective. She started down High Point 4872’s S slope, and was quite happy when she finally reached a valley where the wind was barely stirring.
The trip up Elk Knob was easy. Lupe first went to a saddle N of the hill, then followed the N slope up. The hill was heavily forested, until she got near the top. Lupe liked being in the forest on Elk Knob a lot better than on the bare, windy Twin Sisters Range ridge. She had a good time racing around sniffing and exploring.
The summit of Elk Knob proved to be a big, flat grassy area rimmed with pines. The pines were dense toward the N, but more sparse elsewhere. For a fairly low hill in this area, Elk Knob had some pretty good views. The wind wasn’t too bad, either, except near the more exposed W end.
Lupe took a break on Elk Knob. The usual water and Taste of the Wild, with an apple for SPHP. Then it was time for more exploring. Loop went NE down off Elk Knob, before turning E and SE. She wandered along several dirt roads. Only one had a sign, which said she was on USFS Road No. 373.1D.
The Carolina Dog ventured down into a fairly deep canyon. She followed a faint remnant of a road at the bottom, but it eventually ended. Loop climbed up the NE side of the canyon, and reached a ridge she took SE. The sun was getting low by the time she reached a big fence. This had to be the fence along the W side of Wind Cave National Park.
The fence was as far E as Lupe could go. It was getting late enough so she needed to start back anyway. On her return trip she avoided the canyon by staying farther N. She eventually passed back over the saddle N of Elk Knob heading NW.
The sun wasn’t quite down yet as Lupe neared the Twin Sisters Range again. Why not return to the summit? Well, there was the wind, for one thing. It wasn’t bad at all down here, but was still blowing up there. However, seeing the sunset from a mountaintop seemed more important. Up Lupe went.
The last bit of the sun was disappearing behind High Point 5017 when Lupe reached the Twin Sisters Range High Point(4,980 ft.) again. The sky was almost completely clear, with only a few small clouds to the W. With so few clouds, the sunset never really got a chance to develop into anything special.
For a little while, Lupe and SPHP sat together in the wind on the barren, forlorn mountaintop, watching the light fade until hopes for a colorful sky died old and gray. Time to go.
Being on the move again felt good. It was fun picking a way down the steep rocky slope, and marching across a field back to the road. Next came a mile of shared silence and solitude beneath a darkening sky. At the G6, a few stars glittered above. Water, a little more Taste of the Wild, and Lupe was homeward bound. (5:03 PM, 46°F)
A mile N of Hazelrodt picnic ground, SPHP parked the G6 off USFS Road No. 341 at a pullout by French Creek (10:28 AM, 50°F). Lupe leapt out. She ran down to the creek for a look. Even though the last 3 weeks of November had been very warm and dry, the edge of the stream was rimmed with ice.
Mt. Coolidge(6,023 ft.) was Lupe’s peakbagging goal for Expedition No. 218. She’d been there once before, but it had been a very long time ago. Lupe had only been 15 months old when she’d climbed Mt. Coolidge for the first time way back on Expedition No. 13.
Today Lupe was trying a new route. She would explore the mountain’s SW ridge. The Carolina Dog started out traveling ENE on the S side of French Creek. At first, she was in a forest of large pines that had been thinned out. This was easy ground, but didn’t last long. Soon Loop was leaving French Creek and the large pines behind.
The climb up the SW ridge began in earnest on a steep slope crowded with young pines. After gaining close to 150 feet of elevation, Lupe reached a small rocky ridge. Off to the SW, she could see the NE face of Northeast Cicero Peak(6,240 ft.).
Beyond this first small ridge, Lupe passed through a forest of larger pines again. She emerged from the forest at the edge of a big meadow. Ahead was a sparsely forested hill.
Looper headed for the hill. When she reached the top, she got her first look at Mount Coolidge ahead. Behind her, the view of Northeast Cicero Peak was better than before.
Lupe turned E following a ridgeline. Much of the area had burned at some point, which opened up views in various directions.
The irregular ridge wound E and N. Lupe came to a succession of high points, each one higher than the last. The high points were separated by shallow saddles where Looper lost a bit of elevation, but she always regained it quickly.
It was too bad this was such an overcast day. A little blue sky and sunlight would have made some of the views far more striking.
Lupe had a good time sniffing and exploring. She was making progress, too. Each time Mt. Coolidge came into view, she was closer than before.
After more than a mile on the winding, partially burnt ridge, Lupe finally reached the end of the burn area. The last couple of high points she came to were far more heavily forested. On one slope, spindly dog hair pines grew so thickly, it was slow going trying to force a way through.
After passing through the dog hair pine forest, Lupe arrived at the bottom of the deepest saddle of her whole trek to Mt. Coolidge. She came across a dirt road here, but followed it only a little way. She left the road to start the longest, steepest part of the climb up Mount Coolidge. The forest had been thinned here, and the slope was full of leftover slash.
Near the top of the long slope, the slash gave way to jumbled rocks. The rocks were easier to deal.
The rocky part led to a larger rock outcropping at the SW end of a nearly level ridge. Loop was now so close to Mt. Coolidge that she could see the road that leads to the lookout tower on top.
Loop headed for the access road. Once she reached it, she stayed on it the rest of the way. It circled around to the N clear over to the opposite side of Mt. Coolidge. Lupe ended up approaching the summit from the NE, even though she had spent nearly all her time coming up the SW ridge.
The access road is closed this time of year. There wasn’t a soul around when Lupe and SPHP reached the top of Mount Coolidge(6,023 ft.). The first thing Loop did was check out the lookout tower.
Lupe went up to the observation deck. A sign said no Dingoes allowed. Hmmph! Loop didn’t stay long before retreating, since that’s the way they wanted to be about it.
Lupe and SPHP went over to the NW side of the summit area. Some of the highest territory in the Black Hills was in sight. After a few photos, it was time for a break.
Lupe drank some water, then curled up on the ground next to her silver bowl. She ate a little Taste of the Wild, but not too much. There hadn’t been much of a breeze at all on the way up, but now a chilly wind blew out of the SW, moaning in the trees and antenna wires. In solitude, Lupe and SPHP gazed out across the hills.
Lupe was last here 205 Expeditions ago. More than 5.5 years had gone by. The first time she’d come, Loop was still basically a puppy. SPHP sat petting Lupe, stroking her soft fur. Her birthday was coming soon. Not long afterwards, 2017 would draw to a close. Time marches on. Best not to think about it too much.
C’mon, Looper! Guess we’ve seen what there is to see up here today. Too bad the sun didn’t come out. Mt. Coolidge is a sweet viewpoint, but the light just isn’t what it might have been. All our photos are kind of faded and washed out. I feel kind of the same way for some reason.
Loop was ready. One more photo before going, then the Carolina Dog took off down the mountain. She went SW, skipping most of the winding route the access road takes, and headed directly for the SW ridge.
It felt good to be on the move again. Going back down Mt. Coolidge’s long SW ridge with all its ups and downs, twists and turns, was fun. Lupe had a blast sniffing and investigating whatever caught her attention.
The G6 was only 2 miles away. SPHP was surprised at how late it was when Lupe got back (3:37 PM). Less than 1.5 hours of daylight remained. Still time enough to do a little something, but not what SPHP had originally intended.
Half an hour’s ride in the G6 brought Lupe to a trailhead (4:11 PM, 52°F). The sky had finally started clearing off, but sunset was imminent. As light faded, Lupe enjoyed a mile long trek. At first she followed a creek, but most of the way was over a rolling prairie with views. Clouds brightened, then darkened again as the sun abandoned the Black Hills.
Loop reached a minor high point, only a small hill, but a peakbagging goal nonetheless. By now it was so dark, the flash had to be used. No dawdling! This was it for Expedition No. 218. Lupe turned and started back. SPHP hurried, trying to keep up, as the Carolina Dog headed for home (5:23 PM).
Note: Most visitors to Mt. Coolidge drive to the summit on a wide, gravel access road which originates along Hwy 87 in Custer State Park. The access road is closed during the off-season.
That Brian Kalet! He does get around. Lupe’s 2017 had started off with visits to a number of southern Black Hills peaks Brian had added to the Peakbagger.com data base in the spring of 2016. SPHP hadn’t noticed until months later that about the same time Lupe was climbing in the southern hills, Brian had been visiting even more peaks along the NE edge of the Black Hills and adding them to the database, too.
So Lupe’s 2017 was going to end more or less the way it began, on the cold trail of Brian Kalet’s footsteps.
Loop had already been to one of the NE Brian Kalet peaks when she visited Peak3950 near Sturgis a couple of weeks ago on Expedition No. 215. Today she would tackle two more near Whitewood. SPHP parked the G6 at Whitewood City Park (9:18 AM, 47°F).
Looper set off in search of Peak4400 about 1.5 miles to the SW. She crossed a ravine, then started up a forested hill. She soon came to a dirt road, and followed it higher to a better one.
The better road took Lupe SW up to a level area where there was a big meadow. Loop was close to High Point 4238 on the topo map. Everything was going fine until Lupe heard gunfire. Hunters? The gunfire originated from somewhere off to the W, but sounded quite far off.
Lupe hates gunfire or explosions of any sort no matter how faint or far away. She was instantly a nervous wreck and wanted to forget all about Peak 4400. When the gunfire continued sporadically every few minutes, SPHP was certain it wasn’t from hunters. Someone must be doing some target practice. SPHP persuaded Lupe to continue, though she had lost all her enthusiasm. She slunk along, staying close to SPHP.
A maze of minor dirt roads went through the forest. Eventually, SPHP figured Lupe must be getting close to Peak 4400, and stopped to consult the topo map. Suddenly a man appeared, walking straight toward Lupe through the woods.
The man hailed SPHP. It turned out he was an employee of a company that leases 2,500 acres in this area. He said this was all private property, not national forest land. He was out with his young son checking cameras set up to monitor wildlife. Lupe was right next to one. The gunfire was indeed coming from a shooting range not terribly far NW of here.
The man was friendly, but insisted on taking Lupe and SPHP in his ATV winding N through the forest to a road that led out of the leased acreage down a valley to the E. He and his son then roared away in the ATV.
Well, shucks. Lupe started down the road to the E. She hadn’t made it to the top of Peak 4400. She hadn’t been too far SE of it either, from what SPHP had been seeing on the topo map. Now she was 0.5 mile N of it. Decisions. Maybe it wasn’t the thing to do, but Loopster was already here. This was the one and only time she would ever be, given the situation. Lupe and SPHP left the road, heading S through the forest.
It didn’t take long for the American Dingo to reach a hilltop that looked like it might be the summit of Peak 4400. This was just a high spot in the forest devoid of views, but Lupe posed on a tree stump for a couple of photos anyway.
Lupe had scarcely left the hilltop when she caught a glimpse of Bear Butte(4,433 ft.) through a small opening in the trees.
The topo map showed quite a large area inside the 4,400 foot contour on Peak4400. In fact, there were two such areas 0.25 mile apart. Lupe was in the N one now, which was where Brian Kalet had placed the true summit without further comment.
Maybe Lupe should look around here a bit more, just to make sure she’d reached the actual high point in the N contour? She could then go check out the terrain in the S contour. It wouldn’t take long.
A short search of the N contour area did show a higher point than where Lupe had been on the tree stump. The true summit was actually a little farther SW, near the W edge of the mountain.
Satisfied that she’d reached the true summit of Peak 4400, because SPHP congratulated her and told her so, Loop was surprised to learn that she still had to visit a S 4,400 foot contour before she would be completely done with Peak 4400. However, she was glad to head off in that direction, because it meant getting farther away from the sporadic gunfire still heard coming from the shooting range.
Off Lupe went, heading SE. She reached the saddle leading to the S 4,400 foot contour, and crossed it. Soon she was at the S edge of the mountain, where the terrain dropped away rather sharply. Peak 4400’s S summit was nearby, close to a fence on a section line.
The S summit didn’t have much of a view, but shortly before reaching it Lupe had gotten a good look at Crook Mountain(4,930 ft.), and her next objective, Peak4240.
Well, Lupe had done it. She had been to the true summit of Peak 4400. Whether the N or S summit had been highest was uncertain. Due to the forest, they couldn’t be seen from one another. Brian Kalet had picked the N summit as the highest. Both Loop and SPHP were happy enough to go along with that choice, right or wrong.
In any case, Lupe had been to both the N and S summits. Better skedaddle, and leave Peak 4400 once and for all! Going clear back to the road to the N that the nice man had shown SPHP as being the best route out of here would have been the long way around now. Instead, Loop returned to Whitewood on a route pretty similar to the way she’d come up.
Once back at the G6 (12:33 PM, 65°F), Lupe and SPHP left Whitewood driving SW on Crook City Road. SPHP parked the G6 again near the start of Oakbrook Road (12:45 PM). Lupe’s next peakbagging goal, the summit of Peak4240, was scarcely 0.25 mile SE of here. Loop and SPHP took a stroll down Oakbrook Road looking for a way up.
At the W end of Peak 4240, an ATV trail left Oakbrook Road heading E up the narrow ridge straight for the summit. Perfect!
The ATV trail started out in pine forest climbing steadily. Soon Lupe came to a line of small S facing cliffs. The ATV trail stayed a little N of them. The cliff tops provided progressively better views, as the Carolina Dog journeyed up the hill.
The short climb didn’t take Lupe long. Soon she was at the top of the mountain. As she’d seen from Peak 4400, the top of Peak 4240 was mostly bare. The forest didn’t extend quite all the way to the summit. Even though Peak4240 wasn’t as high as nearby surrounding hills, the views were pretty decent.
It was fun to see so many mountains Lupe had been to before from Peak 4240! She lingered, admiring the views. Loopster couldn’t stay too long, though, if she wanted to climb another mountain today. After a Taste of the Wild snack, the Carolina Dog was ready to move on.
The last mountain Lupe would be climbing today wasn’t a Brian Kalet peak. Lookout Peak(4,478 ft.) had been added to the Peakbagger.com data base a long time ago by Doug Melton, another prolific peakbagger. Lookout Peak is the dominant mountain E of I-90 at Spearfish, SD. When Lupe got back to the G6 (1:29 PM), SPHP drove her to Spearfish.
Late November, yet it was an amazing 72°F when SPHP parked the G6 at a little park at the S end of Saddle Horn Drive (1:57 PM). Lupe hopped out. Very few of her mountain ascents had ever started in a town, but this one was going to. Lupe and SPHP strolled 0.5 block N on Saddle Horn Drive, before turning W on Branding Iron Drive.
SPHP had no idea what the situation was on access to Lookout Peak, but on the way in from the SE had seen a road zigzagging up the mountain’s S slope above a residential subdivision. There were towers on Lookout Peak, so there must be a way up somewhere. Loop wasn’t far from that zigzagging road now. Would it really be as easy as simply sauntering through the neighborhood to get to it?
Branding Iron Drive curved SW. Loop took a R on Pony Express Lane. Ahead, at the upper end of this short street, a dirt road curved L out of sight. Most promising! When Lupe got to the end of the street, a sign showed that this was the access road to Lookout Mountain Park. The sign listed a few simple rules, none prohibiting Dingoes.
And it was as easy as that! Lupe trotted up Lookout Peak’s S slope on the zigzagging road. The road brought Loop to a forested high point ESE of the summit. From there, it continued across a saddle to the base of the summit knob.
At the base of the summit knob, a trail left the road going right on up to the top. The trail was rocky and a bit scrambly, but short. In minutes, Lupe was approaching the towers at Lookout Peak’s summit.
The area right around the true summit was crowded with towers and buildings. Approaching from the E, the summit had appeared like a big knob, but once Lupe was on top, she could see it was more elongated and ridge-like toward the W. The terrain sloped down in that direction, yet looked like it might be the best place to check out the views.
Lupe trotted W past the true summit to see what she would find.
Lupe came to exposed ledges of large flat rocks at the far WNW end of the summit ridge. Although at the low point of the entire summit area, the ledges provided some of the finest views from Lookout Peak.
On the way back to the G6, Lupe stopped by the true summit for a photo. Then it was all downhill from here. Some of the views on the way down were really nice, too.
While Loop had been up at the summit, she’d had the whole mountain to herself. Apparently, this was just a lucky fluke, at least on a gorgeous day like today. On the way down, she started meeting lots of people and dogs coming up. Lupe enjoyed all the sniffing that went on. She wagged her curly tail at the little dogs, and growled at the big ones.
The sun was still up, when Lupe got back to the G6 (3:34 PM, 62°F). Loop and SPHP spent the remaining hour of daylight driving around scoping out Peak 4433, another Brian Kalet peak of interest in the area. Perhaps someday Lupe will return to climb it, too. But that will be another Black Hills, SD Expedition and a different adventure.
Want more Lupe adventures? Check out her Black Hills, SD & WY Expeditions Adventure Index, Master Adventure Index, or subscribe free to new Lupe adventures!
Lucky Dingo! Expedition No. 216 was going to have two parts. Mark and Hillary were in the Black Hills! Their time was limited, but they could spend a few hours hiking with Lupe and SPHP. Boulder Hill(5,331 ft.) would be a good destination. A trail goes all the way to the rocky top, and the summit offers some pretty nice views for moderate effort.
Loop and the gang arrived at the Boulder Hill trailhead of Flume Trail No. 50 before noon. Everyone hit the trail, heading SE through a Ponderosa pine forest which had been greatly thinned since the last time Lupe and SPHP were here. Only 0.33 mile from the trailhead, a saddle was reached between Boulder Hill and Storm Hill to the NE.
Beyond the saddle, a spur off Flume Trail No. 50 followed a dirt road S. The spur soon left the road, leading around the S side of Boulder Hill to the SW. Although Boulder Hill was only 0.5 mile S of the trailhead where Lupe had started, by the time she had circled around to the SW base of the rocky summit ridge, the Carolina Dog had already gone more than 0.75 mile.
The fun part of the climb was all that was left now! The trail leading up the ridge wound around among the rocks, passing near numerous viewpoints along the way.
The trek to the top only took 5 or 10 minutes, plus a little time spent checking out views along the way. Although this was Lupe’s 6th ascent of Boulder Hill, Mark and Hillary had never been here before. They both seemed pretty happy with the interesting hike up, and the views available from the summit.
Of course, Lupe and SPHP never tire of seeing the world from a nice high point like Boulder Hill. Having Mark and Hillary’s company was a big added bonus!
Boulder Hill has two separate summit areas. They are practically right next to each other, and of about equal height. Naturally, Lupe, Mark, Hillary & SPHP visited both. It was only about 40°F and a chilly breeze was blowing, so the stay on top of the mountain was fairly brief. Soon everyone started down again.
Lower down, on part of the ridge better protected from the breeze, everyone stopped to relax and have a longer look around. Mark & Hillary had brought sandwiches. SPHP had apples and chocolate chip cookies. Lupe had Taste of the Wild.
Surprisingly, it turned out that Lupe wasn’t the only Carolina Dog conducting tours of Boulder Hill today. Another Carolina Dog named Legos appeared! Legos was snappily dressed, and leading a man and a girl up the trail. In an odd coincidence, it turned out Mark and Hillary had met the man at a store only yesterday.
Legos eventually led his party on up the trail. Mark and Hillary needed to get going, too. They had a social engagement this evening, and would return home to Colorado tomorrow. Except for the return trip to the trailhead, Lupe’s trip to Boulder Hill was over.
Lupe had enjoyed the outing, and SPHP really had fun visiting with Mark and Hillary. They’d had a good time, too, and felt Boulder Hill had been a great choice for the amount of time they’d had available.
The next morning the lucky Dingo was back in action, again! Things were back to normal. Just Loop and SPHP set out on Deerfield Trail No. 40 going up Rapid Creek from Silver City (10:13 AM, 41°F).
Lupe has been on this section of the Deerfield Trail many times. In fact, she first came here in January, 2012 on both Black Hills, SD Expeditions No. 1 & No. 2. In a sense, this was where her life of adventures began. SPHP had a new peakbagging destination in mind for her today, but the first part of the journey along Rapid Creek, was familiar territory.
Lupe had a great time exploring the forests alongside the trail. She was mainly looking for squirrels to bark at. She found a few, which made her very happy. She checked out the views along Rapid Creek. She visited an old abandoned horizontal mining shaft which she ventures into every time she comes this way. The shaft is only 20 or 25 feet long, but would make a great Dingo shelter in wet weather.
Deerfield Trail No. 40 is a beautiful, easy trek along Rapid Creek. After she’d gone about 2 miles, though, Lupe was getting close to the Canyon City area where she would leave the trail.
No town or much of anything else is at Canyon City these days. It’s only a spot along the trail, and a point on the map. About 0.25 mile before she got there, Lupe left Deerfield Trail No. 40 and Rapid Creek behind. She turned N following a path up Kelly Gulch.
Kelly Gulch was the start of Lupe’s search for her peakbagging goal for the day, the summit of Tunnel Ridge(5,905 ft.). Loop wasn’t in Kelly Gulch very long, though. After only 0.2 mile, she came to a little parking area. Two roads left this point. The better road continued on up Kelly Gulch. Lupe took USFS Road No. 142.1D up Spurgeon Gulch instead.
Lupe had gained very little elevation down along Rapid Creek. She gained some coming up Kelly Gulch. Her climb really began in earnest, though, here in Spurgeon Gulch. The Carolina Dog gained elevation steadily now. She came to an unmarked intersection where a side road turned W, but she continued straight ahead. USFS Road No. 142.1D, if that’s what it still was, deteriorated and steepened.
After going 0.75 mile up Spurgeon Gulch, Lupe arrived at a saddle in a small grassy open area where the road reached a “T” intersection. Some heavily forested hills could be seen from here. They weren’t far away, and the terrain seemed confusing. SPHP wasn’t certain which way Lupe should go.
Loop needed to work her way N, but straight N went down into another deep ravine. Staying on the roads, she had her choice of NE or W. The American Dingo tried the road going NE first. This road climbed gradually and seemed promising, but it soon turned R wrapping around a hillside until the position of the sun told SPHP that Loop was going S.
Going S wasn’t going to work at all. Lupe had a decent view of the hills nearby. It didn’t look like there was any way this road could turn N without losing a bunch of elevation.
Loop turned around and returned to the saddle. Time to try the road going W. Almost immediately, it angled NW and started gaining elevation steadily. Promising once again, but Lupe hadn’t gotten too far before she reached a bend where this road curved sharply around to the S, too. Hmm. What now?
At the bend, the ravine the road had been climbing continued NW. Lupe could see a stand of large brown-barked Ponderosa pines on a slope below rock outcroppings. Why not keep going that way? It seemed like the best option. Lupe left the road, continuing NW up the ravine.
Loop only had to follow the ravine a little way before she appeared to be approaching the upper end of it. She turned N, scrambling up between the rock formations to reach a small ridge. On the other side, not very far below her, Loop saw another road heading NW. That was promising! Lupe worked her way down to the road and followed it.
Loopster was still gaining elevation, though more slowly than before. Eventually this new road joined another one heading NNW, exactly the direction Lupe needed to go.
The road leading NNW gained only a little more elevation before topping out. The terrain ahead was now mostly flat to rolling. Lupe had succeeded in reaching the top of Tunnel Ridge, but exactly what part of it wasn’t clear yet.
Tunnel Ridge(5,905 ft.) is roughly 3 miles long N/S, and as much as 0.50 to 0.75 mile wide E/W. It was all forested, so it was hard to see very far ahead. There didn’t seem to be any definite ridge line to follow. Loop was probably only 0.33 to 0.50 of the way from the S end. The true summit was near the N end, which meant it was probably 1.5 to 2 miles N of Lupe’s position.
The road eventually bent NW and started going downhill. By now, Lupe had seen occasional glimpses of higher ground perhaps a mile or more to the NNW. Trying not to lose elevation, Lupe left the road traveling N through a level forest, hoping this area would connect somehow with the higher ground she’d seen in the distance.
Instead, Loop eventually found that the terrain dropped off rather steeply. This was a dead end. She had to return to the road. This happened once more, a little farther on. The road went NW downhill again, and Lupe made another foray off the road. She climbed N toward a high point, but on the other side, the terrain dropped steeply.
From the high point, Lupe went NW down a long slope, rejoining the road again at a gate near a saddle. At the saddle was a “T” intersection with another road passing E/W over the mountain. No road continued N from here, but the land sloped up, so Lupe left the road a third time.
Lupe was only partway up when she saw the high point to the N again. She was definitely getting closer.
By now, SPHP was confident Lupe was closing in on the summit of Tunnel Ridge. The topo map showed 4 separate areas enclosed within 5,880 foot contours. The central contour enclosing the most area contained a site elevation of 5,905 feet, which was likely the true summit. On the way there, Lupe explored the SW 5,880 foot contour, which contained the 2nd largest amount of territory.
The terrain within the SW 5,880 foot contour was pretty flat, but Lupe found a spot with a view toward Black Elk Peak(7,231 ft.).
From the SW high point, Lupe headed for the true summit. As she got close, she reached yet another unmarked road.
A short trek on this latest road led Lupe gradually up to a flat area which had to be the true summit. No views, really. The summit of Tunnel Ridge(5,905 ft.) was just another slightly higher spot in the woods.
Partly to check out another small area enclosed within a 5,880 ft. contour, and partly just to see what was there, Lupe left the true summit to explore a broad ridge to the SE. Loop went all the way to the end. The terrain was all lower than where she’d just been.
There wasn’t anything much different to see on the SE ridge, so Lupe returned to the true summit. On the way, she posed on a mighty, massive rock outcropping.
It was only mid-afternoon, but the sun was already low in the sky. The G6 was 5+ miles away. Loop needed to get going. There wasn’t much reason to hang around the summit, anyway. On the way back, Lupe retraced virtually the exact same route she’d taken to Tunnel Ridge, minus some of the unnecessary forays that led to dead ends in the forest.
Looper’s journey to Tunnel Ridge had been a peakbagging success. She’d made it up onto the ridge and found the true summit. Of course, other than the pretty spots down along Rapid Creek, she hadn’t really come to much in the way of views. Due to the forest, Tunnel Ridge didn’t have much to offer in the way of scenic rewards.
Yet the journey to Tunnel Ridge had been a good day. The maze of unmarked roads and promising routes that led nowhere had been confusing, but solving the puzzle was a fun challenge. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed unbroken peace and solitude from start to finish. And now a previously unknown part of the map was at least partially explored.
Just being on the move, exploring and sharing this cool day outdoors in the pine forest, made Lupe’s journey to Tunnel Ridge another adventure worth remembering (5:14 PM, 35°F).
Start – Fort Meade National Cemetery near Sturgis, 8:46 AM, 35°F
Lupe arrived at Fort Meade National Cemetery the day after Veteran’s Day. The cemetery was officially closed this time of year. Loop wouldn’t have gone in even if it wasn’t. Some might consider an American Dingo prancing around a cemetery disrespectful, even though she wouldn’t have done any harm.
Lupe was actually here to visit a few peaks near Sturgis she’d never been to before. Once SPHP was ready, she crossed the road W of the cemetery, and started climbing along a ridgeline through a pine forest. She didn’t have far to go before reaching a broad meadow of tall grass.
In the meadow, Loop happened upon a dirt road that curved SW. She followed it higher back up into the forest. A huge dead tree had fallen over the road, blocking it completely. From the trunk of the dead tree, Lupe could see Bear Butte(4,422 ft.) off to the NE rising dramatically from the surrounding prairie.
The road climbed steadily through the forest. Before long, though, the terrain began to level out. The forest became more open and park-like, and the road curved NW.
Off to the SW, it looked like there might be views from the edge of the mountain. Lupe left the road to explore in that direction. Several deer fled as she approached the edge. Loop had a nice view of the valley S of Sturgis.
Peak3950 was Lupe’s destination. The summit was only 0.5 mile NW from here. Lupe traveled NW near the sharp SW edge of the mountain. At first, the terrain was level or rolling. The American Dingo had her choice of staying in the pine forest or out on another tall grass meadow, and did some of both. Bear Butte was still in view from the meadow.
In the meadow, Loop came upon the road again. She followed it NW back into the forest, gaining elevation at a moderate pace. Lupe stayed on the road until she was close to Peak 3950’s summit. The final part of the climb was an easy romp through the woods.
Peak 3950’s summit area was large and relatively level. The highest part was near the N end. No single point stood out as the exact location of the true summit, but Lupe was satisfied. Climbing Peak3950 had been easy and fun.
At the top of Peak 3950, trees hid the views in most directions. However, along the edge of the steep W slope, Lupe found rock outcroppings from which she could see the town of Sturgis.
Lupe could also see her next two peakbagging objectives. Oyster Mountain and Sly Hill were both in sight to the NW.
Names, dates, and initials had been carved into the rocks Lupe was standing on. One rock S of the summit area even had a whole phrase carved into it.
Lupe lingered on Peak 3950 for a little while, but didn’t stay terribly long. She still had more peakbagging to do. After sniffing around some and enjoying the views, it was time to head back to the G6.
Once Loop made it back to the G6 (10:41 AM), SPHP drove into Sturgis looking for a way to Oyster Mountain or Sly Hill. A mile NW of town, a road went N over a saddle on the ridge connecting the two mountains. A mile beyond the saddle, SPHP parked the G6 again (11:10 AM, 49°F).
Lupe got out ready to climb Oyster Mountain’s NE ridge. At first, she was in a mixed oak and pine forest, but she didn’t have far to go before reaching a meadow. Bear Butte was once again in view.
Just like on Peak 3950, Lupe found a dirt road in the meadow which took her higher and back into the forest. Loop followed this road SW most of the way up Oyster Mountain’s NE ridge. Sometimes she had glimpses of views along the way, but usually there were too many trees to see much of anything.
The road eventually reached a saddle. Loop would start losing elevation if she stayed on the road, so she left it. She headed W, still climbing steadily.
Before long, the Carolina Dog arrived at the top of a small hill. Maybe this was Oyster Mountain’s summit? SPHP wasn’t certain. The topo map had been forgotten in the G6.
Lupe continued W from the small hill, and soon reached a slightly higher hill. A ridge nearly the same height was in view to the SW across a small valley. The valley drained toward a depression to the W.
SPHP remembered the topo map had shown a depression close to Oyster Mountain’s true summit. Loop ought to be able to find the summit by crossing the valley, then following the ridge on the other side.
So that’s what she did. When Lupe made it up onto the ridge, she could see I-90 in the valley below on the other side.
Lupe followed the ridge WNW. The terrain was nearly level for a little way, but soon Loop saw slightly higher ground ahead. The summit had to be over there.
Shortly before reaching the top of Oyster Mountain(4,040 ft.), Loop came to a sparsely forested sunny hillside. Snow was visible on Terry Peak(7,064 ft.) on the far horizon. Closer by, Lupe had a nice view of heavily forested Crook Mountain(4,930 ft.).
Oyster Mountain’s summit proved to be a relatively narrow, 150 foot long, flat ridge. Forest blocked any views. Minor rock outcroppings that didn’t amount to much were on the S side near the far W end.
Loopster took her only Taste of the Wild break of the day up on Oyster Mountain. The shady summit ridge was a pleasant place. Traffic noise from I-90 only partially marred the sense of isolation.
On the way back to the G6, Lupe stopped by the sunny slope E of the summit again for a final look. She then left the ridgeline, cutting down to the depression in the small valley. The depression was bone dry now, but looked like a seasonal pond forms here during wet periods.
After leaving the depression, the American Dingo retraced her route up all the rest of the way down. Lupe had fun running and sniffing around, but it was only 1.25 miles back to the G6. It didn’t take her all that long to get there. (1:09 PM)
Loop still had one more peak to climb near Sturgis. SPHP drove to the saddle between Oyster Mountain and Sly Hill, parking near a fence surrounding a “rubble site” (1:16 PM, 52°F). A sign nearby indicated Dingoes might not be entirely welcome on Sly Hill, the top of which was only 0.5 mile to the SE. Hmmm.
American Dingoes can be quite foxy, and the name of her objective was Sly Hill, after all. Lupe wouldn’t hurt a thing. Off she went, slinking through the forest. It didn’t take her long to reach a wide flat meadow rimmed with pines. The topo map showed this area as the true summit of Sly Hill(3,920 ft.).
The topo map showed another high point on Sly Hill only 0.25 mile to the SE. High Point 3917 was supposed to be almost as high as the official summit. Maybe Lupe should go on over there to check it out while she was still in the area? It seemed like the thing to do.
Off Lupe went. She lost a bit of elevation exploring a narrower part of the ridge that forms Sly Hill. Soon Loop was approaching High Point 3917, a far smaller area that came to much more of a definite peak than the official summit. She caught a glimpse of Bear Butte as she began the short climb.
Climbing High Point 3917 was easy. Lupe got up on the top rocks at the foot of a big pine tree. Up until now, SPHP hadn’t been totally certain where Lupe was on Sly Hill, but the views from here confirmed her position. Parts of Sturgis could be seen, though trees obscured some of the town.
Lupe’s exploration of Sly Hill was now complete, except for one thing. On the way to the official summit shown on the topo map, Lupe had passed N of some high ground that seemed like it might actually have been higher than the official summit.
So Lupe returned to Sly Hill’s official summit, then proceeded W looking for the high ground she’d bypassed earlier. She climbed a heavily forested narrow ridge. The official summit could not be seen from here, but SPHP would have bet money that this high point to the W was actually the true summit of Sly Hill.
Lupe had done about all there was to do up on Sly Hill. The Carolina Dog left the W high point (and likely true summit) traveling NW along the ridgeline. This proved to be the most rugged terrain she’d come to on Sly Hill. She went by several interesting rock formations on the way down.
The Sly Dingo of Sly Hill made it back to the G6 without incident (2:34 PM). At least a couple of hours of daylight remained. With visions of Lupe making one more peakbagging attempt at yet another modest, seldom-visited hill, SPHP drove Lupe to the Whitewood area. She even got close to Spearfish. However, she had no luck at any other hills or mountains.
So Sly Hill was Lupe’s final peakbagging success of Expedition No. 215. That didn’t bother the Carolina Dog at all. She didn’t mind riding around barking at deer, cattle and horses at all! She had a blast the whole time, yipping and yapping until it was way too dark to see.
October 21st dawned bright and breezy, the air exceptionally crisp and clear. Puffy white clouds sailed the blue sky. SPHP knew instantly that cancelling had been a mistake, but nothing could be done about it. Yes, this was a breezy day, but nothing approaching the forecast 40+ mph wind gusts would ever materialize.
Lupe’s opportunity to meet new friends had been rescheduled. November 4th arrived, and she was finally on her way! What a day this was, though! Heavily overcast, dark and cold. Only a couple of days ago, the forecast had looked fine. Now this! Again too late to do anything about it. Expedition No. 214 was on, come what may!
At 7:59 AM, with exactly one minute to spare, Lupe arrived at the Latchstring Inn at Savoy in Spearfish Canyon. No sign of Rizzo, Buddy & Josh, yet. No worries, they’d be here soon enough. In the meantime, Lupe went over to take a look at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.
Looper also had time to check out Little Spearfish Creek.
Rizzo, Buddy & Josh soon arrived. Rizzo and Buddy were so excited about going on an expedition, they weren’t about to hold still for a group photo. Lupe and her new friend, Josh, posed together, though.
The date wasn’t the only thing that had changed for this first outing together. Only a couple of days ago, Plan A’s chosen destination had fallen through. A major disappointment at the time, but now clearly a good thing given the weather.
Josh had expressed interest in any routes Lupe knew of up into the country E of Spearfish Canyon. On prior expeditions Lupe had explored two such routes. Plan B was that Loop would take Rizzo, Buddy and Josh on one of them. Two specific destinations became Expedition No. 214’s objectives – Elk Mountain(6,422 ft.) and the cliffs overlooking Savoy.
Lupe’s route to Elk Mountain started at Annie Creek Road near Elmore, 4 miles up Spearfish Canyon from Savoy. The weather remained cold and heavily overcast, even a bit foggy, but everyone was in good spirits as the trek began. (8:36 AM, 32°F)
Annie Creek Road went N for 0.75 mile. Upon reaching the side canyon Annie Creek flows down, it turned NE for another 0.75 mile. The snowy road was an easy romp, being nearly level this whole way. It was a good place for everyone to become acquainted.
Lupe wasn’t used to having so much company, but the dogs all got along just fine. Buddy and Rizzo were adventure dogs, too! In fact, Rizzo and Josh have been enjoying their own weekly adventures in the Black Hills even longer than Lupe and SPHP. Buddy wasn’t as experienced in the adventuring business, having only recently joined the Hilpert family. However, it was clear he was relishing his good fortune.
The first big decision came at an intersection 1.5 miles from the start. The only time Lupe had been to Elk Mountain before was nearly 1.5 years ago. Back then, she had taken the road to the L, which went W back to Spearfish Canyon before turning NW. The road stayed level, but ultimately came to two places where old bridges had collapsed. Lupe had made it past the first resulting gap, but not the second. In the end, she’d had to climb a very steep slope, though once on top, this had ultimately proven to be a good direct route to Elk Mountain.
The other option was take the road to the R, which went NE up the Annie Creek valley. Last time, looking for a shortcut back to the G6 late in the day, Lupe had gone down a different steep slope that had brought her into this valley. SPHP remembered it had looked like Lupe could have followed roads all the way down, if she had been willing to take a somewhat longer route.
It was cold and damp. Ice and snow might make hillsides treacherous. It seemed best to avoid the steep climb up from the road to the L. The decision was made to turn R, following the road up Annie Creek valley.
Another intersection was reached only 0.25 mile farther on. Rizzo and Buddy crossed Annie Creek for a brief exploratory foray on a side road going SE up Lost Camp Gulch. That wasn’t the way to Elk Mountain, though, so they quickly returned.
Lupe and SPHP had never been this far up Annie Creek before, but it seemed reasonable to continue on the road following the creek a little farther before looking for a way up onto higher ground to the N. Rizzo, Buddy and Josh had never been here before either, so they simply tagged along.
The road following Annie Creek headed NE, beginning to gain significant elevation above the stream on the way. Eventually a minor side road appeared on the L. It went N up a steep, forested slope. N was the right direction, so the side road seemed like a good way to reach higher ground quickly.
After a steep climb, the side road leveled out as expected. The forest was pretty foggy up here.
Elk Mountain couldn’t have been much more than 1.5 miles to the NW as the crow flies from here. Due to the fog, though, the mountain wasn’t in sight. No other landmarks more than a couple hundred feet away could be seen, either. As long as Lupe kept heading N or NW, though, SPHP was confident she would eventually find the mountain.
The minor road eventually faded and curved off in the wrong direction. Lupe and SPHP led everyone N or NW, traversing snowy slopes. The terrain was more convoluted here than where Lupe had been on her first visit to Elk Mountain. Lupe tried to keep gaining elevation, but often she had to lose some. She finally came to a big fence.
Reaching the fence was encouraging! Beyond it were extensive gold mining operations. Lupe had seen them before. She had followed this fence N on her first trip to Elk Mountain. She hadn’t had to follow it more than 0.25 mile before she’d seen a big pond inside the fence. If the American Dingo could find that pond again today, SPHP was certain of the rest of the route to Elk Mountain.
Everyone trudged NW along the fence. The terrain went up and down, but eventually seemed to be going more down than up. On and on, much farther than Lupe had followed the fence the first time. SPHP had expected it to be farther coming this way, but quite a bit of time went by. The pond didn’t materialize. By now it was so foggy Lupe might not even be able to see it.
Why hadn’t the pond appeared? Had the Carolina Dog passed it in the fog? Could it really be this far? Josh and SPHP stopped to consult the topo map and discuss things. The problem was, the topo map SPHP had was old. The mining operations, which had altered a great deal of terrain, were newer and not shown on the map. SPHP knew the mine was SE of Elk Mountain, but only had a general idea of how far SE.
Consulting the map without being able to see some landmark shown on it, was no help. Even more disturbing, it turned out that Josh and SPHP had completely different ideas on what direction Lupe had been going! Knowing the truth about that was sort of important. Critical, one might say.
15 or 20 feet beyond the fence, a mine worker was standing on a knoll. He was busy watching or directing someone else operating a truck or other equipment that could be heard, but wasn’t in sight from outside the fence. Josh suggested asking him where this spot was on the map. Sure, why not?
The miner was friendly, and glad to be of service. He said this was the Wharf Mine. No doubt that was true. Other than that, he was a wealth of misinformation. Before even looking at the topo map, he volunteered that Lupe and company were somewhere between Foley Mountain(6,640 ft.) and Terry Peak(7,064 ft.).
What!? Impossible! If true, Lupe had been going in completely the wrong direction for a long time. Another glance at the map convinced SPHP that couldn’t possibly be right. Lupe would have had to take the road up Lost Camp Gulch to be anywhere close to the area between Foley Mountain and Terry Peak. Rizzo and Buddy had started up that road, but that hadn’t been where everyone had ultimately headed.
Josh and SPHP showed the miner the topo map. He ultimately pointed out a different area ESE of Elk Mountain, and said that was where this place was. That didn’t seem right either, but it wasn’t outlandish. Lupe might not be too far S of there. If so, that was good news.
Nearby, a road headed away from the fence. The miner said to follow it to get to Elk Mountain. Worth a shot, maybe. After thanking the miner for his assistance, everyone took the unmarked road.
The snowy road was fairly level. The forest was foggier than ever. Away from the fence, all sense of direction, accurate or not, was lost. Rizzo, Buddy, Lupe, Josh & SPHP arrived at a fork in the road. Which way? The road to the L led to a hill. The road to the R was level or losing elevation gradually as it disappeared into the fog.
On the vast majority of mountains, the summit is kept at the top. SPHP suggested taking the L fork going up the hill. If Lupe was anywhere on the slopes of Elk Mountain, going up would eventually get everyone to the summit.
The hill proved to be a small one. The road soon leveled out. It began curving to the L, then disappeared beneath a pile of deadfall. In every direction, the terrain sloped down. Gah! SPHP thought higher ground was visible in a small opening between trees off to the R, then became convinced it might only have been fog.
Josh had a compass! He’d mentioned it before. SPHP was completely turned around, so when Josh mentioned the compass again, suddenly it seemed to be the crucial missing link. Was the compass accurate? Josh was convinced it was. According to the compass, this road up the hill had been going W before turning SW.
No one was going to get to Elk Mountain going SW! SPHP still believed the mountain was NW from here, but NW was down a slope. Lupe and SPHP led everyone N off the road, into the forest. The terrain to the N lost elevation, too, but more slowly than going NW would have. It wasn’t long before Lupe was gaining elevation again. SPHP found a road! Yes!
No! Josh had the temerity to point out this was the very same road that had just been left behind. Really? Yeah, really. There were the fresh foot and paw prints. Proof positive. Good grief! Better go back to the fork and try the road to the R. Josh headed off in the wrong direction. Everyone arrived again at the place where the road turned SW and disappeared under the deadfall. Company halt! About face, and march!
Back once again at the fork, the road to the R was the next subject of exploration. After 5 or 10 minutes, a long straight section was reached that stretched ahead as far as could be seen into the foggy forest. What direction was that? Josh checked the compass. The road went W.
This wasn’t going to work either. SPHP was convinced Lupe was still too far S. Going a long way W would only bring everyone to cliffs at Spearfish Canyon. A lot of time was being chewed up wandering all these roads. Best to go back to the fence at the mine, and keep following it as before. If that didn’t work, Expedition No. 214 was doomed to failure. Sad, but true.
The terrain went down at first, as Lupe followed the fence. This didn’t seem right, but she hadn’t gone far when suddenly, there was the pond! It was faintly visible in the fog beyond the fence. Confusion vanished. Lupe was going to get Rizzo, Buddy and Josh to the top of Elk Mountain after all! Puppies, ho! Onward!
After crossing shallow McKinley Gulch, a rough road was reached. This road went NE to an intersection near the upper end of the gulch. A much better road ran E/W here. W was now the way to go! Still unseen, Elk Mountain was only 0.5 mile away.
The road W soon arrived at another fork. Lupe took the L branch going SW. She followed it looking for one more turn, a driveway on the R. Found it! Gaining elevation all the way, the driveway headed W to the S side of Elk Mountain, then curled all the way around to the mountain’s E and then N slopes.
It was only early November, but the top of Elk Mountain was a winter wonderland! Snow, frost, cold and fog. It could have been January, the way things looked and felt.
Due to the fog, the success of the whole expedition had been in doubt for hours, but everyone made it to the top of Elk Mountain(6,422 ft.).
Of course, all views from Elk Mountain on this glorious day were hidden in the fog. Right on the summit, though, was a sight that brought cheer to the whole group. Lupe and SPHP had known it was here, but it was a complete and welcome surprise to Rizzo, Buddy & Josh.
At the top of the mountain is a small octagonal structure with 7 windows and a little door. It appears to be a child’s playhouse. Nothing of significance was inside. Hundreds, maybe thousands of dead flies covered the carpeted floor. On this cold, snowy day, that didn’t matter.
The playhouse was unlocked, a little warmer, and much drier than being outdoors. It was just large enough so Rizzo, Buddy, Lupe, Josh & SPHP could all get inside. Everyone got in to rest and warm up a bit. Lupe had water and her usual Taste of the Wild. Rizzo and Buddy tried some Taste of the Wild, too, and found it to their liking.
Josh and SPHP discussed options for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, it had taken so long to find Elk Mountain, there wasn’t going to be much time for extras. The other original objective for the day, going to the cliffs overlooking Savoy, was out. It would take too long to get there, and nothing would be gained from going to a fabulous viewpoint in the fog, anyway.
Ragged Top Mountain(6,200 ft.) was only 1.25 miles NW, but other than peakbagging for peakbagging’s sake, again there didn’t seem to be any point in the fog. The old townsite of Preston was closer, but consists mainly of a single decaying old building. Not too scintillating. It wasn’t enough of an enticement on such a wintery day.
In the end, no other easily attainable objectives nearby came to mind. Days are short in November, and it was already early afternoon. In this weather it would get dark even earlier than normal. Just getting back to the vehicles was going to take hours.
So once everyone had taken a break and warmed up a little in the charming, dead-fly decorated playhouse, it was time for another look around Elk Mountain’s summit before beginning the journey back.
With no views to linger for, final inspection of Elk Mountain’s relatively small summit ridge didn’t take much time. Soon the descent through the mountain’s winter wonderland began.
The first part of the journey back was a simple retracement of the ascent. By the time everyone was S of McKinley Gulch, back at the fence on the W side of the Wharf gold mine again, the fog had lifted to a degree. The pond Lupe had been looking for on the way to Elk Mountain was now in clear sight.
While heading S from the pond not far from the fence, SPHP saw terrain to the SW that looked familiar. Hadn’t Lupe been over there the first time she went to Elk Mountain? Yes! A quick foray in that direction brought the expedition to a road Lupe had been on before.
From here, it was possible to follow a series of unmarked roads S or SE that ultimately led back down to Annie Creek. The clouds had lifted enough to reveal partial views from a few points along the way.
Light was beginning to fade by the time the last intersection 1.5 miles from the vehicles was reached. The rest of the way back was a snap from here. Maybe enough time remained for a little more exploring? SPHP talked Josh into checking out the road Lupe had taken to Elk Mountain the first time.
It was farther along this road to where the first bridge had collapsed than SPHP remembered. After 0.5 mile or more, it was time to forget it and turn around.
In increasing darkness, the march back along Annie Creek Road seemed longer than it had early in the day. The adventure dogs all had a fine time, though, while Josh and SPHP chatted.
There had been plenty of opportunities to visit during the day. It had been fun to compare notes and have wide ranging discussions on peaks, places, and a variety of other topics. Rizzo, Buddy and Lupe had gotten along well together. The weather hadn’t been conducive to enjoying scenery, but had made Expedition No. 214 seem far more mysterious and challenging than it otherwise would have been.
It had been a good day, a fun time for all. Rizzo, Buddy & Josh Hilpert live in Sturgis, SD, so perhaps more adventures are in store with Lupe’s new friends from time to time. It’s something to look forward to!
Start: 8:35 AM, 42°F, at the first pullout SE of USFS Road No. 157 along West Deerfield Road near Castle Creek
A week shot by. The American Dingo was back! The G6 was parked no more than a mile NW of where it had been at the start of Expedition No. 212 only 7 days ago. Back then Lupe had gone N visiting 4 peaks along the E edge of the limestone plateau. Today she would be going mostly W farther into the high country.
A short walk NW along West Deerfield Road brought Loop to the start of USFS Road No. 157. Close to the intersection, a bridge went over Castle Creek. Lupe had started off Expedition No. 212 by checking out Castle Creek. May as well make it a tradition! Before crossing the bridge, Lupe went down near the stream. As always, Castle Creek was looking good!
Returning to No. 157, Lupe crossed the bridge. The road went past a house over to the SW side of the Castle Creek valley, before turning SE for 0.5 mile. Lupe could still see the G6. Beyond it was a forested ridge featuring an impressive limestone cap. This late October morning was cool and bright. Everything was bathed in sunlight. What a beautiful day!
The first part of the plan for the day was to take No. 157 from the Castle Creek valley up into the limestone plateau country. Lupe didn’t start gaining elevation until she was getting close to a big bend where No. 157 makes a nearly 180° turn going around the SE end of a forested ridge. After making the turn, the road climbed steadily heading WNW high on the SW side of the ridge. Private property down in the Silver Creek valley could be seen below.
About 0.33 mile from the big bend, Lupe reached an intersection with USFS Road No. 157.1A. Loop had followed No. 157 up the Silver Creek valley at least a couple of times on previous Black Hills expeditions, but she’d never been on No. 157.1A before. The topo map showed that No. 157.1A stayed higher up near the spine of the ridge, and would eventually feed back into No. 157 again in a couple of miles.
Why not? Exploring a new route is usually fun. Lupe took No. 157.1A.
No. 157.1A went NW for a while. Low juniper bushes provided scattered ground cover beneath a pine forest. The terrain sloped moderately up to the NE. The road stayed within a few hundred feet of the top of the ridge.
Lupe gained a fair amount of elevation. However, the day’s early sunshine seemed to have vanished. It actually seemed colder now than when Lupe had started out. The mood of the day had really changed. Gone was the bright cheerfulness. Suddenly the forest felt quiet, remote, sullen – like late fall of a dying year, with more than a hint of winter.
Lupe might get a decent look at the Castle Creek valley from the top of the ridge, if a place could be found where trees didn’t block the view. As she went on, a few rocks appeared near the ridgeline. Close to one of these rocks a narrow, gray opening could be seen between the pines. Might as well take a look! Lupe sniffed her way through the forest to the top of the ridge.
No wonder the mood had turned grim and chill! Lupe could see Castle Creek valley alright, but the sky was completely overcast. Not a speck of blue anywhere. Mountaintops across the valley were shrouded in fog.
Lupe went NW through the forest a little way, then returned to the road. She reached it near a “Y” intersection. USFS Road No. 157.1C branched off to the N here, going over a small saddle. The maps showed it would eventually dead end.
The American Dingo stuck with No. 157.1A, which headed more W than before. The road climbed more steeply for a little way before leveling out. Lupe had left the edge of Castle Creek valley behind now.
As Loop traveled onward, it appeared as though there were high points off to the SW which might provide a view of Silver Creek valley. She didn’t bother going over there, though. Probably not worth the effort with low clouds and fog around. The Carolina Dog stayed on the road, which wound around still heading W.
Suddenly, Lupe noticed a pickup truck ahead parked on the road. Two men dressed in camouflage were standing near it. Hunters! Lupe and SPHP had to go right by them. Neither looked or acted friendly. The younger one asked SPHP only where Lupe was going, and seemed suspicious of the answer – Crows Nest Peak. Meanwhile, the older man fiddled with a bow and ammunition.
No doubt Crows Nest Peak(7,048 ft.) was an unlikely response. Crows Nest Peak was still miles away. Furthermore, though one of the highest points in the Black Hills, Crows Nest Peak wasn’t much of a peak at all, just a spot in the woods nominally higher than the surrounding terrain. Why would anyone be going there? Wandering alone way out here on a gloomy day like this was probably suspicious enough itself. Crows Nest Peak must have seemed a doubly suspicious and evasive answer.
Lupe went right on by the hunters. SPHP had no intention of stopping to explain. If the hunters were surprised to see Lupe, seeing them had been a surprise, too. Best to avoid any possibility of getting into a quarrel with armed strangers with unfriendly dispositions, especially in such a remote place. These guys were weird – in an unbalanced, slightly threatening way.
That was it, though. Nothing happened. Lupe reached the end of USFS Road No. 157.1A where it met up with No. 157 again. This was familiar territory, although it had been 2 years since Looper had last been here. For more than a mile, she continued WNW on No. 157. She reached a junction with No. 157.1F, which headed N to Fulton Draw.
Lupe didn’t need to go to Fulton Draw. It only led back down to Castle Creek. She stayed on No. 157, which gradually began curving SW. The terrain was flat along in here. Lupe had already gained most of the elevation she would need to on the way to Crows Nest Peak.
More than 0.67 mile beyond No. 157.1F, Lupe reached another junction. An unmarked road branched off to the R. Just beyond this intersection, a barbed wire fence crossed No. 157. Lupe made a short foray along the unmarked road. She came to a place where ice rested in large, muddy ruts at a curve in the road.
Hmm. If Lupe managed to make it to Crows Nest Peak today, it would be her 4th successful ascent. However, she had only reached it once before coming from this general direction. On that occasion, traveling through the forest, Lupe had come to a small pond with cattails.
Was the cattail pond where this road was heading? It seemed likely. SPHP remembered a road near the pond, but Lupe hadn’t taken it. Instead, from the cattail pond she’d followed a barbed wire fence a long way N or NW through the woods. Although Lupe had ultimately made it to Crows Nest Peak, she’d gone a long way through a trackless stretch of forest with no real landmarks. Trying that again in this weather seemed unwise.
Lupe returned to No. 157 and continued past the barbed wire fence. SPHP expected her to reach a road going to Procunter Spring pretty soon, but she didn’t. Odd. After more than 0.5 mile, Lupe reached a “Y”. Only the branch to the R could possibly be the way to Procunter Spring, but even it didn’t seem quite right.
The Carolina Dog had been here before. Loop wasn’t far from Coulsen Hughes Draw. SPHP was certain of that. Yet it had been years since she had been at this exact spot. Being here now in the fog felt like a dream where things look familiar, yet are all jumbled up. Which way?
SPHP checked the map. Somewhere around here, Loop was supposed to leave No. 157 and travel NW staying on high ground. The actual terrain didn’t seem to match up very well with what the map showed, though. Slightly higher ground was back the way Lupe had come to reach this intersection. Maybe it made sense to retrace her route a little before plunging into the forest?
So that’s what Lupe did. She went back to a place where there was a bit of a hill off to the L. Despite misgivings, SPHP then followed her into the trees. In the fog, the forest seemed mysterious, abandoning the road faintly dangerous. The only real landmark Lupe would come to was a huge field 1.5 to 2 miles off to the NW. It might be terribly easy to get turned around and lost before ever getting there.
Lupe hadn’t gone far before there was reason for concern. She’d climbed the small forested hill, but the high ground she was supposed to follow NW from here didn’t seem to exist. Instead, the forest sloped gradually down in every direction. Not far ahead, a meadow could be glimpsed through the trees, which didn’t seem right either. May as well check it out, though.
Lupe reached the edge of the meadow. What she saw was surprising, almost shocking. The meadow was wide and very long, so long the end couldn’t be seen in either direction. It made no sense. How could Lupe have missed this huge meadow on her prior attempts to reach Crows Nest Peak from this direction? It seemed impossible, yet here it was.
Which way? Lupe looked expectantly at SPHP. What was the holdup? SPHP stood staring at the meadow, pondering the view first in one direction, then the other. Not a clue. Everything looked wrong. Nothing made sense. There had to be an explanation, though. What was it?
Confusion vanished. Certainty came flooding back. Oh, yeah, it all made sense now! This long meadow was the NW branch of Coulsen Hughes Draw. Had to be! SPHP had become disoriented in the fog, apparently even before Lupe had left the road. This meadow didn’t run E/W like SPHP initially believed. Lupe had been traveling W, not N, going over the hill. This meadow went N/S.
Lupe turned N, gradually gaining elevation. As expected, the American Dingo soon came to an old wooden sign where the road to Procunter Spring crossed Coulsen Hughes Draw. Whew! Back on track. Simply amazing how easy it had been to get turned around in the fog!
Puppy, ho! Lupe still had a long way to go to get to Crows Nest Peak. At least she knew which way to go now. From the sign, Loop followed No. 157 going NE. When the road curved E, she took a side road heading N through a gap in a fence.
The side road had a lot of deadfall timber on it. Lupe soon left it heading WNW across the upper end of Coulsen Hughes Draw. Moderately higher ground was ahead. Lupe reached the top of a broad forested ridge. This was part of the high ground she had been supposed to take NW, though she was farther W on it than SPHP had intended. No matter, Lupe could get to Crows Nest Peak this way. Onward!
For 0.75 mile, Lupe traveled N or NW on top of the broad ridge. It was still overcast, but not as foggy up here as it had been back at Coulsen Hughes Draw. Lupe ran and sniffed. There was no road or trail to follow. Lupe loved exploring, and things seemed to be going well.
At the N end of the ridge, the terrain began sloping down. Lupe came to another road, which seemed vaguely familiar. Lupe had been here on one of her previous expeditions, hadn’t she? The American Dingo followed the road downhill to the W a short distance, before leaving it to continue N.
Lupe went over a small forested hill, and quickly arrived at the edge of a big field. Yes! Reaching this field meant Loop was less than a mile from Crows Nest Peak.
At the far side of the field, Lupe could see a road heading N into the forest. This might well be USFS Road No. 266. Lupe crossed the field. The road wasn’t marked, but it was going the right way. Loop and SPHP took the road.
After passing through a stretch of forest, what looked like the level top of an earthen dam for a stock pond could be seen off in the woods. Lupe went over to check it out. Sure enough, a small iced-over shallow pond was on the other side. Not 15 feet away, down next to the pond, was the carcass of a deer.
Something alive was feeding on the carcass! An instant after Lupe arrived on the scene, a head turned and fixed a beady yellow eye on her. Unhappy at being disturbed, a huge feathery eagle launched into the sky and flew off. It wasn’t a bald eagle, but the giant bird was still a sight to see. You would have had to been there, though. SPHP was way too slow to get a photo.
From Eagle Pond, the road Lupe was following turned W or WNW. Loopster hadn’t gone too far on it when another road came in from the ENE. A marker showed this was USFS Road No. 377.1B.
Finding No. 377.1B confirmed that Lupe had been following USFS Road No. 266 since crossing the big field. Lupe took the road leading W from the junction. Crows Nest Peak was no more than 0.25 mile away now. In fact, Loop could soon see a hill N of the road. The summit had to be up there.
Even though it was a slightly longer route, the Carolina Dog stuck with the road. When she reached a familiar meadow SW of the summit, she turned N on a spur road that would take her there. The spur is so seldom traveled that it didn’t even seem much like a road anymore. It was more like a single track trail.
The spur road went N climbing a hill before leveling out. A little farther on it curved E. Lupe immediately arrived at the frozen remnant of a tiny pond. She climbed up on a mound of red dirt at the W end. She’d made it to Crows Nest Peak! This wasn’t the official summit, which was still a football field E, but had to be about as high, and was the landmark Lupe always went by.
Lupe had come a long way. Time to claim her peakbagging success! The Carolina Dog left the frozen pond heading E. She crossed a small grassy area. There used to be a road here, but no trace of it remained. At a small opening in the forest maybe 60 or 70 feet back into the trees, Lupe came to a survey stake and benchmark.
This was it! This flat place in the forest entirely lacking views in any direction, a total and complete mockery of its name, was one of the highest spots in the whole Black Hills. Lupe was at the official summit of Crows Nest Peak(7,048 ft.).
It had been a long, and occasionally confusing trek. Lupe and SPHP took a half hour break near the survey marker. Taste of the Wild, water, and an apple. Tiny snowflakes drifted down on a light swirling breeze. The temperature must have been at or below freezing, but the tiny flakes all melted as they hit.
Cold, humid, quiet. SPHP sat on the ground petting Lupe’s soft fur. She liked that. Snowflakes filled the air. It felt again like winter was coming. Hidden in the remote high country, despite the absence of views, Crows Nest Peak was still a magical place.
This foggy, overcast day had been the perfect day to come here. It didn’t matter that there weren’t any views. Lupe wouldn’t have been able to see them anyway, even if there had been some. Her journey here had felt more mysterious and adventurous beneath the close gray sky.
It seemed like Lupe still had plenty of time; she’d gotten off to a fairly early start this morning. Hard to tell for certain, though, without being able to see the sun. It was one thing to wander around in the fog, entirely another to get caught in darkness away from any road on a cold, snowy night. Lupe at least better get back to No. 157 before it got dark.
On the way back, Lupe had many more adventures. Although she was following the same basic route, she varied it enough to explore a fair amount of previously unseen territory along the way. The temperature slowly dropped. It didn’t snow all the time, but it did more and more often. Never too hard, and the snowflakes were never too big.
This seemed to be a big day for discovering frozen ponds. A little E of the ridge Lupe had followed N from Coulsen Hughes Draw earlier, Loop found yet another one in a shallow valley.
A faint road leading S from this pond ultimately proved to be the same one where she’d left USFS Road No. 157 hours ago. This proved that the pond was situated at the far, far N end of Coulsen Hughes Draw.
Upon reaching No. 157 again, Lupe followed it E. She hadn’t gone too far, when she came to a barbed wire fence. Beyond it was the old cattail pond!
The cattail pond was the last pond of the day. No. 157 turned S here, and quickly led Lupe past the muddy ruts with ice in them she had seen before. Another mystery solved!
The Carolina Dog’s explorations were nearly over now. Lupe stuck to No. 157 going E. She passed by No. 157.1F again. She returned to No. 157.1A. The weird hunters were gone. Good!
It snowed harder. In a few places, a little began to stick. A 15 minute off-road foray to a potential viewpoint revealed only snow and fog. OK, that was it. The rest of the way back was all business. Lupe watched, but didn’t even bark at a herd of cows grazing near the junction of USFS Roads No. 157.1A and No. 157.
Lupe hopped into the G6 without hesitation (5:57 PM, 29°F). Moments later, a frigid wind came out of the NW blowing snow much harder than before down Castle Creek valley.
During October, 2017, Lupe had visited many of the highest peaks in the Black Hills along the E edge of the limestone plateau. In most cases she hadn’t been to these peaks in more than 2 years. Expedition No. 213 had been a fun day out, but suddenly it was looking like Crows Nest Peak would be the last the Carolina Dog would see of the high country this year.
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!