SPHP wanted to park the G6 at the start of Tree Draw on the W side of Newton Creek Road (USFS Road No. 304), but there wasn’t any place to park there. Lupe and SPHP had to abandon the G6 at a wide spot along the road about 0.25 mile farther S (11:04 AM, 53°F). Lupe trotted ahead of SPHP on No. 304 back down to Tree Draw.
The side road going W across Newton Creek was marked as ATV trail No. 6918, but SPHP’s old map showed it as USFS Road No. 304.1B. Whatever its proper designation these days, Lupe and SPHP followed it W up Tree Draw.
It was a beautiful, clear, bright morning. Less than 72 hours earlier, on the night of September 10/11, the Black Hills had experienced its earliest measureable snowfall on record. The records went all the way back to 1888. Parts of the Black Hills had received up to 8″ of snow. Lupe, of course, was delighted! She had a blast frolicking in big patches of snow still melting in shady spots.
No. 304.1B went W for 0.5 mile, then turned SSW for another 0.5 mile. The road ended at a barbed wire fence shortly before reaching the top of a saddle along a high ridge. Lupe and SPHP got past the fence, and continued up to the saddle. On the other side of the saddle, a herd of black cows was grazing in the upper reaches of a wide grassy valley.
Lupe’s first peakbagging goal of the day, Peak 6720 was in sight about 0.25 mile to the SSE along the ridgeline. A fair amount of deadfall timber laying across the ridge looked like the only obstacle in the way of an otherwise easy stroll up to the summit.
At the top of Peak 6720, Lupe found 3 separate high points strung out along the ridge. Each high point featured a rocky outcropping. The middle rock outcropping was the true summit, but fewer standing trees made the views better from the N and S high points.
Although the rock formations at the high points weren’t all that large, they were somewhat tricky to navigate. The presence of significant amounts of deadfall timber, and an annoying bumper crop of thistles didn’t help. Lupe and SPHP spent at least half an hour up on Peak 6720. Part of that time was used up just moving around between the high points.
Peak 6720 is the highest point along a long ridge that runs for several miles in a NNW/SSE direction. Although there are a number of other points nearly as high along the ridge, Lupe and SPHP had good views over a wide swath of territory in most directions.
Lupe visited all 3 of the high points on Peak 6720 before heading NW down the mountain into the long valley SSW of the saddle to Tree Draw. Well down the slope, Lupe passed to the N of a tall rock formation, turned SW, and proceeded down to the bottom of the valley.
A dirt road went along the W side of the valley. Black cows were grazing near it, but moved off up the valley as Lupe and SPHP approached.
Lupe and SPHP followed the road, which was probably USFS Road No. 297.3E, going SSW down the valley. SPHP knew there would be more cows ahead, having seen several herds from up on Peak 6720. When the next herd came into view, Lupe and SPHP crossed a tiny stream on the W side of the valley and headed up into the trees.
After going high enough to avoid disturbing the cows while passing by, Lupe and SPHP tried going SSW along the side of the hill. For a while it worked out OK. In fact, it was a rather interesting trek. The hillside had some interesting geology. Very shiny fine-grained rocks and nice specimens of white quartz formed part of the rock formations Lupe came to. There were even some pieces of rose quartz. SPHP wondered what made the shiny rocks so glittery?
The hillside became steeper. A deep, narrow side ravine coming down from the NW blocked Lupe’s way forward. Lupe and SPHP had to go down off the hillside. At the base of the hillside, Lupe found the tiny creek again. However, it wasn’t so tiny as it had been upstream. It still wasn’t all that large, but there was quite a bit of black mucky marshy ground around it.
Finding a way across the marshy creek took a little while, but Lupe and SPHP managed to get across out into the main part of the valley again. The road had disappeared. The valley was full of tall grass and scattered stands of trees. Even though this was all Black Hills National Forest land, Lupe came to several barbed wire fences.
At the lower end of the valley, Lupe found a faint road (a remnant of USFS Road No. 297.3E?) again. It soon led Lupe and SPHP to USFS Road No. 297, a major gravel road. Not too far away, a pond on Negro Creek was on the other side of No. 297. Lupe’s next peakbagging goal, Medicine Mountain (6,878 ft.) could be seen beyond the pond.
To get around some private property (the pond was part of it), Lupe and SPHP followed USFS Road No. 297 S less than 0.25 mile. Lupe then bounded over Negro Creek, and went W across a field to the edge of the forest. A rather striking hill with two big rock outcroppings at the top was back to the SE across No. 297.
Lupe and SPHP started climbing Medicine Mountain from the NNE. There was no road or trail. At first there was quite a bit of deadfall timber to contend with, and the going was slow. About 1/3 of the way up, Lupe came to a meadow. Lupe and SPHP headed W across the meadow, still gaining elevation. At the end of the meadow, Lupe turned S climbing again through the forest.
The mountain got steeper higher up, but fortunately there wasn’t as much deadfall. Medicine Mountain has two high points separated by a large saddle several hundred feet long. The N high point is somewhat lower than the S one. Near the end of the climb, Lupe and SPHP arrived at the base of cliffs at the N end of the N high point.
Lupe and SPHP couldn’t climb the cliffs. A short exploration to the E revealed discouragingly steep terrain littered with deadfall timber. The W side of the mountain looked more encouraging. The cliffs forced Lupe and SPHP to lose some elevation going around to the W, but then there was a place where it might be possible to climb up. Lupe and SPHP managed to scramble up without much difficulty.
Even though the N high point wasn’t the true summit of Medicine Mountain, Lupe was already here. It made sense to explore the N high point first. The views from the cliffs at the very N end were great. An unobstructed 180° panorama was on display. It seemed like a terrific place to take a break. SPHP filled Lupe’s bowl with Taste of the Wild, and then sat down to eat an apple while admiring the scene.
Lupe was too busy to eat her Taste of the Wild. A chipmunk scurrying around on the rocks had her bamboozled, but she remained very interested in its sudden appearances and disappearances. The entertainment went on for several minutes. SPHP wasn’t paying any attention when suddenly Lupe made a low “woof”.
Glancing over at Lupe, SPHP saw that she was standing stock still. She had forgotten all about the chipmunk. Now she was staring intently at some low juniper bushes close to SPHP. The fur on the back of her neck and all along her spine was standing on end.
Lupe didn’t move a muscle. For a couple of minutes she stood staring at the bushes. She made several deep, menacing “woofs”. What the heck was it?! SPHP hardly dared to move. Had Lupe caught wind of a mountain lion? Had it stalked Lupe and SPHP clear to the top of Medicine Mountain? The idea seemed preposterous, but something sure had Lupe’s attention.
Suddenly the menacing creature broke from the juniper bushes making a mad dash. It disappeared in a flash. A white bunny rabbit?! That was the fur-raising threat? Well, no doubt it was for the best that there hadn’t been a mountain lion, but a white bunny rabbit seemed ridiculously disappointing. Couldn’t there at least have been a bobcat or something?
SPHP laughed at Lupe. Seriously, Lupe, a bunny rabbit? I’ve never seen you react that way before to such a harmless creature! What a big, brave American Dingo! You almost had me believing there was a mountain lion or some ferocious predator.
Oh, I see. This is Medicine Mountain and the white bunny was full of bad medicine, right? It really wasn’t what it seemed when it dashed away. Probably transformed by old Indian magic and evil spirits from its true form! SPHP laughed again.
Lupe paid no attention to SPHP’s teasing. She knew what she knew. Lupe gave up on disappearing rabbits and chipmunks. Now that the bunny was gone, she relaxed. Things were back to normal.
Lupe suddenly realized how hungry she was. She devoured her Taste of the Wild. SPHP shared part of an energy bar with her. When Lupe was fueled up again, it was time to go explore the true summit at the S end of Medicine Mountain.
The saddle to the S high point was easily crossed. A faint trail led up to the summit from the NW. The S end of the summit area was grassy and open. Once again, Medicine Mountain provided an unobstructed 180° panorama, this time to the S.
Lupe and SPHP dawdled for more than half an hour on Medicine Mountain. When it was time to go, Lupe took the faint trail NW down to the saddle area. From the saddle, Lupe and SPHP went W down the slope. It was slow going. Deadfall timber lay strewn in every direction. To avoid some of it, Lupe and SPHP turned SW, finally reaching some open ground.
Lupe lost elevation rapidly and came to a road. SPHP led her W across the road to a little hill with a view toward Peak 6680. Peak 6680 was supposed to have been Lupe’s 3rd peakbagging goal of the day. It was only a mile to the WNW, but there was a big valley between here and there. The fields down in the valley would have been easy to cross, but they were private property.
Gunfire started up off to the N. Lupe didn’t want to go anywhere. She wanted to stop and hide. SPHP did stop to pet and reassure her. The sun was starting to get kind of low. OK, Lupe, no more mountains. Let’s get away from the gunfire, instead. Lupe and SPHP went back to the road and followed it SW. The road reached a “T” intersection with another road.
SPHP didn’t know it at the time, but this was USFS Road No. 297.3M. Lupe and SPHP followed No. 297.3M going SE, and then S about 0.75 mile down a long valley. The road then turned E and wound around the S end of a low ridge.
When Lupe reached the main gravel road, SPHP mistakenly assumed she was a little farther S than she really was. SPHP turned N thinking this was County Road No. 317, which Lupe could follow several miles to USFS Road No. 304, and then several more miles back to the G6.
In reality, No. 317 was a little bit farther S. Lupe was actually on No. 297. SPHP kept watching for a turn to the E that never came. It didn’t take too long to figure out what had happened. It was OK. Lupe could just keep going N on No. 297 until she got close to the pond on Negro Creek. Then she could go back up the valley of black cows to the saddle over to Tree Draw.
Along the way, Lupe came to a striking hill to the E of No. 297. It looked similar to the one she had seen just before starting her climb up Medicine Mountain. This one had three big rock outcroppings at the top. SPHP guessed that the two rock outcropping hill must not be much farther N. Pretty soon, Lupe saw the two rock outcropping hill, and then the pond on Negro Creek.
The sun was already down, and the light was fading by the time Lupe had traversed the valley of black cows to reach the saddle to Tree Draw. Lupe and SPHP went over the saddle and followed No. 304.1B back down to Newton Creek Road and the G6 (7:46 PM, 44°F). Stars were shining above. Lupe wanted to linger and sniff the air near the G6. Well, why not? It was a gorgeous evening.
Thirty minutes later, all twilight had faded from the night sky. Myriad stars glittered in the blackness above. Lupe was finally ready to go home. On the drive N along Newton Creek Road back to Deerfield Road, Lupe and SPHP both saw it! A big white animal dashed across the road heading E. It was gone in a flash. A huge white coyote, a ghost coyote!
Lupe’s hackles were up. The fur on the back of her neck and all along her spine was standing on end. The rabbit up on the N high point of Medicine Mountain had been white, too. You, don’t think?
Nah, no way, couldn’t be!