Saturday, July 31, 2010

Highpoint: North Dakota. White Butte (3506 ft). July 21, 2010

2 miles roundtrip.

What to say about North Dakota.

Well, let me start in South Dakota two nights before, where the girls and I slept in a campground near Mt. Rushmore. A dangerous lightning storm rolled through the area in the middle of the night, and 1am found me dragging the girls out of their sound slumber and into the relative safety of our car. We spent the remainder of our sleeping hours huddled within the narrow confines of our Honda Civic and covering our ears as the thunder boomed all around us.

By the time we arrived in North Dakota the following afternoon, I was ready for a good glass of wine and some serious shut-eye. The forecast once again called for lightning, so I thought I'd book a motel. However, to my dismay, all lodging throughout the entire western half of North Dakota -- from city to fledgling town -- was completely booked not only for that night, but for most of the summer. Turns out there are a lot of oil workers up there...and they stay in the region for the entire season, completely filling all hotels and motels. At 9pm, the girls and I finally settled for a tiny campground out in the middle of a flat plain -- it was the only place that had availability.

Though the forecast called for clear skies that night, I brought my NOAA weather radio into our tent, just in case. Sure enough, I awakened in the wee hours of the morning to the vision of lightning streaking across the plain. The storm was too far in the distance to hear, but I had a hunch it was headed our way. The radio informed me that the storm was 15 miles to the south, but that the north was clear. As the storm approached, I dragged the girls from the tent, secured the rainfly and stakes, and took off in the car. We drove 55 miles away from the storm in the middle of the night...I eventually stopped, turned around, and watched as the severe system beat the crap out of the piece of land which housed our campground. When I came back for the tent, two hours later, it had been yanked from the stakes and tossed across a field. Miraculously, everything inside of it was dry -- as I hurriedly packed everything up, a new storm brewed to our east. As soon as the last piece of gear was in the car, the girls and I fled north once again.

At 10am we were 5 miles from White Butte, our car facing the dirt road that led to the trail. Yet another storm had come and gone, and another giant dark cloud was, according to my NOAA radio, 40 miles away and slowly approaching.

The girls and I decided to take advantage of the present window of relatively blue sky. The entire week called for storms off and on -- we were sick of lightning and wanted to bag this baby and leave this part of the country already.

We drove to the base of the Butte...

...and started along the trail. Our plan was to ascend and descend as fast as safely possible and be well on our way before the next storm hit. The girls and I set off at a jog, with me in the lead to watch for rattlesnakes (we never saw any).

Sage laughed all the way up. She was hiking in her pajamas (why not) and bouncing along like a happy chipmunk.

After an initial jaunt in the wrong direction, toward the white part of the Butte, the three of us found the faint trail leading toward the summit.

It didn't take us long to reach the top, perhaps 20 minutes tops.

Views into stormy North Dakota...

Those clouds were indeed heading our way, so we didn't linger. Back down we went.

Thankfully, we made it east without experiencing any more electrical storms.

Next stop: Iowa.

No comments: