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Is an American Dingo the Black Hills' Herman Melville?

“The (Mostly) True Adventures of Lupe“ duo on Samelius Peak.

Black Hills residents who are avid explorers know far more motorized trails criss-cross the forest than designated hiking trails. Sometimes, on your twentieth-or-so ascent of Black Elk Peak, you start to wonder what else is out there, and how you could get there.

Those thoughts can lead you to search engines, which in turn funnel your wonderment toward websites that may answer your question, along with others you may not have asked.

And if you query often enough about the Black Hills' remote places, especially peaks, you've likely come across the blog called "The (Mostly) True Adventures of Lupe!"

That's because "Adventures" is probably the most encyclopedic pictorial diary of Black Hills peak exploration you'll find anywhere online, with descriptive accounts of hundreds of ascents of nearly every named peak, and many that are only numbered.

Here's the catch about "Adventures" though. Adventures is not a how-to blog. Sure, it's a fine place to find ideas, and it will help get you there, but it's not an informational checklist like, say, (about which, more later). The Adventures is an ongoing story, about a dog — an American Dingo named Lupe, who is inimitably driven to explore the wild places, accompanied by her unseen human helper, SPHP, who is equally driven to document Lupe's travels, in posts the length of a long-form essay, accompanied by dozens, sometimes as many as one hundred pictures, nearly all featuring Lupe.

SPHP is serious about maintaining his anonymity, but agreed to talk to SDPB how the Adventures began, and where they go from here

"I've always liked the outdoors," he says. "I like to just walk. And Lupe loves to roam around. So we just go see what there is, and we write about it. We try to put enough information into where, if you really wanted to figure out where we went and where, you could probably do it with a little looking at the at the maps on peakbagger[.com], that we refer to, and you'd have a pretty good idea of where we were.""

Although SPHP always loved the outdoors, he says he didn't always have the time get out much.

"I didn't have much time off," says SPHP. "It was seven days a week, most weeks. And often 60, 70, 80 hours a week. There just wasn't much time to do anything. I finally quit that job. At that point, I'd had one week off in the previous eight years. So, I was pretty burnt out on it. And Lupe came along right towards the tail end of that thing."

And, though he wasn't sold at first, Lupe would change the trajectory of SPHP's life in ways he hadn't yet imagined.

"The Lupe story begins in December of 2010. She was born in Vail, South Dakota, a few miles north of Bear Butte. My spouse one day, who was teaching school in Newell, came home and said, 'What would you think about having a dog?'

"And I was like, well, we've got an old cat. We were always cat people. Our family always had cats. I love cats, they're beautiful animals, very independent and easy to care for. But I'd never had a dog. I was like, you know, a dog's a lot of work. So I gave my spouse a very long list of good reasons why we shouldn't be getting another pet.

"And I was pretty persuasive I guess, because I heard nothing more about it, until one day: the 11th of February I believe it was, in 2011. As my spouse went out the door to work, the comment was made: 'I'm picking up the puppy tonight.'

"So I wasn't entirely thrilled with this whole thing, but Lupe arrived that evening. I was not real happy with this situation. In fact, I was up on the computer upstairs, and I just stayed up there for a couple hours doing what I was doing, didn't even come down to see Lupe. And then finally, I was like well, guess I'm going to have to some time because the dog is here right. I went down there, downstairs, and my spouse shows me Lupe. And I knew right away, just by looking at her, this dog is meant for adventure. And we were gonna be great buddies."

Anyone who has perused the "Adventures" knows what a truly transformative moment this must have been. SPHP was ready for a change, but didn't yet know what form that change would take. It started with a local hike.

"She had just turned thirteen months old," he recalls. "I took her up into the Black Hills, to the Silver City trailhead of the Deerfield trail, which goes up the Rapid Creek Canyon, very pretty area. And Lupe was just so impressed and so energetic. I thought it was so much fun, I said I'm just going to write a record of all the adventures we do."

For the first couple years, that record was just a private journal on SPHP's computer. Lupe and SPHP were just a man and a dog hiking together in the Hills, nothing out of the ordinary. Then they found a mission.

"In May of 2014," says SPHP, "I ran across a website called"

Peakbagger aptly describes itself as "a resource for summit-focused hikers, climbers and mountain lovers." It's a good site for the details like elevation, lat/long, maps, etcetera — for storytelling, not so much. For Lupe and SPHP, peakbagger provided a long list of achievable outings, right in their own backyard.

"And that got us more focused on climbing to the tops of peaks. We always had done some of that, but once we got into, it showed us a whole bunch of places we could go to in the Black Hills that we'd never been to before, that looked like they might be fun objectives.

"It's home and it's just a great area, part of the country where you can... The mountains are so accessible due to the history of the region with the gold mining rush, and all of the gold mining claims led to a lot of private property being in the Hills. So there are all kinds of roads, and Forest Service roads. So the Hills are very accessible, and the climate is warm enough so that you can, even though we're fairly far North, you can go up into the Hills most any time of year." introduced them to a likeminded community. One peakbagger they met often blogged about her adventures, and that inspired SPHP to take Lupe's Adventures online.

"I decided, well, we could... I could start a blog, for Lupe. And Lupe didn't object, so…"

There are now hundreds of posts on — 254 from the Black Hills alone.

"Lupe has, at the current time, a little over 800 ascents.

"We've gotten to where we mostly do Black Hills peaks during the fall, winter and summer, or fall, winter and spring I should say, then we head off on Lupe's Dingo Vacations going mostly up to Canada and Alaska in the last few years."

The Adventures includes several categories of post — the aforementioned Black Hills Expeditions and Dingo Vacations, as well the Dingo Tales, which documents more ordinary episodes in the life of Lupe.

The inclusion of the Dingo Tales demonstrates that more than anything, this is a blog about Lupe. Yes, it's the most thorough exploration of Black Hills peaks you can find online. Still, the mountains play a supporting role.

You can visit The Adventures to find ideas for expeditions of your own, but it's a different kind of travel blog. It's not highbrow. SPHP might exclaim, "Chili beans!" When it's cold outside. The narrative often weaves between the third person and italicized dialogues between SPHP and Lupe. Numbers are important: dates, times, elevations, mile markers, temperatures. Certain names and words become familiar: their vehicle, a Pontiac G6 is always "the G6," Lupe prefers "Taste of the Wild" brand dog food. Her nicknames include Loop, Loopers, and Loopster, but in the Arctic she often becomes "The Most High Exalted Dingo of the Arctic Sisterhood."

Lupe on Mount Haldane, Yukon Territory. Photo: SPHP.

In this fairly typical passage, Lupe encounters some elk:

"The giant deers warily kept their distance. Lupe had a grand time keeping tabs on them, as she followed them down the slope. Down, down, down! The giant deers kept retreating. Eagerly, the Dingo kept advancing. Meanwhile, SPHP wondered if there actually was a practical way around the West end of the ridge?"

If the Adventures are stylistically simple, they can be epic in length. Posts run as long as five thousand words.

"The blog is a huge time sink," SPHP admits. "But it's been a lot of fun too. Because I have a record of everywhere we've been, and what we've done, what Lupe's seen."

Despite SPHP's prolific output, the Adventures is also an exercise within self-imposed limitations.

"It's kind of a strange blog really," he says. "Because it's about the adventures that Lupe has, and it's about Lupe... primarily.

"I deliberately did not want to be any big focus of the blog. I want it to be about Lupe. Lupe's the one that has gotten me out. Because she's a pretty energetic dingo, and pretty high strung. She needs to be doing something, not just laying around.

"And so, she's really been the one — the driving force. I've always loved hiking and all that, but Lupe's been the one that's made it really go. So I want it to be about Lupe. So the rule kind of became, I'm not going to appear in the blog. I'm mentioned frequently cause I'm always there. And it's a deeply personal thing to me too, because Lupe’s experience is my experience too. But I just thought it was better for me to be in the background and it kind of allows the people, my thought, whoever happens to enjoy it — I can be anybody to them, and they can maybe even better picture themselves being with Lupe and doing the same sort of things.

"So the rule — it's just best that I'm in the shadows — so the rule is I'm not going to appear on the blog, until maybe when the Adventure is over, cause all... you know, there is an end of the trail some day."

As mentioned previously, you may have run across the Adventures while looking for info on a remote place in the Black Hills. Undoubtedly there are other ways you could stumble across Lupe and SPHP online as well. But a deep dive into the Adventures would take a serious time commitment to a blog written from the perspective of a dog. Some may wonder who the intended audience is.

"The audience is limited," SPHP concedes. "You have to like dogs. It'd be great to have an interest in the Black Hills because about half of what we write about is the Black Hills. And then we alternate it with all these other distant locations on the Dingo Vacations. So it's sort of a... you know, it takes a very special person to have a true interest in Lupe's blog.

"The people... I get some comments that people enjoy the serenity of it. Some people like the way I describe the feelings or the sensations that we have as we're going along."

Lupe and SPHP are not mountain climbers. They're not athletes — at most they do some scrambling. They're not social media stars. But they've amassed an impressive wealth of experience together and compiled a Homeric online record of at all. Perhaps the only really important audience is each other.

SPHP's shadow-presence within the record makes it's hard to picture him — well, at all — but even harder to picture him doing these things without Lupe, like the time they climbed Sukakpak Mountain in Alaska.

"We went and climbed it and got up near the top ridge which is quite long. And there was kind of a level area after climbing a steep scree slope. But there was just these huge cliffs, very close by. And from there you go up a little ramp to where you can see the actual summit, and its's quite a distance off to the north yet. And I went up to that ramp and started climbing up there.

"But it became so narrow, and you could not see the huge cliff, that I knew was just a few feet away. And I'm not particularly... I'm scared of heights. And we got up to this little ledge, where it looked like you need to go, I don't know, maybe twelve feet long or so. It was flat, but it was right next to this precipice, and not very wide — a foot or two wide — although it sloped steeply to the other side.

"So you were really on kind of a little walkway there. And I could not see beyond that little ledge. There was a drop-off and I didn't know if it was a huge cliff or what was there and I just kind of freaked out. I mean, there's something about being way up in Alaska. It was the first time we'd ever been there. And you're all by yourself, me and Lupe. And Lupe wasn't bothered by it, but I just got freaked out. And so I went back down to that flat area, which wasn't that far away. Ad we were just going to retreat down the mountain.

"But Sukakpak had been our main objective for that whole Dingo Vacation, it was like, 'oh it would be fun to do Sukakpak.' And we got down to that spot, and I couldn't make myself go down, I couldn't make myself go up. Because I knew if we went down... If we started down, we'd never be back. We'd never come back and Lupe would never get Sukakpak. So after ten minutes of hemming and hawing, we went back up, and just finally stood up at the top, and walked across that ledge, and the drop on the other side was like one foot. You just stepped down, like a step on a stairway, and from there, I could see a trail going all the way along the long scree slop towards the summit. Ad we were so happy, so thrilled! It was just... incredible! Lupe was going to make it to the top of Sukakpak! It was just amazing!

"And we got down to that main trail we could see. And it was awesome. It was two thousand feet down on this slope that just kind of slopes down to the East, and just getting steeper and steeper, but we just followed that trail, and Lupe got to the top of Sukakpak. It was quite a day."

Was that blind ledge on a saddle of Sukakpak a metaphor for SPHP's life before Lupe? Could be. He is after all an adaptable character. We know he'd been working nonstop, then he quits his job. Suddenly he has the time and freedom for other pursuits. But maybe he lacks direction, or some of the youthful energy of a young Carolina Dog. Then Lupe shows up, almost by chance. It's not even his decision. A whole new chapter of his life begins, and eventually it grows into this canine opus with its own segues and sub-chapters.

"I enjoy being on high points and seeing the world, the natural world," he says. "I just always enjoyed seeing what's over the next ridge. But there is no doubt in my mind that without Lupe, I wouldn't have done a fraction of what I've done.

"It's just kind of wanting her to succeed, wanting her to be able to get to places. You know, Lupe isn't saying to me, 'We have to make it to the summit.' But I want her to get to the summit. And, just because I do. Just because it's kind of her legacy or something."

In literature and media, we often talk about these world-changing, macro paradigm shifts. Many of us suspect that we're living through one of those now. We may be justifiably anxious about what kind of world, what kind of life awaits us on the other side. The "Adventures" is a tiny, strange little corner of the internet, but in some ways it's a flag planted on a hill — or a few hundred Black Hills — that reps for the dogged persistence of the personal turning point. Our lives will be altered by powerful, impersonal forces — that's something we can't control. Hopefully wherever we're headed, there's still a chance for that human-level happenstance, that shows up unexpected and changes everything, like a feisty American Dingo.