Before I could climb the Five Summits, I had to get to them. It took me two days of travel to get from my home in Oklahoma to my jump-off point in North Dakota. I spent that first day driving across Kansas and Nebraska. My first stop was Niobria State Park, on the northern border of Nebraska. Rain followed me all the way north. The next rainy night was in an RV park in Dickinson, North Dakota. 
 
The sun finally broke through the clouds the morning of June 8th. A half hour drive west on Interstate 94 took me to Belfield, North Dakota, where I turned south on Highway 85. It's another half hour to the little town of Amidon, but before I got there I turned onto a dirt road. That took me to White Butte. White Butte is not a national or state park; it's on private property. The owners allow access for a small fee, which is deposited in a mailbox on the dirt road.
 
I was all alone climbing the chalky heights. I could hear cows grazing on the fields below. When I got to this point, I thought I had made it, but this was in fact a "false summit." The true summit was a couple dozen yards beyond this short rise. 
 
That's me on the summit of White Butte, the highest point in North Dakota, elevation 3,506 feet. This was the first state highpoint I ever climbed. I expected to find a log book at the summit, where I could record my visit, but the metal box at the peak was empty. I wrote my name on a scrap of paper and left it inside the box.
Rattlesnake Butte, as seen from the summit of White Butte. It looks like a caldera, but it's not.
 
From White Butte, I got back on Highway 85 and continued south across the border into South Dakota. Before I got to Belle Fourche, which calls itself "the center of the nation," I got off the highway and took some back roads to the true geographic center of the United States-- precisely, the point where you see the flag out in the field. To be fair, the park in Belle Fourche is much more elaborate.
On the way through the Black Hills, I passed Trout Haven, which I remembered from when I briefly lived in South Dakota in the 6th grade. The ponds used to be stocked with trout, and you paid 10 cents an inch for every one you caught. For an extra fee, they would cook it for you. When I visited, it had new owners, who were looking forward to customers from the upcoming Sturgis motorcycle rally.
 
From Belle Fourche, I continued south to Spearfish, and then took Interstate 90 east until exiting for Highway 85 again. That took me to the unique mountain town of Deadwood, South Dakota, now a lively tourist town. I spent that night in a campground outside of Custer, South Dakota.
 
The next day, June 9th, I drove to Sylvan Lake, inside the Black Elk Wilderness area, and began my climb for Harney Peak. It's a two-hour hike on well-maintained trails to the peak, which is dominated by an abandoned fire lookout tower. There were many other hikers on the trail with me. Some people even ride horses to the summit.
 
That's me at the summit of Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota, elevation 7,242 feet. It's also the highest summit in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Lunch was in Custer. As I headed south from Custer, the weather turned bad on me again. I ended up spending the night in a motel in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
 
June 10th was a long day for me. After visiting historic Scotts Bluff (which is spelled differently from the town of Scottsbluff), I drove south on Highway 71 to Kimball, Nebraska, then headed west on Highway 30 --part of the old Lincoln Highway-- before turning south on dusty country roads.
 
The highest point in Nebraska, like the highpoint of North Dakota, is on private property.  The owner of this property happens to raise buffalo on the land. I totally did not expect to drive through a herd of buffalo that day. 
 
That's me at Panorama Point, the highest point in Nebraska, elevation 5,424 feet. From the summit, I went west on country roads and actually crossed the border into Wyoming before I found pavement again. (Which is actually an easier way to find the summit than the route I took.) After getting gas in Pine Bluffs, I took Interstate 80 east. I ended up on Highway 385, which took me south into the eastern edge of Colorado. Road construction slowed me down. When I got to Burlington, I turned east on Interstate 70. When I crossed the border into Kansas, I took Exit 1 and headed south on dirt roads for about 25 miles. The sun was getting low in the sky when I found what I was looking for.
 
That's me at Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas, elevation 4,039 feet. (From the highest point in Kansas, you can actually look west half a mile across the border and see the lowest point in Colorado.) There was a log book at the summit where I could sign my name and the date I visited. I bagged two peaks in one day, but by then I was really tired. I headed south until I found pavement again and turned west on Highway 40. I spent an uncomfortable night in an overpriced motel in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado.
 
Four down, one to go. When I got up the next day, June 11th, I headed for Oklahoma, but I had one stop to make. When I got to Sheridan Lake (where there is no lake, by the way), I turned west on Highway 96. It was a short drive to Brandon, where I turned north on dirt roads. They took me to the Sand Creek Massacre Site. It was a lonely place, as national historic sites go. I was the only visitor there. The trail takes you up to an overlook of where a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho was massacred in 1864. The trail does not actually take you down to where the village was, because that is considered sacred ground.
 
I backtracked to Sheridan Lake, then continued south to Bristol, then west to Lamar, Colorado. Highway 385 took me through the Comanche National Grassland and across the border into Oklahoma.
 
I stopped for water in Boise City before heading west on Highway 325. The highway turns north for several miles before continuing west towards Kenton. That was where the landscape dramatically changed from great plains to rugged hills.
 
Just before Kenton, I turned up the Colorado road, which circles around the eastern arm of Black Mesa. I parked at the trailhead and began the long, two-hour hike to the summit. I was the only person on the trail the whole time I was there. Well, except for the buzzards that circled over me.
That's me at the summit of Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma, elevation 4,973 feet. I did it! I climbed the Five Summits!
(Getting back down again almost killed me... but that's another story.)
 
Pictures and text (c) 2010 Tim Frayser
 
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