August 8, 2002 around 5:45 pm
Ryan Cragun and Debi Cragun
We had climbed Harney Peak, South Dakota earlier in the day and also visited Mt. Rushmore. We took a couple of wrong turns on our way north and had lost about 30 minutes of time in so doing. Not that 30 minutes should be a big deal, but, as you will see, it would have been much better for us had we arrived 30 minutes earlier.
We had bypassed a couple of opportunities to get gas before hitting North Dakota, and by the time we arrived in Bowman, ND, our gas light had been on in the Ford for 30 miles and we were looking for gas anywhere we could find it. As we headed into Bowman, there was a very small, gas station/service station on the southern side of 85. We stopped because we didn’t know if there was going to be another gas station and we were pretty desperate. The Ford requires at least a mid-grade gasoline (87 octane or higher), so I pulled out the hose for the Premium gasoline pump – an archaic pump setup in itself, and tried to ‘fill her up’. Nothing happened. I pushed the lever back and forth a few times to get the pump to reset and pump, but nothing happened for a couple of minutes. Just as I was getting ready to either leave or go ask the attendants what they were doing, the pump reset and started pumping. In retrospect, I believe one of a couple things happened. Either no one ever bought Premium grade gasoline in Bowman so they just decided to fill it up with regular unleaded gasoline, or, because no one in Bowman ever bought Premium grade gasoline, the gasoline was no longer mixed and I got some part or another of the gas. I say this because 20 miles later, just as we were turning onto the dirt roads to head toward White Butte, the ‘Service Engine Soon’ light on the dashboard came on. Having experienced something similar in my Honda a few months ago, I was figuring that the gas cap was not tight or the gas was bad. We checked the car’s maintenance book and, sure enough, it suggested that the possible problem was bad gas. Those bastards! Anyway, we figured that was probably what was wrong, so we just kept driving, knowing we would have to run the gas out and get some good gas to fix the problem.
We drove straight to the bright green colored house of the owners of White Butte and saw a car from Maryland sitting in front of the house. There were some people visiting the highpointing from Maryland and as I opened my door, a white, shaggy dog tried to jump into our car. Scooting him out, I got out of the car. We wanted to be considerate of their request to ask permission, so I walked up to the door and was nearly bowled over by the smell of cigarette smoke. The woman that came to the door was nice enough though. I pulled out a twenty and handed it over, knowing they wanted a $20 donation to visit the highpoint. I probably shouldn’t say this, but seeing that the highpoint wasn’t necessarily ‘kept up’, I couldn’t help but think that my twenty dollars were going to support their vice; so be it. My wife also joked that perhaps we should invest in a highpoint and charge an arm and a leg to let people hike to it. She also pointed out after we had hiked the hill that we spent more money to hike to that highpoint than we had on food during the last two days; it was also more than the entrance fees to Harney Peak and Mt. Rushmore combined. Anyway, I don’t think I should complain, but it just didn’t feel right to buy a highpoint like that.
After forking over our money, we took the Ford down a narrow, overgrown road to a knoll where it appeared lots of people stopped. To our west, we could see the skies darkening and occasionally we could feel small drops of rain. Knowing the force of the storms that had been blowing through lately, we knew we didn’t have much time, but we were here and I didn’t necessarily want to come back. It’s supposed to be about two miles round trip and to take about 1-2 hours to hike the highpoint. We headed out and followed the narrow, meandering trails. The first hill is pretty steep and was a bit slick. Debi had a hard time of it in her tennis shoes. About 20 minutes after we left the car, we were climbing up the summit.
The wind was picking up and the dark clouds were getting closer. We snapped a quick few pictures and I tried to hurry Debi as she signed the register. I knew the storm was coming in and we could see lightning striking in the distance. I did not want to be up there when it reached us. No sooner had I thought this than the wind came. We had just started heading east down the summit when the fiercest winds we have ever experienced slammed into us. We were leaning so hard to our left, that it was nearly impossible to keep our footing. Our clothing was whipping around us and we could barely make any head way. We were very exposed on this face and I knew the storm was coming in. We had to get off the ridge or we were going to be in serious trouble. I yelled to Debi that we needed to hurry, but the wind got even worse. It was all I could do to breath and try to hurry down the trail and keep my footing. Debi, much lighter than I am and not used to hiking, was having an even harder time than I was. I finally grabbed her hand and was screaming to her that we needed to get off the ridge. I tried hurrying down even faster and she eventually fell. The wind was so loud I couldn’t even hear her scream as she fell to the side of the trail. She wasn’t hurt too bad, but things were getting very shitty very fast. Pulling her up, we pushed on and scrambled off the ridge as quick as possible. The wind wasn’t quite as strong as we dropped to the east side of the ridge and we could go faster. We jogged for a bit until we made it to the last drop to the level ground and the straight run to the car. At this point, the wind wasn’t blocked by the hills anymore and gusts started slamming into us again. One came in so hard it knocked Debi right over. We scrambled down this last bit and jogged to the car as the rain started to come down. It was whipping at us like bullets and the wind was enough to nearly rip our clothes off. I couldn’t keep my hat on my head and was running with it in my hand.
Fifteen minutes after we had reached the summit, we were safely back in our car, terrified. Debi’s knees were skinned a bit and our nerves were rattled, but otherwise we were safe. As we were struggling to get off the ridge, we had thought about the people from Maryland that were supposed to be up there as well. We hadn’t seen them on the way up nor on the way in, but we knew that there car had still been at the owner’s home when we headed up this way. I wasn’t about to go searching for them until we knew that they were stuck up there somewhere. We decided to look for their car at the owner’s home and if it was there, to go looking for them. Rattled and worried, we headed away from the highpoint back toward the owner’s home. As we passed, we saw that the car from Maryland was gone. Relieved of that worry, we headed out.
By the time we made it back to 85, we were cursing North Dakota. I think I said at this point that unless our hotel experience in Bismarck was better, we were never coming back to North Dakota and we would curse it forever. We also considered that had we been wanting a horrifying experience, the $20 entry fee for a fright hike was better than any ‘scary ride’ or ‘haunted house’ than any I had ever experienced.
The ‘Service Engine Soon’ light eventually went off, Debi’s knee was okay, and we had on okay experience at the hotel in Bismarck, even though we had to pass through another thunderstorm on the way and another hit just as we got to the hotel. Our window leaked for a little while in the hotel, but we got a free breakfast out of it and had a comfortable bed, a warm shower, and got to spend some time together (if you get my drift), helping us overcome our overly negative feelings toward North Dakota.
My experience on King’s Peak was a bit scary, but this was downright terrifying. Perhaps it was the fact that my wife was with me this time and I was afraid for her life as well, or perhaps it was the winds that were gusting (as we found out on the news later) over 60 m.p.h., whatever it was, this peak was one of the scariest experiences of my life. The view from the top was actually not that bad. Just a bit of a warning; if the skies look even remotely dark when you are headed that way, you may want to avoid this peak and try it some other time.
Here’s a map from Amidon, ND: