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Ascent of Achenback Hills on 2008-04-27

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Sunday, April 27, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Achenback Hills
    Location:USA-North Dakota
    Elevation:2720 ft / 829 m

Ascent Trip Report

A 2560' contour area ¼ mile N of Sperati point is the most prominent point in the north unit of TRNP. It and Buck Hill, which lies in the south unit, are the contenders for the most prominent point in the entire park. The Achenback Hills, meanwhile, are the HP of the north unit of the park. The Achenback Trail begins at Juniper Campground, fords across the Little Missouri River, and climbs the Achenback Hills via their NE ridge. It then descends the cliffs to the S and turns W to the Little Missouri, fording it a second time before climbing the cliffs to Sperati Point near the end of the park road. Thus, the Achenback Hills can be climbed on the Achenback Trail from either direction. Although the total effort (distance and elevation gain) is less from Juniper CG, the tables are turned if one wants to visit Sperati Point anyway (which I did, because of its prominence). I therefore decided to climb both peaks on the same hike, starting at the end of the park road.

The hike to the hilltop that takes the prominence is an easy stroll a few hundred feet off the right side of the trail. At the top of the gully immediately E of the prominent point, a wooden wand with a hiker glyph marks a junction. The right fork goes to Sperati Point; the left fork descends the cliffs to the Little Missouri floodplain. Upon reaching the valley floor, the trail skirts the base of the cliffs for about 10 minutes' hiking time, then angles gradually across the floodplain before finally crossing the Little Missouri itself. At the time I was there, the water level was low and came only halfway up to my knees, but at other times it can be much higher. Check with the park rangers before attempting this yourself.

Once on the E side of the Little Missouri, the trail heads S for another 20 to 30 minutes before turning E up a broad valley. All during this time, steep cliffs that culminate at the top of the Achenback Hills rise on the left. During the eastbound leg, the trail mixes with buffalo trails and becomes somewhat ambiguous at times. I checked a couple of side trails that started up the cliffs, or up a canyon between them, just in case they were the real Achenback Trail, but these soon faded and/or dead-ended. Fortunately, by the time the real trail starts to climb, it is once again unambiguous because of its square-cut profile. It begins climbing up the canyon bottom of the canyon whose mouth is here, then gradually climbs the left (W) side before gaining the gradually rolling summit ridge of the Achenback Hills. The trail does not go over the exact summit, so I left the trail near its highest point (which is at saddle 2600+ near the NW corner of section 10) and proceeded cross-country to the summit.

Although the total elevation gain for this hike is only about 1500', and its end-to-end crow-fly distance is only about 2.5 miles, its circuitous nature, route-finding challenges, and other issues such as river fords and buffalo enounters made it a rather lengthy hike - about 12-14 miles and 7 hours RT. In fact, I'm not so sure that it was easier than the approach from Juniper CG would have been.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:1950 ft / 593 m
    Extra Gain:600 ft / 182 m
    Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Trailhead:Little Missouri River  1970 ft / 600 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Stream Ford
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:4 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:2 Hours 30 Minutes



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