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We'd heard that the Ruby Range was the closest thing to the Sierra to be found in Nevada. Not that we were necessarily looking for, or wanting Sierra-like peaks while in the state, but the description was at least a little intriguing. The Ruby Range is located in the northeast part of the state, just about as much in the center of the Great Basin as one could get. The local climate must be somewhat interesting to bring larger amounts of precipitation here than elsewhere, and indeed the surrounding communities of Elko and Pleasant Valley were greener than we'd found outside the area. The range has canyons carved by ancient glaciation, unlike most of the canyons in the typical Nevada range. A paved road winds its way up the most impressive of these canyons, though we would not have the opportunity to visit it during this trip. The highpoint of the range, Ruby Dome, oddly sits off the main crest some distance, along a spur ridgeline trending westward. We'd heard that a Sierra Club party had been rebuffed in their attempt to climb the mountain a month earlier due to heavy, unconsolidated snows. Bob Sumner had warned in an email not to take the mountain lightly at this time of year.
Matthew had driven out from San Jose to join us for the weekend, a remarkably long drive for only a few days' effort. It seemed Matthew was as interested in this peak as ourselves, perhaps more so. When I awoke in the back of the van shortly after 5a, Matthew's car was parked just up the road, as expected. He's rather reliable in this way, among others. It had been more than a month since I'd last seen him, so we caught up on things while getting our gear ready. Our packs would be full with snowshoes, axe, and crampons. Adam decided to forgo the axe and crampons, hoping to get away with just snowshoes for the summit effort. None of us knew enough about the climb to be able to judge whether this was a reasonable move or not.
The sun had risen shortly before 5:30a, lighting up the Rubies to the east. We could see there was abundant snow up high, though none down lower. It was only afterwards that we realized that both peaks were visible from our start. At 6a we were in front of the gated road to the private campground. Apparently they only want to keep out unauthorized vehicles and are ok with individuals on foot, so we hopped the fence and started up the road. The campground was deserted with the exception of a small herd that had the run of the place. Only in Nevada could they combine camping and grazing so seamlessly. It was easy to find the TH thanks to a fine, new-looking sign. There was even a small bridge to help us across the swiftly flowing creek and onto the trail on the north side.
Over the next hour the trail took us up into Hennen Canyon, out of the desert lowlands. Aspens line much of the canyon. Green and leafy in the lower reaches, the trees were winter-like bare as we hiked higher into the canyon. The ground was saturated in most places with water running haphazardly everywhere. We did our best to hop about and pretend to keep our boots dry, but it seemed a losing battle with so much water about.
Around 8a and before reaching Griswold Lake, we found ourselves on continuous snow and quickly switched to snowshoes. We found the lake nearly frozen, though open water could be found about the edges. It didn't seem wise to try and walk across the lake, so we navigated around the perimeter. There was a steep slope immediately above the lake and with snowshoes the snow was about as slick and steep as we'd have liked to see it. None of us was altogether comfortable hiking up and traversing across it, but we managed without incident.
By 9a we were in open country above the trees near the head of the canyon. Ruby Dome and Ruby Pyramid were the two highest summits in the area, rising more than 1,000ft above us at the south end of the canyon. We traversed easy ground towards the base of the headwall leading to the saddle between the two peaks. Matthew and I paused here to switch to crampons while Adam continued off to our right on his snowshoes. We thought we'd have the advantage at this point, but Adam was out to prove the snowshoes more than adequate. We ran into thick, steep snow, slowing our progress considerably, all the while Adam racing out in front of us. He beat us handily to the pass and was relaxing on some rocks, eating a snack, when we finally caught up with him.
The East Ridge leading up to Ruby Dome caught all of us by surprise, finding it surprisingly steep and nearly knife-edged in places. Adam showed considerable skill and pluck in digging in with his snowshoes to climb the ridge that was hard enough with crampons. The snow had not hardened in the night, perhaps not for many nights, and was quite a chore to climb through. The final 100yds to the summit saw the angle ease off considerably, and just before 11a we found our way to the very top.
All but the upper portion of a large cairn was buried in snow. Matthew made a weak effort to find a register at the base of it, but none of us felt much like digging out the snow to find it. It had been overcast for much of the morning and clouds were swirling about us near the summit. When the clouds parted momentarily we could see far in the distance, but these moments did not last long. We were on an island of white stretching out for miles, down to the valley floors that were green and verdant. It had an odd feeling of remoteness, but on a limited scope.
After we all descended safely back to the pass, we then headed east up the opposing ridgeline to the unofficially named Ruby Pyramid. It did not have the steepness of Ruby Dome and felt a good deal safer. The final 50-60ft of the climb was over class 2-3 rock that the winds had swept clear of snow. The rocky summit was likewise snow-free, but we had no better luck locating a register there either. Matthew had been initially keen to continue traversing east along the ridgeline to Mts. Silliman and Gilbert, an idea I thought was overly ambitious. Now that we were at the summit of Ruby Pyramid and could better judge the effort involved to reach Silliman, Matthew was no longer so keen. I tried to encourage he and Adam to continue on and make a loop of it if they so chose, but I'd had enough for one day myself. They decided in the end that they had had enough as well.
We we back down to the saddle and then downclimbed the initial steep slope. After that Matthew put away his crampons, the two of us in turn glissading down the slope. With little previous practice at it, Adam did a poor job of it in turn, prompting jeers and jokes from Matthew and I. He got better with successive efforts on our way down, but they were still pretty weak. Switching back to snowshoes, we continued traversing and glissading our way back to Griswold Lake and the wet, muddy trail below it. We were slower on our return, stopping to take pictures of flowers and scenery, reaching the campground and then our cars shortly before 3p.
After showering roadside with our warmed jugs of water, we made plans to head to another county highpoint, Granite Peak, on our return to California. We stopped in Elko for dinner at a mexican restaurant on our way back to Interstate 80, then several hours east to Winnemucca and more time driving north to Paradise Valley, not far from Granite Mtn. We bedded down for the night just off the dirt road, not far from pavement's end outside Paradise. Only a few cows would be around to disturb our sleep tonight...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Ruby Dome - Ruby Pyramid
This page last updated: Mon Aug 23 13:48:56 2010
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