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Mt. Starr later climbed Tue, Jul 3, 2007|
Ruby Peak later climbed Sat, Aug 9, 2008
I left San Jose early enough to make the Whoa Nelli for dinner before closing, my only goal for that day. Afterwards, I drove up to the vista spot nearby to sleep for the night. A group of 4 young adults were taking in the stars, talking outside their car in the inky darkness. I paid them no mind as I drove to one side of the vista loop and put out my pad and sleeping bag under the stars next to my car. As my eyes adjusted I could make out Mono Lake below me under a moonless sky, the stars out to full effect. A cool breeze was blowing as I drifted off to sleep, with only the occasional sounds of the trucks on US395 below to disturb the silence (the others had driven off about 15 minutes after I'd arrived). This was one of the finer rogue campsites I've used in the Sierra.
I was up before 5a, ate a quick breakfast, and drove to the rest stop located between Lee Vining and mammoth Lakes along US395. Dave and I were to meet here at 5:30a before heading off on our hike. Dave arrived shortly before the designated meeting time, having made good time driving from Fresno in the early morning hours. We ditched my car at the Mammoth Lakes turnoff on SR203, and then drove in Dave's truck to Little Lakes Valley. It was already plenty light out when we arrived at the Mosquito Flat TH. We took no climbing gear with us on this low class 5 outing. If we couldn't climb, we'd just retreat, but we hoped to make it along the Sierra Crest from Mt. Starr to Mt. Mills - it would be a long day if we suceeded.
It was 6:15a when we headed out, starting on the trail to Mono Pass. We left this after about 15 minutes, heading cross-country up the steep slopes on Mt. Starr's East Face, the shortest route available to the summit. Right from the start I wasn't feeling well with an upset stomach that I attributed to poor acclimatization. I was wrong about this and would remain fairly sick for the next five days, and not back to health for more than two weeks. It's possible it was an intestinal disorder from some bacteria I picked up somewhere. A few days before I was set to go see a doctor I got better, so I never did find out what it was. In the meantime it was slowing me down noticeably on the climb, and Dave was enjoying this more leisurely pace a great deal. We found some interesting class 3-5 scrambling problems on the rocks we encountered on the East Face, and though we didn't make it up in anything like record time, it was an enjoyable time despite the stomach unpleasantries. The weather was beautiful, and the views of the surrounding peaks gorgeous as ever.
It took us 2 1/2 hours to reach the summit. Aiming for the summit we had landed about a hundred yards to the north and found not a well-defined summit but a summit ridge. We climbed what we thought were the highest rocks nearby but found no register. Looking south there were several other possible highpoints so we walked along the ridge up and over every bump to make sure we got the highpoint and located the summit register. The latter we found at the southern end of the ridge, but looking back to the north we still thought the highpoint was on that end (and the USGS maps concur, but don't look for the register there!). There were great views to be had in all directions particularly along the Sierra Crest (S - SW - W - NW - N) and to Little Lakes Valley below. Dave took his own set of photos before we headed down the West Face towards Mono Pass.
We could see various parties below us on the trail going over the pass as we descended towards it, groups of mostly backpackers going in or out over the pass. We had started for the lake located just north of the pass to refill our water bottles but we both decided we had enough to last the day. We were just being lazy and wanted to save a little extra hiking, but in the end we had water to last us until we got back down to Ruby Lake later in the afternoon. From Mono Pass we hiked down the trail on the south side for about 5 minutes to avoid a nasty gouge in the crest above that looked like a tough solo climb. We then left the trail and headed up the northeast-facing slopes that would take us up to the Sierra Crest above Ruby Wall.
I had to take a potty break, afterwhich I found Dave playing around on some class 4-5 rocks on those slopes. There looked to be a straightforward class 2-3 route up, and this we started on until we got a little bored with it. To the right was some really great looking solid rock; problem was we didn't see a way up we'd be comfortable soloing. Climbing just ahead of Dave I soon struck off to the right on something that probably rates around 5.6. It was a bit sketchy for me to solo, but it was fun. And Dave was behind me to drag my ass back should I fall off and break it. We found ourselves sidling along a thin knife-blade, stemming around an awkward corner and shimmying up some short cracks and chimneys to reach the more open rock. We found ourselves on an exciting arete that lead up to the crest with maybe 300ft of enjoyable class 3-4 climbing. Dave was all for naming the route half-jokingly, but the discovery of several rappel slings along the route quieted his enthusiasm for claiming a first ascent. It was interesting route-finding since we had no beta and no idea if the arete would actually "go" or not, and escape off to the left and right sides looked most improbable. The route did go, and we found ourselves on the gently sloping summit portion of Ruby Ridge. Just walking to the highpoint on the far south end of the ridge was a slog and we were both feeling the tediousness of so much talus and sand sapping our strength, step by step.
When we reached the highpoint of Ruby Ridge (aka Peak 13125ft) we took a break. No register, just rocks. To the south was the higher Ruby Peak, behind it the more famous peaks of Bear Creek Spire, Mts. Abbot and Mills. Even further behind was the highest peak in the region, Mt. Gabb. To the north lay our route all the way back to Starr King where we'd been some 2hr45m earlier. That was certainly a long time for so short a distance, less than 2 miles, but they were quality miles. After Ruby Ridge we had two deep notches to climb down along the ridge on our way to Ruby Peak, though only the closer one was evident to us at the time, the second one blocked from view. The climbing down to the first notch was class 4 by the easiest route we could find. I had climbed out along the ridge just below it on the west side in one attempt that had me backtracking to Dave in short order. The easier route led down on the west side to some 20ft or so below the notch, then continuing up the other side, still west of the crest. Climbing along and having good fun, we came across several remarkable pinnacles along the ridgecrest. The largest and most impressive we studied some, looking for a way up. None presented itself that I was willing to climb, but Dave was showing decidedly more cojones than I and found a line he was willing to solo. The rock had good knobs for holds, but the rock was steep. Dave climbed an outside corner on the south side, worked along the top of horizontal flake, then finished off the top half with face climbing. I was very impressed, and evidently Dave was too. We photographed the pinnacle from both the south and north sides so that it would be evident how difficult it was (Dave gave it a 5.7 rating), and then we christened it Dave's Pinnacle even though it's probably been climbed by a dozen others over time.
After our diversion on Dave's Pinnacle we continued south along the ridge towards Ruby Peak. We soon found the second deep notch which gave us more trouble than the first. Dave tried his luck on the left (east) side while I went down the west side, this time dropping to some 100ft or so below the height of the notch. It seemed like a lot of elevation to lose but I couldn't see another way across. Dave had no better luck (the right side is the top of the Ruby Wall, a famously steep cliff area with exceptional climbing routes) and eventually had to come back my way. But I never saw him retreat and had thought he'd been successful on the side he'd tried. I continued on, losing Dave in the process. I eventually regained the ridge but saw no sign of David. My shouts went unanswered. I continued on across huge blocks and boulders, very enjoyable climbing along a fine ridge. I found a narrow, improbable class 2 shelf with fearful exposure that went around the left side of the peak bringing me to the East Ridge before I could find a way to the summit.
It was 2p when I reached Ruby Peak, finding a small register is an old, rusty Band Aid canister. Dave was obviously not at the summit but somewhere back along the route. I looked, I shouted, no Dave. I took in the views, watched the clouds go by, and read most of the entries in the register while I waited. I began to wonder if Dave didn't fall down a hole or off a cliff somewhere. It had gotten chillier on the summit as the breeze picked up, and I put on my jacket and gloves to keep warm while I waited further. After 45 minutes Dave was within shouting distance though we couldn't see each other and we couldn't make out more than about a third of the words we shouted to each other. A few minutes later he appeared on the ridge to the north, and found a more direct route along the ridge to the summit to join me. Dave was pretty knackered by this time and his enthusiasm was waning. He rested and had a snack, and it was well after 3p before he was ready to go again. It was fairly certain that we didn't have the time or energy (or water at this point) to continue on to Mt. Mills. That was fine with me as that was our stretch goal that I didn't think we'd make beforehand. And I wasn't feeling any better than Dave really with my stomach being upset.
Our planned escape route was the East Couloirs, steep 35 degree slopes heading down on the south side of the East Ridge. Secor rates them class 3, and we found it just that. They were indeed steep and no small amount of loose rock, but nothing too difficult or spicy. There were numerous possible lines, so no route-finding issues. I moved down ahead of Dave and then closer to the East Ridge to get out of his line of rockfall. I followed a line that brought me to a flat area on the East Ridge about 2/3 of the way down the route. I waited a short time here for Dave but after 5 minutes gave up, figuring he'd continued down. I went down a chute I found on the north side of the East Ridge, bringing down below the bottom of the Ruby Wall. Ruby Lake was about 400 feet below me when I stopped at a trickling creek to refill my water bottles. It was delicious. I laid down in some of the soft grass I found here and watched the clouds. Lying on the ground I was out of the breeze and comfortably warm in the late afternoon sun. I could have taken a nap here, but after 5 minutes Dave showed up, disturbing my tranquility.
We continued down, circling Ruby Lake on the west and north sides where we picked up a good use trail to take us back to the maintained one at the lake's outlet. We ran into several parties along the use trail around the lake, the first persons we'd seen since Mono Pass earlier in the day. The first party was rather surprised to see us, thinking they had reached the end of civilization themselves. The second party had a small unleashed dog with them that immediately ran up to me like he wanted my throat. I stopped in my tracks without saying a word while the owners yelled and shouted at the dog to return. The dog was wise enough to stop just out of reach as I was prepared to boot it clear across the lake. I probably would have enjoyed booting the owner in the head even more. Why people have a need to bring their dogs into the Wilderness is beyond me, which as a non-pet person will probably always be beyond my grasp. I didn't say a word to the owners as I walked by once the dog had retreated, just gave them a scowl and continued on. It had the effect of bringing me crashing back to the world of people and civilization. We carried on back to the trailhead, arriving at 5:15p for an 11 hour outing. We drove back to Mammoth with plenty of time before our planned rendevous with Romain and Michele at 7p.
We were expecting to find Romain already there when we arrived at the Rodeway Inn, but he would be several hours in coming. But Michele was there early, in fact we ran into her in the lobby as we were checking in. We had a fine dinner in town, the four of us, but I couldn't eat much and felt out of sorts. Michele came to Mammoth with a big appetite and helped me some with my portions. We went back to the motel room and planned and plotted away until nearly 11p. We had 4 days worth of gear to cram into our pack, and much of the time was spent in divying stuff up. A huge pile of group gear and food lay on the bed - with climbing gear, two ropes, and four days worth of food, there was a lot of stuff to pack in. I was remembering why I dislike backpacking so much. There was still stuff in the pile the next morning that had not found a home. By 10p I was beat and crawled into bed. The others carried on for another hour, then Michele took the other bed while Romain and Dave took up space on the floor. At 12a I woke up, lay fitfully in bed for an hour, then wretched my guts out at 1a. It took probably 15 minutes to complete the rite, the others all wide awake by now and quietly joking amongst themselves about my plight. It seemed only fair, if I'm going to wake them up and disgust them with my impressive rendition of the gag reflex, a few jokes are certainly in order to lighten the mood. I went back to bed thinking I would to have to bail out of the trip in the morning.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Starr - Ruby Peak
This page last updated: Wed May 16 17:00:47 2007
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