Mt. Gilbert P500 GBP
Mt. Mazama P300
Mt. Silliman

Fri, Jul 22, 2011

With: Matthew Holliman

Mt. Silliman
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


It had been the better part of a year since I had last been out climbing with Matthew. Our partnerships have dwindled from dozens of times a year to only once or twice a year as our family dynamics have changed and our common goals have diverged. Having done many of the major California peaks by this time, I have been chasing more obscure summits within the state while Matthew has done more adventures in the neighboring regions, including Utah and Colorado. So I was happy to get a chance to meet up with him again in the Ruby Mtns in the northeast part of Nevada.

We had been to this range for a single day the previous year to do Ruby Dome, the only DPS peak in the area. It is a wonderful area we both came to admire and we had talked about coming back in the future to do some more summits in the range. For this trip we had three days which would allow a much better tour of the range. The peaks we selected came from various trip reports and peak lists, the first pair being Mts. Gilbert and Silliman. The usual approach for these appears to be from the south, approaching through an Indian reservation (permission required) and a long hike to Echo Lake. We were planning to approach from the north off Lamoille Canyon, a shorter hike and easier drive, but possibly tougher scrambling. We knew from at least one source that Mt. Gilbert could be climbed from this side.

I had arrived at the TH near Camp Lamoille in the early evening and gone to bed in the back of the van well before Matthew arrived sometime in the dead of night. We were ready to go shortly after 6a, starting up the entrance road to the Lions' Camp Lamoille. The service club owns the land and facilities found here, renting it out to various groups during the summer. Access to the Right Fork of Lamoille Creek and the trail leading up it runs right through the camp, marked by thin fiberglass signs to this effect. There were plenty of cars when we walked through the grounds, but few campers were up and about at this early hour.

We found the start of the trail easily enough and after a few sketchy creek crossings on unstable boards we found ourselves on a decent trail entering the Ruby Mtns Wilderness. Portions of the trail were quite lush, overgrowing the trail, while others were more open and alpine, and more so the higher we climbed in the canyon. Water cascaded down from the canyon cliffs, fed by the snows higher up that were still melting, later in the summer than usual. They appear to have gotten as much extra snow in this part of Nevada as the Sierra Nevada did at the same time.

About an hour after starting out we left the trail to cross the creek and start up towards the cirque north of Mt. Gilbert. Crossing the creek was no easy feat as we looked in vain for a way to cross without having to take our boots off. Eventually we crossed at two different places as we had each gone off to search in opposite directions. A modest amount of mosquitoes near the creek made the process of removing boots and putting them back on a hurried one, after which we met up again as we started climbing up out of the canyon bottom. The terrain was mostly low scrub and easy to navigate through, leading to slabs, and rocky ledges higher up that were often wet from the melting snow that permeated through the alpine terrain at the base of the cirque. There was a good deal of snow in the cirque itself, though we found ways to get around much of it. Some sections we had to cross and initially we did without crampons as the snow was soft enough even in the early morning hour. Bright flowers abounded in places where the snow had melted some weeks before, ample evidence that spring and summer were coming to the higher elevations just as fast as they could manage.

Our route beta from SummitPost described climbing halfway up the cirque on the left side before traversing right, all the way across the bowl to the North Ridge. Surveying the terrain ahead of us, we concluded that we might avoid the circuitous route with a more direct route up the North Face. To this end we aimed for a dry bench higher up, using crampons to reach it over harder snow that had been shaded in the morning sun and steeper than that we encountered earlier. The green bench had alpine grasses, some shrubs and even a few trees and had the fortunate attribute of allowing us to traverse under some cliffs found immediately above it and reach an area of rock free of snow that could be climbed at class 2-3.

It was a fine bit of scrambling over decent rock, with views of the lush green canyon in the background, eventually encompassing the surrounding desert views as we climbed higher towards the summit. It was 9:40a when we landed atop Gilbert's summit in the bright warm sunshine, very little breeze, with a nip in the air. The views take in much of the northern Rubies, and like the Sierra this year, there is a significant amount of snow this year for late July. A plastic storage container held a register dating back only a few years, the first entry lamenting the disappearance of older registers from this range as well.

After about ten minutes at the summit, we went about finding a way to our next objective, Mt. Mazama, less than half a mile to the southwest. Getting there would be trickier than the short distance suggests as the South Ridge of Gilbert is a sharp class 5 affair that would involve rappels and much ropework to negotiate, well beyond our skills. The West Face is a huge cliff face. The normal route would be to take the class 2 North Ridge down to a point where we could traverse under the cliffs of the West Face, but I talked Matthew into an interesting-looking chute on the NW side that could save some time as a sort of shortcut. The problem with it was that it was impossible to tell even after I made a few sorties to inspect the route from above, as to whether there were cliffbands in the chute that would stop us and force a retreat. Matthew let me go down about 80-100ft before agreeing to follow me, knowing at least that I'd have to retreat an extra 80-100ft more than himself if it turned out to be a bust. The chute turned out to be very nice class 3, working beautifully all the way down to the base of the West Face cliffs, though not without a few spicy moments at the very end.

We traversed south across boulders and ledges under Gilbert's West Face, trying to avoid losing more elevation than necessary. Looking ahead, we could see a snow-filled chute leading to a notch on the east side of Mt. Mazama. This unofficially named summit lies between Gilbert and Silliman, making for an obvious bonus on the traverse between the two. Mostly to avoid getting our boots wet, we avoided the snow, using the moat on the left side and scrambling up class 2-3 rock adjacent to the chute. This brought us to easier terrain on the crest with a fine view looking back at Gilbert's impressive SE Face. A few minutes later we were around a small gendarme and standing atop the snow chute, looking at Mazama's East Face.

Though a bit intimidating, the East Face looked climbable. The lower half was no more than class 3 and just above the halfway point it looked like there might be an exposed blank section before easier ground above is reached. I went up this line while Matthew stopped at the halfway point to see how I fared. I was hoping up close that it would become more obvious, but in this I was disappointed. Some exposed class 3 led up to the blank section that held a thin ledge going horizontally to the right. I paused here to consider the risks, eventually standing up and inching my way across this small ledge less than six inches across in places. I had to hold my face to the rock to keep my center of gravity over the ledge, my backpack doing its best to throw me off balance. It was a dicey 20-foot traverse and when I had finished I knew I couldn't recommmend it to Matthew to follow. He had already formed an opinion even before I opened my mouth, and it didn't take any effort to convince him to find another way to the summit.

I was happy to find that the remaining stretch to the summit was no more than class 3, and by 11:30a I was atop Mt. Mazama. I had thought Matthew would have to drop down hundreds of feet on the other side of the notch to find a way around and up the South Slopes, but it was far easier than that as he ended up no more than five minutes behind me. He found class 2 rock and snow just around the corner from the notch leading up towards the summit, landing close behind me to the top. As one might expect, there are good views of Gilbert to the NE and Silliman to the west, but the best view is to the south of an unnamed peak near Echo Lake. Two good-looking snow chutes flank the left and right sides, the left side offering what appears to be the best option for reaching its summit. Perhaps a future visit...

We continued west towards Silliman, descending straightforward class 2 boulders and rock to the saddle between Mazama and Silliman. Here we encountered snow fields that required crampons to traverse several hundred yards before we got back on rocky terrain. The broad SE Chute of Silliman is formidable-looking from a distance, but no more than easy class 3 upon closer inspection. This offers a fairly direct way to the summit without having to make a more indirect traverse around to the SW Slopes. Just before the top is reached there is a band of snow with a small cornice to be crossed, but the crampons were not needed to surmount this last, short obstacle to the summit. We arrived at the rocky summit by 1p. A register found there dated back 12 years but had entries from only ten parties in that time. Three of these were from Glen Horn, a local from Spring Creek.

We retraced our route down Silliman and across the snow fields to the south side of Mazama. Here we traversed across Mazama rather than reclimb the summit, returning to the main crest on Mazama's east side and south of Mt. Gilbert. The last bit to reach the notch involved some steep downclimbing over snow that made me a bit nervous. Matthew took longer to get through this, but only later did he reveal he hadn't used crampons because he didn't want to bother. Had I known this, I probably would have been more nervous watching him.

We hadn't really given much thought to the descent, sort of hoping we could find a way down the large cirque SE of Gilbert. The map shows cliffs about halfway down which had us concerned some. The upper bowl was mostly filled with snow, soft enough to make quick downhill progress with leaping bounds. Our boots would be wet before this was over, but as we were nearing the end of the day, it would matter little. Near the top of the cliff band we surprised a half dozen deer that were grazing on the slopes, probably thinking they were safe from predators high up in the alpine zone. After looking us over for a few seconds, they took off in bounding leaps down the slopes, looking every bit as agile as mountain goats and sheep that are more likely to be seen in such locales. It occurred to us that if deer could find their way up and down this cliff band, so should we, and my anxiety in getting down was greatly relieved. In fact, it was even easier than I imagined. The deer had taken off downhill through the cliff band, leaving an easy-to-follow set of footprints in the mud and dirt and short sections of snow, and it was simply a matter of connecting the dots. The route was rather circuitous and we were thankful for not having to discover it on our own, with the numerous wrong turns that would likely have entailed. Past the cliff band there was more easy snow to descend, followed by some scrubby hillsides that proved no great obstacle.

It was after 4p before we had gotten down the last of the slopes and were confronted with one last obstacle before reaching the trail. We needed to get back across the creek, once again no easy feat. We could probably have afforded to spend some time heading north along the shoreline to look for an easier crossing, but I chose a spot marked my two large ducks that I simply assumed marked an easier crossing. Not so. The water flowing over smooth slabs here was no more than about five inches deep, but it was moving rather swiftly and the rock was quite slick. With boots off, I found that if I stood in the water with both feet flat I had sufficient friction to hold myself steady against the rush of the water. But if one foot was lifted to take a step forward, there was not enough grip left on the other foot and it would begin to slip downstream. This seemed a very unstable situation. I ended up getting across by slowly shuffling my feet along, slipping, stopping, putting a hand down, and generally doing everything to keep from getting upended into the water. After getting across I paused to watch Matthew, giving him what advice I could and having my camera ready should he fail to execute. Matthew found the same slippery conditions and managed to get more than halfway across before he was suddenly swept sideways into the water. He sailed downstream for about five yards before righting himself and arresting his float trip. The end result was that nearly everything but his backpack contents were soaked, though fortunately nothing was lost in the effort. I had a great laugh at it all, and even Matthew found humor in the accident. He stripped to his shorts to allow us to wring out his clothing as best we could, after which he finished off the remaining hour of hiking considerably cooler. It was just before 5:30p when we reached Camp Lamoille, the area alive with campers, dogs, kids on bikes and other civilized outdoor activities. We reached our cars at the trailhead a few minutes later.

After cleaning ourselves up (though I suppose Matthew needed cleaning less than I by this time), we drove back to Elko for dinner and wifi, then back up Lamoille Canyon where it was cool enough to sleep the night. This would be our strategy for the next few days as the lowlands were much too hot during the days and still too warm at night to sleep comfortably. Adam would be joining us in the morning for a hike out of Roads End, with plans for several additional peaks we were interested in. The Rubies were quickly becoming my favorite Nevada location and I was looking forward to more time in these beautiful mountains.


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