Ruby Dome, Ruby Pyramid
By: Steve Eckert
Snow Climbs in Desert Climes, Part 2
This is the detailed version of my report, with pictures and GPS waypoints. For the first part of our trip, refer to my Wheeler and Baker Peak report. For city and trailhead info, see the end of this report... I'll start with the climbing part!
Tim Hult and I, being unemployable, decided to take a week off from our duties and busywork. Archived trip reports indicate northeastern Nevada is most often done later in the season when the snow is gone, but I'd highly recommend re-thinking the timing in light of the great snow conditions we found. Earlier seemed easier to us.
The trailhead for Hennen Canyon (misspelled occasionally) is at waypoint HENNEN (6600'), as described in the driving directions at the bottom of this report. The gain to Ruby Dome from here is only 4700', not 5900' as previously reported. If you don't rent the gate key, add 450' of gain and 1.2 miles each way.
Prior reports mention a sign at the trailhead, but we saw none. There is a large turnaround area (for horse trailers), but the use trail up Hennen seems to start directly from the highest campsite. There is a small stream on each side of the campsite, but head directly northeast from the picnic table and you'll find a place to ford. Or you can walk southeast and go through a gate and THEN go left to another ford. I managed to keep my boots dry in both directions, but it's tricky. Just get to the left side of all streams as soon as you can, and you'll pick up a good use trail that climbs a couple dozen yards away from the trees in open sage.
We straggled away from the trailhead sometime after noon. The guide books and the old trip reports were amazingly inconsistent about how much mileage and elevation gain there was, so we conservatively packed to Griswold Lake for the night. A local resident says 4 hours up and 3 hours back make this an easy day hike! Anyway, an early start the next morning would ensure solid snow, and the snowpack in the Rubys was far heavier than we observed driving through the Sierras.
The trail goes through sagebrush, birch, and pine, with a carpet of wildflowers in places. I imagine it's much hotter and drier in July/August when most people climb, but we had perfect temps and it didn't quite freeze overnight at the lake (9200'). As you get higher in the valley, you quickly lose sight of the peak. The trail goes from a worn track in the forest to a faint trail on slabby terrain somewhere around 8100', but by then just about any route works and you don't need a trail. Cell phones work for almost the entire trip since you have a nice view down ushaped Hennen Canyon to the sprawling Spring Creek development.
Around 8400' is where the climbing starts. The slabs sort of end in a grove of trees, and the trail edges around the left edge of the valley (below the cliffs) and deposits you in a stand of pussywillows. We didn't find any of it difficult or challenging, just look around a bit for what seems easy. The multiple rows of ducks (cairns) marching up the valley attest to the contagion of Rock Stacker's Disease, AND to the fact that any old route will do (e.g. you don't need to follow the ducks, since wherever you are there are ducks to confirm that you're OK).
Old reports mention trouble staying on the trail, and dangerous mud, but we didn't see how that could happen. Staying to the left of the stream (northeast) was always the obvious choice, there were no mud holes, and by the time we reached the "tough" ledges on the final approach to Griswold Lake we were kicking steps in the finest possible late spring snow (using ice axes but no crampons). Wide waterfalls cascaded down the canyon walls and joined the main stream, the plants and the rocks were wonderfully diverse, and we arrived at the lake in about 4 hours not feeling at all tired.
Multiple fire rings indicate this area gets used, but we saw no one the entire trip. The cirque containing Griswold Lake (9220') is stunning, at least with partial snow cover. There are substantial trees, which we camped behind (waypoint GRSWLD) to help block the wind. It was windy overnight, after cloud bands drifted over and seemed to threaten a storm. Tim's radio predicted snow in Elko on Sunday, but we planned to summit and leave on Saturday. Temps dropped from SO to 35 overnight, the snow firmed up, and we put crampons on at lake level for the climb (which we started around 5:30am).
Old reports indicate the climb from the lake southwest to the saddle is tough... but we stormed up it with only one spot we had to step on a rock. We angled up into the small bowl immediately below the classic "knob", spotting a couple of cairns along the way. The route seems to follow just below a cliff band, notable because the cliffs are topped with loose talus rubble. We bypassed the knob via the saddle just left of and below it (waypoint KNBSAD) and studied the standard route from the saddle.
We abandoned the standard route due to overhanging cornices and some recent avalanches. Instead, we stomped right up snow on the ridge above the knob, which is actually a shoulder and not a knob at all, attaining the northwest shoulder of Ruby Dome at about 8am (waypoint RIBTOP, 11100'). The top 10' was nearly vertical, and the snow was softening, so I had to ram my hand into the slope for a hold while using my knee to pack snow down far enough to make a step. Tim ditched his crampons and climbed the rock rib.
The ridge from RIBTOP to Ruby Dome (waypoint RUBDOM, 11387') was trivial, taking about half an hour, and could be done by walking on the inner edge of the cornice or entirely on rock. We're not sure what the ridge or rib we climbed looks like when not partially covered with snow, but it seems like a simple alternative to the convoluted route descriptions we've seen in prior reports. By staying near the rib we avoided the avalanche routes and cornices common on the face of Ruby and the nearby ridges. I didn't take my crampons off until the summit, and didn't use them at all on the descent.
Views from the top were amazing! We thought this was a desert peak, but the valleys below it looked more like those near Three Sisters in Oregon - green, ringed by snow-capped mountains, etc. The weather, however, wasn't looking good. The wind was strong and dark clouds had re-formed. We left after signing the register (second party this year) and admiring the armchair someone had constructed from large flat rocks. Continuing our traverse by dropping east to the saddle between Ruby Dome and the informally named Ruby Pyramid, we encountered some low 3rd class that would probably be avoidable if not for the cornice (which was weak and cracked here, so we entirely avoided it). We recommend the east ridge of Ruby Dome over the standard northwest ridge - it's more fun! At the saddle, we dropped our packs and raced up the pyramid over very nice blocks, arriving around lOam. No register at Ruby Pyramid (waypoint RUBPYR, perhaps a few feet higher or lower than Ruby Dome), but there were a couple of sticks and a huge cairn. It was clearly snowing to the northeast, and by the time we got back to the saddle we had a few flakes drifting down on us (now 11am).
Tim put crampons on for the descent because it was icy at the saddle. I strapped on my blue poly tarp glissade sheet and scooted down on my butt despite his concerns. One spot went beyond 45 degree slope, but most of it was 35 and very enjoyable. (Don't try this unless you know what you're doing!) We dropped straight down to about 10300', then traversed back to the knob and retraced our steps to camp (arriving around noon).
Of course the sky cleared, the sun came out, we took off our hats and gloves, and packed out under perfect conditions in about two hours. The local we had met on the way in told us that Hennen Canyon wasn't even close to the best scenery in the area, but it looked great to us. Someday I'll go back and do some day trips from Lamoille Canyon to find out more about this stunning area that's often overlooked - but only 9 hours from the Bay Area by car.
-- Steve Eckert
Driving, Trailhead, The Key to The Gate,
We got a cheap room in Elko NV and treated ourselves to a huge (but good) $5 breakfast at the cafe on Idaho and 12th. Looks like a dive, so put on your polyester and pretend you're a time traveller. There are two Elko exits from 1-80, with the western one closer to the old downtown and the eastern one where you'll find the big hotels. Motel 6 was over $40 for the two of us, but had cable TV and lots of towels.
The guide book lists outdoor stores in Elko, but they've all closed. Unless you want to buy a gun or a fishing pole, you're out of luck. We had expected to find guide books and maps along the way, but instead I wound up calling my wife and having her search the Climber.Org trip reports for trailhead and climbing info. It worked! Thanks to all who have contributed. The DPS reports (also searchable from Climber.Org) seemed to indicate it was a very long day hike, with almost 6000' of gain, but those numbers just aren't accurate. See below!
We still wanted a map, however, and the Forest Service office directed us to The Map House, (firstname.lastname@example.org, 775-738-3108) which sells USGS topos and a local guide book. They're at 405 Court St - look for the big copper dome of the courthouse as you drive down the main drag (Business 80, aka Idaho St), and jog one block over to Court St. I bought their last 15 mm quad covering much of the Ruby Mountains, but they have a good stock of the larger scale 7.5 quads. They also had a locally printed guide book, which looked OK but had conflicting distances and elevation gains.
Then we hit some very good luck: Old trip reports had pointed us to the trailhead, but we were going to walk up the road for over a mile since we didn't know how to get a key to the gate. A local just happened to drive up while we were there, and gave us directions! Here's the scoop:
To reach the Hennen Canyon trailhead, exit I-80 at either end of Elko and head for the center of town on the main drag (Business 80, aka Idaho St). From Idaho St, take either 5th (waypoint IDAHOS) or 12th Street southeast (both have signs for Lamoille Canyon, the big tourist destination of the Ruby Mountains). 5th turns northeast as SR-227, aka Lamoille Hwy, and 12th hits it at a stoplight (waypoint 227J 12). Continue on 227 as it turns south again and heads out of town past the new regional hospital. You'll see signs for the planned community of Spring Creek. Go past the junction with 228. About 12 miles from where you left Idaho St, you'll see Spring Creek Parkway near a fire station sign, a school sign, a crosswalk, and a reduced speed limit (hard to miss).
If you want to save a bit of hiking, and get your car off the "main" road, you can get a key to the Spring Creek Campground and park in a campsite while climbing. It's $10 per person per day, plus a $25 deposit, so don't take everyone into the office or you'll get reamed! You can call them at 775-753-6295, or mail a letter to 451 Spring Creek Parkway, Spring Creek, NV 89815. To get the key, Mon-Fri only, take Spring Creek Parkway northeast from 227 (at waypoint SCPKWY) almost 3 miles. After the Morman church, the filling station, and the ice cream store, you'll see the Spring Creek Association building on your left (waypoint SCASOC). Give them some money, be clear on how to return the key, and head back out to SR-227.
SR-227 bends due east, and 17 miles from 5th and Idaho you turn south and leave the pavement at Pleasant Valley Road (at waypoint PLSNTV). After 3 miles, this good dirt road bends right, and at the corner you see the gate for the Spring Creek Campground (waypoint SCGATE). You can apparently park here, but the local we ran into wasn't sure if it was legal. If you got the key to the gate as described above, let yourself in and save 1.2 miles and 450' of gain by driving to the turnaround at the highest campsite. (There is only one fork in the road, waypoint SCFORK) and you turn right before going up a set of switchbacks to the trailhead.)
Since we were paying $40 for the privilege, we took the highest campsite (waypoint HENNEN). It was littered with trash, and part of the picnic table appears to have been used for firewood. Still, it saves some walking to drive up here, and this is where the trail starts. For the hike in and climbing details, see above!
Waypoints, NAD 1983 datum, decimal degrees, Waypoint+ format:
Detailed information for visiting one or more peaks mentioned in this article can be found in the|
Desert Peak Section Road and Peak Guides
|DPS Archives Index | Desert Peaks Section|