Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ruby Crest Trail, Nevada

Great Basin road trip part three of three: October 21, 2015

“The area around you is of rugged beauty, but fragile in nature…”  
                                                          -Ruby Crest Trail sign in Lamoille Canyon


After bailing out of our second day in Great Basin National Park we headed straight to McDonald's in Ely ("they only have charging outlets in the kids' play area," Ben advises. "I learned that last time I was here.") and then charged on another four hours through the Ruby Mountains to set up a car shuttle before crashing in Elko. 

"Look at it in terrain view," Ben told me. 

Sure enough, a swooping sickle of a canyon that can't look any more congruently U-shaped; the unmistakable work of ice and time has turned Lamoille Canyon into a destination in and of itself. Northeast Nevada, today, hardly seems like the place to be awed by glaciology, but it's just as apparent as the best North Cascades mountain carvings. The entire western side of the Ruby is the same...   


The Ruby Crest Trail runs approximately 37 miles from Road's End in Lamoille Canyon (8800') to Harrison Pass (7300'), with the majority of the trail remaining within the Ruby Mountains Wilderness at an average elevation of 9200'. It feels like a cross between the Pasayten and the Stuart Range/Enchantments; a mix of gentle-sloped summits at nearly 11,000', contrasted with craggy outcroppings and cliffs on sharper mountains with an abundance of relatively-large alpine lakes and streams. 

It was the final adventure day on our road trip and great to be running again after four days of backpacking. Though running for my hypoxic body was definitely not what I'm accustomed to in Washington.

We had spectacular weather on a stellar route; could not have asked for a better ending to our trip. 

Strava file
Lamoille Canyon from a mile up the trail
Lamoille Canyon with Snow Lake Peak (left), from just below Liberty Pass
"Yeah man, this is awesome"
Ruby Mountains Wilderness boundary at Liberty Pass
Descending from Liberty Pass; Liberty Lake and Lake Peak
Castle Lake and Lake Peak
Climbing up Wines Peak, northern Ruby Mountains where we started beyond
Wines Peak north slope; Ben's photo
Marshy areas in the Ruby Valley, from near Wines Peak's summit
Wines Peak summit 10,893'
Leaving the summit of Wines Peak, looking east
Climbing up over the next unnamed 10,700'+ point

Punchy snow running along the Ruby Crest; Ben's photo
Ben descending the same slope
Another glacial carving: Long Canyon; King Peak back right
Pretty superb country
Contouring around King Peak on the east side of the Ruby Crest 
Upper Overland Lake
Overland Lakes
Ben's photo
Switching over to the west side of the crest past Overland Lakes
Ben, with Tipton Peak and Green Mountain
Moon rise over Tipton Peak's south ridge, above South Fork Smith Creek
Rounding Green Mountain and looking down on Harrison Pass in the mid ground, below Pearl Peak
Sunset as we finish up the last three miles...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin road trip part two of three: October 19-20, 2015

Ely, Nevada - Motel 6

Pounding rain and thunder add depth to the traffic noise of the junction town. Our next destination, Great Basin National Park (GBNP), has an active areal flood advisory; the forecast says 100% chance of precipitation and thunderstorms.

Groceries are spread across the table, gear on the floor and electronics charging. It’s hard to want to pack up and drive east further into that forecast in preparation for our next traverse. We barely escaped finishing the Toiyabe Crest Trail before the skies opened.

We feel pretty confident, though; our forecast says we’ll be heading into greatly-improving weather.

Traffic on the Great Basin National Park visitor center road; day before our trip
Packing; Silver Jack Inn, Baker, NV

“How much did it snow?” 

“You say that like it’s stopped,” Ben says.

The walls of the duomid are sagging a bit and Ben starts to knock some snow off to free it up. After a clear morning at lower elevations we spent the afternoon in the clouds around 10-11,000’, summiting both Granite Peak (11,218’) and Lincoln Peak (11,597’). We camped on a little porch of flat ground at 10,500’ overlooking a ravine on Mount Washington’s southeast slope, the park’s largest grove of Bristlecone Pines.

The skies cleared briefly after sunset and we were treated to a sliver of bright stars through the trees. Sometime around 3am it started snowing; light pings of frozen moisture rather than fluffy flakes.

Reluctantly packing up after melting snow for water, while it’s still falling outside, we decide to continue on our planned route hoping the weather will clear as forecasted.

We summit Mount Washington (11,658’) in strong winds, blowing snow and barely pause for a selfie. The ridge we’re supposed to continue on narrows off the summit and disappears into clouds and snow. The call to bail is made and we head toward pretty much the only viable line of retreat: backtracking toward camp and taking a “primitive route; navigation required” (as described by the NPS) 3,000’ descent down North Fork Big Wash.

There is some old mining track, many sections of brush, blowdown and avalanche debris, carved bedrock and even an old miner’s cabin replete with a coil bed frame still in the collapsed walls.  

Five hours after descending out of the clouds we’re back at the car. The crest of the southern Snake Range, the core of GBNP, remains embroiled in gray clouds. An area snotel station reports 10” of snow at 10,120’.

We grab the second car from our originally-intended exit point, check the weather for our next destination, and drive northwest. We spent two and a half days in GBNP and never even got to see Wheeler Peak. At the same time, we spent two of those days in the mountains and never saw another person; maybe it’s a worthy tradeoff. 

The loop we ended up doing, a bit different than planned; Ben's Strava file
Starting out from the Shoshone TH; Snake Range crest in the background
Descending to North Fork Big Wash
Point 11,001'
Shoshone Trail descending to North Fork Big Wash; Ben's photo
A random cactus around South Fork Big Wash  
Upper South Fork Big Wash and Point 11,016'
Basin below Point 11,016'
Starting our XC route up the east ridge of Granite Peak
Climbing up Granite Peak's east slopes; Ben's photo
Reaching snow line around 10,000'
Ben's photo
Ben walks among ancient Bristlecone Pines on Granite Peak
Bristlecone Pine detail
Summit of Granite Peak 11,218'; Ben's photo
Traversing the ridge from Granite Peak to Lincoln Peak
Traversing toward Lincoln Peak
More Bristlecone Pines along the ridge
Looking down South Fork Big Wash canyon and beyond to Utah
"C'mon weather!" Ben's photo
Approaching Lincoln Peak; Granite Peak in the background
Bristlecone Pine
Ermine prints
Lincoln Peak summit ridge; Ben's photo
And my view of Ben approaching Lincoln Peak summit
Ben on the summit of Lincoln Peak 11,597'
Getting same face frost on the summit of Lincoln Peak; Ben's photo
Descending Lincoln Peak, we ended up turning back off the ridge just past this point and taking a less exposed route;
Ben's photo
The bench we traversed to get to Mount Washington's southeast slope, where we camped
Melting snow for water in the morning
Waking up on day two after cleaning the snow off the tent; Ben's photo
Our shelter footprint; Ben's photo
NPS boundary marker on Mount Washington's south slope; Ben's photo
Mount Washington summit 11,658'
Descending Mount Washington after the bail call was made; Ben's photo
Descending to upper North Fork Big Wash; Ben's photo
Ben descending
Contouring below the east ridge of Mount Washington, which we had just stood atop
Miner's cabin in North Fork Big Wash
North Fork Big Wash; Ben's photo
Some limestone pools in North Fork Big Wash

Definitely need to go back to GBNP...