Wheeler Peak, Ruby Dome
By: Linda McDermott, Pamela Stones
Thinking about climbing Ruby Dome a second time and not being air lifted off was a concern for me. But buddies Sue Holloway, Neal Scott and Jim Hinkley all needed the peak, and Sue and Neal have list fever about now. So we planned to climb Wheeler and Ruby, with the climb of Ruby planned three years to the date of when I broke my ankle on the peak on 7/4/96. We were lucky to have Pamela Stones join us for the trip - she turned out to be our "Human AAA Triptik" and bird identifier expert.
Jim and I drove near Baker on Thursday night, and had a leisurely trip to Wheeler on Friday. We stopped in Pioche for lunch - a really interesting old mining town with colorful locals. Dessert was an ice cream sundae for 80 cents. We got to Lehman Caves in time for a historic candlelight tour, something offered only on July 4th weekends, and something that has not been offered for years. We had no reservations for any tour, but were lucky to get on this 1-1/2 hour tour and see the caves in the manner in which they were led in the 1930's. Of interest is that the locals liked to party in the caves during prohibition. Apparently there are "shields" in this cave which are rare, and in good form in the cave.
Neal Scott got to Wheeler Campground a few days earlier, so we had a site to crash at on Friday night. In the campground, we ran into Pete Yamagata who wanted to climb Ruby Dome with us, so he was to meet us at the trailhead for Ruby Dome. We started for Wheeler about 7:00 am on Saturday. The cloudless day was truly eventful because of the extremely strong winds, as strong as I've ever been in. No problem following the trail all the way to the peak ' having started at the normal peak trailhead parking area. We made it to the top, took pictures then came down to return with Pamela who had hiked as far as she wanted to go.
Drove over to Elko and tried to get into Biltoki for Basque food, but no luck (2 hour wait), so we ate at another Basque restaurant. This restaurant was called "Toki" I believe, and is on the main drag (Idaho Street), right next to the Texaco station. We had terrific food which was less pricy than the Biltoki recommendation.
We then drove to the locked gate at the private campground and parked next to the gate to camp. Many cars went in and out of the gate all night long, and we were were checked out by the sheriff about 1:30 am. He shined his headlights in the car, we talked with him a minute and he seemed to have no problem and was really fairly nice to us. I kept wondering if he was the same person with whom Phil, Evelyn and I had dealt with three years earlier, but didn't want to ask him in case he thought I was particularly nuts to do this whole trip again.
Pete joined us about 5:30 am, and we were off for the peak on a cloudless day. Hiked up the road to the last campsite in the campground. There is now a sign at the trailhead saying Griswold Lake 3 miles and mentions Ruby Dome. Many of us took off our boots/socks to cross the stream which was almost knee deep in spots. That is the only stream crossing, so no problem. The trail along the left side of the stream is very good now, and no problem following it until the ledges below the lake. Three local fellows were above us hiking, so we were able to see the spot going to the left around one waterfall area easily.
After reaching Griswold Lake, we went up the snow-less slope to the left of the lake and then reached the snow. We all had ice axes, and many had crampons. The snow by 11:00 am was very mushy, so no need for crampons, however we did use the ice axes because the snow was fairly steep toward the top of the ridge until we could reach rocks. The ridge to the left was clear of snow once we reached it, so there was just a scramble to the top.
We spent at least an hour on top because of the spectacular weather, then began down the huge snowbowl, contouring evenually to the left and down again to Griswold Lake. This July 4 was not at wet and wild as the July 4 I remembered three years ago, however, there was still enough mud around to make several people slip when their muddy boots hit rocks. I was glad that this group understood what so easily happened to me.
We eventually got back to the trail below Griswold Lake and made our way out to the campground. Jim dared me to hitch a ride with a young fellow driving a truck and of course I took his dare. Not only did our young friend pick me up, but also the rest of the crew as we went down the road. I figured a ride in a car had no demerits in it, unlike a helicopter ride. We were back to the cars in a little less than 12 hours.
We then high-tailed it to a BLM campground that Pamela had discovered in her information. It is called Mill Creek Campground, and is a few miles Off the road, about 20 miles south of route 80, exiting Freeway 80 on route 305 from Battle Mountain.
On the drive down 305 which eventually goes to Route 6 and over to Bishop, we saw a Golden Eagle and a roadkilled badger. We stopped to look at the badger, which had proportionally-sized claws the size of a grizzly bear and teeth that any canine would envy. This was a particularly beautiful drive home, with patches of snow on many of the peaks all the way home.
My thanks to everyone making this such a great trip: Neal Scott, Sue Holloway, Pamela Stones, Pete Yamagata and Jim Hinkley.
From Pamela's Viewpoint:
Dear Readers of the Desert Sage, have you occasionally seen those notes in a trip description that says camp potatoes are invited? Well, here is the July 4th weekend Wheeler Peak/Ruby Dome trip from the perspective of a camp potato. Although I planned to climb Wheeler Peak (after all, there WAS a trail), there was never a question about my not attempting Ruby Dome. In fact, while planning for the trip, the climbs were never a concern at all. My challenge would be driving the over 1500 miles alone in my low clearance '85 Honda Civic.
Why was I enticed to go on this trip? About 5 years ago I heard about a bird, the Himalayan Snowcock, that had become established in the higher elevations of the Ruby Mountains, the only place outside of Central Asia where this bird could be found. At that time I heard about the glorious Lemoille Canyon. I never went to find that bird because information sheets on it said that it was very furtive & its area could only be reached by arduous crosscountry hiking. Ruby Dome was one of the specific areas listed. So, when I heard about this trip, though I knew I wouldn't be going to the places where the bird was, I was familiar with Lemoille Canyon and the Rubies and thought this was a wonderful opportunity to be a tourist in NE Nevada.
My first look at Wheeler Peak was daunting. How could there possibly be a trail up there? It looked so steep and so high. The road to 10,000 didn't make it seem any less high. But there was a trail and I could certainly manage to put one foot in front of another.
So Saturday morning, off we started. The vistas were magnificent. The day was beautiful despite the wind. I soon realized the other hikers were strong (and I was not!) and waved them on. I wanted to go and enjoy at my own pace. Since we were going up and down the same trail, I could be swept on the way back. I usually could see the others just ahead of me and joined them for early breaks. Later on they were specks high up on the mountain. I kept at my pace slowly, the wind gaining in intensity. It wasn't long before I realized I wouldn't make the peak this day. My pace was too slow on a day we needed to travel after the climb. But I would keep going until time to turn around. It was thrilling to keep looking back and see how far I had come.
Finally, I saw the rest of the group returning. I took a picture of them and asked to have my picture taken at my own summit. I was politely asked if I would like them to wait so I, too, could make the peak. No, I was so pleased to have made it as far as I did (probably 12,500 and looking DOWN on Bald Mountain) and we had miles to go before we slept.
Little did I know how fierce the downward trail would be. The winds became even stronger. I kept picturing those sky diving commercials as our jackets filled with the racing air. I was really having trouble moving forward. The wind kept blowing me over. Finally, in order to assist with my balance, Jim suggested he carry the things in my daypack (10 essentials, 10 just-in-case things, 10 items for staying on the mountain a month or longer) and my binoculars, which were wildly swinging on my neck. He packed everything up and we proceeded. The winds continued. Every step was slow and deliberate but we were progressing. Then I saw a couple of small, dark birds alight on the snow. I HAD to try to identify them. What a good soul! Jim bent down so I could get my binoculars out of his pack. He should have thrown me over the mountainside! Soon we were below the ridgeline and among the trees d protected from the wind. Scrub jays, mountain bluebirds, white crowned sparrows sang along our path. Hard not to want to tarry in this Great Basin National Park: to see the Bristlecone Pines, Lehman Caves, and lovely little lakes in a close distance.
But we were to rendezvous in Elko for a Basque dinner, nearly 250 miles away. And the road went on and on, and on and on. I never saw any of the other cars. But, within 15 minutes, we found each other in the same block in the same time. Truly amazing! And an even more amazing dinner. Yummy! Was it only that morning that we had gone up Wheeler?!
Then to the trailhead for Ruby Dome, where we would car camp for the night (I loved how everyone made their car their home and had their little routines). I just sank farther into my sleeping bag as other cars, including the sheriff, came up to the locked campground gate. Seems like there were bright lights being flashed & I was wondering how I was going to explain being in jail. But eventually the last car left us undisturbed.
Fourth of July: 6AM, dressed and ready to go. I had made sure all the Ruby Dome climbers had seen a picture of the Himalayan Snowcock - just in case! Then I took photos of them as they went over the gate and up the trail. They quickly disappeared. In a few moments I left to drive through the charming town of Lemoille (2 blocks!) and into Lemoille Canyon. Two thousand foot canyon walls on each side! Not the gray of Yosemite, but tan walls spotted with shrubs, trees and pockets of snow. Only a couple of cars were out at that early hour. I stopped at the various interpretive displays about the glacial activity and took many photos of what I thought might have been Ruby Dome.
Lots of choices. At Road's End (in the canyon) I decided to take the 2 mile trail up the canyon wall to Island Lake. More hikers began to appear at this popular spot. We greeted each other as we headed into various directions. Since I had plenty of time, I went up slowly and took many trail mix/water breaks. A wooden bridge crossed a rushing cascade. Nearer the top of the canyon wall, I took a longer snack break in the shade and was joined by an inquisitive chipmunk, who I greeted again later on my return. A short ways after I reached the top of the canyon wall, I came to Island Lake. A little flat area in the center was the island of the lake. Snow came down to the water on one side. I hiked up farther to take some photos, checked out a few birds (one seemed to be a Black-throated Gray Warbler), and started the descent. Once back at the parking area, I started a ways up the Ruby Crest Trail. Dollar Lakes and Lemoille Lake were within 2 miles up that way. Such a lovely spot! Some day I hope to return to go farther. But I was concerned about "my climbers" so went to Elko for a bite of lunch and to get gas. Then back to the trailhead to spend a relaxing afternoon, gazing over the green farm fields, reading, napping, and waiting for the return from Ruby Dome. I kept pulling out my binoculars to see if I could see any people on the peaks above me.
And then the group returned and they had all made the top of Ruby Dome! Neat! I wish I could tell you that I had had a gourmet dinner waiting for them. But, no. I had my maps and a possible place for a campsite some 125 miles away! Back into the cars and on to Battle Mountain and then down to Mill Creek Recreation area. It was nearly empty and I think the campground was beautiful along a stream, but it was dark by the time we reached it. A 10PM dinner was a feast: chips and salsa, quesidilla, tamales, beans, cookies! But everyone was tired. Goodbyes were said since the following morning leaving times would start early and be varied.
I left the campground at 5:15 AM, the second to leave, and never saw anyone else of the group on the drive home. There were still birds to be seen: a magnificent Golden Eagle eating roadkill. He never flinched as I raced past. The inspector at the Benton check station chatted about mountain climbers. She asked if I had climbed Boundary. No (Is there a trail?!) And then suddenly there was my offramp from the freeway. I was home. What a wonderful week-end. I would be a camp potato anytime!
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