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The Ruby Mountain Dash - June 2003

Even though it was a long drive and a short hike, the visit to the Rubies was a fun trip. Many new adventures came of it, including hiking with a new partner, hiking on a crumbling snowpack, totally Bug-free camping, and getting snowed on in June - in Nevada!! Click here to get to the hike, or read on for the whole journey.

Day 1 - Portland to Alturas
I was able to get away from work at lunchtime, so I cancelled my reservation in Klamath Falls and hit the road. I figured that I might be able to reach Susanville, but after a stop in Bend decided that might be too far for this day. At LaPine I hit the exit to Reno via Lakeview, and with Alturas in mind I turned left. A pretty drive, but it actually rained on me along the way - quite a rarity for eastern Oregon in mid-June. I reached Alturas around 7, found a cheap motel, and ate WAY too much at a Basque restaurant. For well under $20 I was treated to wine, bread, soup, a side-dish, and finally main course with baked potato. This was followed up by ice cream, and of all things a mint came with the bill! Just the thing before a backpacking trip regardless of its length!

Day 2 - Alturas to Lamoille Canyon
I woke up fairly early to be sure I reached Reno before my noon meeting with Kerry. Along the way I picked up some new darker glasses, since my backpacking ones had disappeared somewhere along the line. I reached the Lowes parking-lot an hour early, so I made a new spare car-key (also forgotten) and was repacking when Kerry arrived. We dropped her car off at another spot, shopped at the Sierra Trading Post outlet store (dangerous!) then headed east on I-80. The miles flew by as we passed an endless succession of dry desert ranges, but east of Battle Mountain a range rose taller than the others, with snow-striped peaks: the Rubies were in sight!
We stopped in Elko for a meal, noting that the Beach Boys were arriving the next day - quite a ways from the beach I would say! We then headed into the mountains, where a pre-reserved campsite awaited us. The campground was nearly deserted, so in this case the reservation forced us to stay near a family that was settled in with lanterns and radio instead of seeking a more remote spot (should have spoken to the host about moving I suppose). The weather was fine, bugs were nowhere in sight, and at over 8000 feet we were ready to deprive ourselves of oxygen in preparation for the hike. We were constrained by vacation-time to staying out only three days, which would leave plenty to see another time - but we were ready for whatever we could get!

Day 3 - hike to BaseCamp
A short drive up the remainder of fantastic Lamoille Canyon brought us to the trailhead at 8800 feet. We loaded up our packs and hit the trail before 9:00 under mostly-clear skies and comfy temperatures. The snowpack had clearly not retreated as far as the SNOTEL-network websites had suggested, as the uppermost north-facing slopes had plenty of white; still we were here now and ready to get as far as possible. Near the Dollar Lakes we were already crossing white patches, though the trail was quickly found on the other side, but at Lamoille Lake the path became substantially buried. Footprints suggested the way, but we soon found the trail again and with a few more snow crossings we soon had Liberty Pass in our sights. A dayhiker passed us here, bringing total human presence to three so far. We soon crested the 10450-foot pass and savored the fine views.
It turned out that views to the south would improve below the pass, and we soon had a wonderful panorama from above snowbound Liberty Lake, with Lake Peak (10920') and Castle Lake revealed in the distance. Behind Lake Peak was the summit of Wines Peak; at that point the Ruby Crest National Scenic Trail (that's the official name of our path) reached 10850 feet and did its level best to stay there for miles. We had hoped to camp at Furlong Lake below that peak, but the snowfields were wearing us down more swiftly than we had planned. We took a long break near Liberty Lake's shore, then re-evaluated our camp as we sought the path beyond another large snowfield (footprints were becoming scarce here, beyond dayhikers' limits!). We finally regained the path, with Favre Lake now revealed in the valley between Liberty and Castle Lakes. It looked pleasant enough, and by camping there we could still dayhike to the summit of Wines Peak and look to our south before returning to camp. We set up at a nice spot, filled a bucket with water for cleanup and meals, and relaxed a while.
By dinnertime a chill west wind was rising, rather spoiling the relaxation we had looked forward to. Soon all clothes were on our backs, and even the hot meal could only provide so much warmth. By 7PM we gave up and retreated to the tent, even adding the rainfly despite the harmless-looking clouds just for its windbreaking properties. That night was a long one, and not terribly restful for Kerry; it was a relief when the sun finally rose and freed us from the small shelter we had retreated to twelve hours before.

Day 4 - retreat
The world looked a little different this day. For one thing, the 1/8" thick lid of ice on the water bucket told us it had been pretty cold overnight. For another, white cumulus clouds were rather tall for 7AM, hinting at trouble by afternoon. (I work with several meteorologists who had informed me in Portland that a storm would probably arrive on day three, and just possibly sooner; night one clearly qualified as "sooner"). We ate breakfast while wondering if this might be our last and not second-to-last day in the Rubies, but decided to head south with daypacks to see what developed. As we worked up more snowfields to the unnamed pass north of Furlong Lake, the development was up in the air: several fresh cumulus clouds were rising fast, and that pretty white shading was turning grey in a hurry. Kerry rested a while near the pass while I moved forward to reach the Furlong junction, contemplating our options. I suddenly remembered the Sierra Rule of Ten and began to worry. In the Sierra Nevada, if by ten o'clock you see any cumulus clouds - even tiny ones! - you can expect showers and thunder somewhere nearby that afternoon. It was now 9:55 and cumulus were covering 2/3 of the sky and rising fast! While Sierran rules may not explicitly apply elsewhere, it was not to be disregarded entirely, so at the junction I took one photo and swiftly returned to Kerry. It was time to retreat to the car, gracefully if possible but by whatever means necessary.
We returned to camp, ate dinner at noon, then packed everything up for the return trip. We were in decent shape, with only minor altitude effects, but the full packs slowed us back to day-one speed. We'd also be hitting snowy slopes going downhill, which is a much different proposition from climbing and brings the risk of slipping and post-holing into play. We soon reached Liberty Pass again, and noted that many directions were now obscured by rain - or, more likely, snow! The next half-hour was pretty straightforward, but the large snowfields above Lamoille Lake now awaited us. Our reward at the lake was a stock-path to the trailhead, which was on the north side of the canyon wall and had much less snow than our day-one route. We both slid and post-holed more than once before reaching the lake, and as we did so the snow began. Summer had begun 48 hours before, and I was in Nevada; nevertheless, it was indeed snowing.
More bad news awaited us here. While the stock trail beckoned a short distance away, it was guarded by deep snow that ended at the end of a large and cold creek - the outlet from Lamoille Lake was swift and dangerously cold. After trying to find a place where we could cross further down, it became clear that no safe way could be found to cross the snowbank and stream - so we reluctantly turned back to the footpath. Thunder now growled over the ridgeline to our southeast, meaning that this was my first-ever experience with Thundersnow! We passed the Dollar Lakes again, and soon found the light snow and thunder replaced with quieter but much snowier conditions. We crossed several more snowfields while this was going on, then finally reached more consistently solid ground. The snow relented for a while, but as we neared the 8800-foot trailhead it came back in pellet form. Soon we were back at the car, with a wild day mostly behind us. We had seen as much of the Rubies as time and weather had allowed, and I expect that both of us will return to finish the route some day!

Quite a bit of daylight remained to us, so we wandered back to Elko in search of hot springs, or maybe a hot-tub motel? We ate a decent meal prepared on something other than a campstove, then headed west again. With few towns to select from (and no Tranquility Motel - read Dean Koontz' "Strangers" to understand that reference!), we reached Battle Mountain early in the evening. Kerry sprung for a room there (two queen beds gave us a LOT more space than that little tent!) and after soaking a while it was bedtime.

Day 5 - Elko to ?
We were out a day earlier than scheduled, but our plans remained the same: I would drop Kerry off at her car and continue to Trip 1a near Tahoe. We hit the REI store in Reno (where I drooled over several nice bicycles) and found ourselves again at the STP outlet (this time I found insulated Nike boots for astronomy) before going our separate ways. I climbed up past Mt. Rose and into the Tahoe Basin, heading for the USFS station that Kerry described to me. I asked the ranger about my destination, and was gently informed that no lake basin existed there - not yet at least. She had been a few miles below the basin recently, standing on six feet of rotten snow, and someone else had been there to report an all-white wonderland. This was disappointing and forced me to re-examine some earlier vague plans for trip 1a. I could head back to Alturas and visit the South Warner Wilderness, but I had no maps or routes planned. I could also head for the Trinity Alps, but many winter storms had visited there this past season. One other plan had been brewing in my head a while, and it required no hiking skills at all. I'd been wanting to visit the ocean for months now, and despite all the backpacking gear and spare food it sounded like a great idea. My boots were still wet, my shins ached from postholing in the snow, and several other whiny excuses came to mind. I finally decided I'd head toward the Trinity Alps (and therefore the beach) and decide tomorrow. (If Scarlett O'Hara could decide her troubles tomorrow, so could I.)
At the very least, I would take new routes to get to familiar places - so I went north along CA89 and the west side of Tahoe. Everybody was riding bikes in this area (was I drooling again?), but soon I was in more remote areas past the lake. I finally turned from 89 at the entrance to Lassen Park, which meant that on separate trips I had now been on the length of that highway from Shasta to Monitor Pass - whoopee? I reached Red Bluff in time for dinner and bedtime, with a short swim for good measure.

Day 6 - Red Bluff to .. the Beach!
I hit I-5 north to Redding, then headed west on 299. This should have taken me along the south edge of the Trinities, and to a ranger station where I could be told the snow was too deep for long hikes. My map was a bit vague though, covering the southwest US from Crescent City to Texarkana - so in fact I was too far south to see much of those mountains. This pretty much forced me to do what I wanted to do anyway, wet boots or not - so after a few long hours on a winding but pretty road I was on the coast near Eureka. I now got to experience the other Sequoia: only nine months after seeing Giganteum, I was in Sempervirens country now! The redwoods are still amazing, but surprisingly small now that I had seen their big cousins in the Sierra. I bought a few souveniers before reaching Oregon, and by 2PM I was back in my home state. Brookings was showing 85 degrees, so I quickly pressed north to cooler beaches.
Soon I was feeling much better, stopping at one of my favorite beaches anywhere, Whaleshead in Boardman State Park. After a bit of wading and beachcombing I continued northward. From Coos Bay north I could see the coastal fog just onshore, much more familiar to me than this 80-degree stuff. I drove along a particularly sinuous stretch of road as the sun sank into the writhing cloudbank, which was itself moving south at around 20 miles per hour; the effect was otherworldly (made even more so with the Tangerine Dream soundtrack on my stereo!). The clouds had settled in to stay after Bandon, but I stopped there for a big meal and a quick tour of the Bandon Dunes golf course. What a gorgeous golf layout, I'd better start practicing soon and get down there again. I finally ran out of steam at Yachats, and treated myself to an ocean-view room and a bottle of beer.

Day 7 - Yachats to home
What, nearly home already? Not in a rush, when it's 90deg in the valley and 55 at the coast! I wandered the beach a bit before handing in my keys, then drove north to Depoe Bay for a quick tour. Bought a toy stuffed dolphin for my new great-nephew (born while I was gone) and a shark for his big brother, had a bowl of chowder.. then shopped a little more. I was greeted by an immense, tinted, concave mirror at the last shop I visited - last because I spent all my money there, on that mirror plus several other neat things. That took a big bite out of the bike fund, so I could stop drooling for a while. I hit the beach one last time near Lincoln City, then drove inland into the fire. At McMinnville I stopped at a local pub with a rooftop bar and enjoyed a favorite ale, then stopped in Newberg to support a girl-scout carwash (badly needed). From there it was on to Freys for inkjet refills & other sundry, then (oh why not) the local REI for more bike-drooling. I then drove straight into the huge 5PM traffic in central Portland, crawling out in time for dinner with my parents before arriving home at last.

Statistics.. the drive
Statistics.. the hike