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Morning Play in the Ruby Mountains, NV

December 2002

All text and images by David Zeke Rosenberg

 

Ruby Mountains, Nevada -- Sledneck Highway


Rumors flew...

 

Could heli-skiing bliss and a valley of Yosemite-esque dimensions could be found near Elko, NV?  Driving back to California from Salt Lake City, Utah was the perfect opportunity to sort the true tales of fact from the tall ones of fiction.

I jetted Salt Lake City around 5 PM with my brother Aron after 7 full days of lift-served and backcountry teleskiing in and around Little Cottonwood Canyon near Alta, Utah.  We hit an Albertson’s to load up on camping food, and then sped across the salt flats of western Utah and eastern Nevada on Interstate 80. We placed a quick cell phone call to the Humboldt National Forest Ranger Station (775-738-5171) but information was sketchy: they said avalanche conditions were “extreme,” they’d recorded more than a foot of new snow in the last 24 hours, but they didn’t have the official avalanche report nor know how many miles the Lamoille Canyon Road was open past Lamoille.  Maybe the helicopter ski folks could provide more details.

We arrived in Elko, NV five hours later, bedded down at the cheapest hotel we found along the casino strip, and then woke to find our way to the Forest Service Ranger Office (2035 Last Chance Road, Elko, NV 89801) by 8 AM.  In person, the rangers were extremely friendly, hooked us up with the Ruby Mountains and East Humboldt Wildnersses Topo Map, and told us it was best to check Avalanche Conditions with snowmobilers who recreate on the canyon road. We drove the 30 minutes east from Elko to Lamoille, and headed up into the canyon.

In Elko at 4,000 feet, there was a few inches of snow, and as we approached the mountains, there didn’t look like much more. Four miles past the Powerhouse Picnic Area, the road became snow covered, and at mile five there was a gate.

We parked on top of three inches of snowmobile-packed snow with maybe six or so fluffy stuff on the wayside. Enough to ski-tour further up the road with or without skins, but no amount sufficient to carve any turns. Avalanches seemed improbable given the plentiful plant brush poking through the nonexistent snow pack. Had we arrived prematurely for a pre-season ski flirt, or was this the sparkling Ruby Mountain norm?

So we packed for a day outing rather than any kind of overnight ski and camp and headed up the road on our teleboards. The scenery was spectacular: just enough snow to blanket everything white, huge rock walls that framed the valley and dropped down into a graceful U that evidenced a prior glacial presence, and hanging valleys and bowls hidden higher still. The rock was solid, but reminded me of towering monoliths of sandstone and valleys I had hiked through in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Just before the mouth of Thomas Creek, we spied a snow/ice gully maybe 15 feet wide that ran the entire 3,000 vertical feet up towards the ridge crest!

Several snowmobiles zoomed past us—two even had teleboards and a snowboard strapped on back—and after two hours of cruising maybe four miles further up the road, we hit the Changing Canyon Creek Trail turnout. Aron started cramping in his groin (thanks to all those days of Alta powder and bumps) and decided to turn back towards the car. I wanted to search out the end of the Lamoille Canyon road and continued on. We’d follow our morning “tour” by driving the remaining 4 hours West to Reno, and 3 more over the Sierra’s back to Davis, CA.

As I continued to skin up the road, the snow got deeper, ½ foot, 1 foot, and then 2 (maybe), and several awesome descent routes evidenced themselves (see blue arrows on the topo map linked above) as white streaks above Angel Lake. But was there really enough snow? I rounded the corner in the valley near “The Terraces” and poked my pole off the side of the snowmobile pack. It sunk in up to the handle as I struck base! Suddenly, the end of the road seemed unimportant. I turned off the road, and started skinning up the northeast face of the valley, zigzagging back and forth across crusty, stable snow. Little did I realize that I had already gained 1,700 ft skinning up the road from the gate. After, climbing four or five hundred feet up, I snapped a picture looking back down the U-shaped valley and then made my descent (red arrow on topo map). Crusty on the open slope at first, obviously blown hard by the gusts that nearly blew me over as switched from skins to cables. Lower down, the powder turned light in the willows as I weaved teleturns through the wickets, 30, maybe 40 turns in total. Several snowmobiles raced by below; and I have no idea if they even looked up or noticed my turn line.

When I returned to the snowmobile track, I took off my cables, and 3 pinned, diagonal strided, glided, and poled back down to the car in less than 40 minutes. Aron and I were packed up and driving west again on Interstate 80 by 2:30 PM.

Take home points from my Ruby Mountain Adventure

  • Lamoille canyon offers spectacular scenery and terrain,
  • Deep snow and bowls can be found, even if there are only a few trace inches at the car park, and
  • Hitch a ride up to the deep stuff at the end of the road with a snowmobile. 

And, while it’s probably not worth the 5+ hour drive east from the Tahoe area, I definitely look forward to spending more time with my teleboards and further discovering some Ruby Mountain gems the next time I’m passing through Elko, Nevada.

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