Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Quick road and snow update

As of yesterday, they have Lamoille Canyon Road plowed up to the entrance to Ruby Dome Ranch, and you can drive up to the first pullout. You could likely drive farther if you wanted to push it but I didn't really see a need. The official closure barricades are up at their normal spot just past Pete's Corner.

Hoping to head up for some skiing and ice climbing today and tomorrow... will post an update if possible.

UPDATE: Went up skiing today (Wednesday, 12/1/10). Was able to snowmobile from the house. The Canyon road is starting to melt out. People haven't tried to drive their vehicles above the first pull-out, but if we don't get more snow then Pete's Corner will be fairly reachable soon, perhaps even by tomorrow if we get the warm day that's forecast. You could probably get that far right now if you had chains and weren't pulling a trailer.

About 64" of snow at Ambrosia.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wilderness - the intent, the reality

This is an excellent essay by Geoff Baker, an avid backcountry recreationist from the great state of Idaho. I post it here because I think that the movement to create more "capital-W Wilderness" is practical ONLY if the agencies responsible for administering it get back to the intent of the people who wrote the 1964 Wilderness Act.

In truth, they've abandoned that intent by barring mountain bikes from using Wilderness trails. And because of that, people like me who would otherwise be strong advocates of wilderness are instead put in the position of fighting against it.

As a rancher, I don't howl with outrage when cattle graze in our wilderness mountains - although I do see opportunities for improved management practices. But other than that small point of contention, I think Mr. Baker is right on.


Here's what Geoff Baker said:

"I wholeheartedly support the preservation of "wild" places, so that they remain free from the intrusion of the factors that lead to environmental degredation - resource extraction, permanent, semi-permanent or temporary "development" (including, but not limited to, cattle grazing, ranching, farming, and residential or commerical facilities construction), and any sort of motorized use. I further wholeheartedly support the preservation of "wild" places to be used for recreation by man, but as long as those recreational activities do not require or depend on any sort of motorized power source or other non-living power source.

"However, I cannot and do not support the imposition of formal "capital-W Wilderness" designation. Capital W "Wilderness" advocates and their financial supporters either ignore, forget, or don't know/understand the dual intent behind the Wilderness Act of 1964 - preservation and protection of the environment AND it's recreational use by as many people in a non-motorized method as possible. "Wilderness" advocates overly focus on the former, while typically either ignoring or reducing the importance of the latter. Such focus is myopic and disregards Congressional intent behind the Wilderness Act, as well as its primary sponsor, Senator Frank Church of Idaho.

"The Congressional record and legislative history behind the 1964 Act clearly reveals that Congress did not intend for "Wilderness" to be exclusionary and enjoyed only by those on horseback or on foot. The historical era of the late 1950's and early 1960's had seen a rise in motorized recreation, which was seen by many as leading to the "softening" of America's youth and greater population. Preserving "wild" places in which people could quietly recreate in "solitude" in a "primative" environment under their own power - ie, without motorized assistance - was one of the co-equal driving forces behind the 1964 Act.

"This intent was followed in 1966, when the USFS promulgated a new regulation that interpreted the meaning of the term "mechanical transport" and how that applied to recreational use in "Wilderness." This regulation - which exists today - defines "mechanical transport" to include "any contrivance which travels over ground, snow, or water on wheels, tracks, skids, or by floatation and is propelled by a non-living power source contained or carried on or within the device." This interpretation stood for many years, and allowed for the use of bicycles, backcountry skis, snowshoes, climbing gear, and boats and rafts with oarlocks and other mechanical parts to be used and enjoyed in "Wilderness."

"In 1980, Congress' intent to permit human-powered and non-motorized recreation was confirmed in its statement of intent in the creation of the Rattlesnake Wilderness in Montana. This is the law of the United States, and it reads as follows:

"16 USC §460ll(a)
(a) The Congress finds that—
(1) certain lands on the Lolo National Forest in Montana have high value for watershed, water storage, wildlife habitat, primitive recreation, historical, scientific, ecological, and educational purposes. This national forest area has long been used as a wilderness by Montanans and by people throughout the Nation who value it as a source of solitude, wildlife, clean, free-flowing waters stored and used for municipal purposes for over a century, and primitive recreation, to include such activities as hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, fishing, horse riding, and bicycling; and
(2) certain other lands on the Lolo National Forest, while not predominantly of wilderness quality, have high value for municipal watershed, recreation, wildlife habitat, and ecological and educational purposes.
(b) Therefore, it is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress that, to further the purposes of the Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 U.S.C. 1131) and the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 1600), the people of the Nation and Montana would best be served by national recreation area designation of the Rattlesnake area to include the permanent preservation of certain of these lands under established statutory designation as wilderness, and to promote the watershed, recreational, wildlife, and educational values of the remainder of these lands.

"The activities listed in subsection (a)(1) were found by Congress to be consistent with the ethos and recreational purpose of Wilderness designation. One rule of statutory construction is that all words of a statute are to be considered and provided equal weight when determining the meaning and application of the statute. However, one of the words in subsection (a)(1) of this law has been and continues to be ignored by "Wilderness" advocates and the Federal government - and that word is "bicycling."

"In 1984, in a quick and hurried rulemaking process, the Forest Service arbitrarily and capriciously banned bicycles from captial W "Wilderness." While true "mountain biking" in the United States was in its relative infancy at the time, the modern "saftey" bicycles (which was invented in its current form in 1885) had been used to explore and recreate in "wild" places since its invention. Disregarding this historical use - as well as Congressional intent, legislative history, its own 1966 regulation, and Congress' express statement in 1980 that bicycling is a recreational activity consistent with capital W "Wilderness" designation, the Forest Service hurriedly banned bikes from the Wilderness. That ban stands today, barring millions of recreationalists from millions of acres of "wild' places from enjoying quiet, non-motorized use in "solitude" simply because they'd rather ride a bicycle than use another non-motorized form of transport such as skis, a horse, modern snowshoes, or a raft or rowboat.

"That the 1984 regulation banning bicycling is arbitrary and improper is supported by the words of Sen. Church. The following quote has been attributed to him (although I have not found the original source):

"'As the floor manager of the 1964 Wilderness Act, I recall quite clearly what we were trying to accomplish by setting up the National Wilderness Preservation System. It was never the intent of Congress that wilderness be managed in so 'pure' a fashion as to needlessly restrict customary public use and enjoyment. Quite the contrary, Congress fully intended that wilderness should be managed to allow its use by a wide spectrum of Americans. ... I believe . . . that the agencies are applying provisions of the Wilderness Act too strictly and thus misconstruing the intent of Congress as to how these areas should be managed.' If indeed these are the words of Sen. Church, then the 1966 interpretation of "mechanical transport" and the 1980 words of Congress support the concept that bicycling was never meant to be prohibited in those environments suitable for "Wilderness" designation.

"However, "Wilderness" advocates wrongly and disingenuously continue to support the ban on bicycles, which ironically works to directly hinder their own interests in achieiving as much "Wilderness" designation as possible. In doing so, they fabricate arguments that have no basis in law or fact - such as ignoring that bicycles have been used in "wild" places for over 100 years and straight-facedly contending that Congress intended that "wild" places are to be ONLY experienced "slowly" or "on foot" without any form of mechanical advantage. Such arguments are ignorant at best and dishonest at worst, as they ignore the use of skis with mechanical binding, boats with oarlocks, modern snowshoes, and pedal-driven kayaks that provide a "mechanical advantage," but which are allowed in capital W Wilderness. These devices - skis particularly - increase the speed of the user that could not be obtained on foot alone. But, somehow, with no real explanation, they are more palatable to "Wilderness" advocates than quiet, human-powered bicycling.

"Another argument that is constantly made by "Wilderness" advocates is that bicycles cause more environmental damage than other forms of recreation. These advocates, however, base this argument usually on anecdotal, personal examples and not hard reseach and science. Scientific studies have shown on multiple occasions that bicycles cause no more damage and often less damage than do hikers. And far LESS damage than pack trains and iron-shod horses - which are permitted in "Wilderness" - do to the environment. Further, because bicyclists using trails are usually "in and back out" users, they do not stay on the land or stay in the area, unlike backpackers and other foot-based recreationalists, who typically occupy the Wilderness for days, themselves creating their own human-caused damage. Conveniently, however, these facts are ignored.

"It is time for the "Wilderness" advocates to stop treating those who would choose to quietly recreate in "wild" places by the means of a bicycle as, at best, second-class citizens, or enemies at worst. That the 40,000,000 bicyclists in the United States could be powerful allies in the fight for "Wilderness" is lost on the "Wilderness" community - again, to their detriment. This is no more than blatant and hypocritical prejudice against persons who are "different" merely on the basis that they are "different." The America I love has shown that it can overcome prejudice and find commonalities among groups that are more important than these differences.

"The primary and ultimate commonality between bicyclists and "Wilderness" advocates is that we both want to see the continued and permanent preservation of "wild" places free from development and to be used for quiet recreation. We both work for the betterment of the environment AND the betterment of humanity. We SHOULD and MUST work together on this issue.

"However, this is not happening. The advocates - and paid lobbyists - of "Wilderness" do not see bicyclists as equals. They insist on pushing forward with misguided and sometimes dishonest arguments that somehow bicyclists are not privileged to experience "Wilderness" on our terms and our choice of human-powered recreation. They say "go ride elsewhere" and "you've got all you're going to get," like they somehow are in a position of authority to ultimately determine the rights of bicyclists. This negative attitude is moralistic, bombastic, and condescending, as well as without support. This attitude only serves to alienate and anger a constituency who could be an ally in the work to save "wild" places.

"I hike and I backpack. While these activities are enjoyable in their own right, the feelings I feel and the emotions I experience while doing so do not approach the joy, exhilaration and contentment I experience when riding a bicycle in a natural, "wild" environment. I feel far closer to nature and far more in touch with myself when on a bicycle than when I am forced to trudge along by foot. However, I am denied to experience these feelings when "Wilderness" is imposed.

"For these reasons, I will support the protection of "wild" places, but not "Wilderness" until and unless "Wilderness" advocates end their prejudice against bicycles and work towards permanently preserving equal footing for bicycles and bicyclists in our "wild" places."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time to talk recreation!

Sometimes - ok, for me a lot of times - the decision-making done by our public lands agencies is utterly mind-boggling. Why, for example, do they continue to allow public lands to be locked up by private landowners? Why are they not fighting for land-use ordinance changes that would mandate public lands access whenever new subdivisions go in? Or... why are they allowing themselves to be held hostage by a few loudmouthed crackpots rather than making decisions that genuinely serve the public? Just as a couple of examples. I could come up with dozens... hundreds... thousands of questions.

I'll bet you have a few questions, too, and here's your chance to ask them.

The Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group is hosting a public question and answer session with representatives from the Forest Service, BLM, and wildlife agencies, November 4th at the Elko Convention Center. Doors open and refreshments will be served at 6:30PM, with a facilitated Q&A session starting at 7PM.

Show up. Bring your questions and comments, and be heard.

If you need info, call NNSG president Larry Hyslop 385-8870.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quick road and snow update

Good news - they're largely finished with the Lamoille Canyon Road project! There are still a couple of odds and ends they're finishing, but the semi trucks rushing up and down the road are mostly gone and peace has returned to the canyon, by and large. There's still some striping to do and I understand that they're going to put some more emulsion over the chip-seal part to try and tighten up some of the loose material on top. They'll be doing traffic control for another ten days or so... after that, they'll have a small crew up there if needed to take care of punch list stuff, but that's it.

For my money, the chip seal stuff is still too loose for a road bike... hopefully it'll be better after they spray the emulsion over it. The bottom part, from Lamoille Highway up to the Scout Camp, is good to go. They've largely finished the shoulder work, so between the safe shoulders, the smooth pavement and the lack of potholes it should be enjoyable on road bikes and mountain bikes both.

Also - snow has started flying and there's currently snow on the trails at the Lamoille Canyon trailheads. That will likely come and go a time or two before winter sets in, but if you're headed up there be prepared.

If you want to go for a hike and keep your feet dry you can head up the Secret-Lamoille Trail construction project - you can hike in about 3.25 miles before you hit the end of the line that the firefighters cut this spring. It's a lot lower altitude and so won't be seeing snow for a while yet. You can also hike for a while on the Right Fork and Thomas Canyon trails before you hit snow, but once you get up to the tops of the benches you can count on mud, at the very least.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Backpacking with kids in the Rubies

My husband and I recently took our kids for their first backpacking trip. At 9 and 10, it was a grand adventure for those guys... well worth the effort it took to make it happen.

There are several options for folks wanting to get their kids out in the Rubies, but I think that three of them, in particular, are just about perfect.

Lamoille Lake and Island Lake are each about two miles one way, with relatively minimal elevation gain. There are good campsites at both lakes, as well as plenty of trout for the kids to chase. I've swum in both lakes, and they're both cold... but on a hot summer's day they're entirely doable, at least if you have a kid's enthusiasm for swimming. Alas, I am afraid that my alpine-lake-swimming days are likely over.

In any event, the trailheads for both are at road's end in Lamoille Canyon.

The third primo kid trip, IMHO, is Smith Lake near Wells. Smith Lake is in the East Humboldt range (OK, not technically the Rubies, but close enough for government work.) The USFS recently re-did that trail and it's very kid friendly these days. Smith Lake is about a mile one way from the trailhead at Angel Lake. There are, again, good campsites and plenty of trout at Smith Lake. The lake itself is in a really beautiful glacial cirque... a great opportunity to show "glacier tracks" to your kids. To reach Angel Lake, take the west Wells exit off of I-80, head south and follow the signs.

And, FWIW, make sure they have a backpack. One of your daypacks will probably fit... cinch it down tight so that it fits reasonably, and put their clothes and snacks in it. Keep it light. Giving them a pack to carry makes them part of the trip, much more so than would be otherwise.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ruby Crest Trail - beta, maps and photos

I've hiked or ridden a horse on the Ruby Crest Trail for decades - I first hiked to Lamoille Lake as a barefoot nine-year-old, and first overnighted with my horse (and otherwise by myself) at North Furlong when I was about 12. It's been seven years or so since I hiked it from end to end. To me, it's kind of like one of those great books you read over and over and over again - you don't want to over-do it, because you don't want to lose the sense of wonder it engenders.

As it turns out, one of my outdoorsy friends who's relatively new to the area hadn't yet done the Crest Trail, and hell - as far as I'm concerned, if you're at all interested in the outdoors and live in the shadow of the Rubies then there's no excuse NOT to do this trip. It was a great opportunity for me to see the trail through somebody else's eyes, and to enjoy again for myself the beauty that this trail holds.

Right now, the trail is in pretty reasonable shape. We've had a recent heavy snowstorm, so there's a lot of deadfall across the trail from Harrison Pass to McCutcheon Creek. If you're bringing a horse, bring a saw. The early part of the trail, before it leaves the North Smith Creek drainage to head over the crest to Overland Lake, is very findable but quite overgrown. The tread is good, just expect to be wading through a lot of young aspen shoots.

Here's the beta for folks interested in doing this trip:


Length: 31 miles, plus an extra mile to access lakes
Difficulty: Moderate, all on trail
Day 1: Class B
Day 2: Class C
Day 3: Class D
Day 4: Class A
Time required: 3 night/4 day backpack

The Ruby Crest Trail has a lot to offer just about anybody interested in the backcountry. For backpackers, it's an assessable, beautiful, easy-to-follow trail that wanders through some of the most spectacular desert mountain scenery imaginable. For horsemen, it's a beautiful trail that any reasonably competent mountain horse and/or horseman can do. For hunters and fishermen, there is game aplenty and the fish always seem to be biting. If you have the time and the energy, the Ruby Crest Trail is a must-do trip.

In my experience, it's best to leave a vehicle at the Lamoille Canyon Road trailhead, and arrange a shuttle to start your trip from Harrison Pass. There are a number of reasons for doing the trip this way: first, you'll have the sun at your back, not in your face, for most of the trip. Second, you'll cover the potentially dustiest part of the trail first, as well as the most tedious of the switchbacks. You'll go down the steepest of the switchbacks, not up them. Third, you'll not have to worry about meeting somebody at a specific time at the end of the trip. And, finally, you'll save the best for last... the scenery just gets better as you go along, hour by hour, mile by mile. This is gorgeous country, and it's more beautiful with every step you take. Don't hesitate to dawdle.

Every day of a Ruby Crest Trail trip features something different, if you break it up into a four day trip. The first day, from Harrison Pass, is dominated by a lower-altitude ecosystem full of aspens, creeks, and ranching history. In fall, when the leaves are changing, it's stunning. Day two, heading into Overland Lake, introduces you to the Ruby Crest itself as well as the Ruby Mountain high-alpine ecosystem and some of the most impressive historical CCC trail work of the trip. The third day is dominated by the sweeping Ruby Crest... mile after mile of lonely, austere, wind-swept ridge with unending Great Basin views. Day four is the day of alpine lakes... a chain of glittering jewels scattered among some of the most jagged peaks of the range. Breathtaking.

The trail is open year-round, and you'll want to choose your time for a trip based on your expectations. Some few hardy souls do it as a ski tour. The route is snow covered and/or muddy in many places until June, and the high passes reliably hold snow until early July. Starting in July, though, the route is a riot of bursting spring, with wildflowers everywhere and plenty of water in myriad creeks and streams. In August it can be very hot, with the trail dry and dusty on the Harrison Pass end. Starting in mid-September, though, the colors are back, this time with the changing leaves of autumn. Once the precipitation starts again, with rain or the first little snowfall, travel becomes less dusty and incredibly beautiful again.

To reach the Harrison Pass trailhead, take Lamoille Highway out of Elko to the intersection with Jiggs Highway (there's a stoplight). Turn right and stay on the highway through Jiggs and into the mountains to the top of Harrison Pass. There's plenty of room for parking here. If you are in a passenger car or are towing a horse trailer, this is where you'll start your trip. If you're in a 4WD, you can turn left onto the signed Ruby Crest Trail jeep road and drive another 2+ miles to a kiosk parking area. The road gets significantly rougher after the kiosk, the walking is pleasant enough and the first day is a short one anyway, so there no reason to keep driving past this point.

This trip is described as a four day backpack; however, extra days can easily be added by spending an additional night at Overland, Liberty or Lamoille lakes. Hunters might consider spending a night in the McCutcheon Creek drainage, as well.


Distance - 8.5 miles
Elevation gain (loss) - 1800' (1900')

McCutcheon Creek Drainage

The first day of the trip is spent winding in and out of a series of drainages, walking through a tunnel of aspens through an overgrown part of the trail. The tread is good and you won't lose your way, but expect to spend some time brushing through low-slung aspen shoots or occasionally watching your head. This part of the trip can be full of bug dust in late summer, be advised.

Once you leave the kiosk, you'll walk uphill along a rough jeep road for about three miles, until you reach a saddle with a sign that points varyingly to the Green Mountain Trail (indistinct) and the Ruby Crest Trail. At this point, the route becomes singletrack, and you'll reach the wilderness boundary in less than a mile. The trail traverses along, never losing or gaining much elevation. You'll pass an intersection with a trail down Gilbert Creek along the way, and will see an old Forest Service sign there telling you that you're on the Harrison-Lamoille Trail. There are a few boggy spots along the way. At five miles you'll reach McCutcheon Creek. If you get a late start or are out looking for deer, there's decent camping here, along with reliable water. Otherwise, press on into the next drainage.

Once you cross McCutcheon Creek you'll start walking somewhat steeply uphill to a saddle between the McCutcheon and Smith Creek drainages, and then unfortunately you'll lose a lot of the elevation you gained walking downhill to the south fork of Smith Creek. Get used to it, you'll be gaining and losing elevation for the duration of the trip.

You'll eventually enter a forest of large aspen trees that holds a lot of carvings from the sheepherders who have been working in the area for decades. At first, the sheepherders who left their marks here were Basque; these days they're mostly from Peru. There are quite a few names carved in the trees from hikers and horsemen as well... if you're a local you'll likely recognize a few of the names.

At 8.5 miles you'll reach the south fork of Smith Creek. There's a good campsite in an aspen grove near the creek crossing. Antonio Hidalgo, a sheepherder from Peru, spent 1982 and 1983 here, "con mucho cojones y poco dinero." If you're on a horse, there's a spot just downhill from the campsite where you can build a temporary corral in the aspens. Unfortunately, we didn't see any fish in the beaver ponds that abound in the area, perhaps you'll have better luck.

Day 1 map... click on it to enlarge:


Distance: 6 miles
Elevation gain (loss): 2600' (1000')

This is the day you'll first be on the actual spine of the Rubies, at least for a while. It's a short day, which is a good thing because you'll want to take time and savor the sights today. If you're traveling on horseback, give your horse a chance to graze in the morning because the grazing at Overland is very limited.

North Fork Smith Creek

You'll climb fairly steeply out of the South Fork of Smith Creek, and then lose elevation gradually to cross the Middle Fork. You'll intersect a trail here that goes down to Mound Valley, and uphill to a small un-named lake. There's reliable water but no place to camp. Climb uphill again out of the Middle Fork drainage... and keep climbing into North Fork. The climb's not steep but it is steady, and is largely through a forest of scrub aspen. You'll pass a marked intersection with the North Fork Smith Creek trail, which goes down to private property at the base of the range. There's minimal camping available in the last stand of large aspens at timberline, as well as a small trickle of water from a spring uphill. The trail climbs steadily up a series of switchbacks about 1500' out of the bowl, to finally reach the spine of the range.

The views here, of Ruby Valley and the endless ranges of the Great Basin, are breathtaking. In July there will be masses of wildflowers - mule-ear daisies, paintbrush, lupine, maybe even phlox and forget-me-nots, if you're early enough. And, take note of the trail itself - the men of the CCC did amazing rock work here, clawing this trail out of the mountain. It's truly something to see and appreciate.

Overland Lake Cirque

After a short time traversing the ridge, you'll be greeted with a stunning view of Overland Lake and the beautiful tarn above it. The trail makes its way down a series of steep switchbacks to the absolutely lovely little tarn, and then switchbacks again through a field of red and yellow columbines and willow bushes down to Overland Lake itself. If you choose to visit the tarn, stay on the rocks - the grass around the tarn is actually a bog, and something you don't want a careless boot or hoof to damage.

Once you reach Overland Lake, you can find a number of campsites around the cabin and the rocks surrounding the lake. Firewood is scarce, as is grazing. DON'T tie your horse to a tree next to the lake, as some careless folks had done shortly before our trip. Instead, look for the horse camp downhill a bit from the lake, to the east of the outlet stream, and build a temporary corral there. It's well-established, horse campers visit Overland quite regularly. Again, there's little grazing here, so you'll want to bring some horse nuts or other type of weed-free feed for your pony.

There's a good chance that you'll find equipment and supplies in the old cabin on the shores of Overland. They were likely left there by one of the guides working in the area. Don't plan on using the cabin for sleeping unless you like mice and spiders.

The fishing at Overland is fantastic, so anticipate augmenting your dinner with trout. They won't be big but they sure are hungry.

Overland Lake

Day 2 map... click on it to enlarge:


Distance: North Furlong - 11.5 miles, Favre - 13.5 miles
Elevation gain (loss): North Furlong - 4500' (4000'), Favre - 4800' (4700')

Day Three will show you how well your backpack and hiking boots fit, as well as demonstrate the beauties of Ibuprofin. It's the longest day of the trip, with some of the most spectacular scenery. Once you leave the Overland Creek drainage, there is no water along the trail until you reach North Furlong, so plan accordingly.

Whether you head for North Furlong Lake or Favre Lake depends on your priorities for the trip. If your emphasis is on fishing, head to Favre. I've been staying at North Furlong since I was 12 years old, and have yet to even see a fish in that lake. They're supposedly there, but I have zero first-hand evidence of it. Favre, on the other hand, is full of enthusiastic and suicidal trout just waiting for you to tempt them into your frying pan.

If fishing isn't all that for you, stay at North Furlong. One, it's a shorter day, but two (and most importantly) the terrain between North Furlong and Favre is breathtakingly beautiful, and it really is best to enjoy it in the morning with fresh legs and eyes. There's plenty of camping at the lake itself, as well as a really nice campsite right at the intersection between the Ruby Crest Trail and North Furlong Trail. You can get water by walking several yards up the Furlong trail.

Either way, get an early start from Overland Lake. You'll be above timberline for the majority of the day, so you'll want to try and minimize any potential exposure to afternoon wind and lightning.

Sunrise at Overland Lake

The trail takes off next to the old cabin, and starts off by dropping down to the intersection with the Overland Creek Trail, leading to Ruby Valley below. It then begins a 4 mile rising traverse around the huge Overland Creek drainage. This is lovely country, complete with some beautiful waterfalls (large and small), a nice hanging valley that makes for a good side trip if you have the time and energy, and some impressive trail-building work by the men of the CCC.

Overland Creek drainage

Top off your water bottles at the beautiful black slab waterfall, if you haven't already. You may cross another stream after that, but it's not as reliable and it's better to be safe than sorry.

After four miles and 2500' of elevation gain (with 1800' of loss, there's that recurring theme again), you'll reach the spine of the range at Peak 10,207', and you'll see what the rest of your day will look like. You'll be hiking up, down and around a series of six "Groundhog Day" points, all along an austere, wind-swept ridge that offers stunning 360' views of the best of the Great Basin. Shade is nearly non-existent - there are a few wind-sculpted pines up here, but most of the plants are ankle-high. The trail grades aren't steep and the walking is very pleasant. You'll get a great view of some of the range's named peaks along the way, including Ruby Dome, Ruby Pyramid, King Peak, Snow Lake Peak, Silliman, Mt. Gilbert, and Lake Peak, among others. The third peak you go over, instead of around, will be Wines Peak, and the last of the points you'll climb for the day. Watch out as you switchback down to the sweeping saddle between Wines Peak and Lake Peak for a gorgeous wind-sculpted pine teetering over Ruby Valley, with an old USFS sign nailed to its trunk. Both are testaments to the extremities of weather here.

Looking back towards Overland Lake, Ruby Crest Trail

Gedney Creek drainage from Ruby Crest Trail

You'll drop off of the broad saddle into a quiet and lovely limber pine forest. If you're staying at North Furlong, or particularly at the camp at the trail intersection, you're a few feet from done for the day. If you're planning on hiking to Favre, your route will start to climb again after that intersection to a narrow pass between the North Furlong and Kleckner Creek drainages. PLEASE stay on the trail, even if there's snow - there has been a lot of damage here from people (and particularly horses) cutting switchbacks.

Trail between North Furlong and Kleckner Creek

Once you clear the pass you'll switch back down into an intimate, spring-filled drainage... a beautiful Ruby Mountain garden. Take some time to enjoy this, even if you're tired - it's your reward for a lot of work getting here. The trail wanders around a little bit, gradually losing elevation, until you round a big rock corner and start making your way to Kleckner Creek. You'll pass an old, decommissioned trail that goes to Favre Lake, will cross the creek and pass a trail heading down the canyon, and will eventually reach a good trail leading to Favre Lake itself. There are a couple of very nice horse camps downhill from the lake, as well as good backpacker camping in the trees next to the lake itself.

While you're here, take a few minutes to hike the short uphill to Castle Lake. You won't be disappointed.

Day three maps, south to north. Click on them to enlarge.


Distance: North Furlong - 7 miles, Favre - 5 miles
Elevation gain (loss): North Furlong - 1250' (2500'), Favre - 900' (1600')

Keep your camera at hand this last day of the trip, because the opportunities for stunning photographs are endless. This is the day you'll walk to (or past) the chain of lakes that is the heart of the Ruby Mountains - Favre, Castle, Liberty, Lamoille, the Dollars.

Favre Lake and Liberty Peak

Once you leave the shores of Favre Lake, you'll switch back uphill to Liberty Lake - deep, blue, nestled under Liberty Peak in a beautiful mountain cirque. There is wonderful camping here, and if you're looking for a way to stretch out your trip, this is a great place to stay. Gain a little more elevation, and you can catch a view of Liberty, Favre and Castle, all three, along with jagged Lake Peak towering over them all. Along the trail, as you climb above Liberty, there'll be thousands of wildflowers in July, as well as small springs hosting an evident population of wild onions. Convenient for the onions and trout to be so close together.

Liberty Lake and Lake Peak

You'll reach 10,400' Liberty Pass less than two miles after leaving Favre, and will get your first look at sweeping Lamoille Canyon. You can see the tiny trailhead below from here, as well as Verdi, Snow Lake and Full House Peaks, although you won't be able to see any of the lakes from the pass itself. Switchback down the impressive trail, keeping your boots on the tread in order to avoid destroying the thousands of fragile alpine flowers you'll pass. This pass holds snow quite late into the summer, so staying on the trail will require a conscious decision on your part to do the responsible thing. The trail winds its way down from Liberty Pass to reach Lamoille Lake in about a mile.

Swimming in Lamoille Lake

Lamoille Lake is a beautiful, greenish-blue lake tucked into a rocky cirque, full of trout and with good camping nearby. It gets a lot of day-hiking visitors, so you likely won't have the place to yourself. If you have the opportunity, take out some of the trash that's inevitably been left behind. Your backpack will likely be pretty light at this point, and there's a trash can at the trailhead. The place isn't a disaster by any means, but you may have a chance to pick up an item or two as you walk along the trail.

The trail forks just below the lake. It's 1.5 miles to the trailhead via the left fork Stock Trail, and 2 miles to the trailhead via the right fork. The right fork is shadier, if longer. The left fork is largely in the sun, steeper, and bursting with wildflowers in July. If you take the left fork you'll miss the Dollar Lakes, which are well worth seeing. Let your knees and your appetite for alpine lakes and/or wildflowers be the deciding factor.

One of the Dollar Lakes

Hopefully, once you've reached your vehicle, you'll also reach a cooler full of beer and some sandals to change into. Both will be very welcome after your days on the trail.

Day 4 map - click on it to enlarge.


If you want to make this a four night trip, instead of a three night trip, consider camping at Liberty or Lamoille Lakes, or spending an additional night at Overland.

There's a peak register on Wines Peak, if you want to scramble the ten feet or so to the actual peak and look for it.

Lake Peak is a very easy climb from the Wines Peak/Lake Peak saddle. Liberty Peak is a very easy scramble from Liberty Pass.

If you continue on the Favre Lake trail, rather than returning to the Ruby Crest trail, you'll contour around the east end of Favre and eventually gain Liberty Lake that way. It's a very short walk up to the saddle above that trail to peer into the isolated Colonel Moore drainage.

If you want to avoid the Harrison Pass end of the trail altogether, you can access the trail via the Overland Creek trail that leaves from Rock House in Ruby Valley. That is a steep, dusty trail that sees a lot of horse traffic, but because it does it'll likely have been recently cleared of deadfall by one of the packing guides. If you know one of the private property owners in Jiggs along Smith Creek Road, there's good trail access that way, as well.

Bailing out of a Ruby Crest Trail trip isn't easy and will require a lot of travel through some very isolated terrain. Be advised that you won't be able to get a reliable cell phone signal for much of the trip. Once you leave the Overland Creek drainage, you're probably best off staying on the trail itself, if possible. That said, there are good trails out of Smith Creek, Overland Creek, and Long Canyon, all of which (eventually) will get you to civilization. The trails out of North Furlong and Kleckner are unmaintained and sometimes hard to find.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The old guide trail to Talbot Canyon

Several decades ago, somebody - and I couldn't tell you who - built a steep-ass trail from just short of Pete's Corner in Lamoille Canyon, near the Glacier Overlook, over the top of the ridge to intersect the Talbot Canyon trail. The trail is four miles long, and was built by and for some awfully tough folks - or, at least, folks riding awfully tough horses. It's a 30% grade for much of its length.

That trail was allowed to fade into the grass over the years, and these days it takes some looking, a GPS, and a good imagination to find it. The hunting guides used to keep it cleaned out, but since they have access from the homeowners at the base of Talbot Canyon these days, it doesn't look as if they've done any trail clearing since the mid-1990's. That said, the trail's there, and some friends of mine are working with me to make it easier to find.

There are some good reasons for re-establishing this trail. First and foremost, for skiers, it allows reasonably ready access to some truly marvelous ski terrain. Getting up there otherwise is an interminable bushwhack, but with the trail in place accessing that ridge becomes more realistic. Painful, but realistic.

Second, with construction moving slowly on the Secret-Lamoille trail project, brushing out this old trail will allow access to Talbot Canyon and Verdi Lake more quickly. It's eight miles from Pete's Corner to Verdi Lake on this trail - doable as a day hike or day ride if you're really fit, very reasonable as an overnight if you're less insane.

And, third, once they DO get the Lamoille to Talbot section of the Secret-Lamoille Trail project done, people will have the option of a really nice loop route. This trail isn't close to suitable for bikes, but for everybody else it'd be a nice, if strenuous, trip.

So far, we have it located and brushed out to about where it says "On Ground" on the map. We still have quite a ways to go, obviously. If we can get the trail brushed to the ridgeline before ski season, I'll be really happy.

It's not very likely that the old trail left the road where it shows on the map. This was a horse trail, and the official GPSed route isn't doable by horses in a few spots. It probably took off down canyon a few hundred feet.

Even though it's steep, the trail is worth doing. Some of the views from up there are amazing. Here are Mt. Gilbert and Terminal Cancer couloir from the trail.

It's clear that this route needs a lot more than brushing. Some of the old rock work is findable, as is some of the benching. A lot of it just needs about four people with pulaskis and mcclouds for a couple of weeks.

Monday, September 13, 2010

An (amazingly unofficial) Secret-Lamoille Trail update

I'd not set foot on the new trail since they threw me under the bus earlier this year, for a variety of reasons. And none of the folks running the show have been talking with me, that's for sure. But snow up high, coupled with a desire to get some exercise prior to ski season, got me thinking about going for a dayhike, even with the extremely inviting "keep off" sign at the trailhead. It wasn't my intention to do a blog update on my findings, but what I saw up there changed my mind.

All I can say is that the incompetent hack running the show these days has pretty much needlessly squandered a LOT of money accomplishing very little. They've worked all summer long and have less than a mile of trail completed. Not kidding.

I'm not denigrating the work done by the Americorps kids, at all. They're busting their asses and have done some truly beautiful rock work. The thing is, though, that the overwhelming majority of the work they've done has been done needlessly.

When Greg Mazu from IMBA/Singletrack Trails originally did the design for this trail, he routed the section out of Lamoille Canyon with an eye towards construction costs. It was patently obvious that costs for that section of trail could go through the roof because of the huge number of rocks we'd have to work our way through if he wasn't careful. There was no question that there'd need to be rock work done with Greg's design, and we all knew it - but he'd put a lot of thought into how to lay things out to minimize it. And - we intended to use a lot of community resources to get that rock work done for free or close to it.

After they took away control of the project from the community, though, they threw out Greg's design - as well as the majority of the trail built by community volunteers - and rerouted the trail right through the areas we were trying to avoid. They're probably doing five times more rock work than we'd originally envisioned, driving costs through the roof. Not only that, but they're clearly building a Class 3 trail, rather than the Class 2 trail that was budgeted. That means the trail is much wider and much more smooth than we'd envisioned... more like a sidewalk than the kinds of trails you see around here. Again, more money wasted.

And - here's the truly ironic part - they're building this project in the middle of a mining community, where thousands of people earn a lot of money every day safely moving and reshaping millions of tons of rock. Several people from the community who were involved in the project previously have decades of experience doing exactly that. Modifying a five-ton boulder to accommodate a trail would have been an afternoon's work for these folks. Instead, the hack running the show has these kids doing this work with their backs and rock bars. Unbelievable.

I talked yesterday with one of the community volunteers who was working a pulaski on Trails Day. He's a mining engineer at Newmont, and just shook his head at what these idiots have these kids doing. He described a method to me of using a drill and some chemicals to break rock almost effortlessly and very, very precisely. Instead, these kids have been working like slaves all summer - or, more accurately, like people in the Himalaya who don't have access to methods developed in the civilized world over the course of the last century or two. All because the Powers That Be wanted to push the community out of the project. It was easier to just let the hacks take over.

And, lastly - this was supposed to be a MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL. That's why the community paid for a trail designer from the International Mountain Biking Association, to design and build a MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL. The grant funding that we won was specifically to build a MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL. So - these idiots threw out the MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL design and put in a series of short, stacked switchbacks right out of the gate, with a big bunch of hairpin turns, nearly unrideable and certainly not fun. Switchbacks were inevitable given the terrain, but Greg's design gave riders a chance to rest between switchbacks, as well as switchbacks that were, in fact, rideable. At least, if they'd built them according to his design.


In any event, here's what's up there these days - as I said, some really beautiful rock work as well as some rock work in progress. If you're at all curious about how the CCC built trails back in the day, including big chunks of the Ruby Crest Trail, go up and have a look for yourself. If you're a trail geek it's really cool to see.

Once you get past the end of the construction, you can hike for another mile and a half or so to the end of where the NDF guys and Ruby Mountain Hot Shots did their work back in May. They made a really nice trail line - as nice as or nicer than most of the trails in the Rubies.

The cleared path ends in a tangle of aspens about 3.25 miles from the trailhead - a really nice short dayhike, lovely this time of year, and well worth doing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mountain biking in the Rubies

I get asked all the time about where the great mountain bike riding is in the Ruby Mountains. Unfortunately, the answer is... there isn't any.

Not a single foot of it.

Oh, there are places we all try to go... most of us have ridden the Ruby Crest Trail from the Lamoille Canyon trailhead up to Liberty Pass (ugh)... and have ridden the Island Lake Trail (double ugh)... we've ridden up Soldier Canyon, ridden the laughable joke called the Toyn Creek Trail... even ridden the Ruby Crest Trail from Harrison Pass to the wilderness boundary.

And it all sucks. All of it.

Some of it sucks mildly less than other parts of it. Soldier Canyon is really nice in the spring when the flowers are out, even though it's a ride on a dirt road passible by passenger car. I used to ride the Lamoille Lake segment of the Ruby Crest Trail fairly regularly - it's anti-flow, 15% climbing, technical nonsense, not built for bikes and NOT FUN. But when you're desperate to ride you do what you gotta do.

The Harrison Pass portion of the Crest Trail doesn't suck too badly in July, when (again) the flowers are out. Still, you're riding up a road for the most part, and parts of it are the kinds of sharp, loose rocks combined with bug dust left by ass-wipes on ATVs who are too lazy to get off their portable couches and walk. That was a trail when I was a kid, but I digress. The truly annoying part is that the Harrison Pass end of the Crest Trail is eminently suitable for mountain bikes, at least to the McCutcheon Creek drainage. It would be absolutely fantastic riding. Unfortunately, the selfish wilderness jihadist mountain-bike haters of the world are determined to keep us quiet users out of their sacred space. We're rampaging wildland rapists, after all.

So, if you want to ride mountain bikes in the Rubies, you're out of luck. Hopefully, they'll get the Lamoille to Talbot section of the Secret-Lamoille Trail done sometime before I'm too old to ride it, but based on what I saw hiking up there today that is becoming increasingly less likely.

Here's the good part of this post - there's EXCELLENT riding outside of Ely, about 2.5 hours south. I rode down there over Labor Day Weekend, and I was (once again) blown away by just how beautifully those trails are designed and built. What's more, the absolutely stellar folks at the agencies are working hard with folks from the community to get more trails built all the time. I hate that it's not in my back yard, but the riding in Ely is WELL worth the drive.

My personal favorites: If you're looking for a short ride (about an hour), do the G Loop up at Ward Mountain Recreation Area. That's what MTB trails should be - flowy, aerobic, aesthetic, uber-fun. Even better, it can be combined with the Ice Plant trail system to create longer riding options. You can get about 27 miles worth by leaving from town, riding up Ice Plant, taking the connector to the G Loop, then taking the connector again on the way out to ride down Ice Plant again. The trail fairies have done a lot of work on Ice Plant and have put in some fun MTB features - teeter-totters, gap jumps and the like. Personally, I like keeping my rubber on the ground, so avail myself of the great singletrack they've been creating. So, so fun.

Also amazingly fun - the Twisted Pine to Overlook trail up at Cave Lake. I've ridden this both ways... riding up Overlook and down Twisted Pine means you'll have a steeper climb, but the downhill will be one of the funnest XC downhill runs you can imagine. Up Twisted Pine and down Overlook means that you'll have a hard time staying on the trail because the views of Cave Lake are so stunning.

Do it, if you've not made that trip. Go to the Great Basin Trails Alliance website for info, and huge kudos to the people making this stuff happen.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fun and games on the Ruby Crest Trail

In a desperate push to ride our mountain bikes in actual mountains, my friend Kasen and I loaded our bikes in the truck the other day and headed for Harrison Pass to see what the Ruby Crest Trail might look like these days. The trail is actually open to bikes until you hit the wilderness boundary. Whether it's good riding or not is another story.

I've ridden this route several times in July, what counts for spring at that altitude, up to the Green Mountain saddle. And even though the pedaling itself is uninteresting at best and annoying at worst, the trip is worth doing for the views and wildflowers. It's just carpeted with flowers up there - arrowleaf balsamroot, mule-ear daisies, lupine, paintbrush, lots of snowberry bushes. The ATVs and jeeps have pushed the road 5+ miles up the trail, to the saddle on Green Mountain. It is trail past that point.

In September, I'm sorry to say, the pedaling turned into 100% annoying. For the most part, the road surface was loose gravel, sharp moto-loosened rocks, and bug dust. And once you hit the trail, it became all bug dust, all the time.

At any rate, I wouldn't recommend heading up there with a bike this time of year. We'll be back in July... even with the annoyance created by the ATVers, the flowers will be worth it and (hopefully) the bug dust won't have formed.

We'll be hiking the Crest Trail next week.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On the (Lamoille Canyon) road again...

Quick road update - they're chewing up the Lamoille Canyon road right now from the intersection of Lamoille Highway, up through the turnoff to Scout Camp. It's open, but expect delays. The chip seal portion of the project is happening up top... it's closed about a mile from the turnarounds but you can still hike in to the trails, if you're so inclined.

One of the flagger gals told me that I'd been misinformed by the last guy I talked with, that the project was due for completion at the end of September. That makes more sense to me, otherwise they'd be flirting with weather.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mount Gilbert

It's been a few years since I've climbed Mt. Gilbert, and I have to wonder why. What a great climb - stellar views, an impressive-looking peak, all kinds of wildlife... even a good trail that gets you a lot of the way there. What more could a girl ask for?

My friends Bruce and Jeff suggested the trip a couple of weeks ago, and I'm darned glad they did. That said, our day turned into a bit more of an adventure than we'd anticipated - nothing we couldn't deal with, but we ended up back at the truck about seven hours late. Yes, folks, once again I ventured into Seitz Canyon, and once again I ventured into a lightning storm. So far, Seitz and I are batting .1000 for storms.

In the past, when we've climbed Gilbert, we've done so from the Scout Camp, downclimbing our up route back to the truck. One of our number had had recent back surgery, though, and between that and the storm rolling in we opted to downclimb into Seitz Canyon in order to get below timberline more quickly, to avoid slippery rain-soaked rocks, and to avail ourselves of the trail to walk out. As luck would have it, we ended up pinned down by lightning several times, squandering a few hours of daylight we could have used walking out. The good news is that we had a great time, got out safely, and had cold beer and dinner waiting for us when we got home.

Gilbert clearly doesn't get climbed very often - the old cairn and register had been removed since I was last there in 2007, and the new register placed in 2008 had only three entries besides ours. Gilbert looks a little daunting from the road, I guess, but it's such a fun climb and so readily accessible you'd think more people would venture up there. It's a super ski destination in the spring when conditions are safe. It's a darned fun - if not much visited - summer climb, as well.


Gilbert's obviously an off-trail route, which provides an opportunity to talk briefly about off-trail hiking. If you're reading this blog, this is likely old hat to you, but hopefully this will remind you to share this information with your less-experienced climbing partners.

As off-trail hikers, it's our responsibility to minimize our impact on the mountains we're visiting. As rugged as they seem, the mountains are in actuality very fragile, and it's astonishingly easy for us to create significant ecological damage through careless travel habits. It should go without saying - if you pack it in, pack it out and, what's more, pack out the other idiot's garbage, too. A little less obvious, though, is route selection.

Choose a walking surface that minimizes the potential damage done by your footsteps. The best walking surface for this purpose is - SNOW! Walk on it all you like, you aren't going to hurt anything. It's just going to melt away and leave the plants and soils underneath unimpacted.

If there isn't a handy snowfield you can use, your next best bet is ROCK. Lamoille Canyon is full of conveniently-placed rock rims, boulders, and torso-sized stones, and they make great walking surfaces. Often times you can pick your way through plant areas by stepping rock-to-rock. It usually provides great traction, too. Bonus.

If you can't find rocks where you want/need to go, opt for dirt. This will require some care on your part to avoid causing damage, but it can be done. Look for game trails - they abound, and they're obviously already impacted.

Your last option should be stepping on plants. There aren't a lot of places up the canyon where you can't find snow, rocks or dirt to walk on, but sometimes stepping on plants is necessary. I get it - just keep it to a minimum.


Here's some beta for would-be Gilbert climbers:

MT. GILBERT - 11,120'

Length: 7 miles RT from Right Fork Lamoille Canyon trailhead

Elevation gain: 4,026'

Difficulty: Class D-E-R (difficult with exposure and route-finding)

Time required: Day hike

Mt. Gilbert is the impressive-looking peak that looms over the Lion's Club Campground nestled at the base of Right Fork Lamoille Canyon. It's a north aspect, meaning that it holds snow and (later) moisture until later in the summer than some destinations. If you're planning on a summer climb, I'd suggest August to snowfall as a good time to consider. That will give time for some of the small waterfalls to dry up, creating a very user-friendly set of staircases to use to avoid brush-bashing.

To get to the trailhead, drive up Lamoille Canyon Road, and turn off at the Lion's Club Campground road. There's a trailhead parking area at the Campground gate. Leave your vehicle there. The trail starts out up the road through the campground - sometimes the people who've rented the campground will get in your face and try to tell you that's not where the trail goes... just smile and show them the carsonite trail signs you're following. They're there.

The trail departs from the road at about the A-frames and makes its way upstream to a couple of small bridges. Cross the creek and follow the trail through a lush collection of aspens and raspberry patches to the top of a glacial bench, about 1.7 miles in. Leave the trail here, crossing the creek and heading through the brush to the base of Mt. Gilbert.

Keep to the left of the dish beneath the peak, and you'll find a small waterfall path that, by August, should be largely dry. This is a great way to make your way up. It's only steep in a couple of places, other than that it's like walking up a rock staircase. You'll eventually end up at a rock band, with a very climbable mini-chute towards the left. Climb up the chute and continue to make your way uphill along a series of rocky ramps.

At about 9900', you'll reach a talus field on the east end of a glacial bench, with a lovely tarn off to your right. Start skirting right here, across the talus, beneath the obvious point, and climbing up to a series of rocky ramps and ledges. You're shooting for a spot just to the left of the lowest part of the ridge between Right Fork and Seitz Canyon. This is the crux of the route... there are a couple of places with some exposure here, where a fall would lead to significant consequences. However, there are some reasonable ledges and the hand and footholds are bomber, so it shouldn't create much whimpering. There isn't a trail, obviously, so you can choose whatever seems safest to you.

Once you gain the ridge, cross over to the other side - not only for easier walking, but also for spectacular views of Seitz Lake and Seitz Couloir, also known as the Come Line by skiers. Walk up beside the ridge until you reach the shoulder of the summit block - it's an obvious change in pitch. Cross over again and traverse across the face until you reach the obvious cleft between the main peak and the eastern sub-peak.

Here's where it really gets fun. This cleft is really wonderful Class 3 climbing, with solid holds up a steady pitch. There are lots of options here... once you gain the top you'll be greeted by spectacular views of a magnificent jagged ridge and a large summit cairn with a sparsely notated register. Enjoy.

To exit, either downclimb your route or arrange a shuttle and exit via Seitz Canyon. If you leave via Seitz, be aware that there are a number of cliff faces you'll have to pick your way through. The easiest down routes to find are closer to the lake.


Topo - this would be more useful if Google Earth had a summer image, but they don't. Sorry. It at least gives you an idea of where the route goes. You'll note that it's a little bit off - the waypoints are on the ridge and the route is actually on the other side... it's a cliff face where it shows the route on this image. You get the idea, though...