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...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Seitz Lake Trail beta

Why is it that every time I go up Seitz Canyon I end up in a rainstorm? Today's drenching was actually pretty welcome - no lightning and I was beginning to get a bit ripe. In the past, though, I've been caught up there in "Holy SHIT find cover FAST" kinds of lightning storms. Nevada - don't like the weather, wait a minute. ;)

Seitz Canyon holds some good memories for me. Waaaaaaaaaay back when, Seitz Canyon was the scene of my very first backpacking trip - as well as my very first "Holy SHIT find cover FAST" backcountry experience. When I was sixteen years old, the trail up this canyon was in good shape. Now, not so much. It's there, but it's a "Where's Waldo" hide-and-seek-fest.

Flowers are putting on quite a show right now, and there's no need to die of scurvy - currants are everywhere. The serviceberries are just starting to generate fruit, not close to ripe. There'll be a lot of chokecherries this year, too (if Seitz is any indication).


Figured I'd throw up some beta for those Californians looking for Ruby Mountain trail info.


Length: 10 miles RT from Spring Creek Association 4WD "trailhead"

Elevation gain: 2700'

Difficulty: Class C-R (moderate with route-finding)

Time required: Day hike or overnight

The Seitz Lake trail is a great day hike or overnight for those interested in getting off the beaten path. Literally - the trail is very faint and there's a high probability that you'll spend at least part of the trip routefinding. Be that as it may, Seitz Lake is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Ruby Mountains, and that's saying a lot.

The Seitz Lake trail is a non-wilderness, non-motorized trail, meaning it's open to hikers, horsemen, mountain bikers, skiers, etc. That said, it is not even remotely SUITABLE for mountain bikes, and unless you have legal access you'll have a hard time getting a horse in there. And, once you do - this is no trail for a $30,000 sandbox horse, or for a horse that stands around six months at a time. This is a trail for a steady, strong, self-confident mountain horse. Be advised.

The hike is rated moderate due to the necessary route-finding. The hike itself isn't difficult - there's not much elevation gain in the scheme of things, it's not that long, there's no scrambling or exposure. That said, you will be spending much of this hike off-trail, and will need to be comfortable with cross-country travel. Not only that, but you will need to be comfortable out there on your own - there's no highway up this canyon, cell phones don't bounce, and the cavalry will NOT be coming. I doubt more than a couple of dozen people make this tour every year.

Seitz Canyon can be accessed three ways without getting into mountaineering, none of them particularly easy. You can travel overland legally from Lamoille Canyon, starting your hike by the pulloff for the Powerhouse Picnic Grounds. That makes for a long day. You can ask for access from Ruby Dome Ranch - you're not likely to get it, but you definitely won't get it if you don't ask. Don't trespass, these guys will not put up with it.

The easiest way to access Seitz Canyon is through the Spring Creek Association campground. If you're not an SCA homeowner, you'll be trespassing, but I've never heard of SCA having problems with it. Be a good guest, stay low profile and it's likely that they never will. That's how this trip will be described.

To reach the SCA campground - from Elko travel SE on Lamoille Highway (5th Street) approximately 17 miles to Pleasant Valley Road, a dirt road that takes off straight as an arrow towards the Rubies. The road will make a 90-degree turn - at this corner you'll see a locked green gate to the left. If you have a key to the gate and a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, you can save yourself some walking by driving in. Otherwise, park here and climb over the gate.

From the gate, walk or drive up the section fenceline (it'll be on your left). The road will very quickly turn into a rutted 4WD road. If you're adventurous you can take this road almost all the way to the ridgeline and save yourself a bunch of hiking. You are here to hike though, right? The road will bear right away from the fence and you'll come to a convenient wide parking spot. Leave your vehicle here if you've driven in.

You'll start the trip cross country. Find a nice contouring cow trail and head north east towards the section fence. There are plenty from which to choose and there's no reason to turn this into a brush bash. Make your way uphill to the ridgeline... you'll likely want to follow the contour trails and make switchbacks for yourself. When you get close to the ridgeline, be near the section fence, where you can pick up another nicely contouring cow trail heading into the canyon.
An altimeter or GPS comes in handy here. You'll need to cross Seitz Creek at right around 7000', otherwise you'll be tangling with a hell of overgrown chokecherries. Stay climbers right of the creek and contour your way along the hillside - it's a pretty walk and, again, there are plenty of cow trails and game trails to keep the brush-bash to a minimum. When you get to about 7000', look for a portion of the creek bank that's been cut away by the water. There are some deer trails through the trees about here, and the creek's comparatively shallow at that point. Once you cross, walk straight ahead and you'll be able to get onto an old jeep road that goes another 1/2 mile or so up Seitz Canyon.

As you walk up the road, keep an eye out for the "trailhead" - a rock cairn by a mahogany tree. If you get to the end of the road, at a hunting camp, you've gone too far. Backtrack about 150'.

Once you get on the trail, it becomes very lush, very overgrown, very beautiful. The route largely sticks with the route shown on the USGS topo... if you get that route into your GPS you'll likely stay pretty close. If you don't have a GPS or can't be bothered with trying to find this ephemeral trail, don't worry. Stay climbers left of the creek, stay out of the beaver ponds. The trail will skirt climbers left of those ponds.

There'll be two big benches you'll want to climb... it's best done by getting above the rimrock shelves on your left. There are a fair number of rock cairns, as well as other routefinding friends - sawn deadfall and branches, a few blazes, bent/broken grass. There aren't a lot of tree carvings, but there are a few.

Once you top out on the second bench (past a couple of truly lovely waterfalls), you cross a large field of slickrock as you make your way to the lake. Take some time and savor this - it's beautiful and it gets more so with every step you take.

After about five miles, you'll be at Seitz Lake.

Keep your eye out for critters, I've seen river otters up here (very cool). There are also a lot of ducks and plenty of the other usual suspects for the Rubies.

Heading down, you'll find that it's a whole lot easier to stick with the trail. Don't miss the creek crossing, it comes up faster than you expect. There's a big glacier-remnant erratic boulder with a rock cairn on it, that's your clue to leave the jeep trail for the creek.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ruby Dome access update

For those of us (ahem) who have keys to the locked gate at the Spring Creek campground - and thus access to the trailhead for Ruby Dome and other destinations in that part of the range - the Spring Creek Association is going to be changing out the lock (boo!) Anyway, a new key will be $5 if you turn in your old key in exchange.

If you don't have a key to the gate you can still crawl over/through and walk up the road to the campground to get to the trailhead. I don't know if it's legal or not but I've never heard of anyone being busted for trespassing. Based on the number of names in the Ruby Dome register that obviously don't belong to Spring Creek property owners, it's pretty apparent that more than one person has gone over that gate.

IMHO it's utterly ignorant that Spring Creek Association locks people out of that trailhead. I can understand Spring Creek wanting to keep the campground and rifle range for its residents - it's their investment, after all. But put in a man-gate already so that people can at least walk in or ride in on the road and access the forest. Sheesh.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lamoille Canyon Road update

Well, since Google Analytics tells me that there are still a lot of folks coming to this blog for information on Ruby Mountain trails, I guess I should pass along updates as I have them on topics other than the Secret-Lamoille Trail.

I had a chance to ride my bike up the Lamoille Canyon Road today - a friend of mine likens my riding a 35-lb mountain bike on that road to pushing a barn door uphill for eleven miles, but I digress - anyway, the road is still open to the top and all trailheads accessed via the road are still reachable by car. The snow melted out significantly during my trip to Iowa, and the trails are open and in good shape.

So far they've replaced a lot of the culverts that went under the road, have installed some new ones, and have done some drainage improvements. They're also in the process of replacing the guard rails. The road is still driveable... on a bike, it's a little sketchy on the downhill... lots of gravel and a few places where the pavement has been cut out all the way across for culvert installation. They've also done some work cleaning out the shoulders, so the previous 2" or so dropoffs are bigger. I'm not sure I'd take a road bike up there... will stick with my cross bike when it's running again. YMMV.

They're using a pilot car system, so if you're in a car plan on some delays during work hours. They've been letting me through on my bike, which is nice.

One of the crew guys told me that they planned on starting chip sealing the road in another week or two, starting from the turnaround and heading downhill, and that they are planning on digging up and repaving the road from Lamoille Highway through the Narrows. Completion date as of now is scheduled to be November. They are not planning on widening the road, which is good news IMHO.


I was interested to see that they've replaced the no hiking sign (hiker with a red circle and slash) at the S-L trailhead with a couple of signs that say "Trail under construction - please do not use. Unsafe." That's funny as hell considering that half of the system trails in this forest are nothing more than blazes and rock cairns. It's more dangerous riding my bike down that piece-o-crap pothole-riddled road. Give them credit for trying, at any rate.