Location: Ruby Mountains, specifically Right Fork Lamoille Canyon
Conditions: Wonderful bluebird spring pow, crunchy/crusty down low transitioning to blower up high.
Story: Mt. Gilbert has been on my list of dream lines since I first set eyes on it years ago. It's a huge glacial horn that appears spectacular from State Route 227 (Lamoille Rd.), and is easily visible just before reaching Terminal Cancer Couloir. The imposing north face stretches over 3,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon, and appears to be the only feasible route to the top of the peak. It's one of the most dramatic and sustained lines in the Rubies, and requires the right combination of stability and good snow to be feasible. Its upper reaches are certainly no-fall zones, and an avalanche there could be catastrophic. However, this is one of Nevada's most proud and worthy lines.
Gilbert and the Right Hand Fork as seen from the road
After a phenomenal winter in the Great Basin, I knew that the line would be filled in. Now we just needed the right conditions, and the motivation to drive 5 hours from Reno to Lamoille Canyon. After a few weekends which seemed to offer the right weather but lacked us going to the Rubies, it was time to stop talking and actually go do it. The weather looked like it would cooperate again too! Theresa and I left Reno at a nice (could have been earlier) 8:00 PM on Friday, and drove as far as we could. After crashing out in some open desert near Carlin, we awoke to bluebird skies and expansive views.
Beautiful desert morning
A few stops later and we were in Lamoille Canyon, scouting the line from the road. It looked good! We discussed options for climbing the peak, for possible turn arounds, for other places to ski if we bailed, etc. Finally, we decided to give it a go, and left the truck at the Right Hand Fork trailhead around 9:30. A little later than hoped, but not bad considering the distance we had come from Reno!
Scouting and contemplating
Mt Gilbert rises over 4,000 ft from the trailhead, and its North Face loomed above us spectacularly as we approached up the canyon. Our gaze was fixed on the line, contemplating the steepness, conditions, our nerves, etc. I was especially on the look out for roller balls and any perceivable instabilities, as the day was warming quickly.
All of sudden, we both noticed something rocketing straight down one of the upper snowfields, just to lookers left under some big cliffs. A huge powder cloud was coming off it, and it didn't look like a rollerball or falling rock. I thought there was no way it could be a skier going straight down that steep slope either -what the hell?! It disappeared from view, and Theresa and I were left pondering.
As we rounded the next corner, our objective came into better view and we realized what we had seen. It was in fact a snowmobiler -accompanied by several friends also on sleds. To our disbelief, they were in the process of high marking and tracking out most of Mt Gilbert below the steepest part of the face! There was nothing we could do but watch, and hope that they saved us some scraps. Before we could get too close, they dropped back to the canyon floor and cruised away out of sight. Damn!
Tracked, by those snowmobiling punks! Kind of impressive actually.
In some ways, witnessing the sledders was encouraging. We now knew that conditions were blower powder up high, and also that the lower slopes weren't likely to avalanche. We both felt like we had been snaked on our objective, but also felt like the severity and gnar of the location/situation was diminished. Theresa said she felt like we had just been shown up by a bunch of kids. I was pissed -Mt Gilbert is clearly in the Ruby Mountain Wilderness, and should be off-limits to motorized use!
Another upside to the snowmobiles were the tracks they had left, which ended up being a lot easier to ascend than the surrounding deep snow. We made good progress to the bottom of the steep upper face, and peered into the gut of our line. The North face of Mt Gilbert has one main chute which drops from the top, which is interrupted by a huge cliff band about 2/3 of the way down. From a distance we weren't sure if we'd have to traverse out above it, or if there was a way through. From directly below we could see that there was a narrow way through the cliffs, but that it would be very steep. However, the snow seemed excellent and we decided that the line would be manageable.
Theresa is still smiling despite 4k elevation gain behind us.
Soon we had donned crampons, and were booting up the steepest part of the face. I tried not to look down or contemplate the huge cliffs we would be crossing over, and put my efforts into post-holing uphill. As we climbed higher the line actually eased up a bit, and our nerves relaxed. The views in all directions were fantastic, and we fantasized about the many other awesome lines we could see. Soon we were at the top, exercising extreme caution on the large cornice which hung over Gilbert's other (much cliffier) sides.
The top! Nevada or actually Alaska? You decide.
After a snack it was time to ski! I dropped in first and popped a small windslab at the top of the face, turning out to the side when I witnessed the cracking. Luckily the slab was only a few feet across, and we watched as snow sloughed down the main gully. Sloughs would ultimately be the main hazard for our descent, as the snow was very cold and loose. It felt like we had returned to midwinter in Japan, and we took turns hooting and hollering down to various safe zones. All too soon we were rocketing through the narrow lower chute, and staring back up at our line.
About to trigger a small windslab...
Oh shit! All good though.
Theresa approaching the crux
The feeling of completing a descent I'd been dreaming about for five years, was absolutely amazing. Almost nothing can compare, and I really owe it to Theresa for being game to try the line, and to share that moment with me! We were all smiles.
Can you spot T zooming out the bottom?
Since the snow was so good, we opted for a short skin up to another small notch on the face. From there we were able to take a fall-line ski down some North facing goods, where the snowmobilers had graciously left us some fresh tracks. The skiing was amazing, with some nice cliffs and other features sprinkled in for good fun.
Pow face or O face? Maybe I'm just stoked that the sledders left us some freshies.
Never quite satiated, we decided to ski one more line on the way out. This turned out to be quite the boondoggle in the late afternoon heat, and we got more than a little lost. The Rubies are full of complex terrain, including many ramps and ridges that only lead to impossibly sized cliffs. Luckily I had taken a picture earlier that showed the potential line (out of sight on the skin up), which appeared to be a continuous ramp of snow through cliffy terrain.
After finding an entrance that seemed right, I convinced Theresa to go first. The slope was steep and committing, but she dropped in with style. I thought the line was to the right, but she peered over and said "no way". It was all cliffs. Straight down looked to be cliffs too. Shit -were we in the right spot?!
Theresa on what was accidentally the gnarliest line of the day!
I decided to drop in too, hoping that I wouldn't be booting back up the slope in a few minutes. I carefully looked left over some cliffs, and noted that there was a way! Theresa traversed over to me, and we picked our way through one at a time. Conditions weren't as good as Mt Gilbert, but we enjoyed the line regardless.
Running it out through the burn. The fire actually improved skiing here!
At the bottom, we traversed out through forest that had been burned by the recent Lamoille fire. Blackened trees gave way to thicker glades, and my legs almost gave way as well. It was getting late and the southwest facing slopes had started to crust over. After what seemed like the longest run ever, we were back at the bottom of the canyon at the Boy Scout Camp. We found a creek crossing, and made it back to the truck in time to crack a cold one for sunset. What a day!
I consider Mt. Gilbert to be my proudest NV line yet. It's a real deal mountain with real deal risks, and you need skills and the right conditions to descend it safely. The Rubies are an absolute playground, and I also saw about 20 other lines that I'm now enthusiastic about. But don't just take my word for it, go find out for yourself!
Huge thanks to Travis and Brittany for hosting us at their lovely home in Spring Creek afterwards. The elk burgers might have been the best thing all day! Truly an honor to be welcomed in after such a long day, and thanks for understanding about our tiredness.