Location: EastSide (East Side of Rubies, East Side of South Rubies, East Side of East Humboldts)
Conditions: Rain affect down low, transitioning to windboard, windbuff, and full on powpow at higher elevations. Mostly staying cold, especially on North aspects and at elevation. Snowpack is sitting about average, which translates to decent coverage on most aspects above 7,500 feet. Many lines are skiable, though some bigger lines could use a little more coverage.
Avalanche Concerns: Some variable layers, and windloading on many aspects. Pearl Peak especially had some weaker feeling layers under a heavy wind slab (mostly southeast/east aspects). Overall felt fairly stable though, as new snow has been minimal recently.
The East Humbolt Range at Lizzies Basin
To me, the Ruby Mountains are undoubtedly Nevada’s premier ski destination, so much so that I’ve been inspired to make a near-annual pilgrimage despite the long drive from Reno. Often labelled the Alps of Nevada (most-often by me), the Rubies have stuck in the minds of many transient backcountry skiers -at least enough to merit one of the 50 classic ski descents of North America (called Terminal Cancer Couloir of course). But that couloir is really just the tip of the iceberg, and any visitor will quickly realize the range is tall, rugged, and very expansive. It’s a true gem of the Basin and Range.
Most ski traffic gets funneled to Lamoille Canyon, a natural access point and remarkable recess that cuts into the range from the west. It’s certainly a spectacular place, and the only non-private property winter access on the West side of the mountains (this is really quite a shame -the range is nearly 40 miles long and full of potential). However, past reconnaissance has shown the east side of the range to be much more accessible, and rarely visited by skiers. With the mountains experiencing “average” snowfall amounts, and Tahoe doing very poorly, my interest was once again piqued.
I hit up Connor Phelan to chat about the long weekend, and he quickly mentioned interest in skiing some of the range’s higher peaks. He is attempting to ski all of Nevada's feasible Prominence Peaks, and so Ruby Dome, Hole-in-the-Mountain, and Pearl Peak (each the respective range highpoint of the Rubies, East Humboldts, and South Rubies) are all on his hit-list. I was keen to check out the East Side, and knew that the best access for Pearl and Hole-in-the-Mountain would be from that direction. We had a plan and some motivation! As the weekend approached our group grew...eventually including 9 different individuals.
Early Saturday Morning at Carlin Camp -about 4 hours drive from Reno
The crew rallies for Dunkin Donuts in Wells, ski objectives looming in the background....
After a late evening Friday departure from Reno, we crashed out at a familiar campsite near Carlin with 6/8 of the crew. In the morning we woke to cold temps, and rushed to Wells for coffee -and to meet the rest of the group. At Dunkin Donuts we found Bob and Andrew, enthusiastic for the day's mission. The plan was to cruise south along the East Humboldts to Hole-in-the-Mountain Peak, an 11,000+ ft. behemoth that rises dramatically above the surrounding desert.
Theresa Road Walking again. Hole-in-the-Mountain is the highest point on the right of the snowy basin.
Now with 4 cars and 8 people, we made the short journey south and quickly cut across ranch lands. A few beefy bulls parted for us, and we drove frozen roads toward the Lizzies Basin access point. Soon we were skinning up the sagebrush, making fast time with a hyper-effecient crew.
Group Meeting below the basin. Mordor Couloir to the right, other lines scattered about.
It quickly became apparent that the group had two different goals. Connor wanted to bag the summit of Hole-in-the-Mountain, while Bob and I wanted to avoid the high winds (and clouds) and instead ski some gnar! The options were plentiful and we were salivating over all the steep couloirs. As only made sense -the group split into two and we were each on our separate missions.
Our goal was to ski that sliver of snow up there!
After a bit of difficult skinning, we switched to crampons and began assaulting our couloir. It was steep, and quite thin! Around 600-800 feet later we found a nice cave at the top, and decided to transition to skis rather than attempt a very exposed traverse above cliffs to gain the ridge. The snow was sugary in the high rocks, and potentially windloaded. Plus -I think we were all nervous enough for the steep and tight couloir below.
Our line to the left, the hole in the mountain (a HUGE arch) to the right!
At the cave, and a ski shot!
The boys were gracious enough to give me first dibs down the narrow couloir! Heart racing, I made jump turns down the sugary top, sloughing some snow down with me. About half way through and my legs were fully sauced. This was my steepest ski of the season, and first time booting straight up. I mustered up some strength and finished off in good form. The snow was edgeable but not dreamy -the kind of chalky steeps that will absolutely destroy your legs. And the chute was a sustained 45-50 degrees, certainly a no fall zone. One by one we cruised out the bottom with smiles and high-fives all around.
Taking in the scenery on the way back down.
We skied that?!? Yup
Back in Lizzies Basin we rejoined the other crew, who had successfully made it to the summit of Hole-in-the-Mountain Peak (congrats guys!). We shared more smiles and high-fives, and then bombed some nice mahogany back to the cars for beer. The clouds also gave us an excellent show, with an extremely unique wind-wave setting up over the range.
That evening the clouds kicked in and we headed south. The forecast was for stormy weather and possible snow accumulation the next day, so of course we needed a good campsite and some access points for the range.
While driving around in the dark, we came across two women who had gotten their car stuck in the snow up on Harrison Pass. They had spent the afternoon digging out with a dog's tennis ball thrower (what do you call that thing), and then finally given up and started walking. With 8 strong people and many snow shovels, we were convinced we could get them unstuck. We drove up the snowy pass, and pushed them out in no time -hoping to get some "good karma" in the form of powder snow the next day.
Our good karma quickly abated as we spent the following hour driving around in the dark being indecisive about campsites, but eventually we drove back to a nice spot we'd seen off Harrison Pass. That evening we cracked jokes around a huge fire, and munched delicious food in anticipation of the next day's PowPow.
We woke in the morning to pouring rain (at 6,500 ft), and morale was low.
Rainy day at Harrison Pass
Eventually we shook out the tents, and started looking for some skiing. After boondoggling around for about an hour, we finally found an access spot directly off the road (this was important because we had 4 cars -one of which was a prius). The nice lady who owned the ranch nearby, was kind enough to let us park in her driveway -though she seemed perplexed by our desire to go skiing there. Her dogs thought they might even come with us
The cutest little fluffy Corgi/cattle dog combo.
In a short amount of time we were at snow, and skinning above the rain. The winds were ferocious though! We would get short bursts of clear skies, allowing us to see great trees and storm skiing above, followed by virtually no-visibility and howling winds. After a few hours of bundled-up skinning, we all huddled in some trees and decided to head down. We had no idea how much farther we could go up, we just knew that it was too damn windy (edit: we made it to around 8800 feet, and the top of the mountain was 10,000+).
The skiing was decent, but not the PowPOW we had hoped for. In places it was quite wind-affected, in others there was rain crust, and in some spots the vegetation was simply too thick. Overall I'd give it a B+, with some great mahogany glades boosting my overall impression. I would love to go back to that zone (east side of Tipton Peak) with some better snow and visibility.
Theresa and Lacey
Eventually we all got split up at the bottom in the willows. Thrashing through dense vegetation, I think we all thought the same thing: lets get out of here and go relax! That afternoon the sun came out, and we enjoyed some glorious time at the local Hot Hole. By the evening we were feeling rested and rejuvenated for our final ski goal -Pearl Peak.
The Weather forecast was looking good too. The clouds were slowly clearing, and the outlook was for mostly sunny skies. We sent the night off with a big bonfire, and mostly all called it quits a bit early.
Connor Getting wood!
In the morning we woke to clearing skies, cold temps, and amazing views. The Ruby Valley is simply a stunning place, and we all took in the sunrise with gratitude. After some piping hot coffee it was time to get to it! Pearl Peak Baby.
Sunrise on the Rubys, with Harrison Pass (splits the main/south Rubies) just above the truck.
Pearl Peak in all its morning glory.
We drove over to Pearl Peak, and found numerous dirt access roads on the east side. In fact, access was plentiful and phenomenally easy. We drove up the road that looked like it would take us most directly to snow, and it did! No problems. Even the Prius made it.
Super prius at the trailhead
In a short amount of time we were skinning up gullies and then Pearl Peak's northeast ridge. I had initially thought that Pearl would be a bit of a novelty, only worthwhile because of its height and prominence, but I soon realized how wrong I was. From the ridge we gained amazing views of the north face and northeast cirque, zones riddled with cliffs, couloirs, chutes, and interesting lines. As each of us drooled over different objectives, we put our heads down and suffered through the wind...yet again. Clouds rolled in and out, views were fleeting then amazing, and the trees were fantastic (even a sporting some hardy bristlecones!). After a few hours we made the summit!
Where we going skiing???
Pearl Peak northeast side
At the top we were once again high-fives and fist bumps, although a little nervous for our planned line. We all agreed that we wanted to drop in on an interesting hanging couloir, which ended in a dogleg traverse shoot out to the hard right. From a distance it had looked good to go, but the exposure was huge. The main couloir ended in a 200+ foot cliff, and falling would be horrible.
Undeterred, Fred dropped in first and the rest of us followed suit.
The line turned out to be totally manageable, though still a bit puckering. The dogleg traverse was fairly low-angle, but extremely committing. Several complex fall-lines lead to huge cliffs, and we all had to be cautious. One by one we made our way out the bottom, all smiles to have completed another "classic" Nevada line.
Connor zooming out the bottom. The exit to our line was the not-so-obvious traversing strip of snow, located in the middle of the shot.
Snow conditions were the best of the trip (and some of the best in a while for us depraved Tahoe skiers), so some of us opted for a second lap! With difficulty we skinned up steep treed slopes, and eventually reached the top of what we had earlier dubbed "the scimitar", a steep and slightly curving strip of snow amongst trees and rocks. After a few minutes to take in the view, we dropped in for our last turns of the trip.
Theresa on the way back up.
Fred at the top
Theresa Finds POWPOW
Steep and Yum
The line provided the goods! All too soon we were zooming out the bottom, and then traversing smooth mahogany windbuff back to the ice/rain line. After one short walk over some dirt patches, we were back at the car and sad to head home.
The Rubies once again provided a magical weekend, cementing their status in my mind as Nevada's greatest range! (Although we technically skied in three separate mountain ranges, I really consider them to all be the same -as they are roughly connected geographically. Only small passes separate each, and in any other state they would be one and the same.)
Now...why can't we have more three day weekends??