Wheeler Peak, Ruby Dome
By: Greg Vernon
Both Greg Vernon and Larry Machleder finished the DPS list on Ruby Dome. Greg led: Larry was Assistant: and I was the "Group". We began our 1,900 mile round trip on Friday morning. Larry and I drove to Indian Wells lodge near Inyokern. We met Greg there, left my VW inside the gate thanks to the lodge proprietors and consolidated ourselves and our gear in Greg's pickup.
There was good road all the way. We went north on U. S. 395 to Bishop. There we picked up U. S. 6: as well as a supply of ice and cold beer. U. S. 6 takes you to within a few miles of Baker, NV. Dinner Friday was in the mining center of Tonopah, NV. We unanimously do not recommend the chinese-american restaurant in the center of town across the street from the Mizpah hotel. It was still early when we hit Ely (pronounced EE-Lee) and 50-60 miles later we turned off on Nevada 73 to Baker. Baker was dead and dark but our headlights picked up the several large signs pointing the way to Lehman Caves and Wheeler peak.
It was only 11:00 P.M. when we bedded down in the Forest Service campground at roads end. That campground is nice. Plenty of trees, birds and space. Each campsite has a level square of concrete with a table and charcoal type stove. Several streams come down from the Snake Range and water the region. A good trail starts at 9,951 feet and - even though it is windy and cold and rainy, we followed it to the center cairn of the triple summit on WHEELER and discovered a forest service register in a rural mailbox inside a stone windbreaker. Greg and Larry were not as jubilant as I expected them to be - what with only one more peak to go to finish the list. We followed, a snow-filled gully back down to Stella Lake and the trail out to the truck for lunch.
U. S. 93 goes north from Ely to Wells and I-80 goes west from there to the cattle town of Elko. You can count the difference in miles on one - or two - hands, and the road is great all the way. The "Commercial Hotel and Casino" in Elko provides a decent, filling meal at a reasonable price and the menu is varied. We do recommend.
Nevada is renumbering it's highways and #46 is now 288(46).. But, it still goes south from Elko to the Te-Moak (Southfork) Indian Reservation at the base of the Rubies. Greg had his heart set on climbing Ruby Dome via Echo Canyon - and that's what we did. The Echo Canyon route is NOT to be attempted by your "Average" DPS peakbagger since a considerable amount of "Adventure" can be encountered there. But, if you want to try, you turn east from Hwy 288 (46) on the narrow, paved road leading to Lee, NV. A good dirt road leaves the paved one at a sharp angle eastward about a mile before you reach Lee. This road passes a drive leading to some houses and then begins paralleling a barbed wire fence on the right (east) side. Pass by the first dirt road leading off through a gap in the fence. A mile further another road goes east through the fence. This is the Echo Canyon road. It is unsigned. It begins well enough but quickly becomes class 2 due to some deep ruts which have washed out and become small gullies. After many jouncing miles (about 5) the "road" drops down a short grade to Welch Creek, where it becomes Class 3 - strictly 4-wheel drive - or even better - caterpillar tread. You should have stopped and camped at the top of the grade. It only adds one mile and about 400 feet of elevation to the climb.
There was a bulldozer there and evidence that work was going forward to construct a road further into Echo Canyon. Maybe - in the future - it will be drivable, but not now. It was still daylight when we made camp on the slopes of the RUBIES, at 7,200 feet elevation. We kept our eyes peeled for warbonnets and paint ponies yet despite several belts of Yukon Jack, undesignated brandy's and beer, we saw nothing unusual.
Like a kid who can't wait for daylight to open his presents, Larry was up Sunday morning, grousing at Greg and shouting at the "group" to hurry up. East up Echo Canyon we hiked - at one point climbing 80-100 feet above the trail to avoid thick brush. Actually the mountainside is striped with game trails and the brush is only knee high chinquapin. We maintained elevation - about 7,200 -, 7,500 feet for two miles to another creek coming in from the north. Here we left Echo Canyon and went northeast, crossing the creek aforementioned. Three quarters of a mile further, another creek came in from the northeast. We followed along this creek with RUBY DOME in plain view. It is a beautiful Canyon with lots of water coming down. Camping sites are plentiful. Deer abound. We jumped a fine, healthy doe and at about 10, 000 feet we startled three beautiful young "spike" bucks. There were glaciated, granite slopes for us to climb over, but nothing more than class 2 stuff. We went directly for the peak itself on the way up, but descended via the cirque west of the dome. Either way is class 2.
The weather was good- even a bit warm - the views of the other peaks of the Rubies were piquing - The excitement of the list-finishing was subdued (I think its better to finish on Pleasant or Nelson and have 300 people and 50 bottles of champaign). The climb required 4 hours - the descent 2 1/2. Ice-axes were not required, though they could have been - another year. One of the conditions of the permit to cross tribal lands was that we close all gates and refrain from littering. The latter was easy enough, but stretching those barbed wire gaps required an engineering degree and hydraulic jacks.
From Elko, we took IH 80 to (almost) Reno and dropped down to South Lake Tahoe and south to a national forest campground near Carson Pass to spend the night. Ah! The Sierras! There is no mistaking them. Gentle Wilderness. Monday we hiked Mt Roundtop from Carson Pass before taking the long drop down U. S. 395 to the 'Two Sisters in Inyokern where the three of us did real justice to the $5.85 buffet.
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