Toiyabe Dome, Ruby Mountians, Snake Range
By: Wynne Benti
ARC DOME (11,776') AND CIRQUE MOUNTAIN (11,406'), Arc Dome Wilderness, Toiyabe National Forest; 4,600' gain, 12 miles round-trip.
We drove the scenic route north from Tonopah, several miles past Carvers, Nevada to Ophir Road, a steep 4WD-only route which passes through aspen groves, rugged creek crossings, abandoned mines and the ruins of the old mining town site of Ophir; continuing up to the crest of the Toiyabe Range. From the spectacular crest, the road descended into the Tomba Band of Paiutes Reservation. We then followed the road to Columbine Campground on Stewart Creek.
We started the hike to Arc Dome from Columbine Campground on a well-defined trail, through dense aspen groves out onto open sagebrush covered ridges. The climb seemed to wind on forever. On the final approach to the impressive summit, we passed the ruins of stone living quarters built and used by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey during the operation of a heliograph station on the summit of Arc during the 1880's. The ruins of the old station are quite impressive, with apartment-like quarters carved into the summit. The heliographs were one of the quickest means of communication between Salt Lake City and Carson City, over the vast and empty Nevada desert. On the return route, we wandered over to Cirque Mountain and signed the register, placed in 1988 by John Vitz.
As soon as we reached Columbine Campground, around 4:30pm, we drove on to Monitor Valley, stopping at Spencer Hot Springs for a clean, warm soaking. From the hot springs, we drove USFS Road 001 across the Toquima Range to Monitor Valley and the old, abandoned 19th century Potts Ranch. Out in the middle of lonely, but beautiful Monitor Valley is a hot tub, which is filled with hot, clear spring water. This perhaps, is one of the most wonderful springs around. We soaked again, then camped around the bluff overlooking the springs. RUBY DOME (11,387'), Ruby Mountains, Humboldt National Forest; 5,400' gain, 10 miles, round-trip.
The following morning, we left Monitor Valley and drove the endless Nevada highways to Elko, where we stayed at the Shiloh Inn. Andy had contacted the Spring Creek Homeowners Association prior to our trip, and was told that the Association had hired a security guard to patrol the Spring Creek Association Campground road access (the starting point for Ruby) and shooting range at any given time (which shares the same gate as the campground). We were told that if asked by the guard to leave, we would have to oblige, and that we would have to park outside the campground gate on Pleasant Valley Road as key access is no longer given to non-association members. Apparently, hikers of the past, had either cut the lock on the gate, left it open so grazing cattle escaped, or had driven through the gate when open, without permission to enter, causing the Association to have to send someone out to wait for the returning hikers so the gate could be locked again. The USFS, told us that it probably would be all right to walk across the Association's property to the trail as long as we parked outside the gate.
On Wednesday morning, we drove to the locked gate on Pleasant Valley Road, parked outside the gate, climbed over it, and were on the private road to the Spring Creek Campground at 5:35am. We walked the road to its end at a camp spot, with two picnic tables made of stream bed stone. Walking approximately 20 feet past the picnic tables, we came to a cattle gate, which we opened and closed behind us. This put us on the trail to Griswold Lake. Upon closing the gate, the trail immediately veered left, crossing Butterfield Creek, where it cut across a gentle ridge, heading southeast, with aspens and the creek to the right. There was a second gate, which was self-closing. Once past the second gate, the trail continued through the aspens and came to a barbed-wire fence which was most easily crossed in the middle of the creek, where debris floating downstream had been stopped by the fence, creating a natural bridge.
Without a trail guide, we navigated by topo to the peak. The trail wound its way through the drainage and opened up onto a large talus field. We climbed the talus field, but found on the descent, that what appeared to be cliffs to the west on the ascent toward the drainage, were actually a series of narrow, but passable benches which could be easily followed all the way up to Griswold Lake. From the lake, we followed the use trail on the east side of the lake, which climbed steeply to a saddle just above tree-line. We turned southwest, along the west side of the Thompson Creek drainage to a snow-filled ramp. We ascended the ramp using ice axes, and once at the top of the ramp, Ruby Dome came into view. From our viewpoint, the approach routes seemed vague, but a friend of Andy's had climbed up one of two chutes (known as "Russ' chute," after Russ White, the Nevada geologist and climber of obscure western ranges) just below and to the west of the summit. Both chutes were filled with snow, looked very steel) and crumbly. We decided to turn immediately west, and climb the cirque wall on the west side of the Thompson Creek drainage. This route went very well, as we followed narrow ledges below the northwest ridge, to the saddle below the summit. From this point, the summit of Ruby was approximately 250' of gain. When we reached the Spring Creek Association Campground and shooting range on the return trip, a number of shooters were plinking away at the range on the other side of the campground. As we walked down the road to our car, we noticed that the shooters had left the gate unlocked and open, and that the rancher's cattle were freely roaming and running all over Pleasant Valley Road! So much for blaming the unlocked gates of the past on the climbers!
WHEELER PEAK (13,063'), The Snake Range, Great Basin National Park 3100' gain, 8.5 miles round-trip.
Thursday, we drove more endless Nevada highways to Great Basin National Park, where we camped at 10,0(X)' Wheeler Campground. It would have been an absolutely beautiful, quiet evening beneath the stars, except for about ten drunken German tourists, in the only other inhabited site, singing songs of their homeland in falsetto, 'til a ranger finally wandered over.
The next morning, we walked from the campground up the trail to Wheeler Peak, passing through aspens in the process of turning orange and gold. The trail is well-traveled all the way to the summit. On the summit of Wheeler, we met Pete Yamagata's friends, Lilly and Anna Chaput from Auburn, California, who were signing into the register which is kept in a mailbox. We felt like we were picking up the bills we left at home when we opened the mailbox and added a register book.
We returned to Wheeler Campground around half past noon, cleaned up, and took the Lehman Caves Tour. Legend has it, that the rancher who discovered the caves, did so while traveling on horseback over the sage-covered terrain. He and his horse fell into a hole which turned out to be an opening into the caves. The rancher, who was fast with a rope, lassoed a tree before hitting bottom and he and his horse were suspended in air for four days until rescued. When he was finally rescued, his legs were permanently bowed from holding up the horse! After the tour we bid farewell to Great Basin National Park. and drove to Ely for dinner at the Copper Queen. From Ely, we drove once again across the Great Basin, reaching Bishop around midnight. In Bishop, we relaxed for a day before returning to the southland. It was another great trip to the spectacular Nevada desert.
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