Climbing Ruby Dome

For the past 2 years we have used a "Brack-it" to determine where we go for Independence Day. Id est, we brainstorm 8-16 ideas, rank them, put them in a NCAA-type bracket, then "roll the dice" to see which one wins. This year the winner (#3 seed) was a trip to the Ruby Mountains of Nevada to climb an Alpine 88 peak that has been on my list for awhile. It did not disappoint.

Ruby Dome and Ruby Pyramid

Trip STATS - L/5mi - V/5,800'

Ruby Dome - E/11,387' - P/4,809'

Ruby Pyramid - E/11,380' - P/480'

Ruby Dome is the highest peak in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada. I've heard the phrase "best kept secret" thrown around a lot when talking about different wild places, but the Ruby Mountains truly earn the title. A beautiful wilderness full of towering peaks, cliffs, and alpine lakes where we did a moderate overnight hike to the highest peak on 4th of July weekend . . . and only saw one other group of dayhikers. Brilliant.

Day 1 - Trailhead to Griswold Lake

The hike starts off in the worst way . . . hiking a mile up a dusty desert road to get to the trailhead. See, the trailhead (or just access to the trailhead? it's not entirely clear) is owned by the Spring Creek Homeowner's Association, and they charge $10 per person per day for a key to open the gated road. For our 2 night trip, that would be $60 to save us a mile of hiking. No thanks. Seriously, if they charged $10 per vehicle per night, (i.e. $20) we wouldn't have though twice about paying. As it was, we parked at the gate and trudged up the road to the trailhead.

Looking down Hennen Canyon toward Elko.

One of about 6 waterfalls feeding Griswold Lake during peak snowmelt

Shade is at a premium on the hike to Griswold Lake, our destination for the night. So is access to water, so the hike up was hot and dry. Tory, being almost 7 months pregnant, had to take things extra slow, which was good because I don't think I wanted to go much faster. The scenery turns gradually from desert to alpine as one climbs up Hennen Canyon to the lake. We had heard the trail was difficult to follow in places but we had no trouble following the trail all the way to the lake. It only took basic routefinding skills - i.e. awareness of your surroundings and the ability to spot cairns.

Rapid snowmelt from the soaring temps of previous weeks created quite a display of waterfalls cascading down the canyon walls.  Butterfield Creek was roaring, and there were too many waterfalls to count.


We got a respite from the heat just as we reached the lake. Clouds quickly built over the basin and we barely had time to set up our tent before a storm hit. It passed quickly, though, and in no time I had a campfire going. Tory cooked up some spicy chicken tacos that were much tastier than camp food has a right to be. The sun put on a brilliant display for us before we crawled into the tent for some much needed rest.

Griswold Lake Still a little snowy, but plenty of room to set up camp.

Day 2 - The Climb

Ruby dome from the lower saddle.

I woke early to get onto the snow while it was still firm. I'm always surprised (pleasantly) how easy it is to get up in the morning when I have a big summit to look forward to. Tory had decided to opt out of the summit climb and slept in. By 5:15am I was on my way, working clockwise around the lake to a route I had scoped out the evening before. There are any number of ways to get from Griswold Lake up to the "lower saddle" and it's hard to describe the exact route I took. It is pretty steep (steepest part of the climb) so I avoided snowfields as much as possible.

Once at the lower saddle, a climber has the choice of continuing up the West Ridge or traversing across the basin to the East Ridge. Going straight up looked pretty intimidating but my mind was already made up since I hoped to summit Ruby Pyramid as well. The traverse across the snowfield was easy and quite pleasant; perfect for my first solo snow climb. It never got very steep and a series of small basins made for nice breaks in the vertical. In less than 30 minutes I had made it to the Ruby Dome-Pyramid saddle.

The Ruby Mountains . . . not what I think of when I think of "Nevada" - although I suppose the name kinda fits.

The final 480', up the east ridge, was almost too easy. The snow was melted on the ridge, and the bouldery rock was quite solid. Class-3 scrambling was largely avoidable, but also largely fun, so I went out of my way to get as much as possible. At the summit, the view of the surrounding Ruby Mountains was surreal. Who knew that a place like this was hidden away in northern Nevada.

Panorama from the summit.

At the top, I must confess, I shot my first (and only, to date) facebook live video. That was fun, and something I'll probably do again at other peaks. I was in no hurry so I sat at the top for a good 30 minutes snacking, signing the summit log, and taking pictures. It was a beautiful morning and I was glad to be high up in the mountains rather than sweltering in the desert below.

The "Knife's Edge" of Ruby Dome, looking toward Ruby Pyramid. It's an airy stretch or rock, but not particularly narrow.

The hike back down to the saddle was quick, and once there I stashed most my gear. With only my camera and a granola bar I climbed up the other direction to Ruby Pyramid. This ridge was a little more scrambly, with plenty of Class 3 and even a little exposure. I imagine most of it could be avoided but I wasn't interested in that. The view from Ruby Pyramid was just as good, and the sheer drop off the west side made me a tad dizzy.

I returned the way I came and made it back to camp by 10:00am. Unfortunately, there isn't much dayhiking to do from Griswold Lake other than Ruby Dome. 10:00am is way too early to settle down for the day. After much debate we went for a short hike above the lake, then packed up and headed down to Elko a night early.

Fascinating snow melt patterns in the valley below Ruby Dome

I must admit the descent from Griswold was miserable. It was so hot and dry, especially at the bottom when we had to retrace our steps down the dirt road. Rarely has a cold hotel room felt so good.

Day 3 and 4 - Elko

We picked a bad weekend to go to Elko. Elko (sorry, Elko) doesn't have a lot to do in the first place, and almost everything was closed, even the attractions normally open on weekends. Here are some of the highlights:

  • We caught the tail end of the Basque Festival. That seems like it'd be a lot of fun.
  • The airport actually has a pretty nice museum dedicated to the first air-mail delivery, which went from Seattle to Elko. It's free, and so is short term parking.
  • We didn't get to see the Western Folklife Center (they were doing inventory) but it looked fun.
  • McAdoo's had good sandwiches and the best Watermelon Soda I've ever had.
  • On the way back we stopped at the Metropolis ghost town. Very cool ruins. And lots of owls. Seriously, we saw 6 owls on the drive in. Not sure what the deal is with that.

In conclusion: Ruby Dome is a fun climb. The Ruby Mountains look amazing and I can't wait to come back and check them out some more.