A Ruby in the rough: backpacking a northeastern range
Chip and I set off to find out for ourselves on a backpack trip last September.
The vast majority of hikers head straight to Lamoille Canyon when going to the Rubies. But our guidebook spoke well of the range’s Soldier Lakes Basin area, in the northern end, and a hike up a pretty creek. We took a back road, which would eventually take us to Lamoille, past historic ranches to get to the trailhead.
Next morning, we set out to hike five miles up Soldier Creek to the meadows of the basin. At the trailhead, two Reno couples in their late 60s asked us to take their photo. Turns out, one of the husbands had been a Basque shepherd there 50 years ago.
He still had a thick accent, and said he had spent five summers in a tent, walking more than 250 miles every season with the flock.
The bushes along the creek were filled with berries and rose hips in early autumn, and there were many pretty falls. At the top were meadows covered in a reddish-orange shrub, very pretty against the green meadows and blue sky. We skinny-dipped in a shallow lake, seeing no one all day but a mom and daughter from Elko and two horse riders.
Next day, we completed the back-door drive to remote, pretty Lamoille, with its ranches shaded by huge cottonwoods and lush town park. It’s the kind of tiny Nevada town to which I could happily retire.
Lamoille Canyon is called “the Yosemite of Nevada,” and is indeed very impressive. The guidebooks say the Rubies are unusually alpine-looking for Nevada, and they do resemble the Sierra, with its intense glaciation: subalpine lakes, hanging valleys, cirques, deep U-shaped valleys and ice-polished granite peaks and slabs.
We hiked in 51Ú2 miles, cresting Lamoille Pass at 10,400 feet. It had clouded up and began sprinkling on the pass; it was hailing by the time we had dropped 500 feet to azure-blue Liberty Lake.
The guidebooks suggested that we head another half mile and 500 feet up to 9,900-foot Castle Lake, a classic hanging-valley cirque, for more solitude. Sure enough, we were the only campers on the lake for three nights. The alpenglow at sunset that evening on Lake Peak (at almost 11,000 feet) and the red bushes above Castle Lake were gorgeous.
The Rubies are famous in ornithology as the only place in the nation where you can see an imported Asian game bird: the Himalayan snowcock. So all U.S. birders must come here to get it on their “life lists.”
The turkey-size bird resembles a sage grouse. It was introduced in 1963, and there are only an estimated 1,000 today. Snowcocks have an odd foraging pattern of roosting up high, flying down to the bottom of the mountain, then climbing back up while foraging all day.
We did a traverse up to the ridge above Castle Lake for superb views of jagged peaks and U-shaped valleys. Then we dropped back down to the Ruby Crest Trail for the four-mile hike to Wines Peak, at 10,900 feet.
Below a 10,000-foot pass, the trail dipped near a lake, the last water for 11 miles, according to our book. Then we went up to a windswept pass with squeaking pikas and marmots and views of Elko and its valley. On top, we had a stupendous view of miles and miles of peaks. We saw no one that day until our hike back, and then only about six people.
The problem with the Crest Trail is it has very few offshoot routes for dayhikes. So we decided to back-track to go cross-country three miles up to the side of 10,900-foot Liberty Peak.
We took self-timer shots of ourselves in front of a dramatic ridge above two valleys. Mr. Geology Doctorate explained it was a circumdenudation, in which there is a ridge remnant of the former erosional surface prior to glaciation.
We savored wonderful, new views to the north of Ruby Dome, then hiked along the ridge to the peak and an overview of Liberty, Favre and Castle lakes. Chip spotted a herd of about 15 deer, the white-tail species, versus our mule deer, that far east.
On our way out the next morning, a golden-mantle ground squirrel posed for Chip to take a textbook-perfect photo. Because of light rain, we had to forgo a planned hike up the right fork of Lamoille Creek – providing a good excuse to return.
• Pat Devereux, of Stagecoach, is an avid hiker. Contact her at