NELLIS AIRSHOW FROM FRENCHMAN MOUNTAIN
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Almost 10 years ago, my friend “Krum” learned I might be moving to Las Vegas. With uncharacteristic enthusiasm, he urged me to make the trip to the Ruby Mountains. Krum had worked as a geologist near Elko one summer, and his idea of Nevada was strongly biased by that experience (e.g., he told me that air conditioning was probably unnecessary in Las Vegas). In any case, his descriptions of the Ruby Mountains were compelling.
I almost made it to Ruby Dome in 2005, but some serious family business pulled me away, so I was unable to check the accuracy of Krum’s paeans. But the Rubies pulled at me, like some unfulfilled hunger; yet I couldn’t find any way to justify a 1000-mile round trip.
So when Howard Herndon of the LVMC suggested a Labor Day trip to the Rubies, I jumped at the chance. The trip evolved, Howard had to pull out, and Chris Ransel took over the reins. Eventually our trip crystallized into two sub-trips: 1) one group would go for Ruby Dome, and 2) a second would backpack up Lamoille Canyon. If all worked out well, the groups would meet on the 2nd or 3rd day.
Part One: Adventures of the Ruby Slippers
So at 5:30 AM on Friday August 31, Group 1 – more specifically Alan Nakashima, Ali Haghi and I – left Las Vegas for the long, long, long drive north. Mercifully – and I can’t thank my compadres enough – I didn’t have to drive one bit. We made good time, passed through Elko, and reached the Spring Creek Association office, to get the campsite key, just a bit after 1 PM.
(Now, why did we go to that office? It so happens that the most convenient trailhead to Ruby Dome is on private land, and you must pay a $25 deposit per group, and $10/person/day for access. You have to pick up a gate key at the association office; the office is open only Mon-Fri, 8AM to 5PM, so you have to plan your time a bit carefully.)
Key at ready, we drove east on route 227 to Pleasant Valley Road, then south to the camping area. Most of the campsites are rather lousy. Cows occasionally get into the campground and leave cow patties; and some people leave trash. There is little usable shade; let me qualify that by saying that the lower shady spots tend to be popular with cows. There is a pretty stream in places, but the cows graze uphill, outside the fence, so I wasn’t too keen on touching the stream. We found one site on the west side that was relatively clean, set up, and realized that we had about five hours to kill before sunset. However, with good conversation (and some wine) we were ready to hit the sack at 8 PM.
About 7:15 AM the next day, we drove up to the trailhead (gee, that looked like a decent camping area), and stumbled upward. The trailhead is at ~6500’, in a copse of low aspens and roses. From the trailhead, the travel is SE to SSE up Hennen Canyon. The first section of the trail is pretty, but we encountered cows and “cow signs” till at least 8600’, and those experiences challenged the sense of wilderness. There were many cairns to mark the trail, and finally we made Griswold Lake at ~9200’, where the trail became vague to nonexistent. (We’re not sure, but we suspect the lake was named after Clark Griswold, from the National Lampoon “Vacation” series.)
Along the way, we met two interesting groups of people. At first we saw a pair of hunters, very well tricked-out, one with a camouflage-painted over-and-under shotgun/rifle. The hunters were there on the first day of Himalayan snow-cock season, and asked if we heard any of the birds. We said we didn’t know what the birds sounded like, and were assured that the call was like no other. I noticed these guys had a better command of English than the average hunter. Then we met two fellows who were looking for a wallet lost the day before. We told them about the hunters, and one fellow, looking disappointed, said, “I guess I won’t be doing my snow-cock imitation”.
Okay, back to the trip. We worked along the east side of Griswold Lake, finally picking up the trail, which switchbacks up to a cliff band on the SE end of the lake. This cliff band contains the one slight 3rd class section of the trip; this section is at the S end of the cliffs. The rock was a bit slippery here. We turned east (left) and followed cairns (some quite artistic) on the left (S) side of a bowl, eventually finding a fairly distinct herd path to a plateau at 10100’.
At that point, the distinct herd path vanished. We worked to the right up a ridge, found cairns again. And then we took two separate routes up – Alan and Ali went up a rocky chute to the summit ridge, and I followed the cairns up to the same ridge.
At the top, we enjoyed the view, and saw that the feared storms were not to materialize. We called Luba (twice), as is tradition. The descent was via the cairned route; we thought that path might somehow be easier on the knees.
Back down near 10000’, we once again met the snowcock hunters. The taller fellow looked at Alan’s knee and said, “does your orthopedist know you are doing this stuff?” As it turned out, he was an orthopedic surgeon from Reno, did knee replacements for a living, and recognized the scars on Alan’s leg as indicative of a knee replacement. So much for my bias that most hunters are good 'ole boys.
The trip down to the car was beautiful and fraught with more cow encounters below 8600’. We got a reminder of why one shouldn’t use trekking poles on class 3 terrain (but all’s well that ends well). Finally we got to the parking lot with its expansive views of the valley, and once again wondered why we hadn’t camped there last night, since I was the only person in a tent. We bid Alan adieu, as he started his quest for South Schell; then Ali and I dropped off the key, and started the next chapter of our quest.
Part Two: Nine-Two or Seven-Nine, Good Buddy!
Ali wanted to meet Chris and the rest of the Mountaineers at the backpack campsite. We knew it was too late that afternoon to start the hike in, so we drove southeast up Lamoille Canyon, pulled off on the side of the road, and made camp. I set up my one-man tent, and Ali camped in his car. We sat on lawn chairs until 8:30 PM or so, enjoying the sunset and the echoing voices of backpackers making their way down to the Lamoille trailhead. The road had been quiet for some time, and I anticipated a peaceful night as I retired to the tent.
Then two fellows drove up and began setting up a tent, in the dark, on this same improbable raised shoulder of the road. Probably, they didn’t even see my tent, which was dull green and over by the tall grass. They tried (sort-of) to be quiet, but it isn’t easy to drive stakes into rock-hard compacted gravel without making some noise. Then they set up cots outside the tent (which was just a rain precaution), and began chatting about life. I listened to 15 minutes of this deep philosophizing, before deciding that I had to find someway to shut them up. I started an eerie wild animal imitation call: “bwa-a-a-a-ck, bwa-a-a-a-ck!” Suddenly they were quiet… “Sshh! Did you hear that? Yes, but it seems to have stopped.” My turn, more insistent, “bwa-a-a-a-a-ck, bwa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ck! BWA-A-A-A-CK!” We’ll, they did get quieter. I began to fall asleep, thinking how I might try to explain this noise in the morning (“Did you hear the Himalayan snow-cocks last night?”).
The next morn Ali and I woke, packed our stuff, and met the two cot sleepers. They were actually pleasant fellows from Utah, who were on a road trip, in part to gamble. No mention of the snow-cock.
Now we prepared to find where the LVMC group had started the hike. I had read Chris’ e-mail, and couldn’t make heads or tails of their plans; all I remembered was the assurance that the two-way radios would be set on channel 9, privacy channel 2. Somehow Ali found the correct road, and recognized Snafu’s car to boot (“who else would fold his mirrors down and have a custom tool chest in the back of his car?”)
We began backpacking south up the same canyon LVMC had traveled in the 2005 trip. We kept trying radio communication, but got no response. (We later found a simple explanation for the radio blackout: the other LVMC members had decided to change from 9-2 to 7-9.) We crossed the canyon, amid the abundant works of bank beavers. Near the end of the canyon, we saw no tents; but fortunately, we saw Beth fishing. She directed us to the real campsite location, where we met Snafu, looking much like the fellow in “Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe” (without the naked woman). Soon, various hikers - from that day’s trip on the crags - began to filter back to camp.
That was one of the most pleasant campsites I’ve ever experienced. The ground was soft, the shade was great, water was nearby, and we had great views over a cliff to the north. We told strange jokes and laughed a lot. Someone said that after you are married for a long time, your spouse can read your mind. Snafu turned to me and said, “I pity your poor wife.” Finally it was cold, and we zipped in and went to dreamland.
About 4 AM, I heard a commotion over by Snafu’s tent. My first thought was “bear – Snafu will know how to handle this.” Then in my refusal to wake up, I worked the noise into my dream. I was convinced that Snafu was building a lean-to from the dead pine near his tent.
When I woke, Snafu’s tent was gone. At first I wasn’t surprised, since he had probably moved into the lean-to. But there was no lean-to. Then I heard Chris calling Snafu on the radio. OK, now I got it; Snafu had started early so he could walk out slowly on his gimpy knee, without slowing down the group. (That was very nice; I guess it made up for changing the radio channels.)
We wound our way north down the canyon, trying to find any bushes we failed to hit on the way in. Still it was a dreamy, pleasant place.
The final highlight of the trip was a great, cheap Mexican meal at Sergio’s in Elko. The place reminded me of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Albuquerque; reflexively I ordered “pollo chimichanga, sin las cebollas” and the guy answered me in perfect English. I then showed the group how to bite a jalapeño so the juice squirts a tablemate in the face. Everyone (except the fellow hit in the face) thought this was very amusing.
And then we took the long, long, long drive back to Vegas.
October 13, 2007
Though I have been up Turtlehead Peak many times, it was a first for many in our group. Steven Newell enjoyed his first summit of Turtlehead while youngsters Nicholas Owen and Sierra Brewster got to ride to the top in luxury. Also, five-year-old Toby Brewster proudly summitted (for the first time without hitching a ride on my back). It was a gorgeous day. Parts of the trail were washed out from a September storm, but overall, it wasn't too much worse than usual - many paths splintering off, all steep and on loose gravel (especially noticeable on the descent). Young and old, we all had a great time. And kudos to Kim for making to the top carrying Nicholas!
NELLIS AIRSHOW FROM FRENCHMAN MOUNTAIN
In mid-morning, on November 10, 18 of us met at Charlie and Arlene's house, situated at the base of the Frenchman Mountain. A few in the party, (including trip leader Amy) had done the hike before, but it seemed that nobody had ever done it exactly the same way twice! After conferring, we decided to head up a route a bit south of the peak, alternately following a prominent side canyon and spur.
The weather was comfortable - not too hot, and a bit hazy. Our group included five kids, including the indefatigable five-year-old, Toby, and his 23-month-old sister, Sierra, (carried by Joel in a brand-new Deuter pack: the Cadillac of kid carriers). The rest of us included hikers who were young at heart, including Chris Meyer's father, Fred, who was visiting from Florida.
Roughly the first third of the route followed a well-defined trail put in by volunteers. Eventually we opted off of it and climbed over and around an outcropping through some sharp rock. The terrain was generally solid and not very loose. Below the peak, we traversed a draw up and then followed the ridge past one set of the antenna arrays at the top.
On our way up we watched aircraft flying as part of the annual Aviation Nation Air Show at Nellis, but the real display was put on soon after we reached the summit - the Thunderbirds who flew for a half an hour around the Las Vegas Valley. Although unfortunately, they never buzzed our ridge, it was a unique perspective from the peak.
We moved back down the route in good spirits and with only a few scratches. Ointment and gauze was applied to Cassie, who braved a skinned elbow. Reaching the base of the mountain, Arlene and Charlie invited all in to their home for medicinal refreshments (wheat beer) and a beautiful view of the city at sunset.
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