I decided to do a solo trip of Ruby Mtn on Friday. Seeing as how the route description in the 75 Scrambles book was extremely vague and warned of treacherous route finding I decided to supplement it with Smokey Don's (aka Glacier Peak's) WTA trip report. A word of caution - Smokey Don's trip report looks deceptively similar to the route described in the 75 Scrambles book (i.e. start up a rock slide just off highway 20, go up 500 ft, etc.) but it is NOT the same route - they are on completely different sides of Horsetail Creek. I realized this about 2000' up. Just so I don't confuse anyone, I did Smokey Don's route. Be warned this is an off trail route - bring long pants after the snow cover is gone. More importantly, pay very close attention on your way up as route finding will be even more difficult on the way down.
The best way to describe this route after ascending the rockslide from highway 20 (just after milepost 133), bearing left around the mossy covered cliffs, and staying to the right of the rockslide is... if in doubt, seek the steepest route up that is safe to navigate. Sooner or later you will attain the ridge above Horsetail Creek at around 4250' with views of the summit to your left. There is a steep section at around 4350' which is easier to ascend than it looks. At around 4450' you will encounter a cliff above a small creek. This is a critical navigation point - no matter how you get here you must ascend it (a steep goat path to the left appears to be the only way up). After this, simply follow the ridge up, ascending a few more steep sections and through a bit of brush, reaching a knoll at 6315'. From here the summit is a steep but non-technical 1100' scramble that is currently free of snow.
I reached the summit at approximately 3:30, roughly 7 hours after leaving Highway 20. There looked to be quite a bit of snow on the northwest shoulder (route described in 75 Scrambles book) but there was none at the summit. The views of Ross Lake from the 7408' summit were simply magnificent.
Clouds obscured the tops of many nearby peaks but the sun was shining and aided by a refreshingly cool breeze with absolutely no bugs so I found it hard to complain. I was the third person to sign the register this year. I spent an hour and a half on the summit hoping for more clouds to burn off while enjoying lunch and noting some familiar names in the summit register - Mitch B., Mike T., and Karen S. to name a few. There were quite a few comments about brush and I concluded the alternate routes must be much worse - what I encountered didn't seem like anything a true peakbagger would complain about. By 5:00, the clouds were refusing to budge on the peaks I was waiting to photograph so I decided it was time to head down. As I carefully descended the rocky ridge a large marmot greeted me below to bid me farewell.
By 6:30 I reached the knoll at 6315' and was feeling quite good about making it down before dark. It was nice to know I could consult the backtrack feature on my GPS if necessary. I had made sure I turned off my GPS before reaching the summit to ensure plenty of battery life on the way down. Coming upon the first steep section I consulted my GPS for reassurance. Ahh yes, bear right. Then another steep section, bear right, then left, no problem, memory serves correct. Finally I came upon a major drop off. What the , I didn't come up this did I?!? Consulting my GPS I realized I was perched above the cliff at 4450'. Bear right. Ahh the joys of technology! I continued down for another 5-10 minutes or so remembering that I eventually needed to start bearing left. Let's see... I reached for the GPS in my hiking short pocket. Not there... I must have stuffed it in the side of the pack. Nope. Inside my pack? No. Oh sh##! I must have dropped it sliding down that goat path at 4450'. In a panic I dropped my pack and traced my steps back. As I got a few hundred feet away I thought to myself, I hope I can find my pack again, but I seemed to have been on a fairly obvious path and didn't give it much of a second thought. Reaching the cliff at 4450' I searched for my GPS to no avail. Eventually my senses returned. What that heck are you doing? Find your pack and get off this mountain you idiot! But how far down did I leave my pack? Which direction did I come up? That obvious path didn't seem so obvious any more. Ugh!!! Panic took over again...
Now let me say this. If you ever get into dire straits like this, stay calm. The worst thing you can do is panic which will only prevent you from thinking clearly. And if it isn't obvious buy now, never ever ever EVER leave your pack when you are hiking off trail... I searched desperately for my pack taking various routes up and down, but the only thing I found was myself quickly becoming dehydrated. Darkness was starting to fall and I began to wonder if I should abandon my pack all together. My pack contained my map, my compass, my headlamp, my water, my jacket, enough gear and food to weather the night... if only I could find it. Oh God, help me! On the other hand I had my car keys in my pocket. Should I leave now? I might be able to get down before dark.
I made the decision to abandon the pack. In hindsight it was probably not the wisest of decisions. It was getting too dark to navigate the steep slopes and myriad of small cliffs, but I had made my decision and there was no turning back. As it got darker, I decided the safest way to descend was to slide down the steep hillside on my rear and use the heels of my boots to brake, grabbing onto vegetation if available to further arrest my descent. Fortunately I had put on my gaiters earlier to combat the brush above. My biggest concern was not the scrapes I was inflicting on my hands and upper legs but rather that I would get stuck at the top of a large cliff band without water and have to be rescued. From the lights above Diablo Lake it was also starting to become clear that I had not traversed far enough right on my descent. I could hear the creek to my left where I remember the map indicating some very steep slopes, confirmed by the sound of large waterfalls as I continued down. I traversed right as best I could eventually coming upon a steep rocky slope, which looked "iffy" to get down or across. Fortunately I found a small section with just enough vegetation for a sketchy traverse. The rest of the descent seemed to last an eternity but I eventually reached an overhang above the highway and was able to find a steep dusty gully to descend safely to the pavement.
Not knowing how far away I was from my car I flagged the first set of headlights that passed by in hopes of hitching a ride. I guess I can't fault the lady for keeping a safe distance and only offering to call the police. I found it more annoying that she kept asking me to repeat what had happened over and over again. After she left, several other cars passed by but I decided not to flag any of them - it just seemed easier to walk the road than explain the story to anyone. As it turned out I was less than a 1/4 mile from my car. I wasn't looking forward to the long 3 hour drive home but the bottle of water I had stashed in my trunk never tasted so good or was consumed so rapidly.
Passing by Concrete on the way home I decided the townsfolk would not mind if I took it a little fast thru their town around midnight. I soon discovered that was not a wise decision either. Fortunately the patrolman took pity on me after hearing my story and let me off with a warning in lieu of steep fines for going 52 in a 35, driving without a license, and not having up to date proof of insurance. From that point forward I had a completely different perspective on the events of the day, realizing things could have turned out much worse .
The next day I returned to recover my pack. I didn't want to spend the next few days worrying about whether a bear would sniff out the banana peel inside and/or debate whether or not it was worth the effort to recover the pack at all. There was just too much gear I would have to replace, not to mention my wallet, camera, battery, memory cards, etc. After searching around for 45 minutes I was never so happy to see my Mountainsmith Ghost resting against the side of a log. BTW, if you do happen to find my GPS somewhere between 4300' and 4500' on Ruby Mtn you're more than welcome to keep it . Be careful out there...Tom
Tom, sorry to hear about your rough trip. I hope I did not mislead you into thinking my route was the same as the 75 scrambles book. When I did the trip I started out thinking it was the route described in the book, though I eventually learned otherwise. The mileage from campground to parking is off in the book. I did not realize the mistake I made also until I reached the ridge and saw the location of the summit, I guess I should have noticed I needed to be on the other side of Horsetail creek!!!! Anyway, glad to hear you made it out with only minor scrapes. Those are the type of trips that make us better at navigation, or at least pay better attention to the details. That trip also made me realize that a write up in a book is never a substitute for careful planning on a map. There was a summit register ? Who could find it under all that snow anyway.
No biggie. I had researched the route, or so I thought... the one on the other side of the creek . My first mistake was assuming the milepost marker in your report equated to the driving directions in the guidebook, but it makes me feel better to know those distances are flawed. The funny thing was my GPS showed creeks on both sides of me, just like I expected to see. If I had zoomed out enough I would have noticed the mistake. I was also wondering why my GPS was telling me the starting point from the road was around 200' lower than the elevation indicated in the book. In any case, it was a great route, and looks to be an easier scramble to the top at the end. The summit register was under a rock pile just north of the relay tower. You can see the pile to the top right of my blue pack in this picture. That area may have been corniced when you were up there.
Joined: 16 Dec 2001 Posts: 3644 | TRs | Pics Location: Snow Lake hide-away
Wed Jul 24, 2002 5:21 pm
Quite a good story Tom, unfortunately at your expense. Glad you got back safe and sound. When you went back up to get your pack, how far was it from your pack that you had searched the night before? I've been in a similar situation though on a much smaller scale of adventure. Funny how when you choose your downhill route and realize that it's not what you thought the realization hits pretty hard that going back up trail is not only going to use up valuable daylight hours, but wear you out in the process and then you still have to find another good route. It's easy to see why one gets panicky quick.
Polarbear, my pack was about twice as far back as I searched the night before. The funny thing is I distinctly remembered climbing up the steep section at 4350' when backtracking for my GPS. However, when I was coming back down to find my pack, my mind refused to accept the validity of this vital information (which resulted in me searching too high that night). It's interesting the kind of tricks your mind plays on you when you're panicing.
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