Rubies Day 2

By Luca

4 September 2011

Very little can be found online about Pearl and Sherman Peak. I was in touch on email with some locals and even they had no clue what the best approach to the mountan could be.

Both of the peaks are on the “ruby crest”. There is a well maintained trail (which becomes a road in sections, btw) that connects Lamoille Canyon to almost Sherman Mountain, called Ruby Crest Trail.

This trail is not terribly long (40 miles) and a lot of “bagging” could be done along it, but we definitely wanted a shorter approach.

The ill-prepared rangers of the Humboldt-Toyabe national forest had very little idea these mountains even existed; the girl I talked to could have been a coffee-shop part-time worker and know more about the questions I was asking her. I never found any ranger able to give me a useful answer, ever. Not in the Inyo national forest, not in Nevada, not at Lava Beds. Nowhere. They seem to be mere bureaucrats paid with our money. This is truly saddening.

The only information that the “ranger” was able to give me was that the ruby lake road (CR 788) was passable to 2wd vehicles (and I add that it was a nearly-paved quality road).

So our trailhead had to be on CR 788. Examining the topographic map, it seemed feasible to take a ridge and gain the ruby crest and then scramble up to Pearl, but the stats were horrifiying: almost 5000 feet in 3.5 miles!

The drive from the campsite was short, less than 10 minutes. We parked at the beginning of a “car-tour” loop that goes into the wildlife refuge, next to an abandoned wooden cabin. We were ready to start at 7.30am.

Until then, we had not even an idea how Pearl looks like; the peak was a “selected” peak in the Sierras and we were told it’s worth the effort and this proved to be true. The name Pearl is probably due to the white rock at its summit, which distinguishes this aesthetic peak from the neighbors.

The initial slope – which was already taking me out of breath – soon became very steep, as expected. We started to head northwest, although we should have stayed on the ridge south of ours, probably saving some time.

The hike was nice and steep, over some low vegetation and – later – talus. We managed to reach Pearl at 10.30am, in only 3 hours. The register was very sparse, showing no more than 1 or 2 people every year; it seems most of the people were hunters that were experiencing dry days and ended up there.

The bonus peak for the day was Cass House Peak, no more than a couple of miles away. From there, I had researched another gully to go back to the main road.

But we still had a lot of time and I told Ephrat “how about doing Sherman today?”. Sherman was targeted for the following day and it’s the southernmost “tall” peak in the Rubys. It looked extremely far from Pearl, but we agreed to give it a try.

The Ruby Crest Trail is the only trail I know that truly stays on the crest of the range, including every little bump on it. Sometimes we cut lower and we avoided some up-and-downs, making the going a little faster.

To our surprise, the faint trail became a well maintained gravel road with some very stiff 4wd sections; the nature of the trail helped us speeding up a lot and we reached the top of Cass House at 12pm.

I think there was a house at some point, but at the moment only the foundations are there. We were joking about “Mr Cass” on the way up, saying that Mr Cass would offer us a cold drink after reaching the summit...

From the broad summit, Sherman seemed still extremely far… but at this point this was our mission. We needed to drop down from Cass House and the easiest way was to backtrack what we did and continue on the Ruby Crest Trail, but my poor route-finding and the desire of not taking the same road twice made me “shortcut” through thick vegetation, while Ephrat decided to take the easier way to the trail. It proved to be a wash in terms of time and we both met before an unnamed (?) pass. At this point it was real road-hiking and the pace was fast.

There was also the threat of bad weather, since it was a 20% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, but we managed to escape the rain just in time (like every other way).

Before “Uncle Sam Mine” (which we didn’t see despite passing next to it) the road forked. The correct way was to go right and climb a ridge; the road looked extemely steep but it would have been an easy hike.

We sadly decided to make a left and followed the primitive road to its terminus. From there, it was slow-going through bushes. We had to lose elevation and eventually we dropped down to a gully that was going exactly west, ending atop the plateau just north of the mine. This cost us a great deal of time, as it took more than 30 minutes to cover the short distance of the gully.

The plateau next to the mine is at 9600 feet and we the mountain is only at 10200, so we thought it would be easy from there. Unfortunately there is no connecting ridge from the plateau and it’s necessary to drop down quite a bit.

I waited for Ephrat and asked her what she thought. She pointed at the north-east ridge stating it wasn’t too bad. But after reading the map more carefully we opted to descend south-east in order to lose less elevation and we reached the summit via the east-face and then the south-east ridge.

It was 4pm when we found the summit register (placed by the usual Gordon McLeod). It was really time to rush down, since there wasn’t too much daylight left and we had no idea of the conditions of the route we wanted to take.

We could not quite follow the exact track I had on my GPS, but we managed to find a gully that brought us all the way down to a 4wd road. The gully itself was steep and there were some slow sections, but it wasn’t too hard. Still, the fatigue and the hard terrain made it fairly hard to go back to the main road, which we reached few minutes before 7pm.

Once at the road, we were lucky enough to hitch a ride from a hunter that brought us back to our car, otherwise it would have been 10 extra miles of hiking! Being at the campsite in daylight was never in our minds, but it happened.

This was the toughest day of the Ruby Challenge.

Stats: 19.3 miles, 11h18, 8250 feet elevation gain

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