Ruby Mountains Wilderness (Nevada) 13-Sep-2017

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

This hike was part of a hastily arranged roadtrip to Nevada to escape the wildfire smoke that was smothering Southern Oregon.  It was also an opportunity for me to visit a few localities I’d missed in years past, such as the Ruby Mountains Wilderness, which is located on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest about 30 miles southeast of Elko, Nevada. Almost 40 years ago, I drove into the Thomas Canyon Campground at the mouth of Lamoille Canyon, got out of the car, gazed in wonder at the surrounding glacier-carved escarpments, got back in car, and drove off.  Because, in those days, I believed, with the ineffable hubris of youth, that I had places to be and things to do that were more important than wilderness. Oh, what foolishness.  Well, those other places and other things have now come and gone, and it was finally time to visit this wilderness which I had so easily (perhaps too easily) spurned back in the day.


Paved Forest Road 660, off of Nevada Highway 227 out of Elko, took us directly to the Roads End Trailhead high (at 8,800 feet) in the heart of the wilderness. From there, we planned to hike over Liberty Pass (10,400 feet) and down to Liberty Lake or maybe as far as Favre Lake (if we were feeling unusually spry).  Stepping out of the car at the trailhead – into what was a smoke-free, bluebird perfect day – brought back my memories of that high-walled, glacier-carved valley I’d passed on back in the day. Ah, second chances…

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Looking up the Lamoille Valley from the trailhead

The Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail starts at this trailhead and climbs gently up the middle of the valley,

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

In the valley shortly after leaving the trailhead

then dodges left (east) to cross Lamoille Creek and begin a steeper ascent of the east wall of the valley. From here, pointy Snow Lake Peak was constantly in view to the west.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Snow Lake Peak (11,137 feet) atop the canyon’s west wall

After some moderate climbing, the trail leveled out,

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Leveling-out just before the Dollar Lakes

and soon passed the first of the Dollar Lakes – the one which owes most of its existence to a beaver dam on its northeast margin (we could also see the top of the beaver lodge).

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

The eastern Dollar Lake

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Dead limbs in the eastern Dollar Lake

We then passed the western Dollar Lake and proceeded almost on the level,

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

On the way to Lamoille Lake

to near the outfall of Lamoille Lake. You’d have to take a use trail to actually visit this lake since the Ruby Crest Trail starts its climb to Liberty Pass at about this point and stays above the lake.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Looking down on the outlet of Lamoille Lake from the Ruby Crest Trail

The climb up to Liberty Pass is on a well-graded trail – a steady up with no wildly steep sections.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Climbing toward Liberty Pass on the Ruby Crest Trail

Going up, we got great views down toward Lamoille Lake,

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Lamoille Lake from the Ruby Crest Trail

and out toward the trailhead.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Looking north up the Lamoille Valley from below Liberty Pass

We crossed the pass and descended to a huge rock outcropping known locally as the “Liberty Lake Overlook.” What a totally breathtaking view! Clear skies (with just a hint of cloud for contrast) and an iridescently crystal clear blue lake framed by rocky ridges and crags – stunning! It made my heart weep to think I’d passed on this lo those many years ago. So sad.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Liberty Lake from the overlook

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Liberty Lake from the overlook

From the overlook, the trail wends its way down the western wall of the lake basin.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Descending toward Liberty Lake from the overlook

Once at the lake, we left the Ruby Crest Trail and headed east across its outlet with the idea of taking an alternate trail down to Favre Lake. We got part way down and then decided to return to Liberty Lake for lunch. From our turn-around point, we could see Favre Lake,

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Favre Lake, with Castle Lake on the bench above it

and down the Kleckner Creek Valley to the desert beyond.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Looking west down the Kleckner Creek Valley

We made Liberty Lake’s outlet into our lunch spot – and what a view we had from there!

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Liberty Lake

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Liberty Lake

While we ate, others were foraging for their lunch too.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Bumblebee on a thistle

And then, sadly, reluctantly, it was time to head back. After picking up some trash left at the lake by obvious douche bags, we started for the pass.  Climbing back to it proved to be pretty easy – despite the altitude – because the trail is so well graded.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Climbing back toward Liberty Pass

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Liberty Pass from the south

We had been warned that thunderstorms were a possibility and the rapidly gathering clouds over Lake Peak (10,922 feet) seemed to suggest that bolts of lightning were somewhere in the making (they were, but not till much later).

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Clouds building over Lake Peak

From the pass, it was all downhill.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Descending from Liberty Pass

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Descending from Liberty Pass

Two trails leave the trailhead – a hiker trail up the east side of the valley and a stock trail up its west side. Since no pack trains were in sight on this day, we figured it would be OK if – for a change of pace – we descended the stock trail. The two trails diverge just below Lamoille Lake, with the stock trail crossing the creek here.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Crossing Lamoille Creek on the stock trail

The stock trail has a few switchbacks but mostly it’s a treeless ramp from the trailhead to the lake. Fine for a descent but not one we would have enjoyed for an ascent.

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Along the stock trail

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

The trailhead comes into view from the stock trail

A truly excellent hike in an amazingly beautiful alpine environment – one you wouldn’t suspect existed given the miles and miles of sagebrush surrounding it. A moderate hike (8.3 miles roundtrip; 2,500 feet of elevation gain) made a little more demanding by it’s being all over 9,000 feet. I’m truly glad I lasted long enough to get a chance to spend some time in this area. And doubly glad the LovedOne was along to enjoy it with me (her brave hiker smile and all)!

Ruby Mountains Wilderness Nevada

Our track through the Ruby Mountains

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