September 3-4, 2010
Ruby Mountain (7408’)
——————– Summary ——————–
Starting Point: Thunder Arm & Thunder Creek & Fourth of July Camp (hike via Panther Creek Trail)
Campsite: Fourth of July Camp
Sidetrip: Panther Potholes & Fourth of July Pass & Ruby Mountain slope (hike & bushwhack via Panther Creek Trail—Old Ruby Mountain Trail)
Summit: Ruby Mountain (hike & climb via Trail—South Ridge)
——————– Full Report ——————–
Eileen and I had only a day and a half to get out over Labor Day Weekend, so we chose to do Ruby Mountain in the Ross Lake area. I had been wanting to follow the abandoned trail up the south ridge, and this seemed like a good time to try, despite a shaky weather forecast. We left town early afternoon on Friday and drove to Colonial Creek Campground, then hiked 4.8 miles to Fourth of July Camp (2.6 hours from car). The Panther Creek Trail is in great shape, and the campsites are comfy. We enjoyed late-evening sun on Primus Peak while eating dinner.
Saturday morning, we left camp and hiked up to 3600-foot Fourth of July Pass, armed with several recent trip reports. These proved invaluable for locating the start of the old Ruby Mtn Way trail. It starts at a jagged 8-foot-high stump on the north side of the main trail, about halfway between a small green meadow and a low footbridge. There was also some orange flagging tied around a nearby tree.
From its starting point, the old trail traverses northeasterly on an easy tack through deep, moss-carpeted forest for a half mile or more. At 3900 feet, we lost the old tread where it crosses a gully in a jack-straw forest area. Not knowing where else to go, we simply headed straight uphill, first through steep but open forest, then up a rocky rib. Atop a rocky promontory at 4950 feet, we spotted a duck (small cairn) and orange flagging. This marked the continuation of the old trail as it switchbacks northerly up sparse forest on Ruby’s south ridge.
At 5800 feet, the trail starts a long traverse leftward across grassy benches and moderate heather slopes until ending up on a steep, southwest-facing heather slope. Here, the trail makes numerous tight switchbacks up the steep heather to reach a scree and talus slope at 6600 feet. Once in the scree, we found no more trace of the old trail until on the gentle summit ridge, but the terrain is wide open and easily ascended.
We topped out in mid afternoon (6.1 hours from camp). Ruby’s summit offers fabulous views on a clear day, and we had pretty good visibility even on this unsettled-weather day. Snowfield Peak, Colonial Peak, Hozomeen Mtn, and Jack Mtn were particularly impressive. The communications station on the summit looks very modern, and it detracts only slightly from the overall mountain experience.
We descended via our ascent route but did a much better job of staying on the old trail. We were back in camp by early evening (3.6 hours from summit), then quickly packed up and hiked out to our car. Considering that the old trail hasn’t been maintained for perhaps 50-odd years, it is holding up remarkably well over much of the length. The segment between 3900 and 4900 feet seems to be obliterated by downed tree trunks, but a trail-maintenance battalion armed with chain saws could remedy that problem in a few weeks. Even now, the route offers a fun challenge for abandoned-trail seekers, and it rewards the patient with an outstanding summit.
Stats (car to car): 20 miles, 6300 feet gained & lost.
——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–