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infinity mountains | ruby ski tour

12 miles . 5400 ft gain . 7412 ft high

Perhaps there have been many trip reports about Ruby already but I’m so excited to share this one with you. Sometimes I debate whether or not to write one, but I believe everyone has a different experience based on your own background and the conditions. So I hope there’s value in this trip report for you, whether you’re looking to climb this mountain in the winter or to inspire you for your own future trips. See the bottom of this post for my final notes about the trip!

This trip began with a yearning to ski a “big” mountain. What’s a big mountain? Well, in my mind, it’s one where you can have some 3000+ (probably 4000+) foot descent all at once. Volcanoes are often easier ones to accomplish this, such as skiing from Camp Muir or Mt St Helens. But these are so well traveled that I’ve found the snow to be less desirable the majority of the time. They’re worthwhile objectives for sure, I’ve just been seeking more wilderness, fewer people. And Ruby has been on my list for a while ever since my friend went for an overnight trip and came back with these awesome alpenglow pictures.

But then since talking with more friends, the north bowl sounded more fun than the northwest ridge, in terms of low angle, open skiing. I kept waiting for good weather to do a sunrise/sunset, but sometimes waiting is a hard game to play, so I decided a day trip would be fun too! And here is where I convinced Christie to come up Ruby instead of St Helens, having forgot that she’d only backcountry skied 3 times prior! Nonetheless, we set off, hearts open for this adventure wherever it’ll take us.

The trip starts at the parking lot right before the gate that closes Hwy 20 in the winter. No cars allowed to pass, but you can proceed with caution on foot. We entered the woods at the Happy Creek Trail just past Diablo Lake. This is a great accessible boardwalk/trail if you’re looking for a quick stretch. I was originally following Kyle’s gpx tracks that stayed longer on the road, which is great if you can skin. But this time, the road was barren, so we decided to see where the trail took us. Thankfully, it merged and continued on the direction we needed to go. Side note: bringing light trail shoes is key for walking before you reach the snow.

If you’re starting below snow line, trail shoes are quite useful.

Soon we found the icy patches of freeze-thaw snow. We’d slip a little here and there. I wasn’t confident that we could get better traction with the skis given the iciness, especially since I had the only pair of ski crampons between us. So we walked further until someone passed us in his boots, carrying his skis over his shoulders. Wow he was on a mission, didn’t really stop to say hello. And that’s when we suddenly realized that boots were then the appropriate footwear. It’s funny how sometimes you forget what you can use.

Snowfield
What lies beyond

With boots, it was a much easier to walk up the ice. You can kick in steps and have way more traction too. Soon we started falling deeper into the ice-crusted snow and our balance kept getting thrown around. It takes some getting used to, but even for me, booting and breaking through the crusty snow was getting a little annoying. That’s when I realized skis were the appropriate footwear. Backcountry skiing is all about understanding the snow and knowing how to deal with it. So on our merry way, or so it seemed.

With skis (and skins), you float on snow/ice. Which means it’s much harder to grab a good edge and prevent yourself from slipping. And here’s where ski crampons come in. The crampons are easy to slide into a little holder just under your toes, but behind the pin bindings. Every step you take, your foot will help the crampons dig into the snow so you don’t slide backwards. If you have heel risers on, ski crampons are less effective since your foot doesn’t press the crampons down as much. Anyway, I let Christie use my crampons, which thankfully fit her skis. Unlike boot crampons that can be adjustable to different sized boots, ski crampons must be just slightly wider than the mid section of your ski. Too small, and you can’t use them. Too wide, it’s a pain. Without crampons, I had to step more gingerly and thoughtfully through some of the slippery sections. One trick is to find a path that’s flatter so your skins have more surface area to stick to. Or in my case, eventually it got hard enough that I had to boot some of the icy sections for efficiency. But I think Christie found the crampons to be quite useful!

Ross Lake and beyond

Eventually we made it out of the lower forest. Yeah, there’s more forest to come. Though a little worried that the ice wouldn’t soften over the 40F+ day, we kept moving forward. This was the first view of Ruby that we got since we arrived. It looked so far away – we probably had about 4000 feet of up still. I was a bit unsure if we’d make it but excited enough to go as far as we could. We continued across this flatter, open section before another uphill and into the forest. The snow was finally soft where it wasn’t tree-covered, but you could definitely feel the ice underneath. Eventually, I booted through the next forest section again. Sometimes it’s just as efficient as skinning!

We continued up what seemed sort of luge-like path where people had been skiing down and skinning up so much that the snow was wiped clean and smooth. Again, we worried for the descent, but pushed ahead. At the top of this slippery section (I was still booting haha), we took a well-deserved snack break to admire both the views below towards Ross Lake and the views above of Ruby Mountain. 

First views of Ruby. Summit to the left.

Here, you can plan out your descent, whether to ski down a narrow couloir or around where the skin track loops to the viewer’s left. I was thankful for the skin tracks to follow since that gave me a mental break from route finding. The tracks went back into the forest, but this time, the snow wasn’t icy and the skins stuck to the snow perfectly. The shade was well-appreciated on this sunny day. It’s good to start early especially on warmer days to avoid snow from getting too sticky and soft on the way up and also to beat the heat.

When we finally fully popped out of the trees (above tree line), we were immediately greeted by larches! The larches of the western Cascades truly do exist. Imagine skiing here when the larches are golden! I’ll be adding this to my list for next year when people come asking for larch advice. Going above tree line is always a pleasure. The expansive views, even if it’s a 120 degree view.

Expansive views of snowy slopes

Even though the terrain was easier to walk on, I think we were probably going much slower than in the woods. But I’m gonna attribute that to stopping  every other step to soak in the views. I learned that you have to appreciate them going up cause you most certainly won’t stop for that long on your way down. Especially on skis. The snow up here above tree line was definitely firm but not icy and starting to soften under the sun. No signs of avalanche so far!

It took some 6.5 hours for us to get up to the top, which is reasonable considering the difficulties on ice in the beginning. At the top, we soaked in all the 360 views we could get. There’s a radio tower in the way of a true 360, but close enough! We took a fairly long break and Christie commented about how it was like seeing infinity mountains. Ruby is situated such that it’s a little shorter than the surrounding 8000+ ft mountains, which make the range seem like it goes on forever in any given direction. It’s too short to even see Glacier Peak beyond the Cascade River mountains but you can see all the way to Baker and even some Canadian mountains, and sort of pick your way to figure out where Washington Pass/Maple Pass are. I just sat and enjoyed the peacefulness surrounding us. Amazingly, it was pretty wind-free for a summit, so we really took our time up here. For all the effort going up, you might as well enjoy it as long as you can.

Stitched pano of infinity mountains (scroll horizontally)

On summits, or any hike, I like figuring out what peaks are. I generally learn them as I climb them, so it was fun picking ones out like the Mesahchie group, Mt Logan, and Snowfield group.

Before we left, we chatted a little with two other ladies who were there. I kept thought I heard Kyle’s name but thought they must have meant “the guy” who passed us earlier. But no, the definitely meant my friend Kyle who had just come up a couple weeks prior. And they referred to him as Climber Kyle, which just blows my mind that he’s is that well known. But he does have some great trip reports and well worth the read and pictures if you’re ever looking for trips, even for just hiking and backpacking there’s some for you! The funny thing is that I had forgotten to read his trip report and simply downloaded his gpx tracks, but the other gals definitely read it. Whoops!

Anyway, we didn’t see them further as we started our descent even though we had passed/met each other a few times on the way up. Christie and I began to pick our way down, careful of all the rolls because some definitely were cliffs and we weren’t prepared to go full eagle flying. The snow was better than I had expected. It warmed up just enough to get that neat fluff from each turn, but still retaining its lightness. I often fear for warm, sunny days because it can mean heavy and deep snow, which is less playful to ski on. And also warm means higher potential for that wet loose avalanche issue. Lower down, I started to see more of that rollerball effect, so we got down quickly, staying on safer terrain too.

Eventually we mostly followed our skin track down, taking a slightly more open route. If you’re more advance or enjoy steeper terrain, there’s a couloir that would fancy you. We got a little cliffed out near the end and it was a little tricky to maneuver through the trees where turns aren’t even possible. Maybe we could have avoided this with a bit of careful traversing between the surrounding cliffs. It’s hard to navigate when you can’t quite see or predict the micro terrain that barely shows up on the map. And just like that, less than one hour we were back into the forest with the slick snow.

One last view before the woods

Following the tracks, and a whole lot of side slipping later, we reached the border between snow and dirt and transitioned out of our skis. We were too lazy to dig out our trail shoes so we walked in our boots all the way back to the car. It wasn’t particularly long and good thing alpine touring (AT) boots can actually be fairly comfortable, especially on the soft dirt trail. I was pretty stoked to be back at the boardwalk trail because my car snacks were awaiting me after the long day. 10/10 would go again just for the views, if not for the pretty great skiing.

Tips

Confronting icy and steeper snow

  • Use ski crampons. Make sure your underfoot has contact with the snow with each step. This helps fully engage the crampons.
  • Fully engage the uphill edge of both skis by digging in as much as possible. Sometimes you might need to kick the skis in. Splitboarders – sorry this will just be difficult without ski crampons since you only have one edge to work with.
  • Try to pick a path that minimizes the sidehilling (on edge travel) but is still shallow enough you can fully utilize the whole surface area of your skins.

Approach

  • Check current reports for nearby trips and forecasts for snow level to predict if you should also bring light shoes for approaching the snow.
  • Follow the Happy Creek Trail and continue east of Happy Creek until you get above tree line. On good days, there’s probably a track already. And it continues slightly east along a ridge that avoids most of the avalanche terrain.

Photos shot on Canon 5D Mark IV, 75-300 mm

One more to end this post

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