Ruby Tuesday – PNW Trip Report

Post by blogger | March 25, 2016      

Gregg Cronn

The first text came through while I was enjoying a rare day at home after a winter of travel, avy instruction and skiing. “Ruby.”

It was from Jenni, aka skibot, one of my favorite partners.
“3k snow line” I responded.
She was not to be deterred.
“It will be an adventure”
I gave in:
“K, 5:30 in Alger”.

Descending the upper wind buff with panache

Descending the upper wind buff with panache. Ruby Peak, Washington.

My initial hesitation and quick capitulation are typical of exchanges between Jenni, her friends and her husband John. With the skills of an ex ski racer and the cardio levels of an ultra marathoner combined with a considerable will and, most ideally, a love of being in the mountains, she is a delight to tour with. But there will be suffering, especially for her planned partner for the day, moi.

“It will be an adventure.”

Our present winter in the Cascades has been wet and warmer than normal. Hence my “3k snowline” response to her Monday morning query. There is a nice snow pack but it is pretty boney below 3,000 ft. By agreeing to head to Ruby Peak I had just committed myself to a steep boot through the woods for a thousand feet followed by some choice thrash through thickets of alder in the lower snowpack.

“It will be an adventure.”

The 1.5 hour drive to the trailhead at the blocked gate on Highway 20 is filled with the usual banter about ski gear, politics, the environment and the foibles of friends and family members (the latter expressed with endearment of course), the typical topics of all drives to the trailhead on many mornings.

What I said at the trailhead when I realized that my avalanche beacon lacked a battery is easy to conjure. I felt like an idiot and wondered aloud how I could be so inept. My mother’s often repeated jibe plays in my head: “If your head wasn’t attached to your neck you would leave it somewhere.” Thanks mom. Helpful that.

A frantic search of the car and all devices (“please, one, just one double A”) failed to unearth the essential battery. Jenni calmly, with skibot equanimity, suggests we drive ten minutes down the road to the North Cascade Institute and buy or beg one. The plan saves the day and the bright light of a rare clear day in the Cascades illuminates our tramp up the ice and bare pavement of the closed highway.

“It will be an adventure.”

Sometimes in the Cascades one has to commit to some serious shenanigans to reach snow. We stepped off the highway into the green gloom and enjoyed a lovely trail for a short while before committing to the steep uphill climb of wet moss, small brooks sheathed in ice, rock steps, glazed dirt and downward flowing tree branches. Fun stuff all. Quietly focused, we wandered up separate routes to snow line, dropped into a steep creek crossing and finally donned our skis in the sun for some uphill alder skinning. A short, uphill zig zag climb, a traverse across a steep treed slope and we were golden, the sun on our faces, climbing up low angled snow slopes. My companion interjects many times with short recalls of an epic Ruby Peak tour misfire from the previous winter.

“Here is where we started to ski downhill on moss with our skins on backwards.”

“That thicket down there is where we were throwing our skis down ahead of us while we squeezed through the alder.”

“It was awful Gregg, worst tour ever.”

I agreed readily with more than a chuckle that it must have been quite the bad experience. Not wanting to suppress her youthful zest too much, I did mildly inquire as to what she expected when her and John left town early in the season with very little snow to speak of in the mountains.

“I had to,” she responded intensely, “Get out. And you never know, right, it could have been good.”

Ah, the hopeful enthusiasm of our youth.

Long lacking such enthusiasm, I look back at our route up frequently and noted to myself that it is going to be an long and tiring downward trump with skis on packs to the road on our descent.

Jenni steadily climbing up the glacier on the North side of Ruby Peak.

Jenni steadily climbing up the glacier on the North side of Ruby Peak.

The long skin up is a delight. We set a lovely “guide” track and find an easier way through the headwall to the north glacier below the summit. Jenni is in full skibot mode, charging ahead with a short stepped tempo that eats up the elevation. The final climb on Ruby is a slightly angled ridgetop that climbs to the summit. After the long climb up, you feel as if you are on a ramp in the sky surrounded by mountains. We sat on the summit and enjoyed a 360 view of the Cascades and ate the lunch we have put off until the top. Jenni proudly points out the Isolation Traverse she completed a few years ago. The sun is warm. It is beautiful everywhere.

The present pauses and the heart embraces.

Reaching the upper Summit Ridge with the mountains to the East.

Reaching the upper Summit Ridge with the mountains to the east.

Looking West, Summit Ridge

Looking west, Summit Ridge.

Jenni approaches the summit with a gentle, curving approach

Jenni approaches the summit with a gentle, curving approach.

The top of the mountain on the descent was a mix of wind buff and pockets of powder. Jenni floats turns down on her fat Icelantics while I, lacking the ski girth and her small stature, (and skill of course), force the turns with a flexed and braced stance. But the middle of the mountain, above tree line and below, is wonderful knee deep powder. It feels like I am back in Hokkaido again, relishing that slightly, floating above gravity sensation of good snow.

Jenni in the lower reaches of the Cascades on a previous ski tour.

Jenni in the lower reaches of the Cascades on a previous ski tour.

All good things most come to an end, and end it did, at a steep sided creek bank, defended by the usual thick alder. Jenni was in the mood for one of her favorite games: Keep The Skis On! The loser usually upside down in a snowy gulch or upside down in a snow gully or a creek. I lost.

“It will be an adventure.”

We reversed our trip down into the forest, skis on pack, heel stepping down in the soft moss and duff of a dense coastal forest. By the time we reached the road my knees, ankles, feet and toes were tap dancing my age into the pain receptors in my brain. I stored away for future reference the vow that I would never head into the Cascade Mountains without a low elevation snow pack.

We easily coasted and skated the mile road down to the car; my misery memory hitting auto delete (the true measure of a seasoned mountain traveler), downing the beer that Jenni refused to share and laughing with her at the few cars passing by, waving a friendly hello at us and then frantically hitting the brakes at the unexpected sight of the seasonal gate blocking their poorly planned sojourn to eastern Washington. Finding the three foot high glass bong abandoned(?) on the rock bench next to the car definitely added to our dehydrated, and hunger induced mirth. Some of our fellow citizens, from the smell and residue on the massive bong, had recently exercised newly gained rights and drove off, blithely leaving behind the the hefty reminder of their fully baked condition. We placed it back on its new pedestal after a few pictures. (To which Jenni, keeping her future employment options open, made me promise to not share on social media. Rats!)

“It will be an adventure.”

And so it was. Another fine day in the mountains shared with an excellent companion, to be added to the many that have come before. So when the text comes in, you may as well go, remembering what Jenni said…

“It will be an adventure”.

“It will be an adventure”.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


10 Responses to “Ruby Tuesday – PNW Trip Report”

  1. Scott March 25th, 2016 6:11 pm

    Well said,
    The pains and agonies below treeline are dissolved by alpine vistas and friendship.
    Thank you for the report !

  2. Paul March 25th, 2016 10:57 pm


  3. Tabke March 27th, 2016 1:54 pm

    Badass guest blogger, thanks Greggg!

  4. Joe John March 27th, 2016 3:09 pm

    Happy Easter Wildsnow!

  5. Lou Dawson 2 March 27th, 2016 3:12 pm

    Thanks Mr. John!

  6. mark March 27th, 2016 7:10 pm

    Retirement suits you, Father.

  7. Wookie March 30th, 2016 6:47 am

    One of the nicest trip reports ever! Thanks very much!

    Lou – more!

  8. aCanadianInNorway April 4th, 2016 4:00 am

    super trip report! A joy to read. Why is it that long drawn out spring missions are so often the most satisfying??

  9. Gregg Cronn April 5th, 2016 12:25 pm

    Thanks for the nice comments. Sharing wild places with our friends is one of the joys of the mountain lifestyle. This was easy to write, while being nicely hosted by Lou and Lisa in Carbondale, the following morning after a day of powder at the Wildsnow Hut. Wild Snow indeed!!!

  10. Eastcoastdan April 13th, 2016 10:45 am

    Always an adventure in the mountains! Always go, because really… Why not!

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