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Ruby Mountain Ski Tour 3-18-2023

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by Steve Burkett on 3/21/23 4:56pm

Ruby Mountain Ski Tour 3-18-2023 – WA North Cascades

The forecast for magic was high!  It seemed like the Wizards of Benevolence had cast their spell of bliss for our adventure.  Recent weeks of clouds had been limiting views and keeping the avalanche potential elevated due to falling snow in the mountains.  Then a few days before our tour, bluebird clear days and nights settled in.  This weather change helped to stabilize the avalanche outlook and also fanned the flames of our stoke-meter knowing we would be awarded with the world-class views afforded by Ruby.

At 7,408’ Ruby Mountain might not sound like a particularly high peak.  However in typical North Cascades flair, the grandeur of the peak is not obvious to the roadside traveler.  In order to see the true splendor, one has to pay a toll exacted in hard labor.  For our ensemble of backcountry snow riders, we wouldn’t want it any other way!

Since I was ‘late to the party’ in joining the tour, I was encouraged to supply coffee for the group.  So, we assembled at the highly recommended Totem Trail Hotel in Marblemount where they’d spent the night.  We went over our basic plans while everyone got hopped up on Via instant coffee.  We arrived at the trailhead with great anticipation and we were far from alone.  Ruby is a popular ski touring destination!  We started our journey around 8.30 am from the 2200’ parking lot.

Since the tour begins at a relatively low elevation, it’s often necessary to carry your skis until you’ve reached a sufficiently deep snowpack to support skinning uphill.  The conditions for hiking while carrying skis were favorable so we decided to carry skis until around 3400’ in elevation though we could have begun sooner.  This lower section has some fairly steep sections that we simply felt would be easier to walk up than to skin up.

Somewhere around 4,400’ the views begin to expand as the trees thin and the open meadows of the mountain begin to appear.  Our cheery troop made its way upward, paying for the views with constant and consistent efforts – a monotonicity of sorts!  One of the ways we pass the time besides telling tall tales, is picking a word or concept of the day.  The word/concept of monotonicity was floated and likened to our constant and unchanging steady rise up the peak and down.  Wow, I never knew the word let alone it could be so cool to nerd out to mathematical terms.

Another concept we discussed was the Tragedy of the Commons and how the concept could apply to our own pursuits as users of our cherished backcountry.  We are so blessed to have these amazing open spaces that our government has established for the people.  Yet by the very act of lovingly visiting these special spaces, we risk harming them with ‘too much love’ and thus a Tragedy of the Commons scenario.  Luckily for ski touring, with a protective carpet of snow, the impact on the environment is vastly mitigated lowering the probability of said Tragedy.  I need to pay homage to the visionaries who created and protected the North Cascades NP in the relatively recent year of 1968.  Surely the act of preserving such a stunning landscape was a landmark achievement but was surely opposed by some.  Can you think of any present-day issues that might need a similar push from the populace today so that future generations can simply take these gains for granted?  Please dream big here!  If you’ve visited the North Cascades, could you imagine what the landscape might look like were it not protected?

We made steady progress upward.  Our energy was being depleted but with each small gain in elevation our horizons expanded and that magical stoke factor laid to rest any silly notion of not making it to the top.  As we neared the summit ridge my anticipation grew knowing we would soon have 360 degree views into the heart of the magnificence of a North Cascades landscape locked in the beauty of winter.  As we reached the summit ridge, the views exploded before us in a dramatic fashion.  With a 360 degree view, it was suddenly obvious just how wild and extraordinary this place was.  Dozens of glaciated peaks filled the horizon with steep, verdant valleys separating them.  We now understood why we had worked so hard gaining over 5,200’ to reach the summit.

Ski descent – the best part!  The top 2,000’ of Ruby is a powder skier’s dream!  Its wide-open bowls offer some amazing turns that would be labeled as a ‘black diamond’ run but not double-black at a ski resort.  We found some amazing turns here though there were so many other folks doing this ski tour, fresh tracks were not always available.  No matter, after all of that hard work, making swooping turns down a wild peak full of beautiful snow brought out the grins and whoops of delight.  Once we got down to around 4,400’ we had to start skiing more carefully through trees and such.  Tree skiing in the Cascades generally requires some caution due to the tight spaces between trees and the often steep slopes.  We managed to get down to about 2,400’ on skis on steadily thinning snow. We decided to take them off on a particularly steep and nasty section (see picture!) and walk from there.  So, we skied just about 5,000’ on the descent, a pretty impressive stat!

I’m not sure who gave Ruby Mountain its name but it’s well-named for Ruby Mountain is truly a gem of a ski tour!  While Ruby doesn’t show her beauty to the roadside traveler, she rewards those who are willing to plod and toil up her gorgeous slopes.  I highly recommend it to anyone so inclined!

Somedays the stars align and magic happens in the mountains.  This was one of those days!  So thankful to my amazing fellow ski companions Will Arling, Lita Cho and Andrew Dale, may the stoke be with you!  I’m so grateful and humbled to have these open spaces in our national parks and national forests, I could not imagine a world without them!

Notes to tourers – start early, maybe 7 am.  Firm snow will make for better ski carry, and an earlier descent and fewer sun affected areas.  At 4,400’ on the ascent, you can see a ‘chute’ that comes back down from the top.  It’s doable but has some nasty sections so be cautious.  Further skier’s left on descent takes you away.  Snow keeps very well on the northern aspect so if it’s winter, it will probably be better than you expect.  Snow felt very stable, forecast was 2-2-2.  Overall impression is this peak’s snow holds steady on the most obvious ski lines though that’s just my impression today.

Strava Stats: 10.35 miles RT, +/- 5,668’

Tired Factor:  High

Stoke Factor: Off the Charts High


Reply to this TR

Steve Burkett
2023-03-21 23:56:44