Thursday, December 31, 2015

Unexpected Delights of Millennial Life in Chicago

Some unforeseen but welcome aspects of mid-twenties life in Chicago.
It was a bit of a culture shock to move from Southern Maine to downtown Chicago. Just about everything other than the weather is different. I confess I had more fears than anything moving to the largest city in the Midwest. 

Maine had been a place of wonder and discovery for this California-raised traveler. The three years I spent living and getting educated in northern New England were punctuated by adventures in the Appalachians and glorious trips along the Maine coast. It was clear I would not have those experiences in Chicago and that worried me.

Fifteen months later, I still miss much about the northeast but I've also come to love this Midwestern metropolis in ways I never anticipated. 

The South Side is a nice place

I don't think there's a more poorly understood place in Chicago than the South Side. Often this part of Chicago ends up as a pawn in somebody's strictly-demarcated political rhetoric on major social issues. Even born and bred Chicagoans can fail to see its intricate diversity, history and national relevance in so many ways beyond violent headliners. 

To be fully honest, I had no thoughts beyond what I read about online prior to living in Chicago. But I've had the great opportunity of working at several hospitals and clinics across the spectrum of communities in the South Side/South Suburbs: Beverly, South Shore, Back of the Yards, Marquette Park/Chicago Lawn, Hazel Crest. I'm far from ever fully understanding all the dynamics and elaborateness of its communities. Nevertheless, it has added to my evolving love for the city.

I've found it difficult to describe my time on the South Side. Typically it comes off as the words of an ignorant out-of-towner trying to neatly explain something he clearly doesn't grasp. If I spent another decade here, I still wouldn't measure up to the knowledge of those who are generations deep in Chicago. Yet I've generally found it to be welcoming, open and surprisingly safe... certainly not fitting of the detestable nickname of Chiraq. 

After a few weeks of working here, I was forgetting to lock my car doors (just like I did in Maine). I met a lot more pastors than I did gangsters. I started buying Swiss Chard grown in Englewood and Palestinian delicacies at the farmer's market on California ave. I marveled at the fall colors on 63rd st. I got involved with the local free clinics and learned about the extensive amount of work put in by faith communities to create sustainable and pragmatic solutions to the social ills that do plague the city. In summary, I met a lot of good people who make the South Side a nice place. 
Night-yaking down the Chicago River

Kayaking the Chicago River 

Though certainly not an excursion through daring wilderness, floating down the Chicago River in a kayak is an adventure. I store my touring kayak with Kayak Chicago which allows me to take it out whenever I get the notion during the warm months. I've taken my boat out at various times down the river and paddled under the shadow of skyscrapers which form this deep urban canyon. Its like having my own little architecture tour and it offers a unique workout when I'm looking to mix up my routine. My favorite trip has always been the night trips to watch fireworks at Navy Pier. There's a certain magic with watching a glimmering skyline sunset followed by the dazzling shimmer of the fireworks and city lights. 
Classic view from North St Beach
Even the most jaded of Midwesterners can't resist the hype of riding on the CTA Santa Express
The ease of using public transportation and walking

To this traveler who sent most of his adult life in the public transportation-less Southern California, the CTA is actually quite novel.  We walk or take public transit everywhere. Having it all in walking distance keeps us health too (and allows us to go out more often!). My fiancĂ©e and most my friends simply have no need or want of a car. This makes downtown living substantially more affordable. In fact, when Dee moved here from a cramped apartment in Westwood, California, all she could gush about was how cheap it was to live in Chicago. I suppose all the gas money, insurance, maintenance and upkeep really add up.

New adoptive home
600 square feet is perfect size for an apartment

I live in a fairly small place even by downtown standards. Its called a convertible which one step up from a studio but not quite a one bedroom. I anticipated that this would be positively suffocating. But a well designed convertible apartment can feel like a much larger place. My one bedroom, 1,000 sq ft. apartment in Maine felt cramped sometimes. Yet I've never felt that way here. I think its a combination of urban-sizing all my home furnishings, having a great skyline view and of course, the multitude of opportunities for culture and nightlife. In a way, having a smaller place makes sure that I spend more time outside of it. Between work, fitness and going out, we are hardly here and awake for more than a few hours at a time. Its even kind of cozy on those blizzardy February days where we prefer to drink hot chocolate and watch Netflix reruns.
Everybody loves Taste of Chicago
Everybody has a reason to be here at some point

We millennials are a mobile bunch. Hardly any of us stays in their hometown for long. I don't think either of us ever had Chicago on our thought du jour back in undergrad days. However we were both drawn to the city for opportunity that was not found elsewhere. Turns out a lot of our kind have been drawn here too. We've serindipitously had hometown friends and college classmates end up living in the same building. Beyond that, there's enough global commerce, national conventions and tourism destinations to bring other long lost friends this way. It seems like at least once or twice a month I find myself catching up with an old friend over coffee or dinner because they just happened to be in Chicago. 
Nobody from Chicago refers to it as the "Windy City" but it is a very windy city
O'hare makes the entire world accessible

I'm a little embarrassed to say that for all the traveling I've done, little of it has been international. But you could get to anywhere in the world from O'hare without even changing flights. This makes travel cheaper and easier. The airport is as easy to get to as walking a few blocks down to the blue line and taking it to the last stop. Its a comforting thought to know how easy it is to go international without too much cost or trouble. 
Lakeshore running path in the fall
The Lakeshore Trail

Though not exactly a secret, I didn't think I would do much on the Lakeshore Trail due its fame and congestion during busy weekends. Actually, its not that busy at all for most of the year. It an uninterrupted 18 miles of running/biking trails which are a good respite for when I feel too cooped up by urban living. Small nature preserves permeate the length of the trail as well as the massive Jackson and Lincoln Parks. At the very northern terminus of the trail is Edgewater Beach a.k.a. Kathy Osterman Beach a.k.a. Hollywood Beach which is hidden away from the crowds and often as blue as the ocean (well kept secret for most of us). I haven't gotten tired of this trail even after running it a few times a week all year. 

There's a lot I miss about New England. I think it was more difficult during the first 3-6 months of moving to the Midwest. But my love for Chicago grows with time. Its an acquired taste but there's a lot of reason why people love living here, this millennial included.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hiking Glacial Park, McHenry County, Illinois

Chicagoland offers an abundance of hiking opportunities that are often missed by those seeking out the more traveled paths of the Lakeshore Trails and city parks. Glacial Park Nature Preserve is one of those gems.
View from the pair of camel hump hills which were sculpted by glaciers
It's been a little over a year since I've called the upper Midwest my home. I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't spent more time exploring the area's significant hiking areas. I think growing up in the West and spending a significant portion of my adult life in Maine has made living anywhere else a difficult act to follow. Being so close to the Sierras and the White Mountains makes anything else seem far less interesting. However this is no reason to forfeit the opportunities that are available here. I'm glad I finally got over the fact that while I won't find any prominent mountains to hike near Chicago, there's still plenty of places to explore.

Glacial Park seems like an unusual name for a Chicagoland nature reserve as the closest glacier is thousands of miles away. Nonetheless the flatness of much of the upper midwest as well as the great lakes is due to extensive glaciation which occurred less than 10,000 years ago. The hilly, rugged terrain and hundreds of lakes which seem to form a ring around the entirely flat Chicago region are the terminal moraines of ancient glaciers. Hence, the bulk of Chicago's hiking trails are concentrated in this ring of hills which stretched from the Wisconsin border near Chain-o-lakes and eventually looping around through Palos Hills, Tinley Park and the Indiana border.

Here's a map-

Again, we're not finding the immense topographic relief that would be seen in my prior two states but the rugged terrain starkly contrasts most of what Illinois is thought of. In fact, this area has some of the highest altitude in the state. It was even a pretty drive to get here.

I parked at the Lost Valley Visitor Center which is an impressive building but was closed the day I was there. Trail maps and interpretive guides are available all year and the park is open from dawn to dusk every day. I imagine this are holds wonderful spring and fall hiking but it was lovely even in the early winter. 
Popular place to bring some dogs
Rural Illinois is scenic even in the winter
The park holds about 12 miles worth of trails to hike but I chose a nice 5 mile loop which hit all the highlights. The first lookout held a panoramic view of the moraine hills and marshes which have been well preserved for hiking. Despite Chicagoland's 9 million nearby residents, the area felt serene and untrampled. Except for the occasional dog walker and local runner, I felt pleasantly alone. 

The trails wind up and down the hills and meander through the marshes and bogs which are characteristic of a post-glacial environment. I could imagine that those more experience in bird and wildlife watching would like this area in the proper seasons. Slow walking and ample time for wildlife observation were encouraged on these gentle trails. 
The park's bog

Though I've been here for over a year, I still tend to think of Illinois either as the urban core of Chicago or farmland. This park continues to challenge that notion with oak and evergreen forests. Perhaps the best place to catch a view of everything in the park was the Camelback Glacial Kame which was a double humped hill that rises prominently in the central part of the park. From the "summit", the oxbows and bends of Nippersink Creek along with the forested hills of the park were all visible. For a small hill, the view was actually breathtaking. It was difficult to see that I was only 60 miles from Millennium Park.

The trail wanders along the banks of Nippersink creek which was at high flow after a significant storm. During gentler times, the creek is frequently paddled by canoeists and kayakers. Wish I had brought my boat!
Nippersink Creek and the glacial hills
Camelhump Glacial Kame "summit"
Overall, it was a 5 mile loop hike with one short out-and-back walk along the creek. It was easily done within a half a day and wasn't greater than an hour and a half drive from the Chicago city center. I passed by other parks which looked like they offered similar opportunities for hiking including Moraine Hills and Chain-o-Lakes State Parks. Glad I finally found some places to stretch my legs beyond the Lakefront Trail!

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Best Sunrise in Utah; Mt Nebo Hike via North Peak Trail

Mt Nebo is the apex of the famed Wasatch Range of Utah. Although lesser known than other summits in the area, its jagged ridge line dominates the skyline of greater Salt Lake City. Climbing to the top isn't an easy feat. 
Sunrise over Mt Nebo
Naturally, I couldn't leave the state without climbing the highpoint of the Wasatch Range. Often overlooked by summits closer to Salt Lake City, the impressive rise of Mt Nebo is appreciated on the drive up the Nebo Loop Road. This time of year, the drive was full of autumn splendor. I never realized how gorgeous a Utah fall could be.

Of course, I didn't see this at first as I was driving up in the very wee hours of the morning. My plan was to climb this mountain and hopefully be at or near the summit right at sunrise. As it turned out, my timing was perfect. 

Fall hits the Rockies
Mt Nebo from a distance
Here's the route I took. Generally well marked, however the final part is a total scramble. The last 400 vertical feet are basically a free for all.

Starting at the parking lot, the trail hugs a small ridgeline with a fence.I tried to take in the glorious glow of the starlight knowing that I would not have this view back in Chicago. Though the greater Salt Lake City's metro area obscured some of the starlight to the north and west, I could pick out nearly every constellation with ease. With no moonlight, the Milky Way was so bright I was nearly casting a shadow. 

The trail gains quite a bit of elevation as it seems to head away from the summit. The smaller North Peak looms over to the South which almost looks like the true summit. However, the trail circulates around this peak before the sharp profile of Mt Nebo comes into view. 

This was taken on the way down but this is the first view that the trail has of the highpoint
First light was breaking as I broke about 9,000 ft. Still with another 2,000 to go, I picked up the pace. As the trail skirts just west of the summit of North Peak, it flattens out and loses a bit of elevation. Not used to breathing this thin air, I was happy for the relief. Eventually, I came to the saddle known as Wolf Pass.

Its tempting to think that the worst is behind you at this point but the path takes an even steeper ascent as it climbs the false summit visible above. It was a nightmarish in steepness at some points but that struggle was assuaged by the alpine sunrise. I was alone, exept for another, far more adept climber-

The original hiker
First rays of sun
Feeling so high
The final 400 feet of climbing which were just above the false summit was a full on scramble. Its quite exposed too- certainly was enough to keep my heart racing at nearly 12,000 ft. I used a combination of a hiking pole and a bare hand to slither up the final part. It was a delicate balance but I made it.

The summit, of course, had a phenomenal view. At the highest point in the Wasatch range, I could see for well over 50 miles. It was a fine way to finish my Utah Trip. 
The summit of Mt Nebo
Summit ridgeline
Its an out and back hike so there was another struggle to get down. However in the mid morning I could now appreciate all the fall colors. Massive strands of quaking aspens were various hues of yellow this time of year. I really did come to Utah at jut the right time. Hardly a soul was on most of the trails but the weather was perfect for hiking. Mid September will always be my favorite time for travel. 

Hope to return soon!

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hiking Mt Timpanogos via Timpooneke Trail, Utah

Mt Timpanogos is neither the highest nor the most prominent in Utah but it is certainly the most infamous summit of the state. It remains a favorite of both casual and hardcore hikers.
Classic view of Mt Timp's impressive head-wall and glacier
First view!
If we were to compile a list of the most well-known mountain of every state, it would not simply be a list of the tallest or most massive. Certainly the record-breakers of Mt Whitney, Mt Hood and Mt Rainier would make the list. But so would Mt Timpanogos, Mt Clark (NV), Mt Rushmore, Camel's Hump (VT), Stone Mountain (GA) and Lookout Mountain (TN). None are remarkable in terms of elevation compared to their state's highest mountains. Why the tallest mountain isn't necessarily the most famous is an interesting blend of lore and geography.

Mt Timpanogos is the second highest mountain in Utah's Wasatch range and not nearly as tall as the state highpoint of King's Peak. Nevertheless, its imposing ridge dominates the Wasatch Metro Area and is far more sought-after than nearby Mt Nebo. 

While this trail is probably the most heavily trekked in this part of the state, it is still considered strenuous. Starting at about 7,400' and topping out at 11,752' in 7 miles is no easy affair. Its an all day hike for just about every hiker. Water sources exist at the lower elevations but become scant after 9,000's.

It might not be evident on the topographic map, but the elevation gain of the trail is more like a staircase than a constant uphill. There aren't any flat sections but there's many sections of steep ascents and comparatively lighter elevation gain. The pace of the trail is somewhat modulated by this.
At the lower elevations
From the summit, looking down at the glacial basin
In the first mile, Scout Falls can be seen by taking a 100-yard detour. The falls are about 30 feet tall and are a nice spot for a break in the hiking. The trail continues a series of quick bursts of elevation and plateaus which offer panoramic vistas of the northern Wasatch summits near Park City. 

Imposing subsidiary summits dominate the skyline as the trail continues to switchback in a southerly direction. There isn't a single point on the trail where there isn't a magnificent view which is probably why it is so popular. Despite the crowds at the trailhead, the trail itself is long enough that the crowds quickly thin out and I was mostly alone on the trail. Saturdays are, of course, quite busy but any other day of the week makes the trail feel empty. 

From roughly 8,700' to 10,000' the trail gains steady elevation until the sharp summit of Mt Timp comes into view-
Mt Timp, striated with snow and rock, even in mid-September
The glacial basin below Mt Timp is about as scenic as the summit itself and it would not be unfortunate if this ended up being a turn-around point. Utah's only glacier is plainly visible off to the southeast as is a significant portion of the Wasatch Range. I stopped for lunch here and enjoyed breathing the crisp alpine air. 

A notch is visible separating Mt Timpanogos from the other northern summits and this is where the trail eventually leads. It continues to swtichback and climb the steep face of the ridgeline but its never more than a Class I hike. Another popular lunch spot is the notch itself which is at 11,000' and about 45 minutes away from the top. From here, the entire front range metro area is visible as well as Utah Lake. Its a fantastic albeit crowded spot. 
Plateau before the final push for the ridgeline

No shortage of views

Utah Lake and the Wasatch front metro area

The notch before the summit- a very popular resting point
The trail to the summit from the notch may be harrowing for some. Its exposed and on lose rock in some sections- I would recommend hiking poles here. There aren't any particularly cliffy sections but a slip could still be dangerous. Temptingly close, the summit is still a struggle to get to. Even for this experienced hiker, I found myself stopping often to catch my breath in the thin air. The trail gets congested towards the top as hikers slow down due to the strenuousness of the climb and tricky footwork. 

Finally at the top, there's a curious pyramidal shelter with a summit register. No fewer than two dozen people were at the summit on this fine, early-autumn Sunday and I'm sure it gets much more crowded on Saturdays. Nonetheless, the views were phenomenal, as expected. Its easy to appreciate the glory of Utah's most famous mountain at this point. Even I was a little squeamish looking down from the head-wall over the glacial basin. 

Despite the crowds, most other hikers were well behaved and respectful of the mountain. Other popular mountains I've hiked have had a higher ratio of totally oblivious day trippers; on this mountain, most people were pretty courteous. I made some new friends on the trail. 
Looking back towards the ridgeline
I liked this hike- normally I don't like ultra-popular hikes. But this was a long enough trail to keep out most of the riff-raff and challenging enough to keep me motivated. I would certainly hike it again when I'm back in Salt Lake City. The alternative route though aspen grove looks equally enjoyable. I wish I lived here!

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Autumn Hike of Flat Top, Oquirrh Mountains, Salt Lake City, Utah

Flat Top Mountain is the prominent yet obscure high point of the Oquirrh Mountains which overlook the Salt Lake Valley and Lake Utah. It is an infrequently climbed mountain that is publicly accessible through a hike that crosses both public and private lands. 
View from the Summit
Flat Top misses most people's radars when there's already a massive network of trails in the nearby Unitah National Forest. As a stand alone summit, the mountain is impressive. It tops 10,620' and has 5,370' of prominence (more than Mt Timpanogoos). The greater Oquirrh Range is more famous for the collosal Bigham Canyon Copper Mine, the largest open-pit mine in the world. 

The majesty of the Oquirrahs is more well known for their abundant natural resources which have caused significant development, especially on the northern part of the range. Ophir itself is a relic of a long-gone age of smaller, independent mining. These days the massive operations of Bingham Canyon Mine and Mercur Mine continue. However this trail tends to stay in the wilderness portion of the range which keeps the larger areas of development hidden. 

Hiking up the mountain is pretty straightforward by Utah standards. Its about 9 miles round trip and involves significant elevation gain. Here is a map-

The trail begins just northeast of the town of Ophir, Utah. Note the road does become dirt/gravel outside of the town limits. Free range cattle roam the road and may or may not move for your car. The parking area is public and there's plenty of space. Check for any signs of changes in landownership or restrictions on hiking before you go. Note that the path taken above is the most common ascent up the mountain. Other ascents are possible but they have not always been open or legal- if you deviate from this route, make sure you have necessary permissions.

The trail is a slow incline at first. The summit is not visible in this picture
Glorious colors this time of year 
Initially, the trail sets a steady pace of climbing as it seamingly veers away from the summit. This is a wide, 4x4 road that is likely only passable by boots and ATVs. As it turned out, I was the only one on foot today although a thundering heard of ATVs wound around the trail on their way to Porphyry Hill- another popular destination. Once the trail reaches the saddle, there's a 4 way crossing. Heading to the left takes the hiker towards the rideline and summit. The trail quickly ends and becomes more of a herd path. It is easy to miss the beginning of the herd path but it starts at the very left side of the dead end ATV road. 

From here the trail gains quite a bit of elevation through many switchbacks. I imagine multiple routes exist here as the trail is unmarked and not very trod. Thick, spiny desert plants make long pants a necessity, even in the heat of the summer. High top boots are helpful as well. The trail switches back endlessly as comes up to 9,000'.

Flattening out and taking a first look towards the Unitas
Fall colors vary by elevation
From here the trail hugs the mountainside and generally doesn't gain nor lose any elevation. This part can be confusing as it seems that the hiker will miss the summit entirely. It dips a little bit before coming though a creek area lined with dense foliage. Views of the nearby Unitas and Utah lake become outstanding on this section. Fall colors continued to permeate the otherwise stark desert landscape. The trail sharply doubles back at the far ridgeline and climbs to a saddle.

Though scenic, the trail from the saddle to the peak is very rough and mostly unmarked. Again, numerous networks of trails exist and not all of them are cleared. Stickers and sharps were common and I was again thankful for long pants, high socks and high boots. 

Autumn colors

Autumn Colors
The rest of the range visible from near the summit
Several false peaks keep the hike going before topping out on the bare summit. Flat top is somewhat flat with an antiquated radio tower at the top. The summit log is in a mailbox and most the signers are local hunters. There were a few signatures from folks like me who were going for the "America's Ultras" challenge of climbing all 57 Ultra-prominent peaks. No doubt I would have missed this mountain myself had I not been on this quest.

Views are phenomenal, naturally. The whole of Utah Lake is plainly visible as are the rising summits of the entire Unita Range. Mt Nebo's pyramidal spire appeared as a razor's edge in the distance. To the west was the summit I climbed three days prior- Deseret Peak and the rush valley separating these ranges. Fortunately, none of the large mines of the range were visible. Flat top retains its wilderness character on this hike.

The way down was the same although I've heard that loop hikes exist. Again, always check permissions first as the majority of the land around Flat Top is privately owned. People have been cited and fined for trespassing in this area. 
Last look at fall color
At the summit
Overall, its a pretty straightforward hike. It pales in comparison to the more rugged summits of the Unitas and the Deseret Range but its an enjoyable hike nonetheless. I don't think I'll remember it as fondly as I do Mt Nebo, Mt Timp and Ruby Dome but I would hike it again.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Autumn Hike of Ruby Dome, Mountains and Wilderness, Elko, Nevada

No doubt the highlight of the trip was going to be a trek through the Ruby Mountains in Nevada's beautiful Northeast. The Ruby Mountains are not famous to anyone except for a few tele-skiers and photographers. Despite overlooking Elko and Spring Creek, the peak is remote and infrequently visited.
Ruby Mountains  as viewed from the summit of Ruby Dome
To the untraveled, heading 250 miles West of Salt Lake City must seem unusual. After leaving the greater Wasatch Front Valley, route 80 runs 45 miles across what could likely be considered the straightest and flattest stretch of any interstate highway. Not even the roads of my now home-state of Illinois could compare to this particularly uninterrupted parallel. After crossing the Bonneville Salt Flats, the road crosses into Nevada and West Wendover, where Salt-Lakers go to sin.

From here, the road takes a starkly different tone as the pyramid of Pilot Mountain looms to the north. Wave after Wave of 10,000 and 11,000 foot mountain ranges speckle a harsh but glorious high desert. Few have ever inhabited such an arid but cold landscape. To the adventurer, however, this is one of the largest uninterrupted playgrounds of wilderness south of the artic circle.

Like its neighbors Utah and Idaho, Nevada is essentially known to the public only by its largest city. Not surprisingly, the federal government owns somewhere between 80-85% of the state (far exceeding 2nd place: Alaska). Other than the infamous Nellis Air Force Range and the Nevada Test Site (think, Area 51), most of the northern and central parts of Nevada are either under the Bureau of Land Management or the US National Forest Service. Naturally, much of those facts cause endless questions regarding conservationism and public v. private land ownership. But for budget adventurers with a hankering for unspoiled wilderness, its a perfectly legitimate reason to travel 250 miles west on Route 80.

The Ruby Mountains in morning glory
After a half dozen mountain passes and deep valleys, Route 80 dips into greater Elko. This town is massive by not-Las Vegas, Nevada standards. An unusually fast growing area, Elko would be an ideally situated place for any hiker to set up home base. The Ruby Mountains tower over the valley like a gigantic granite wave. I couldn't wait to get up there.

Here's a map of the route, which can be zoomed for more specific details. Note that it is a route and alternatives may exist-

In the fall, Quaking Aspens put off brilliant hues of yellow which vary in elevation. This magnificent display of color matches those of New England but with western subtly. There generally arent the vibrant purples, reds and oranges such as those in the high mountains of New Hampshire. Nonetheless, every imaginable shade of yellow could be observed on this hike. The complexion ranged from a olive tint at the lower elevation to a delicate goldenrod color at the 9,000 foot level. Not even the most realist of painters would have been able to capture such intricacy. 

The route weaves in and out of the creek and the hiker can appreciate the scarcity of water in the high desert. Near the creek, the foliage is almost impenetrable and there's a deafening sound of insects and birds. Just a few hundred yards up the valley walls, vegetation is stunted and scarce, permeated only by proudly gnarled junipers-

Stark contrasts of flora as one travels further from the creek
At 7,500'
Autumn Aspen Tunnel
The effects of autumn vary by elevation
Subtle changes in color
At roughly 8,000', the trail exits the aspens and ascends mostly on bare granite. Cairns help guide the way in some sections but there's evidence of numerous routes. In the late summer, the route is more beaten which can help with path finding. I could imagine that a hiker is mostly left to their own devices in the late spring and early summer. 

I encountered a hidden gorge just below Griswold Lake and unintentionally captured this photo-

Dry Gorge below Griswold Lake
Griswold Lake stood at the bottom of an imposing cirque of mountains with the impressive headwall of Ruby Dome hovering to the south. Campsites abounded but people did not. It was an odd feeling to see such clear evidence of a regular town off to the north, yet feeling very alone in this rugged country. I had grown unaccustomed to this solitude living in downtown Chicago but it was a welcome return. At this point there was very little wind and only a few birds- an almost perfect silence. 

The route rounds the eastern shore of this small tarn and quickly gains elevation on its way to the headwall. At 10,000', I crossed an unexpected plateau which was only partially evident on a 1 in = 3.95 mi topo map. It felt positively alpine now- there was no longer a trail but a route through jagged rocks. Patches of grass proved some evidence of life but it was mostly snow and scree. Springs existed well up to 10,700's and I was never far from water.
Glacially carved cirque and Griswold Lake
Griswold Lake

Quickly gaining elevation to the plateau
Looking back on the 10,000 foot plateu and small subsidiary summits
Gully to the summit
There are a few ways of tackling the final 1,000 vertical feet. The very obvious summit looms over a tarn with no outlet and one can either take the hidden ravine to right (west) or take the exposed ridge-line to the left (east). I chose to take the ravine to the summit which is a solid class III and might be nerve-racking to one not used to scrambling. I did not take the same route down- the ridge-line sufficed. Either will involve quite a bit of scrambling but the rock is quite stable. Note that the ravine is not obvious until just below the beginning. 

Ruby Dome is just 300 vertical feet above the terminus of the ravine. Air was now noticeably thin, slowing my pace to a minimum. However this was hardly noticeable with a grand view of the Great Basin and Range. 

From the summit, most of the 130-mile ruby range is visible. The dome itself is actually quite a bit removed from the main spine of the mountains which adds to is phenomenal view. There's very little room to celebrate on this knife's edge pinnacle. 

A lonely cairn with no marker serves as the high point
Looking North towards the rest of the range
The knife's edge ridgeline towards the narrow col separating Ruby Dome and the nearly identical East Peak 
Ruby Dome's headwall
The best way down, in my opinion, is the eastern ridgeline. It offered little protection but was less steep. In the end, I would recommend ascending either the ridgeline or the ravine but only descend using the ridgeline. It added perhaps another painstaking quarter mile of rockhopping but made for a simpler descent. Other climbers may feel differently.

Back on the 10,000 foot plateu, the sun was already very low in the sky and I enjoyed the brilliant appenglow on the various peaks. Its a sight I've rarely seen outside of the Sierras and Rockies. Already the lights of distant Elko were beginning to twinkle but they did not interfere with the brightness of the northern Nevada night sky. As I crept back towards the trailhead, I preferred keeping my flashlight off as to not take away from the silver arc that was the Milky Way. 
Last Look
Descending in twilight
I miss stars. For all the lovely things about living in Downtown Chicago, starry nights are an unfortunate sacrifice. Thankfully, I enjoyed them to their fullest on this dark night. It wasn't even disappointing that it took me over 14 hours to ascend this wilderness peak. I hope I return soon. 

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