OverviewSnow Lake Peak, the fifth highest named peak of the Ruby Mountains and the seventh highest in Elko County, is located in the northeast portion of the state of Nevada in the western United States. It rises from the head of Box Canyon (above Snow Lake), is part of the headwall of Thomas Canyon (with Mount Fitzgerald), and is a prominent part of the west wall of Lamoille Canyon above Lamoille and Dollar Lakes. The summit is a high glacial horn at an elevation of 11,137 feet (3394 m), located at 40°36.31'N and 115°23.78'W, about 25 miles southeast of the community of Elko. It is the only major peak of the Ruby Mountains that cannot be reached via a scramble.
Snow Lake Peak is one of the lesser known of the dozen or so peaks over 11,000 Ft. in Northeastern Nevada's Ruby Mountains, and is a real hidden gem. Rugged and imposing, it sits at the head of scenic Lamoille Canyon, a classic glacial alpine "hanging Valley" that defines this segment of the Ruby's. The top 1500 feet or so of the peak is YDS class 3+ even on the easiest "route", and the final 500 or so feet to the summit is YDS class 4+, offering a great variety of technical routes not seen on many other high peaks in this range. The summit proper is no more than fifty or so feet long by twenty feet wide and drops off into sheer, exposed, 70+ degree drops on all sides, dropping over 1500 feet to the ridgeline below. Also known as "Goats Horn", "Fullhouse Peak", and "Snowlake Peak", this mountain is widely considered the only 11,000+ foot peak in the Ruby's that cannot be reached via a "scramble" without Technical rock climbing gear. I have summited Snow Lake Peak without the use of techical climbing gear, and I estimate at least ten or so people a year do so as well, along with perhaps a half-dozen technical ascents of this peak. Considering the popularity of the area and surrounding peaks such as Verdi Peak, Mount Fitzgerald, Lake Peak, Mount Silliman, Ruby Dome, Et Cetera, it is suprising how few people climb this fairly accessable peak every year, even taking the difficulty into account. There is a summit log at the top housed in a fairly new nalgene bottle under a small Cairn, which has entries going back a good fifteen years I believe; some great reflections on this amazing peak are to be found here.
Make no Mistake, however, while this peak is a relatively simple and straightforward approach from the popular "Roads End" parking lot at the end of the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, there are no trails leading to either the summit of the base of the summit spire, and during the summer months this is probably one of if not THE most exposed and vulnerable peak in the Ruby's to the thunderstorms that frequent this range almost every afternoon from May to Septemeber. During the warm months it is best to be off the summit and dowm below the exposed alpine "horn" of the summit by no later than 2:00 PM for sure. Snow lake Peak provides the opportunity for some great hands-on, thought-provoking route finding to get to the summit, and one must be both agile, quick on their feet, and creative with routes to summit this mountain. The exposure in many places is several hundred feet+ on all sides going up narrow couloirs and cracks in the rock, and great care must be taken to stay safe and secure both ascending and descending. Snow lake Peak is in my opinion one of the most thrilling, challenging, and beautiful peaks in the Ruby's, a crown jewel in Nevada's "Swiss Alps", as the Ruby's are known. The scenery and landscape is around Snow Lake Peak are ethereal; a gorgeous and intensly alpine environment that seems very out of place is the often monotonous high desert that defines northern Nevada.
Getting ThereSnow Lake Peak is in the central part of the Ruby Mountains, a Rugged, scenic, and relatively popular mountain oasis in the rural high desert of Northeatern Nevada. The best and most straightforward approach is to come from Elko through the town of Spring Creek towards Lamoille Village, and turn onto the Lamoille Canyon National Scenic Byway, which goes into the heart of the Ruby's and it follows the classic glacial hanging valley of Lamoille Canyon east into the high peaks.
Coming from Route 80 either East of West, Take the NV-225 exit- EXIT 301- toward ELKO / DOWNTOWN. After getting off the exit ramp, Turn RIGHT onto MOUNTAIN CITY HWY / NV-225 at the traffic light. After going about .75 miles south on Mountain City Highway, Turn LEFT onto I-80 BL / NV-535 / W NV-227 / W IDAHO ST, towards Downtown Elko. This is the main commercial drag through Elko and is hard to miss. After going East about 2 miles on Idaho Street, Turn RIGHT onto N NV-227 / 5TH ST. Continue to follow N NV-227. Stay on NV-227, also known as the Spring Creek Parway, for about 20 miles. This will take you over a small ridge dotted with junipers into a broad, flat valley where the community of Spring Creek (Really a sprawling nerw suburn of Elko) lies. The Ruby's will dominate the view to the east, rising up seemingly straight into the heavens above from the shallow valley floor in alpine beauty. Continue to follow Spring Creek Highway/ NV-227 until it narrows and becomes two lanes, and in the distance you will see a narrow grove of Aspens following a creeak. This is the charming little village of Lamoille, DO NOT keep going until you get to the trees. About 1/2 mile before this, a paved, two-lane poorly-marked road branches off to the right towards the mountains. Turn right here onto this road, this is the Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway. Continue on tjis road for 12 miles as it ascends Lamoille Canyon into the Ruby Mountains, passing spextacular scenery on the way, "National Park Quality" in my mind. At the very end of the road, there is a parking area for about 40 vehicles and some vault toilets/informational signs. This is the popular and oft-used "Roads End" Parking Area; leave your vehicle here.
From the Roads's End Parking Area, there are two routes I know of to summit this peak, both of which involve long segments off trail, good routefinding skills, and solid equipment. While the Summit of Snow Lake Peak is only about 1.75 miles from the Parking Area, this is like saying the summit of Half Dome is only a mile from Yosemite Valley. The parking area sits at roughly 8,800 feet, so this translates into over 2,300 vertical feet of gain to the summit, nothing too bad in theory, but this translates to VERY steep slopes over such a short distance. The best and most scenic route I know of is to take the main trail towards Dollar Lakes, Lamoille Lake, and Liberty Pass from the Parking Area, which is very well-worn and well-posted. Follow this trail up through surprisingly dense and mature forests of Limberjack Pines as it ascends the head of Lamoille Canyon at a moderate to ewasy grade, with many switchbacks ocer steeper terrain. You will first pass Dollar Lakes, a collection of small alpine tarns about 1 mile from the parking area, and arrive at Lamoille Lake, a beatiful, good-sized Alpine lake, after about 2 miles. From Lamoille Lake, continue of the Liberty Pass (Also know as the Ruby Crest National Recreation Trail) for another mile or so, over steepening terrain to the head of the Canyon at Liberty Pass, elevation 10,450 feet. As soon as you crest the notch at Liberty Pass, leave the trail and head west, climbing the moderately-sized, unamed 10,910-foot high peak immediately to the west of Liberty Pass. Follow the ridgline of this peak facing north towards Lamoille Lake, and after about 500 feet of gain in .30 miles you will summit this beautiful, unamed Peak which affords grand views of Lamoille Lake, Liberty Lake to the South, and of course Lamoille Canyon and Snow Lake Peak directly to the west. From here, things rapidly become more technical and exposed. Follow the narrow, exposed, glacial arete forming the headwall of both Lamoille Canyon and the Canyon to the south of it. This narrow ridgline descends aboit 1,100 feet in obly .45 miles or so, with large jagged granite slabs thrust up haphazardly along the crest of the ridge, making for some tricky class 4 manuevers in places along this traverse. An option to avoid this traverse is to descend a few extra hundred feet into the canyon to the south of the ridge, where it is less steep and more sheltered, and continue the traverse this way, but this loses precious elevation which must eventually be regained. Once past this narrow ridgline, you will turn onto a relatively broad, flatter ridgetop, from which the jagged, imposing Summit Spire of Snow Lake Peak is unmistakable. From here, follow the crest of the ridge towards the peak, keeping the main spire directly in front of you. I have found the Northwest ridge of the summit spire to be the only safe approach without technical gear, and even along this route, it is pretty much a routefinding game with no established routes or trails. One you have summited, go down the same route off the summit spire, then head directly back to the Road's End Parking Area, going northwest diagonally away from tke peak and descending the upper headwall of Lamoille Canyon to the parking area. Round Trip abouit 8.5 miles.
Option II is one I have not explored, but is quite doable as well, just significantly more grueling depite being less that half the distance of Option I. THis option basically consists of ascending the headwall of Lamoille Canyon directly to the southwest of the Parking Area, off trail and through often high bushes, sagebrush, and alpine wilflower fields. Ascend and descend Snow Lake Peak the same route used in Option I.
Red TapeNone That I know of, just beware how close you camp to the road and know that there is no camping at the Roads's End Parking Area; I believe the U.S Forest Service the administers the facilities here allows camping anywhere in the National Forest Land/Wilderness at least .25 miles from the road.
CampingThere are a number of Maintained campsites in the Ruby Mountains, but the only one in the vicinity of Snow Lake Peak is the Thomas Canyon Campground, which is on the south side of the Lamoille Canyon Road about 4 miles from the Road's End Parking Area, at the head of Thomas Canyon. I believe they charge about $10.00 or $12.00 a night for large campsites you can drive up to in pretty much any vehicle, which have vault toilets, fire pits, BBQ Stands, ect... Which seems to attract large families of loud people, which is why I usually either backpack in to a spot off of the Canyon Road, or just pretty much camp whereven is safe, ligit, and environmentally friendly, as the National Forest Service people don't seem to object to this.
External LinksTopozone 1:50,000 Map:
WikiPedia Entry for Snow Lake Peak:
Sierra Club Desert Peaks Section Trip Report: