Failed Attempt at Fern’s Nipple

For day 6 of the trip (6/2/16), Trent and I drove to Capitol Reef NP after sleeping in following our night hike. Trent’s foot was much more sore, so he decided to sit things out for the day.

My original plan was to climb George BM from the Golden Throne trailhead (about 2 miles of trail followed by 2+ miles of off-trail navigating to the summit), and I actually ended up hiking about 200 yards up the trail before stopping and changing my mind.

I felt a little bad about letting Trent roast down by the car for 4-5 hours, and the late start meant we were already in for a late night heading back to Las Vegas.

Fern's Nipple from the road

Fern’s Nipple from the road

View from the west side of the national park

View from the west side of the national park

So instead, we drove a few miles back up Capitol Reef’s Scenic Drive and parked at the Cassidy Arch trailhead. My plan B was to climb Fern’s Nipple (7,067′) – one of the park’s classic off-trail scrambles. The distance was a little shorter than George BM, so I didn’t figure I’d be gone as long. I had a good topographical map of the area, but unfortunately hadn’t read up on this route very well. This would come back to burn me. Some of the notes below are for my own sake, in case I ever make it out to try this again.

My route in red (including some obvious attempts at routefinding), true route in blue (as best I can tell), crux of the route is the purple dot, photo of turnoff for true route (below) taken from yellow dot

My route in red (including some obvious attempts at routefinding), true route in blue (as best I can tell), crux of the route is the purple dot, photo of turnoff for the true route (see below) taken from yellow dot

I started by hiking a short distance northeast up the canyon, looking for the cairned turnoff on my right. After finding this without any trouble, I followed a faint use trail southwest (gaining a few hundred feet in the process) until reaching the entrance to Bear Canyon.

Ledges leading into Bear Canyon; go straight then turn left

Ledges leading into Bear Canyon; go straight then turn left. Parking area visible off to the right.

In order to enter Bear Canyon, you’re required to round a corner by traversing a narrow (maybe 12-14 inch wide) rock ledge. There’s quite a bit of exposure – a fall would almost certainly be be fatal here – but numerous good handholds on the sandstone to your left. This is the spot I marked with a purple dot on the map above. I recommend doing this section standing, facing the wall.

Fixed rope

Looking back at the fixed rope, from just inside Bear Canyon

Immediately after rounding the corner, you’ll find a fixed rope (assuming it’s still there) aiding a 20ish foot vertical drop onto a larger ledge below. I didn’t have any climbing gear with me, so it was fortunate someone had left the rope (thanks!).

Looking back at the entrance to Bear Canyon; route in red

Looking back at the entrance to Bear Canyon; route in red

Things got easier from here, as I followed the only obvious way forward across Bear Canyon and gradually up the other side. Shortly thereafter the route turned southward again before entering another small side canyon. I’m not positive, but I’m about 95% sure this is where I went off-route. The picture below was taken from the yellow dot on the map above, looking south. You can see my route in red. In hindsight, I think I should have moved higher up the band of cliffs at this point. I outlined a couple possibilities in blue. The higher of the two is probably a better bet, assuming it’s accessible.

Possible ways forward; Fern's Nipple visible in the distance

Possible ways forward; Fern’s Nipple visible in the distance

I continued forward oblivious, not realizing I hadn’t gone high enough up the canyon wall. I would end up spending the next 80-90 minutes searching for a way forward, which you can see as dead ends on the map. One spot in particular looked very promising from a distance, and I free climbed a few (small) cliffs to get there…only to find myself standing at the base of a 15-foot, smooth, vertical sandstone wall. Not climbable for someone like me.

Looking out over Capitol Reef

View to the north

I eventually decided to head back. I spotted the promising blue route (above) on my way back…and under different circumstances probably would have gone for it. But it was getting late in the day, Trent was probably getting bored back at the car, and the hot sun (mid/high 90’s) was starting to sap my energy.

Cassidy Arch in the distance

Cassidy Arch in the distance

On the way back, I spotted Cassidy arch on the other side of the canyon. Allison and I had hiked to the top of it a little over five years ago (read the blog post here). I managed to haul myself up and out of Bear Canyon with the aid of the rope – a little easier now that I was carrying a couple liters less water.

After making it back to the car, Trent and I made the long drive back to the Excalibur in Las Vegas (stopping by a good Mexican restaurant in Richfield on the way).

Published in: on June 10, 2016 at 9:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

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