ApproachThis is an 1800+/- ascent day. We arrived in Capitol Reef with absolutely zero agenda, having spent some quality time climbing in Zion and on our way to Moab. Since I knew the rock climbs were nothing special, I asked the rangers for a sporty scramble. They gave several recommendations and I went with Ferns Nipple. Only problem was, they were out of that particular topo map except for their master copy. I took a quick glance and headed out. When the day was done and I came back into the ranger station, hair and clothes full of sand, etc., I explained to the rangers the route I used and that I doubted it was a scramble. They concurred that to their knowledge anyway, I had been the first to ascend and descend that particular canyon. One of the rangers thought it was not plausible, but it is. The correct canyon for a true scramble is off of the trail at the end of the Grand Wash road. I had a sense I was off any route as I got into the climb as there was no evidence of past climbers or scramblers. The route was not cleaned and many of the holds were breaking away.
Route DescriptionFrom the pullout mid-way in on Grand Wash road, head due south into the canyon. You can see Ferns Nipple from the road (photo), but it won’t be in view for most of the climb. Soon you are in the canyon wash with steep walls on both sides and a huge splinter formation to the right (photo). You will possibly see other footprints here as interpreters of some sort take parties back to the end of the canyon on the right hand side, probably looking at petroglyphs. The wash ends abruptly into tall steep canyon walls. Right before you get to the end of the canyon which curves right, there is a slot break to your left. The lower portion of this route is lower 5th class climbing. As you work your way up this narrow section, you will find several short problems to work through. Finally you get to a section that is best shimmied up like a chimney. Move right out of this narrow section and you will be out on an open wash area once again.
Maneuver left and down into the solitary wash and proceed south to the crux climbing (photos). The canyon narrows and steepens once more putting you at the bottom of fragile dark red sandstone. There are pockets up to your left and slick rock straight up. I started left and traversed right using a pocket here and there to ascend until I could get past the slick rock and proceed up easier climbing which eventually breaks out on the upper plateau. Ferns Nipple is now in clear view to the left. It is well flanked to the west, thus protected, by a steep cliff band. You either have to ascend the north or south end. I chose the south end and broke through the cliff band via a squeeze chimney and followed a wash back due north to the southeast corner of the summit block (nipple). This last bit of climbing was quite fun. Scrambling up weird slick rock type formations zig zagging my way from the southeast corner to right below the summit on the south side. The last couple moves were 5th class.
There was a summit register in 2005. The views are broad, all the way west to the Escalante high peaks. On descent, I was obviously looking for the more traditional normal route. From the summit I had studied two canyons emerging to the northeast. I returned to the base of the summit block and continued that direction. At last I actually observed a cairn or two and thought I was on track. I stayed right into an easy going canyon and descended 1000’ until eventually I was dead-ended by huge canyon walls, of the 800’ drop off variety. After maneuvering back and forth like a lost mountain goat, I eventually circumvented my way back around the north end of Ferns Nipple to the canyon I had ascended. Knowing I did not want to downclimb what I had just climbed earlier in the day, I took my time and found a route down the eastern canyon wall back down to the upper wash. From there I did downclimb my route including the full body shimmy to start the descent from the upper wash.
So in the end I did a complete circle around Ferns Nipple and can’t quite tell you what the normal scramble route is. But I would do what I did again, now that I am more comfortable about the descent options. It was very scenic and different climbing for an alpine inhabitant. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it was no longer than five hours return.