February 11, 2006: A beautiful, but cold day.
I had wanted to make a winter ascent of Nipple Peak for a long time, especially since I have viewed the mountain from nearby peaks on many occasions.
When Judson (SteamboatClimber) and I met at 6:30 am at Highway 40 and the tunoff for Clark, I had -29F on my thermometer. We drove to the trailhead in Judson's truck, and it was even colder at the trailhead, but I didn't bring my thermometer, since I left it in my car.
We drove to the trailhead at Tribly Flats, bundled up, and started up the mountain. Judson broke trail and was moving faster since he was on skies and I was on snowshoes. It would be a long day. It was lightly snowing at first, but not real snow, just those tiny ice crystals that fall out of the sky when it’s really cold. Blue sky could be seen above. It wasn't bad at all while moving. Luckily the wind wasn't too bad.
We made fairly quick progress to the saddle between Iron Mountain and the Nipple Peak Ridge. It was then fairly easy route to Sawmill Creek, and a few teasing glimpses of Nipple Peak were had. Nipple Peak is somewhat strange because the peak is visible for miles around, but when you are near the peak, it isn’t usually visible, but is usually hidden by thick timber. The sky was clear by now.
The route was slower after Sawmill Creek. We tackled the slopes to the west directly, and climbed up a very steep route. I kept thinking we were much higher than we actually were. Things got easier until we reached the ridge top.
Once we hit the ridgeline, it was tough to climb the mountain on skies, and pretty tough with snowshoes, and now I could get ahead. Judson removed his skies, and I broke trail with snowshoes. At first we thought the false summit above was the real one, but we then remembered then that when viewing the summit from afar, that it was well above any trees. The going up to the false summit was really strenuous with very deep powder snow and next to a cliff. In one section it took me 10-15 minutes to break a path up just a 10 foot section. We eventually made the false summit before the true one. It was both spectacular and slightly disappointing. Spectacular because the peak was more rugged than expected, but slightly disappointing because it was already 3pm and we didn’t have the equipment to reach the true summit. We admired the views and started down the mountain. The route down took 3.5 hours and was uneventful. We had a nice sunset, and it was after dark before we reached the truck.
Judson adds: When we returned to the truck in the evening it was a really hard start, meaning it probably never got above 0 at the trailhead all day long. Typicaly it starts right up, even at 20 below zero.