The east side of The Nub From East Sister Steve Lake Cliff Lake Collins Creek Snow and talus
Though the summit is a little below 7,000 feet elevation, The Nub is truly a challenging mountain for a hiker. Its one of the highest mountains in the North Fork Clearwater basin and rises an impressive 5,124 vertical feet above the lush rainforests of the North Fork Clearwater River. The mountain also has an impressive prominence of 2,217 feet. There is an old lookout at the southwest point of the summit ridge; the high point is on a nub of rock on the northeast end.
The mountain is a broad ridge with fairly gentle slopes to the west and steep slopes to the north and south. The summit forms a large rock knob over precipitous cliffs that fall hundreds of feet into glacial cirque basins. These hold five lakes and a few ponds. Four of the lakes are visible from the summit. The very steep and sheltered cirques on the north side hold large slabs of snow that appear to survive cooler summers, making it to winter. The glacially scrapped bedrock of the north side may provide the best example of a glacially formed landscape in the Clearwater Mountains.
The old lookout is interesting with stone walls complete with windows. The upper portions of the walls and roof are gone, but it still is largely intact. There are numerous artifacts someone has neatly laid out on flat rocks as if in a display. These include old rusty tools, hinges, nails, pipes, pots and even a large iron wood stove. Enjoy the history, but leave everything here. Its against the law to remove historical artifacts.
The views are terrific especially down into the upper North Fork Clearwater Canyon to the south and the large tributary of Collins Creek to the north. Further north lays the rugged ridges of the St. Joe country. To the east the highest bitterroots in Montana are visible and if the air is very clear the Seven Devils and Wallowas of Oregon far to the southwest can be seen. The peaks of Black Mountain, East Sister and their smaller satellites form large pyramids to the west.
In 2003 a large forest fire burned from the low elevations up to about 5,700 feet. The fire was managed as a wildland fire and allowed to burn without suppression activities. These primitive areas are not formerly designated as wilderness, but the fires are allowed to burn for resource benefits. The fire removed much of the forest along the trail, but the life zones here pass from wet western redceder forests at the start to steep drained grassland, then dry mixed coniferous forests primarily of grand fir and Douglas fir. The loss of the forest detracts from the scenic nature of the trail itself, but allows wonderful views of the North Fork Clearwater Canyon and the mountains beyond. Above the fire the forest is mostly grand fir, subalpine fir and larch before giving way to the subalpine mountain hemlock and heather glades.
The Nub is included in the Mallard Larkins Pioneer Area. This approximately 30,000 acre primitive area has been proposed for wilderness designation by the Forest Service for many years. Formal designation has never occurred, however it is managed similar to a wilderness area. This area offers some of the premier back county recreation opportunities in north Idaho with many peaks, canyons and 19 glacial lakes to explore. During peak hiking season, the main peaks of this area along the St. Joe/Clearwater divide get moderate to high use, but the area around The Nub gets fewer recreationists except for possibly during hunting season. The trails from this lesser used east part of the Pioneer Area to the main part are very lightly used and in places may not always exist. If going on an extended hike, be prepared to do some route finding.
Avoid taking off cross country from the trails. This mountain is huge in area and very steep and brushy and the path of least resistance often quickly takes one into drainages that are very deep and full of wet, criss-crossing down logs, devils club and waterfalls. Climbing out is extremely difficult and passage down stream impossible. Its an easy place to get lost and away from the trails the only way out is sometimes very dangerous.
Fireweed hiding trail Summit approach
If coming from Lewiston, follow Highway 12 to the town of Orofino and turn east across the bridge over the Clearwater River into downtown. Follow the main road through town (Michigan Street) and climb the grade east of town. This road is paved, but some places have a rough surface and some bad corners. Keep on this road for 26.5 miles to where it forms a T at the Bald Mountain Ski Area turn off. Take a left on the main road (Highway 11) and continue 7.3 miles to the next T at the small town of Headquarters. Headquarters is a small group of buildings that is an administrative center for the Potlatch Corporation; there are no services. Turn left at Headquarters (forest road 247) and continue for 24 miles to the bridge of the North Fork Clearwater River. On the north side of the bridge, turn right and go approximately 5 miles to the 399 trailhead at the mouth of Lower Twin Creek.
If coming from the south, take Highway 12 to Kamiah and continue approximately 15 miles to Highway 11, which crosses the Clearwater River to the right at Greer. Then climb the steep 8 mile Greer Grade and continue on about 12 miles to Weippe. Here turn left and follow the signs to Pierce. Continue through Pierce about 5 miles to the Bald Mountain Ski Area turn off and then follow directions above (from this direction, continue straight on Highway 11). One can also skip the Greer Grade and continue to Orofino on Highway 12 and follow the directions above.
Trail 399 is extremely steep and rigorous. The lowest elevations are easy to follow, but much of the mountain burned in 2003 and the heavy vegetation and low use make this trail impossible to find at times. The ground is steep and vegetation very dense, but if one generally stays right on the main ridge, the trail will pick up again. Few of the burned trees have fallen yet, but as they do in the coming years the trail will become even more impassable. If the trail crew cuts the trail out, the logs cuts will actually aid in trail location. In 2006 crews sawed out much of the trail, but from about 5500 ft. work was less consistent and trail continues to be faint. The upper reaches of the trail pass through openings of grass and heather in a park like mountain hemlock forest. The map shows the trail getting on the east side of the ridge, but it actually goes straight up the ridge. Its very spotty and often hard to follow, but the ridgeline is now well defined and easy to follow. Finally the hike is pleasant.
The backbone of the summit ridge is very rocky with large outcrops that are difficult to pass. It starts out as a gentle talus slope at the lookout, complete with nice flat steps someone has place in the rocks around the old structure. Then the ridge gets difficult. At places straight over the rocks seem best, but impassable areas will be encountered. Going around these outcrops either to the left or to the right works in some places, but not in others. One just has to take time and pick their path through these obstacles according to their comfort level. It is also possible to skip most of the ridge altogether by descending to the lower east aspect and going side hill on the steep slope, then climbing up to the base of the summit knob.
Because much of the trail is so steep, difficult and hard to follow, it sees very little usage. As the brush thickens after the fire this trail could well vanish completely. If you plan to hike the trail, be prepared by having a good topo, compass and altimeter or gps to track your position. It would really help to make the trip early in the summer before the fireweed gets tall and completely covers the trail. But with early trips come prepared for snow at the higher elevations.
Views From The Summit
The mosaic of meadows and hemlock forest along the upper ridge provide excellent camping opportunities to backpackers, though there is no water close by. The lakes would be nice to camp at, but they are very difficult to reach as the basin walls are very steep and dangerous. There are some dispersed campsites up the river from the trailhead and Aquarius Campground is about 5 miles to the west. Aquarius is a beautiful campground situated in an old growth western red cedar rainforest on the rapids of the North Fork Clearwater River. This is a very small campground with only a few spots so come early if you want a developed site. The larger Washington Creek Campground is several miles upriver. To the south of the river there are many dispersed campsites off the paved road along Beaver Creek that would provide good car camping. But most of these are filled up with loggers who work on the Potlatch timber lands in the area.
When to Climb
The upper elevations get lots of snow and hiking to the summit before mid-July may be difficult some years. Most precipitation on the lower elevations is in the form of rain, thus the interesting montane rainforests on the lower slopes can easily be explored in winter. Of course this is depending on road conditions into the North Fork, which are not always open.
Mountain Conditions and Information
Go to the mountain prepared for variable conditions. With over a mile of vertical lift, mountain temperatures can vary dramatically.
Contact the North Fork Ranger District of the Clearwater National Forest
and current conditions
North Fork Ranger District
12730B Highway 12
Orofino, ID 83544
Canyon Work Center (summer only)