Saturday, August 8, 2015

How to "run" Nick Peak

Calvin and I set off for my final long run before Fat Dog.  Nick Peak would be the culmination of Calvin's summer mountain running training.  It involves about 9 miles of actual trail, 4 miles of steep and loose bushwhack and a few miles of clean and beautiful ridge traversing with scrambling.  As you can see in the description below, it Involves subtle route finding.   This classic McCall peak guards it's secrets carefully and turns away many first time suitors due to its length, rough terrain and deceptive difficulty to find "the way."

The day starts with just over 4 miles in the East Fork of Lake Fork Creek canyon.  Since it was Calvin's tempo day, we warmed up a mile and did the next 3 miles at around 7 minute pace on the undulating terrain and gradual ascent.

At the 4 mile mark, at an old sign post (with no sign), turn right and go cross country through a meadow towards the creek, which you reach in 100 yards or so.  At the creek, angle right slightly and ford the knee deep water aiming for cairns on the opposite shore.  Enter the woods and for the first couple hundred yards, the trail is tricky to follow.  As the trail begins to climb into old growth forest, it becomes wider and obvious to follow, but it tends to have some downed timber on it.

You are now on the Idler Creek Trail.  You will follow this uphill about 1 mile until it comes right up to the creek.  You may cross here, but there is a better crossing just upstream about 30 yards.  Angle upstream as you cross and find the trail on the opposite shore.  Follow this trail briefly, until you reach a granite rock slab on your left.  Ascend that slabby and bushy face.  As you climb, go left each time you hit an alder patch.  These alder trees are impassable, bright green leaved bush/trees that grow facing downhill in tight bunches.

At around 7500 feet, you will pass the last of the alder thickets and can begin moving right slightly and heading toward the old remnants of the trail.  It is not critical to hit the trail, but it may help some and will lead you to the right notch above.  At 7800' you can catch the trail.  It angles slightly left and climbs to 8250+' at Fitsum Summit (remember in Idaho the word "summit" means saddle or pass- not the top of a mountain).

Turn right and ascend the steep ridgeline.  At 8600+', at a false peak, encounter an instrument box of some kind with solar panels on it.  It is about 10 feet high.  Descend slightly and cross some talus, staying on the ridge top.  Climb again through pearly white boulders and grass.

Crazy classic north ridge of Nick Peak.

At about 8900', cross the "Sidewalk" and then head off the ridge to the right, to avoid a false peak with steep rock.  When you view the peak from McCall, this false peak is the left side of the "nick" or gunsight that makes up Nick Peak.  The real peak is the right part of the "nick." Go down off the ridge to the right and drop 100 feet or so and keep heading south towards the true peak.  Scramble up the talus towards the final pitch.  It is guarded by 100 feet of steeper rock that is mostly avoided by walking around on loose rocky ledges.

The "Sidewalk"
However, there are 3 short moves of consequence, that I call the "3 Boulder Problems."  They are very low 5th class climbing, are only about 10 feet high and have ledges below them, so a fall would not likely result in tragedy.  The greater danger is rolling loose rocks down on your partner.  To avoid this, we send one climber up each little boulder problem at a time.  This also allows the lower climber to spot the climber above.
The ledges leading to the first boulder problem.

Top.  2 hrs 11 mins with plenty of goofing around.

We continued north into the Nick Lake basin and swam in that little tarn in the center of the photo.

Nick Lake.


  1. Looks like great terrain; best of luck for Fat Dog!

  2. Thanks Luke. Hard to taper when we can already feel summer slipping away and gems like Nick Peak 10 more months away from another visit. Onward to Canada!

  3. Jer - NMP told me (while baby sitting me) that you had a tough go in the last outing. Hope all is well man. Keep the spirit.