Saturday, September 20, 2014

Climbing Nicholson Peak From Fowler Springs, Lemhi Range, Idaho

One of the problems hikers and climbers face in the Lemhis are access roads. There are very few marked roads which makes route finding challenging. It is frustrating seeing your destination and crisscrossing the desert in every direction but the right one. Initially I followed the advice in Tom Lopez's book to access Fowler Springs from the mouth of Badger Creek Canyon. The topo map actually shows a road in this area leaving the canyon and heading for Fowler Springs. I thought it should be pretty straightforward. Driving into the canyon, I kept my eyes peeled for any semblance of a road leading south and crossing Badger Creek. Once in the canyon, I concluded that any access road from this point would be impossible, so I carefully retraced my path to no avail. I saw some hunters at the mouth of the canyon and asked them if they were aware of any access across the creek and south. They knew of no such route. Next, I drove back to the highway and headed south. I turned off every side road I could find. Two looked promising but were eventually blocked by barbed wire fence; probably put there by landowners who were tired of closing gates left open by lazy drivers. Next, I found another road far to the south that, on the map, pointed to Fowler Springs. Following this road for some distance looked very promising. The route was heading right to the destination point of the springs on the GPS! Unfortunately darkness fell fast and the faint road in the desert was impossible to follow. 

I pulled over and bedded down for the night. In the morning, the road I was following was indeed faint, but I could see a definite road leading over a hill in the distance that looked like this was the ticket. Driving toward this distant road, I found my self with no road whatsoever and looking for passable routes to the hilltop location…off-roading in a Forester. Finally, I met up with the distant road and climbed the steep hill with the telltale smell of a burning clutch. My little car has taken quite a few beatings, yet keeps on going. I just hope I don't burn out a clutch in the middle of nowhere. Once again, I just knew this was the way. Reaching the top of the hill, a sturdy barbed wire fence blocked further passage. I had exhausted every possibility I could think of, and had only one last thought; if Tom Lopez wrote the springs were accessible from Badger Creek Canyon and if the map actually showed a road, I must have missed something. So, I headed for the highway and north again to Badger Creek. Once again I drove towards the mouth of the canyon scouring the brush for some way south. I struck out again. If there is a route there, I must be an idiot. Driving back to the highway, I had given up and even thought of walking the 6 or 7 miles through the desert to Fowler Springs. That thought quickly gave way to heading home and getting a Jamba Juice. I drove south towards Howe. Suddenly I saw a road that I had missed the night before and turned left into the desert. Eureka. This road was the one!

To help out the next traveler, I have recorded 3 GPS points that will provide information to make the journey to the springs a leisurely drive. The first is the turn off point from the highway. The second is a midway point. The third is the actual springs. Once at the final point, drive up the road just a bit to find a grassy area to park or camp.

N 44.02399 W 113.19722
N 44.05100 W 113.16235
N 44.06224 W 113.13763

climbing Nicholson Peak, idaho
Nicholson Peak, Lemhi Range, Idaho
climbing Nicholson Peak, idaho
Knife Edge Ridge Leading to Nicholson
I came along the top of the left tower and descended here between the two towers.
climbing Nicholson Peak, idaho
Diamond Peak, Lemhi Range, Idaho
climbing Nicholson Peak, idaho
Little Diamond Peak, Lemhi Range, Idaho
Ridge from Peak 10,965 to Little Diamond Peak
climbing Nicholson Peak, idaho
Lemhi Crest from Diamond Peak to Little Diamond Peak
Bell Mountain can be seen in the far distance on the left.
Saddle mountain can be seen in the far distance on the right.

Once at the springs, the hike is straightforward. You may have noticed some cliffs at the top of the ridge when approaching the springs. Hike up the spur toward these cliffs and bypass them on the left. After the cliffs, you will see the ridgeline point right to Nicholson Peak. Follow this ridge.

While hiking this ridge, it soon narrowed to a few feet wide and presented a series of small chimneys. I climbed up and down several with precarious foot and hand holds. I was reluctant to give up elevation by dropping off the top and skirting the narrow rocky spine below.  I am not ashamed to admit that I straddled the ridge a few times when it narrowed to the kind of point that I came off of the Chimney pictured above on the left. Finally, I had had enough and found a passage down to the talus at the bottom of the razor ridge. I decided to head southeast to the ridge that connected Nicholson and Peak 10,965 (Coined The Joker by Rick Baugher).  Baugher wrote that this ridge connected the two peaks and then, from 10,965, connected to Little Diamond. I just wanted to see this for myself.

The view was worth the detour. Little Diamond Peak sits at the south end of a large box canyon. The impressive crest from Little Diamond to Diamond Peak encloses the east side while Nicholson and peaks to the north rise on the west side.

After admiring the breathtaking view, I hiked back off the ridge, veering northwest towards Nicholson. I headed toward some cliffs that I knew must be skirted to ascend the summit. Once around these cliffs, it was simple climb to the summit. 

Coming down was one of the most pleasant descents I have ever had. A pleasurable hike. It was pretty easy scree skiing off the summit. I was reluctant to retrace the ascent route over the gnarly ridge, so I “skied” past it down into a gentle gully into the canyon to the south. I decided to follow this gully to the desert floor.  The gully was fantastic. Not too much brush. Not too many rocks and boulders. The rocks that were there acted much like stair steps. The hike passed by incredible rock cliffs and formations and most of the hike was in shade. My worry about the often-narrow passageway down cliffing-out never materialized.

Coming onto a thicket of Mahogany trees signaled the lower elevations of the descent. Once in these trees, I veered a bit to the north and could see the foothill that I needed to wind around to meet up with Fowler Springs. Coming around the bend on the hill, led me straight into my parked car. A perfect end to a satisfying hike.

Other Resources:

Tom Lopez Website:
Nicholson Peak

For more trip reports of other mountains visit

1 comment:

Cliff said...

You should be commended for your search for this access and eventually finding same. Your pictures of the summit area are worth the effort. Some remind me of the volcanic mountain we drove up in Maui a few years back.