Ascent of Mollies Nipple on 2006-09-08

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Friday, September 8, 2006
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mollies Nipple
    Elevation:7271 ft / 2216 m

Ascent Trip Report

Note: this is the first of my two ascents of Mollies Nipple. The trip report for my second ascent contains more information for climbers. This report is retained for posterity.

On US highway 89 at mile post 36.9, I turned N on an unpaved BLM road, which headed up a broad canyon called Park Wash, which has broken red cliffs on both sides. I followed this road for 10 miles to a junction where signs indicated that the left branch continued up Park Wash, and the right branch was 5 miles to Mollies Nipple. This junction is where the road veers around from NW to NE; the right branch is shown on Topozone but the left branch is not. A flimsy barbed wire gate with a sign asking everyone to please close it was stretched across the right branch. I drove through the gate and closed it behind me. Less than 100 yards later, the road became soft sand and I became concerned about getting stuck, so I retreated back to the junction and decided to make this the start of my hike.

The road climbed up a side canyon and, about 15 minutes into the hike, gained open rangeland above. The conical form of Mollies Nipple came into view a few miles away on my right. After a total of 20 minutes, there was a jeep track on the right whose only signage was a flimsy fiberglass post indicating a wilderness study area. It wasn't quite time for the jeep track that showed on the 24K topo map, and it went off at the wrong angle, but it did go in the direction of the road that the topo map showed going to Mollies Nipple. After scouting a couple of other side roads in the area, I determined that this road was the correct one. For the next 1½ hours I watched as Mollies Nipple gradually appeared larger. During this time, cumulus clouds built up to the north and I heard a few rumbles of thunder, but they were far away and were not upwind of me, so they were not an immediate threat. Eventually I reached the point just NW of the center of section 7, where the topo map shows the road making a sharp bend from NE to SE, about ¾ mile SW of Mollies Nipple. There is actually a junction here, and an unmapped road to the left continues to the base of Mollies Nipple.

Most of the climb of Mollies Nipple itself was a class 2 scramble up sand, talus, and boulders. About 50 feet below the summit, the grade steepens and a couple of class 3 pullups on ledges gain a red ridge that extends to the left of the summit. A shallow notch about 20 feet below the summit separates this ridge from the summit block. Just beyond this notch, the summit block slopes at a 55° angle with about 35 feet of exposure, but there are plenty of well-placed handholds and footholds. I negotiated these last few easy class 3 moves, gained the summit, and began the process of assessing which rock was the highest so I could touch it and claim a successful ascent.

Within a few seconds of standing up on the summit, I began to hear a crackling noise in my hair and I felt a buzzing sensation. I immediately recognized it as static electricity. I was under the immediate and serious threat of being struck by lightning. I abandoned the pursuit of identifying and touching the highest rock and began descending at once. Within 15 seconds I had descended the entire class 3 section that had taken a couple of minutes to ascend. I did it so rapidly that I have literally no recollection of any individual move. I was astrounded that tasks that normally require thought become automatic and subconscious when necessary. I didn't stop at the bottom of the class 3 section, however. I took a mere 10 minutes to descend the entire 700 feet to the base of the nipple. Only when I reached the bottom of a shallow gully below the base did I consider myself safe.

Though lightning never struck Mollies Nipple or nearby when I was in the vicinity, the rumbles of thunder were very close by in a cloud directly over the peak.

The return hike back to where I had parked my truck was uneventful.
Summary Total Data

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