| Borah Peak, Idaho's highpoint
Trailhead: standard route off Hwy 93
Round-trip distance: about 7 miles
Total elevation gain: 5,200'
Base camp: cheap hotel in Arco, Idaho (under an hour to the trailhead)
Lunchables aren't just for lunch. The savory snacks turned out to be a convenient breakfast option at 4:30 a.m., while cruising down that dark and lonely highway toward the trailhead. The trailhead, by the way, was called the "Mt. Borah Trailhead" by at least one sign, which is technically inaccurate, as it's "Borah Peak," but I digress.
At 5:10 a.m., after clicking on our headlamps, we started up the trail behind another group of climbers. It was the beginning of our first peak on our furious, 10-day-long road trip of mountain madness!
The trail began with a healthy grade, and it just continued to get steeper from there. By the time we broke above treeline it was mercilessly steep, but we continued to push up through the clear sky with relatively calm wind. Just for good measure, the mountain dished out some loose scree for us to contend with. It had nothing on Colorado scree, though, so we just laughed it off.
Here's a pic of our route before us, viewed from the ridge, along with a shot of a nearby mountain cast in morning alpenglow:
Once on the ridge, which had sheer cliffs to our left and a broad slope to our right, the angle of the trail relented and we set our sights toward the infamous Chicken Out Ridge.
As we first approached Chicken Out Ridge, it didn't look so bad. But as we started up the rock, I quickly realized how it got its name. Angling too far to the left exposes you to tall, near-vertical cliffs and angling too far to the right puts you above some steep and sloping slabs of rock. With a bit of patience, we easily found our way through a little notch, and then proceeded on up the rock.
Aside from a few spires and gendarmes that we had to traverse around, we pretty much stayed high on the ridge crest the entire way. Some sections were surprisingly exposed, and there were even some short "knife edges" to contend with, though the rock was pretty solid and the climbing never exceeded moderate class 3.
As we snaked our way over and around rock problems, we noticed some other climbers bypassing most of the ridge by traversing below us on a vague, loose trail. While they avoided some class 3 rock and exposure, we still thought our route was much better, not to mention more fun.
The crux of the route, in my opinion, was a down climb at the end of the ridge, just above the snow bridge. Even though we had to down climb facing in, holds were plentiful and mostly solid (had to test them, though, as there were a few loose ones in the mix).
Here's Jen down climbing that section, with the snow bridge below:
The snow bridge was mostly melted out, so no technical tools were really needed. Getting across it only required about 10 careful steps.
Beyond the snow bridge, we enjoyed a break on the single-track trail that traversed the talus slope to the second saddle on the way to Borah's summit. The views from that second saddle were spectacular, and we had a taste of what the summit would soon offer us.
The remaining route up Borah looked formidable and unclear. We first made our way up a wide, shallow gully, and when it became too steep and loose, we climbed onto a rib of rock and worked our way up it. When that rib of rock became too questionable, we entered another wide gully and then angled to the right, to a low point on the summit ridge.
Even though most people we saw weren't wearing helmets, we were glad we brought ours because rock fall was a serious threat.
After many good lung heaves, we gained the quaint ridge to the summit.
At 9:05 a.m. we touched the top of Idaho. Man, what a summit. And who would've thought Idaho possessed such grandeur! Steep and craggy peaks shot high above turquoise lakes, and it put a smile on my face.
Not sure what the antlers were doing up there, but it made a good photo prop:
Here's a look back down on the upper portion of our hike:
After spending about a half-hour soaking in the views on the summit (it took at least that long to take it all in), we started back down. After all, we had a long way to go. It was hard to fathom that our car was just 80 feet shy of a vertical mile below us.
Jen, starting down the ridge:
… and her going down one of the gullies back to the "second" saddle (some climbers in orange can be seen below):
Me, crossing the mostly dried-out snow bridge (doesn't look bad in the pic, but it's a LONG way down if you slip):
Here are some pics Jen took of me climbing that "crux" section (it was much easier to climb up than to down climb):
Chicken Out Ridge was just as fun in reverse.
Sometimes photos make routes look way more difficult than they really are (take photos of the Homestretch on Longs Peak, for example), but some make the route look much more tame than it really is (take these next two photos, for example, of Jen on the ridge):
The following photo is of a nearby mountain that I thought looked pretty cool. It had great coloring and a pretty nifty flat side:
A look toward the valley:
It seems as though Chicken Out Ridge has been appropriately named. On our climb alone, for example, we encountered four people (from three different groups) that decided to turn back before continuing up it. Overall, I didn't think it was that bad. However, it did give me pause in a few places, and it did demand some concentration. I also couldn't help thinking what it would be like to be on that ridge during an earthquake! In 1983, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake created a 26-mile-long fracture at the base of Borah Peak, causing the mountain to rise 6 inches and the valley to subside 9 feet. When driving to the trailhead, you cross that fracture (BTW, 2WD cars can make it fine).
After a long, knee-straining descent, we made it back to our hot car at noon.
A look at Borah Peak from the valley (the little sliver of white in the notch is the snow bridge):
Overall, I thought Borah Peak was a pretty exciting mountain to climb. And while it requires some determination to gain its summit, the reward up top was worth it.
No rest for the weary, from there we pushed on to Glacier National Park!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):