ExpositionMy hiker-friend Daniel is the official high pointer. I'm just going along for the ride, I tell him. I take whatever comes, and while I love mountaineering, I do not set state high point goals for myself out of reason that, well, most of them really aren’t that special. A lot of them seem to be merely tracts of land indistinguishable from the surrounding countryside.
Example: I was driving through Nebraska (the Feedlot State) a few weeks ago, whereupon looking at the map, noticed I-80 was relatively close to Panorama Point, the state high point. Did I stop? No, because I knew it was nothing remarkable (sorry). Later I found out the owners whose property the high point is on charge a fee to visit it. Why pay $3 to see what had been boring me for the last six hours? While I suppose this could illustrate my incredible monetary pettiness when it comes to such matters, it merely serves to reflect my attitude toward the high points of ephemeral political boundaries. Regardless, Daniel was disappointed to learn I didn’t visit it given the chance.
Anywho, the basic facts of this trip are as follows:
1) I was researching grad schools of sorts, and found an appropriate one in Salt Lake City.
2) Daniel happens to live just north of said metropolis.
3) I flew out to Utah on July 12, crashed at Daniel’s house, and visited the school on Monday. Daniel informed me that he was looking for a partner to hike Borah with him the following day, so that he could bag another high point. Would I care to join?
We planned on waking at 6:00 am to begin the drive. We woke at 7:00. No big deal. Before we left we ate breakfast (cereal). Then we stopped at the Wal(star)Mart so Daniel could buy black and white film for his camera and an adapter for his iPod. Then we fueled up on go-go juice.
Because Daniel drives at about 90 mph, it didn't take long to cross into the Gem State. I had never been to Idaho before, and it seemed even emptier than Utah. When I rolled down the window, the scent of sagebrush overwhelmed my olfactory receptors. We passed through few towns along the way, all of them seemingly stuck in a time that was not the present. Like something from a Jack Finney story.
And the first two miles of the climb were really quite undemanding. The trail seemed rather well maintained, and it was mostly shady, with few spots exposed to the sun. The pitch was steep, but this wasn’t the least bit surprising considering there was a punishing full mile of vertical relief from the trailhead to the summit. Yet we were able maintain a pretty steady pace, halting only for some photo opportunities and one real break of any significance to catch our breath. Up until this trip I had been running upwards of 50 miles a week for a marathon in October, and was feeling more fit than usual. Still, being a flatlander from Long Island, I wasn’t used to the elevation, and could feel the thinness of the air as we ascended.
Nearing the first false summit above the timberline, we spotted a figure heading toward us, our first hiker of the day. It turned out to be a very robust, older gentleman dressed in jeans and a t-shirt but with no gear whatsoever. Not even a water bottle, which kinda surprised me given that up until now there was absolutely no water on the trail, the air was very dry, and the temperature quite warm. As we approached each other, we offered our salutations. Daniel, ever-inquisitive, asked for his age.
And how did he keep in shape?
It wasn’t too much longer before we were within full sight of the rest of our route. We were now climbing up a broad, talus-strewn ridge that swung in a southeasterly direction toward the summit. Up ahead was Chicken Out Ridge, the knife-edge that we would have to traverse in order to reach Idaho’s apex.
As we finished up our chat with the friendly hikers, we spotted our friend from the parking lot about a mile behind us, walking along the plateau. We wouldn’t see him again.
The snowbridge looked a lot scarier than it actually was. It was quite narrow, and there were a few paths of footprints below the top bridge that a few shaken souls undoubtedly thought was safer. At first glance I regretted not bringing some sort of hiking pole or ice axe, but the snow was soft (but not too soft!) and held us firmly as we crossed with relative ease.
After some more trickiness and another shorter snowbridge, the trailed leveled out once more along the side of a gigantic, steep, scree-filled slope toward the final knife edge, which proved to be even scarier than COR.
The last 50 yards of the ridge were flatter and more secure, and I was just below the lip when I heard a loud “whoop!” an indication that Daniel had reached the summit and bagged his 13th high point.
There was also a cylindrical tube housing what seemed to be a homemade banner proclaiming “MT. BORAH ELEV. 12,662 FT 2009.” According to Daniel, Idahoans are really into homemade things.
DescentWe spent about half an hour up top before heading down. It was now well past 4:00 pm, and time to get back to the parking lot before the sun set, as we didn’t have our headlamps.
The knife edge again proved to be a trying task—climbing up was much easier, and it took me a good 20 minutes to finally make it to the bottom.
Walking over the snowbridges proved to be no problem, but climbing back up the notch on COR was somewhat tricky. Daniel and I decided that instead of climbing directly up the jagged face, we would climb around its south side and over it. In order to get around to the south face, we shimmied around the rock wall, avoiding the ice that was only a few inches from the footholds.
Once past COR, the rest of the hike down was pretty much a breeze. Below timberline the trail became much steeper, with very few switchbacks, and we were basically tumbling down, bleary with dehydration, into trees the entire time. We had finished our water long ago and the snow we scavenged from the summit was not melting fast enough to drink.
We made it back to the trailhead shortly before 7:00 pm, sunburnt and weary. No cars were in the parking lot, so it stood to reason that our friend must have “chickened out”. My legs felt like jell-o from the descent, and I somewhat regretted not bringing trekking poles, not that I even owned a pair anyway.
Borah proved to be a tougher hike than I anticipated, but the sense of accomplishment was very intrinsic and rewarding— a good feeling indeed. Bagging the bastard gave me a shot of endorphins that made me feel alive for the first time in a while.
EpilogueDaniel and I each took lengthy chugs from the reserve jug of warm water we had left in the car and began the long drive back to Salt Lake City, stopping only for gas and dinner in Arco. The waitress at the burger joint was cute.
And now we’re friends with her on Facebook.