Shelley and I drove up from Salt Lake to Brad's house in Rupert the day before this hike. With a late start from Salt Lake (5:15pm, i.e., rush hour traffic) we didn't arrive at Brad's until 9:30pm, and it was after 10:00pm before we finally got to bed. The next day started extra early (1:45am), since Brad was unable to sleep from the anticipation. We ate a quick breakfast then headed out in the dark for the nearly 3-hour drive to the Borah Peak trail head.
We pulled into the trail head parking area around 5:15am, as the sky was just beginning to lighten. There were a number of cars in the parking lot; most (if not all) had presumably camped there overnight. Several groups of hikers were already awake and eating/preparing for the hike. We spent a few minutes going over our gear, and at 5:35am we were on our way.
The biggest nuisance of the entire day started almost immediately, in the form of dozens of hungry mosquitoes. Of course none of the three of us had thought to include insect repellant in the gear we carried, so we resorted to swatting and slapping for the next several hours. We knew from the elevation gain and relatively short hiking distance that the trail would be steep, and it certainly was.
After an hour or so we were passed by a quick moving hiker from Coeur D'Alane, and then just before breaking above timber line we passed two boy scouts who were traveling way ahead of their leader, whom we'd passed shortly after hitting the trail. After these encounters we didn't see anyone else until we reached the summit, which was surprising considering we were hiking a popular peak on a Saturday.
After rising above the trees we finally got our first look at the snow bridge, which appeared much more intimidating from a distance than it actually turned out to be. We continued making our way up the rocky but well defined trail, which eventually steepens until it becomes 'chickenout ridge'.
After all the pre-hike research which we'd done we were a bit nervous about crossing the dreaded ridge, having visualized a narrow knife edge with extreme exposure on both sides. As it turned out, all our worrying was unfounded - the ridge did have some exposure but otherwise was a wide and easy scramble. At the time we weren't even aware we were actually crossing the ridge, and several times commented amongst ourselves "its got to be here pretty soon...". After a few minutes of this scrambling we found ourselves looking down on the snow bridge and realized that chickenout ridge was already behind us.
The short 15-foot downclimb from the ridge to the snow bridge was probably the trickiest scrambling encountered on the hike. Brad had kindly carried up a length of rope in his pack, in case we felt the need for extra security while crossing the snow bridge, but we opted not to use it. I went across the snow bridge first, carefully using the existing footprints in the snow, but found they provided little feeling of security after having frozen solid overnight. A slip at this point with no ice axe for self arrest would have been quite unfortunate, but I concentrated on solid foot placements and was soon off the snow and back on the relatively firm footing of the rock slope.
Brad and Shelley then followed and we were soon all safely past the 'obstacle'. From the snow bridge we contoured along the fairly level trail to the base of the summit ridge. Before beginning the final ridge scramble we decided to stash the majority of our gear, which reduced our load to food, water, and camera.
As we started up the summit ridge there were still faint signs of the trail, but it appeared to be staying well below the actual ridgeline, and the footing was quite poor on the sandy scree. I quickly grew tired of this path so I moved up to the ridgeline which was quite exposed on the east side, but the footing was generally much better on the more solid rock.
I glanced at my watch and realized that with a little hustle I could probably make the summit in under 5 hours so I picked up my pace a bit and went for it. After a few more minutes of routine scrambling I finally ambled onto the top of Idaho at 10:31am - 4 hours and 56 minutes from vehicle to summit, a respectable although certainly not blistering pace for the 5000+ vertical foot climb.
The Coeur D'Alane hiker who passed us earlier that morning was taking a snooze on the summit, waiting for his hiking partner who had not yet arrived. About 5 minutes later Shelley, all smiles, showed up, and about 10 minutes after her Brad brought up the rear. The weather was nearly perfect so we were able to enjoy a very leisurely lunch, and took a number of summit photos.
After over an hour of summit time we grudgingly decided it was time to begin the steep hike down. Just as we were leaving the summit another pair of hikers arrived, and they would apparently be joined by many more that day, as we probably passed about 30 hikers as we made our way down the summit block and back to chickenout ridge. Seeing this steady stream of people we became very grateful for our early start, which had allowed us to enjoy the summit in relative solitude, rather than 'standing room only' as it undoubtedly must have become soon after we left.
By now it was early afternoon and the warm sun had softened the snow bridge, making the return crossing a trivial matter. The remainder of the hike down seemed monotonous, and required a bit more concentration now that our legs were starting to feel weary after the steep hike up. A pair of trekking poles would have been very welcome at this point, particularly on some of the steeper sections over occasionally loose soil.
We finally arrived back at our vehicle at 3:30pm, nearly 10 hours after the hike began. We still had a 3-hour return drive to Brad's place ahead of us, but with the contented feeling which comes with a successful hike, the drive back seemed to pass very quickly. Or maybe it was just because I feel asleep in the back seat.