Timing during the year is crucial for success. Up until the early 90s the face held more year-round snow and ice as can be seen in the photos that are posted here. In the past teams had been stormed off and serious rock fall prohibited any upward progress. Prolonged drought beginning in the late 70s and a warming climate has resulted in this face being left mostly bare of snow and ice during Idaho's hot, dry summers of recent. The face is now a very quiet place compared to the near past. A geological survey of glaciers in the West confirms this: Glaciers of Idaho
The approach is not in any way straight forward. The Pahsimeroi Valley to the east of the Lost River Range is a complex network of back roads, jeep trails and four-wheeler paths. Finding the right drive in is tricky (good luck in the dark) and high clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are mandatory.
Because it is so remote and other faces take the spot light, the East Face has remained hidden and overlooked for many decades. Don't be fooled, this is one of the best gems in the gem state. During the summers of 2011 and 2012 three new routes have been put up on this face: East Face Routes
NOTE: Come well prepared and plan for self-sufficient travel in this remote country. Cell phones and satellite phones may not be reliable in some locations and there can be long distances between good water sources in the late season. 2-ply sidewalls and tubeless tires might not survive this trip and make sure your spare is full-sized, inflated and you know where the jack is and how to use it. Don't forget your lug wrench. If you break down in this country or get snowed in you may have to walk out. Search and rescue in this range can be very difficult, expensive and a real burden on the local law enforcement and Forest Service staffs who are the first to be called for emergencies in this area.
The route starts slightly to the right of Wes Collins' Dirty Traverse route and follows the slab like ramps for about 6 pitches of 4th and low to moderate 5th class climbing until you reach the ledge system that allows for an exit to the Northeast Ridge. From there we climbed 2 pitches of very steep snow and joined the ridge. On the Northeast Ridge we encountered a short section of water ice (WI2) and several more pitches of moderate 5th class climbing until just below the summit, where it turns to easy, but very loose 3rd and 4th class climbing.
This route is probably best done when there is some remaining snow to cover loose scree and talus (June - July) and during some years it may not be climbable at all due to the large cornice that can form and block the narrow exit to the Northeast Ridge. Parties willing to solo or simul-climb can reduce the overall number of pitches required on this route.
Bob Boyles/Frank Florence
Mt Borah, Idaho
East Face-Northeast Ridge Variation
III 5.6 WI2
July 25, 2012
Essential GearBecause the rock is a mix between Dolomite (the Jefferson Dolomite formation) and limestone, the rock fractures in small seams. Much of the protection you can find is half inch or smaller. A healthy selection of smaller wires, (Nuts) and as many small cams as you can find is recommend for most climbing on this face. Many placements were finger cracks and smaller. Leave the big stuff home. Bring a dozen slings to extend your placements and to loop around horns as well.
This is a mixed climbed that involves several sections of steep snow and (during our climb) we found a short, steep pitch with water ice (WI2) at the start of the Northeast Ridge. Crampons and a single axe were sufficient for our climb but at certain times of year there may be more ice. We did not need ice pro but again this is conditional depending upon the time of year you climb and how you finish the ridge. If you plan to finish on the summit couloir then ice screws and two tools are highly recommended.
We took a light rack and it didn't take but a couple of pitches to decide that we were not going to retreat off this face unless we were blocked by some unseen obstruction higher up. The rock is good but all of the ledges are covered with rubble and the anchors are few. From my experience, rappelling off steep Lost River faces is the last option you want to use if at all possible. Rockfall is a given in this range so a helmet is highly recommended.
See Wes Collins' The Exit on his Dirty Traverse page for more details of the descent.
Another option would be to descend by way of the Southwest Chicken-Out-Ridge but that would involve some kind of shuttle to get to the approach from the Pahsimeroi River and assumes that you do make it to the summit.