I convinced two other friends that every rightful Idahoan should at least try Borah, even if they aren't mountain climbers or hikers. The peak has a lot going for it: highest in the state, accessible or easy for most anyone, highly scenic, and uncrowded outside of summer. We headed over from Boise at 4:30am, stopping for Pilot's Octane coffee with the slogan: "achieve and conquer". Whether it's any different than any other coffee is debatable, but it made for good a psychological advantage (and good conversation). We reached the trailhead around 8:30am and we were basically racing ahead of one of the first winter storms of the season. The weather looked good enough, and after all it was Lost River Range, not the Cascades where the weather is much more unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
We were taking the standard route (Chicken Out Ridge) and the trail starts out steeply, as it would have to, to make 5200 feet in 3.5 miles. It had been almost 10 years since I last climbed Borah and I was basically racing up then, so I remembered little about the route. This would be good to take it all in a a casual pace for once. As the trail continued up, I thought how nice it was to have the mountain to ourselves today. The trail continued to a section of very steep switchbacks that led above tree line near 10,400 feet. There was a make shift lean to here, where we put on some warmer clothes as the wind was blowing pretty well. Just past this point, the climb became interesting as it made it's way along a scenic ridgeline. I was carrying much of the water for everyone, so I cached one Nalgene bottle near here. This section has great views of the steep west face and southwest ridge. We continued on to the base of Chicken Out Ridge where I cached another water.
Chicken Out Ridge had some new snow on it, but staying on the south side where most of the route goes anyway, made for straight forward Class 3 scrambling. Even on the most exposed parts, the exposure was over blocky or tiered ledges, so any fall wouldn't be a death fall. Just past here at the snow bridge (which was only forming on the north side) we encountered our first conditions related decision. The true path traverses out onto the north side, but 6-8 inches of fresh snow convinced us to stay on the ridge proper. This was just more Class 3 scrambling until the edge of this section where it dropped off to a prominent notch. We scrambled down a gully on the south side, then back up to a prominent notch to avoid this small vertical section that had fresh snow on it.
From the notch just southwest of Point 11898, we then traversed out onto the northwest snowy side and was able to make out where the path usually goes. Surprisingly, there was shin deep snow in some spots. We easily, but carefully made our way to the last prominent notch just southwest of the summit. The wind really was howling through this gap and we experienced our first snow shower blowing through. The weather in the distance looked ominous, but I still felt like we had enough time and the weather system wasn't quite organized yet. The water in my companions drinking tubes froze over. From this point the summit looked deceptively close, but it was still a good 850 feet in 1/2 a mile. We could also see something flapping in the winds at the summit.
The last section was on mostly shallow snow as we reached the summit just in time for a snow and wind squall. We quickly signed the log, took some pics, and headed down to the relative shelter of the lower slopes. The weather actually got better as we descended and the sun even came out for a while. Even as an experienced scrambler and climber, I found the descent somewhat brutal on the knees; it was just so steadily steep and down for most all of the way. When we reached the car we celebrated with a shot of GoldSchlagger and I was glad that I could share what I do regularly with two friends that usually don't do this. The drink spurned intense conversations of religion and politics on the drive home.