The Apex of Idaho
After having a tumor removed from my spine in October 2001, I spent several months recovering and in rehab and I finally felt like I needed something rigorous to test out the strength in my back, so I recruited Craig to try Borah peak with me. My brother-in-law, Dustin was also interested in coming along, so we decided we would bail out of work a little early to beat the traffic getting out of the city. Obviously we did not leave early enough, because we spent about an hour and a half in bumper to bumper traffic and the only thing that kept our spirits up was a little Sublime pumping in the CD player. We were all hungry and debated whether or not to stop and grab a quick bite to eat off of the freeway somewhere or continue in this monotonous maze of concrete and cars. We finally pulled off at a Wendy’s and grabbed some Spicy chicken sandwiches for the road and I let Craig take over the driving, because my back was already starting to get somewhat stiff. With my recent surgery, I could only sit in the same position for about an hour before my back would become sore, so I knew that if I drove all the way to Borah I would be having some issues. I stretched out in the back seat and enjoyed the conversation.
The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful and once we were out of the traffic jams along the Wasatch Front, our speed and spirits picked up tremendously. We arrived at the trailhead around 10 PM and found four other groups either setting up camp or already camping. One guy was camping in the back of his truck and there was another group with a tent already set up in what looked like the best location, so we scoured the surrounding areas for a good spot and after a few minutes we found a nice flat area to set up our tent. After we had everything set up we settled in to what would become a very sleepless night. During the early morning hours there were several cars arriving at the trailhead and the endless stream just never seemed to taper off at all. My night went about like this: I would get comfy and relaxed and start to fall into a pretty good sleep when I would hear a vehicle pull up, see the lights hit our tent and then doors slamming shut with the occasional laugh or loud person, obviously unaware that the people in the tents might actually be sleeping. I mean it was only 3 or 4 in the morning and I am sure the dude really did have to pee, but come on people! Anyway, I was not expecting to have a blissful sleep, but a few of the folks that showed up were not very considerate given the time of their arrival.
Craig’s alarm went off at 6 AM sharp and there was a collective groan from the group. Craig jokingly complained that I had been rolling over onto him throughout the night and that between that and the aforementioned late arrivers; he had not slept much at all. We quickly got our gear ready and most of the other hikers at the trailhead were also getting ready. I had talked to another friend of mine, Adam from Colorado about meeting us for the hike, but I did not see his car anywhere, so we figured that he had decided not to make the trip. After I quickly munched two cereal bars and a pop tart I was ready to roll. Nothing like a good sugar buzz to get my innards moving.
We all had on our headlamps and we could see a few lights ahead of us and some of the slower hikers behind still getting ready. My back was feeling really good and I was confident that I could make it to the top without too much difficulty. I had done Borah before and knew that the first part of the trail was just hellishly steep, so I mentally buckled up for the challenge. After about a mile, Craig bounded ahead and Dustin and I stayed together, as we were hiking at a more moderate or should I say human rate. Craig has a tendency to be a little super human on steep trails and this day would be no different. The steeper the trail became, the faster he went. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the extra comfort I provided throughout the night ;)
The trail only became steeper and it just never seemed to let up at all. When we finally came out of the trees there was a slight wind blowing and it cooled me off immediately and I had to put on my jacket to keep it at bay. We took a quick break to shuffle our gear around and have a quick snack. I pounded some tangerine gu and hoped it would kick in quickly, because this hike is extremely steep and it had been quite a cardio workout so far and I knew I had been burning some serious calories. We got our first look at Borah and we could see that the snow field was in, but we could not tell how sketchy it would be from our vantage point, but I was not worried at all, although I did see a few guys carrying ice axes and it made me wonder if I was not taking that section as serious as I needed to.
The hike to Chicken out ridge was extremely windy and along the way we ran into Craig, who had run into some friends he knew from Salt Lake. They were taking a break and chatting and Dustin and I stopped for a few seconds and then we decided to keep moving. When we reached Chicken out, Craig and his friends had caught up to us and we all contemplated the best route. We had heard that just going straight over the ridge was the best way to do it, so we all started scrambling on the first semi-climbing move and the exposure started immediately. Dustin got to the top of the first slab and immediately froze. He said he needed to sit down for a few minutes and I could tell that this was not his thing at all. The holds are all really good, but unless you are used to some exposure, this is not a hiking trail anymore. I tried to talk him through it, but he said that he just needed a few minutes to gather himself, while Craig and his friends continued on ahead. After about 10 minutes of contemplating his future, Dustin decided that he was going to “Chicken out.” This surprised me somewhat, because I had him on a much more serious route on Gannett Peak the year before and he seemed to do just fine. I tried to convince him that the holds were really solid, but the exposure was too much for him, so I asked him if he needed any help getting back down and he said that he would be fine and that he was just going to take a break for a few more minutes.
After leaving Dustin I stayed right on top of the ridge and this was the most exciting part of the whole hike. The ridge is very exposed, but the hand holds are plentiful and the rock is solid. I never felt like I was in any danger and I just took my time and made sure I had solid hand and foot placements. Eventually, I ran into a couple of college students and we both took turns taking pictures for each other. They were from the east coast and could not believe the views. I took a few minutes myself to survey the vast expanse that was laid out before us and the sheer beauty of the place had my jaw dropping in awe. This is certainly an impressive and rugged place to be I thought and it put a smile on my face. I turned back and could still see Dustin sitting in the same place where I had left him almost 20 minutes before and I wondered if he would still be there when I returned.
When we got to the down-climb before the snow field, there was a group of climbers that were belaying each other down this section. It is about 15 feet of semi exposed boulders and I would not even rate it class 4. The holds are solid and as long as you take your time, you should not have any trouble and I was quite surprised to see them using ropes and we had to wait for a few minutes for all of them to safely make their way to the snowfield. After they were all down we quickly made our way down, making sure we had solid foot and hand placements again. The snowfield was not difficult at all and there was basically a “beaten” path all the way across, although there is a sheer drop off on both sides, but it was hard for me to imagine anyone falling here, but if the snow was icier, you would want to take much more care than we had to, as a fall here would most certainly end with a toe tag.
After we crossed the snowfield, there is a faint class two trail that switches back along the face to the summit. The trail was hard to follow in places and at times it was just a matter of picking the path of least resistance. I was also starting to feel the altitude somewhat here and the final push was a little difficult, but the thought of gaining the summit made the adrenaline kick in and I pushed hard for the top. When I crested the apex I had a sense of overwhelming elation and I felt so happy that I was there, because the first thought that popped into my mind was a conversation I had with my neurosurgeon before my surgery and I remember him saying that there was a chance that I would never walk again, because the tumor was growing into my spinal cord. Craig was already on top talking with his friends and I joined them for a rest and some snacks. The mood was quite jovial and we all talked about past climbs and mountains and enjoyed the fantastic views that the summit provided.
After a rest and some pictures, I was absolutely stunned to see Dustin emerge onto the summit with an older gentleman wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a flannel shirt. The old guy said that he had come upon Dustin on Chicken out ridge and talked him into following him on his “secret” route to the top that does not require any “climbing,” as he put it. Apparently there are some rather faint trails below the ridge that can be followed to the top, completely avoiding Chicken out ridge and this old guy said he had climbed the peak numerous times and knew the route like the back of his hand. Dustin had followed him all the way to the top and we were all shocked that he made it. After talking for a few more minutes I was shocked again to see my friend Adam from Colorado emerge as well. We gave each other high fives and apparently we had just missed each other by about 20 minutes at the trailhead and he had traveled solo to the top. I stayed on the summit with Adam for about 30 minutes and the others decided they wanted to get down, so I told them I would just descend with Adam and see them at the trailhead, while Dustin followed the older gentleman down.
On the hike back down we passed several hikers coming up and we were sure the summit would be a zoo in no time. We made really good time going back over Chicken out ridge and once we were off of the exposed stuff we stopped to take a small break. Dustin and Craig appeared with the older guy and said that they had returned on the series of faint trails. Craig said they were very steep in places, but the exposure did not seem as bad as COR. Craig and Dustin went on ahead while Adam and I took a few minutes to catch our breath and snap a few pictures. After a few minutes we were off and the sun was really heating things up now. I was running a little low on water, so I started to drink less to conserve.
The descent on this peak can get rather tedious and the trail is incredibly steep, so after about forty minutes descending the steeper section, we took a break because our knees and shins were being mercilessly abused. I heard a guy on the trail complaining that he had not cut his toe nails as he limped by and I knew he was certainly much worse off than we were. After a long break we resumed our monotonous descent and the trail seemed to never end and it seemed like the hike down was taking more time than the hike up had. Finally the trailhead was in site and Craig and Dustin had been waiting at the bottom and we were all very tired and headed to Mackay for some much needed food and refreshment.
My back had not given me too much trouble, but as soon as we got into the car it stiffened up and became really sore, so after we stopped in Mackay for some grub, I took a muscle relaxer and promptly crashed in the back seat for the next four hours. This was an incredible hike and it has a little bit of everything for the avid hiker. It has great views, rugged rock, some nice scrambling, exposure, a sheer snow bridge and a little altitude. It was certainly a great way to start the weekend.