Struggling over the last few boulders on my summit push, Jer looked down on me and called, “Come on, Kev, you’re almost there!” I never forget how I looked up and felt good when I saw my smiling friend already “there”. Atop Idaho, any expectations of a heroic summit were stomped and shredded by a completely blown ego. On the other hand, my pal, Jeremy Zaccardi, looked like he was ready to go tackle another adventure as he merrily waved peace signs over our heads. We sat in a weary trance and wondered what just hit us.
First Attempt: Learning to Take a Whipper
Heralded as a big dog route for red blooded adventures and novice mountaineers, my friend talked up Borah as if it were the answer to all of life’s problems. After two years of listening to Zaccardi tell me that we needed to go climb a mountain and some salmon season money in my pocket, I caught a bird out of SE Alaska with just that sort of proposition in mind.
The trudge up Borah’s steep switchbacks dampened rather than enhanced my excitement for mountaineering, but camping at the 10,000 base camp stoked me out quite nicely. Highlighting the afternoon was the most quizzical cloud I had ever seen in the sky. The cloud was a perfectly flat question mark and I must say, it did make me wonder. That night in the tent next door, Jeremy suffered an asthma attack and may not have lived if his girlfriend from California, Jacqueline, had not administered CPR to her dieing love. No lie! The next day our attempt was officially thwarted with the summit socked in by a dark, circulating lenticular-nimbus-like monster straight out of some diabolical nightmare.
I was infuriated with the 3-1 unanimous decision to go no further then Chicken Out Ridge. To ease my anger, I glissaded a long patch of snow, but I conjured up too much speed and my hook-slide stop sent me flying into the rocks. I ripped a gaping hole in the new $240 gore tex pants and jumped up cursing at the top of my lungs, “Fuck me and fuck you!” And if material injury was not enough, Jer happily taunted me back at base camp saying, “If you wanted the summit so bad, why don’t you just solo it?” I felt like kicking him in the ass but retorted, “Why didn’t you tell me that up there? Bite my shorts!”
Second Attempt: Treading Lightly
Within a week we were back to give it another go, this time with a new fourth member. Coming from Michigan, Kevin was greener then a Midwest soybean plantation and he looked the part with his goggles atop a cute knit winters cap, ripped and duct-taped gloves pulled over the sleeve cuffs of his green schoolhouse parka, and leather hiking boots ready to blow out at any moment. Giddy with delight for the opportunity to get on a big mountain, he cheerfully bounced up the trail towards the foot of the mountain and those dreaded switchbacks.
My mood was amuck in the faded alpenglow. Discontent, I purposed that we could ascend to base camp by a new route up the scant basin trail to the right of the ridge, but it was to no avail. I, again, was outvoted, 3-1. Darkness set in and we ascended the zig-zags by the light our headlamps afforded us. We happily nabbed the first campsite besides the last stunted pines on the slope, just as the crisp breezes were turning to gusty winds.
The next morning we enjoyed French pressed coffee and gorged on an endless bowl of leftover ganja-brownie cereal and powdered milk leftover from Halloween. Packed in the tent, we took turns choking it down until we could choke no more then resumed our adventure with a good coffee buzz. At 10,000’ the team stopped to refuel on coffee and check our senses. The THC was starting to digest and coupled with the thinning oxygen levels, I had to pace my steps to my breathing. Heading up to COR, the skies were as grey as wet Seattle concrete and stormy wind conditions steadied it’s battering force.
Donning my new BD Switchblade crampons and mountain axe, I kicked my waist over a 60 degree hard pack snow slope and planted my front points and pick into the side of the hill for the very first time in my life. As we down climbed the 20’ bank to COR, Jax joked about being on some big Nepalese wall. Jesting was cute, but the exposure here was serious as the ridgeline sloughed away 2000’ beneath our toes and a fall would be fatale for sure. We repacked our crampons and skedaddled off to the SW face seeking refuge from the winds whipping shrewdly about the ridges. Sheltering, maybe, but comforting, it was not. Out on the face I realized the drug in me had taken strength and with every lethargic step, I was getting blooming high and a tad paranoid.
Excitedly, Kevin and Jer zipped up ahead to work a short, but very steep section of the route and I would not see them again until the summit. “No way are we going up there,” we concluded. As I followed Jax, I began to take notice that her hand and foot holds were diminishing in size the further we climbed up the face. At one point, I watched her step off of a cubic foothold the size of a common table dice and I about blew the whistle of intervention. I wanted to step in like a referee waving my arms and halt any further action.
“Alright, Jax, that’s it!” I blurted. “You gotta start using some bigger hand and foot holds because your not really using anything.” Wondering what would happen if she fell, I turned and looked back to see the mountain’s face drop into a long, siphoning funnel gulley. Below the mountain, the horizon was clear, the ceiling, cold and brothy-grey.
Refocusing on the climb, my eyes forged for clarity and attempted to distinguish what I really saw because when I closed my eyes, I still saw a blueprinted version of the mountain. The frost encrusted rocks were outlined in colorful, synapse-like, nerve ending formations. Every geometrical detail was in yellowish-orange, or reddish-purple, or bluish-green. Man, my mind was blown and I was tripped out!!
Minutes later I spotted a ledge the size of a 20’ section of sidewalk. Sprawling out on to its level terrain I wished for sleep, but then I heard Jax command me to get on with the climb for the summit was a mere five minutes away. I rolled up onto my butt and dangled my feet over the edge as if at a pool. The view was absolutely prodigious! The 50 degree slope slid down a vertical mile through decreased visibility. I just wanted to sit there, dangling my feet in the pool, but moments later, in a bright and dismal whiteout, we realized that Jer had led three rookies to the furthest reaches of Borah’s heights.
Borah's 1995 Fault and Uplift
Over the last 14 years of mountaineering and ice climbing, I have learned to be thankful and take the tough times in stride with the high that climbing peaks affords this old, middle aged and sober, neo-hippy.
Jeremy Zaccardi climbed Borah a dozen times in every condition fathomable. Once he just parked his VW van on the side of Hwy 93 and ascended from there because the snow was so deep. The last time he climbed Borah was on September 14, 1996, when 13 friends and family members carried his ashes in chalk bags to the top and scattered them in a light falling snow. Due to his asthma, Jerry trembled daily with the knowledge that he would not live to grow old. Still, he suppressed that reality because he knew he could shed light in his world, about another; the mountains. This gave him the peace of mind he would carry to his last mountain. Jeremy passed away on July 12th, 1996, at the Emmons Flats, just above Mount Rainier’s Camp Schurman. He was 23 years of age.