Often times an idea gets stuck in my mind. It starts as a whisper and then it builds into something that I obsess about. The idea started as a quick glance at Rmjwinters main Borah Peak page. Idaho’s tallest peak. Cool. Chicken-Out ridge. Sounds like it would be fun. Time went on. The idea started to change into an action. Made calls. Sent out texts. To which none of my outdoor buddies were game. It would be a quick trip. Leave work early on a Friday and drive to the trail head and then wake up early the next day to give Borah a summit shot. No buddies, meant a solo bid. The biggest hurdle to make this quick trip a go, was getting the thumbs up from the boss Lady. Surprisingly the word “yes” came easier then expected. Sweet! Game on!
After reading pretty much all the trip reports on Borah Peak I was uncertain on what to think about Chicken-Out ridge. Some people reported that the ridge wasn’t that bad. A typical ridge scramble. Okay, sounds manageable. Than I read other reports where people found that the ridge had too much exposure for it to be called a simple scramble. Well, what was I going to think about Chicken-Out? Only one way to find out.
There is something about taking a long drive that I enjoy. Its a chance to collect my thoughts. The drive from Ogden, UT to Mackay, ID was going to be around 5 hours and I was prepared with a nice, cold beverage and some Ray LaMontagne music to chill out to. The miles went by quick and soon I found myself beyond the cities and looking out at vast acres of farmlands and then mountain ranges soaring high above valley floors. Mackay is a small town. Not much going on there. I thought I would be able to stop off and pick up dinner at a Subway, but found that Mackay only had bars or burger joints to get food. So, I picked a burger joint and got myself a bacon burger with fry’s and a drink. After enjoying my burger I got in my car and took the 45 minute drive to the trial head.
After getting to the Borah trail head I parked and set up my single man tent. The sun was starting to set and there were other people that looked like they were going to be doing Borah the next day.
The clouds were clearing out around Borah and the moon was almost full, emitting a bright, blue light around the trail head. It was a great night and I hit the sleeping bag around 9. I've never said this before, but that nights sleep was amazing. Best sleep I have had in a tent. Not sure why, but it was a great sleep. To bad my blissful sleep was disturbed by two guys getting an early start on Borah. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 4 in the morning. Early! I really wanted to get back to my blissful slumber, but I thought I’m up I might as well get going. I broke down my tent and threw all my sleep gear in my car and checked my pack to make sure I had everything. Checking my watch before I started, it showed 4:45 am. Hell its early!
I knew this was going to be a steep hike and I didn’t want to burn myself out before I got to the good stuff. So, after I got my lungs and heart calmed down I set my legs to a consistent pace. It was dark. It didn’t help that my headlamps batteries were going dead, which gave me a dim light. It wasn’t to big of a deal, the trial was easy to follow. My pace was good and I felt good. I ran into a scout group of about 10 and passed them. They weren’t in the mood to talk, so I kept my pace and continued up the trail. Soon after I came up to one of the guys who woke me in the morning. He was an older gentleman. Nice guy. I spoke with him for a bit. Just like me, this was his first attempt at Borah. He was surprised at the steepness of the trail. We talked a bit more then said are goodbyes and I set off again.
It wasn’t long after that I caught up with his buddy. His buddy had lost the trail and was going up the wrong direction. It was at this point that I realized how dim my headlamp was when compared to his buddies. I showed him where the trail was and I kept going. It was dark and I wanted to get above treeline and hopefully get a glimpse of Borah for the first time. It was around 6 am that I final broke the treeline and started the lower ridge. Borah at this point was an outline, drawn up by the sun starting to welcome the new day. I took a short break, choking down a Cliff bar. I knew the fun part was going to begin shortly and I was feeling great.
I’ll be honest I was getting kinda of nervous about reaching Chicken-Out ridge. Like I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The funny thing about it, is that I was so focused on the trial ahead of me, I didn’t realize I was on Chicken-Out ridge until I realized that I had followed the trail that goes below the ridge on the west side. I had come to a patch of snow/ice that was about 10 feet across and I knew it wouldn’t be safe for me to try and pass with out crampons. As I sat there wondering what my next move would be, I looked up and decided to go up a small gully to the ridge. From there I followed the top of the ridge. I thought to myself that the ridge wasn’t that bad. I mean their is some exposure, but the rock was solid and the hand and foot holds were abundant. This was a fun scramble!
As I came to the end of Chicken-Out I hit the crux of the ridge, a short 10-12 foot drop down to the snow bridge. I had to sit down for a moment to figure out how I would get down this. All it took was for me was to turn and face the rock and climb down. Easy peasy! The snow bridge at this point in the season had melted out at the top and I had a small dirt path to cross. No biggie.
After Chicken-Out ridge and the snow bridge, the trail is pretty easy going. The trail loops around a sub-peak south of Borah. I came around that sub and stopped at the open pass that marked the last, steep section to the top of Borah. Man! What an amazing place!
This section for me was the worst part. Its steep and loose and I got so fed up with it that I decided to go straight up to the ridge and from there to Borah. It was a good idea. The rock was much better and in no time at all I found myself on the ridge viewing the flags on the summit.
I was hoping to be to the summit by 8:30 am, so I could catch my wife before she left to my daughters soccer game. I got to the summit 10 minutes before 9 am. It was just me. I had Borah all to myself. I hurried and got my cell phone out and made a quick call to my wife. She was surprised to hear that I was already on the summit. She didn't know though that I had started the hike around 5 am. It had taken me 4 hours to get to the summit! To be honest it didn't feel like it took me that long. It didn't matter. I was the first one on the summit that day and I was going to take advantage of it by taking in the views.
Gotta Go Down
I stayed on top for about 30 minutes. Eating, drinking, taking pictures and enjoying Idaho’s finest. The fun part was over and I knew I had to endure the going down part. Thank goodness for my hiking poles. They made the steep and looseness of the trial easier to deal with. As I was coming down I started to met other people that were going for the summit.
I was going slow on the section between the summit and the open pass. I didn’t want to have a slip and tumble. That would ruin the day for me. I finally made it to the pass and looked down at the lower section of the ridge. I was sure glad I didn’t sleep in. It was nice to be the first one on the summit and the first one heading down.
From the pass it was back to the snow bridge and up and over Chicken-Out ridge. On Chicken-Out I ran into a lot of people that weren’t sure how to navigate the ridge. I explained to them how I made it across. For some people that was all they needed to hear to continue on. Others I had to tell them they could make it if they took their time. It wasn’t as bad as they thought. After helping some people get to a certain point on the ridge, I continued on down the ridge. I got to the yellow band of rock where I could look down at the ridge before the trail begins into the treeline. Their was a good amount of people heading up. It was a busy day on Borah.
Treeline to the Trailhead
The best way to describe the trail section after I was done with the lower ridge, was pain. Constant knee pain. There was no relief for my pain. The trail doesn’t ever flatten out, it just goes down. The pounding on my knees and the looseness of the trail was mind numbing painful. I wanted it to be done. I wanted to me in my car. I wanted to get my hiking shoes off and slip into my flip flops. I wanted to sit down. The trail just kept going down. It felt like forever until I saw the vehicles at the trail head. Oh mercy! It was over. It was just around 1 pm and it took me the same amount of time to get down as it did to get up. I could rest. I could relax. It felt so nice to sit in my car and give my knees some much needed rest.
This was a great summit bid. The night before, I slept like a baby. I was able to get a really early start. Chicken-Out ridge was a fun scramble. Not at all that bad as I thought it would be. I had Borah's summit all to myself. The views were amazing! I could have done without the knee pounding pain. But you can’t have the good without some bad. Borah is an amazing peak and one I would do again.