Some notes from our recent hike up Borah Peak that might be useful to the casual hiker like me:
This is one tough hike but also a very rewarding one. It's the most difficult single-day hike I have ever done (with second place being Mt. Katahdin via the Helon Taylor trail and Knife Edge). I was pretty well prepared based on the other trip reports that I had read. The area below tree line was steep but fairly easy to navigate because the trails were mostly dirt. However, the trail above treeline was mostly scree, so footing was challenging. Chicken Out Ridge is actually more hairy in a few spots than I expected, particularly on the several snow crossings since these were typically accompanied by steep snowfields on one or both sides and it wasn't clear whether their was ice underneath the top layer of snow. There were also a couple of places on the ridge where it took some creativity to find a safe path. Following Chicken Out Ridge, the last 700-900 vertical feet is a hand-over-hand scramble to the summit. There is really no trail to follow after the first few hundred yards up this final pitch.
The views from the summit are fantastic, rewarding the hiker for the difficult slog up Borah. However, your work is less than 1/2 done at that point. The trek down the mountain is pure hell - much more difficult than the hike up. The scree and loose rocks that are merely an annoyance on the climb become trecherous on the descent - seemingly like walking downhill on a slope covered with marbles (and on very tired legs). Also, the numerous handholds and footholds on Chicken Out Ridge are much more difficult to use effectively when descending than when climbing, so our whole party spent more than a little time on their butts sliding down the rock faces of the ridge. The saving grace was that the trail was bone dry, unlike many trails in the east.
A few other hopefully helpful facts:
- You can count on comparative solitude. Despite being a holiday (July 4) with beautiful weather, there were no more than a dozen people hiking Borah the day we climbed.
- There is no signage whatsoever on the trail, excepting one sign at the very beginning. So an altimeter is a useful means of tracking one's progress. Also, there are no paint blazes or rock cairns, making it important to follow the trail as closely as possible.
- Whoever built this trail didn't bother with swtichbacks. The trail went more or less straight up the mountain, with a few long-radius S turns thrown in on the lower half to create the impression of switchbacks. This was especially annoying on the descent, as our legs and cramped toes were screaming for a more level trail.
- Hiking gloves are useful for protecting the hands, particularly on Chicken Out Ridge. Hiking poles are helpful on the lower half of the mountain, but we collapsed ours and strapped them to our packs one we reached Chicken Out Ridge
- As noted in other trips reports, there is no water on the trail. The weather was hot and dry when we hiked. We found packing 3 liters of water per person was about right.
- Don't let the comparatively short mileage fool you. The steep pitch will slow your progress. Even on relatively flat sections, like Chicken Out Ridge, the ascent is slow because the terrain is so rough. Get an early start and plan on a long day
- The closest lodging is in Sun Valley (about 50 minutes west by car), which works out great is you prefer to stay in nice accomodations instead of camping or staying in a cheap motel. Actually, there aren't any hotels or motels of any description much closer than Sun Valley.