Drive to Borah September 17th, 2016
I wanted to climb Borah in 2015, but never got my schedule aligned with my plan. In late September '15 the snow arrived early and it was too late, at least for this fair weather hiker wanna-be.
As 2016 rolled around, so did my 50th year, and I wanted to add this hike to my year of adventure. I was hoping all the prior training from the 2015-2016 ski season followed by the summer’s triathlon season had prepared me for the ascent of Idaho's highest peak.....it had, sort of.
Earlier in the summer, I'd mentioned to my 24-year-old step-son, Loren, that I wanted to climb Borah, and turned out he wanted to join me. This was a good omen, in hindsight. We agreed to meet at Borah in mid-September to beat the crowds and any early season snow....again, sort of.
The weather looked to be in our favor, as I was driving down from Coeur d'Alene, ID; he up from Boise. I left late morning on Saturday and although Google maps tried to misdirect me to Pahsimeroi River Rd. north and east of the Borah trailhead, I just kept on ol' 93, albeit with some concern I'd missed the trailhead turn-off. But I reached it, the trailhead sign….and the access road. Before I could slow enough, I passed it. I made a U-turn, got on the access road and drove the approximately 2 miles (?) to the trailhead camping area to see my step-son had arrived. He also had the same misinformation from Google maps, which would have put him on the same wrong road, but he also saw the trailhead sign - too late – and did a U-turn. So, he had an extra hour to hang-out before I showed up.
Tangent alert: Our cell service was hit and mostly miss @ the trailhead. His Verizon service would work for a few minutes then disappear; my AT&T was a no-show. Up on the hike we had better results, but even in 2016 this is still a remote area.
We prepped our sleeping arrangements while the sun continued its fall to the west. My bed of choice was a twin-sized air mattress that fit perfectly in the back of our RAV4, but there was something missing: The cap for the air valve! ARGH! I MacGyver'd what seemed to work but 30 minutes later it was nearly flat....bummer. I ended-up with a couple layers of sleeping bags I'd brought 'in case' and survived, but not the restful night's sleep I'd planned. My step-son is Mr. Hammock and had his bed-to-be hung from the roof racks on our two cars....until the rainfly didn't fit well and nearly suffocated him. He ended up in the back of his Outback, too.
GOAL: Borah Peak, September 18th, 2016
We had some rain overnight, but also the full moon would peek through at times. I was actually hoping, in advance, that we’d have a moonlight start to the hike. We woke up to low clouds and fog, or at least that's what we figured as it was on the black side of dark.
As we stayed semi-comfortable in our cars, a group of two hikers drove-up, geared-up, headed-up and lighted-up (Not that - this is Idaho; NOT the hippie-lettuce-lovers in Washington to our west) and got on the trail as the sun's presence was still not quite enough to lead the way in the lingering night.
After a bit more sunrise, the peak we could see Saturday was no longer visible. The question arose: Do we want to risk getting soaked on the trail and deal with who-knows-what on the exposed sections of the hike and summit?
After waffling 'til 8a.m., and enjoying some French-pressed coffee and breakfast, it kinda/sorta/not-so-much looked it was clearing off from the west, so we loaded up and headed out on the trail.
OMG....brutal, steep, unrelenting and direct. Switch backs? We don't need no stinkin' switchbacks. The sadist that designed the trail up Borah should consider themselves a marked man/woman...they'd get a stern talking to from this particular hiker. Suffice it to say (or not) that if you're not conditioned for a rigorous climb AND the altitude, you may not have to worry about making it through Chicken Out Ridge (COR), as your lungs, legs and levity will be DOA before you get that far.
Anyway, we trudged on through the lower-level forested terrain, grateful for mid-40 temps and cloud cover. The weather turned out be just about perfect for the majority of the hike (more on that below) - cool and cloudy. But it would leave most with picture-envy, as we missed out on the stunning views from the top I've seen online.
As we made our first long stop to grab a snack and a drink, a man and his dog caught us. We chatted briefly as they had spent the night a few campsites down from ours. We continued upward (ever upwards) and took numerous stops as lungs and legs requested a reprieve. Another two-some caught up to us, and we chatted about this and that for few minutes. We played tag with them the rest of the way up into the thickening fog. We really, Okay, ‘literally’, could only see about 30-50 feet up the trail as we broke onto the ridge that leaves the subalpine behind.
Farther along, the trail started getting less path, and more rock climbing. But not scrambling on all fours...yet. And what’s this? We actually had a brief section of switch-backs! I knew we were getting close to COR even if I couldn't see it.
The man and his dog were on their way back, and I thought 'that was quick'. Well, they had to turn around as his dog - a medium-sized lab- couldn't traverse the rocky sections.
Due to the lack of visibility, we (mostly me) got directionally-challenged where the trail took a slight turn. On a clear day, the trail up would be obvious; not so much w/the fog. Loren said, ‘This way’ and we were back on track.
We reached COR and I decided to lessen my load. I removed a few items from my backpack - nothing essential - just water, food, warm clothes....on 2nd thought, decided I shouldn't lessen too much. Although the weather was cooperating and we had no rain and very little wind.
Let the scrambling begin! Initially, no big deal. About 1/4 way across HUGE, BIG, HAIRY, BAD word, BAD word, DEAL. COR is a Class 3 scramble, which means ‘all fours on deck’, but no ropes required.
Tangent #2: I've hiked, as in walked from my car to the end, or @ least a good stopping point, on many trails, over the last 30 years, using 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest as a guide. Only one hike- Hunt Lake on the east side of Priest Lake - really required scrambling, and that was nothing compared to COR. I also took a local rock climbing class through the Spokane Mountaineers: Ropes, carabiners, and even had the shoes. But didn't stay involved with it. But I don't remember having any fear, just some frustration keeping all the knots straight in my head (see what I did there?).
On COR, everything I've read states 'stay on the top of the ridge'. Don't try to go around or on the side. Just stay on top. Easy Peasy? Heck no for this panic-attacking slacker. Loren, strong as an ox, and athletic to boot, made it look painless. In fact, he came back to me to say he was finally enjoying the hike! Kids these days! Regardless of his apathy towards destruction of life and limb, I was seriously doubting I would make it over this 'little' obstacle. But Loren kept encouraging and helped me through a couple tougher sections where the numerous hand-holds failed to materialize for my gloved hands (highly recommend wearing some gloves) to hang on to (for dear life). I finally had to stop looking DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, and backed off more than once on sections where the sheerness of the cliff was giving me pause.
Tangent #3: COR isn't a small section, either - at least time-wise - and it's hard to believe the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for Borah trail hike from car-summit-car is UNDER 2 1/2 hours - WOW. And that someone could be almost RUNNING across COR? Incredible.
As we neared the far-end of COR we caught up to the other two that we’d chatted w/earlier. The last section of COR is definitely a challenge, and they'd had enough. They turned around and headed back - no summit for them. We, thanks to Loren's relentless need to make the summit, found a way down that last section, but before descending I decided to leave my pack, after throwing on an extra layer and cap under my hooded jacket. We hoped, thought, speculated? that we weren't far from the top.
We crossed the snow bridge w/out issue, and found the next section refreshingly UNchallenging as we followed the path ACROSS the ridge vs. UP, for a change. At the next transition, there's a kind of gateway (no key required) in the rocks, we met the two hikers that had left before first light. They'd made it to the summit and told us we were only about 30 minutes from it ourselves. Hooray! But be forewarned (again, if you've read the other Borah descriptions) that last section is 800+ feet straight UP (curse you, trail designer!) a loose, rocky, and slippery climax to the top. The snow from the previous week's storm was still hanging to side of the mountain and made the footing and climbing even more 'fun'.
After more like 45 minutes, we reached that Summit and the wind was blowing 30-40mph, but thankfully it was 35-40° so the wind chill was a modest 20° or so. Comfy! The snow was 5-8" deep, but not a problem. We took those pics, without the amazing backdrop as visibility was down to <30 feet, signed the book and got the heck off that hill.
The trip back down started well enough, as I was able to dig my hiking boot’s heels into the slippery slope to control my descent. Loren’s running shoes (yes, really) weren’t as friendly to this technique, but we made it back to the traverse section w/out too much drama. Back to the snow bridge and as we approached COR, my nerves once again became active.
We climbed up onto COR, and I grabbed my pack. I readjusted the load in it as it was bit top-heavy and we (Ok, I – Loren had more fun than work) worked our way using the hand and foot technique I’d NOT perfected on the initial crossing. I had fewer pauses for reflection, but my anxiety returned to its former ‘WTH am I doing up here!’ level, and I had to stop>restart more than once.
At the end of COR, Loren spotted my stashed gear first. I reloaded my pack and we reloaded our appetites before the pain and agony of the descent began (in earnest).
The clouds had been slowly lifting – not to the summit of Borah – but we did have magnificent views of the valley and surrounding lower peaks, as we worked our way through the rock garden.
Tangent #4: I LOVE the high, rugged peaks of the big mountains, and always look forward to trips into the Rockies. Around Coeur d’Alene we just don’t have the alpine scenery, although the skiing can be ‘powderific’ @ the surrounding resorts.
As our calves, thighs, hamstrings, feet, knees were talking – YELLING - @ us to STOP, we reached a nice shelter just before dropping below timberline, and took up residence for a 30-minute break. The shelter is a stack of limbs on two sides, around a depression a few feet deep. A suitable campsite for a summer climb.
Refueled and refreshed w/dry socks and fewer layers, we gleefully (and painfully) paced ourselves through the forested section. I shoulda/coulda/woulda got some pics of some of the crazy tree shapes during this part of the hike, but was too lazy to grab my iPhone. The twisted, gnarled, and outright funky looking trunks and limbs, presumably shaped by years of exposure to the weather extremes, were fascinating.
After more cursing of the (lack of) trail design we reached the trail head, our cars and Tylenol. We both decided we ‘don’t need to do that’ again. I was glad I did it but won’t need to climb it or any other ‘technical’ mountains ‘til I can find my……..you know whats.
Of the seven hikers and a dog that attempted it, four of us summited that day.
We took a quick break, parted ways and I jumped>crawled (same diff) into the RAV for my 7-hour journey home. An uneventful trip, made more palatable w/an audio book to keep me awake and alert.
Epilogue: My wife climbed Borah in a ‘former life’ w/an Ex. She’s 4’11” and has no fear…apparently. She completed the Spokane Mountaineer’s Mountain Class back in 2000. She did Borah w/no recall of the ‘challenges’ this reviewer experienced…..but she continues to amaze me, so why am I surprised it was ‘no big deal’.
This was my first Western state high point, my first Rocky summit, and my second climb that involved Class 3 scrambling (after Katahdin's Knife-Edge earlier this summer). Though Chicken-Out Ridge was shorter than the Knife-Edge and the cruxes were about the same difficulty, I found it to be more consistently taxing. The rest of the hike up Borah was pretty much just a slog through various grades of dirt and scree. I wouldn't say the final stretch was harder than COR, since the terrain wasn't quite as bad (nor were the consequences of a fall), but it was definitely loose and awkward and thin-aired. But it was all worth it to reach the summit and look out upon... a bunch of dusty gray hills. Which, to be fair, had their own stark beauty... but don't y'all have any trees out here?
(And to Monkey Hat, if you're reading this, thanks for the moral support on the way up!)
Beautiful weather for a great day on the mountain. Guide 2 friends up the mountain. One friend this was his Anniversary of 7 years sobriety.
Started just before 4 to stay ahead of high wind forecast in the afternoon. COR wasn't as bad as I expected (at the first steep section we went straight up, then crossed onto the climbers right hand side of the ridge). From there we crossed the notch and stayed on the climbers left side of the ridge before climbing up to the ridge again to do the down climb to the saddle. There was no snow of any consequence.
Despite lots of worrying about COR, it wasn't that bad (from someone who enjoys scrambles/slides in the Adirondacks and Whites). The last 1k feet were really the hardest part of the day due to the loose footing and altitude.
Cruised into the parking lot from Seattle at about 1-2 a.m. Woke up at 6, cooked up some breakfast, and was on the trail by 7. I was the last person to start and thus the last person to to summit, which meant I had it all to myself, which was lovely.
The return trip pounded the heck out of my joints and muscles, and by the time I returned to the car, I was more beat down than I'd expected. I have 2 big toenails that look like they are about to shoot off like pogs. But man what a wonderful hike on a beautiful day.
A note on the bypass on Chicken-Out Ridge: I took it on the way back on the advice of another hiker. My opinion is that you do not save very much time nor effort by taking it, least of all by investing time seeking it out.
The descent/ascent on scree adjacent to the snow on the bypass makes it a zero-sum gain. Which, by the way, my opinion is that the last 800 vertical feet of scree and boulders to the summit is far more notable and taxing than Chicken-Out Ridge.
Above all, bear in mind that "shortcut" or no, Borah Peak still requires a solid base of fitness and some basic technical skill. There is no cheating one's way to a summit, and the mountains offer no forgiveness.
I was part of a group of 16 who all successfully reached the summit on a beautiful day. Having previously summited Borah five times, all during the month of August, I was somewhat anxious about the amount of snow and ice we would encounter on Chicken Out Ridge and the final 800 feet up to the summit. There was a small snow field in the middle of Chicken Out Ridge that was easily crossed and will melt off quickly over the next several weeks. Then the snowfield that extends across from "The Nose" had a lot of snow and ice remaining. The crossing was pretty sketchy. About halfway across the snowfield, there was were footsteps that dropped down the side of the snowfield back to the trail. Without crampons and an ice axe, this short section could lead to a major disaster. Our group proceeded straight across the snow bridge to the rocks above the main trail. We then down climbed back down to the main trail. While this did take a little more time, it was a safer option. On the final ascent to the summit, there were several small snow patches that were easily detoured around. They also will likely soon melt away. The weather was amazing with very warm temperatures and little wind. After almost two hours on the summit, the group safely made its way back down the mountain.
Had a great time on this peak! My party had the entire peak to ourselves this early in the season, and it was very peaceful in this remote stretch of mountains. The snow isn't quite melted, but gets very soft once the sun comes up. We made it past COR but were uncomfortable with the soft snow past the knife-edge (even with crampons and ice axe) and we turned around at 11800'. I'm anxious to get back and summit later this summer.
Perfect day with a great group of guys.
Second attempt since the previous year I got within
200 ft of the summit before a massive electrical storm
turned me back.
This mountain is so brutally steep that I eventually lost
7 toenails from the pounding they took coming down.
Spent the night at the trailhead enabling an early start. Several climbers returned to the parking lot after dusk, their headlights illuminating the way. I got 'off-route' at Chicken Out Ridge realizing this couldn't be the way. After down climbing to regain the route, my comfort level increased exponentially. Climbed during the week in the summer. I was extremely cautious across COR and navigating through the boulders near the summit being the only person on the mountain that day. My rental car was all alone in the parking area. An Idaho state flag accompanied the United States' flag at the summit.
Kessler and I climbed Borah Peak today. Since we were rather sleep deprived, we didn't get as early start as we wanted and left at 6:30 AM. It was just getting light, so we didn't bother bringing the headlamps. Luckily it wasn't nearly as windy as the day before, but it was still fairly cold for the time of year.
The climb went faster than expected and we made our way to Chicken Out Ridge. We passed several people, but only one passed us.
Since the sun was hidden behind the mountain until we hit Chicken Out Ridge, it was quite cold. There was moisture in the air and my hait kep freezing and some of the rocks were covered with verglas. There was a little fresh snow as well. We stayed warm, but I wished that I had brought the gloves because the rock was very cold on our bare hands. Luckily the exposed sections weren't to iced up.
We went right over the Chicken Out Ridge without any trouble. After that, it was just a steep scree hike to the summit. We made the summit in 4 hours 22 minutes, at a moderate pace. The views were great and the wind had nearly stopped when we were on the summit. Two climbers who just left the summit told us that it was really windy, so we got lucky. There was a squirrel right at the summit which was intent on eating climber food. Hopefully it descends and finds food for the winter.
The summit had a flag and rocks that were coated in ice and hoarfrost, but it was a pleasant scene. After enjoying the summit for a half an hour or so, we descended. Most people must have turned back at Chicken Out since we only saw one group that we passed on the way up. This time we saw and took the bypass trail around the Chicken Out section, but it was unpleasant scree and I think the ridge itself is a better route.
We were back at the car 8 hours and 15 minutes after starting. It was a good climb.
Best friend and I decided a year ago to climb Borah. 3 weeks before the day I sprained my ankle. Decided to do it anyway. It hurt. It really really hurt, but success! Awesome experience!
The first time I said never again. Then my daughter got the climbing bug and asked if I'd take her before she went off to college. Of course I said yes and it was awesome. A very cool experience to share with my one and only kid! We plan to do all 9 12k peak. 3/9 done.
Trip report https://summitsofthestates.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/idaho-nevada/
I would definitely recommend bringing lots of water on this one! Chicken Out isn't so bad if you're good at climbing/scrambling.
Left the trailhead at 8:00 sharp and was confused when I got to the summit at 10:45 without crossing COR. I accidentally followed a trail that skirted around the left side of COR, and only did that final 20' descent. I made sure to stay on top of the ridge on the way down. Only 1 other party summited that day.
I'm adding this a year later after hearing about 3 search and rescue incidents this summer alone from parties trying to skip COR. This is awful for all people involved and I'd like to help prevent future incidents. I mentioned my mistake here because I missed out on the funnest part of the climb. If COR doesn't sound fun to you then you should stay off Borah because you won't summit. EXPOSED SCRAMBLING IS REQUIRED! My above mistake of following a goat path required exposed scrambling on even sketchier terrain to get back to the ridge. Please look at the photos of COR- if you're not comfortable with that I highly recommend Hyndman as an alternative. It's almost as tall and a more appealing hike. You'll love it! If it's state highpoints you're after be advised that Borah is rated #6 in terms of difficulty. It's one of a handful that you can't just hike (or drive) to the top of. If you don't have the appropriate climbing experience but really want this summit consider going with a professional guide. Please no more rescue operations.
SW Ridge. After initial COR scramble I followed a trail below and north of the "darker" section, ascending a ramp/chute back to ridge top just 50' from the 3rd class descent to the saddle. Found the overall ascent steep! Thank goodness there's an excellent trail!
Hiked up the standard route of Borah Peak in perfect weather, and didn't have to cross any snow. The scrambling along the ridge was solid and fun, and there were plenty of options to either stay on easy class 3 terrain or try something harder. The views near the top, especially of the other peaks to the south, were quite impressive. See "Roof of Idaho" trip report for details.
Where was COR? Where was the snowbridge? It appears that the standard trail now crosses the snowpatch below where the snowbridge should have been.
At first sight it didn't seem possible, but there is a trail up the summit pyramid. :)
I really enjoyed this mountain. It is fairly short, but steep. The views of the surrounding peaks were amazing. The trail was well maintained and the scrambling sections were a lot of fun. Very beautiful.
A glorious mountain with a gnarly standard route to boot. One of my favorite climbs in all of the West.