So it begins
This is my first attempt at a post on the venerable SummitPost. My
climbing partners and I always use this excellent resource.
We used it so much that we sometimes use this site as the only
reference prior a climb. It is time…to give back!
Allright, Borah peak was our first peak of the trip. We were on a
three week odyssey across America, climbing the peaks that we didn’t
climb last summer and finally polish off Mt. Rainier. We picked
Borah’s peak first because we could climb it earlier in the season and
it seemed to be easy. Oh how wrong we were! NOBODY CLIMBS IT IN EARLY
Camping midst the Marlboro Country
We knew it was a steep climb. 5,200 feet in 3.6 miles. That is pretty
harsh, even to our standards. I was trying to break in mountaineering
shoes so the early part of climb was pretty bitchy. Borah Peak does
not believe in switchbacks. Nope. The trail goes straight up to the
saddle…so it was straight up part which were cruel to my feet. The
mountaineering shoes’ lack of flexibility didn’t help either. Scott
(my climbing partner) killed me to the saddle. It took us 1 hour and
half to get out of the treeline and here we got our first glimpses of
Borah Peak. Oh boy it was majestic…..and a lot of snow.
Snow and some more snow on Borah
We were not on the ridge too long before we had to crampon up and bring our ice axe out.
Little did we know that we would not remove
them until TEN hours later. When we were putting on our crampons, we
looked down with dismay- the crampons didn’t fit. Long story short- we
forgot to resize crampons to our boots…so for both of us they were
maybe two notches too large.
The majestic ridge
We started climbing. It was a beautiful snow climb, the snow was
perfect allowing us to kick in without any problems. It was those kind
of climbs where you see everything through a different prism, and
say…”This is why I climb.” I live for those moments. The loose
crampons bothered us a bit but it was not a problem. We were a bit
unsure with the route on Chicken Out Ridge- the ridge being the
obvious route but we didn’t know if the snow were stable or not.
Luckily for us…there is a set of foot prints leading us to summit.
Someone obviously climbed the route not too long ago, and it was
It was much more difficult climbing and it was pretty exposed, and as
the day wore on, the snow started to be a bit more mushy. We slipped
down precariously several times but none of them too fatal.
Scott on the summit....we had it all to ourselves
Scouting from atop Borah for a possible different descent route
Summit! We were exhausted. This was our first climb and definitely
didn’t expect it to be this difficult. But it was all the more
rewarding because of it. Now, we started to discuss about our options
for our descent. The footprints in snow didn’t lead back down on the
Chicken Out Ridge, rather they led away from it, going down and
traversing the ridge to the other side. We thought….since the
footprints were so helpful going up…they should be the same going
down. The snow conditions on the Chicken Out Ridge were getting worse
every minute, before we summitted- it was pretty much slush snow. We
didn’t want to deal with that. So….we looked down, our eyes tracing
the secondary method of descent. We discussed….and decided to follow
the footprints down.
It would turn out to be a goddamn big mistake.
The descent started out allright, other than postholing a bit. As the
sun grew stronger and stronger, the crampons started to be a problem.
They were slipping off while we were traversing some dangerous
sections of the descent. But it still seemed ideal compared to
climbing down the COR. We continued down, and we were getting pretty
damn exhausted. We drank all of our water (1 liter each) and our food
supply was getting low. The footsteps turned left and climbed up. We
assumed it was to reconnect the Chicken Out Ridge. We thought…”Damn
this guy knows what hes doing! He must be a local or something”
We climbed up, following the footsteps. It was not too long before it
became ridiculously steep. I am talking about perhaps 65 degrees
steep. Steeper than anything we ever climbed before. Remember the
crampons problems? Well it was when going up on this considerable
climb, they started getting loose again. Not a good time! We kicked in
the stop even harder to ensure our grip on the mountain. Now we were
thinking…”Man…the man who climbed this is LEGENDARY” Not only he was
able to do this…he did it SOLO!
After several sections of climbing, we reached some sort of a rock
band. It was perhaps 9 feet tall. I peeked over the edge and saw the
man’s footsteps beyond the rock band. It was obvious that the man
climbed over it, so I didn’t think too much of it. If that man was
able to climb it then I sure as hell can. Just when I got on the rock
band, I realized that I was in a precarious position. The crampons
slipped everywhere, scratching the rock with almost no grip, and when
I looked over my back…It was 40 feet until the next section of snow
and it was a steep slope. Not a good time to lose my grip, I told
myself. I spied a large rock protruding the wall….I decided to reach
for it and pull myself up. Just as I was 3/4 over, the rock SLIPPED.
I quickly found another hold above the rock and scrambled up. When I
looked at my partner, Scott, below- I knew we were doomed. He quietly
said…”I’m not going to climb that.” I understood. I didn’t blame
him…He was heavier than me and wouldn’t take the same risks that I
would take. But….I am stuck above the wall and going down is WAY
harder than going up. We stared at eachother for about 10 minutes.
Scott said, “You have got to come down…We will hike down to the bottom
of the valley and try to circle around the mountain to find our
I don’t remember much of going down on the rock band. It was the most
terrifying experience of my life. My holds were so bad and precarious.
I thought I was going to fall every time I moved. But I found myself standing
next to Scott. I told him,
“Do not let me do something like this ever
It was now about 5 Pm. We started climbing about 7 A.m. We only
brought food for lunch. Now we were completely out of resources. We
packed ice in the water bottle and continued walking. We were praying
that we could find a section of the ridge where we could climb and
then traverse to the trail. We continued hiking….it was 6 Pm…7
pm….scary scenarios started to play in our heads (although we didn’t
say anything to eachother) We would probably have to spend a night in
the mountains with no tent and sleeping bag.
We started to see things. I thought I saw a house. Scott thought he
saw a fence. I kept on seeing an imaginary trail. It was pretty extreme. It
seemed like we were taking turns in terms of lucidity. I would just
zone out then Scott would assume the role of leader, pushing me to
walk faster. Then he would zone out, and I was able to find some sort
of energy to push each other. We finally found a route where we were
able climb over the ridge, then we pushed left and left across the
forest. Just as when we thought we were lost, we found the trail. The
feeling we had was probably the greatest one ever. We would have
water, food, and a warm bed tonight.
Trailhead after 13 hours of climbing
In total, we climbed for 13 hours. It was an unexpected adventure, but I
kept on remembering that I read somewhere in Summitpost about climbing
Borah Peak in early season is a “full blown mountaineering adventure.”
Well, we definitely got that.
Hats off to you, Borah’s Peak. Early June. And to the mysterious footprints.
The next day. Scott had some snow blindness. I was simply banged up.