Borah Peak had been on my radar for quite some time. My wanting to hike it wasn’t really due to it being a state highpoint, but rather because its standard “Chicken-Out” ridge looked quite fun. If I was into high-pointing then it would probably be my favorite though, since it’s probably the most difficult and scrambly state highpoint that you can do that doesn’t require any special gear (Denali, Rainier, Gannett, Granite, and Hood are more technical). That combined with the fact that it would give us some nice views of the rugged Lost River Range made it one of the scrambles at the top of my wish list. This summer my cousin David and I would finally get the chance to give it a try.
Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho
I’d been monitoring the north aspect of the peak using the US 93 Willow Creek summit webcam for the past several weeks, and it appeared that almost all of the snow had melted, with only a small sliver still visible below Chicken-Out Ridge. Sometimes in July there is still enough snow up there to make this a full-on mountaineering endeavor, but with this year’s mild winter in this section of the Rockies I figured we wouldn’t have any problems.
We left Mackay at 6 am and arrived at the trailhead around 6:30. On the way we were treated to some nice views of some other peaks to the south. The terrain in this part of Idaho is mainly dry, making it feel like you’re in one of those old Marlboro Country commercials.
White Cap Peak
Borah at dawn
From the trailhead you can see the top of the mountain, and we could immediately tell that this was going to be a steep hike. We started up at a decent pace, and soon caught up to and passed a group who were pausing to catch their breath at one of the few flatter sections of trail. The trail was very well-maintained and easy to follow, and would remain this way almost the entire way to the top.
View to the north
Anyways, I’m glad the views were nice because they helped draw my attention away from how steep the trail was. It was in good enough condition that there were never any points where the dirt got too slippery, but the grade was steep and unrelenting. I was in better shape this summer than I’d been in a while, but since it was relatively early in the hiking season I still had to pause occasionally to catch my breath. Despite logging a couple hundred miles’ worth of mountain hiking in these boots, I could already feel blisters forming on the backs of my heels, so that slowed me down a bit too.
First view of Borah Peak summit (left) and Chicken-Out Ridge (right)
Mount Morrison revealed
David provided the occasional elevation update using an app on his phone, and we were gaining elevation at a fast rate. After an hour and a half we were above the tree line with some nice views of Mount Morrison to the south, Mount Idaho to the southeast, and of course Borah Peak to the east, when we finally came to a flatter section of trail. We had gained 2,700 feet of elevation in less than two miles, and could now see the more rugged part of the hike awaiting us.
A closer look at Chicken-Out Ridge ...
... and Mount Morrison
Cliffs below second section
It makes sense to split up the hike into five unequal sections when describing the terrain: the first and longest portion of trail that goes up through the trees, the relatively flat part leading to the base of Chicken-Out Ridge, Chicken-Out Ridge (where all of the scrambling is found), the short flat part leading from the snow crossing to the last steep section (where you get some awesome views of Sacagawea Peak to the southeast), and the short steep section where you gain the last eight hundred or so feet of elevation to obtain the summit. Just after the sun came out over the summit to the east we got to the end of the second section. While I was applying sunscreen and taking pictures, we were passed by a fast hiker who claimed to have already climbed Borah, who we would end up playing leap-frog with on our way to the summit.
At the beginning of the steep ridge ...
... we stayed slightly to the right
Leatherman Peak peeking over ridges
Starting up the ridge, there was still a trail that was easy to follow. We zig-zagged our way up some scree-covered ledges and ended up slightly on the right (south) side of the ridge. Since it was still early in the morning and the ridge above us was steep, this gave us some extra time in the shade, which was nice. As the scree went away we came across larger sections of solid rock, where we decided to scramble straight along the crest of the ridge.
Right on top of the ridge ...
... had the funnest scrambling
Wildflowers below summit
After some fun scrambling right on top of the ridge, we dropped slightly to the left (north) side of the ridge, climbing up a little gully. From here we had a closer view of the summit, as well as the spot where there was usually a tricky snow crossing. This year must have been particularly dry, because the snow right on top of the ridge had melted away (there was still some snow lower down on the northern slope, but not anywhere that we would need to cross).
From Chicken-Out Ridge we had nice views of Sacagawea Peak ...
... and other peaks to the south
We proceeded up the little gully and soon arrived back on top of the ridge. The other guy hiking by us said when there was no snow at the crossing that it was easier to go around the left side instead of doing the down-climb onto where the snow usually was, but I was actually looking forward to the little down climb crux and didn’t think it would be too difficult. After leaving one of my Gatorade bottles hidden in a rock alcove just above the down climb for the return trip, David and I quickly climbed down to the crossing without any difficulty. This was the last of the scrambling we would encounter on our way to the top, and I thought it was just plain fun. It probably gets overhyped by state highpoint hikers who’ve never done any scrambling before, but with a little route-finding you can stay on easier class 3 terrain the entire way up and down Chicken-Out Ridge.
David on the trail after Chicken-Out Ridge ...
... that wraps around toward the summit
Going up the last steep part is when the elevation started to hit me. My blisters weren’t an issue anymore, but despite summiting Box Elder Peak (a Wasatch 11er) a few weeks prior I wasn’t completely acclimated. It had actually been over three years since I’d been above 12,000 feet, so it was nice to finally be among such high, rugged surroundings again. David and the other guy hiking by us made it to the summit a few minutes before me, leading the way up the faint trail through some loose talus and scree.
The trail steepened and the rock became a bit looser ...
... as we approached the summit
Castle Peak to the west
Just below the summit the view towards the northeast opened up (with Mountaineer Peak visible), and then on top the view opened up for over a hundred miles in every direction, letting us admire the impressive mountain terrain of Central Idaho.
Cars a vertical mile below
Since we’d made it to the top faster than we’d originally anticipated (4 hours), we took a nice half hour early lunch break on the summit. Among the summit paraphernalia were an American flag and a rubber chicken, which might make for some good summit photos for those so inclined to use them. A friendly little ground squirrel decided to investigate, likely looking for food, but he bolted off when I tried to get close for a better picture.
Making our way around to what is usually a snow crossover point we ran into some more people, among them a group of local scouts, who were probably around 14 years old. We had to wait for their two leaders to help the last one in the group get past the down climb crux, but eventually he made it. We lent some words of encouragement, letting them know that the hardest part was over, which seemed to brighten the mood of a couple of the boys who may have been struggling. My hat’s off to them though, since they were doing a hike that’s probably more difficult than any of the ones I’d done at that age. Some dark clouds were forming behind Borah to the east, but since the scout leaders appeared to know what they were doing and they weren’t really thunderclouds, I didn’t feel the need to warn them about any impending storms.
Making our way along the trail ...
... leading back to Chicken-Out Ridge
We climbed back up onto Chicken-Out Ridge, I collected the bottle of Gatordate I’d left behind, and we then proceeded to scramble our way back down the mountain. We passed an older man who must have been the only one we’d seen who actually chickened out, but since he was hiking alone I could see why he might not want to risk it. No shame in turning around when things don’t feel safe. I imagine that in more snowy conditions, others (myself included) might’ve been more inclined to turn back at some point, as the ridge is quite steep.
There was some nice exposure in a few spots ...
... going back down the steep Chicken-Out Ridge
Clouds behind Morrison
With completely dry conditions though, we didn’t have any trouble descending. For fun, we went across one little section with some more difficult scrambling. The ridge loses elevation quickly though, so before we knew it the fun part was already over. The views we encountered the rest of the way down the mountain were nice at least, and the temperature was still cool enough that it didn’t feel too hot. We’d actually lucked out to have clouds over us for part of the hike, so I’m sure the conditions helped make the hike a little easier as well.
After one last section of fun scrambling ...
... it was just a steep walk the rest of the way down
Trail below Chicken-Out Ridge
Steep trail descent
My legs didn’t really start feeling tired until close to the bottom. The trail through the trees is steep enough in several places that it actually took more work for slower steps, so in a few spots we did a little semi-jog down. Close to the bottom we met our last fellow hiker of the day, who after having us take her picture asked if we’d gotten to the point on the mountain where the parasailers jump off. It was funny hearing her say it since this sweet little old lady was the last person I’d suspect of being into something like parasailing, but I guess you never know. After a short stop at the trailhead toilets, we were on the road heading back down to Utah.
Nice views of Horseshoe Mountain, Doublespring Peak, and Al West Peak to the north
Borah Peak was an awesome hike that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good hiking adventure. While there is some exposure on parts of Chicken-Out Ridge, if you’re with someone to help you stay on the class 3 stuff then I think it’s doable even for someone new to scrambling, as long as there isn’t any snow besides what’s usually there at the crossover point. The views near the summit are top-notch too, and were more rugged than I was expecting. Another bonus is that the hike is short and steep, so you gain and lose elevation quite quickly, although it may help to have trekking poles for the descent if you’ve got bad knees.
Borah Peak Stats
DISTANCE: 7.5 miles roundtrip
BORAH PEAK TRAILHEAD: 7,400 feet
SUMMIT ELEVATION: 12,662 feet
ELEVATION GAIN: 5,300 feet
DIFFICULTY: Class 3
TIME: 7 hours
Parting view of Borah Peak (left), Chicken-Out Ridge (middle), and Sacagawea Peak (right)