Roof of Idaho - Chicken Out Ridge

Roof of Idaho - Chicken Out Ridge

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 20, 2015
Activities Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer
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 west aspect
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.

The Stairmaster

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
White Cap Peak

Borah at dawn
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.

Pioneer Mountains
Pioneer Mountains

Borah trail in trees
After walking through the trees ...
Cliffs above trees
... rugged peaks start to appear
Behind us the sunlight was illuminating some other impressive peaks to the west, some of which looked like they’d also be a lot of fun to climb (i.e. Hyndman Peak in the Pioneer Mountains and Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains). When climbing Thompson Peak two years ago I was impressed with how rugged the mountains of Central Idaho were, and this day would impress me even more. You don’t hear much about them since the area is still relatively undeveloped, but if you do your research then you’ll find that Idaho has just as many fun scrambles and rugged terrain as any of the other western states.

Gnarly trees
Gnarled trees

Peak north of Borah
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.

Borah & Chicken-Out
First view of Borah Peak summit (left) and Chicken-Out Ridge (right)

Mount Morrison
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.
Trail to Ridge
A closer look at Chicken-Out Ridge ...
Mount Morrison & wildflowers
... and Mount Morrison


Cliffs below trail
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.

Start of steep ridge
At the beginning of the steep ridge ...
Start of scrambling
... we stayed slightly to the right

Leatherman peek-a-boo
Leatherman Peak peeking over ridges

View of Borah summit
Borah summit

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 the ridge
Right on top of the ridge ...
Fun scrambling
... had the funnest scrambling

Gully trail
Gully trail

Flowers below Borah
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).

Sacagawea Peak
From Chicken-Out Ridge we had nice views of Sacagawea Peak ...
Rugged Idaho Peaks
... and other peaks to the south

Sacagawea Peak
Sacagawea Peak

My feet were slowing me down a bit, so for better long-term results I decided to stop and attend to the blisters on my heels. They had both opened up causing chafing on the raw, red skin underneath (each about an inch in diameter), but luckily I had a couple big band-aids left to patch them up. It’s frustrating that I still get blisters like this, but I guess that’s what you get with freakishly sweaty feet.

Borah rising up
Borah rising up in front of us to the north

Chicken-Out crux
Climbing down the crux ...
Looking back at Chicken-Out crux
... of Chicken-Out Ridge

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 trail past Chicken-Out Ridge
David on the trail after Chicken-Out Ridge ...
Hiking to the summit
... that wraps around toward the summit

At this point the trail cuts to the left of the ridge, closely following the 11,800-foot contour line below the little un-named peak/ridge above. Once we got past that little un-named peak, we were presented with what I felt were the best views of the entire day. To the south of us was the impressive northwest ridge of Sacagawea Peak, with its northern cliffs falling almost 2,000 feet straight down. While from this angle the ridge looked quite solid, the rock is actually supposed to be quite loose, so I was content to just admire it from a distance.

Sacagawea northwest ridge
Impressive northwest ridge of Sacagawea Peak

Borah northwest ridge
Borah northwest ridge ...
Borah rising over valley
... rising steeply above valley below

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.

Final steep trail
The trail steepened and the rock became a bit looser ...
Borah northeast views
... as we approached the summit

Castle Peak
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.

Leatherman Peak
Leatherman Peak

Borah trailhead parking lot
Cars a vertical mile below
Borah summit pic
Summit pic

Down to the east were several un-named lakes which looked like they’d be nice to visit, although I’m not sure how difficult the approach would be from the seldom-visited east side of the Lost River Range. Over 2,000 feet below us was one lake that looked particularly inviting.

Lakes below Borah
Unnamed lakes below us to the east

Borah American flag
American flag
Borah rubber chicken
Rubber chicken

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.

David & Brandon on Borah
During our stay on the summit we took in awesome views of White Cap Peak (middle) and Mount Idaho (right) ...
White Cap, Idaho, & Pika
... and were visited by a curious little ground squirrel (click pic to zoom in on bottom foreground)

Easy Enough For a Scout Troop

Summit descent
Steep summit descent
Sacagawea north face
Sacagawea north face

On the way down we saw more people making their way up, totaling just over 20 by the time we made it back down to the car. During the initial descent we passed a couple girls who were actually hiking with the guy who’d been on the summit with us, whom I guess he had decided to leave in the dust and just wait for on top. This section of the trail crossed enough loose rock that I actually had to step carefully so as not to knock any rocks onto them below, but about halfway down this steep part the grade lessened. At the flat section with the awesome views of Sacagawea, I spent a few minutes photographing some resilient wildflowers. It always amazes me the places that they can grow, where there is otherwise no discernible plant life.

Clouds over rugged peaks
The rugged peaks and occasional purple wildflowers ...
Borah wildflowers
... provided us with some amazing scenery

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.

Trail to Chicken-Out
Making our way along the trail ...
Chicken-Out Crux
... leading back to Chicken-Out Ridge

Ridge obstacle
Ridge obstacle

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.

Chicken-Out Ridge
There was some nice exposure in a few spots ...
Chicken-Out Gully
... going back down the steep Chicken-Out Ridge

Clouds above Morrison
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.

Chicken-Out fun part
After one last section of fun scrambling ...
Back on trail
... it was just a steep walk the rest of the way down

Trail below Chicken-Out Ridge
Trail below Chicken-Out Ridge

Steep trail descent
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.

Peaks north of Borah
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
ELEVATION GAIN: 5,300 feet
TIME: 7 hours
Borah from road
Parting view of Borah Peak (left), Chicken-Out Ridge (middle), and Sacagawea Peak (right)


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-11 of 11
David Mortensen

David Mortensen - Aug 7, 2015 5:24 pm - Hasn't voted

Nice work!

Great trip report Brandon. I appreciate you doing this. It is a great way to preserve the memories.

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 10, 2015 2:33 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice work!

Thanks David, I'm glad we were able to go up there and do Borah! It's definitely nice to be able to look back later on and remember how fun a hike was.

Bark Eater

Bark Eater - Aug 11, 2015 7:37 am - Voted 10/10

Nice report

Thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough report. Brought back fond memories of our climb in 2011.

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 11, 2015 12:08 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice report

Thanks, I'm glad it helped bring back some fun memories. That's the main reason I write these. Since I'm not always able to get out into the mountains as often as I'd like, I figure it's at least worth the effort to document some of my bigger hikes.


StartingOver - Aug 11, 2015 11:53 am - Voted 10/10

Brings back nice memories

The report also brought back fond memories for me.

I climbed Borah as a teenager in the 90s. To this day, it remains my most successful accomplishment in hiking/climbing -- my attempt on Rainer failed in 2009, and I came up just short on Agassiz a couple of weeks ago (not good enough conditioning). Anyway, enough about me -- I really enjoyed the pics and memories of my hike to the summit about 20 years ago that the report brought back to me.

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 11, 2015 12:13 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Brings back nice memories

Thanks, that helps me feel better about the time it takes to do these reports (usually as long as the hike itself). That's neat that you did it as a teenager, since summiting this peak at any age is quite a nice accomplishment, and it sounds like it gave you the mountain bug for life. I can relate to the challenges of staying in shape for big hikes like these (completely bonked when I tried Capitol Peak a few years back), but hopefully all of the pictures in these reports help show that the journey can be just as rewarding as the destination.


StartingOver - Aug 12, 2015 11:52 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Brings back nice memories

The time effort you put in shows in the quality of this report, and why it is garnering so many votes. A 2-paragraph trip report that says something like "I climbed this mountain, please cheer for me," with no photos or information is not helpful. This report is both enjoyable reading for those of us that have climbed Borah, and helpful information for those that have not climbed it -- and, in my novice opinion, that is exactly what a trip report should be.

Many thanks for your other thoughts. I've always had the mountain bug, but it's only recently with my move from Chicago to the Los Angeles area that I've been able to act on it again. And you are most definitely right about the journey versus the destination. After succesfully climbing Borah those many years ago, I wanted to go back just to look at the mountain again, so the next spring after my climb I hiked with a friend up to the area that is called something like Point 10,600 -- the flat area just before Chicken-Out Ridge. I had no intention of summiting -- I just wanted to enjoy the amazing view from that area. I enjoyed that hike and had no regrets about not attempting the summit -- it was May and the summit wouldn't have been doable that day without gear such as an nice ax and crampons that we neither had nor would have been qualified to use even if we did have them. Nevertheless that trip was well worth it.

My hike on the Bishop Pass trial to the Mt. Agassiz two weeks ago was my first hike into the High Sierra, and the scenery there is truly spectacular. It's hard to rival my native Idaho or the Tetons (where I hiked many times as a kid), but the High Sierra do it. With the quota system now in place for much of the High Sierra, the area isn't even as overcrowded as one would expect. I only saw a few other people that day (granted it was a Tuesday).

Thanks again and please keep the excellent trip reports coming!


BeDrinkable - Aug 11, 2015 2:24 pm - Voted 10/10


That's a nice write-up. You captured very well the character of the Lost Rivers! That steep, steep pitch from the very beginning that doesn't let up until you summit. I hope those blisters didn't bother you too much ...

Oh and just a note - that's not a pica. It's a ground squirrel. But a damned cute one!

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 11, 2015 7:20 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Fantastic

Thanks. I'd seen a few pictures beforehand, but the Lost Rivers were more rugged than I thought they'd be. The blisters weren't too bad (it's scarier/grosser after a full day of skiing, when enough steam rises from my sweaty boots to make it look like some sort of industrial factory). Thanks for the animal correction. All of those little squirrels/chipmunks/pikas look the same to me sometimes.

mtzfamily - Aug 12, 2015 7:18 pm - Voted 10/10

Great report

Thanks for taking the time on the report. The son (12 and capable) have it on our list The detailed information and photos really help. Did you happen to get the Boy Scout troop number?

Rocky Alps

Rocky Alps - Aug 13, 2015 12:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great report

I didn't get their troop number, unfortunately, but they said they were from Idaho Falls (correct me if I'm wrong, David). If your son is able to do Borah at only 12, then it's likely he'll be able to summit any other peak he wants to if he puts his mind to it.

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