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NEW INFORMATION: I camped at the Borah Peak Trailhead which is currently a no fee area. According to the Lost River Ranger District Station will be charging $5 to camp in the vicinity, but they have not installed the self-service fee boxes yet.
DISCLAIMER: Mountaineering and crossing busy streets can be hazardous activities. The following description provides a brief synopsis of conditions that more experienced persons might find less challenging and vice versa. Either way, failure to follow sound logic and make good decisions based on the conditions at the time of your ascent may result in a kinetic and potential energy transfer that results in injury or loss of life.
I woke up around 3am at the Borah Peak Trailhead and set out by headlamp for the summit around 4am. There were some distant high clouds and the temperature was moderate. I had checked weather via a friend who looked at the weather for Mackay, ID. The forecast was for mostly sunny and warm.
I decided since I was solo hiking to take the Southwest Ridge(standard route). The trail was obvious, and between moonlight and my headlamp, easy to navigate. Once above the tree line the wind picked up significantly, and there were non-threatening wisps of clouds passing through. I noticed snowfields below Chickenout Ridge, and navigated around them, or followed steps of others. They will most likely melt within the week and free-up the rest of the trail to the start of Chicken Out Ridge.
After reaching Chickenout Ridge and enjoying the views, I put on my crampons, and trudged through quite a bit of soft and marginally safe snow. The exposure on Chickenout Ridge is pretty amazing and as of 6/29/10 there are quite a few cornices that have yet to come off, so be extremely careful should you venture from the obvious path.
Due to the snowfields in the vicinity of the trail after Chickenout Ridge, I ascended to the summit via scrambling the Knife Edge. I reached the summit around 1145am. I loitered until about 1215pm and noticed some ominous looking clouds to the West. While descending I thought that I had heard what sounded like snow slides on the south side, and looking over the Knife Edge, I noticed many obvious fracture lines, and indications of fresh slides. I witnessed several small slides as well.
I assumed what I kept hearing was snow sliding on the south side, but it was actually a bit of a thunderstorm. The ominous looking band of clouds was approaching and quickly. As the wind picked up, I donned my rain gear and instantly reallized the ridgeline was not a desirable place to be. I spotted a part of the trail below me, and I made a decision to glissade through a few sections of snowfields to the trail and find the least exposed area as quickly as possible. I piled a few loose rocks on one side of me, and kicked a few more up with my feet to minimize my profile. I had discarded my ice axe 20 yards or so up the trail, took off my pack and laid down as I watched lighting strike the saddle below Chickenout Ridge.
At this point, there was nothing left to do except enjoy the rain and accept that I might be struck by lightning. After a few minutes of rain and thunder it began to hail. I rolled over onto my stomach, thankful that I still had my helmet on and protected my neck and ears with my gloved hands. As quickly as it was upon me the sun broke through and that particular set of clouds was past. After collecting my things I proceeded down Chickenout Ridge with an eye to the West, as more thunderstorms appeared to be building.
I made it to the tree line before the next batch of storms lined up on Borah. I hung out in the timber as another storm made it's run on Borah Peak and the surrounding mountains. After that storm passed I made it to my car and had a post climb beer. My total time was almost 13 hours. I consumed almost 4 liters of water and a large can of Fosters!
All in all, this is quite possibly the most adventurous hike I have been on. I am thankful that I started at 4am, and it took me nearly 8 hours to summit. This hike is definitely at the boundary of my confidence in my abilities and the current desires of my solo mountaineering. The conditions and early afternoon weather pushed me mentally and physically to stay positive and to continually assess risk management. The view is spectacular in all directions, and I didn't see a soul on the mountain that day. I called the Lost River Ranger District Station and this is what I told them:
Snow will most likely melt below Chickenout Ridge to clear trail to that point. Snow conditions from Chickenout Ridge to summit are marginally safe at best. Ice axe and crampons are highly recommended. Everything visible to the south of the Knife Edge appears extremely unstable and evidence of large slides is present. I witnessed some small slides including rockfall. I would not recommend ascending from the South at this time. The snow on Chickenout Ridge is soft, and some large cornices in the immediate vicinity appear ready to break off at anytime. The hike is well worth it, pictures are on the way!