Nobody is perfect and we all have our good days and bad days.
The trail began at the dam, just like Summit Post had stated, by a small stream in a quaint valley of golden leaved cottonwoods. Elk grazed high above us on the hill, silhouetted against the horizon. The scant trail meandered through sage and lodge pole pine and into the valley beneath a death zone of scree. Not long after a lunch break in this aesthetic area, my partner and I separated. Ray had a bent on staying higher up on the slope, but my directions said to make way up the valley in the trees. Awkwardly I conceded to Ray’s stubborn decision and figured we would wind up in the same place eventually. Being impossible to get lost in the basin I passed it off as one personal right to enjoy the “freedom of the hills.” Ray struggled with route finding up along the hillside, but I had a tough time in the valley as well. I slugged my way through the recent snows that surpassed my thighs in some places. By the time we reunited, I was wholeheartedly ready to consider other route options. Lathered in snow Borah’s north face direct seemed out of the question and we quickly concluded that the wind scoured central face of the northeast ridge afforded better climbing. 3500’ of frozen scree lay plastered to the 45-55 degree slope.
We moved out of the basin and ascended some blocky outcroppings in order to ascertain more consistent ground. Now then, I got off the route just 30’ to the left and found myself cutting snow drifts and sinking in snow that was threatening my chest with the chill of fresh powder. There were moments when I felt like I needed someone to throw me a life ring as if I were drowning. At that point, my only goal was to get back to the ridge and I struggled to island hop my way from rock to rock while swimming through the snow attempting to reach my partners track. By the time I did, he had blazed way on up ahead and darkness had crept down and swamped us within its cover.
I yelled out, “Hey, man… Are you going to stop? I am tired and hungry.” From what I could tell, his black figure was still going up the hill, so I decided to stomp out a platform in a section snow that had already been considered once for a camp. I fretted about my partner’s unwillingness to descend, but when he did, he cursed the location and our situation. I could not understand his point of view. The camp epitomized the essence of mountaineering. We had pushed as far as we could in seven hours of hard hiking and climbing and were both out of energy, tired, and hungry. On the other hand, we had a classic four foot wide platform to sleep on, starry skies, pure snow for melting water to drink, and plenty of food for a couple of days on a mountain. What was so bad about that?
Over miso soup with tofu and dulse seaweed, my cohort accused me of not caring about shelter because I often sleep in a bivy sac on overnighters. Funny though, several times in the night, high winds bellowed down off the ridge and slammed us. Each time the unstabilized tent folded and pancaked as the poles were blown out of position because they were not properly fastened. Once he even woke to a tent wall folded across his face!
The next morning, nothing had changed. There were complaints about drinking melted snow; it had to be boiling to be drinkable. The list continued. He would not eat because his stomach did not feel like it, his boots were insufficient, the climbing to tedious, and the summit block to dangerous. For me, hydration came easy. I copiously ingested fluids of soy beverage, water, leftover soup from dinner, and recovery beverage with electrolyte replacement tablets. To top it off, I pumped in a goo packet into my system roughly every hour. Hydrated and energized, I climbed hard up the mountain, strong and poised for the crux climbing within the realm of the summit.
The climbing was great and the snow conditions improved the higher we plodded. We traversed under blocky ridges and over a steep, exposed face that dropped off more than a thousand feet to our right. I perspired with exhilaration as we revved up through some short, steep snow gullies. This was an exciting climb on Borah Peak and the real climbing was still to come. I was psyched! My companion cursed the terrain and the length of the climb. With his energy reserves depleted and attitude as good as crap, I wondered how he would handle the summit blocks just ahead of us. Famished and nauseated by altitude, he copped a plea and stated that he was soon turning 50 and did not want to risk a date with fate by climbing a 5.7 in the mountains.
We turned around at the 12,000’ mark and the crux pitch of Borah’s cantankerous summit block. My partner’s funky mindset and bad attitude did not dampen my enlightened spirit. This trip was my sixth to Idaho’s highest peak and I was tickled just to be anywhere on the north side of the mountain. The new territory excited me because I had envisioned climbing back here for over ten years. My partner had never climbed in the Lost River Range and his breakthrough outing reminded me of myself on my first trip. I had also displayed a poor attitude up here and my other team members had dealt with me graciously. The only place Borah is going is nowhere but up if subduction resumes. My partner and I will return again and be prepared to climb any crux that falls in our path whether physical or psychological. After all, climbing is ninety percent mental.