Updated on November 6, 2020
Day 6 of 2020 Idaho Trip, Borah Peak, Crest of Idaho
Sixth day and the climax of my Idaho trip as I would summit Mount Borah, the tallest mountain in the state of Idaho.
Finally, the long-awaited day of my Idaho trip as I would summit Mount Borah. It’s a steep 6.6km one-way trail with 1616m elevation gain, to Borah Peak at 3859m. A thrilling Class 3 scrambling across “Chicken-out-Ridge” was involved, and the entire trip took me 10.5 hours from start to finish, with about an hour spent at summit.
Despite there was a campground at the trailhead, I was so used to the comfort of a bed, that I decided to stay at an Airbnb in a nearby town. Though I left the Airbnb house at 7am, I realized I forgot to bring my gloves and had to return to the town of Mackay to buy a pair. (I couldn’t hold back the excitement when I found gardening gloves in the only convenience store that’s open at 7:40am.) Combined with the fact that the last 5km to trailhead off US93 was unpaved, my hiking got to a very late start of 8:30am.
It’s generally advised to start the hike of Borah Peak as early as possible, as there’s no shelter along the trail should an afternoon storm roll in. Here’s Jack Carter recalling his experience in a storm:
…We got in a lighten storm and there was a lot of static electricity. The hair on my head stood straight up. Do NOT try and summit if there is overcast or any forecast of rain…
On this aspect, a start time of 8:30am was very late. However, weather report said it would be a sunny and cloudless day, so I started my hike not worried about impending storms.
Here’s GPS tracking:
About 2.5km from trailhead and approaching 3000m elevation, the trees got sparser and sparser. Loose rocks began to dominate the landscape from grass.
With a few short rests here and there, 4.6km and a little bit under 3 hours from trailhead, I was at the start of Chicken-out-Ridge. I took a longer rest here, ate some food, before starting the scrambling section.
Chicken-out-Ridge was an arete just before the main summit crest, measuring under 300m in length on maps. It’s where “maintained trail” ended on map, as most of the length was a class 3 scramble on rocks. It got this name as many people chose to abort at this point should there be hazards ahead.
I have to say it’s a technical 300m, and one should have some rock scrambling experience before attempting the ridge. A misstep or fall could easily mean a few broken bones here. But on the plus side, while most of the trail was on loose rocks/talus, I found the rocks along Chicken-out-Ridge were mostly big and not tending to give way, providing lots of handholds.
Here’s a video of me tackling the beginning part of Chicken-out-Ridge, shot from my drone.
1.25x playback speed, 5 minutes and 56 seconds, 2160p30fps, 10Mbps/425MB for H265, 11.5Mbps/492MB for H264.
While it’s true that one can find many scary videos of Chicken-out-Ridge online, the ridge was definitely safer in reality. For me, it provided the right amount of excitement, that while it’s an adrenaline racing experience, it’s not excessively dangerous. It’s one level above roller coasters in theme parks, one had to hold tight to the footholds and handholds in order to be safe from falls, but one will.
Probably, the most technical bit of Chicken-out-Ridge was towards its end, here are the paths I took:
That’s where I met the first group of returning hikers. I was still more than an hour from summit, this just showed how early people usually started climbing Mount Borah.
Right after Chicken-out-Ridge, there was the “snow bridge”, which was a ridge covered in snow that one had to cross. It’s not as technical as Chicken-out-Ridge, but a fall on either side of the “snow bridge” could easily be deadly. Lucky for me, there were already deep footsteps in the snow bridge, and it actually felt quite safe walking across it.
After snow bridge, one could get some rest as the trail ceased to gain elevation while it circled around a small hill nearby.
That is, until one passed along another snow field to the right (photo below, taken during return), after which the trail picked up elevation gain rapidly.
The final stretch has the most gradient throughout the hike. It’s a bit reminiscent of 4 days ago, when I was doing rock hopping onto Hyndman Peak. Here, one had to be careful where to set foot on, as an unstable foot step could easily trigger a mini rock avalanche.
And finally, at about 1:30pm, I made it to the top of Borah Peak after 5 hours of strenuous hiking. At an elevation of 3859m, it’s the highest point that I ever set foot on.
In line with my tradition, I commemorated the moment with the following drone video:
26 seconds, 1080p60, 8Mbps for H265, 10Mbps for H264.
And here are the views of surrounding mountains:
To begin a tour, the taller mountains near Borah Peak were to its South.
Then it’s an alpine scene as one turned east.
Towards the far East, some peaks among Lemhi Range were also visible.
After turning past North, Lost River Valley emerged into view, with the ridge trail that I took climbing up Borah Peak.
That concluded the scenic views at the summit. I spent about an hour at the summit, longer than usual since this was the highest point that I set my feet on. Wind was gentle and soothing, compared with the brutal gale at Hyndman Peak 4 days ago.
After that, I went on my way back. Due to both the steep incline and the fact that I took lots of photos (most of previous photos past Chicken-out-Ridge were actually taken during my descent), it took me an hour to get down the final steep stretch, just like my ascent.
After that, I crossed the snow bridge and traversed Chicken-out-Ridge back. The descent past Chicken-out-Ridge was taxing on the knees. In addition, it’s stressful on ankles as the trail was made of loose rocks most of the way. But the real danger was when one got into the woods, as sand/dirt replaced rocks in trail composition, which provided much less grip. Overall, I believe a trekking pole would make things easier.
Finally, at 7pm, 10.5 hours since my start, I was back at the trailhead. An epic day.
Overall, I would say the trail up Borah Peak was a technical class 3 that’s not for everyone. But for the physically fit and ready, it provided descent amount of adrenaline with minimal peril. I was glad it turned out my body was up to the challenge, and I enjoyed it greatly.