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The top of Idaho:
Borah Peak
Elevation:12,662 feet
Location:north west of Mackay, ID

After my grand driving tour from New Mexico up through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, I end up camped at the base of Borah Peak in Idaho. There weren't many real campsites here, the main ones were already taken, so I found a small shaded spot off the road and pitched my tent. Afterwards, I walked over to the trailhead and chatted with two cops in the shade of their camper. They were also here to climb Borah in the morning. We watched a few hikers coming down from the summit and chatted with them about the route and weather conditions on the peak. We were all treated to a gorgeous sunset.

Idaho's Borah Peak from the road
View of Borah Peak from the south-west.

I woke up early broke camp and cooked some breakfast. Taking my coffee to go, I headed to the trailhead and snapped on my headlamp. As I set foot on the trail I checked my watch: 5:47am. The first part of the trail gains little elevation and was easy to follow. I soon turned off the headlamp.

Sunset the night before my climb
Sunset the night before my climb.

Up ahead I started to make out another hiker who must have started out just ahead of me. I usually don't like disturbing quiet early morning hikes for others, but I also didn't want to startle him by suddenly appearing behind. I started kicking a few rocks to make just enough noise for him to hear me, but I apparently startled him into momentarily thinking there was a bear behind him. We chatted briefly and I passed by as the trail climbed toward the saddle near point 8714.

Trail to the summit
The trail as it leads to the summit.

After this momentary flat spot, the trail drives straight up, unrelenting until just past tree line. Throughout this portion the trail is braided with multiple routes (all steep), but thankfully you start receiving excellent views of the valley running below and a distant range to the west. Also, the pine trees are spectacularly weathered and contorted.

The trail finally levels out and hugs the southern, more gently sloping side of the ridge. Then the trail begins to wind up through loose rocks and rubble. After gaining the main ridge again, the trail begins the "Chicken Out" portion.

I didn't find the Chicken Out Ridge to be very frightening. However, I'd been on similar ridges in Colorado before. Much of the ridge is basically walk-able, provided you are comfortable with the exposure (the north side of the ridge is very steep). I also noticed that there appeared to be a "use" trail running below the ridge, winding it's way through the loose rocks. Personally, I think taking such a trail would be more dangerous than sticking on the ridge itself. At least on top of the ridge the rock is solid.

Final climb to the summit
Scrambling on the ridge proper.

At the end of Chicken Out Ridge, is the 3rd class down climb. Someone had left a section of climbing rope here, which I didn't use, but could appreciate how some people would not want to down climb this without a rope. Once down, there is often a small snow bridge, but this year the snow bridge had melted out. However, if snow was present, crampons would be a wise idea, as both sides are steep slopes and a long way down.

Newer route guides show the trail contouring around point 11898, however older guidebooks (like the Zumwalt) follow the very top of the ridge from here to the summit. Feeling adventurous, I decided to follow in the footsteps of the earlier Borah climbers. Gaining ground to point 11898 was a steep, but easy ladder-like climb of a cracked face. I just climbed up a series of ledges 2-4 inches thick and conveniently spaced.

From the top of this point, you head back down class 2 terrain until you meet the current trail again. Then, once again, my route departed from the current convention. The trail slowly climbs to the summit of Borah Peak, switchbacking and winding through the loose rocks. I followed right up the main line of the ridge, making "real" climbing moves much of the time and being rewarded with great views to the southeast. Plus, I was able to hike in the sun, but I was also receiving more of the wind's force.

View from the summit
Looking south over the standard route from the summit.

Finally I reached the summit. While it was quite windy (a phenomenon I was getting quite used to after the summits of Sniktau and Wheeler), there were some great views of the neighboring mountains. I found the ammunition container/summit register and signed in. My watch was reading about 8:50am, so it was about 3 hours from trailhead to summit.

I started down climbing the same way I came up, and on the way I saw the fellow I'd passed early on just finishing his climb. At this point, I was no longer alone high up on the mountain, so I figured I should stick to the trail so as not to inadvertently knock any rocks on those below. As I came off the summit I started passing more and more of hikers on their way up. At the beginning of Chicken Out Ridge I came across the two cops, who had gotten a bit later start. It looked like they had clear and stable weather for the rest of the day, so I hope they made it.

My descent took as long as my climb, about 3 hours, since I stopped quite often to chat with people and give them encouragement. Finally back at my car, I left and made the drive to Evanston, WY which would be my launching off point for Kings Peak, Utah.

View of Chicken-Out ridge from the summit
View of Chicken-Out ridge from the summit.