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A Successful Summit of Borah Peak
We awoke at 5:45 am and quickly broke down camp.  While doing so we enjoyed a nice hot bowel of Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal.  We packed up a light backpack full of granola bars, a headlamp, 2 liters of water each, and thermal clothing incase of bad weather or an emergency.  I also spent sometime cleaning and dressing my blisters.  I applied a heavy coating of Neosporin of the actual blisters, an area slightly larger than a gallon milk jug lid, and then covered the entire area with a 4” x 3” piece of Moleskin. 

Despite waking up early, it was 7:30 before we set out.  We vowed to streamline our mourning routine in the future by taking care of as many activities the night before as possible.  It is a tall order when you don’t arrive into camp so late the night before so we weren’t particularly upset about the late (in alpine terms) start.

The trail rose gradually at first through an interesting mix of desert like sage bushes and grasses.  In no time we were in a thinly populated evergreen forest.  I couldn’t make out the exact species but it appeared to be some type of cedar tree.  Soon the trail steepened and the trees increased in number.  After a steep, long switchback to the left we came across a beautiful view of the sunrise reflecting off the surrounding mountains and pouring into the valley below.  At this point it was exactly what we needed  to motivate us up the steep climb ahead.

At this point the trail snaked its way almost straight up the mountain side through the thin forest.  Despite the grueling climb, Jimmy and I were in high spirits.  The scenery was incredible, our packs were light, and we had the company of dozens of playful chipmunks that didn’t seem to mind our presence at all.  Our step climb through the forest was immediately followed by a steep climb up an exposed section of medium sized rocks.  Fortunately, the trail was good and our energy levels were high.

At the top we stop for a short’ packs off rest and a small stack.  We were joined by a father and son we passed earlier on the trail.  This was a training hike for the father as intended to summit later this year despite the age of 60.  “Better sooner than later,” he said.  With that in mind Jimmy and I continued up the trail which was a pleasant and enjoyable grade as we traversed across the ridgeline.  Soon, we would once again faced with a very steep climb. 

The next section still had a decent path but was very steep.  We passed a lady and her dog that had to turn around at the base of Chicken Out Ridge.  Her husband had wanted to climb the peak on his birthday, but didn’t realize the extreme exposure and vertical nature of Chicken Out Ridge.  Soon we were faced with the challenge ourselves after making the grueling climb to its base. 

Chicken Out Ridge is named as such for good reason.  With sheer drop offs on both sides the climber is faced with a section that requires both skill and nerve.  Never short on courage myself, I had anticipated a beautiful section of trail ripe with photo opportunities.  Instead I faced a section of exposed rock requiring both hands to cling onto the rock on either side of the actual ridge as you navigate up and across slabby sections of rock.  After one particularly hard section a trail re immerges that takes you across the top of the ridge and traverses along the Borah Pk side of the ridge for a while.  Soon we were faced with another very steep climb requiring both hands up to the top of the ridge.  After a short 20’ climb down a gnarly chunk of rock we had completed this technical portion of the climb and gazed up at Borah knowing we were getting close.

But we weren’t quite as close as we thought.  There was still a very long trail laden with loose rocks and steep steps.  We traversed the ridge line for quite a while before the trail became steeper and steeper.  We passed three separate groups of climbers on the way down.  One had taken the ridgeline that and suggested we avoid it since it was so exposed and difficult.  The other two groups suggested we veer off the trail as we neared the top and climb up the rocks instead facing the scree on the trail near the top.  Scree is small loose rocks that accumulate on steep sections of mountains.  It is particularly demoralizing for mountain climbers since each step you take your foot ends up sliding back about ¾ of the way down the hill almost to wear your foot begun.  It is a lot like running up a downward escalator.  Since this is the last thing we wanted to do at over 12,000 feet already exhausted from the climb we decided on taking the advice of the majority.

I am fairly certain that the two groups that gave the advice did so after climbing up the scree, b/c what we faced was nothing short of a nightmare.  Many of the large rocks were loose and sections required near vertical climbing up 10’ – 20’ sections of rock.  Winded and weary Jimmy and I each blazed our own paths up the steep face.  Despite the challenge, I had a smile on my face the whole time; overwhelmed with a sense of peacefulness and gratitude for simply having the opportunity to be immersed in such natural beauty and without any physical limitations that would otherwise hamper such activity.

After what seemed to take forever at the time but no time considering the entire day, we made it to the top.  It was 1:00 and we were on the top of the world!  Certainly emotionally and literally on the section of the world they call Idaho.  The views were amazing, as they always are in mountain climbing.  We gazed out at all the surrounding monster mountains, knowing we were above them.  Mountains, rocks, forests, streams, melting glaciers, clouds and skies surrounded us as did a warm sensation of accomplishment.  We lingered on the top for at least 45min enjoying the vistas, signing the log book, taking pictures, snaking; Jimmy even managed a quick nap.    

In many cases the decent is far more enjoyable due to the ease of downhill travel, often taking a third or less of the amount of time it takes going up.  This is not the case on Borah.  It takes all your wits not to slip and fall on the scree.  The climb down the steep sections of Chicken Out Ridge is more challenging than the way up.  Since much of the trail was so steep, it was even harder traveling down it since it took so much strength and energy to keep from tumbling and falling.  On top of that Jimmy was suffering from a severe headache and fatigue from an acute case of AMS (a mild form of altitude sickness) much of the way down.  To make matters worse both of us had depleted our water supply early in the decent leaving us with parched throats and not enough saliva to even wet them.  We stumbled into the trailhead parking lot and immediately started chugging from a gallon jug of water.  We wasted no time pulling off our boots tossing our bags into the trunk and were on our way in a matter of a couple of minutes.

Starving sunburned and exhausted, we pulled into Pickle’s Atomic Burgers for Dinner.  It is located in Arco, ID whose claim to fame is being the first city ever powered by atomic energy.  The food was great and our spirits were high as we feasted like kings.  Over dinner we decided no to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument in favor of staying at a hotel room and cleaning up.  We were surprised to find almost all the hotel rooms fully occupied, but found a vacancy at the Best Western.  The showers were amazing and the beds even better.  It was nice to feel comfortable an civilized even if only for a night.

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Map of US HighPoints
KEY: States: Green - summited, Yellow - attempted, White - Not visited
Dots: Green - State Lowpoint, Red - State Highpoint

 

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©2008 Kyle E. Hoelscher. All rights reserved.

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CA - Mount Whitney AL - Cheaha Mountain AZ - Humphrey's Peak AR - Mount Magazine (Signal Hill) CO - Mount Elbert FL - Lakewood (Britton Hill) GA - Brasstown Bald ID - Borah Peak IL - Charles Mound IN - Hoosier Hill, 1,257' MO - Taum Sauk, 1,772' KS - Mount Sunflower, 4,039' KY - Black Mountain, 4,145' LA - Driskill Mountain, 535' MS - Woodall Mountain, 806' IA - Hawkeye Point, 1,670' NE - Panorama Point, 5,424' NV - Boundary Peak, 13,143' NM - Wheeler Peak, 13,161' TX - Guadalupe Peak, 8,749' NC - Mount Mitchell, 6,684' ND - White Butte, 3,506' OH - Cambell Hill, 1,550' OK - Black Mesa, 4,973' PA - Mount Davis, 3,213' SC - Sassafras Mountain, 3,560' SD - Harney Peak, 7,242' TN - Clingmans Dome, 6,643' UT - King's Peak, 13,528' VA - Mount Rogers, 5,729' WY - Gannett, 13,804' MT - Granite Peak, 12,799' WI - Timm's Hill MI - Mount Arvon MN - Eagle Mountain MD - Backbone Mountain HI - Mauna Kea AK - Denali WA - Mount Rainier OR - Mount Hood NY - Mount Marcy NJ - High Point DE - Ebright Azimuth CT - MountFrissell (South Slope) RI - Jerimoth Hill MA - Greylock VT - Mount Mansfield NH - Mount Washington MA - Katahdin (Baxter Peak) PR - Cerro de Punta Washington D.C. - Fort Reno