Saturday, September 21, 2013

Borah Peak

This was the SPOT Messenger update I sent out from my highest progress point on September 9th 2013 from just below the high point of Chicken Out Ridge.       

Borah Peak Sept 9th 2013

in sur MOUNT able

Borah Peak 12,662 feet
September 9, 2013

Idaho's highest point happens to be a mountain in the Lost River Range, called Borah Peak, named for an Idaho politician of the early 1900's.

Borah Peak is a 12K peak rising above a wide expansive valley. The valley stretches from the town of Arco at the south end all the way up to the town of Challis. It is bordered on the eastern side by the Lost River range; on the west by the Pioneers, the White Clouds, and the Sawtooths.

Borah Peak is a scenic magnet for the eyes, and also a magnet for hikers and climbers who travel from out of state to check it off their list of high points in the bag.

For me, Borah has long been a far off afterthought. During a decade of pursuing many hiking trails across the state of Idaho, Borah had remained on the fringes of my thought.

I have climbed to 9,200 feet near Ross Peak,which is the highest point on the Idaho Centennial Trail. I have climbed to 10,600 feet on North Inlet Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, due to my asthma and "the Governor," I have always considered mountains in the 11K to 14K range out of my reach as a hiker. I have been to top of Pikes Peak twice, once by car and once by cog train. Walking around on top of the mountain above 14,000 feet didn't seem to bother me, but then I had not climbed there under my own power.
So the thought of trying to hike to the top of Borah Peak, while a nice dream, remained *out there* in the realm of the implausible and impossible.

I was talking with a co-worker friend, Ahmet, about hiking and mountains. I believe he lit the spark when he asked what was the highest point in Idaho? A quick Google search produced many links for Borah Peak. As we looked at the pictures online, Ahmet surprised me by suggesting that we should go climb it. We had done a 5 mile hike on the Idaho Centennial Trail together, but this was an entirely different venture. I did the hard sell routine on him to assess how serious he was about going to Borah. The more we talked about it, the more I warmed up to the idea. I knew that my climbing limitations would be a factor, and Ahmet had never done much hiking at altitude. But with my quest to finish the Idaho Centennial Trail completed two years ago, I was looking for new challenges. My search had been turning to the eastern portion of Idaho, and a summer trip to Yellowstone National Park was forthcoming in July.

One of the challenges was when to go to Borah? We discussed it on and off during the course of the summer. Finally we settled on going in September, the weekend after Labor Day weekend.

Sunday, September 8th finally arrived. Ahmet had to work a half overtime shift before we could leave. We drove the four hours to the Borah Peak trailhead and set up camp for the night. There were only 5 campsites available, and they were already full, so we had to pitch our tents in the "overflow" section, but at least it was free. No campfire for us, just dinner from the cooler and a short stroll up the trail for about a half mile just to get warmed up for the next day. The trailhead is at 7,700 feet elevation and the top of Borah is about 5,000 feet vertical above it along a 3 1/2 mile trail. We retired to our respective tents for an early night so that we could start about 4 the next morning.

We left from the trailhead at 4:25 am Monday morning. Another solo hiker, who slept in his car near the trailhead, left about 5 minutes after we did. It didn't take him long to overtake and pass us. We ascended at a slow steady pace in the darkness, our headlamps making bobbing circles of light on the path ahead. We each left a bottle of water stashed in a tree for the trip down. Another solo hiker, Roxanne from Seattle, came up from behind and passed us. Then two other groups passed us.

The sky was getting lighter as we approached the 10,000 foot level. It was around this level that the trees began to thin and give way to broken rock scree. The trail was still well defined. We began a very steep ascent up the long slope that led to the base of Chicken Out Ridge. My progress became slower after the 10,000 foot level. Not only was I sucking wind, but my fingers were becoming cold and stiff. The early morning temperature and windy conditions made it very cold. We longed for the sun to make its appearance over the high ridges ahead.

It took me 6 1/2 hours to climb almost 4,000 vertical feet, to a point just below the high point of Chicken Out Ridge. That was about as high as I felt my asthma was going to let me go. Ahmet went on ahead and summitted.

I waited about 3 1/2 hours for him to get back down. I felt a bit nauseated at the 11,000 foot level. After I took a Dramamine, and some Pepto tablets, I started feeling better and was able to eat and drink. It also helped that I had a lot of time to rest while waiting on Ahmet to get to the summit and back down. During this time, I met a lot of people both on their way up and coming back down.

This year is actually a good year to do the high peaks because snow is negligible. There was no snow in the "snow bridge" for the present.

It looked like everyone was taking the top of the ridge, from high point to high point and then down to the snow bridge.

Ahmet found Roxanne from Seattle sitting down near the top of Chicken Out Ridge. She told him that this was her 49th of the 50 highest peaks in the states.  However, she was afraid to go across C.O.R. and he had to help her coming and going. He said that she appeared to be quite un-nerved by the steep exposed slopes.

She reported to another guy that this was the hardest un-roped climb she has ever done.

I watched from below as one group traversed an avalanche chute! I couldn't believe it. The penalty for a slip in their exposed location would have been a non-stop trip into the big bowl several thousand feet down on the western side of the mountain. Fortunately, they all crossed the chute safely, then they traversed a rock section then went up and over and then came down the south side of Chicken Out Ridge.

Another group of people had rope and wore climbing helmets. They said their previous experience at C.O.R. was not fun and they preferred now to go with a rope. I thought it looked like a good idea when they descended toward me.

Ahmet said he thought Chicken Out Ridge was very intimidating. Even though I didn't summit, I know that I did my very best this day. I believe I made the right decision, to not try to spend another 3 to 4 hours to summit, but save my strength to get back down. I set a personal best for altitude. We finished just before 5 pm. It only took me about 2 1/2 hours to walk back down to the trailhead from my high point.

Ahmet didn't seem to suffer any ill effects from going up 5,000 and down 5,000 all in the same day.

I already have a plan to *hopefully* go back next September and give it another shot.

I believe that if I go part way up and camp overnight around the 10,000 foot level that I will have a better shot at going for the summit.

Time will tell.....