Borah Peak: Idaho's High Point Summit
Base Elevation: 7,386
Peak Elevation: 12,662
Elevation Gain: 5,276
Distance: 8.16 miles
Elapsed Time: 6:47
Moving Time: 5:48
Date: September 17, 2023
Mount Borah or Borah Peak was named after William Borah who was a U.S. Senator from Idaho who served from 1907 to 1940. William was considered an isolationist which is fitting that Mount Borah was named after an isolationist because this mountain is very isolated. Borah is the highest peak in Idaho standing at 12,662 and it resides in the remote Lost River range. This range claims fame to being the home of 7 of Idaho’s 9 12,000+ peaks yet I don’t believe it gets the respect it deserves compared to other mountain ranges in Idaho like the Sawtooths. The peaks in this range are impressive and Borah has prominence of almost 6,000.
In my quest to summit all of the state high peaks in the western states (and maybe all of the states one day), I was drawn to Borah to check it off the list. At this stage, I have bagged the tallest peaks in CO, UT, NV, CA and WA and given that Borah was only 5 hours from my house and it doesn’t require climbing gear- it was a relatively easy peak to scratch off. I would put Borah ahead of the high peaks of CO, UT and NV because it offered some technical challenges.
We drove to the trailhead just outside of Mackay, ID on Saturday and we nabbed one of the 5 campsites at the trailhead.
Although there are only 5 official campsites, there are some other spots to camp in the event that all 5 sites are taken. It was a gorgeous clear night with temps in the mid-40s. the campsites are near the parking lot and there was a lot of activity throughout the night we people coming down from a long day of hiking after dark and people arriving around midnight and sleeping in their car.
From the campsite, it isn’t clear which direction the trail approaches the summit but it takes you east (right when looking up at the peak) and then you summit from the south.
This summit is a relatively short hike of just 4.1 miles one way but it gains about ~5,200 ft. My rule of thumb is that any gain of over 1,000 per mile is steep. The sign at the TH says “the climb takes 6-7 hours; plan on a 12 hour round trip”.
It took us 3:25 minutes to climb but we didn’t take any breaks and we passed several groups. There were definitely people on the trail that were going to take 12+ hours but I don’t advise doing this hike unless you are an experienced hiker who is comfortable with exposure and some technical hiking/scrambling as there are some spicy sections.
We hit the trail around 6:20 AM and there were probably 6-7 other groups on the trail ahead of us. The trail takes you through a sagebrush section at the start which morphs into a pine section. Even though it was dark and only in the 40s, we quickly warmed up and had to shed layers within the first mile as it is steep right from the gun with the first mile gaining ~900 feet. Once in the pines, the trails serpentines along countless short & steep switchbacks.
By the 2nd miles you are out of the trees and onto an open ridge and you get your first true view of the massive and imposing summit. At this point, I was getting intimated by the final summit section as there looked like not clear path to the top without some major technical rock climbing. I had heard about "chicken out ridge" and I assumed it was the final section based on the this view but my concerns would be quelled in due time.
The journey continues along a long and wide ridge which is a short but welcome respite.
But don't let your guard down as you quickly come upon a technical rocky section which I think is trickier than chicken out ridge.
Once you cross through this portal, you then enter the most technical section of the hike in my opinion.
This technical section takes concentration but slow is pro. The holds are solid so trust yourself.
There is a lot of hype around chicken out ridge and to be honest, if they named this section something else, I don't think it would be as intimidating as the section warrants. Don't get me wrong, chicken out ridge is exposed and definitely a no fall zone but the rock is very stable and reminded me of the granite on the Grand Teton. The hand and foot holds are abundant so this section is more psychological than anything. Just take one step at a time and don't look down- only positive vibes! When we got to the ridge, we were drawn to the left and took the lower section but afterwards, we realized it would have been easier to stick to the upper ridge. The lower section took us to an open slide path with loose rock and I much rather climb something steeper with firm rock than something not as steep but with loose rock.
On the way down, I took a photo of other people taking the high approach along chicken out ridge and after doing the low route on ascent and the high route on the descent, we advised them to take the high route as seen below.
After completing chicken out ridge, you are now on a saddle which offers great views of Leatherman Peak, the 2nd tallest peak in ID. At this point, we encountered the first hikers that summited that day and they said we had completed chicken out and the rest of the hike was "green". That was a huge relief because the final ascent to the summit looked very imposing and I was still skeptical of their assessment.
Lukas and I thought the climb would take us between 4 and 5 hours and at this junction which was mile 3.5, we were only 2:50 minutes into the hike. We feeling emboldened by our fast time and having knocked the chicken in the mouth. The final pitch was only .6 mile and ~900 feet to go and we could now see a clear path up to the summit.
The final summit section looked extremally intimating from a distance but it proved to be a relatively easy climb with a wide path.
I was expecting a false summit as I made the right turn near the end but to my surprise, I saw an American flag waiving just a few yards away.
Our ascent time smashed our expectations as we reached the summit in under 3.5 hours.
We were feeling good but getting to the summit is not the ultimate goal- the ultimate goal is getting back to the car and the descents can often be more precarious than the ascents so we proceeded with caution. When we got to the saddle just before chicken out ridge, this time we stayed high along the ridge proper which in hindsight was the right way to go. Just remember- stay high.
We anticipated the descent to only take 2.5 hours but it was slow going and took us about 3 hours to descend and the legs were feeling it at the end.