Borah! Borah! Borah!

Scrambling Mount Borah, Highest Point in Idaho (12,662')

August 12, 1999
by Rob Jones

(Text © copyright by Rob Jones)

Ralph Maughan's Idaho Wildcountry page:

See other trip reports at:
Wilderness Vagabond:

America's Roof report and links about Mount Borah:

Highest point in each of the United States (America's Roof):

Also see (a book): Lopez, Tom (1990). Exploring Idaho's Mountains: A Guide for Climbers, Scramblers, & Hikers. The Mountaineers: Seattle, WA

According to the list of state highpoints ordered from the highest to lowest elevation, Borah is ranked 11th among the 50 states. And, according to America's Roof, Borah is the 6th most difficult to summit, in regard to round trip mileage, vertical gain, elevation, and climbing classification.

I adapted the name for this report from the film "Tora! Tora! Tora!" It just seemed to ring true, and it may serve to help describe a friendly assault on Mt. Borah, the highest point in Idaho at 12,666'. Of course, one could softly say "Bora, Bora, Bora" and think about tropical venues, but not today. With 5200' vertical feet of plodding over a mere 3.5 miles (one way), there is little resemblance to a sandy, horizontal, beach.

The Trip:

The cloud enveloped the peak and rolled down the ridge toward where I easily gripped one of the chicken-head holds on the Idaho rock, pondering the next move above this crux, the aptly-named Chickenout Ridge. Nearby features blured, and the retreating form of a chicken-out hiker was next swallowed by the creeping white. The two-tone layers thrusting unnaturally skyward on Chicken Out ease back into view and I continue my solo jaunt to Mount Borah. What faulting and tilting, I mused between gasps due partly from a tinge of anxiety and oxygen depravation. I wondered how many would-be summiters were psyched out by the ridge.

Thus began my third attempt to climb Mount Borah. The first two attempts occurred many years ago. During these endeavors, we were turned back by thunderstorms or snow storms. Both times we settled in as best we could, at the base of Chickenout Ridge, waiting for a climbers' break. Both times, impending hypothermia arrived before any break did. Today, the clouds seemed more mystical than threatening, and these phantoms wafted up from the depths below the ridge, silently propelled by unseen forces. It was calm.

Chickenout Ridge was not as difficult as it looks, go over it. Then, after perhaps 200 feet (laterally, not vertically), traverse right - around to the next tiny saddle. From here, traverse left and then across the snowfield, stay left beyond the snowfield to the next, wider, saddle. From this relatively broad saddle, it's a high-altitude rock-hop to the top. Once again, this looks much worse than it is, especially from a distance. Some say Chickenout is negotiated most easily by going over the summit all the way. I didn't try this, but the route seems doable either way.

I had left the trailhead at 7 a.m., and I was on the summit for an early lunch (about 6 hours, round trip). The clouds continued to swoop in, then retreat, but today there were none of the long-ranger views one can get on Borah. The summit log box looked like it had been cooked by the Lost River Electric Company (lightning). It's broken hulk was charred and split open. The logs were soggy, and some pages retained bits of snow from yesterday's storm. I could mostly see to the SW, where the skyline bump of Hyndman protruded. For many years, Hyndman, at 12,009', was believed to be the highest point in Idaho. Apparently, there was quite an uproar when Borah was discovered to be higher. Hyndman certainly is more visible and impressive-looking than Borah, and today it's one of the few easily-identifiable features through the revolving mist and clouds. Nevertheless, it was delightful to be inside a cloud, although I did not see any silver lining.

The trip down was a knee buster. Back at camp, I was tired enough to lounge away the afternoon, talking to a few Highpointers and watching the changing weather fronts.

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