Custer County High Point Trip Report

Borah Peak - Idaho state highpoint (12,662 ft)

Date: August 9, 2003
Author: Adam Helman


Note: Please skip this section is you are only interested in climbing Borah Peak and have no interest in the "why and wherefore" of my trip.

Barney Metz, Idaho resident up in Lewiston, had wanted the highpoint of his chosen state for ten years. Our first opportunity to climb Borah Peak together was cancelled in 2001, when my vacation time was taken up by a trip to Bolivia, with Robert Packard, for a successful ascent of Nevado Illimani.

In 2002 Barney and I met in Spokane for a Canada-Mexico link. We had planned on Borah Peak, but I had a severe cold and Barney had his own ailments. Although my link was eventually secured, neither of us got even close to Borah Peak.

This year we had Scott Surgent as well. Scott was in-process for his forty-eight state highpoint completion, with Borah Peak as the 43rd (and, with only Wyoming's Gannett Peak remaining, the second last among the western states he yet required).

Barney, Scott and myself made the summit amidst a throng of climbers. There must have been twenty or thirty that day!

Route Description

Various resources on the Internet adequately describe the approach route. From the trailhead at some 7,500 feet, the standard climbing route is relatively steep for a trail, and, as the summit lies far above, sports a total elevation gain of about 5,200 vertical feet.

The route is composed of three segments, at least for this discussion.

The first segment begins benignly enough, rising to a saddle at 8,600 feet over one horizontal mile. The trail turns right, up the prominent west ridge, zigzagging all the while until well past treeline. A prominent rock horn is passed at 10,600 feet as one continues ever higher up the ridge.

Chicken Out Ridge is class 3. The first (and possibly most daunting to the uninitiated) challenge is a set of diagonal rock faces, with some hand and footholds, from five to eight feet in extent. On either side is severe exposure - and one should be reluctant to be here in a 60 MPH gale.

The trail continues immediately after this impediment, and leads, after a few hundred yards, to a twenty foot section, vertical, that requires downclimbing on the ascent. The holds are solid. Some would argue this section is low class 4. This route is preferred to traversing below among the steep scree and possible snow, depending on season. A rope is not an unreasonable request for this short downhill stint. Climbing back up on the return is slightly easier.

If the season is early, as June, a snowbridge exists immediately after this twenty foot section. Plan accordingly with the appropriate gear.

A few hundred yards of up-and-down hiking brings one to the base of the final, third segment. Here, a myriad of use trails wend their way up the mountain face to the eventual target. Many will claim this as the most "trying" of the three sections. However I would argue that it only seems that way because one has already climbed four thousand feet before encountering it!

Borah Peak requires an early start in summer to avoid the afternoon thunderstorm threat. On a hot day bring as much water as you think is needed - and then add another quart or two. Even though I only weigh 110 pounds, I drank five quarts. Plan accordingly - getting dehydrated is a losing battle at altitude that further degrades one's performance.

Most of all, enjoy the view - you have certainly earned it!