Peak(s):  Borah Peak (12,662')
Date Posted:  09/30/2021
Modified:  11/04/2021
Date Climbed:   08/16/2021
Author:  Hoot
 Borah Peak - Top of Idaho   

Borah Peak (12,662’, Idaho #1)
Date Climbed: 16 August 2021
Climbers: Solo
Trailhead: Birch Springs at 7,400'
Route: Southwest Ridge
Distance: 8.7 miles
Elevation gain: 5262' (net)
Difficulty: Class 3

Borah Peak, Idaho’s 12,662-foot highpoint, was the fifth state highpoint on my 2-week road trip west from Ohio. While I had hoped to line up a climbing partner for this one, I decided to climb it solo when I didn’t get any takers. After a successful 2-day climb of Granite Peak in Montana, I drove west, stopping for a few bison and geysers in Yellowstone National Park. From Cooke City, Montana, it took me about 7 hours to reach Borah’s Birch Springs Trailhead, about half an hour north of Mackay, Idaho.

Borah was the fifth state highpoint on my 2-week road trip west from Ohio

When I arrived at the trailhead around 7pm Sunday night, the first two (and best) of the five primitive campsites were taken and a few more people were camped at their vehicles in the trailhead parking lot. I took one of the remaining campsites for $5, but since I was sleeping in my 4Runner, it didn’t buy me much over the parking lot. In the parking lot, I talked for a while with several people planning to climb Borah the next day like myself. Two guys planned to start out at 4:00 am the next morning and a couple at 5 am. Even though I wouldn’t be in a rush the next day, I decided on a 5:30 am start, about an hour before sunrise, just to play it safe with afternoon weather. The wild fire haze was definitely more noticeable here than it had been in Montana, although a guy in Mackay told me it had cleared up significantly from two days before. Fortunately the smoke haze didn’t bother my breathing or my eyes that night or the next day.

Borah from the Thousand Springs Valley approach
The approximate route to Borah’s summit seen from the valley
Borah's Birch Springs trailhead and parking lot

Monday morning I got at around 4:30 am, made some coffee, ate breakfast, used the facilities, and moved my car to the trailhead parking lot. I started hiking from the trailhead at 5:26 am. The good trail was easy to follow with just the light of my headlamp. Within the first 5 minutes I passed an older guy who started shortly before I did. Not long after that I passed the couple I had spoken with the night before. Expecting a long day, they were carrying a huge amount of water between them. The trail began climbing at the start and remained moderately steep for most of the way to the summit.

This trailhead sign does mention a "class three scramble" and recommends ropes, ice axes, and crampons year-round!
The start of the trail (taken on my return)
Climbing through the trees (taking on my return)

A little after 7am, I reached the end of the trees just before gaining the ridgeline at 10,200’. The trail along the ridge was easy hiking and provided good views of the rest of the climb. After hiking 3.2 miles in 2 and a half hours, I came to the start of Chicken Out Ridge at 11,400’. At this point, I packed away my trekking poles and put on my climbing gloves. I had read that despite its reputation for turning around many hikers, Chicken Out Ridge only requires moderate Class 3 scrambling on good rock – as long as you stay close to the ridgeline proper. That turned out to be the case. Staying right on the crest of the ridge, I may have made the climbing a little more difficult than necessary, but it was fun scrambling on solid rock with occasional moderate exposure.

Looking back to the trailhead from just above the last of the trees
The good trail along the ridge
Start of Chicken Out Ridge
Solid scrambling along the ridge crest
Looking back at the trail along the ridge
Most of the route above the saddle seen from Chicken Out Ridge
Talus at an easier section of Chicken Out Ridge

After climbing a bit, I saw another climber off to my left a ways below the ridge. He wasn’t sure of the route and I convinced him to get back on the ridge crest with me. From that point on, Jim, a pilot from Boise, and I were both happy to partner up and climb together for the rest of the way to the summit. We scrambled along the ridgeline, occasionally avoiding difficulties by climbing a little on the right (south) side of the ridge crest, for about half an hour.

Jim Scrambling on Chicken Out Ridge
Near the top of Chicken Out Ridge we had to climb around an obstacle on the right (south) side of the ridge

Then we came to the end of the ridge at about 11,800’ and a big drop down to a prominent saddle. The saddle, which is covered with snow most of the year, was completely dry. I had read that there is often a fixed rope here to help climbers get from the ridge down to the saddle and back up. But there was no rope this day. While it was only 20-25 feet down to the saddle, it was a very steep downclimb and I decided to look for another way down to the saddle. Jim and I ended up climbing down on the left (north) side of the ridge 30-40 feet and then climbing back up to the saddle on sand and gravel in the gully. Most of the year, this would have required crampons and an ice axe to climb safely. While a really bad place to slip and fall, it was a fairly quick and easy climb for us. Once at the saddle, the rest of the climb was relatively straight forward Class 2 hiking.

We climbed down 30-40 feet left of the ridge here to get into the gully below the saddle
Looking back down from the saddle into the gully where we climbed up

From this saddle, the trail stays relatively flat while contouring around the west side of Point 11,898’ to another saddle. Along this section Jim and I talked with the two guys who had started out at 4:00 am and were on their way back down. We also saw a big horn sheep crossing the second saddle. From the second saddle, the trail climbs almost another 1000 feet to the summit in less than half a mile. There are few parallel paths through the talus on the west side of the ridge along this section. I followed one path that climbed a bit too close to the ridge and decided to work my way back down a bit to return to the main trail. For the final few hundred feet, it looked like there were many ways to climb to the summit that would work. I reached the summit at 9:42am, 4 hours and 16 minutes after starting out from the trailhead.

The last half mile and 1000 feet to Borah's summit (easy Class 2 climbing)
A big horn sheep descending from the second saddle
Looking back from above the second saddle
At the top of Idaho!

I spent about 20 minutes on the summit swapping photos with Jim, snacking, and taking in the views. The haze from the western wild fires definitely limited the distant views. As they did on the drive in, the mountains to the south appeared a bit higher than Borah for some reason (they are not).

Hazy view south from Borah with my best guess at the peaks

On our way down, Jim and I got back to the saddle at about the same time. When I looked closer at the short but steep climb from the saddle back up to the top of Chicken Out Ridge, the rock looked pretty solid with a climbable cut just right (north) of center. So I decided to give it a go. It took a little stemming and pulling on a few solid holds (Class 4 moves) to climb 20-25 feet. The short climb was a lot more fun than descending in the gully would have been. With a little encouragement from me, Jim was game to follow me up and had no problems doing so.

The short Class 4 climb up from the saddle
Jim climbing up from the saddle

Shortly after getting back on Chicken Out Ridge, we saw the couple well below us on the north side of the ridge. They were not experienced scramblers and likely made their climb more challenging and less safe by getting too far from the ridge. I passed on some advice yelling down to them. As the couple didn’t seem to be in any imminent danger and didn’t ask for help, Jim and I continued down the ridge. I later heard from another hiker that the couple successfully got past the saddle. When I got back down to the trees, I stopped for lunch in the shade of a large pine. The rest of the hike back down was uneventful and I returned to the trailhead at 1:49 pm for a roundtrip hike of 8 hours and 23 minutes. I talked with Jim’s wife at the trailhead until Jim got there. Then Jim and I celebrated our success on Borah with a couple of beers!

A climber way below the Chick Out Ridge crest (center) - not where you want to be
Jim scrambling down Chicken Out Ridge
Looking down the ridgeline
View to the south
My shady lunch spot
Cool bark - I'd like to know what variety of pine tree this is
The trail descending back in the trees
Jim and I celebrating a successful climb back at the trailhead!

In retrospect, Borah was a great climb. The fun scrambling along Chicken Out Ridge makes Borah one of the more technically challenging state highpoints. It was nice to be able to climb it dry without have to carry crampons and ice axe. But I can see how it would also be a fun and challenging climb with snow.

Borah GPS Track

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Informative Trip Report
10/01/2021 17:00
Great trip report with excellent pictures and descriptions! It brings back good memories of a fun climb and summit. When I climbed Borah, there was snow on the side of the saddle but the trail across was dry. Also, the views were excellent!

Being from North Dakota, I await your trip report for White Butte!

10/03/2021 08:06
Thanks Kolo. From my 12 Aug 21 facebook post:

"Today was a double header state high point day as Greg and I climbed 7244' Black Elk Peak, South Dakota's high point, this morning and 3507' White Butte Peak, North Dakota's high point, this afternoon. Another highlight of the day was driving through downtown Sturgis in the middle of the 2021 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally! ... It took us just 16 minutes to reach (White Butte's) summit from the parking lot.

Greg and me at the top of North Dakota on White Butte.

That's it. Sorry. :-)

10/03/2021 11:00
Thanks Hoot!

Being it was White Butte, the state highpoint of N.D., the request was "tongue in cheek" and I didn't know how to format the text in pink. No apologies needed!

Back when I hiked/backpacked the South Dakota state highpoint, it was named Harney Peak. I guess I wasn't aware that they changed the name to Black Elk.

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