Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mount Borah Hiking Guide

Trip Report

August 9, 2009

We began hiking early, around 5:30 a.m. when most hikers set out to avoid getting caught in an afternoon storm. We made it just past the infamous "Chicken Out Ridge", a steep, knife-like rocky ridge, when we (and apparently most other hikers near the top) turned around and quickly descended to avoid the fast approaching thunder, lightening, hail and rain storm. The level three hike is steep and rocky requiring rock climbing using hands and feet or scrambling. Be prepared to hike on loose shale and rock and for adverse and fluctuating weather conditions. Expect to take around 8-10 hours to complete. The views throughout the hike are breathtaking!

Mt. Borah Overview

Elevation: 12,662 feet

Mileage: 6.8 miles round trip

Vertical Gain: 5,500 feet

Trail head Elevation: 7,460 feet

Average Hiking Time: Total around 8-10 hours

Season: May through November. Best hiking mid July to mid August


From the trail head, follow the trail into the forest. The hard-packed steep trail switch backs for about 1.1 miles before leaving the treeline. Continue north on the trail up an exposed steep and loose shale and rock covered face until reaching the bottom of Chicken Out Ridge that starts around 11,300 feet. Chicken Out Ridge is a knife-like ridge with steep drop offs on either side covering a 0.2 mile stretch of class three climbing on a non-specific trail. Other hikers suggested hiking on top rather than on the side of the ridge. However, there is no distinct trail and requires finding your way. Continue hiking to the saddle and across a snow-covered bridge (note: during the height of the summer, there may not be much snow). Cross the saddle and follow the loose rock and steep trail up the last 800 - 1000 feet to the summit.

Getting There

Mt. Borah can be reached from U.S. Highway 93 by driving north of Mackay 21 miles or south of Challis 33 miles. Turn east on Birch Springs Road at the sign for the Mount Borah trail head. Drive about 3.5 miles to the trail head. A few camp spots are available near the trail head including an outhouse and parking.

What to Expect

Mount Borah trail is not a complex and technical climb but can be very fatiguing due to the steep, level three slopes. Most people don’t use ropes and some carry an ice-ax for self-arresting if necessary on the small and steep snow field near the top. Be prepared for adverse and mixed weather conditions. During the summer, the weather at the base can be warm, even hot changing to cooler and windy conditions near the top. There are several steep and vertical drop offs near the trail and the mountain may be snow covered. As well, afternoon storms are common during the summer so check conditions before setting out. The hike can also be arduous following a steep, around 30% grade. Plan to complete the hike (round trip) in about 10 hours. There are no facilities so take essentials including plenty of liquids and adequate food. Photo buffs may enjoy bringing a (lightweight) camera to capture magnificent scenic shots. Best climbing conditions are mid July to mid August.

Trailhead Facilities

Campsites: Five, each with a picnic table and fire pit (sites can fill up quickly by a weekend evening).
Toilet: One outhouse
Fees: none
Facilities: no water

What to Bring

  • Sturdy and comfortable hiking shoes

  • Clothes for mixed weather conditions including a hat and rain and/or wind jacket and hiking pants to avoid getting scratches and cuts from the rocks

  • Gloves for climbing on the rocks

  • Lots of water and adequate food

  • Sun screen

  • Bug repellent (can be many mosquitoes in the forested area)

  • Lightweight camera

  • Hiking stick (although some found them cumbersome on the rocky areas)

  • Ice Axe (for snow areas although some claim they are not necessary if there are already foot holds etched in hard-packed snow)

  • Backpack for hiking essentials (and to store extra clothes if needed)


Map quest: http://www.mapquest.com/


Click here for a top map of Mt. Borah: http://idahosummits.com/borah_feature/images/topo2.jpg


List of the highest points in the United States: http://geology.com/state-high-points.shtml

List of the highest mountains by U.S. state: http://www.e-referencedesk.com/resources/almanac/highest-peaks.html

Contact Information

Lost River Ranger District

716 W Custer

P.O. Box 507

Mackay, Idaho 83251

Phone: (208) 588-3400

Fax: (208) 588-2924

- Lisa Kleiman

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hiking and Surviving Idaho's Tallest

At 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 9, 2008 I heard the first climbers prepare to summit Idaho's tallest, Mt. Borah. "Too early" I thought while listening to their commotion from inside my car parked near the trail head where I had attempted to sleep. Although I hadn't slept a wink all night in anticipation of the hike, I opted to wait another hour before getting up and hitting the trail by 5:30 a.m. when most hikers set out to avoid being caught in an afternoon storm. Apparently, afternoon storms are common during the summer on Mt. Borah.

With flashlights and our hiking essentials, we hiked in darkness for around 45 minutes before dawn lit our way, as we continued up the steep unrelenting face. The hard-packed trail passes through a forest then continues almost straight up through an open exposed shale and loose rock covered face.

We hiked for about an hour and a half before reaching the infamous "Chicken Out Ridge". Chicken Out Ridge is a narrow steep rocky face requiring scrambling using your hands and feet. Many hikers opt not to continue and turn around before attempting this ridge. Experienced climbers may find climbing the ridge easy. However, I found the ridge intimidating and at one point not far after starting out on the ridge, had to stop for about 15 minutes to build up my courage to continue. The slope is very steep and drops off on either side. A climbing mistake could end fatally. Eventually the ridge gets less challenging and gut wrenching before the "saddle", a flatter ridge usually covered with snow. The last push to the top at 12,665 feet is also steep and rocky.

We had made it just to the saddle when we heard lightening and saw an ominous storm quickly approaching. With renewed energy (from successfully climbing Chicken Out Ridge or confused from lack of oxygen) we were determined and excited to reach the summit, but fortunately our common sense presided and we turned around. We weren't the only ones; those hiking near us also turned around, including the few who had reached the summit. As slowly as we had gingerly made our way up the ridge, we all seemed to descend quickly urgently trying to beat the approaching dark, loud storm. By the time we reached the "more challenging" areas of Chicken Out Ridge, a long train of several hikers were making their way down, all seemingly gliding down the rocky ridge without a sense of fear, perhaps motivated to reach safer grounds as soon as possible. I don't recall seeing so many hikers during the accent and wondered where they'd came from. I also don't recall worrying about what I was doing other than avoiding getting hit by lightening.

Just as we made it past the rocky ridge, a thick river of fog seemingly magically appeared from the depths of the cliff below, enveloping us. We only had to continue a short way (or so it seemed) before hiking down out of the fog when the brunt of the storm hit pelting us with hail and rain and threatening us with lightening. At this point some ran down the steep slope including two who'd been at the summit shortly before the storm came. We came across a few brave (or stupid) hikers who'd decided to wait out the storm, hovering near the few large rocks only slightly higher than the exposed rocky slope, and some who were ascending, also hoping the storm would pass. Personally, I wouldn't be thrilled about hiking on wet rock especially on Chicken Out Ridge, nor would I want to be waiting where lightening danced all around me.

By the time we reached the trail head, the sun was shining, albeit with lightening heard high above near the mountain top. We were disappointed that we hadn't reached the top but delighted to be safe and enjoyed sharing a few stories with fellow hikers who'd also made it safely back and who were still high on adrenaline.

Will try again next summer!

- Lisa Kleiman

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mount Borah

Mount Borah is Idaho's tallest mountain rising to 12,668 feet in elevation. The trail ascends 5,262 vertical feet in just over 3.5 miles taking on average 8-10 hours to complete.