Jim Richards and I knew we only had one day to spare before we were to
meet up with the rest of the climbers for our assault on Granite Peak
in Montana. We decided to take a chance and see if we could bag Idaho.
We got the airline to ship Jim's lost luggage to Idaho Falls and it
seemed that everything was going to work out just fine.
Our major obstacles on the long drive to Mackay, Idaho from Cody,
Wyoming were the bozo tourists in Yellowstone who apparently had never
seen a buffalo before and were doing everything possible to try to get
mauled by one. Unfortunately none were, that we saw anyway.
We picked up the luggage in Idaho falls and gassed up. I filled up my
water bottles unsuspecting that Idaho Falls is home to the world's
worst tasting water. (The next day on the trail even a strong dose of
Gatorade mix couldn't make it palatable. I dumped all of it I didn't
drink on the trail.) Finally we had to contend with a huge brush fire.
The smoke engulfed us for maybe sixty miles or more in the vicinity of
Argonne National Laboratory.
At long last we pulled into the Borah Peak trailhead and camping area
just as darkness fell. We set up the tent in the dark and sacked out
immediately, hoping for some well-deserved rest and recouperation.
The first thing we found out is that camping at the trailhead here is no
advantage on summit day. In fact it is probably a liability. All night
long cars were pulling in disturbing our attempt to get a little sleep.
Even when there was a lull in the traffic a pesky little mouse, which had
snuck into the tent, decided to go madly scurrying about. This created
havoc for five minutes or so when he decided to go running across my
hair -- just another interruption to our futile attempt to get some rest.
(No animals were harmed in the resolution of this matter!)
Take my advice and camp somewhere else. The when you're ready to hit the
trail you can drive into the trailhead in the wee hours of the morning
and disturb the poor fools who didn't know any better.
We hit the trail the next morning about 7:00 a.m. Many hikers were
already on the trail. More were arriving every few minutes,
(disappointed that we were awake so they could not annoy us). This is
no place to find solitude. Not even on a weekday. After chatting with a
few people and scoping out the gear others were carrying we decided not
to take a rope or ice axes.
Someone has done some excellent trail maintenance recently on the first
quarter of the trail. The second quarter could use some of the same.
The last half is on bare rock.
Starting out from the trailhead the trail immediately starts up steeply
and keeps this up all the way to the top, gaining around 850 feet per
mile. This was our first full day at altitude so us easterners were
"suckin' wind". Jim was especially bothered and had to contend with a
headache most of the day.
The first half of the trail is below tree line but vegetation is still
somewhat sparse since this is an arid area. There is plenty of shade
though. The trail is best described as relentless up, up, up.
Above treeline you finally pop up where you get your first view of the
summit plus the infamous snow bridge and "Chicken Out Ridge". At this
point the trail skirts a chasm separating you and the summit and proceeds
uphill at a more humane gradient for perhaps a half mile or so.
The first significant obstacle is Chicken Out Ridge. It is not exactly
obvious what is the best way up this steep section of rock. I got started
up what is probably the correct route and then made the mistake of looking
down. Holy cow! It's a long way down folks! On both sides!
I was, frankly, ready to "Chicken Out". Jim talked me back down to a less
vertiginous spot. That went much easier than expected and I might have been
willing to give it another shot but by then a menacing cloud was building
incredibly fast near the summit. Our summit attempt had to be abandoned.
We started back down keeping an eye on the weather to see
what would happen. We knew there were a lot of people on the summit and
it looked like they were about to get clobbered. Instead, the ominous
cloud quit building so fast and just became part of a general cloud
cover that spread over the entire area.
In fact, it did not begin raining till just before we arrived back at the
trailhead and the massive violent thunderstorm that I thought was
imminent was not so violent and was rather slow to arrive. Neighboring
peaks appeared to have been hit harder than Borah. As we drove off we saw
many that were blanketed with a light coating of snow.
Unfortunately, this was the first state highpoint I was not able to summit
on the first attempt. Plenty of people made the summit that day. Perhaps
if we had started much earlier we would have made it despite the lack of
acclimatization. No matter. I'm doing this for fun, not to set any speed
records. We shall return!