Mt. Borah: Tallest Peak in Idaho
The tallest peak in Idaho, Mount Borah, is located in the Lost River Range in central Idaho just north of Mackay. At 12,662 feet, this class 3-4 hike gains 5300 feet in less than 4 miles! It is a grueling, brutal hike if you aren't in tip-top shape and still incredibly challenging if you are. You can reach the trailhead by following Highway 93 to Mount Borah Rd (279). The trailhead is located in the parking lot where you will also find 5 reservable camping spots. Since the camping part wasn't the focus of my trip, I opted to not reserve a spot and simply slept in the back of the truck. My hiking partner and I would be starting out well before the sun came up, so we went to bed well before it went down.
We began our ascent at 3am and hiked more than 2 hours through the first section of pines and sagebrush under a moonlit sky with headlamps on. The trail is steep and consists of loose dirt and gravel which means every step sinks doubling your efforts to move quickly. Once we broke out of the trees at about 9500 ft we walked the crest of the southwest ridge as the sun rose stopping to take pictures about every 100 ft. It was breathtaking to watch the sun creep up slowly and kiss the surrounding peaks.
I was grateful for the stunning views because it meant I got to take many much needed breaks. My calves and thighs were screaming at me and there were many times I didn't think I would be able to keep going.
Behind me in the picture below is the beginning of the overly hyped up crux of the route: Chicken Out Ridge. I didn't even realize I was on it until I had covered most of it. It had a plethora (do you even know what a plethora is...?) of solid hand and foot holds. It was daunting to look to both the right and left of me and see the steep drop offs. I was confident in my climbing/scrambling skills, though, and knew that this part of the hike was to be respected but not feared. Many turn around at this point due to snow, but if you hike during it's peak (no pun intented) season which runs from late July through early Fall, you'll find that the only snow you'll have to walk on is just after Chicken Out Ridge on a saddle that leads to the final section of the route.
Don't Be Chicken on Chicken Out Ridge
The snow saddle was well trodden when I crossed it and filed with dirt from returning hikers. I still held my trekking pole like it was an ice axe ready to fight like hell in case I slipped and went sliding down the steep slope on either side. This is the point where I felt the most exposed and vulnerable.
After the "snow bridge" is the remaining climb on the southwest slope of Mount Borah. There is about 1000 feet left at this point and the altitude really started to get to me. I was lightheaded and was fighting the urge to throw up until I reached the summit. I almost cried from the joy of finally reaching the top.
Little Cone: Alpinist
Of course I brought along the Lone Cone mascot, Little Cone. He took the easy way up riding securely in my backpack. No cone has ever been higher in the state of Idaho. He's gone where no cone has gone before...
After signing my name in the notebook that is found in a metal box at the top and eating a celebratory rice crispy treat, we made trip down in almost half the time it took us to go up. It was killer on the knees, but once we reached the trees, we were able to run cautiously down the rest of the trail. I ran straight past the trailhead, through the parking lot and to the campground restroom (there is pretty much no privacy on the trail), before cracking and cheers-ing an ice cold IPA.
I was happy to check off another line on my ever-growing bucket list. Next up: SKYDIVING!
Pro tips for Your Trek up Mt. Borah
- There's no water at the trailhead or along the trail. Bring at least 4 liters with you. Make sure you drink it!!
- Wear/pack layers. Nylon hybrid pant/short, synthetic t-shirt, synthetic zip up long-sleeved tee, down puffy jacket, windbreaker/raincoat shell, neck buff (ended up wearing mine as a second layer on my head), beanie, light gloves, wool socks.
- Bring a trekking pole. They're not just for old people. All the cool kids are hiking with a trekking pole these days. Strap it to your backpack while crossing Chicken Out Ridge.
- Start early! Afternoon thunderstorms are common and you'd hate to be stuck on the tallest point in Idaho while lighting strikes all around you. Plus, in the mid-summer on a clear day the sun will be beating down on you and this hike is already difficult as is. Don't add a heat stroke to your day.
- Plan 5-10 hours depending on your party's abilities. I spent 9 hours on the trail which included several breaks and a long stop at the top.