Borah Peak, Idaho (12,662 ft.)
Trip Report: August 14-15, 1997 by Richard Carey
Borah Peak, the high point of Idaho, is in the Lost River Range in the central part of the state about 2 1/2 hours drive north of Twin Falls on route 93. My friend Shelley Rogers and I worked our way over to the peak escaping rainy weather in Montana and were treated to warm weather and blue skies as we crossed over the continental divide toward Salmon, Idaho. Heading south on 93 we stopped at the ranger station in Challis to learn what we could about the peak. Hot weather had melted most of the snow on the mountain and an ice axe wouldn't be needed a young employee who had done the peak two weeks earlier told us. The weather looked great for our climb the next day.
A couple miles north of the turnoff to the trailhead is another road heading east a few miles to an earthquake visitors display. From here we had an impressive view of Borah which dominates the crest of the range. In 1983 there was a magnitude 7.3 quake on a fault along the base of the Lost River Range and the valley floor sank on the west side about 6 ft. A 21 mile long scar is prominent going south from the display area to the Borah trailhead and beyond. This quake had the effect of disturbing the eruptions of Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park which is not quite so faithful now.
Dodging some cows on the road to the trailhead, we found the three-space campground full so we pulled out onto a dirt side road and camped a short distance down from the other campers. By the time we got on the trail the next day at about 7:00AM everyone else had already started. Several more vehicles had come up during the late evening and morning so it was going to be busy on the trail.
After a short distance in sagebrush and pines the trail heads up steeply with very minor switchbacks to the crest of a ridge at 8,600 ft. Then it's more steep trail as it turns southeast along the ridge. The scrubby, tough-looking pines fade out at about 9,600 ft. then its bare gray limestone. At about 11,200 ft., after passing several hikers, we reached a brown face where the first section of third class scrambling begins. Ducks and a well-worn track mark the way on good rock. Some novice hikers turned back on this section apparently unaccustomed to the moderate exposure.
We stayed close to the ridge top and after a few hundred feet reached a saddle which had a 20 ft. snow bridge. A group of eight were ahead of us making their way on the snow which had deep melted footprints. Earlier in the season I could see that this might be more of a problem since there was a steep slope, especially on the north side, that went down a hundred feet to the rocks.
Past the snow bridge the use trail went up the west face in loose talus and was not a problem. On the summit another group of about eight young men from Idaho wanted me to snap a group picture. We found that everyone on the mountain that day was from Idaho unlike Granite in Montana where there were many out-of-staters. There was a strong cold wind from the south so we didn't stay too long, but did enjoy the wonderful views of summits in all directions. There is a cast box containing a register which the Forest Service suggests you sign so they know how much usage the mountain is getting. This is in contrast to some California forests where registers are discouraged! The hike down was fairly fast and we were back at the trailhead by 2:30PM. This is a fine peak well worth the effort to get there.
The trail is steep with a lot of gain: 5,200 ft. in about 3.5 miles (7 miles round-trip) and is similar to California desert peaks such as Keynot or Montgomery, but with a more difficult 3rd class ridge. Allow about 4 hours for the ascent and 3 hours to get down. The very conservative Forest Service brochure says the climb takes 10 to 12 hours! I would say late season after August 1st is best. Before this the ridge and snow bridge may require ice axe, crampons, and maybe a rope. The drive to the trailhead is suitable for any car. There is a pit toilet and no water either on the trail or at the trailhead. A sign between mileposts 129 and 130 on highway 93 clearly marks the road to the trailhead. The 7.5 min. topo is called Borah Peak and is dated 1967, but with the use trail you don't really need this map. The Challis National Forest has a small brochure on Borah Peak which you can request from the Lost River Ranger District at Box 507, Mackay, Idaho 83251. Phone: (208) 588-2224
Borah Peak GPS Route file