TR: Climbing Borah Peak In The Lost River Range Of Idaho
Location: Borah Peak, Lost River Range, Challis National Forest, Idaho
Borah Peak Elevation: 12,662′
Total Vertical: 5262′
Rating: Grade II Class 3
Trailhead: Borah Peak TH – 7400′
Distance: 7.75 miles
Time: 5 to 12 hours round trip
Lat/Long: : 44.13740°N / 113.781°W
Maps: Borah Peak
Weather Forecast: Borah Peak Weather
On my way home from Idaho, I decided to stop and climb Borah Peak. Borah Peak sits at 12,662′ in the Lost River Range in the Challis National Forest of Idaho. As the highest point in Idaho, Borah Peak is definitely a popular peak amongst mountain enthusiasts. The standard route climbs from 7,400′ to 12,662′ in about 4 miles making it a burly, but doable one-day mission.
Borah Peak was first climbed by USGS Surveyor T.M. Bannon in 1912. In 1934 it was officially named after Senator William Borah of Idaho. Senator Borah, nicknamed the “Lion of Idaho” served in the US Senate from 1906 to 1940. Today the peak bearing his name is a popular hiking/climbing destination as it’s the highest point in Idaho, one of the nine Idaho 12ers, and the 11th highest of the 50 state high points.
There are numerous routes to the summit of Borah Peak – including technical routes. The standard and most well-traveled route starts at Birch Creek at the Borah Peak Trailhead and Campground. The campground includes five campsites, vault toilets, no water, and plenty of parking. It costs $5 per night. To access this spot, turn off of Highway 93 onto the Borah Peak Access Road aka Birch Spring Road. Then follow a dirt road for 3 miles to the trailhead.
From the trailhead at 7400′ you can just see Chickenout Ridge and the summit of Borah Peak on the skyline. Multiple information signs warn of simple mountain hazards, provide route information, and supply a bit of history about Borah Peak. It’s worth a read before hitting the trail.
The trail leaves the parking area and weaves through the forests before gaining a ridge line. The trail then steeply switchbacks up to treelikne before a steady traverse takes you toward the crux of the climb. Most people climb Borah in a day, but there is a good place to camp near tree line.
As you exit the forest, views of the surrounding peaks, the geology of the Lost River Range, and the western fields and mountain ranges come into view. Continue to follow the well worn trail to about 10600′. At this point the trail becomes a bit more of a scramble along the rocky ridge line.
When you reach 11,300′, you’ll hit the Southwest Ridge aka Chickenout Ridge. This section of the climb goes roughly 300 feet and consists of class 3 scrambling with exposure on both the north and south sides. The handholds are great and the rock is solid. Try to follow a line that seems logical. The hype makes this section sound very challenging, and many people do turn around at this point. Personally, I found it to be relatively straightforward. Let’s put it this way a teenage girl in Chaco Sandals made it through Chickenout Ridge and the snow field just fine. The key is to take your time and be careful!
After you scramble through the airy Chickenout Ridge, you’ll eventually reach a trail that meanders below the ridgeline toward the next tricky spot: a knife-edge snow field. To reach the snowfield there are several gullies that you can climb up that will allow you to regain the ridgeline. Once on the ridgeline, a short down climb and you’ll be on the snowfield at roughly 11800′. Depending on time of year and temps, you may want an ax and crampons. In late July, the snow was soft and I kicked in steps with my approach shoes.
On the far side of the snowfield a steady trail wraps you around to a saddle just below the summit pitch. The final push is covered in loose rock and scree. A trail makes its way to the summit that can be seen from a distance, but it’s easy to lose sight of it once you’re on the slope. GAIA GPS is handy to keep you on track.
At the top, there was a summit register and a US Flag. But the most impressive thing were the panoramic 360 degree views of Idaho. The Lost River Range spans out north to south. The distant Sawtooths still had lots of snowy patches. The plains of Idaho stretched out in the distance. Impressive to say the least.
After a quick summit party, it’s time to boogie back down the trail. As is typical in the mountains, afternoon thunderstorms were forecast and it’s always best to get off the ridgeline as soon as possible. To descend Borah, take the same trail back down. I ran into a short delay at the snowfield as numerous people were still climbing the peak and trying to cross this one-at-a-time section. The down climbing near the ridgeline and the descent of Chickenout Ridge went smoothly. Then it was just a simple ride on the heel-toe express back to the trailhead.
FYI: Cell phones do not work at the Borah Trailhead Parking area – unless you’re lucky enough to have a signal booster like the WeBoost 4GX OTR. There is cell service just down the road and I found reception above treeline too.
Despite the warning at the trailhead that predicts a 12 hour round trip adventure to climb Borah, I managed to solo climb the peak car to car in 6.5 hours. That included 3.75 hours to the summit, a 15 minute summit party, and 2.5 hours to descend. My mountain journey covered 5300′ in 7.75 miles – this will vary depending on your exact route through the the upper mountain.
I’m already looking forward to doing some more exploring in Idaho’s Lost River Range. Maybe on skis next time?
According to SummitPost.org and IdahoClimbingGuide.com, Luke Nelson set the fastest known time for climbing Borah Peak on October 22, 2010. His round trip time was 2 hours 21 minutes and 11 seconds. For more info on Borah’s standard route, IdahoClimbingGuide.com is a good resource.
All in all, Borah Peak is a spectacular mountian. We highly recommend climbing Borah Peak.
Watch a summit panorama video from the top of Borah Peak:
View route for climbing Borah Peak Idaho on HillMap:
Planning More Climbs In Idaho? Check out this book on Amazon.com:
Additional photos from climbing Borah Peak in Idaho:
This trip report for Borah Peak in Idaho’s Lost River Range is from July 24, 2017.
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