By Jerry Painter
Borah Peak is the highest point in Idaho (12,662 feet), and that makes it a magnet for peak baggers and folks working on their bucket lists.
Although the easiest route to the top -- the southwest ridge -- is not considered a technical climb, don't let this bad boy fool you -- it takes some effort and commitment.
Here's the task: Get your body more than a vertical mile up from the trailhead across broken and slippery terrain and past a narrow, exposed edge called Chicken-out Ridge. Distance is seven miles round-trip.
"My first time up the big one was rather pathetic," said Kevin Hanson, a climber from Idaho Falls, who has summited Borah Peak from three different routes.
"It took me 11 hours and I remember sleeping on a rock about 200 feet below the top. I remember reading the sign in the trailhead and it said, 'Plan on 8 to 12 hours to do the hike. Many don't make it their first time.' "
How to do it:
Get in good aerobic shape. Get to where you can run (not just jog) three miles. Practice on small regional peaks and hikes every weekend before the big day. Peaks such as Menan Butte, Mount Baird (Snake River Range) or Mount Glory (Tetons) are good warm-ups. If you don't want to run to get in shape, hit the stairmaster or bicycle up big hills and for many miles. Start getting in shape in May for an August or September climb.
Wear good footwear. Sturdy trail-running shoes or lightweight boots that leave room for toes on the downhill.
"I wear bike gloves to save my hands if I go down," said Bob Boyles, who has climbed the peak 28 times. "The rock is fractured limestone, and it'll cut chunks out of the hardest Vibram soles made."
Camp out at the trailhead the night before the climb. This allows your body to acclimate some to the altitude -- the trailhead is at 7,200 feet. Start early in the day (5 a.m. or earlier) to give yourself plenty of time to summit and head down in case of afternoon thunderstorms.
Bring a pack with plenty of water and food for all day and extra layers of clothes for changing temperatures. Drink enough water that you'll have to take a potty break both directions. There is no potable water at the trailhead, so bring all you will need. Use sunblock and sunglasses. "Always carry a few survival pieces of gear in case you have to spend the night," Boyles said. "A twisted ankle is all it takes for your plans to go to crap when you least expect it. Spending all night shivering on a mountain is something you'll remember for the rest of your life."
Trekking poles can help knees and ankles for the brutal hike down.
Be a weather watcher, and pick a window of extended high-pressure weather for summit day.
Go with people who hike at your pace and will neither leave you behind nor hold you back.
Study books and websites and talk to friends who've been there to gather plenty of pre-hike information. Find information in the books "Trails of Eastern Idaho" by Margaret Fuller and Jerry Painter or "Idaho, A Climbing Guide: Climbs, Scrambles, and Hikes" by Tom Lopez; on websites at www.idahosummits.com or www.summitpost.org/borah-peak/150190; or with groups such as the Idaho Alpine Club (www.idahoalpineclub.org).
Parting thoughts: Many people climb Borah Peak and enjoy the experience and challenge so much that they go on to tackle all of Idaho's nine 12,000-foot peaks.