Here are some photos from a trip to the East side of Mt. Borah a month ago. Bob got me all fired up to get a look at the eastern cirque and what he described as, Idahos Eiger. I certainly wasnt disappointed. Susan and I planned the trip as a leisurely backpack into Lake 10,204 to take in the views but I tossed an axe and some light crampons in the truck just in case.
The 2.5 mile hike from the end of the road at West Fork starts in the brush and Junipers but isnt anything close to a bushwhack and at times I thought we were following an old trail. After the climb out of the valley, the hiking leads through a long section of rolling country, meadows and a lake at 9,800.
From the lake, the final shale obstacle rises 300 to the lip of the basin and from that angle, the lip looks more like a ledge at the bottom of the face and not the opening to a good size cirque.
There are two lakes in the cirque, this photo looks back at the first lake (more tarn than lake) Susan is just coming over the lip. The view out over the valley is impressive but the cirque its self is an alpine Shangri la that demands all the attention. (peak 11,280'center)
The East Ridge forms a seemingly impenetrable corral and to get to the North East Ridge, one would have to climb part of the East Face or try their hand at the impossible looking super buttress. This shot was taken in about the same spot as the following one but with a super wide-angle lens.
I spent a lot of time looking at the face before I even thought about a spot for the tent. Stupidly, Id left my axe and spikes in the truck but at this point I knew I was going to make a serious try for the summit. It didnt take long to pick out a couple possibilities but the most probable would involve a long traverse across a talus-covered ledge on the lower face. I started thinking of the route as the Dirty Traverse before I even put my boots on it.
We found a spot out of the wind (that never did blow) on a narrow tract of limestone that separates the two lakes, happily, those before us left absolutely no trace of being there. I wasnt surprised though, its the kind of place only an idiot would sully. This is a three shot, nighttime panorama stitched together in Photoshop, The weather was beautiful and a full moon was out, it wasnt easy to give up on the night when the view was constantly changing. I stayed out till about 11pm memorizing the place with my camera.
Morning was an easy laid back affair, we sipped coffee and we watched the sun line slowly make its way down the mountain. I had to wait till nearly 10:00 before the snow softened to the step kicking point. The lower snowfield was pretty firm but the second was much softer. Id found a nice tooth shaped chunk of limestone that probably wouldnt have done much more than keep my feet down hill if I took a fall. I was on my own but it was still embarrassing to have the damn thing in my hand and I had to keep fighting the urge to hide it in my pocket. At the top of the snow, the bergschrund was several meters deep and the first tentative moves on rock over the blackness below felt pretty exposed, the rock however, was surprising solid and clean.
The scramble to the traverse ledge was fairly sustained class 4 but the rock was good enough to make me forget about the exposure and enjoy the ride. The traverse ledge was quite tedious though and I wasnt sure it would go all the way to the Ridge until I got there. Susan shot this from camp when I was about a 1/3 of the way across.
This shot shows the traverse ledge all the way to the East Ridge.
Once on the ridge I made my way up an easy class-5 70 foot buttress but it could have been easily bypassed by scrambling around its west side. Most of the ridge above the traverse is class 3 or easier. This photo shows the traverse ledge from the top of the buttress. The steep snow on the far side, leads to the North East Ridge from the col between the super buttress and the summit. I was sorely tempted to climb to that familiar ground but Ive always wondered if the East Ridge would be climbable to the summit.
This shot looks up at the headwall at the end of the East ridge, the summit is out of the frame to the right.
Ive climbed to the summit along the top of this headwall but was unable to see if there was a weakness from above or if the ridge opened up to allow access back onto the East Face. As I continued up the ridge, my doubts got bigger, The entire north side of East Ridge is very tall and overhung in several places, more and more, I suspected it would dead-end into the headwall but at the last possible minute a tiny col opened up onto the uppermost ledge that crosses the East Face. It wasnt till that moment that I knew the ridge would go all the way. Splattski summed it up nicely in his trip report of JT peak as the almost magical opening of doors as you climb was one of the most fun parts of this outing. I couldnt agree more.
The upper ledge was steep but much wider than the lower traverse I crossed two small snowfields pony style and shot this photo from the second snow patch showing the ledge as it continues a short way to the North East Ridge. A short class 4 section above the snowfield led to easier climbing all the way to the summit.
This looks down the East Ridge from the tiny col at the end of the ridge.
The descent follows the standard route down the mountain to the big saddle at 11,800 from there, I dropped into the cirque that takes in Mt. Sacajawea and the south side of Borah. There are several sections of class 3 scrambling over short but loose cliff bands and several linkable snowfields, but the glissade run-out potential is pretty dangerous on most of them. The angle eases up at the 10,400 contour and from there, I hiked down and around the bottom of the East Ridge and then back up to camp.
This shot looks out over the lip at the first lake. Peak 11,909 in the background.
Although this isnt the prettiest route on the mountain, in my opinion its hands down the prettiest side to start from.