Monday, September 20, 2010

Mt. Borah

On Tuesday, September 7th at 12:15pm we stepped foot on the summit of Mt. Borah, the tallest mountain in Idaho and Oregon with an elevation of 12,668 ft. The ascent took us 6 hours. I climbed the mountain with my nephew Josh (Menlo Park, CA.), my cousin Rick (Post Falls, ID.), my brother Brent (Emmett, ID.), and Brian a good friend from our church in Canby. We climbed the standard route which involves ascending 5,262 vertical feet from the trail head to the summit in just over 3.5 miles.

We arrived at the trail head Monday afternoon and set up our camp. The trail head sits at an elevation of 7200 ft . For comparison-sake, Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood sits at an elevation of 5960 ft. while Silcox Hut is located at 6950 ft. We watched a few climbers return from the mountain after a long day of climbing. All of them looked tired, sore, and thirsty. I remember one individual who looked to be in his late 50s or early 60s. He looked spent. The back of his pants were ripped where he must have fallen or snagged his pants on something. He repeated a couple of times, "Don't underestimate the final 800 ft. to the summit."

We ate dinner, built a fire, stood around the fire and talked, and then went to bed by 9pm. The mountain night was cold. The temperature slipped down below freezing. It took me a few hours to fall asleep. I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag. I could not shut off my mind. I was excited about the climb. I nursed a few fears as well (I don't do cold very well and I am afraid of heights!).

Finally I drifted off to sleep and was awakened by Rick's voice telling us it was 5:10am and time to get going. We had planned to wake up at 4am but Brian's phone was still on Pacific Standard Time so we got a late start - get dressed, bathroom, hot coffee, peanut butter bagel, get out gloves, hat, trekking poles, and make one last rifling through my backpack to make sure I had everything. We hit the trail at 6:15am, our headlamps lighting the trail before us.

Starting to climb felt good. It took off the cold except for my fingertips which started to numb up. Brian loaned me a pair of leather gloves that I put on over my gloves and within minutes my fingertips warmed up.

Brian led the way up the trail and Josh took up the rear. Brent, Rick & I traded off the middle spots as we climbed. Periodically we stopped to drink water, eat a snack, use the bathroom, adjust our packs or take off a layer or two of clothing.

Eventually we came to the base of Chicken Out Ridge, aptly named, at 11,300 ft. The trail ended at its base. We stashed away our trekking poles and began scrambling up its rock face. The climb turned steeper than what we'd experienced so far. The rock was excellent for climbing - hard, solid, full of foot and finger grips. The view was awesome and the wind ripped at our coats. This part of the climb was not for the timid. One slip and there was nothing to catch you for a couple thousand feet. My fear of heights was tested with almost every step I took. Even though I tried to enjoy the amazing view all around me I concentrated on keeping my head zeroed in on the next 5-10 feet I had to climb.

Instead of going up and directly over COR Brian led us on a path that veered off to the left side of the top. The fall-off on our left side was steep and several thousand feet down. We came to a 15-20 ft. snow field we had to cross. Thankfully the trail across it provided us with fairly good footing - dirt and gravel thrown over ice. There were several holes in the wall of snow and ice at eye level that you could use as finger grips to help navigate your way across the snow. I leaned into the snow and gingerly made my way across. I tried hard not to think about what would happen if I slipped and fell. I felt a huge sense of relief when all 5 of us were standing on the other side of the snow field.

Now we enjoyed a good but narrow trail (again a fairly steep drop off to our left) that took us across mostly level terrain until we reached Knife Edge just below the summit. The snow on the ledge was almost gone which meant we could walk across Knife Edge on dry ground. The summit was all that was left - 800 ft above us. The trail was windy and very steep. We decided to make our own way up to the summit instead of following the trail - a climber who was coming down from the summit just as we were going up told us the trail had some loose rock toward the top. First Brian, then Rick, then me, followed by Brent and Josh close behind us.

It must have taken us 30-45 minutes to climb that last 800 ft. Finally I looked up and saw the American flag flapping in the wind on the summit. Brian and Rick stopped short of the summit and let me be the first one to step foot on the top since the climb had been my idea. Before long all 5 of us were on the summit congratulating one another, slapping each other's backs, and posing for pictures. 2 climbers followed us up the summit so they took our pictures on top and we took theirs.

I can't adequately explain what I felt inside - joy, thanksgiving, relief, and a sense of accomplishment. To bask in the beauty of a 360 degree view of the Idaho wilderness was something I will never forget. We were literally on top of Idaho and Oregon. I felt a special bond to Brent, Rick, Josh, and Brian that could only come from climbing together.

The descent off the summit went well. Climbing down is always more dangerous than climbing up. You have the pull of gravity to do battle with in a manner that you don't on your ascent. Plus you are tired and weary from all the energy - physical, emotional, and mental - exerted on the climb up. Plus your knees, ankles, and feet take more of a pounding coming down.

I began to dehydrate on our descent. Brian was alert enough to pick up on how I looked and the fact that I wasn't stopping to pee like everyone else! He gave me some electrolyte powder for the last remaining bit of my water. I drank it and felt better almost immediately. Before we made it back to the trial head Brian gave me his last bottle of water as well as the last of the water he had left in his bladder. I don't know what I would have done without his help!

The climb up and down took us a little more than 12 hours. Dinner was buffalo back strap that Brent had marinated and then
barbecued for us. It was delicious, melted in our mouths, and was the perfect post-climb celebratory meal! All of us went to bed soon after dark and slept like logs - 10 1/2 hours for me which is really rare. We were exhausted, happy, thankful, relieved, and praising God for a safe climb!

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