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  • Writer's pictureJon Kittell

Climbing Mount Borah

Mount Borah, also known as just Borah or Beauty Peak, is the highest point in Idaho. Located in the Lost River Range near Mackay, Mount Borah clocks in at 12,662 feet. Having traveled to many high peaks in other countries, I was intrigued to explore this mountain so close to home. Like all good adventures the trip started with planning and logistics. This climb is rated hard because of the relentless uphill, snow fields and potential ice bridges near the top. The crux of the climb is rightfully called ‘chicken out ridge’, a razor sharp edge you must scramble across with your hands. Being an outdoor enthusiast and a trained wilderness first responder, I made sure to have my first aid and survival kits dialed. I also updated apps on my phone, activated my Garmin inReach device and shared my plans with my family.

As I looked deeper into the details, knowing I didn’t want to use crampons or ice axes, it seemed I would have to wait until the snow melted. The stars aligned for my schedule and I set the date for June 30th, 2021. I was already in the Southeastern Idaho area and had a weeklong break between two Middle Fork of the Salmon river trips, how kismet! The only problem was I couldn’t find anyone else who also had their heart set on climbing this mountain. But after meditating on the plans, I felt determined to make my goal happen. Mount Borah or bust!

The day before my solo adventure, I was prepared and ready to make the summit happen. I drove to the campground at the trailhead just in time to see a gorgeous sunset over a distant ridge. Soon after the sun went down storm clouds began to gather over Borah. The auspicious sky was dark and when I heard the first vibration of thunder I knew it was time to put up my tent for shelter. High mountains can create their own weather systems and the lightning made the hair on my arms stand up. I don’t think it was close enough to be from the electric current but instead from the nervous energy building inside.

That night I was restless and then instantly grateful when I looked out my tent window and saw there were stars in the sky. I assumed it was almost time to hit the trail and was shocked to see that it was only 11:30pm. I had only been in my tent for an hour! At 4:30am my alarm went off and I snuggled deeper in my bag for just a moment. I wanted to hit the trail at first light so this moment of extra sleep was short lived. As I packed up my camp I silently chanted a mantra to focus my mind and stay positive inside. A light breakfast, foot care and sunscreen were my final steps to being trail ready. Then at 5:45am I started my walk.

The first half mile was a gradual grade but I found myself walking too quickly and I noticed I could hear my breath moving in and out of my mouth. Focusing on the sound of the birds chirping calmed me down and I settled into a steady pace that allowed my body to relax and my breath to begin to flow through my nose.

The next 90 minutes flew by as I absorbed the stillness of the trees around me. The trail had gentle switchbacks that continue to lead you upward. The mantra was still playing in my head and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this day. Near the top of the tree line I stopped for the first time and took off my pack. I ate a snack and beamed with joy as I looked around. Before the hike I had some doubts about my fitness level but once I was on the trail I remembered how great I was at hiking. Nepal had taught me how to be in the mountains and trek at a pace that kept my body happy and my mind at peace. There was nowhere else to go because with every step of this journey I was arriving mindfully in the present moment.

On the next section of the trail I left the shelter of the trees and got my first sighting of some neighboring peaks. The dirt changed into rock as I climbed higher and I continued to look behind me to make sure I remembered where I came from. The ridgeline steepened as I kept moving upward. I knew I was headed towards chicken out ridge so when my mind would jump forward to this next section I expanded my breath into my heart to cultivate trust. I have found that my mind can project fear into the unknown and focusing on my breath helps me stay in the safety of what is actually happening.

Chicken out ridge received its name because it is the most likely spot for hikers to turn around on the trail. It was a class 3 climb that required sure footedness and use of your hands as you scrambled. I knew I was there when the rock bluff in front of me appeared impassable. I once again stopped and took off my pack. I could feel adrenaline rising inside and my heart began to beat faster. At this point, I hadn’t seen or talked to a single person all morning! I felt incredibly alone and at the same time completely connected. Scouting my route seemed like the best move or at least a move I was currently able to do. A high protein bar helped ground me and I decided to first climb up this rock face without my pack. I was hesitant to travel on this type of terrain and wanted to assess the difficulty free of baggage. The next steps were monumental because there wasn’t a clear path. I was carving my own destiny and intently curious to see what it would hold. At the top of the cliff I could see down the ridge, giving me the assurance to know I could carry on. I returned for my pack and started the adventure across chicken out ridge.

The next 30 minutes were thrilling and I felt my adventurous spirit soar. I love being ‘on point’ in the outdoors and I was navigating the rock like I navigate the rivers - fully present and free of tension. As I approached the drop off known as ‘the nose’ I was grateful to see a rope was firmly secured. This turned the downward climb into a belay and before I knew it chicken out ridge was complete!

My energy spiked with excitement as I entered the last section of the trail. I reminded myself to keep it steady as I navigated this final 1,000 foot climb. The morning air was clear as I approached the summit and the view expanded to distant mountain ranges and glacial lakes. At the summit my heart bellowed out a Jai Sri Radhe and my cheeks

swelled with glee. I was at top of the highest peak in Idaho! I did it!

After taking some photos, signing the log book and eating another snack I took some time to contemplate how mountains had effected my life. Most of my time on trails had been in Nepal where I learned to trek rugged terrain, often in high elevations, with a calm and compassionate attitude. The people of Nepal taught me to move slow and take things one step at a time. The mountains taught me to embrace mantra meditation. Mount Borah showed me I could do it alone.

The clouds above me were beginning to darken and the mountaineer saying “the summit is optional, the descent is not” crossed through my mind. I set the intention to be careful on the downhill and not let fatigue or carelessness sabotage my success. I was delighted to see two other groups of people walking up as I slowly shuffled down. We shared how happy we were about the light breeze and bided each other safe passage.

At 3:23pm I stepped into the dirt parking lot and walked over to touch my car. I took a long glance up at the mountain and silently thanked it for letting me travel on it. The mantra was still playing inside my head and my heart was full of gratitude. To complete the journey I pulled out my inReach and sent a message to my sister, “Mt. Borah for the win!”

~ Elizabeth Kittell

Inbody Expeditions Yoga Instructor and Guide

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