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[TR] Mt. BORAH (12662') - North Face traverse - AI3, WI3 10/10/2010


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Trip: Mt. BORAH (12662') - North Face traverse - AI3, WI3


Date: 10/10/2010


Trip Report:

For the last couple of months I developed an obsession for the north face of the highest peak in Idaho - Mt. Borah (12662’) - located in the Lost River Range when a friend of mine mentioned this gem with over 2000’ of sustained ice to be climbed in fall. And not a pliable glacier ice usually found in the cascades, but clear and hardcore, on the face itself and in the mixed water couloirs comprising the North Face Cirque. For the past few weeks, Mt.Borah seen temps around 20-34 degrees, some fresh snow, and the last weekend was forecasted to be partly sunny with some potential for snow showers.


Veronika (Spionin - on here) was the only one who shared my delight to drive over to ID and who actually wanted to climb the North Face with me. V and I had been making arrangements and timing weather window for quite a while and the trip finally came together the last weekend. The last minute OlegV decided to come out of his never-ending retirement and was eager to join us too.




OlegV and I leave PDX Friday pm, drive over to Seattle to pick up V before heading to the Lost River range in Idaho.


Scenery off I-93:



Lost River range:



Veronika navigating through the desert:




12 hrs later and after a quick breakfast in Challis, we relatively painlessly find a so-called “trailhead” (there is no trail there) for the north face approach located at the Rock Creek drainage off Doublespring Pass. We pack up and hike out trying to follow the creek. The available beta indicate that you can't really follow the creek directly because of the brush, so you are supposed to walk "a few hundred feet above, sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, then on the left again, ...".


Starting out on the approach:



Idahoan moonscapes:



West side of Borah:




Anyways, we hike up a little higher than necessary, and when we finally drop down, we end up in a wrong drainage leading to the west side of the mountain! But whatever, not a big deal, right? If you drive 12 hrs, wouldn't you want to see as much of a mountain as possible, circumnavigation ensued??


3D OVERLAY OF THE MOUNTAIN AND OUR ROUTES (many thanks to Doug Seitz - cbcbd - for making the montage!)

green = recommended approach for the North Face; red = our approach; yellow = SW ridge/Chickenout ridge, our descent route:




So, we begin crossing the endless number of ridges to get away from the west side nordwand. “Hiking” the approach includes some sketchy traverses along loose and steep rocky slopes plastered with wet snow which Oleg immensely likes - they remind him of the Willis Wall on Rainier. He even gears up for the potential fight.


Oleg on the “Willis Wall” of Borah:




We finally got on one of the ridges revealing the North Face but reaching the lower basin for the North face still remains unknown to mankind.


Veronika and the North face:



Oleg and I contemplating the descent down to the lower basin:




There's no shortcut to the other side (unless suicide is in order):




We decide on downclimbing a few wet and loose rock gullies which was not trivial and took some patience and time.


Oleg and I on the descent to the lower basin:



Finally we got to a notch that looks like a dead end with the only option being loosing another 1000’ of elevation just to regain it back upon bypass of the rock band leading to the high basin. V attempts a recon of a loose rock-filled chimney through the rock band as our last resort while Oleg and I are sullenly anticipating the bypass through the lower basin.


Oleg with the two packs getting through the chimney just before sending down a flow of boulders:



To our surprise, the chimney turned out to be our escape to the upper basin and to the nice bivy sites with running water in the meadows.


My awesome friends at our camp in the upper basin:




Overall, we really had a great time. Sure, we were tired from driving all night, and then hiking twice the distance we needed to, but everyone was in high spirits.




Next day we got up later than desired, at 6:30 a.m., to slight fog that cleared shortly.


There is a bunch of routes and variations on the North Face described in detail in the Tom Lopez’ “Idaho” climbing guide. The official rating for the north face routes is AI3, and WI3 - for the summit couloirs. In addition, North Face Cirque is home to a famous Octoberfest ice climbing area with multiple lines up to AI4 and WI5 ( Linky)



Our line is shown in red, with summit marked. The exit couloir is not visible from this angle and buried inside the walls of the summit block:



For those seeking more thrills, here is “Psycho Therapy” – a part of the North Face Cirque – rated at AI4, M6, 5.9+:




The route we took starts at about 45 deg gradually increasing to 60 deg, with the first pitch being a black rotten ice buried under a couple inches of fresh powder. Too bad - our picks do not stick and in desperation we climb higher.


Black ice low on the face:



Things improve higher up as we simul solo the face: the snow quickly thinned, revealing a solid sheet of water ice below. Bomber!! We feel better at this point.


Solid ice higher up on the face:



Veronika and Oleg soloing the face:



Oleg and I soloing the final couloir before the traverse:




Oleg and I at the start of the traverse:




The slope continues to steepen, eventually turning left and culminating in a small moat at the base of the direct variation.


V and I enjoying the sickening exposure at 12000':



V scouting the traverse that we will simul-climb:



The so-called (in “Idaho” guide) "snow ledge" on the traverse is not a ledge and is not as innocent as it looks from the base of route. It is however a loose conglomerate of barely protectable rock, coated with a thin layer of wet snow. Alas, we decide to simul-climb this crap right below the summit pyramid. By far, this is the technical crux of the entire endeavor: a mentally demanding series of very tenuous moves on unstable surface with 80’ runouts between purely symbolical pro. No comments on falling here: the rock bands are right down below! We guess the length of the traverse was about 100-120 m, during which Veronika placed 2 nuts and 3 pins (one of which actually fell out! probably because the rock fell apart - it was that chossy). Now in retrospect, the best way to deal with the traverse would be soloing the entire thing by bypassing the mixed sections on snow/ice in between!



Typical runouts:




Typical placements:



V enjoying the sketchfest on the traverse:




V and I get into the first ice gully we pass but which we had to downclimb after realizing it is a dead end.


First dead-end ice couloir we bailed off:




In the meantime, Oleg continues around the corner on the traverse and finds another ice couloir (estimated length - 100 m) that looks more like a highway to the summit ridge. We happily simul-climb the couloir on 4 screws and 1 pin. Most of it, again, is solid water ice (WI3) powdered it with snow.



Badass V whacking the second couloir:



Oleg topping out on the summit ridge:




And finally…The summit.




To celebrate our full-on russian attack on the North Face of Borah, we choose a culturally appropriate, national drink!




We begin a carryover descent via SW ridge/Chickenout ridge (“dog route”) at 17:30, which is of course quite late. The initial part of the descent is a fairly mellow, somewhat obvious, rocky path.


Oleg and V on the descent: 5077057062_4938107003_b.jpg


Sunset at 12000’:



Around sundown, we reach "Chicken-out ridge", which is normally a class 2-3 section, but with snow, it's said to be "more serious". Anyways, not something to tackle at night. Bonus unplanned bivy ensued.




We pitch in our tent on the tiny ledge at 11900’ right by the cliff - the only decent spot we could find.


V and I at the forced bivy:




A few hours into our night it begins to hail, and then – blizzard, the tent zippers are all frozen and we have no clue how to get our asses down from 12000’. The “more serious” class 2-3 section is not obvious to us at all, especially in the dark and whiteout. Awesome! We still have enough fuel left and a plenty of food which I tend to overpack for 2 extra days so I suggest to the guys that we all could just live there in the tent for a while.



Oleg enjoying a full mountain experience in the morning:



“Class 2-3” section of the dog route which Oleg and I pitch out:



It does not go as expected and we bail off it leaving a couple of nuts behind. Still being unsure what Idahoan dogs do in this situation, we decide to downclimb a snow couloir just below the Chicken-out ridge, with the two tools and crampons – I bet the dogs use them too!




Essentially, we follow this route and sure enough upon gaining the ridge, we spotted our path!




The following few hours we hike the scree, continue scrambling on a class 2-3 "dog route", and enjoy beautiful subalpine shrubbery:





I am still wondering about the Idahoan dogs though. They must be proficient rock climbers belonging to some kind of African breed with long legs and claws to be able to pull out moves like that on the "class 2-3" terrain:




Because our descent route ended a few miles south of our start, we then had to circumnavigate the base of the mountain through the desert to get back to the rig. To finish off the route in a previously established style and to add to the sight-seeing, we missed our trail (thanks to the brilliant USGS map of this area), and hiked an extra few miles north:




A nice dude named Scott from upstate New York, who was visiting his brother in Idaho, gave us a ride in the back of his truck (next to a jug of carlo) back to our trailhead!




Many thanks to Oleg and Veronika for the awesome and intense trip!




Gear Notes:

A set of nuts, 3 russian titanium pins, 4 ice screws, 2 screamers.


Approach Notes:

I-90, I-93 and then rugged shwhack to west side

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Climbing with Veronica and Nastia was a thrill. I'd say they are the strongest female climbers I ever met. I am happy we pulled out this difficult multi-crux climb and didn't lose out sense of sanity. Special thanks to Veronica and her talent for leading the most technical sections of the climb and to Nastia for being an 'energizing bunny'.



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Here are multiple lines on the North Face Cirque as of 10/10/2010, most of them however do not connect to the summit.



You cannot see any couloirs in the summit block of NF from the upper basin - these are buried deep in the summit buttress unless you climb the standard variation through the rock bands to the left below the summit block or traversing the block down below.


We came up from the right to the base of the North Face Direct finish (WI3, 5.7 - left or WI3, 5.5 - right) and that did not impress us much: not much ice in the couloir (probably 30' or so) with bare rock up top for drytooling (dont have pics of these). This variation does connect to the summit via some mid-5 and class 4 terrain.


Being disappointed, we begun traversing left

towards the summit block and passed one dead-end mixed couloir that we bailed off and the next one 150' to the left (east) which we climbed.

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Pretty reasonable. According to my estimate including our detours - 22 miles.


according to summitpost,

"From parking spot along Rock Creek it is approx. 5 miles to the base of the North Face"


standard route (our descent): "The route ascends over 5200 feet elevation to the summit in less than 3.5 miles of trail"



plus about 2 miles to walk back to the car.


- even if we doubled the approach, that's still about 15-16 miles.

- gmap pedometer says that the trip was about 10.5 mi "as the crow flies" (not sure how far we walked past our trailhead, but let's say at most, an additional 1.5 mi) - so 12ish?





thanks OMB - close enough! :brew:


Being disappointed, we begun traversing left

towards the summit block and passed one dead-end mixed couloir that we bailed off and the next one 150' to the left (east) which we climbed.


well, thankfully, oleg remembered the piece of beta about the first couloir being a dead-end, so we didn't actually even go up it :)

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Damn! Yet another great t.r. from one of my favorite posters...thanks! Great photos, too. The area looks incredible!

V and I enjoying the sickening exposure at 12000'

I think you've hit on the secret to doing your kind of routes...now if only I could learn to enjoy being sickened...

cheers ;-))

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