1977 Borah North Face Winter First Ascent

Bob Boyles, Mike Weber, Art Troutner and Frank Florence made the first winter ascent of Borah’s North Face. Below, you will find one of the few photos they took during the 16.5 hours they climbed and photo copies of two Idaho Statesman articles published at the time.

Bob Boyles offered these details:

We climbed the North Face on January 8-9. The only reason we even considered doing the face in winter was the drought of 1976-1977. The winter started out very cold and dry, and it had only snowed a couple of times before we went. So, we rolled the dice and hoped the face wouldn’t be loaded up and luckily it wasn’t. We got into waist deep unconsolidated sugar snow on our descent, but it went all the way down to the rocks below and wouldn’t slide. It was weird because when you walked through it, it would push the snow 10-20 feet in front of you.

When asked about avalanche danger Bob pointed out that:

The North Face of Borah has only been climbed two times in winter to my knowledge and both were in 1977, two weeks apart. We did it first and another team from Ketchum (or maybe it was Idaho Falls) did it two weeks later after the cold spell passed. It never got cold again all that winter.

What made the climb possible was the drought of 1976-77. During a normal winter, the cirque would be a pretty risky place to climb. A couple of years after our winter ascent, we went up in late September and over a mile from the face ran into the avalanche debris that carried Bruce Otto’s snow measuring equipment out of the cirque.

When we got over the cliff band and got a close look at the face, we could see that the whole thing had slabbed off leaving behind a 6-foot crown. The bivy site where we usually stayed was covered in maybe 30 feet of rubble. Realizing that more of the slab might come off, we hugged the left side of the moraine and did a different route far to left of the face.

Curt and I did the North Face Direct the next year and the crown was still there presenting a short, vertical step that we had to climbed over. A few years later another one came down the gully that crosses the main trail to Chicken Out Ridge. Most people walk right through it without realizing what it is. That slide snapped 4-foot trees like toothpicks and ran at least 1 mile.

Bob, pointed out the 1977 conditions were an extremely rare occurrence:

I fish for salmon and monitor the USGS Idaho streamflow site daily during the season. From USGS records, most of the all-time low streamflow rates for Idaho rivers were set in 1977. Those kind of conditions don’t happen very often and we knew it before we went for the North Face. We figured we’d get snowed out before we could get a climb in that winter. If we had waited one more week the temperatures warmed (for the rest of the winter) and we would have missed the arctic air mass that had set in. But…no one expected we’d see that kind of drought, and the face could have safely been climbed all winter.

Bob also warns that “In a normal winter, like we’re seeing this year, I would not go up on the face. One might be able to make it up the far left side of the cirque to gain the ridge, but that would bypass the entire face.”

 Bob Boyles supplied this photo, the only photo his team took on their winter ascent of the NF in January 1977. Frank Florence Photo

Bob Boyles supplied this photo, the only photo his team took on their winter ascent of the North Face in January 1977. Frank Florence Photo

Idaho Statesman Article

Idaho Statesman Article

Idaho Statesman Article

Idaho Statesman Article

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