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. Below, you will find reminisences of the climb from Bob Boyles and three Idaho Statesman articles which covered the climb.

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

The first article discussed the upcoming attempt.

Idaho Statesman Article

Idaho Statesman Article

 

The second article covered was an announcement that the climbers had succeeded. My copy was not in good enough shape to photograph so it is transcribed here:

By TOM GROTE

The Idaho Statesman 

Four Boiseans Saturday successfully reached the summit of Mt. Borah, Idaho’s  tallest mountain, the father or one the climbers said. 

Lou. Florence, president of Sawtooth Mountaineering, said his son Frank Florence, Bob Boyles, Art Troutner and Mike Weber completed the climb in . the dark about 5:30 a.m. [Editor’s note: The original article listed the climbers addresses.]

The climb was completed a day earlier than planned, Florence said, because the four did not half to ski part of the way to the mountain.

“The wind had blown away the snow and they took  advantage of the good weather,” he said. 

Three of the four weathered  in good condition. Boyles  suffered frostbite of three fingers. “We won’t know how bad until we see them, Florence said.   

The climb to the top of the 12,622 foot summit was believed to be the first winter ascent along Mt. Borah’s north face.

The climb began about 1:30 a.m.  Friday, Florence said his son told  him during a telephone call from Arco after the climb. “They ran into  a snowstorm a few hours after they started but the weather then cleared,” he said. 

Two hours into the climb, the party ran into winds of 20 to  30 miles per hour, adding a significant chill to the 15-degree temperature, he said. All four climbers made the summit after. 28 straight hours of climbing, twice as long as expected.  

The climbers did not stay long at the top and left no mementos, Florence said. “They were very elated  when they reached the top,” he said, “but the bad weather forced  them to a take another way down than they had planned.” 

The four ate snacks during the climb. They were driving toward Boise late Saturday and were  expected back around midnight, he said.  

The usual winter route to the summit ridge is on the southwest. face, Florence said. Although the climbers were taking the more difficult route, they did not have the worst conditions possible. Deeper snow and colder temperatures hamper climbers in February and March, but a January ascent still qualifies as a winter climb, Florence said. 

All four are experienced climbers, but only Frank Florence had prior experience on Mt. Borah. In January 1973, he reached the top but lost the tips of three toes to frostbite. 

Another group tried to climb the  mountain in July but was forced  down by winds up to 55 m.p.h.

The third article sums up the expedition.

Idaho Statesman Article

Idaho Statesman Article

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