For my April 26 story in the Idaho Statesman’s special hiking edition, I drew on my experience having climbed Borah Peak six times with groups in seven to 12 hours. It’s a 10-hour hike for most hikers.
Unless you’re Aaron Newell.
I met Aaron in the Borah Trailhead parking lot Aug. 12. I got there early Friday afternoon to snag a campsite for my group, which was climbing the next morning. Aaron was relaxing in the back of his Subaru, drinking an iced tea. I asked if he was planning to climb.
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He’d just gotten back, he told me. Noonish is a good return time, I thought, impressed. I figured he’d left at 4 or 5 a.m. for a quick solo trip.
“When did you start?”
“About 10,” he told me.
He clicked some buttons on his watch. His round trip had taken 2 hours, 13 minutes, 14 seconds.
That’s 2:13:14 for four miles and 5,600 feet elevation up, and then four miles, 5,600 feet elevation down.
“I think that’s the new record,” he told me.
He’d missed the ascent record by a few minutes, he said, but hoped to return to get that one, too.
“Pretty sure the ascent record is 1:21ish by Ryan Ghelfi,” Aaron told me later. “I think under two hours might be in the cards on a good day.”
Ghelfi is a Nike-sponsored trail runner who holds the record for the fastest ascent of 14,180-foot Mount Shasta in Northern California.
Aaron is one of that breed of mountaineers who is part climber, part trail runner, part extreme athlete and all maniac. I’ve encountered them circumnavigating Mount Rainier’s 93-mile Wonderland Trail and running to Eagle Cap and Ice Lake in eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains.
And he’s certainly not the only slightly nutty (OK, totally nutty) trail runner you’ll meet high on an Idaho mountain. I watched the dancing headlamps of Luke Nelson and Jared Campbell as they descended at twilight on Lost River Mountain in August 2014 on their way to bagging all nine of Idaho’s 12,000-footers in a record 28 hours, 18 minutes. Their goal for the nine peaks (starting in the Pioneers east of Sun Valley and ending in the Lemhis west of Idaho Falls) was 24 hours, and no one has cracked that barrier yet.
Nelson is among the fastest Borah climbers, too. His “car-to-car” time for Borah was 2:21:11, on Oct. 22, 2010. According to Peter Bakwin at fastestknowntime.proboards.com, Dan Kraft beat Nelson’s 1:26:42 Borah ascent on Aug. 22, 2012, in a record 1:20:07. Nelson’s round-trip was still faster than Kraft’s.
Dan Robbins is the keeper of the semi-official Idaho 12ers website. The nine-peak challenge has its own rules, which Dan spells out. His IdahoSummits website lists two other groups that have done the nine 12ers in less than 40 hours (Cody Lind, Brittany Peterson and Nate Bender in 2016, and Dave Bingham and Rob Landis in 2005).
In July 2015, then-16-year-old Wood River High School student Tess Hollister did all nine in six days, six hours (including one rest day). You can see Dan’s reports on the nine mountains and see his online register of 140 people who have bagged all nine (usually over multiple YEARS!). One of them was 9 when he finished his ninth.
The key to doing the 12ers quickly is to traverse the six peaks in the Lost River Range (Borah, Idaho, Leatherman, Church, Donaldson, Breitenbach and Lost River) in one long go, ideally during daylight hours. That involves advanced mountaineering and route-finding ability, good weather, good luck, good legs and good lungs.
Aaron tried to do all nine 12ers last fall, but picked the wrong route going up Hyndman Peak and had to turn back. But keep an eye out for Aaron and climbers like him if you’re in Idaho’s high country. They’ve got their eyes on more Idaho mountains and more records.