American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Climbing Alone, Loss of Ski Pole Baskets—Then Ski Poles, Starvation, Idaho, Mount Borah

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991


Idaho, Mount Borah

In early September, Paul Kovatch (40) began his attempt of Mount Borah. This was his seventh try, and nearly ended his goal of reaching the highest point in each state. Here is a portion of the report he sent:

Dear Sirs of the Accident Booklet:

Were I to give the accident a heading, it would be something like Climbing Alone, Equipment Failure, Loss of Ski Poles, Starvation. The equipment failure was the loss the day before my fall of the round “basket” around the lower part of one of the ski poles. Without that “basket” I couldn’t lean on both poles on that 45 degree snowfield. That made the accident almost inevitable. I was coming out of a fairly long, even steeper gully/ chimney, and at first the less steep snow was a relief. Precisely at the base of the snowfield was where the mountain became permanently less steep. For reasons I can’t pinpoint, I didn’t stop to figure out the obvious way down—going along the side of the snow, i.e., where it met the rocks. Haste made waste, and away I went. Shock then prevented my being rational enough to effect a successful rescue of the ski poles. Not having the ski poles added at least a week to the ordeal. The first three days after the loss, I had energy. With my ski poles, I’d have been able to walk, slowly and carefully, downhill, into the woods, and out onto a gravel road that I already knew came up to the mouth of the canyon. Few if any hallucinations would have happened, and I probably wouldn’t have had to drink urine.

About my rescue, this should be said: I was about to move farther along when those three fellows came marching over the hilltop above me. After going over the route to safety and my car with them, I was going to make it, even had no one been there. I might have been crawling like a worm when I reached the car, but next day I would have reached it.

I couldn’t possibly express the look of horror and sympathy on my rescuers’ faces when I told them what I’d had to eat and drink.

I will need at least eight tries to reach the summit of Mount Borah. The late Tenzing only needed seven for Everest. Borah is certainly not Everest, but of course, Tenzing was not an amputee. (Source: Paul Kovatch)

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