Local man survives night in the wilderness on Mount Borah

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Pocatello resident John Milburn survived a night in the wilderness after taking a detour on Mount Borah on Thursday. The 65-year-old resident holds his GPS, which broke while he was trying to make his way back. | Jordon Beesley/Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO — John Milburn learned the hard way that hikers should always stay on the trail.

The Pocatello resident was reported missing on Thursday during a hike to the top of Mount Borah. Luckily, he was able to find his way out of the wilderness after taking an ill-advised detour near the summit of Idaho’s tallest mountain.

It all started on Thursday when Milburn and a neighbor, Joe Tomasco, took a trip to central Idaho to hike up Mount Borah.

Though 65 years old and retired, Milburn is an avid hiker who works out everyday. He often hikes the trails surrounding Pocatello and spent a large part of his life exploring the Appalachian range when he lived in Virginia.

After spending the night in Mackay, Milburn and Tomasco began their journey up the Borah Peak Trail early Thursday morning.

As they arrived at an area called Chicken Out Ridge, they met another hiker who was suffering from either anxiety or altitude sickness, which is not uncommon for many travelers at this point of the journey up Mount Borah. At approximately 11,000 feet, it’s named Chicken Out Ridge for a reason.

Tomasco offered to assist the ailing hiker back down to the trailhead, which left Milburn by himself to march to the summit.

“My wife never likes it when I hike alone, but I went forward,” he said.

At around noon on Thursday, Milburn had summited the 12,665-foot peak, which provides miles of picturesque views of the Lost River Range.

He took in the sights and then began his journey back to the trailhead. That’s when the trouble began.

On his way down, Milburn decided to take what he thought would be a minor detour off the Borah Peak Trail. He quickly found himself on the side of the mountain where standing on his own two feet was nearly impossible. About half-way down, he thought to himself, “wrong move.”

“I shouldn’t have done it,” he said about the detour. “I was sliding on my butt most of the way down. … I wore the seat of my pants out.”

Soon, he encountered a creek filled with raging water. Judging from maps of the Mount Borah area that he studied before the trip, he knew that this creek eventually wound its way near the Borah Peak Trailhead, which was where he initially began his journey with Tomasco earlier in the day.

But hiking alongside the creek turned out to be a seemingly never-ending nightmare.

“It was a pretty tough deal,” he said. “You try to walk along the bank, but there’s stuff everywhere.”

Soon his GPS system was damaged as he tried to maneuver past the large rocks and trees that dotted the creekside.

Meanwhile, nightfall was approaching and Tomasco was back at the truck near the trailhead. When Milburn didn’t arrive, Tomasco reported that his friend was missing somewhere on the mountain.

Word spread quickly among Milburn’s friends and neighbors in Pocatello that he had apparently disappeared while on the hike.

But with no cellphone reception, Milburn had no way to notify anybody of his whereabouts. As he trudged along in the darkness, he said he was concerned about his wife Becky, who was back in Pocatello.

“It was getting late and I knew she would be upset and worried,” he said. “But I kept going.”

All night, Milburn marched through the wilderness, with only a flashlight and the stars in the sky providing any illumination of his surroundings.

Then, as the sun began to rise, he came upon the road that led to the trailhead.

He then left the creek and hiked another mile and a half up this road, where he found Tomasco in the truck at approximately 6:30 a.m. Friday, 24 hours after the hike to the summit began the day before.

Tomasco had waited all night at the trailhead for Milburn to return.

“I felt bad for Joe,” Milburn said. “He had to wait for so long.”

Back at his home on Friday afternoon, he said he was not injured from his experience and was in good spirits. However, if he could do it again, he said he would have definitely stayed on the main trail.

“It was a bit off the wall,” he said. “I shouldn’t have done it. It turned into a very stupid thing.”

This story originally appeared in the Idaho State Journal. It is posted here with permission.

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