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Tess Hollister on Mount Idaho, her 3rd peak of 9 total.

16-year Old Tess Hollister Completes the 9 Highest Peaks in Idaho in 6 Days

By Dan Robbins | July 21, 2015

Idaho is home to 9 peaks that stand above 12,000 feet. Each year dozens set out to complete what has been dubbed the “12er Challenge”. There are no easy hikes amongst these high peaks, as all require off-trail hiking and most require scrambling on terrain that would make most people tremble. Climbing these 9 peaks is a multi-year endeavor for most.

The 9 peaks span 3 mountain ranges in central Idaho and range from 12,662 feet in elevation (Mount Borah) to 12,009 feet (Hyndman Peak). The typical elevation gain to reach each summit is about 4,000 feet (roughly the equivalent to climbing the Empire State Building 3 times).

Not only are the peaks physically demanding, the drives to get to the base of them are challenging as well. None of the peaks are reached by paved roads, a few are reached by maintained roads, but most are reached via rugged and complex approaches miles from any towns.

So what would empower a 16-year old girl to give up a summer of swimming, friends, and Facebook to decide to take on such a challenge? Well, each student at Wood River High is expected to complete a Personal Project before graduation. Tess is a determined young lady, so she wanted to get her project out of the way the summer before her junior year. When her counselor, Chris Cey, mentioned the 12er challenge to her, she decided to accomplish the peaks this summer. A disapproving look from Chris told her that time frame was too long, so she cut that down to 7 days.

Before setting out on her adventure, Tess contacted several experienced mountaineers. She wanted to draw from the experiences of multiple seasoned veterans of Idaho’s peaks so she could understand each of their aspects on summiting peaks. The other focus of her project was to learn about nutrition and how best to fuel her body during such a physically daunting task.

With the team and project goals set, Tess first embarked on Diamond Peak in the Lemhi range. With a pattern of poor weather the first few days of the trip, Tess learned one of the biggest lessons of climbing mountains – start early to avoid thunderstorms. She cruised up Diamond and then set her sights on Borah Peak, the highest peak in Idaho.

On day 2, Tess climbed Mount Borah with her dad and thoroughly enjoyed the famous Chicken-out Ridge (so dubbed because a lot of people do NOT enjoy the ridge and turn back). Next up was Mount Idaho. Mount Idaho required a lot of scrambling and Tess liked the challenge and thrill of it.

Leatherman Peak was up next for her. Leatherman is a tall, steep, and imposing mountain. Early into the climb, Tess said her mind played tricks on her, telling her that her legs were probably more sore than they actually were. Tess fought through and by the time she got on the steeper, scrambling section of Leatherman, a second gear kicked in. Getting through the mental issues on the approach were a distant memory as she sat on the summit alone, taking in the sense of accomplishment and tremendous views from her lofty perch.

On day 4, she took a rest day. Tess wanted to focus on muscle recovery, so she basically sat around eating, drinking, and sleeping. This is a typical day for most teenagers, but Tess was bored out of her mind and eager to take on the next piece of the challenge.

Day 5 was a big one. To cut time off the trip, she employed the help of Rob Landis (former 12er challenge record holder) to link 4 of the peaks together. This meant a day with 8700 feet of vertical gain and 14 miles of hiking. After having trouble finding the trailhead on the complex roads in the dark early that morning, the team finally set out an hour after they had originally planned. Mount Church and Donaldson Peak went well, but then Tess discovered the other treasure of Idaho’s high peaks – scree! The loose, sharp rocks took their toll on Tess and a few spills cut her up. This provided her biggest physical and mental challenges of the trip and it took a lot of fortitude and encouragement to keep her going. A nice free climb up 20 feet of rock and an awesome ridge walk lifted her spirits though. After finishing off the climb to the summit of Mount Breitenbach, it was off to Lost River Peak for her fourth peak of the day. Despite the cuts and scrapes and all those miles of tough hiking, Tess still could see through the pain and assemble this amazing insight “Coming down the Super Gully of Lost Rivers was so much fun! Glissading on loose rocks with a spectacular view is a once in a lifetime experience.”

Day 6 was a scenic hike up Hyndman Peak in her own backyard. The wildflowers were on full display and Tess had a great time learning the flower names. After enjoying one last mountaintop vista, Tess returned home with a new perspective.

Tess learned a lot about herself on the trip. She realized how far she could push herself. In regards to hydration, she learned that staying hydrated made her feel better and chased away those sore legs. She learned about nutrition and that you can’t really force a set eating regimen on someone. As Tess states “I have discovered that you have to eat foods that work well with YOU and your digestion system. When I switched my carb intake from pastas to potatoes, my body did not like it at all. This is an example that sticking to what you normally eat and crave while climbing is the best way to go!”

While Tess’s friends might look at her like she’s crazy and shake their heads, Tess learned several life lessons on her trip. She learned how to take her ambition and turn it into an accomplishment. She learned that awesome feeling of success that one gets when they take on risk and push themselves to the brink of exhaustion. Tess feels all of us could learn from this and get more richness out of life.

It is great to see a young person buck the trends and get such fulfillment from the outdoors. The lessons she learned in 6 days take some of us decades to realize. What a tremendous accomplishment - way to go Tess!

About the Author
Dan Robbins is an avid hiker and mountaineer. Dan maintains the Idahosummits.com website.


Scrambling is a method of ascending rocky faces and ridges. It is an ambiguous term that lies somewhere between hiking and rock climbing. It is often distinguished from a hiking route when hands must be used in the ascent.

Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity. Make sure you are highly conditioned, have proper equipment, and experience before attempting routes like those mentioned in this article. Stay alert to dangers like rockfall and weather; and change your plans if necessary to remain safe.

For more information on the Idaho 12ers, please visit this Online Guide

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