Johannesburg Mountain Recon / 約翰尼斯堡山偵察

Johannesburg Mountain in clouds
Johannesburg Mountain in clouds

See more trip photos here.

At the beginning of the season, I sent out a list of technical climbs for partners. As always, I didn’t expect any takers. But then Sue answered my email and wanted to climb Johannesburg Mountain: type 2 fun. She and I met through the Seattle Mountaineers basic climbing course in 2012.

As a climb leader, Sue has had many partners. So I let her choose two more people to join. In the end, it was our team of three, including Andy, whom I met for the first time. I remember his name from peakbagger.com with his impressive climbing resume. I suggested for him to start a blog called “one hike a day.”

The Lowdown on Johannesburg Mountain Recon

Access: Cascade Pass Trailhead
Round Trip: TBD
Elevation Range: 3480′-6200′
Gear: helmet, ice ax, crampons, rope
GPS Track: available

Cascade Pass Trail

This trip was my second time going through Cascade Pass this season. The weather pattern was eerily similar to the first time over the Fourth of July holiday. So I thought that the clouds would most likely sock in the area again. But we all kept our fingers crossed. Soon, we arrived on the misty Cascade Pass at just under four miles from the trailhead. A bear was roaming around the area.

While we were still down in the forest, a man who passed us earlier had turned around. With the look of terror and disorientation, he proceeded to tell us about a brief bear encounter up the path. The animal didn’t walk away when it saw the man, so the man backed away and left the scene. We thanked the man for the warning before he hurried back down the trail.

Someone's in a hurry
Someone’s in a hurry

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Cascade Pass to Mixup Notch

Together, the group had agreed on Doug’s Direct route through Mixup Peak. But this somewhat involved approach was anything but direct. First, it required us to travel south to reach Cache Glacier. Then we’d need to make a sharp turn and head northwest toward the north ridge of Mixup Peak. The reason for doing so was to get around the headwalls below the glacier. We’d also need to traverse steep snow and downsloping slabs to get to the access gully.

By now, much of the snow in the area had melted. So the southeast gully we needed to ascend was dry. Once we got above the loose rocks, then the rest of the route up to the 7300′ notch became visible. To get there, we first needed to go through steep heather and broken ledges. The climbing was slow. The terrain finally eased up when we got above the rock horn below the notch. The clouds continued to sock in the area in all directions.

Looking south from the notch
Looking south from the notch

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Descending the Loose Rock Ribs

On a good day, we would see Johannesburg Mountain from the notch. But not today. After a snack break, we then slowly made our way down the south side of the ridge. Down climbing in weak visibility was rather interesting. As a fairweather climber, I’ve always found it creepy to scramble in the mist. Luckily, by sharing the creepiness with two other folks made me feel more at ease.

Since we couldn’t see the bottom of the gully, we looked for more comfortable terrain to downclimb. Things began to look better when we finally got down to the talus at 6400′. I couldn’t have thanked my two partners enough for agreeing to climb in this terrible weather together. We tried to look for the buttress extending from The Triplets. But it wasn’t yet visible because of the clouds.

No signs of The Triplets buttress
No signs of The Triplets buttress

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Getting Around The Triplets to Johannesburg Camp

Another thing about this not-so-direct Doug’s Direct route was the elevation gain and loss involved. Not only did we need to get up to the access notch at 7300′. But then we also had to get down to 5800′ to bypass the buttress from The Triplets’ south ridge. That’s 1500′ elevation loss we didn’t wish to forgo. Alas! I suppose that it’s all part of the type 2 game!

Traversing wet heather and blueberry bushes took some mad skills. Both Sue and I had prepared for this by using microspikes. On the other hand, Andy looked to be sidestepping with ease without the spikes. Never once did I see him slip. The clouds began to clear up a bit. So we finally could pinpoint the direction of the buttress. Then we crossed the broad basin toward the bottom of it. But not before we gobbled up lots of delicious wild blueberries.

Heading up to Johannesburg camp
Heading up to Johannesburg camp

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Johannesburg Camp

Most climbers refer to the gap between Johannesburg Mountain and Cascade Peak “C-J Col.”. But the USGS map calls it Johannesburg Col, so I’m going with that name. From the base of the buttress, we could see the rest of the route up to the 6200′ camp. Despite still having no signs of the mountain, at least now we could see where we’re heading!

We made a rising traverse through another talus field toward the camp. Soon, I was having doubts about climbing the mountain. That said. I was happy to spend the night and then head out in the morning if lousy weather persisted. At least then I’d have another day to explore something else on a much smaller scale. Eventually, we made it to camp and spent some time looking for ideal spots to set up our tents. Judging by the nearby bear scat, bears do come up into this basin. Eek!

Home for the night
Home for the night

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‘Twas a Rainy Night at Camp

While making dinner, we regrouped and discussed plans for the next day. Even though we were all still being optimistic about the weather, it was probably not going to happen for us. Somehow the weather forecast from inReach kept saying mostly sunny. Wherever it was gorgeous, it sure wasn’t here! It started to rain in mid-conversation, so we all went to eat inside our tents.

I enjoyed listening to the sound as the rain came down overnight. It’d been a while since I camped out during a rainstorm. I had a hard time falling asleep, as I kept thinking about the bear scat outside the tent. I know dogs tend to pee in the same spot. But I wondered if bears would do the same and poop in the same place. I got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and hoped for a clear night sky. But sadly, the clouds still socked in the basin.

Misty morning
Misty morning

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Retreating on Day Two

Well, the weather never improved as we had hoped. In the morning, Andy made his rounds to our tents and suggested that we retreat. As I mentioned, I’d be happy to head out if the weather remained the same or worsened. I couldn’t have imagined climbing in this condition. But even if we were to get up to the summit, we wouldn’t have gotten any views! Sue and I shared the same sentiment on that front.

We packed up and started walking at 7 o’clock on the dot. There was plenty of time to get out of the basin and down the other side of the ridge. So we were in no hurry. Reversing the route meant that we needed to lose 400′ getting to the buttress. Then we’d have to gain back the 1500′ elevation lost when we came down from the Mixup Notch. Oh, joy! The weather on the north side cleared up a bit when we went back up to the ridge.

Descending on the rib
Descending on the rib

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Back to Cascade Pass and Out

The gully we accessed on the east now looked sketchy going down. I set up a belay by the rock horn and then sent Andy and Sue down onto more gentle terrain. Then I downclimbed to meet them by the heather ramp. We bypassed the scree gully at the bottom by staying on the rib. There were plenty of ledges and slabs. Then we took a water break before getting down to Cache Glacier. From there, we then headed back north on snow.

After reaching the 6200′ bench on solid ground, it was all downhill from there. We walked across the broad scree gully before finally getting back on the defined trail. Then we followed the path back down to Cascade Pass and took a break. The 3.7-mile hike back down to the trailhead went past quickly through many conversations. Later, we met up for dinner at the Mondo Restaurant in Marblemount.

The east view above Cascade Pass
The east view above Cascade Pass

See more trip photos here.

I stayed the night in the car to do some hiking the next day.

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