Johannesburg Mountain East Ridge / 約翰尼斯堡山東脊

Johannesburg Mountain from the Mixup Notch
Johannesburg Mountain from the Mixup notch

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The first time I saw Johannesburg Mountain was eight years ago. It was under a blanket of December snow. At the time, two friends and I tried going up Cascade Pass through the head of the basin. But judging from my photos, we never made it up to the pass. Over the years, I’d continue to see the mountain during various outings in the North Cascades.

After a long day to Booker Mountain, I went back to Cascade Pass. Then I retrieved my overnight gear and food and slept in the meadow next to a tiny pool. In the middle of the night, I awoke to find clouds socking in the area again. But I rechecked the weather, and it showed mostly sunny for the next two days. So I went back to sleep.

The Lowdown on Johannesburg Mountain

Access: Cascade Pass Trailhead
Round Trip: TBD
Elevation Range: 3480′-8286′
Gear: helmet, microspikes, rope
GPS Track: available

The Mountains

My partners, Sue and Andy, and I tried going up to Johannesburg Mountain two weekends ago. But we ended up coming out on day two because of the terrible weather. Sadly, the mountain was one of the few places on my list that was still accessible this season. So I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Booker Mountain and Johannesburg Mountain are “practically” neighbors. So I wanted to see about climbing both in one trip to avoid going through Cascade Pass again this season. After reviewing my limited options, I decided to use the long weekend for this outing.

Johannesburg Mountain in clouds
Johannesburg Mountain in clouds

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Cascade Pass to Mixup Notch

By sleeping near the pass, I bought myself more daylight. Plus, I wouldn’t need to repeat the 3.7-mile walk-up from the trailhead. I started hiking toward Cache Glacier at 7 AM as the sky began to clear up. Assuming it all went well, I could perhaps get to the top by sundown and bivy.

After getting through the broad scree gullies, I was at the edge of the glacier. Then I traversed the slabs to the access gully. This time with high visibility, I went up the broken ledges on climbers’ right. Soon, I was on the Mixup notch. Then after a short break, I began the arduous descent down the south side.

Ode to Johannesburg Mountain
Ode to Johannesburg Mountain

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En Route to the 5800′ Buttress Bypass

Compared with the weather from two weeks ago, it was like night and day. Back then, we couldn’t see a thing from the notch. But this time, Johannesburg Mountain was in full view. Even though clouds were still capping the mountaintop, I was optimistic about the weather outlook.

Like the time before, the annoying talus and slick heather eagerly awaited my arrival at the bottom. Only this time, I didn’t drop down as far. I remembered the rock steps next to the buttress that we used on our way out. So I used them to get to the 5800′ bypass more efficiently. But first, blueberries!

Heading for Johannesburg Col
Heading for Johannesburg Col

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En Route to Johannesburg Col

I was getting low on water. So I hoped to see the tiny stream from the last time. To my surprise, it was still intact! So I filled up my bottle before getting to the 6200′ camp. Then I took a break there and enjoyed the gorgeous southern view. Knowing how badly we wanted to see it before, I took some time to savor the scenery.

I didn’t bring crampons, mainly because I knew I could avoid the snowfield below the 6760′ col. But as I walked up the scree, I realized I could have benefited from snow gear. Finally, I was on the col after getting through loose rocks very slowly. I left my poles and microspikes here. Big mistake.

South view from Johannesburg Col
South view from Johannesburg Col

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East Face to the East Gully

The east face was quite enjoyable. Lots of solid holds in getting through the steep terrain. Here I got my first sighting of Cascade River Road above the col. Very surreal. It was a relief to see the belay station at the top of the rocks finally. From there, I carefully sidestepped through the exposed, steep heather ramp.

At the end of the ramp, I climbed directly up through more slippery heather. Soon, I located the next landmark, the snow patch, at the top of the talus. I stayed close to the cliffs to avoid sliding down. Just past the loose rocks, I entered the east gully system and began climbing.

Heading up the east gully
Heading up the east gully

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East Gully to the East Ridge

This section was quite arduous and tiring. Luckily, the rock quality in the gully was mostly excellent. So I was able to go up in a straight line while avoiding some terrible rocks. Though, some places felt nearly vertical. I passed a belay station halfway up the route. It’d become my second rappel spot later.

At the top of the gully was another belay anchor, which would be my first rappel station upon exiting. The deep dike on the north side looked impressive! Once I got above it, I could see down into the Cascade River drainage. Then I turned around and made my way toward the snow finger.

The key snow finger
The key snow finger

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White Rock Gully to the False Summit

Getting to the snow took careful sidestepping through hard scree on steep slopes. I stayed on climbers’ right and worked through the shallow moat. Here I filled up my bottle with tiny drips. I still needed to fill the hydration reservoir for the night. Fingers crossed for more snow between the two summits.

This gully was another arduous endeavor. The holds here were also reliable, like those down in the east gully. The rocks constantly served up decent holds as I moved along. When I got up to the false summit at 8040′, joy overcame me. After many years, the real summit was now within my grasp.

Johannesburg Mountain real summit at last
Johannesburg Mountain real summit at last

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Preparing for the Ridge Traverse

I’ve now entered the cloud zone, so the ridge traverse was soon to become sketchy in weak visibility. While on the false summit, I saw snow down below at the top of the steep north slopes. Since I needed water for camp, I took a break to melt snow. Later, I avoided the steep north slopes by climbing up to the bump on the ridge.

I downclimbed the knob to a notch on the west. As I stood on the crest, I checked the photos from a report. Then I looked for the narrow ramp on the south side shown in the pictures. Mostly, I followed what looked like a footpath while going in and out of numerous ribs and gullies.

Creepy traverse south of the ridge crest
Creepy traverse south of the ridge crest

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Onto Johannesburg Mountain’s Real Summit

What a steep and treacherous ridge traverse! Cairns began to show up midway. A few difficult spots required class 4 moves. At times, I needed to either go up or down to bypass cliffs. But the overall elevation gain/loss stayed with 25 feet. This part would’ve been more enjoyable on a clear day.

The rocks improved as I traveled farther west. Soon, I found the deep gully with the summit towering above. After a few hard moves, I made it to the top. Though, the excitement quickly diminished when I saw something taller looming farther west in the mist. “Damn, the real summit.” Then I went right back down to traversing the ridge.

The real high point, please stand up
The real high point, please stand up

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Johannesburg Mountain Summit Euphoria

Through the mists, I reached the bottom of the real high point after going through a few more ribs. The deep ditch was much more profound and broader than the one I passed earlier. But I was able to bypass it through the notch above. One last hard move and I was on the breezy summit. It’s now 6:45 PM, an hour before sunset.

I was in ecstasy to find the clouds lowering. A glance around the summit, and I saw several bivvy options. It had been blowing south wind. So I picked the spot to the north of a big rock. It also looked the most comfortable. It felt good to unload everything finally, especially the rope. But the gear would be crucial in getting down this humongous mountain!

Just me and Johannesburg
Just me and Johannesburg

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A Night on Johannesburg Mountain

The evening lights across the sky were gorgeous. By sunset, the clouds assembled to the west while still shifting around. Seeing the sun on the horizon after a hazy approach was incredible. The last time I slept on a summit was on Goode Mountain. I’d forgotten the exhilaration with being above the chaos down below. Soon, the sky turned cloudy under the last light.

I woke up a few times before midnight to find an overcast sky still. Finally, at 1 AM, as if on command, all the clouds had suddenly dropped into the valley floors. A starry night at last! After taking photos of the star trails, I went back to sleep and had a restful night. I couldn’t wait to see what the next morning had in store.

Johannesburg Mountain's dreams
Johannesburg Mountain’s dreams

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Day Two Morning

It was tough to get up this morning. But I managed to get out of my sleeping bag just before sunrise. Clouds were still congregating in the valleys while it’s nearly bluebird up high. So many peaks, so little time! There were excellent views of all the usual suspects. They included Eldorado Peak, Forbidden Peak, Goode Mountain, Booker Mountain, Spider Mountain, and Spire Point.

The views were ever so gorgeous, and the air smelled especially fresh. I left the summit at 8 AM, one hour behind schedule. After making my way back to the false summit, I proceeded to downclimb in the white gully. Soon, I made my way over to the top of the lower one with a belay station. All the while, stunning views were shifting all around me, depending on where I was on the mountain.

NCNP panoramic view
NCNP panoramic view

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Outro

Two 60m rappels in the east gully eventually brought me down onto the more moderate terrain. Then from there, I reversed my route back down to the heather ramp and the anchor. Soon, I downclimbed the class 3/4 east face rocks and returned to Johannesburg Col. BIG whew! Now that I did the hard part, the rest was just a long slog to get back to Cascade Pass.

So, the mistake I made by leaving my gear behind. There were no wildlife sightings on this trip. However, rodents had paid a visit to the col while I was upstairs. They chewed through the wrist straps on my brand new trekking poles. The animals also enjoyed chewing up the rubber harnesses on the spikes.

One last look from Mixup notch
One last look from Mixup notch

See more trip photos here.

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