American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Pacific Northwest, A Fine Conditioning Climb

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1952

A Fine Conditioning Climb. “Park your car, walk a mile, and enjoy 5000 ft. of arduous, constantly exposed climbing”—such is the invitation offered by the N. Face of Mt. Johannesberg. I have accepted the invitation twice, and spent 32 and 31 hours reaching the summit. Such a climb affords ideal training in the demands of long ascents, the more so if it combines, as this one does, problems of rock and ice. Winter avalanches have kept much of the face swept clean, so that in midsummer there is little danger from above. The peak is only 8200 ft. high and, being located in the Cascade Pass area, is convenient to Seattle.*

In 1949 Gene Schoder and I planned to ascend the N. Face by its middle rib and then traverse the summit ridge. We crossed Cascade Creek half a mile above Gilbert’s Cabin and started up the steep, brushy face. The brush gave way to a slabby watercourse leading up to the lower snow fields. Here we encountered some ice and crevasses, easily turned, and began working up the final belt of cliffs. A long trough, easy and difficult slabs, an 80-degree wall (100 ft.) which Gene surmounted with three pitons, and finally some easy scrambling brought us to the lower W. summit of Johannesberg. Now we could see that a ridge-top traverse to the main summit would be too complicated. We dropped down 1500 ft. and bivouacked on the S. slope.

Next day we ascended the main peak by the labyrinthine-ledged S.E. ridge, where the only problem is route-finding. But the grind had just begun, for there was no short route of descent: the Cascade- Jo couloir is too difficult, the S. Face impossible, the N. Face too dangerous. There seem to be only two possibilities. Gene and I descended the S.E. ridge, traversed westward along the S. side, then crossed the Johannesberg ridge well W. of the mountain, and dropped down through brush to the road. In 1950 Fred Ayres’ party went up by the route of the first ascent, but descended the E. ridge, traversed eastward on the S. side of Cascade Peak and The Tripletts almost to Magic Mountain, crossed the col, and traversed back to Cascade Pass, “having walked on the left side of their feet for seven hours.” Since, despite its low height, Johannesberg is indecently huge, one should obviously choose the route of descent in advance, out of consideration for one’s support party.

The “direct route” on Johannesberg is the N.E. rib of the N. Face. In July 1951 Tom Miller and I set out to determine its feasibility. We left the car at 5.00 A.M., crossed the river and brush slopes to the snow fan issuing from the Cascade-Jo couloir, and soon attained the base of our rib. For several hours we pulled ourselves up the brushy cliffside. Even in the densest thickets I could hear the avalanches pouring off Cascade and Tom’s cheery voice praising the outdoor life. Here the climbing was an intensified version of that on the N. peak of Index, on which we had trained the week before. Above the seemingly near-vertical jungle, we clambered up seemingly near-vertical meadowland, slowed by the heat and our heavy packs.

Our meadowland petered out on a sharp arête. Here we roped. Miller led out along the sheer side wall of the arête and up again to its crest. We followed the crest a way, veered several hundred feet to the right over easy slabs, then zigzagged up some strenuous shelves, using seven pitons. Miller used three more in overcoming a rotten trough and a difficult overhanging chimney. This feat brought us into the reddening sunlight, atop the main crest of the N.E. rib. We bivouacked 300 ft. farther up the rib, beside the great snow cap. We had no fire, but were warmed considerably when we saw the threatening sky clear late that evening.

Next morning we followed the narrow, extremely exposed snow ridge up to the upper hanging glacier, belaying continuously with our ice hammers. After skirting wide, snake-like, around various crevasses in the steep snow field, we reached the rock pinnacle of the final summit. Three leads and two pitons later, we were relaxing on top in the glorious noon. We had arranged with our support party to descend by the Ayres route. The descent of the E. ridge, new country for us, involved several false starts and lost time. After the tedious traverse, just at dark, we met our support party and were glad to be guided by a shortcut over to Cascade Pass. The 1949 and Ayres routes of descent are about equally unattractive. About ten hours from the top to Gilbert’s Cabin. Next time I think I’ll just stay on top.

David Harrah

* Johannesberg was first climbed in 1938 by R. W. Clough, W. Cox, C. T. Bressler and T. Meyers, who used the Cascade-Jo couloir and the S. side of the E. ridge.

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