Robert J. Johnson, 1931-1993

Publication Year: 1994.



Bob Johnson has gone from us, a victim of a rare and tragic accident in the Red Rock canyons of Nevada.

He shared with us a unique community of Boston mountaineers bonded in a love of adventure and self-awareness known to but few of the fortunate of this world. Some perceive our passion as fraught with uncommon danger but I assure you that the risks faced in leading a vibrant life loom anywhere as large

as those encountered in the lead of a difficult pitch. Bob stood out among us for his respect for safety and good method. He advanced in skill through practice and diligence—always aware of ability in relation to potential adversity. He taught these things. He lived these things. So let Bob remind us that no soul, at whatever pinnacle of skill or prudence, can expect always to elude misfortune.

Bob forms part of my earliest memories of the New England mountaineering scene which I entered after leaving New York. I met Bob in 1968 when he had already climbed for several years and in the days when we explored out-of-the-way crags. He led me up my first ice climb in Mount Washington’s Huntington Ravine. We often went to Tumbledown Mountain, Joe English Hill, Katahdin and Chapel Pond. And, not all of us make it a point actively to lead up to the age of sixty-two!

I don’t know how very many of us Bob influenced. He taught and encouraged more new climbers than anyone else around. He took on those who did not stand out as comers. He looked through the first rank to those in the rear who needed encouragement. Bob’s apprentices always got full measure. On training weekends, having arrived after midnight on a Friday, Bob and his second invariably stepped off for the cliffs first in the morning and, whenever it rained, they had no followers.

Because of our respect for Bob, in 1972 we made him our Appalachian Mountain Club Mountaineering Committee Chairman. His vast mountaineering library gave him a ready knowledge of the history and geography of the world’s ranges and their climbers. Always keen to find new climbing areas, he came to know more about our local rocks than most and had begun work on a local guide. An outcrop he discovered in the Lynn Woods already goes by the name of Johnson’s Crag.

We shall always remember Bob Johnson and talk of him in the high, wild, steep, improbable places of tomorrow.

William C. Atkinson