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[TR] Johannesberg Mtn.- E. Ridge 7/12/2004


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Climb: Johannesberg Mtn.-E. Ridge


Date of Climb: 7/12/2004


Trip Report:

In a recent post on Goode, Ivan suggested that the term "mother fucker" be used to spice things up. In that case, I'll just call it like it is: J'Berg is a mother fucker.


That said, it's also a peak that gets under your skin. Or at least my skin. Big Four had the same effect, but no longer does now that I've been to its summit. I had to give up on the N. Rib in winter in favor of the Dry Creek Route in summer, but whatever.


J'Berg has stayed on my list since the July 1999 trip up the N.E. Butt. (1957 var.) with Jim Nelson and Bob Davis. On that trip, we climbed the buttress, got to the top of the upper snow field, and sat down at 5:30 p.m., 12.5 hours after leaving the parking lot, and a very short distance from the true summit. We had hoped it would be a day climb, and so had planned to be down or nearly so at that hour. Not even close. We were tired and going to be overdue. Moreover, we had no cell phone with which to call our wives. We discussed whether to run up to the true summit to sign in, but Jim and Bob vetoed me in favor of trying to get to the CJ col before dark. As it turned out, we skipped the summit only to end up in a naked bivi still four hours above the col. This was a bad decision, I later realized, because it meant I had to go back to sign in. Unfinished business.


I asked Bob a few years later whether he would like to go back, and he said he would rather be "dipped in shit." Jim felt the same way.


So, with the peak firmly wedged under my skin, I set out to find a partner without any real concern for which route was taken. Doug Walker was game. He's been climbing since the early 1970s, and once tried the 1951 Tom Miller N. Butt. route with Todd Bibler, but backed off due to avalanche conditions. Doug is the only non-employee REI Board member who actually climbs, and is as solid as they come. The fact that he pesters me on every trip with geography quizzes, Civil War trivia, and math brain teasers, is simply something that must be endured. He tolerates my music and drinks my whiskey, which says something for the guy.


We set a date many months ago, and the weather cooperated. We left Seattle Sunday morning (7/11) and left the car at the gate on the Cascade River Road (Eldo trailhead) at 8:45 or so. We reached Gunsight Notch in a few hours, and were bummed out when we looked down the steep gully on the other side. We knew the Gunsight Traverse is considered "tedious," but it also looked damn dangerous to descend. So we opted to try "Doug's Direct." This was an unproven means of getting over Mix Up Peak, and it worked like a charm.


To do this (and we know from cairns on the back that we are not the first to have done so), proceed on the Cache Glacier to the upper climbers' right on the snow as if starting the Rowland Tabor route on Mix Up (the N. Ridge). Scramble straight up to the ridge crest instead of bearing left per the N. Ridge route (class 3-4). Don't go to the deep notch on your right, but rather look straight over the top. If you've hit it right, you'll see more class 3 on the other side, then a long passage of heather heading down to the alp slope that separates Mix Up from the Triplets. Descend on the path of least resistance. If you look at Beckey's green guide, the drawing that covers J'Berg to Cache Col has the words "alp slope" in the middle. Our camp was just above the word "slope." Room enough for two bivi sacks plus running water. Beautiful view spot with sun until late. We drank a pint of whiskey, took Ambien, and slept well.


Actually, we overslept. We left camp at 5:45 and headed to the CJ Col. We dumped gear below the col, because we had decided to exit via the little used Middle Fork of the Cascade River trail. Doug had hiked this in 1974, and said it was pretty good. How much can a trail fade in 30 years, right?


From the col, we roped and scrambled up, placing gear when possible but seldom setting a real belay. I sort of remembered the route that Jim and Bob and I had descended, but it is not hard to figure out. Just climb the first bit of rock, then some snow, then head to the rusty shitty rock on the left of the skyline ridge (to your right looking up). This eventually forces you to bear left on a nice little ridge. Rap slings here. You then have to cross the steep snow depression to head up to the summit ridge. Nelson has a picture of us there in his book. The tracks in the snow to my right are goat tracks. Doug and I crossed and climbed up steep snow and were on the summit ridge by 11:15. We weren't breaking any speed records, but were moving along with reasonable care.


Unfortunately, the summit is still a long way off. Mother fucker.


We picked our way along and got to the point where the true summit is obscured by a shorter tower. We could see cairns on the other side of a shitty gully, and it is fairly clear which way to go. In looking at this gully, I couldn't recall being scared on this part of the descent with Jim and Bob. But wouldn't you know it, we looked at our watches (12:15), thought about how much dangerous terrain we had already covered and would have to retrace, and just plain lost interest in the mother fuckin' top. The fact that I had been over this terrain before didn't seem to change the fact that neither of us wanted to proceed on Monday.


So we justified our bailout several times over and headed down. The demons would either dance again or be vanquished, but this ascent was toast.


The descent is tedious as care must be taken with every move. You cannot drop your guard. We did one rappel with two 30m ropes tied together, and arrived at our gear stash at 3:30. We packed up and started downhill to the Middle Fork, knowing we had to drop 2,700' to the river.


This starts as heather, then bushes and two stream crossings (heading left and down), then becomes reasonably open timber. Oddly, we found evidence of an old trail at about 4,000'.


We ran out of timber at 3,800 ft., then crashed through ugly slide alder, nettles, blow down, and other noxious vegetation until it flattened out. We headed down river to the first real trees, and found the old trail within minutes. We then lost and re-found the trail no fewer than ten times, sometimes finding it by looking underneath the nettle canopy. We thought things would improve, but they only got worse.


Recall that the south slope of J'Berg burned last year. When we chose to descend this way instead of over Doug's Direct, it hadn't occurred to us that the forest had burned down to the river. But it did. And in many places, the fire burned from the roots up, which allowed the trees to fall over in the massive rain event last October. So the trail is almost obliterated, and you have to cross over, through, and under hundreds of burned and broken trees while heading down, often while sidehilling on loose rock and ash. We got absolutely beat up by this terrain. Really bruised and bloodied. No place for a couple of old guys just out for a little fun.


Eventually we ran into the better South Fork trail where the two rivers converge. We wandered down this a bit, then ran into more burn/blow down. We then hit an old two-track road. We walked this until it dead-ended where some escapist freak once had a camp, then headed up slope to find the road again. Soon enough we were at the Cascade River Road, 3.1 miles downhill from the car (which was at Eldo trailhead).


Doug lost the rock-paper-scissor contest (predictably, he tried rock first, then scissors; I beat him with paper, then rock, which works every time). He walked for the car while I sat in the dark in the dirt, popped codeine pills, and lathered up with bug spray. The time was 9:00 p.m. We got home at 1:45 a.m. having had Cheetos and beer for dinner. What a glamorous hobby this climbing.


In sum: (1) J'Berg is a huge dangerous mountain by any route, and I can live with the consequences of once again not putting my name in the register; (2) We are amazed by the speed with which some people have climbed up and down this the peak. We must really be losing our edge, to the extent we ever had one; (3) "Doug's Direct" over Mix Up seems to us far superior than the Gunsight Traverse, and certainly better than descending the CJ Couloir late in the day, which Jim and Bob and I found terrifying in July 1999; (4) our exit strategy would have been fine until the fire of 2003. I seriously doubt anyone will restore the Middle and South Fork trails, which renders them all but useless.






Gear Notes:

Rack of small nuts to #7 Wild Country Rock, four cams from yellow Metolius to .75 Camelot, and a #5 Metolius hex. I also placed one #3 LA on the upper snow portion. Regular 60 cm ice axe and a 43cm Stubai Third Tool hammer, two 30m ropes, and aluminum crampons.


Approach Notes:

See above.

Edited by Juan
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ivan, you've probably noticed I have hemmed and hawed and tried to avoid giving you the opportunity to actually *ask* if I want to do this peak for a couple of years now. wink.gif


I've decided if I ever do it, I'm finding a way (like you guys did) to avoid going down CJ coulior. I mother fucking hate downclimbing steep snow and that gully just looks particularly unsavory. Sounds like the "doug's direct" is the only reasonable way given your report on the state of the middle fork trails. That's too bad, I thought it might be fun to go up exploring that way sometime...

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Here's another descent option: After the NE Rib, we went more or less straight down the other side from the summit area, following a major gully. We'd intended to do the traverse to the West Summit descent as described in Beckey, but got impatient with the traverse prospect. The gully wasn't bad despite some anxiety over our venture into terra incognita. Mostly 3rd class with some loose stuff, standard cascade gully grovelling. Towards the bottom there was a drop off and a waterfall, we descended a little to the east down a bit of a buttress, about two leads of moderate downclimbing as I recall. We did leave one RP close to the moat to help the second over the trickiest bit. Down the snowcone to a heathery bit with scrub trees and tons of dead downed wood for the plushest unplanned bivy I've every had, toasty fire all night long. Next morning we began traversing to the west, and wound up on the Beckey described descent, a little bit of elevation gain was hard on our overworked underfed selves, then over the shoulder and down through steep timber back to the road. The timber was endless, but not brushy, and I don't remember any devils club slide alder vine maple hell on it at all. We were back to the car by noon.


This way seemed much safer than the CJ couloir, sounds less gripping than the E Ridge downclimb, and shorter than the Gunsight traverse: I'd take that way again.

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Great report. Glad Doug likes your whiskey.


CJ direct may not be attractive, but I highly recommend it if you want success. I have heard many parties failing by use of Gunsight notch--but not many parties failing by use of CJ direct to col. My partner and I did Johannesburg (East ridge) and Cascade in one day from the car in mid June 2000. We used bikes.

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I'd say hit CJ early, like april. Carry skis to the col, leave skis, climb to the top, descend back to the col and then ski back down from there. 10 minutes tops. Ha. Now all I need is some poor sap to drag me up the rock stuff, maybe a crazy physicist may be willing or JoshK. I wonder even, if a snowmobile will one day ascend CJ. Now that would be nuts. All kidding aside, jberg's objective danger sucks and if you can't ski the col, any other way out can be a chore.

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Dude, you write hilarious TRs. I remember reading the last one, from the trip with Bob and Jim. Did Bob renew his proclamation before you left for this attempt?


Jberg just doesn't let you go until you're almost back at that car. I remember sitting on the summit looking down on the cars in the lot, which is only about a mile or so away, and being really anxious about downclimbing all that rock (we ended up making a few raps), and then the CJ couloir. It's a badass mountain.



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If you do Gunsight Notch you can climb through either of two gaps. If you go through the left one, it's straight down grassy slopes with lots of blueberry bushes. If you go through the right gap there is a little goat trail that goes up and to the left and takes you to the grassy slopes. Whatever you do, don't go down that loose gully. It should be possible to hike from the CP trailhead to camp below the col in about 6 hours. Return in 5. If you go this way, you are looking at two bivies or three days. The summit day still is long. You have to be able to climb almost all of the mountain unroped or you'll run out of time.

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Did you bike up and down the CJ Couloir? Gnarly!!! Perhaps a first.


Seriously though, I think Jim and Bob and I hit the couloir wrong because it was just raining rocks when we came down it. It certainly is direct though!


Off White:


Your descent sounds tough but practical. Would the fire have changed this one? All in all, I think we kind of made our lives harder than necessary. The fire debris was the real kicker on the way out. As for the climbing itself, I think we are just getting too cautious for that stuff. Should probably stick to better rock as a rule. Advancing age seems to bring more caution and smaller balls.


Cheers all! Someone go nail it in a day, and don't forget about Doug's Direct. It's a winner.


John Sharp


P.S. Big Jim: I was ready to go last night, but you never called!

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You are right on all counts. We were full of hubris to think it was a two-day affair. I think it's either do as Loren and Jens, Colin and Bart, and others above, and climb fast and light without bivi gear, or make it a two night/three-day trip so you don't have to rush on the bad rock (which covers any route). Jim and Bob and I tried the former tactic, but Jim REALLY slowed us down due to his advanced age. A helicopter was called to find us, which it did, in the parking lot, drinking beer. We were more than a little red in the face after that.


Jens: How did you almost get the chop?



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My first night in Boston Basin (a couple of trips) I almost threw up dinner looking at N Face of Jberg considering lines in Beckyg guidebook. Am respectful. Did a direct line in 1994??? via gully on face of Mix-Up to second-highest summit on ridge, from snow near, or part of, Cache Glacier. Found very old bolt on pseudo summit. Not bad a route; nor good. Class 4.

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  • 2 weeks later...

John, I had my date with Johannesburg (learned to spell it right), and have emerged bruised, battered, but satisfied. I wanted to plug "Doug's Direct" as a great way back to the car. Based on your report, we reversed your route over Mixup Ridge on continually pleasant terrain. I haven't done the Gunsight Notch way, but I think it saved us time and effort. Thanks! bigdrink.gif


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