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


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Yeah, I heartily endorse "Doug's Direct" too! The way mvs and I found it was to gain the long rige of Mixup on the leftmost (north) side, approached by a long slope of steep heather directly to the right of three prominent high snow patches. From there, it was a reasonable descent down mostly 3rd class slopes to Cache Glacier.


Thanks, Doug! thumbs_up.gif

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It seems that I absconded with a text version of John Sharp's TR, which has since disappeared from the Interwebs (so sayeth The Google).


Let me know if you cannot find a copy and I will send what I have over to you. It is, as always, entertaining and enlightening.


- Loren (who has survived two full shit-dippings and one serious ass-whooping from which we beat and early retreat)

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Loren- searched 2 computers to no avail. I must have a text verfsion somewhere but those files are too daunting to deal with right now. Did send a PM to Mr Sharp but no reply yet. One way or the other it will appear.


See above. I found a copy I made. Such a good read, both funny and educational. Would love to see John post it on the web again (I searched and it's gone per Google).

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I found the story of our July 1999 N.E. Butt. adventure with Big Jim and scanned a copy to Jason this morning. I don't seem to have a soft copy. The initial "Doug's Direct" ridge crossing description should still be in the CC.com system from my subsequent E. Ridge trip with Doug Walker.


Too funny to see that piece of legal paper with my shitty handwriting that was placed in the summit register. Thanks for sharing that, Ivan! Name your poison and I'll make good.





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If you add up all my posts dating back to the handle "Mr. Goodtime" in the 1990s, don't I deserve to be something other than a "noob"? Is there a category for aging white guys who get out once or twice a year and lag far, far behind the likes of Jason G.? Just curious . . . .


Just send one of the moderators a PM, but be specific with what you want or else...

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I'd forgotten just how classic this write up was, thanks John!!




"My Kingdom for a Cell Phone."

By: John M. Sharp Copyright 2001/All Rights Reserved


"My kingdom for a cell phone" was all I could think as we watched the sun set a beautiful pink over the Olympic range. Having just resigned ourselves to a "naked bivi" high atop Washington State's Johannesberg Mountain, we couldn't appreciate this bit of alpine splendor. We were safe and dry, but a long way from the cars and going nowhere fast. It was 8:00p.m., Monday, July 19, 1999.


Bob Davis was nearly overdue; he told his wife he'd try to call before midnight. I was in a somewhat better position, having told my wife Kirsten I'd call from the road no later than early Tuesday morning. Several of Jim Nelson's friends expected him behind the counter ofhis Seattle gear store come Tuesday as well. We'd planned a day climb, and had no means to announce that this was now de facto a two-day trip. We knew we'd goofed, but had no idea that a series of our decisions would combine to negatively impact not just family and friends, but high-ranking park-service officials and politicians in the "other" Washington.


The ascent had been challenging and fun, especially after rappelling from the ridge crest into a steep snow gully that bisects the upper mountain. Toward the top, the gully's vertical walls are about five feet apart. Above that lies what Fred Beckey describes in his Cascade Alpine Guide as an "elegant snow crest which leads to the summit ridge upon completion of the rock portion." Now, with that behind us, we had only a cold night, a stressful descent, and a lot of apologizing to look forward to.


The trip grew out of Jim's desire to include the peak in his second guidebook, Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume II. Our route-- the Northeast Rib, Western Rib Variation -- offers a true Cascade "hard man" experience. As Jim and co-author Peter Porterfield note in their new guide, "J'Berg" is one of the most impressive peaks in a spectacular area, and so ominous from any perspective that it's difficult to look away. When Jim floated the idea one night late at a bar, I jumped on it. Bob signed up shortly before departure.


Johannesberg has a bad reputation, and rightly so. Though standing only 8,200', the north- and east-side routes typically involve a minimum 5,000' of bad rock and high­ angle snow and glacier. As Beckey notes, the rock on J'Berg is "rotten Cascade River Schist, not Skagit Gneiss." Moreover, it's a complicated peak, and easy to get lost. To round out the difficulties, the lower 2,000' of the rib is home to a dense, seventy-degree forest, and above that sits an exposed section of steep, slippery heather. It's no wonder that, on a per-capita basis, Johannesberg-bound parties are more often late than groups tackling nearby peaks.


In many respects, the mountain doesn't compare to its neighbors in the Cascade Pass area of Washington's North Cascades National Park. Or maybe they don't compare to it.

The classic routes on nearby Forbidden Peak, Eldorado Peak, Sahale Peak, and Sharkfin Tower, for example, require sustained and serious alpine climbing, but none demand such unsavory work from bottom to top. More than many others in the park, Johannesberg intimidates the climber and carries myriad objective hazards. Consequently, it sees very few visitors.


The approach, however -- all twenty minutes of it from the Cascade Pass parking lot -­ makes the whole thing easier to swallow. Many of our local peaks hide beyond long, heavily vegetated "trails," but this one offers an inviting contrast. We left the cars at 5:00 a.m. and began working up the rib thirty minutes later.


Optimistically, we had hoped to summit in nine hours or less per Beckey's route description and beta gleaned from others "in the know." But as it turned out, our optimism led to three mistakes. First, we each told our people we'd be down and out many hours earlier than we eventually were. As a group, we underestimated the scope of the project. Second, none of us carried a cell phone, primarily in the interest of going light and fast. This explains our lack ofbivi gear as well. We had some extra food and an extra layer of clothing or two, but our intent was to make this a day trip, so our packs were deliberately small. Third, while family and friends expected us home Tuesday morning, our registration form at the ranger station indicated we'd be out "Tuesday late."


These decisions ultimately compounded in a manner we did not foresee.


The climb itself went well and without major incident. Our collective experience, particularly with Jim on board, was not an issue. Among many other big-time alpine feats, he remains one of only eight people to have scaled Alaska's Mt. Foraker via the Infinite Spur. Michael Kennedy and George Lowe climbed it first, in 1977. Jim and the late Mark Bebie repeated the route in 1985. Only two parties have done it since, both during the summer of 2000.


Bob and I have no such claims to fame, nor anything even close for that matter, but we were in good shape and up to the technical challenges presented by Johannesburg. The mountain never relents, but the route is not prohibitively difficult.


We topped out in twelve hours. By that point, it was 5:30 in the evening, and we knew that none of our three descent options would go any faster than the way up. With that in mind, we started down the East Ridge toward the Cascade Peak/Johannesberg col, from which point we could choose between two ways off the mountain. Two hours into the descent, we realized that during the next section - a steep snow crossing -we'd run out of light. After brief discussion, we decided to stay put and make the best of it.


Bob's extra cream cheese and bagel buoyed our spirits, but by then the anxiety was coming on strong. We knew the folks back home would be worried sick, and that given the terrain ahead, we wouldn't be down until Tuesday night. That we would each miss another day of work was the least of our concerns. To make matters worse, the country had just days before witnessed yet another Kennedy-family tragedy (that of JFK Jr. and his unfortunate small-plane passengers), so our loved ones were extra nervous about young men taking unnecessary risks.


For the record, cell phones rarely work in the heart of the Cascades. They often function from the tops of our volcanoes, but go deep into the range and you're usually out of touch. For that reason, many local climbers don't bother carrying one. But as we worked at dusk to build some measure of wind protection, we couldn't help but notice the

straight and unobstructed shot to the west. We'll never know for sure, but it looked like a strong phone might just reach from this edge of the park. Sadly, one of our phones was

in a car far below, and the other was in Seattle.


As darkness fell, we settled into our chosen spots and began a long, restless night. Luckily, the sky was clear, but at 8,000' on a summer night, it's still damn cold with only the day's sweaty clothes on your back and a damp rope under your butt. At 2:30a.m., a wind shift caused me to move next to Jim, where I came to appreciate his pack-clad feet in my right armpit. Amazingly, for all his nights in the mountains, only one other time (with Fred, in British Columbia) has Jim endured an unplanned bivouac.


Our situation could have been much worse. It could have rained, snowed, or stormed. Anything goes in July in the Cascades. But as anyone who's been stuck can testify, it's no fun to bivi without a plan even under clear skies. Sometime between 4:00 and 4:30, I dozed off and dreamed of being back in college, not knowing what classes I was taking, and not knowing where to take my final exams, already in progress. All the while, I was asking people on campus where I might warm my frozen feet. Bob interpreted this as a "fear of failure" dream. I wasn't sure what to make of it except that it was unusually vivid, and my feet were still numb when I awoke.


We were moving across steep snow by 7:30 a.m., then headed down loose, scary rock via multiple rappels and tedious downclimbing. By 11:30, we were resting at the aforementioned col, which splits Johannesberg from its crumbly neighbor, Cascade Peak. From there, the longer but less dangerous route to the parking lot is via Gunsight Notch and back to Cascade Pass. This was our original plan. Given the hour, though, we chose to downclimb the notorious, northeast-facing Cascade-Johannesberg Couloir, which would deposit us right where we started the previous day.


Though direct, the couloir is no walk in the park. It runs from thirty degrees down low to at least fifty degrees at the top, and gains 3,400' in the process. By late summer, when much of the surface snow has melted off, it's a moderate alpine ice climb. In mid-July, the snow is frozen hard, and rocks of all shapes and sizes bounce down the middle every few minutes. Rock fall is at its worst in the afternoon, which coincided all too well with our descent. We bobbed and weaved, but I still took one on the knee. No lasting

damage, just a flurry of four-letter words.


For the better part of six hours, we faced in, front pointed, and watched for missiles. We were roped, but only belayed at the few rock outcrops where we stopped to rest. Our gear consisted of light-duty ice axes, aluminum crampons, and, for Bob and Jim, medium-duty boots. These are not the weapons of choice for such terrain, but there we were, tired and determined not to screw up. In retrospect, the aspect of the couloir and resulting hard snow was probably a blessing, for the consequences of errant glissading in the narrow gully would have been severe. But backing down for so long really strained our toes and our minds.


We reached the cars at 6:00p.m., only to find urgent notes left by the rangers four hours earlier: "Please stop by the station on your way home; your wives are :ym worried." As we quickly changed clothes and reached for a beer, we heard the not-so-distant "whump, whump, whump" ofthe ranger's helicopter. And, surprise, surprise, the whirlybird

landed in the parking lot and produced North Cascades' Backcountry Ranger Kelly Bush, dressed for rescue and sporting an odd grin. Several other would-be rescuers waited in the machine while we huddled with Kelly.


Though we'd briefly talked about it Monday night and during our focused effort on Tuesday, seeing the rangers suited up and ready for action cemented the point that we'd caused a great deal of suffering and consternation. This became even more apparent when Kelly allowed as how two Washington-state representatives had gotten into the act Tuesday afternoon and urged the head of the park to hunt for us right away. The unfortunate rangers were in a quandary, though, because we had told them- via the registration form reading "Tuesday late" -that we would not be "overdue" until Wednesday morning. The rangers wanted to wait a day, but the congressmen strongly suggested they move out sooner.


Once Kelly said "congressmen," she didn't have to tell me what had transpired. I knew then who had pulled the strings, and knew exactly why. Several years ago, Kirsten's family lost a son whose commercial fishing boat apparently capsized while operating in the Bering Sea. After living through that tragedy and coping with his death ever since, they knew that a search should be mounted ASAP. Moreover, another branch of her family lost a son-in-law on Mt. Foraker. To her, our failure to appear meant we were in trouble, so she called two U.S. congressmen, both her former employers, and asked for help. She got it.


When Kelly relayed the day's events from the rangers' perspective, I was overcome by an intense desire never to put anyone -familial or official -through such grief again.

Trust me that it breaks your heart to hear of wives begging total strangers to look for their overdue husbands. Kirsten, a strong climber herself, wanted to organize her own search party until the rangers described the nature of the mountain. At that point, she executed "Plan B," which ultimately got a chopper off the ground. It was obvious that the rangers, from the top down, had been through the wringer as well.


At least the story has a happy ending. We returned safe and sound, albeit with our heads hung low and tails between our legs; families were joyfully reunited; the park service was

fully repaid for the rescue effort; the congressmen received flowers, thank-you notes, and profound gratitude; the rangers got notes and home-baked cookies.


We'll never know whether a phone would have worked that night from high on Johannesberg, and there were several reasons to leave it behind. The technology isn't foolproof, especially in rugged places like the Cascades, and they do weigh a few ounces and take up precious space. I suspect they're totally useless in many, if not most, of the world's greatest ranges. As a matter of principle, many climbers flat-out refuse to compromise their deliberate, hard-earned distance from civilization. Finally, no one should venture into the woods expecting someone else to save their hide.


These shortcomings aside, the fact remains that cell phones often perform in the outdoors and do indeed save lives every year. In our case, one of our mistakes was leaving it behind. Had we brought one, and had it worked, a short call would have saved a great deal of agony, tears, confusion, and money.


I don't leave the car without one now, and neither do many climbers I know and respect. That said, one should never promise a call from anywhere but the pay phone nearest the trailhead. Letting someone hope for a cell-phone call that doesn't go through is just as bad as taking no phone at all and coming home late. Either way, you've failed to manage expectations. In any event, for a certain percentage of climbers and other backcountry travelers, the cellular phone-- for better or worse-- has become the "eleventh essential."


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