Mt Johnson

30 Apr 2000 - by Eric Beck

Johnson was a vendetta for both Joe Kelsey and me. I had become demoralized in the giant talus in the canyon above Treasure Lakes and Joe had thought it too slippery with a dusting of new snow in a late fall trip. Joe had recently climbed Basin and was extolling the firm snow conditions. Saturday was the fishing season opener and the road to South Lake was to be open.

Joe, Toby and I arrived at the South Lake parking lot a little before sunrise to find it already half full of fishermen and slick with ice from a hard overnite freeze. South Lake was seriously drained during the winter; it is only 1/6 its normal surface area. Two foot thick layers of ice tile the slopes above what is currently the lake. Instead of taking the trail, we dropped down into the now water free basin and headed fot the southwest corner of the lake. The idea was to avoid the 300 foot drop on the Treasure Lakes trail.

We had been concerned about wallowing in soft afternoon snow on the descent so we were carrying skis. Joe had a pair of vintage "Firn Gliders" which bound securely to his boots. I had my lightweight cross country skis and was hiking in my lightweight cross country boots. Soon after we started climbing I put on my crampons for improved traction on the frozen corn. These were to remain on all the way to the summit. As we got into the region of giant talus above Treasure Lakes it was entirely solid superb snow with no hint of the underlying talus and we climbed rapidly. I think cramponing on frozen corn is the easiest way of all to gain elevation; each step is absolutely positive.

As we got around to the south side of the peak there appeared a choice of routes up to the crest. A prominent snow chute led to a notch just east of the summit, or alternatively, talus on the right could be followed to the same notch. We left the skis in the valley and opted for the snow which went quickly. A 40 foot roll that got up to 45 degrees was passed about halfway up. Toby's crampons were working well in this section.

Above the notch, the snow steepened significantly and we did a 60 foot section up to 55 degrees. We left Toby and the packs at the notch and were soon on top where we were pelted with spindrift from unconsolidated snow blowing up the north face. Later in the year the steeper snow sections are probably easy scrambling.

We also descended the snow and put on the skis for the descent to South Lake. Joe was doing superbly, linking long symmetrical turns. I, on the other hand was having a terrible time controlling my light skis and it seemed that Joe was waiting forever for me to catch up. I suspect that were it not for me, Joe would have made it all the way to South Lake in 20 minutes. I finally got disgusted with myself and carried the skis from Treasure Lakes down. Very good skiers would have taken their skis all the way to the summit.

Below Treasure Lakes we saw additional fresh ski tracks. Back at the parking lot, it was almost deserted and there was no one fishing. Joe has promised to let me try the Firn Gliders which are about three feet long. If anyone knows of a similar but perhaps more contemporary product they could respond ( on the Gear list, of course ). I strongly recommend taking advantage of what appear to be extraordinarily good spring snow conditions in the Sierra to avoid the rubble which covers so many peaks later in the year.


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