Sunday, May 06, 2012

Zion Day 3: Johnson Mountain

Photos Map

Courtney Purcell has a funny way about his descriptions in the guidebook. They lack a certain je ne sais information. For instance, he's favorite phrase is "route find upwards." I think for Johnson mountain he says something like this: "Figure out the best way to approach the notch, taking care not to violate private property and head to the notch. Once through the notch drop into the wash and head down it for a quarter mile and climb out of it at class 3-5 and route find upwards." He loves that line: "route find upwards." Another favorite is "follow the easiest line." Good thing we had this guidebook to help us. On the really complicated mountains, of which this is one, he instructs "route find upwards, really well."

All that said, this is a very complex mountain on the east side. It would be difficult to give detailed directions and I can't do much better than Courtney, but I can do better. This climb has a remarkably small suffer factor compared to other Zion summits, like Bridge Mountain or West Temple, as there is little bushwhacking (if you use the best start) and little dangerous rock (also if you find the best route). This is recommended for those adventurers with good route finding skills and a nose for the summit. Others might be frustrated.

I went out for a 6-mile run before our ascent and I found the trail indicated in the guidebook to approach the mountain, but I also found a much better trail that began from a fancy neighborhood as well... See the map for how to get to this good trail. We did have to walk past a private property sign when we crossed the bridge over the Virgin River into the neighborhood, but we were walking on a paved road. We did this twice and were not bothered at all.

We followed the trail I found up to the base of the Johnson Ridge - the ridge leading north from the summit of Johnson Mountain over to the notch between it and the Watchman. On the way up to this wall I almost walked into a rattlesnake, but those snakes are so accommodating. They also let you know when you are in danger of an unpleasant encounter. A few feet from the snake the angry rattling sound alerted me to alter my course, after taking a photo.

In the center of this photo is a rattlesnake
We scrambled up 3rd and 4th class terrain to the notch in the Johnson Ridge and then dropped down 300 vertical feet of 4th class scrambling into the wash below. This hidden wash separates the Watchman from Johnson Mountain. The ridge itself is too precipitous and technical to traverse to the main summit. We headed down the wash (south) clear to the very end, where it drops over a very large, vertical cliff. At this point, after ignoring Courtney's description, we headed up steep rock on the right. We soloed up this terrain (we had to, since we didn't bring the rope), but it was probably 5.4 climbing, though only about 50 feet high.
Steep, scary slabs

The crux bush section

We then followed weaknesses up and right, trying to get on the ledge that cuts from right to left across the entire face. Getting to this ledge proved to be the crux, as we had to climb steep slabs via from big reaches to holds and then up very bad rock to a bush, where we climbed right through it to grab a pre-rigged rappel sling. Above here the going dropped to 3rd/4th class and a couple hundred feet higher we hit the ledge and traversed it, mostly easily, up and right until we couldn't go right any longer. Then we went back to the left and were soon on easy hiking terrain and trying to figure out which of the three summits was highest.
The summit
On top!
Thankfully the easiest of the three was the highest and we found a cairn and summit register on top. The recorded only six ascents since it was placed on April 23, 2006, with the last one being on January 6th of this year. Cool.

The descent had us worried and we tried to find a way around the bush/crumbly rock section, but eventually reversed it. It is dangerous, but we went as slow, solid, and as careful as we could. Once down that the rest of the route was easily reversed, including the steep section back into the wash.

The rest of the descent went nicely and we got back to the RV 4:30 p.m. Our days were getting shorter and shorter. And we were loving it! 

After-advenuture weight: 156.0. I'm shrinking! More like, I'm shriveling up... Thankfully the 90-degree days we had been having would end today. 

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