OverviewAn SPS listed peak, Mt. Johnson (12,871') lies along the Sierra Crest southwest of Bishop, CA. Despite its short approach from the road (4 miles and 3,000' gain, one way), the peak is climbed relatively infrequently, and is seemingly sought after mostly by people working on the SPS List. The reason for its unpopularity probably lies in its location: Its higher neighbour to the north, Mt. Gilbert, is more reknowned for the technical climbing offered by its NE Couloir, while Mts. Goode and Agassiz to the south are closer to the trail, and also enjoy the more prestigious status of being 13ers. But for the scrambler, Mt. Johnson is arguably the most desirable peak in the Bishop Pass area. It offers better scrambling than its neighbours, and the peak's northwest ridge in particular is a superb climb from Treasure Col, possibly one of the finest class 3 routes in the range.
Despite Mt. Johnson's lower elevation compared to other peaks in the area, views from the summit are excellent. Particularly noteworthy is the panoramic vista of the Black Divide, taking in the Devil's Crags, Wheel Mountain, Mt. McDuffie, and Black Giant.
Getting ThereMt. Johnson is most easily climbed out of South Lake, which is reached from Bishop via West Line Road (SR168) and the signed South Lake Road. From the South Lake trailhead, hike up the Bishop Pass trail for about 3/4 mile, taking the signed spur trail to its terminus at the Treasure Lakes. Continue hiking cross-country up the drainage, following the right (west) fork alongside a small stream to Lake 11,280'+, 0.5 mi NE of Mt. Johnson. To gain the north ridge, head west-southwest to Treasure Col (0.25 mi NW of Mt. Johnson, ice axe/crampons required). For access to the southeast slopes, continue south up the drainage past Lake 11,600'+.
In spring, when the regular trails are still covered under snow, it may be shorter and quicker to just follow the eastern shore of South Lake and head straight up the drainage to Treasure Lakes. You can access the shore via one of a number of fisherman's trails shortly after leaving the trailhead.
RoutesNorthwest Ridge (class 3). The northwest ridge (called the north ridge by Secor) is somewhat unusual for a third class Sierra ridge route in that the spine of the ridge can be followed religiously from Treasure Col, with almost no variations from the ridge required to avoid obstacles. (I dropped off the spine in only one place, and even that was for only a few feet). The ridge features interesting scrambling, some exposure, some short knife edges, and generally excellent rock. It is a thoroughly enjoyable climb, and highly recommended.
Mt. Johnson is commonly climbed in conjunction with nearby Mt. Gilbert. If traversing over to Treasure Col from Gilbert, you have the option of dropping below the crest on the west side to keep it to class 2, or finding almost unlimited class 3 scrambling higher up on the traverse. Climbing Gilbert first and descending Johnson's SE Slopes bypasses Treasure Col, and may allow you to avoid taking an axe/crampons later in the season; a direct approach to the northwest ridge via Treasure Col will require axe/crampons year-round.
Southeast Slopes (class 2). These are reportedly sandy, and may be best used as a descent route. In early season, axe/crampons may be required.
West Ridge (class 2). Since most people approach the peak from South Lake via either the north ridge or SE slopes, this route is infrequently climbed.
Traverse to/from Mt. Goode (class 4). The traverse along the Sierra crest between Johnson and Goode has been described as being rather enjoyable.
Red TapeWilderness permits and bear cannisters are required for overnight stays, and wood fires are not permited above 10,000'; contact Inyo National Forest for information. Mt. Johnson is a very short dayhike from South Lake, so an overnight stay should not generally be required by most climbers.
When To ClimbBecause of the short approach, the peak can be easily climbed whenever South Lake is reachable. The road is unplowed during the winter, so May through October are the usual climbing months.
CampingBackcountry camping may be found around Treasure Lakes. Outside the wilderness, a number of pay campsites are found along South Lake Road. Dispersed (i.e. free) camping is found anywhere along the dirt roads around the Buttermilks.
Mountain ConditionsInyo National Forest conditions.
White Mountain Ranger Station: 798 North Main Street, Bishop, CA 93514. (619) 873-2500
The NWS Forecast tends to be the most reliable source of weather information for the area.
Etymology"The name was originally bestowed by R. B. Marshall on the present Mount Lewis, for Willard D. Johnson (1861-1917), a member of the USGS. To avoid confusion with the nearby Johnson Peak [also named by Marshall], the name was transferred to its present location."
- Erwin Gudde, California Place Names