The massive northeast face of Johannesburg with its hanging glaciers, couloirs, steep rock and prominent NE Buttress becon the climber from throughout the Cascade Pass area. It is simply impossible to ignore the nearly 5,000' relief of the face.
The first ascent of Johannesburg was completed during the famed Ptarmigan Traverse in 1938. They appear to have climbed the standard route up the mountain--the East Ridge (up to low 5th class climbing). These days their route is still the most commonly climbed, while more adventurous souls venture into the Cascade-Johannesburg Couloir, onto the northeast face to climb rock routes above the Sill Glacier or NE Buttress.
There are three standard approaches to the mountain:
1. "Doug's Direct" -- Arguably the best combination of safety and directness... From the Cascade Pass parking lot, hike along the maintained trail to Cascade Pass, turning right at the Pass (near benches) and follow the obvious climber's trail to Mixup Arm. Cross Mixup Arm and descend/traverse rightwards until you get to Cache glacier. Walk past a seasonal waterfall and turn right, ascending the lobe of the Cache and walking rock slabs underneath the East and Northeast faces of Mixup Peak . The glacier ends at a short steep dirt gully that turns to steep heather scrambling after 50m. Some steep heather ascends to the Mixup north ridge notch with a few short sections of 3rd and 4th class climbing on fairly solid rock. Once at the notch (marked with cairns), descend down the backside of Mixup Peak on steep slopes involving 3rd/4th class scrambling and steep heather. Continue descending towards the base of the Triplets buttress. From here, climb up to C-J Col.
2. Gunsight Notch -- From the Cascade Pass parking lot, hike along the maintained trail to Cascade Pass, turning right at the Pass (near benches) and follow the obvious climber's trail to Mixup Arm. Cross Mixup Arm and descend/traverse rightwards until you get to Cache glacier. Climb the Cache, aiming towards the obvious notch on the right side of the glacier (~6600').
3. Cascade-Johannesburg Couloir -- This is undoubtedly the most direct route, but also the most dangerous due to rock/ice fall potential. From the hairpin turn, descend to and cross the Cascade River. Climb up to the obvious terminal moraine and the glacier. Climb the glacier to the Col. One can also access the NE Buttress and Sill Glacier by starting at the base of the couloir. The couloir has been skied.
The mountain sees very few ascents per year--averaging less than 10.
Johannesberg is easily reached via the Cascade River Road off of Highway 20 from Marblemount, WA. Where Highway 20 makes a sharp 90 degree turn on the east side of town (near Buffalo Run restaurant), turn onto Cascade River Road, crossing a bridge. Follow this road for approximately 22 miles (paved turning to gravel) to the Cascade Pass trailhead (approx. ~3600') (NW Forest Pass required). One can also park approximately 300m before the parking lot, near the "hairpin" turn (no parking pass required).
National Park Service backcountry camping permits are required. These free permits can be obtained at the Marblemount Wilderness Information Center.
A NW Forest Pass is required to park at the Cascade Pass trailhead.
Cascade River Road is usually gated at milepost 19, the Eldorado trailhead, in the winter months.
June to September.
Plan an extra day for your ascent. The NPS gives Johannesburg climbers an "extra day" before sending out search & rescue parties due to the complex nature of the mountain and the tendency for climbers to be overdue.
Johannesburg has seen a handful of winter ascents. In addition to avalanche hazards, steep snow & ice, these ascents usually require skiing/snowshoeing approximately 3 miles in from the Eldorado parking lot (MP 19).
Doug's Direct descent photo
Free overnight camping (backcountry use) permits are required to camp on Johannesburg. One can self-register after hours at the Wilderness Information Center. Unlike the nearby Boston Basin area, permits for the Johannesberg Cross Country area are readily available from the NPS. There are no designated sites.
Camp only on durable surfaces (rock, snow) or previously disturbed sites. Campfires are not permitted. If you are travelling cross-country, you must camp at least a half-mile from trails, a mile from designated campsites and 100 feet from lakes, rivers and streams.
Contact the National Park Service's Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, WA for current area conditions by calling (360) 873-4500 ext. 39