Remembering Mike Johnson

19-21 Jun 2016 - by Debbie Bulger


When Mike Johnson's mother and sister heard that Richard Stover and I were planning to climb Mount Johnson to honor Mike's memory, they gave us some of Mike's ashes to scatter from the summit. Mike was a ranger with Inyo National Forest and a former Peak Climbing Section (Sierra Club) member who followed his dream and moved from San Jose to Mammoth Lakes in the high Sierra in the early 1990s. Eventually he became a seasonal ranger. Sadly, Mike died at the age of 55 from cancer.

Richard and I always made it a point to stop at the Mammoth Ranger Station to get our wilderness permits and visit with Mike. Often we would have supper together after a climb. Mike loved meeting seasoned climbers and novices alike and talking about the wilderness. One day he excitedly showed us a photo of himself with well-known mountainer Barbara Lilley who had come in for a permit.

The day after Mike's memorial gathering on June 18, Richard and I drove from Mammoth Lakes to the South Lake trailhead and backpacked into the Treasure Lakes area. There was a lot of snow. Above Lake 10,668 the trail was hidden by snow, and we had to hike carefully because in places there was water running under the snow. Such conditions require care to prevent plunging through the rotten snow and injuring an ankle or falling into an under-snow water flow.

We camped on the last bit of exposed dirt at about 11,200 with a fine view of Mount Johnson. Before setting up camp, we hiked up to Lake 11,320 to see if there was any dirt or running water, but found only sun cups and frozen vistas, so we backtracked.

Early the next morning we donned crampons and started hiking toward the upper lakes and the southeast slopes of Mount Johnson.


A note to future climbers: the summit is the leftmost tower. We made the mistake of climbing to the ridge on the right thinking the summit was out of sight. From the ridge it was either third class rock or a 50-degree snow slope, so we downclimbed to easier terrain.

Then we climbed up again but were once more faced with third class rock or very steep snow. I started up the rock. Richard chose the snow, but partway up switched to rock. It was not easy.


Finally we reached the summit where we spent more than an hour, first perusing the register where we saw Mike's signature from 2007 then scattering Mike's ashes and taking photos.


Then down. By that time the snow was mushy. We faced into the steep slope and kicked steps in the increasingly unstable snow. Once off the peak we gingerly picked our way over the softening snow back to camp.

The next day we packed out. Below the snow line there were campers and anglers galore.

To file a trip report, please fill in the Report Entry form or contact the webmaster.