Elevation: 6,004 ft
This peak is not in the book. See the link below for Dan Robbins’ trip report for details of a winter ascent. Updated November 2019
Johnson Benchmark sits south of the town of Fairfield, Idaho and west of ID-46. Johnson Benchmark lies in the Bennett Mountain Hills, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. USGS Spring Creek Reservoir
East Ridge, Class 2+
Date of Climb: October 15, 2019
From its junction with US-20, drive south on ID-46 for 7.6 miles to a pass. Let’s call it “Johnson Pass.” It is sandwiched between Johnson Hill and Johnson Benchmark. This is the terminus of the East Ridge of Johnson Benchmark. Park on the east side of the highway near a gated entry to a private jeep road. The elevation here is 5,635 feet.
This is a summer hike and is quite different from the terrain conditions experienced by Dan Robbins during a snow-covered winter climb. You should either do this ridge during winter, as Robbins did, or choose a different line of ascent (the Modified East Ridge Route). I do NOT recommend the East Ridge Route during summer. It is punishing.
From Johnson Pass on ID-46, climb directly W up through thick sagebrush and other nasty scrub to make your way toward an antenna installation. You can see the blinking lights from atop the two antennas from the highway. The antenna installation is located in a saddle just W of Point 5732. They seem SO CLOSE, but the punishment you will endure to get there will shock you. The terrain on this section of the ridge is absolutely unforgiving. Tall sagebrush and scrub (6 to 7 feet tall), thick, with ground boulders mixed in. It will tie you in knots. Progress will be so slow that it will frustrate you to no end.
Soon after you leave the highway, you must cross a stiff, difficult cattle fence. I hope you have long legs. Continue W to cross Point 5732 then drop to the saddle that has the antenna installation. You will notice that there is an access road coming up from ID-46 to the antenna installation from a gully to the SE. This access road is NOT shown on any maps. Remember that road, because when you return to ID-46, you may want to use the access road as part of your descent route back to ID-46 rather than the punishing line that you just completed. Even the idea of a road hike at this point will seem heaven-sent.
Skirt the R/N side of the antenna installation and continue W through thick scrub over two ridge points. The height and thickness of the scrub has abated by now, thankfully. Climb up over somewhat-rocky Point 5966 (Class 2+), descend to yet another saddle, and then climb up to the top of very-rocky Point 5948 (Class 2+/3). Descend SW from this point to Saddle 5835, a gentle saddle with relatively easy sagebrush/scrub. You now know that you must avoid the ridge crest proper in order to have an easy go of things when you descend back to ID-46.
From Saddle 5835, scramble W up a sagebrush face to reach Point 5981. Thankfully, the scrub is now shorter and less tedious and the troublesome ground talus/boulders are gone. Unfortunately, exhausted as you probably are by now, you STILL have over ½ mile of scrub-covered ridge to cross in order to reach the elusive summit of Johnson Benchmark. You still cannot see the summit. Continue NW along the ridge down to a minor saddle then up over Point 5992, down to another saddle, and finally up to the summit of Johnson Benchmark.
The summit still has the USGS “Johnson” BM in a ground boulder as well as the wooden triangulation tripod and other triangulation posts (laying on the ground). There is also a nice 4-foot tall cairn at the W edge of the relatively small summit cap. The summit cap is the final scrub hump in this exhausting journey. At this point, you will vow to NEVER climb the East Ridge proper again…EVER. You must come up with a different descent route, and you have. The Modified East Ridge Route. Read on.
Modified East Ridge Route (Descent), Class 2
Same as for the East Ridge Route, since it begins at the summit of Johnson Benchmark. However, it does not return to ID-46 at Johnson Pass. It reaches ID-46 southwest of, and below, the pass. It requires an easy 0.6-mile road hike back up to the pass. This is a FAR EASIER route than the East Ridge Route.
From the summit of Johnson Benchmark, follow the ridge SE to Point 5981. From Point 5981, descend NE then E to Saddle 5835. From Saddle 5835, stay well below the East Ridge crest but track it by following a wide, easy gully of relatively easy scrub (with occasional cattle trails to help) to reach the S side of Point 5966. Do not continue down the gully here. Leave the gully and contour around the S side of Point 5966 to reach a prominent shoulder that is positioned S of the ridge crest and is between Point 5966 and Point 5713. Follow this shoulder SE down to the mouth of a large gully to your R/S and pick up an old 2-track jeep road to quickly reach a fence row near ID-46. Cross the fence and get on the highway. Hike NE up the highway to get back to Johnson Pass and your parking spot.
The BLM map shows some private land in this area, but saw no orange paint or NO TRESPASSING signs on the west side of ID-46. If there was no private land on the BLM map, the easiest way to do Johnson Benchmark would be to follow an old 2-track jeep road from 0.6 mile SW of Johnson Pass on ID-46 up a wide gully all the way to the south face of Johnson Benchmark, leaving only a short scramble to the summit. However, the BLM map suggests that the first ½ mile of this jeep road is on private land, so be careful if you choose this easy route.