Mt. Mills


A long drive back into the Church, Mt. Mills is seldom visited.

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After our climbs in the Smokies yesterday, we made a long drive to Josephus Lake, north of Cape Horn on Highway 21. It's about 21 miles of dirt, and takes a little more than an hour. I had wanted to visit this lake since reading about it in Richard Brautigan's book Trout Fishing in America when I was a teenager. This is the book my brother, father, and I read out loud in the tent during thunderstorms at Enos Lake ten years ago.

With the bad weather prediction (Sunday: 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms after noon) I was hoping for an empty campground. Wrong! We squeezed into the very last spot at about 7pm and started setting up camp. Not long after, it started to drizzle a bit. With a big tarp strung up, we were able to enjoy a full-on gourmet dinner and were just finishing up our salmon pesto linguini and cabernet when the crap hit the fan. A huge gust of wind accompanied an onslaught of hail. We dove into the tent, leaving our kitchen gear to fend for itself. Throughout the night the lightning and thunder continued, serenaded by a steady downpour. The Banner Creek weather station shows 0.8 inches of precip for that period, but I think we got more than that.

The next morning we got up a little late, waiting for the drizzle to abate. When we finally climbed out of the tent at a little after 7, the day looked promising as you can see above Josephus Lake. We elected to proceed towards our first peak, but carry the rain gear and be ready to run if the thunder grumbled.

Steve whipped up another gourmet meal (literally- he separated the eggs before whipping the whites for our omelets). To finish my omelet with a flurry, he flipped the damn thing in the air, catching it with the pan. This had to be the highlight of the weekend for me. But I digress.

Josephus Lake

It was still pretty damp when we started walking at just before 10. The trail showed signs of flowing water, and lots of it. As a Duck, Steve felt right at home.


We took the left turn before Helldiver Lake and headed for the saddle that drops over into the drainage north of Roughneck Peak. About 400' below the saddle, you pass this little gem.

But this area is very popular. We saw hikers on the trail, both ways, and there was a fair-sized group camped at this hidden lake. They were packing up, but still had their boom box out playing tunes at a moderate volume. As the lady was collecting her startled and angry dogs, she counseled them not to be afraid, that we were nice people, just like them. Before continuing on, I corrected her politely.

Upper lake

It didn't take long to reach the saddle and gain the view of the Soldier Lakes basin. The fog was drifting in and out, but we still got to see lots. We were also starting to hear stuff... a distant grumbling. That and the dark aspect to our south made me nervous.

I told Steve that we were only 400' below the summit, but we were going to have to hustle to make it safely. He turned on what juice he had left and we hit the summit ridge in a little over 20 minutes. Go Steve!
Summit ridge

On top we could see all sorts of surprising terrain. Some was totally unexpected and quite rugged. This aspect of Roughneck Peak was not too far away.

Roughneck Peak

Looking at all the dark clouds, we kept our stay brief with just a few camera shots and then we were headed down.

We stopped at the now quiet and empty lake for another gourmet meal. Then hit the easy trail back to the car.


As we neared the car, we finally got a fogless view of our peak, in the center. The highpoint is actually the left end of the ridge, but it does not look that way from this perspective.

A few minutes after we had begun our bumpy drive back, the rain resumed. It rained off-and-on most of the way home.

Note about this road: Although the road is very bumpy and at times quite narrow, we did see a VW Eurovan Camper at Josephus Lake. So quit yer whining, roll up the windows, and splash through that next axle-deep puddle.

Mt. Mills

Mr. Natural Home | 2009 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski