Travels with John

Outdoorsman Extraordinaire

Story and Photos by Tom Lopez

When I came into my house in Boise after shoveling the driveway one day in February 2022, I had voicemail from my friend Art Troutner: “Tom, I have bad news. Give me a call.” I pondered the possibilities, and an oblique social media post from earlier in the day popped into my consciousness. Say it’s not true, Art, I thought. I returned the call, and it was true. John Platt was dead at sixty-six.

Over fourteen years, John and I climbed mountains from the icy slopes of Denali in Alaska to the desert peaks that bake in the sun of the Mojave National Preserve, and from the edge of the Great Salt Lake to the juniper-covered ridges of eastern Oregon—but our love of Idaho’s mountains was what cemented our friendship.

Finding climbing partners is not as simple as finding someone who wants to hike. I’ve been fortunate to have partnered with a lot of outstanding climbers, but a few times I dragged hapless wannabes up a mountain, only to be told at the end of the day that they were never going to climb another mountain as long as they lived.

It seems climbers cross paths and diverge more frequently than marriage partners. Often they get together to accomplish a specific goal but once that goal is achieved, they go their separate ways. Because most climbing partnerships are ephemeral, the ones that last are especially valuable and memorable. In my fifty years of climbing, John Platt was my most reliable partner.

Long before I knew him, John had established himself as an institution in Boise. His first athletic love was bike racing. He competed with a Boise racing team in his teens and when he graduated from Boise High in 1972, he was hell-bent on becoming a bike racer. For three years straight, 1976-1978, he won the Bogus Basin Hill Climb from the city to the Bogus Basin ski area.

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Cairn in the middle of nowhere.
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Deep Lake.
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Diadem Peak.
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Final stretch to Diadem Peak's summit.
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John on Diamond Ridge Peak's summit.
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The route the two climbers took is marked in red. Google Maps.
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Summit Lake.
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He was selected to join USA Cycling’s Olympic development team, with which he trained in Colorado Springs. Early in 1980, he raced with the team in France but unfortunately, that was the year Russia invaded Afghanistan, and the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics.

My mind trailed through myriad climbing trips with John and focused on a moment during a fine day in June 2015, when we stared at granite-encrusted Diamond Ridge rising above us. The ridge culminated in the summit of the remote 8,386-foot Diadem Peak in the Salmon River Mountains north of McCall. “Well, what d’ya think?” I asked. He shrugged. It was only the second peak of four we planned to climb that day. I felt strong but at the moment I was out of breath.

Following John was always a humbling experience. No matter how hard I pushed myself, he stayed ahead of me, seemingly without effort. The granite towers looked intimidating, but both of us thought we could find a way to the summit. Finally, he said, “Let’s move up the ridge and see what we see.”

A couple of days before this trip began, we had exchanged emails about potential destinations. I studied John’s several proposed itineraries and picked the ridge and its four summits as an ideal spot for a “Splattski Sufferfest.” Splattski was John’s online handle.

We drove from McCall to the trailhead that morning and walked a mile on a good path to Deep Lake. On the way, we jumped the inlet creek, which was still gushing in late spring. We entered an area that had burned in 1993, where a trail of sorts led up a steep hillside littered with deadfall to our next stop, Trail Lake.

From there, the terrain to the saddle between Solitaire Peak and Diadem Peak was less clogged with deadfall. We were now on ragged Diamond Ridge, which extends from southwest to northeast.

We scrambled up Solitaire Peak’s northeast ridge, which turned out to be a pleasant walk across granite slabs interspersed with meadows and patches of fir. I enjoyed a snack on the summit while John entertained me by pointing out the many surrounding peaks, most of which he had climbed.

He had set a goal of climbing every peak in Valley County, and by the end of 2021, a couple of months before his death, he was well on his way to accomplishing this seemingly impossible task.

Next up was Diadem Peak. From our perch on Solitaire, Diadem looked like it might not be an easy conquest. The summits in this section of the Salmon River Mountains are probably not as rugged as, say, the Sawtooth Range, but many of these peaks are crowned by granite towers and spikes that present short, difficult climbing obstacles.

From a distance, it looked like Diadem Peak’s high point might involve technical climbing. We dropped back down to the saddle and started our ascent up its southwestern ridge. The higher we climbed, the greater the mystery became: where was the peak’s high point?

We reached the base of the summit towers and made a climbing traverse eastward, crossing granite slabs, ascending and descending short, rocky steps, until we reached the eastern end of the summit ridge. At this point we were confronted by the two granite block towers that presented the penultimate challenge to reaching the peak’s summit.

John later described the view above us in his trip report, published on his website Splattski.com: “At the very last, we found something that at least looked possible. These two [towers] are pretty close to the same height, but Tom felt that the left tower is the high point. It’s definitely rock climbing, and you wouldn’t want to fall, but it really wasn’t that bad. I found the precarious appearance of the summit blocks a little spooky.”

Spooky or not, failing to try the climb was not an option for us. Climbing involves not only a certain amount of skill but a large amount of confidence. Having confidence in your partner is frosting on the cake, and John was a person I could trust in the mountains under any circumstances. In bad weather, with an injury, or confronting unexpected obstacles, I could count on him to make good decisions.

Our mutual respect helped to insure a safe journey. Over the years, John and I agreed to back off a couple of peaks that faced us, knowing discretion was by far the better part of valor. Yet as we stared up the route above us now, our shared confidence left no doubt in my mind we would make the summit.

We had a brief discussion about the best way to climb the tower, and then I started up the crack that separated the two towers. The holds were good and both of us were soon on top. Who knows, we may have been the first to reach the top of Diadem. If so, it wouldn’t be the only Idaho peak we were credited with being the first to summit. In the climbing community, first ascenders have naming rights, and as we sat on top of Diadem, I recalled our summit in 2011 of a previously unclimbed Sawtooth mountain, which we named JT Peak, for John and Tom.

The next summit, a mile farther down the ridge, was its highest point, the eponymous Diamond Ridge Peak. From a distance, it looked easy but it turned out that its ridge was another maze of granite. We bypassed as much granite as we could and climbed over the rest of it to reach the peak’s summit.

On our descent of Diamond Ridge Peak’s treacherous northeastern ridge, we found a cairn in the middle of nowhere. We had no idea of its origin or the reason for its existence. After a bout of speculation concerning its meaning, we continued toward our final goal of the day, Diamond Rock.

I’m not sure how Diamond Rock got its name, as it is the least distinctive peak on the ridge and its high point is not crowned by a large summit block. In any event, it was another mile along the ridge to reach its treeless summit. Once we got there, we were almost too tired to even take a photo. John told me it was two miles to the truck and I sighed. “Wonderful,” I thought sardonically as I pictured the downfall, and the ups and downs, we would encounter along the way.

Summit Lake, which sits in the cirque on the north side of Diamond Ridge Peak and Diamond Rock, was our first destination on the return trip. Eventually, we passed the end of the lake and as we crested the ridge above it, John was his usual energetic self.

The view ahead of us was a broad flat covered in downed trees, all lying from one to three feet off the ground, like a giant game of Pick Up Sticks. There was no way around them, so we climbed over them, hopping up and down for an agonizing forty minutes on tired legs. John cheerfully led the way.

He was a force of nature. John’s daughter, Jasmine, reminded me that when I signed his copy of my book, Idaho: A Climbing Guide, I didn’t add my usual line, “See you on top.” Instead I wrote, “Wait for me on top.”

John was in his early teens when mountain climbing first captured his imagination. At sixteen, he and young friends made a daring climb up the treacherous Finger of Fate in the Sawtooth Range. He once told me, “That was the craziest thing I ever did.”

He was an impressive physical specimen, but there much more to him than just that. He had a professional bike racing career and after he ended that, he moved back to Boise and opened Idaho Mountain Touring with Chris Haunold. John met his soon-to-be wife Julie at the store. When he sold his interest in the business, the couple moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where they both worked as bike mechanics for a while. They then moved to Bend, Oregon, where he was a ski instructor and managed the Nordic lodge at Bachelor Mountain.

During this time, he continued to compete in bike racing and also was heavily involved in cross-country ski racing. He and Julie left Oregon for Wisconsin, where he worked for a major bike manufacturer. Eventually he became the corporation’s technical writer in charge of writing owners’ manuals, as well as its designated representative in product liability lawsuits. After he and Julie returned to Boise in 1993, he worked from a home office and often traveled the country to represent the company.

Back in Boise, he resumed climbing in earnest and became a dynamo. During his life, he climbed 666 Idaho peaks, among a total of 907 peaks nationwide. In later years he climbed with many people, mentored many who were new to the sport, and became deeply involved with both Valley County Search and Rescue and the Idaho Trails Association. It seemed to me that John was always the first to volunteer to help people in need.

One Saturday morning in 2015, shortly after John and Julie moved to McCall, I arrived at his house to pick him up for a climb. Julie met me at the door. “John should be home soon,” she said. The previous evening, he had received a request from a desperate acquaintance, who asked him to fill in on a friend’s three-person triathlon team, because the team ’s bike racer had backed out at the last minute.

Being John, he immediately agreed. When he finally returned home, he told Julie and me that his teammate had finished the swimming portion of the race in nineteenth position, but by the time John finished the bicycle part of the race, the team was in second place. This had been his first time on a bicycle all year.

We loaded up my truck and headed to our trailhead.

John passed away while cross-country skiing near his McCall home. The last time I climbed with him, in late fall of 2021, he was as unstoppable as always. After we scrambled up the difficult Beaverdam Peak, he suggested we descend by a different, shorter route, which at one point involved hiking down through five hundred vertical feet of nearly impenetrable alders.

John led the way like a bull moose, crashing through the brush and hopping over deadfall. One of his nicknames was “the Alder King,” because he dragged so many of us through alder thickets.

His numerous friendships involved many disciplines. Boise author and outdoorsman Steve Stuebner perhaps summed up the essence of our mutual friend with, “John Platt was the strongest outdoorsman I had ever met. He had a huge zeal for adventure.

“He climbed a new mountain almost every day. You were lucky if you ever had the opportunity to go on an outdoor adventure with John, because he was so witty, smart, and always looked at the bright side when things might look bleak.”

Rest in peace, John.  

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Tom Lopez

About Tom Lopez

Tom Lopez is the author of Idaho: A Climbing Guide and the website idahoaclimbingguide.com. In the last fifty years he has climbed more than a thousand Idaho peaks and completed a total of 3,500 ascents across the United States, including several first ascents. His writing has appeared in the Idaho Statesman, Summit, Rock and Ice, and Climbing magazines, among others. He strongly believes that the secret to successful aging is to keep moving ahead, “Otherwise, you’ll fall behind.”

3 Responses to Travels with John

  1. Tom Platt - Reply

    at

    Great article Tom. It summed up my brother nicely and brought a tear to my eyes as I remembered my own adventures with him. He is missed and has left a void in all of our lives. In his memory we must continue to carry on our own adventuring. I will think of him on top of each peak that I reach.

    • Tom Lopez - Reply

      at

      Tom thanks for the kind words. John was one in a million and I was so lucky to have known him. I agree with your sentiments and know that he left Julie, you and all his family with a loss that is difficult to impossible to fill. So, yes, in his memory “we must continue to carry on our own adventuring.”

  2. Scott Acker - Reply

    at

    Hey Tom, Thanks for the great story. I also watched the video. I only got to hike with John a few times, but loved spending time with him. Only John could have talked me into joining a curling team; definitely wasn’t on my bucket list. We had big plans to do more hiking and trail clearing after I retired (still a few years out). I still think of him whenever I’m out on the trail. Miss the guy. Thanks again for sharing.

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