by Jim Brisbine

--6 February 2003 --

Bonanza Peak (left), Agnes Mountain (center), and Dome Peak (right) 
from Mt. Goode.  --Photo by Jim Brisbine

Bonanza Peak (left), Agnes Mountain (center), and Dome Peak (right) from Mt. Goode. --Photo by Jim Brisbine

Note: new 2006 edition in work. Text to be revised soon!
Please see the new 2006 Peak List.

2006 Peak Map -- full screen width

(JPG, 100dpi, 0.5 MB)

2006 Peak Map -- for printing

(PDF, 300dpi, 3.5MB)


TABLE OF CONTENTS

MAIN ARTICLE
The Project
The Process
The Results
LISTS OF MAJOR PEAKS
Frames version
(better on-screen, info from Annotated Index in same browser window)
No-frames version
(better for printing, Annotated Index info in separate window)
Group Descriptions
Special Groups:
...Regal Six......Classic Eight......Super Eight...
...Big Ten......Tall Twelve...

Regional Groups:
(25 separate groups)
Wildcard Groups:
Crazy Eight.......Craggy Fifteen
List Comparisons
Confessions and Comments

ANNOTATED PEAK INDEX
Nomenclature Comments
Elevation Comments
Prominence Comments
Projection Comments

THE PROJECT

Probably like many local mountaineers, I spent my formative years rambling around the Cascades and Olympics, climbing whatever mountain happened to catch my attention at a given time. I didn’t really have any long-range strategy---just a vague desire to ultimately climb all of the major peaks in Washington. Although this random approach to mountaineering served me well for a long time, I eventually realized that gaining any hope of reaching my goal would first require me to answer a simple question: "What in the heck are the major peaks in Washington, anyway?"

Mt. Adams from the Goat Rocks 
Wilderness Mt. Adams (Regal Six), monarch of the south Cascades. --Photo by Jim Brisbine

One obvious scheme for identifying Washington’s major peaks would be to compile a list of summits based on elevation. The most ambitious compilation project to date was undertaken by The Bulgers, a group of local climbing mavericks who established a set of basic rules for qualifying peaks. Their efforts culminated in the now-renowned list entitled Washington’s 100 Highest Mountains (often simply called the Bulger 100), which has been quietly circulating through our climbing community for over a decade now. Several other elevation-based lists, each utilizing a slightly different set of qualification rules to generate a variation of the Bulger 100 list, have subsequently appeared. The Top 100 is one notable variant that uses somewhat more stringent rules. In addition, the Bulger 100 has been expanded to include the next 100 highest peaks, thereby constituting a longer list herein called the Bulger 200.

Although summit elevation represents a basic and important consideration when identifying major peaks, this should not be the only criterion because it would automatically omit many worthy peaks. For example, Mt. Triumph, Sloan Peak, Mt. Olympus, and Chimney Rock are widely regarded by local climbers as being major mountains, yet none of these appears on the Bulger 200 list, let alone the Bulger 100 or Top 100 lists! Some of the aforementioned variant lists do include these major mountains but omit others of similar status. Unfortunately, a single elevation-based list that includes all of Washington’s truly major peaks would undoubtedly also incorporate many peaks that are not considered worthy; the result would be an excessively long and cluttered list offering limited practicality to most mountaineers.

My own initial attempts to identify Washington’s major peaks began as a humble fireside list...followed by a longer list...then a revised list...then another...and yet another. This seemingly simple task evolved into a multi-year project involving countless hours of guidebook research and map study, as well as many iterations of lists, but it did not yield entirely satisfying results. What I needed was a better rationale---an engineered process---for evaluating peaks.

THE PROCESS

I recently set out anew to compile a complete---but reasonably compact---list of the major peaks in Washington. This time, however, I started with six evaluation criteria, ranging from very objective to very subjective. In order of increasing subjectivity, these criteria are as follows:

 Jack Mountain from East Crater Mountain Lookout Jack Mountain (Big Ten), a high peak with great prominence and projection. --Photo by Jim Brisbine

Elevation of the summit. As previously acknowledged, there is a fundamental correlation between a peak’s summit elevation and its perceived status. This is a very objective criterion because precise data (usually an exact number, sometimes an inexact number with a tolerance of 40 feet) can be obtained directly from topographic maps.

Prominence, which the Bulgers previously defined as the vertical rise of a given summit above the lowest contour line that encircles it without enclosing any higher points. Greater prominence gives a peak commensurately greater visual isolation, aloofness, and perceived status. In fact, for a summit even to be officially considered a “peak,” the Bulgers generally required that it have at least 400 feet of prominence, or 800 feet in the case of a volcanic satellite. Both of these numbers had a logical basis, but exceptions were granted for special cases. Prominence is a very objective criterion because fairly precise numerical values (usually with a tolerance of 40 feet) can be determined from topographic maps.

South Twin Sister from North Twin 
Sister South Twin Sister (Twin Sisters Two), a moderately high peak with very unusual geology and great visual appeal. --Photo by Jim Brisbine

Projection, a term I have coined to describe a peak’s height above the average level of surrounding summits and ridge crests. A large amount of projection gives a peak great visibility from diverse geographic locations and thereby increases its perceived status. Perhaps the best way to understand this term is by a simplistic comparison with the two preceding terms: elevation expresses topographic relief relative to a fixed datum plane (sea level); prominence expresses relief relative to neighboring low points (saddles and cols); and projection expresses relief relative to neighboring high points. As a criterion, projection effectively tilts and bends the “level playing field” imposed by the elevation criterion. Consequently, it mitigates much of the bias against peaks in the western and southern Cascades and in the Olympics, where summit elevations are generally lower than those in the northern and eastern Cascades. Projection is both objective and subjective because rough quantitative data (usually with a tolerance of several hundred feet) can be derived from topographic maps, and valuable qualitative data can be gained by merely scanning the horizon from various high points.

Mt. Baring's north face from 
Barclay Creek Mt. Baring (Skykomish Four), a low peak with great prominence and classic status.
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

Unusual geology. In Washington, this primarily refers to mountains of volcanic origin; despite being quite ordinary lithologically (they are mostly andesite), volcanos are orogenically very uncommon. Another notable example of an orogenically uncommon mountain is Mt. Olympus, as it represents the core of a thick sedimentary deposit (mostly sandstone) that was once covered by a basaltic lava dome and later exposed by erosion. Examples of unusual lithology in Washington include dunite, peridotite, pillow basalt, and conglomerate. This is a fairly objective criterion in terms of determining a peak’s geologic constitution, but the application is quite subjective.

Visual appeal, which is enhanced by alpine features such as glaciers, steep faces, sweeping ridgelines, flying buttresses, and summit towers. These attributes all serve to increase a peak’s perceived status (in the real estate business, this would be called “curb appeal”). Obviously, a criterion based entirely on aesthetics is very subjective, but there seems to be a consensus among local climbers as to which mountains are particularly appealing.

Classic status, which is an honor bestowed on peaks that offer special intangible attributes such as a difficult approach, an intriguing climbing route, superlative scenery, and/or a colorful mountaineering history. All of these diverse elements contribute to a peak’s perceived status. The basis for this very subjective criterion is established gradually through climbing literature and campfire lore.

Having established these six evaluation criteria, I then applied them in strategic combinations to all the documented peaks in Washington for the purpose of determining the relative importance (dare I call it “majoricity”) of each peak. Such a process is inherently imprecise and subjective, of course, but it can yield valid results if the criteria are applied with reasonable consistency. Whichever peaks distinguished themselves through this evaluation process could be regarded as Washington’s major peaks. Or so I hoped.

THE RESULTS

The above-described process resulted in a collection of 32 group lists, each containing anywhere from two to fifteen peaks (see attachments). All peaks within a grouping are associated by one or more of the six evaluation criteria. Rather than consolidate these group lists into one long list, I have presented them individually because it helps to illustrate my evaluation and selection process---hopefully lending credibility to the results. Furthermore, the individual group lists serve as a much more useful tool for mountaineers.

Glacier Peak from Tenpeak 
Mountain Glacier Peak (Regal Six), monarch of the central Cascades.
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

All together, the 32 group lists comprise 197 unique peaks. This tally may appear suspiciously close to 200, as though I targeted such a convenient number, but the proximity is purely unintentional. Nonetheless, I view the tally as fortuitous because it achieves one of my initial goals: to create a reasonably compact and manageable list for mountaineering purposes. Any tally on the order of 200 also strikes me as justifiable from a proportionality standpoint, as it seems fitting that about 15 percent of Washington’s approximately 1200 documented alpine peaks would qualify for “major” status.

A conspicuous feature of my group lists is that several peaks appear on more than one list. This duplication occurs not due to a flaw in the process but simply because certain peaks satisfy more than one set of criteria. Indeed, as a reflection of their “very major” status, Mt. Redoubt, Eldorado Peak, Mt. Goode, Dome Peak, Bonanza Peak, and Mt. Stuart each show up on three or four different lists. Most peaks, however, appear on just one list because they satisfy only a single set of criteria. Nevertheless, even by a solo appearance, all of the really big mountains (including the volcanos and nearly every other peak over 8500 feet high), as well as many very worthy peaks with fairly modest elevations, are given their due recognition.

GROUP DESCRIPTIONS

The 32 peak groups fall into three general categories: Special Groups, Regional Groups, and Wild-Card Groups. Brief descriptions of these three categories and their component groups are given below.

Special Groups

Forbidden Peak from the Quien Sabe Glacier The glacially carved horn of Forbidden Peak (Classic Eight, Tall Twelve, and Thunder Eight).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

This special category contains five diverse groups that encompass especially important major mountains. Each group was created by considering only one or two or three particular criteria rather than all six criteria. Because they possess extreme attributes when measured by these special sets of criteria, every peak represents a peremptory selection for major classification, and the resulting collection of peaks (there happen to be 32 unique members in this category) may truly constitute the “cream of the crop” in Washington. I have endeavored to give each Special Group a name that is both descriptive and evocative, as follows:

The Regal Six -- A special group that comprises all five Cascadian stratovolcanos (Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams) plus the Olympics’ crown jewel, Mt. Olympus. Strictly speaking, my only selection criterion was unusual geology, as all six mountains formed through extraordinary and intriguing orogenic processes. In effect, however, these mountains represent the topographic monarchs of Washington; they each dominate their respective geographic sector by virtue of their great combination of elevation, prominence, projection, breadth, glaciation, and visual appeal. Summit elevations range from 7,969 to 14,411 feet. The peaks are listed in a generally clockwise direction rather than by descending elevation in order to emphasize the fact that their elevations were incidental in the selection process.

The Classic Eight -- A special group originally established and named by The Mountaineers several decades ago. They defined this group as consisting of the eight North Cascades mountains that represent superior climbs due to overall difficulty and visual appeal. By virtue of being placed on the Classic Eight list, each mountain immediately gained permanent classic status; as such, it could be said that classic status was my only selection criterion for including this group. I felt no need to tamper with such a venerable list. These peaks are topographically significant, with summit elevations ranging from 8207 to 9511 feet, but I have listed them from north to south in order to de-emphasize the importance of elevation in the selection process.

Mt. Shuksan from Hannegan Pass Trail The awesome North Face of Mt. Shuksan (Super Eight and Big Ten).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

Sherpa Peak (left) and Mt. Stuart (center) from Argonaut Peak The fearsome Northeast Face of Mt. Stuart (Super Eight, Big Ten, and Leavenworth Eight).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine
The Super Eight -- A special group comprising what I regard as the eight most outstanding mountains in Washington (aside from the Regal Six), based on projection, prominence, and visual appeal. These mountains possess an exceptionally high degree of all three attributes---not only on a regional scale but also on a range-wide scale. From nearly any high point in the Cascades, most or all eight peaks will catch the eye and stimulate a climbing urge. If the Regal Six group represents Washington’s topographic monarchs, the Super Eight represents the topographic barons or lords. I think the Super Eight also serves well as a counterpoint to the Classic Eight in terms of selection source, because one reflects a committee's opinion and the other reflects an individual's opinion; good results are often obtained in any endeavor by melding both sources. Summit elevations range from 7727 to 9415 feet. The peaks are listed from north to south in order to de-emphasize the importance of elevation in the selection process.

The Big Ten -- Washington’s ten highest non-volcanic mountains with about 400 or more feet of prominence. As such, elevation and prominence were the only selection criteria. This group comprises the “9000-footers” because all ten mountains have summit elevations between 9000 and 9999 feet. The peaks are listed by descending elevation in order to emphasize the importance of that particular selection criterion.

The Tall Twelve -- Washington’s next twelve highest non-volcanic mountains with about 400 or more feet of prominence. As with the Big Ten, elevation and prominence were the only selection criteria. These are the “88ers” and “89ers” because all twelve mountains have summit elevations between 8800 and 8999 feet. The peaks are listed by descending elevation in order to emphasize the importance of that particular selection criterion.

Regional Groups

This second category encompasses 25 groups that constitute the major mountainous regions of Washington. Selection of peaks within each group was based on all six criteria: elevation, prominence, projection, unusual geology, visual appeal, and classic status. Each group is named after an associated geographic or climbing feature, such as a range, sub-range, wilderness, ridge, glacier, basin, river, lake, nearby town, or traverse route. Generally, only the highest peak of a mountain massif is included in a group; secondary summits and satellite peaks are excluded unless they have considerable prominence, projection, visual appeal, and/or classic status. These 25 Regional Groups are described below in alphabetical order. For each group, the peaks are listed geographically in order to illustrate their relative positions within that region and to de-emphasize the importance of elevation as a selection criterion.

Alpine Lakes peaks from Spectacle Point Lemah Mountain, Chimney Rock, and Summit Chief Mountain (Alpine Lakes Nine). --Photo by Jim Brisbine

The Alpine Lakes Nine -- A group of nine moderately spaced mountains located in the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Summit elevations range from 6554 to 7986 feet. The peaks are listed generally from southwest to northeast.

The Bacon Creek Five -- A group of five moderately spaced mountains located north of the Skagit River and surrounding the Bacon Creek valley. Summit elevations range from 7061 to 7680 feet. The peaks are listed in a clockwise direction.

The Chilliwack Five -- A group of five closely spaced mountains and peaks that are located near Chilliwack Lake and just south of the international border. Summit elevations range from 8407 to 8979 feet. The peaks are listed in a generally counter-clockwise direction.

The Company Seven -- A group of seven closely spaced mountains guarding the Company Creek valley, east of the Cascade crest. Summit elevations range from 8232 to 9511 feet. The peaks are listed generally from southwest to northeast.

Chalangin Peak from the Butterfly Glacier Glacier ice tags the summit of Chalangin Peak (DaKobed Five). --Photo by Jim Brisbine
The DaKobed Five -- A group of five closely spaced mountains comprising the DaKobed sub-range, which extends southeastward from Glacier Peak and forms the headwaters of the White River. Summit elevations range from 8210 to 8602 feet. The peaks are listed generally from northwest to southeast.

The Darrington Seven -- A group of six very widely scattered mountains (one of which has two peaks) located south and east of Darrington, between the Skagit Valley and Glacier Peak. Most mountains in this group are dramatically visible from the Darrington area. Summit elevations range from 6850 to 7835 feet. The peaks are listed generally from northwest to southeast.

The Goat Rocks Four -- A group of four very closely spaced peaks comprising the Goat Rocks sub-range and located in the heart of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Summit elevations range from 7768 to 8184 feet. The peaks are listed generally from northwest to southeast.

The Leavenworth Eight -- A group of eight mountains located closely west of Leavenworth, in the eastern portion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This group encompasses the Stuart Range, a major west-east spine in the central-eastern Cascades. Summit elevations range from 8364 to 9415 feet. The peaks are listed in a generally counter-clockwise direction.

Argonaut Peak from the south 
flank of Colchuck Peak Laura Zimmerman approaches Argonaut Peak (Leavenworth Eight).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

The Lucerne Four -- A group of four closely spaced mountains located at the headwaters of the North Fork Entiat River and southwest of Lucerne village. This group forms the crest of the Chelan Mountains sub-range. Summit elevations range from 8402 to 8595 feet. The peaks are listed generally from north to south.

The McAllister Six -- A group of six peaks loosely clustered around the McAllister Creek headwaters and the McAllister Glacier. This group comprises a series of nunataks (rock pyramids that pierce a glacial plain) and forms a secondary north-south spine between the Skagit River and Cascade River, west of the Cascade crest. Summit elevations range from 7771 to 8508 feet. The peaks are listed generally from north to south.

The Methow Four -- A group of four closely spaced mountains located near the headwaters of the West Fork Methow River. Summit elevations range from 8340 to 8444 feet. The peaks are listed generally from northwest to southeast.

The Monte Cristo Seven -- A group of seven closely spaced peaks that are clustered around the Monte Cristo townsite. Summit elevations range from 6610 to 7280 feet. The peaks are listed in a clockwise direction.

The Nooksack Three -- A group of three closely spaced mountains located north of the North Fork Nooksack River and just south of the international border. Summit elevations range from 7435 to 7994 feet. The peaks are listed generally from north to south.

Mt. Mystery from near Royal Pass Laura Zimmerman puzzles out the features of
Mt. Mystery
(Olympic Twelve).

--Photo by Jim Brisbine

The Olympic Twelve -- A group of twelve mountains and peaks (excluding Mt. Olympus) that are widely scattered throughout the Olympic Mountains. Summit elevations range from 6255 to 7788 feet. The peaks are listed generally from northwest to southeast.

The Pasayten Twelve -- A group of twelve widely spaced mountains located throughout the Pasayten Wilderness. Summit elevations range from 8366 to 8745 feet. The peaks are listed generally from southwest to northeast.

The Picket Twelve -- A group of twelve very closely spaced peaks comprising the Picket sub-range, located in the northern core of North Cascades National Park. Summit elevations range from 7880 to 8311 feet. The peaks are listed generally from northwest to southeast.

The Southern Pickets from 
Terror Basin Mt. Degenhardt, Inspiration Peak, and McMillan Spires (Picket Twelve).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

The Ptarmigan Pten -- A group of ten mountains and peaks scattered along the route of the famous Ptarmigan Traverse. This group comprises the true north-south crest of the Cascades between Cascade Pass and Glacier Peak. Summit elevations range from 8115 to 8920 feet. The peaks are listed generally from northwest to southeast.

The Ragged Six -- A group of six closely spaced mountains encompassing Ragged Ridge and extending to the southeast, in a location just south of the North Cascades Highway. Summit elevations range from 8215 to 8970 feet. The peaks are listed generally from west to east.

The Sawtooth Six -- A group of six moderately spaced mountains constituting the crest of the Chelan Sawtooth sub-range and located in the heart of the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness. Summit elevations range from 8375 to 8795 feet. The peaks are listed generally from north to south.

Reynolds Peak from Lone Mountain Pass Donna Cook and Laura Zimmerman admire evening sun on Reynolds Peak (Sawtooth Six).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

The Skykomish Four -- A group of four moderately spaced mountains straddling the Skykomish River valley and located west of Skykomish. Summit elevations range only from 5991 to 6240 feet, but what these peaks lack in elevation they make up for in prominence, projection, visual appeal, and/or classic status. All four peaks are highly visible from the Stevens Pass Highway or vicinity, and several have rich (or sordid) histories of mountaineering epics. The peaks are listed in a generally counter-clockwise direction.

The Snowkindy Five -- A group of five closely spaced mountains that include Snowking Mountain and Mt. Buckindy. This group extends from the Cascade River to the Suiattle River, west of the Cascade crest. Summit elevations range from 7127 to 7435 feet. The peaks are listed in a generally clockwise direction.

The Thunder Eight -- A group of eight closely spaced mountains clustered around the three branches of Thunder Creek (west fork, Skagit Queen Creek, and main fork), which flows northwesterly from Park Creek Pass. This group spans the Cascade crest and forms the topographic climax of the North Cascades. Summit elevations range from 8520 to 9235 feet. The peaks are listed generally from west to east.

Buck Mountain (left) from Buck Creek Pass The distinctive summit horn of Buck Mountain (Trinity Eight). --Photo by Jim Brisbine
The Trinity Eight -- A group of eight mountains loosely clustered around the old Trinity townsite. This group surrounds the headwaters of the Chiwawa River and Phelps Creek. Summit elevations range from 8421 to 9249 feet. The peaks are listed in a generally clockwise direction.

The Twin Sisters Two -- A group of two very closely spaced and similarly shaped peaks that became the metaphorical eponym for the Twin Sisters sub-range, located southwest of Mt. Baker. The geographic position (far west of the main Cascade Range), unusual lithology (dunite, a rock composed of the mineral olivine), and visual appeal (large, glaciated, red pyramids) of these two peaks warrants their inclusion as a distinct group. Summit elevations range from 6640 to 7000 feet. The peaks are listed from northwest to southeast.

The Washington Pass Four -- A group of two highly visible mountains (one of which has three peaks) straddling Washington Pass. They are closely associated by geomorphology (exfoliation domes) and lithology (granite). Summit elevations range from 7720 to 8050 feet, but their great combination of visual appeal and classic status compensate for relatively modest elevations and projections. The peaks are listed from northwest to southeast.

Wild-Card Groups

Summit of Big Chiwaukum Peak 
from south ridge A climbing party tops out on Big Chiwaukum Peak
(Crazy Eight).

--Photo from Jim Brisbine collection

This final category contains two groups, each composed of peaks from diverse locations throughout Washington’s Cascades and Olympics. After establishing the Special Groups and Regional Groups, I realized that a handful of very worthy peaks had slipped through the selection sieve. This unavoidable omission necessitated creation of a separate category for discretionary, or wild-card, selections---those genuinely major peaks that don’t conform with any other groupings. Despite their possible appearance as “trash can groups” comprising substandard or afterthought peaks, the Wild-Card Groups actually contain alpine gems that have been culled from the screenings. These two non-conformist groups are as follows:

The Crazy Eight -- A group of seven geographically scattered mountains (one of which has two peaks) that meet most or all six criteria for “major” status but do not logically fall into any Regional Group. As such, they represent true wild-card selections (hence, the reference to the popular card game). Most of the Crazy Eight mountains are loners, fairly isolated from others of similar height, but two sit near much larger mountains (Mt. Rainier and Jack Mountain). All eight peaks exhibit great projection and prominence. Five peaks are located in the North Cascades, two in the Central Cascades, and one in the South Cascades. Summit elevations range from 7467 to 11,138 feet. The peaks are listed generally from north to south.

Main Cowlitz Chimney from 
Banshee Peak Fog swirls around Main Cowlitz Chimney
(Craggy Fifteen).

--Photo from Jim Brisbine collection

The Craggy Fifteen -- A group of fifteen geographically scattered rock pinnacles that have great visual appeal, interesting geologic composition, and classic status as alpine summits, but lack the projection and/or prominence to be included in the Crazy Eight group. Due to their comparatively diminutive size, they are better regarded as major “alpine crag-peaks” than “mountain-peaks”; yet, they are much more substantial than the myriad needles and horns that garnish so many ridges in the Cascades and Olympics. All of the Craggy Fifteen peaks offer interesting semi-technical or technical climbs on a variety of rock types, including granite, diorite, gabbro, andesite, rhyolite, basalt, peridotite, and schist. Four peaks are located in the North Cascades, seven in the Central Cascades, two in the South Cascades, and two in the Olympics. Summit elevations range from 5357 to 9096 feet. The peaks are listed in a generally clockwise direction, beginning at the northwestern corner of the Cascades.

LIST COMPARISONS

How do the 197 unique peaks comprising my 32 group lists stack up against the Bulger 100 or the expanded Bulger 200 lists? Here are some numerical comparisons: My 197 peaks incorporate 86 of the Bulger 100 peaks (including all of the 50 highest), and 116 of the Bulger 200 peaks. Those remaining peaks (14 on the former list and 84 on the latter list) were excluded primarily due to inadequate prominence and/or projection, despite having a relatively high elevation. Conversely, I have included 111 peaks that do not appear on the Bulger 100 list and 81 peaks that do not appear on the Bulger 200 list. Nearly all of these additional peaks have somewhat less impressive elevations but are, by my measure, worthy of a “major” classification. A numerical comparison with the Top 100 list produces numbers very similar to those mentioned for the Bulger 100 list.

North (left), middle, 
and main (right) peaks of Mt. Index from Mt. Persis The daunting north and middle peaks of Mt. Index (Craggy Fifteen and Difficult 10).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

Compared to the Bulger 100, Top 100, and Bulger 200 lists, my group lists offer far more geographic and geologic diversity. Most notably, I have included numerous peaks in the Olympics, Twin Sisters sub-range, Bacon Creek watershed, Darrington area, Monte Cristo sub-range, Skykomish area, and Alpine Lakes Wilderness core. None of these fine regions would be visited by a climber focused exclusively on the other lists! Such a climber would also be deprived of the unique (albeit esoteric) pleasures offered by pillow basalt, sandstone, peridotite, and dunite, which constitute some of the peaks in these regions.

The preceding comparisons are not intended as a validation of my group lists nor as a criticism of the other established lists; they merely illustrate some favorable by-products of my six-criterion evaluation process. The two-criterion (elevation and prominence) process employed by others certainly yields its own merits, such as near-total objectivity and numerical satisfaction. Although my original intent was to create an alternative list, the final product could just as well represent a companion to the Bulger 100, Top 100, or Bulger 200 lists. After all, the really obsessive climbers among us will probably want to complete each and every list!

It is also interesting to draw a comparison with another list of a much different sort: namely, Dallas Kloke’s list of the ten Cascade peaks that he regards as the most difficult to climb by the easiest established route. For his short list, which I will call the Difficult 10, Mr. Kloke selected Lincoln Peak, Nooksack Tower, Mt. Fury's west peak, Inspiration Peak, Hozomeen Mountain's south peak, Southeast Mox Peak, Burgundy Spire, Johannesburg Mountain, and Mt. Index's middle and north peaks. All ten of these peaks happen to appear on my lists as being major peaks. Although other climbers have suggested alternative peaks that comply with a more stringent prominence criterion, the original Difficult 10 list remains valid if presented as the ten most difficult major peaks in Washington.

Middle amd south peaks of Three 
Fingers from north peak A lookout cabin sits precariously on the south peak of Three Fingers (Darrington Seven and Hot 100). --Photo by Jim Brisbine

One final comparison involves my own work-in-progress list of Washington’s hundred highest backcountry fire-lookout sites, which I call the Hot 100. My major peak lists include at least six of these lookout peaks, although Three Fingers is the only one that still has an intact cabin. Crater Mountain, Remmel Mountain, McGregor Mountain, Mt. Pugh, and Mt. Adams all hosted lookout cabins in previous decades, and their summits still exhibit remains such as wood and glass fragments. Mt. St. Helens also once had a lookout cabin on its 9677-foot summit, but neither the cabin nor the summit exists today! A few other peaks, such as Gardner Mountain and Oval Peak, are reputed to be former lookout sites; however, it is not clear whether they ever had an actual cabin or were merely vantage points for a lookout person.

CONFESSIONS AND COMMENTS

I must confess that my lists were partly inspired by The Mountaineers’ previously mentioned short-list of Cascade peaks known as the Classic Eight. To me, such a concise list of outstanding peaks combines simple elegance with mountaineering usefulness. My own short-list of outstanding peaks, called the Super Eight, closely follows the Classic Eight precedence, and several other groups follow this precedence more loosely.

Something interesting happens when the peaks in each Regional Group are plotted on a map of Washington and then interconnected with lines: the individual groups gain the appearance of constellations on a star chart. I rather like this analogous relationship between stars and peaks. Notice how star brightnesses on a chart vary, just as peak elevations on a map vary. Take this analogy one step further by plotting the Regal Six peaks on the same map; considering their topographic dominance, they could be viewed as bright planets in a night sky. Admittedly, the natural forces governing peaks and stars give them a certain randomness that defies manmade contrivances, but organizing them into peak groups and constellations has always served a useful purpose for mountaineers and astronomers alike.

Looking down the Emmons Glacier from the summit Kevin Weed nears the precipitous step-across below the summit of Little Tahoma Peak (Crazy Eight).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

After a climber has scanned my peak lists, one thought inevitably arises: "What about all of those nice peaks that didn’t quite make the major cut? It doesn’t seem right to dismiss them as just minor peaks!" I agree, and for this reason I do not endorse a binary classification system that ranks a peak as either major or minor. Instead, I prefer a quaternary (four-part) system that ranks a peak as either primary, secondary, tertiary, or quartiary. (I usually substitute the term “major” for “primary” because its meaning is better understood out of context.) Familiar examples of these four rankings might be Mt. Daniel, Snoqualmie Mountain, Mt. Si, and Tiger Mountain, respectively.

I should emphasize that my aforementioned rankings reflect the physical attributes of a peak rather than the quality of its routes or summit. In fact, some of my favorite peaks would be ranked as secondary (Hidden Lake Peak, Mt. Forgotten, Mt. David, Pyramid Mountain, and Mt. Aix, to name a few) or as tertiary (Mt. Defiance, Benchmark Mountain, and Kodak Peak, for instance) by this system. Other local climbers have expressed a similarly great fondness for certain secondary or tertiary summits, such as Trappers Peak, Blackcap Mountain, Jumbo Mountain, and Needle Peak.

North ridge of Bonanza Peak from summit Preparing to rappel as storm clouds pile up against Bonanza Peak (Classic Eight and Company Seven).
--Photo by Jim Brisbine

It would also be fair to ask whether my group lists are just another checklist for peak-baggers. They certainly lend themselves to peak-bagging, but I think they offer more than that. I discovered a decade ago that one of my greatest mountaineering pleasures comes from returning to a certain region year after year to climb a different peak. Whether the venue is the Olympics, Stuart Range, Monte Cristo sub-range, or Spider Meadow area, I feel a sense of homecoming. My approaches, campsites, summits, and partners change each year, but the surrounding mountains and valleys look familiar and friendly. For me, strategic use of the group lists ensures that I get plenty of geographical and geological variety over the course of each climbing season. For more-ambitious climbers, the group lists could help them optimize their time spent in each region.

I tackled this whole project to facilitate my long-term goal of climbing all the major peaks in Washington. If my climbing endeavor represents a grand journey, the peak lists serve as my itinerary; I can clearly see where I’ve been and where I have to go (as well as a few places where I don’t want to go). Every page of my itinerary also bears a watermark reminder that the journey itself is more important than the destination. All things considered, I do not really expect to reach my goal, but I do expect to have fun trying! Has anyone yet climbed all 197 major peaks? I don't know of any such person but would love to hear from those who are closing in.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

In the course of preparing this treatise, I received much-appreciated help and/or encouragement from many people. My sincere thanks go to Laura Zimmerman, Steve Fox, John Roper, Fred Beavon, Don Beavon, Mike Torok, Dallas Kloke, and Brad Brisbine for reviewing my manuscripts and keeping me from straying too far afield. Special thanks go to Laura, who assisted with the map research, and Steve, who turned the crazy idea of a website into a crazy reality.


shiny new helmet, 60/40 parka, corduroy knickers... The author on Mt. Stuart's Ice Cliff Glacier in 1977.
--Photo by Bruce White
...new parka and pants, same helmet... The author on summit of McClellan Peak in 2001.
--Photo by Laura Zimmerman
...same old helmet, shiny new attitude. The author on West Ridge of Forbidden Peak in 2002.
--Photo by Steve Fox

Email the author, Jim Brisbine