GREATEST PROMINENCE PEAKS
52 Peaks in Washington with over 3000 Feet of Prominence
August 20, 2000
important Washington list has been a long time coming. Finally in
early 2000, with the ultimate help of Andy Martin, these peaks were
identified. Many of the summits are familiar names to Washington
mountain enthusiasts, others are more obscure, but still stick up
stated, it is the elevation that a peak rises above the highest
saddle that separates it from the next higher peak. Another way
to say it is that prominence equals the peak's elevation minus the
elevation of the lowest contour that encircles that peak, and no
higher peak. If water were to rise to this lowest encircling contour,
it would isolate the mountain as an island, and the height of the
island would be its prominence. If you are standing on one peak
and want to go to a higher peak, you must descend at least the prominence
of the first peak before climbing the second.
with big prominence fall away (eventually) on all sides,
and usually look pretty prominent. Landforms that look prominent
do not necessarily have great prominence, however. Mount Si is an
good example here, looking quite hefty as it looms about 3700 feet
above North Bend, but it drops only a puny 247 feet on the backside
before rising to higher ground.
island explanation can also be described by using a modern-day Noah's
Flood example. The prominence of a peak can be thought of as the
peak's elevation above sea level, when it first becomes the highest
point on its own “island” as water rises. This “new sea level” shore/contour
is the one that encircles the peak and no higher summit.
the animals are all on The Ark. The highest peak in the world, Mount
Everest, rises 29,028 feet above sea level. It is the highest point
on the “Asia-Europe-Africa (Eastern Hemisphere) Island.” And 29,028'
is its “Prominence” above all surrounding water.
highest peak in the Western Hemisphere is Aconcagua in Argentina,
elevation 22,834' above sea level. It is the highest point on the
“North America-South America Island.” And its height is its prominence.
let's say that the rains come and the oceans start rising and all
of the peaks eventually start turning into high points of their
own separate islands. First, Mount McKinley, the highest peak in
North America at 20,320 feet, separates from Aconcagua when the
oceans rise to 85 feet (Gatun Lake at the Panama Canal), the lowest
point (now) between McKinley and Aconcagua (some state the lowest
natural point was in Nicaragua before the Panama Canal was built).
McKinley becomes isolated from Aconcagua on a separate “island,”
and becomes the high point of “North America Island.” Its prominence
(may I say “P”) is 20,320 minus 85, or 20,235 feet.
locally, as the rains keep coming, the oceans rise around Washington
State. When the water rises to separate Mount Rainier as an “island”
from the new “Mount McKinley Island,” Mount Rainier becomes isolated
as the high point of its own piece of land. The “Noah's Saddle”
for Rainier is way up in Canada, at the head of the Okanagan [BC
spelling] River on its divide with the Thompson/Fraser River near
Enderby, B.C. (north of Omak and Oroville in WA). That saddle is
1200- feet, so Rainier's prominence is 14410' minus 1200', or 13,210
feet. As soon as a peak is isolated as the high point on its own
island, its elevation is its prominence. Did I say something like
several 3000+ foot prominence peaks in Washington have a Noah's
Saddle that is lower than Rainier's. When the ocean rises to only
140 feet, Mount Olympus is separated out as the high point of “Olympus
Island” with a “P” of 7829'. This is a tremendous prominence, which
ranks “Lowly Oly” 7969' as having a greater prominence than absolutely
every one of the 54 14,000+ foot peaks in Colorado, except Mt Elbert
summits with a lower “Noah's Saddle” than Rainier's 1200-‘ include
Anderson Mountain (with a 360- saddle), Round Mountain (540-), and
Lyman Hill (880-). So as the water rises, these summits would separate
off from their land connections with Rainier as islands with greater
than 3000' prominence before Rainier would separate from McKinley.
of Prominence Calculations in Washington
first accurate Top 100 list of peaks in the state, calculated by
prominence, was meticulously put together by John Lixvar in 1976.
He fleshed out this so-called “Bulger List,” which to this very
day is the most prized major goal for Washington mountain fanatics.
John's figures played off of a list of peaks down to 8500 feet calculated
by fellow Bulger, John Plimpton, following the 400-foot prominence
rule. Lixvar's list has some quirks that don't need to be discussed
here, but as important as his list, John established the concept
of a “clean prominence” standard. See Table below on “Ways to Calculate
Steve Fry came along in the early 1980's and stunned the prominence
world, locally at least, by figuring out the Top 100 peaks in the
state by several different prominence intervals, including the 100,
250, 500, 750, 1000, 1500, and 2000-foot rules, and others. All
of the above lists have ranked the peaks by height, not prominence.
prominence religion was different than John Lixvar's, and he sometimes
came up with different numbers for prominence on the same peak by
his “split the difference” method, described in the Table below.
Until the USGS or satellite mapping can precisely calculate the
“exact” summit and saddle elevations to the foot, Steve's estimates
are probably more statistically accurate approximations to true
prominence, but his use of elevations that are “+/- 20 feet” is
considered “dirty or messy” by the “clean” prominence camp.
in 1995, Jeff Howbert began finding many 2000'+ prominence peaks
as he methodically analyzes every one of the 1428 Washington quads,
and Greg Slayden has done extensive independent work here too. But,
it took an Arizonan with the help of a Californian to complete this
Top 52 P3000 list in its current form.
Earl from San Diego developed a computer algorithm to perform comprehensive
prominence analysis of areas of the United States using digital
elevation data from the USGS. Because the data available have many
inaccuracies, it is still necessary to verify the results on topographic
maps before placing final confidence in them. But this program puts
the nose of the person analyzing the paper topo maps on a
spot that could be a peak with a particular prominence.
Martin, from Tucson, whose keen eyes have identified the highest
point in every county in the entire United States, finally wrestled
this Washington prominence list into its current form from the map
room at the University of Arizona library, and we thank him. Unfortunately,
he could not (yet) be persuaded to finalize the “Top 100 Washington
Peaks by Prominence,” the usual number we like in WA, so there is
still some more entertainment out there. (2004 note:
Jeff Howbert has finalized the list of all 144 peaks in WA with
2000 feet of prominence.)
on the 3000' Prominence List
mentioned, most of the peaks listed are familiar names to Washington
climbers. The first three peaks are obvious candidates (Rainier,
Baker, Adams), though it may be a surprise that Baker 10781' beats
out higher Adams 12276' in prominence. This is because Baker connects
with Rainier through a significantly lower Noah's Saddle (in B.C.)
than Adams (whose saddle is just north of White Pass).
can see from points all over the range that Glacier and Stuart rise
above the crowd. But Abercrombie 7308' (the high point of Stevens
County in Northeast Washington), steals the prominence crown from
the barely very highest peak in all of NE WA, nearby Gypsy Peak
7320'+ (the high point of Pend Oreille County), because of Abercrombie's
lower Noah's Saddle with higher ground in Idaho.
prominence almost always translates into big views. It's a long
way down before the ground goes up again. Over a third of the summits
on this list are, or were former lookout sites, and the last time
I checked, there was still a lookout building on Moses, Huckleberry,
Bonaparte, Spokane, Aeneas, Desolation, and High Rock.
are a couple of peaks that tie for the same prominence ranking,
even though the maps say one peak may be lower that the other. Ranked
#12 are Three Fingers 6850' and Whitehorse 6840+, and at #47 are
Luna Peak 8311' and Mount Fury 8280+ (West Fury and two points on
East Fury all share this elevation). These alternates are listed
because if you add 39 feet (on these 40' contour maps) to the imprecise
“+ elevations” for Whitehorse and Fury, they may be higher than
their Three Fingers and Luna rivals.
is an “ultra-clean” list, since “Noah's Contour” is used for the
saddle height, even if a precise number is shown on the map at the
saddle (e.g. Stevens Pass for Stuart and Whatcom Pass for Luna),
because the benchmark may not be at the true low point.
the odd-balls on this list. There are some very low elevation peaks
with very big prominences. These include summits like Lyman Hill
4280+, Aeneas Mtn 5167', Ellemeham Mtn 4659', and lowliest of all,
Anderson Mtn 3364'. It's pretty amazing to have over 3000 feet of
prominence on a summit that's only 3364 feet high.
August 2000, Karen and Aaron came along with me to help finish this
list. It took us just two days to polish off the final two peaks
I had left, since earlier goals had already coaxed my body up 50
of the 52 summits, and the 2 alternates. We drove nearly to the
top of Ellemeham Mountain, just west of Oroville after waiting out
and worrying about a tremendous thunder and hail storm that dropped
lightning bolts on the summit prior to our arrival. The next day,
we hiked up a gated road, shooing cows and bulls off our path to
my last P3000 summit, Aeneas Mtn/Lemanasky Mtn, west of Tonasket,
where we chatted with the friendly lookout, Rex Kamstra, who actually
spotted a fire during our visit. (2005: Rex once had a great
WA LO website with photos and info on many of the old LOs, but unfortunately,
most of those links are now defunct.)
found joy on all of these peaks, but I am an equal-opportunity Washington
mountain/landform/bump explorer. I love our Washington-summit diversity.
Everything counts to me. This range consists of near-nothing to
near-impossible summits, and this list exemplifies that fact. Climb
‘em all, or take a shot at them, if you will. Every summit provides
a unique and rewarding life experience.
to Calculate Prominence
an exercise, let's try to figure the Prominence of a theoretical
peak that shows as the 7000+ foot contour, where the saddle/pass
that connects it to the next higher peak shows as the 6000+ foot
contour, by the various ways:
"Clean-Prominence Way" = 960 feet.
: Let no one dispute that this peak qualifies for this
make the peak as low as the map allows, and make the saddle to the
next higher peak as high as the map allows, or on 40-foot contour
maps, add 40 feet to the contour shown for the saddle.
example, a 7000+ foot contour peak remains 7000 feet and the 6000+
pass would be figured at 6000' + 40' = 6040' (the lowest contour
that encircles the peak and no higher summit), for a Prominence
of 960 feet.
" Best-Possible-Prominence Way " = 1039
: Make the peak's prominence look as good as possible.
the peak as high as possible, and make the saddle as low as the
example, a 7000+ foot contour peak could be as high as 7039 feet
on a 40-foot contour map, and the 6000+-foot pass could be as low
as 6000 feet, so the best prominence possible is 1039 feet.
" Call-a-Spade-a-Spade Way " = 1000 feet.
: Whatever the map says the elevation of the peak and the
pass is, is.
example: A 7000' contour peak = 7000', and a 6000+ foot contour
pass = 6000', so the prominence is 1000 feet.
" Split-the-Difference Way " = 1000 feet.
: Add 20 feet (1/2 of a 40 foot contour) to the peak, and
add 20 feet to the pass before the subtraction.
example: A 7000+ foot contour peak = 7020' +/-20', and a 6000-foot
contour pass = 6020' +/-20', for a Prominence of 1000 feet.
3000-FOOT PROMINENCE PEAKS
|Compiled 2000 by Jeff
Howbert, Andy Martin, Edward Earl, Greg Slayden, and John Roper
||Mt Rainier West
||Vernon 82 L/6 BC
||Skagit River92 H/3 BC
||Glacier Pk East
||Mount Saint Helens
||Mt Saint Helens
||Spirit Lake East
||or Whitehorse Mtn
||Manning Park92 H/2 BC
||North Gardner Mtn
||Silver Star Mtn
||White Chuck Mtn
||White Chuck Mtn.
||White Chuck Mtn
||HP Chiwaukum Mtns
||Twin Sisters Mtn
||Twin Sisters Mtn
||unnamed (Big Gee)
||or Mt Fury (3 areas)
||Big Craggy Peak
||Billy Goat Mtn
||unnamed, Rogers BM
|Numbers in parentheses
are the contour interval for the Saddle map.
|LO ^: Summits with
past or present lookouts
|HP: High point
|BM: Bench mark
Copyright 2004, John W. Roper.
All Rights Reserved.