The 52 Peaks in Washington with over 3000 Feet of Prominence

by John Roper

Finished August 20, 2000


This 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 aplenty.


What is Prominence?

Simply 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.


Peaks 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.


Noah's Next Flood

The 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.

Say 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.


The 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.


Now 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.


Looking 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 that already?


Interestingly, 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 14433' (P9073).


Other 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.


History of Prominence Calculations in Washington

The 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 Prominence.”


Next, 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.


Steve's 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.


Starting 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.


Edward 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.


Andy 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.)


Thoughts on the 3000' Prominence List

As 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).


Climbers 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.


Big 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.


There 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.


This 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.


Note 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.


In 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.)


I 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.



Ways to Calculate Prominence

John Roper


As 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:


1) "Clean-Prominence Way" = 960 feet.

"Pminimum or Pmin"

Dictum : Let no one dispute that this peak qualifies for this prominence level.

Therefore, 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.

For 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.


2) " Best-Possible-Prominence Way " = 1039 feet.

"Pmaximum or Pmax"

Dictum : Make the peak's prominence look as good as possible.

Make the peak as high as possible, and make the saddle as low as the map allows.

For 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.


3) " Call-a-Spade-a-Spade Way " = 1000 feet.

Dictum : Whatever the map says the elevation of the peak and the pass is, is.

For example: A 7000' contour peak = 7000', and a 6000+ foot contour pass = 6000', so the prominence is 1000 feet.


4) " Split-the-Difference Way " = 1000 feet.

"Paverage or P-ave"

Dictum : Add 20 feet (1/2 of a 40 foot contour) to the peak, and add 20 feet to the pass before the subtraction.

For example: A 7000+ foot contour peak = 7020' +/-20', and a 6000-foot contour pass = 6020' +/-20', for a Prominence of 1000 feet.


Compiled 2000 by Jeff Howbert, Andy Martin, Edward Earl, Greg Slayden, and John Roper    
1 Mount Rainier 13,210+ 14410 1,200- (50) Mt Rainier West Vernon 82 L/6 BC  
2 Mount Baker 8,881+ 10781 1,900- (100) Mount Baker Skagit River92 H/3 BC  
3 Mount Adams 8,116+ 12276 4,160- (40) Mount Adams Cougar Lake ^
4 Mount Olympus 7,829+ 7969 140- (20) Mount Olympus Tumwater  
5 Glacier Peak 7,480+ 10520+ 3,040- (40) Glacier Pk East Snoqualmie Pass  
6 Mount Stuart 5,335+ 9415 4,080- (40) Mount Stuart Stevens Pass  
7 Abercrombie Mtn 5,168+ 7308 2,140- (20) Abercrombie Mtn Newport WA/ID ^
8 Round Mountain 4,780+ 5320+ 540- (20) Fortson Fortson ^
9 Mount Spickard 4,779+ 8979 4,200- (40) Mount Spickard Mount Blum  
10 Copper Butte 4,740+ 7140 2,400- (40) Copper Butte Republic ^
11 Mount Saint Helens 4,605+ 8365 3,760- (40) Mt Saint Helens Spirit Lake East ^
12 Three Fingers 4,490+ 6850 2,360- (40) Whitehorse Mtn Bedal ^
12 or Whitehorse Mtn 4,480+ 6840+ 2,360- (40) Whitehorse Mtn Bedal  
13 Mount Shuksan 4,411+ 9131 4,720- (40) Mount Shuksan Shuksan Arm  
14 Remmel Mountain 4,365+ 8685 4,320- (40) Remmel Mtn Ashnola Mountain ^
15 Jack Mountain 4,186+ 9066 4,880- (40) Jack Mountain Washington Pass  
16 Moses Mountain 4,134+ 6774 2,640- (40) Moses Mountain Tunk Mountain ^
17 Mount Deception 4,108+ 7788 3,680- (40) Mount Deception Mount Christie  
18 Mount Prophet 4,000+ 7640+ 3,640- (40) Mount Prophet Mount Redoubt  
19 Hozomeen Mtn 3,966+ 8066 4,100- (100) Hozomeen Mtn Manning Park92 H/2 BC  
20 North Gardner Mtn 3,996+ 8956 4,960- (40) Silver Star Mtn Crater Mountain  
21 Ruby Mountain 3,888+ 7408 3,520- (40) Ross Dam Ross Dam  
22 Sloan Peak 3,875+ 7835 3,960- (40) Sloan Peak Blanca Lake  
23 Huckleberry Mtn 3,865+ 5825 1,960- (20) Stensgar Mtn Forest Center ^
24 Goode Mountain 3,800+ 9200+ 5,400- (40) Goode Mountain Cascade Pass  
25 White Chuck Mtn 3,789+ 6989 3,200- (40) White Chuck Mtn. White Chuck Mtn ^
26 Bonanza Peak 3,711+ 9511 5,800- (40) Holden Suiattle Pass  
27 HP Chiwaukum Mtns 3,681+ 8081 4,400- (40) Chiwaukum Mtns Stevens Pass  
28 Gilbert Peak 3,664+ 8184 4,520- (40) Walupt Lake Green Mountain  
29 Gunn Peak 3,640+ 6240+ 2,600- (40) Baring Blanca Lake  
30 Calispell Peak 3,635+ 6855 3,220- (20) Calispell Peak Ione ^
31 Mount Bonaparte 3,537+ 7257 3,720- (40) Mount Bonaparte Molson ^
32 South Twin 3,520+ 7000+ 3,480- (40) Twin Sisters Mtn Twin Sisters Mtn ^
33 Mount Spokane 3,503+ 5883 2,380- (10) Mount Spokane Athol, ID ^
34 Mount Daniel 3,480+ 7960+ 4,480- (40) Mount Daniel Mount Daniel  
35 Black Peak 3,450+ 8970 5,520- (40) Mount Arriva Mount Logan  
36 Lyman Hill 3,400+ 4280+ 880- (40) Sedro-Woolley N. Lyman  
37 Aeneas Mountain 3,327+ 5167 1,840- (40) Aeneas Lake Conconully East ^
38 Dirtyface Peak 3,320+ 6240+ 2,920- (40) Lake Wenatchee Schaefer Lake ^
39 Mount Aix 3,286+ 7766 4,480- (40) Bumping Lake White Pass ^
40 Mount Blum 3,280+ 7689 4,400- (40) Mount Blum Mount Blum  
41 Mount Lago 3,265+ 8745 5,480- (40) Mount Lago Washington Pass  
42 Castle Peak 3,226+ 8306 5,080- (40) Castle Peak Pasayten Peak  
43 Desolation Peak 3,222+ 6102 2,880- (40) Hozomeen Mtn Hozomeen Mtn ^
44 Ellemeham Mtn 3,183+ 4659 1,476- (33) Bullfrog Mtn Enterprise  
45 High Rock 3,125+ 5685 2,560- (40) Sawtooth Ridge Wahpenayo Peak ^
46 unnamed (Big Gee) 3,120+ 5080+ 1,960- (40) Gee Point Gee Point  
47 Luna Peak 3,071+ 8311 5,240- (40) Mount Challenger Mount Redoubt  
47 or Mt Fury (3 areas) 3,040+ 8280+ 5,240- (40) Mount Challenger Mount Redoubt  
48 Big Craggy Peak 3,070+ 8470 5,400- (40) Billy Goat Mtn Billy Goat  
49 Dome Peak 3,040+ 8920+ 5,880- (40) Dome Peak Dome Peak  
50 Buckner Mtn 3,032+ 9112 6,080- (40) Goode Mountain Goode Mountain  
51 unnamed, Rogers BM 3,015+ 5775 2,760- (40) Aladdin Aladdin ^
52 Anderson Mountain 3004+ 3364 360-  (40) Lake Whatcom Acme  
Numbers in parentheses are the contour interval for the Saddle map.    
LO ^: Summits with past or present lookouts      
HP: High point            
BM: Bench mark