Jeff Howbert

I blame it all on John. I mean that as a compliment. And I am grateful, truly. But it's still all his fault.

I refer, of course, to the compulsion for mountain list-making that has consumed most of my free time for the past eight years. If I hadn't met John, I doubt I'd have realized it was so important to compile list after list, covering all manner of mountains in every corner of the Northwest.

The first step on that slippery slope was my own doing, I suppose. After returning to the Northwest in 1993, I began visiting the mountains every weekend. At first it was only hiking, but the thirst for adventure soon led to scrambling, climbing, and winter mountaineering. A lot of the time, it wasn't easy to find people to go with me. That's when I noticed a certain John Roper regularly submitted reports to Pack & Paddle, describing trips similar to the ones I was risking on my own. So I phoned him up cold and introduced myself. He was properly hesitant, as the group he went out with was pretty hardcore, but finally I talked him into letting a complete stranger join his next trip.

And so there I was, on January 15, 1995, in the middle of the pack on a brutal, dawn-to-dark, three-summit, early-winter snowshoe bender near Snoqualmie Pass. "Who are these animals?", I pleaded. "The Bulgers," John replied. "What the hell's a Bulger?", I asked. And so, over the next few trips, John filled me in on the history of the Bulgers, the Big Boy list, and the personalities involved. I was fascinated and inspired. I had stumbled onto a big and living piece of the authentic pioneering climbing history of Washington.

The Bulgers became my role models, but I doubted I had the fortitude to emulate their feats. This was the impetus for my first list, the Home Court - I wanted a list of mountains to pursue that was within my abilities. Right from the start, John egged me on, providing lots of suggestions for improving the list and helping get it published.

It was only some years later, when I knew and appreciated the mountains of Washington much better, and had gotten past John's habitual modesty, that I understood how John's contributions to exploring the peaks of the North Cascades well exceeded even those of the original Bulgers.

And somehow, the list-making kept gathering momentum: the Back Court, the Oregon Top 100, an Olympics list, a Pasayten list . each supported with great enthusiasm by John. Finally, John broached the obvious final project, a list of all the summits in the entire state of Washington. I told him he was nuts, that it would take years to finish. But the truth was I had already toyed with the idea. And once he figured that out, there was no turning back.

Today, after staring at maps and computer screens for thousands of hours, I' m still not quite finished - I have about 90% of the state analyzed. But I have no regrets. The Washington Master List has been a project as rewarding as it was monumental. As I've published interim versions of it on the internet, I've been gratified to learn than quite a few people besides John agree.

All lists and list-making, of course, are just excuses to look at maps and explore vicariously, in preparation for enjoying the real thing. Fortunately, over the years, I've been able to share nearly as many days in the mountains with John as I have spent making lists. We've had a few desperate, unwise adventures (Three Queens comes to mind), countless exhausting winter slogs to cloud-bound, viewless summits, and even a couple of first ascents (a drop in John's bucket, but precious to me). In recent years, as John has run out of things he hasn't climbed, and my knees have run out of tread for more serious climbing, we've specialized in multi-summit scavenger hunts, picking off 8 or 10 minor named features in a single day in various out-of-the-way parts of the state.

Through it all, John has been as steady and reliable as any climbing partner I've known. When I've had a lousy week, I can count on him to be upbeat, gracious, witty, and entertaining. He is truly expert at navigation and map-reading, and furnishes every trip with an astounding store of knowledge on topography, placenames, and local history.

Happy 60th birthday, John. Thanks for being a friend. And I forgive you for fostering my addictions.

Jeff Howbert

Logging road snow hike we did on Dec. 14, 2003

 

John, Aaron, and Norm on top of Timerick Mtn., W of Okanogan, after camping the night at Leader Lake (4/20)

 

John, Norm, and Austin on top of Fox Mtn., a little further W of Okanogan, trying to identify distant peaks from the map (4/20)

 

Lunch at an abandoned homestead NW of Brewster, underneath Bald Knob, which we later climbed (4/19)