Peakbagger

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Bob Bolton of Vancouver is a “peakbagger,’’ an odd mix blending the danger of mountain climbing with the detail of bookkeeping.

Peakbaggers climb. They climb anything from 14,000-foot elevation peaks, to the highest points in wilderness areas, to the highest point in counties.

But they climb with a purpose — namely to complete a list of summits even if it’s a list few have ever heard of and perhaps defined only by the peakbagger.

“Lists of peaks are central to peakbagging,’’ said Bolton, 64, who lives in the Salmon Creek area.

Bolton already has finished 11 lists.

Among the 11 are Washington county highpoints, Oregon county high points, Oregon peaks with 2,000 feet of prominence, and peaks in the lower 48 states with 5,000 feet of prominence or more.

Prominence is a key concept in peakbagging. It is the height of a peak above the lowest contour encircling it and no higher summit.

In 2011, Bolton plans in early August to climb Mount Spickard in the North Cascades, that will complete the list of the top 100 topographically prominent peaks in the lower 48 states. He’ll do the ascent with two others who also have climbed 99 of those 100 peaks.

Also on tap for 2011 will be bagging more on the list of peaks in the lower 48 states which have 4,000 feet or more of prominence. Bolton has 120 climbed and 29 to conquer.

A Wenatchee native, Bolton began hiking at age 4, backpacking at 6 and reached his first off-trail summit at age 11 when he topped Old Snowy in the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

His uncle taught him basic mountaineering in 1967. He climbed Mount Hood and Mount Rainier that year. Bolton has climbed all the well-known Northwest mountains.

He started climbing more seriously in 1982 with friend Duane Gilliland, but also was busy raising children.

“We never could figure out where to go next, with so many potential targets and no prioritization schemes except the Colorado 14ers (14,000 elevation or higher in Colorado) and the state high points,’’ Bolton said.

He started working on climbing state high points in 1992 and was vaguely aware of a few other lists, like the peaks in Colorado.

For Bolton, this passion with lists took off after July 2002 when he reached the high point of Clark County on the spine of Sturgeon Rock.

He worked on Washington and Oregon county high points for the next two years, becoming the second to complete the Washington list (2004) and third to finish the Oregon list (2003).

Bolton was first on the list for both states.

He has climbed at least half the peaks on 39 lists of peaks and one-third of the peaks on 73 lists.

“By 2004, I was totally hooked on mountain lists in general, Bolton said. “I’ve never had so much fun — which is obviously the main reason I do it. Working on and completing lists is just huge fun for me

“I only wish I had started doing this at age 25 instead of 55. Of course, many of my favorite lists didn’t even exist until this millennium.’’

Questions and answers about peakbagging

Which is your favorite peak?

“Mount Shuksan is my favorite peak to look at. Dome Peak in the North Cascades is probably my favorite mountain I’ve climbed....I think my most favorite climbing experience, taking everything into consideration, is definitely Bonanza Peak. It’s an imposing peak. It’s one I never thought I would climb. When I decided to do the Washington county high points that is the one I was afraid of.... Some people think it’s the most difficult county high point, technically, in the 48 states. There’s both glacier travel and there could be open crevasses, there could be crevass rescue and there’s 900 feet vertical of exposed rock climbing.’’

What motivates you to do this?

“Summits are joy. I’m summit oriented. The guys who climbs walls aren’t. There’s a dichotomy between route-oriented and summit-oriented people. The route-oriented guys go up Mount Hood from all different directions and routes, same with Rainier, same with any of these mountains. I get to to the top the easiest possible way, get off of there and never come back because repeating takes time away from other peaks. If I have a signature, it’s so many mountains, so little time.’’

Are there some local peaks still on your lists?

“I want to do Whittier Peak in the Mount Margaret backcountry. It’s one of the top 200 prominences in Washington....There are quite a few 1,000-foot prominences in the Gifford Pinchot (National Forest) I’ve not done.’’

Do you backpack often to bag peaks?

“We don’t do backpacking very often, only for a major peak any more. We can’t waste our time. We’ve got lists to finish’’

“What we try to do is sleep in our vehicles. We take our vehicles ready to sleep in the back of them.’’

“We will take off in the evening and drive as far as we can. Then in the morning we’ll finish the drive, go do the first peak and then drive from there to the next trailhead and sit there for the evening, eat on way, get up first thing in the morning and go climb it and drive to the next one and we’ll do that day after day.’’

Do you ever go alone?

“I’ve been alone and in some ways that’s probably more dangerous than climbing Bonanza....So much of what we do is not dangerous at all, any more than just a hike.

‘‘A lot of people don’t realize that....I would love to get the word out to people who are on the trails that there is something very much fun that is not beyond your reach if you go with people who know what they’re doing and learn just a few extra skills. It doesn’t take much.’’