Peaks List History

First Sierra Peaks List, 1976

By: Miles Brubacher

When the Sierra Peaks Section was formed in the fall of 1955, Section Chairman Frank Sanborn appointed me chairman of a Mountaineering Committee which included Owen Blackburn and Roger Gaefcke as members. The Mountaineering Committee was to make up the list of qualifying and emblem peaks for the Section.

One problem in making a peaks list was that we did not have complete USGS topographic maps of the Sierra. The 15-minute series hadn't yet been published, and the USGS maps we did have dated back to the surveys of 1901. So, we used maps from the Automobile Club of Southern California. Next we developed criteria by which peaks should be judged for inclusion on the list. We thought peaks should be chosen for elevation, dominance and inaccessibility.

Frank Sanborn gave me a list of 100 peaks in the Sierra, which he had prepared as a first draft. Nearly all the present emblem peaks were on that first list. Needham Mountain was one of the first emblem peaks, largely because Frank, Pat Meixner (Gentry), Chuck Miller, Lee Owings and perhaps some other charter members had climbed it. However, it was obvious to the Mountaineering Committee that Needham was not in the same class as the other emblem peaks. So Needham was struck from emblem status, to the tune of much screaming and hollering from Sanborn, Meixner et al.

There was a big gap in the emblem peaks between Mt. Humphreys and Mt. Ritter. After scrutinizing our trusty Auto Club maps, we chose Mt. Abbot to fill this gap, strictly on the basis of its location and elevation. None of the original SPSers had ever seen Mt. Abbot, much less climbed it. When we did climb it we found that it is a good 3rd class challenge.

After a few years, Split Mtn. was added and North Palisade was substituted for nearby Mt. Sill, as emblem peaks. The rock climbers prefer North Palisade as its easiest eastern approach route is 4th class. Perhaps the fact that Sanborn is not a rock climber favored his choice of Sill. Also, Mt. Sill presents a more spectacular silhouette to the east. The only other change to the emblem peaks list has been the addition of Mt. Clarence King in recent years.

Another fact that became obvious to the Mountaineering Committee in 1955 was that the Sierra Nevada could not be adequately covered with a list of only 100 peaks. So, the first list ended up with over 200 peaks, almost as many as the present 246. There have been quite a few changes in the lesser peaks as the various "Peak Baggers" over 20 years have promoted their favorites, but the great majority of peaks on the original list remained unchanged.

Published in the 20th Anniversary Issue (1976, Vol. 20, No. 8) of The Sierra Echo 

Sierra Peaks List History, 1995

By: Bill T. Russell

In late 1955, Frank Sanborn, the first chair of the SPS, appointed Miles Brubacher as the first chair of the Mountaineering Committee. Sanborn handed him a list of 100 Sierra Peaks as a start and asked him to compile an official list of "qualifying" peaks. In 1955, the new 15-minute, 1:62,500 maps based upon post-World War II surveys were hardly available, so Brubacher used Auto Club maps and 1:125,000 USGS maps based upon turn-of-the-century surveys to help select the peaks.

The Sanborn list contained 10 of the present emblem peaks and also Needham. As Brubacher stated in his article, "The First Sierra Peaks List," in the 20th Anniversary Issue of The Sierra Echo, "It was obvious to the Mountaineering Committee that Needham was not in the same class as the other emblem peaks. So Needham was struck from emblem status, to the tune of much screaming and hollering from Sanborn, Pat Meixner and others who had climbed it. There was a big gap in the emblem peaks between Humphreys and Ritter (a reference now modified to read between Darwin and Ritter-Ed.). After scrutinizing our trusty Auto Club maps, we chose Mt. Abbot to fill this gap, strictly on the basis of its location and elevation. None of the original SPSers had seen Mt. Abbot, much less climbed it. When we did climb it, we found that it is a good 3rd class challenge."

For the 30th Anniversary Issue of the Echo in 1986, I used the SPS archives and the help of Jerry Keating and others to compile an edition-by-edition story of the Peaks List. That story is slightly modified and brought up to date here.

1st EDITION-Undated-200 Peaks.

Mimeograph-three columns per page. Probably published in November 1955. The heading of this first Peak List reads:

200 Qualifying Peaks List (South to North)
Chosen for Elevation, Dominance of an Area and Inaccessibility

Only the peak name and elevation are given; there are no area headings, climbing difficulty classes nor map references. The most southern peak is Owens, and the most northern two are Mt. Elwell and Dixie Mtn. The northern Sierra is well represented, but there were few from the southern Sierra. The 12 emblem peaks are: Olancha, Whitney, Kaweah, Brewer, Williamson, Goddard, Darwin, Sill, Abbot, Ritter, Lyell, Matterhorn.

An article in the January 1956 Southern Sierran by Frank Sanborn states, "As the new year of 1956 gets underway, I take this opportunity to introduce the readers of Southern Sierran to the Angeles Chapter's newest section…. To join the SPS, you must be a member of the Sierra Club and have climbed six peaks from our qualifying list of 200…. Pat Meixner will furnish the Peaks List upon request…. We also have an emblem: to wear it, one must have climbed 10 out of 12 Emblem Peaks set up by the SPS Mountaineering Committee."

2nd EDITION-February 4, 1957-216 Peaks.

Ditto purple-format like 1st Edition. Added (20): Lamont, Sawtooth (S), Crag, Moses, North Maggie, Angora, Coyote, Cirque, Independence, Gould, Gayley, Baldwin, Iron, Red, Gray, North, Volunteer, Virginia, Tallac and Genoa. Deleted (4): Pilot Knob (N), Mammoth, Dunderberg, Trail

3rd EDITION-March 1957-217 Peaks.

Mimeograph, format like 1st Edition. Added (1): Sirretta

There is an indication in Echos and minutes of SPS meetings that someone in the Forest Service suggested that the Sierra Club conduct trips in the southern Sierra and help push for the creation of what became the Golden Trout Wilderness. The SPS seems to have done so and did add southern Sierra peaks to the list in 1957 and 1958. An item in the April 1957 Echo said that upon reaching the summit of Sirretta, the members of the Mountaineering Committee were so enthusiastic that they then and there added this peak to the list.

1957 EVENTS. There was controversy within the SPS during the year concerning the criteria to be used in adding peaks to the List. An Echo article labeled "Emblem Peaks: Revision Or Status Quo" had a forceful argument by John Robinson to elevate Humphreys and North Palisade to emblem peaks, in part because they involved "semi-technical climbing." An argument by Frank Sanborn urged the contrary, "since our section is slanted toward those who prefer to hike or, at the most, scramble up low-third-class routes." The issue was resolved by the membership in November 1957 when a bylaw change was passed that added Humphreys and North Palisade to the emblem list, making a total of 14.

4th EDITION, May 1958-227 Peaks.

Purple print-four pages-two columns. Added (11): Spanish Needle, Taylor Dome, Rockhouse, Midway, Perkins, Norman Clyde, Mammoth, San Joaquin, Starr King, Florence and Dunderberg. Deleted (1): Donohue Emblems. Added (2): Humphreys and North Palisade.

This edition was the first to arrange the List by region and sub-region in the general scheme used in A Climber's Guide to the High Sierra. A climbing difficulty classification was also added. Some controversy can be inferred from the deletion of Mammoth and Dunderberg in 1957 and their re-addition one year later. Dunderberg stayed on the list, but Mammoth was again removed in 1972. Pilot Knob (N) was the only other peak that oscillated from on to off the List.

5th EDITION-January 1950-228 Peaks.

Typeset in the June-September 1959 Angeles Chapter Schedule.
Added (1): Clouds Rest. This List was also printed in the June-September 1961, June-September 1962 and July-October 1964 Angeles Chapter Schedules even though it had been superseded by later editions published by the SPS. John Robinson reported in the May-June 1960 Echo that among these 228 peaks, five were Class 4: Thunderbolt, Humphreys, Clyde Minaret, Starr King, Cathedral.

6th EDITION-February 1961-232 Peaks.

Purple print, format like 4th Edition. Distributed with March-April 1961 Echo. Added (8): Pilot Knob (S), Kennedy, Marion, Johnson, Three Sisters, Hooper, Freel and Adams. Deleted (4): Maggie, Red Spur, Jobs and Dixie.

7th EDITION-November 1961-234 Peaks.

Mimeograph-three pages. Distributed with March-April 1962 Echo and August 1963 Echo. Added (3): Smith, McDuffie and Rose.

8th EDITION-May 1964-240 Peaks.

Mimeograph-format like 7th Edition. Distributed with May-June 1964 Echo and April-May 1966 Echo.
Added (6): Cartago, State, Tehipite Dome, Homers Nose, Muah and Julius Caesar. In January 1964, Sunday was added to the list, according to an Echo item, only to be deleted two months later because of severe criticism by those who promptly climbed it.The 8th Edition was the first to contain some text explaining how to become an SPS member and how to attain an emblem.Graham Stephenson, in the July 1964 Echo, argued for more stability and consistency in selecting peaks and for upgrading Class 1 peaks.

1965-1966-1967 EVENTS. These three years were a low period for SPS record-keeping. In 1965, only three issues of the Echo were published. In 1966, there was apparent pressure to improve the quality of the list, presumably by deleting the very easy hiking peaks and giving more emphasis to climbing. In the August-September 1966 Echo, Dick Jali in his Chairman's Corner, asked those who had climbed 150 peaks or more to:

    Pick the best 15 peaks (which might lead to emblem peaks revision)
    Pick 25 "Intermediate or Star Peaks which would be another class of peaks between the very large number of 'ordinary' peaks and the relatively small number of Emblem Peaks"
    Pick the best 100 peaks (which might be used to improve and curtail the list)

After receiving the requested input, the Management Committee would review them to decide the next step. In November 1966, the membership approved a bylaw change that defrocked Sill as an emblem peak and added Split and Clarence King. The membership also rejected substituting Black Kaweah for Mt. Kaweah as an emblem peak, so there was a compromise between the "climbers" and the "hikers." The 15 emblem peaks have not changed since.

In the March-April 1967 Echo, chairman Sid Davis announced that the outcome of the review of the best peaks was to designate 50 peaks as mountaineers peaks. The peaks that were named are the same as the present set (excluding the emblem peaks), except for substituting Charybdis for Scylla. Sid Davis also stated that Whorl and Harrington were added to the list. He was searching for someone to type the revised list; it did not get done for nine months.

9th EDITION-January 1968-242 Peaks.

Three versions: January 1968, January 1969, May 1971-Offset printing-seven pages-one column per page. Distributed with the February 1968 Echo and June 1971 Echo.Added (2): Whorl and Harrington. Emblem Peaks Added (2): Split and Clarence King. Deleted as Emblem Peak (1): Sill. Mountaineers Peaks: Designated 50, including the 15 emblem peaks

This was the first list that gave the topo map on which each peak was located. All the maps were the 15-minute 1:62,500 series. The January 1968 version erroneously omitted Black Mtn. The January 1969 version simply added Black to the 1968 typing.

1969 EVENT. In November 1969, the membership changed the bylaw regarding emblem status to require 25 peaks total and one year as an SPS member. The May 1971 Peak List stated this requirement. It was also a retyping and slight rearrangement of the January 1968 version.

10th EDITION-March 1973-241 Peaks.

Typeset-six pages-one column. Distributed with the March-April 1973 Echo.Added (2): Forester and Izaak Walton. Deleted (3): Haskell, Mammoth and Sherman. The 10th Edition was a major improvement in visual quality. It defined the climbing difficulty classes, and it also listed the classification of summit blocks, when they differed from the main climb. It had two typographical errors, omission of West Vidette and Cathedral. 1973 EVENT. In November 1973, the membership changed the bylaws to require a vote of the membership to change the List. Before this time, the Management Committee edited the list, except for the emblem peaks which were named in the bylaws.

11th EDITION-April 1974-242 Peaks.

Format like the 10th Edition. Available from the Secretary.Added (1): Mokelumne. The errors in the 10th Edition were corrected, and the new peak was added. The editor of the 10th and 11th editions, with their striking new look, was probably Betty Dessert.

1974 AND 1975 EVENTS. In November 1974, the membership added five peaks, deleted one and substituted Charybdis for Scylla as a mountaineers peak. It was intended to revise the list and publish it in early 1975, but this did not get done.In November 1975, the membership approved the senior emblem. In order to serve the senior emblem criteria, the peaks were regrouped into contiguous geographical areas of about equal size.

12th EDITION-January 1976-246 Peaks.

Typeset-six pages-one column per page.Added (5): Whaleback, Glacier Ridge, Cotter, Pilot Knob (N), Gemini. Deleted (1): Cross
Mountaineers Peak Added (1): Charybdis. Deleted as a Mountaineers Peak: Scylla.

This edition regrouped the peaks into 24 geographical areas of roughly equal size. Bill T. Russell was the editor for the 12th and subsequent editions.

13th EDITION-January 1981-246 Peaks.

Distributed with the May-June 1981 Echo. New 7.5-minute maps that were recently issued were listed in this edition. UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) grid coordinates were explained and were given for some peaks. There was also a review and update of climbing difficulty ratings. Finally, the mountaineers peaks (35) and the emblem peaks (15) were made mutually exclusive, instead of the former including the latter.

14th EDITION-October 1986-246 Peaks.

Distributed with the January-February 1987 Echo. This edition listed many new maps and changed elevations accordingly. Ninety-one of the peaks were now on metric 7.5-minute 1:24,000 maps with elevations and contour intervals in feet, and 75 peaks remained on 15-minute 1:62,500 maps.

15th EDITION-November 1990-247 Peaks.

Distributed with the January-February 1991 Echo.Added (1): Palisade Crest. A unique index number was assigned to each peak, e.g., for area 1, Southern Sierra, the 10 peaks were labeled from 1.1 through 1.10. An alphabetical cross index from peak name to index number was provided. By this date all of the peaks were located on new 7.5-minute maps. A table was added that gave a cross index to the older 15-minute maps and showed the lat/long location code for each map. Metric summit elevations were converted to feet.

The master emblem was recognized; it was approved by the membership in November 1988.

16th EDITION-October 1992-247 Peaks.

Because changes were minor, this edition was not distributed with the Echo, but it was announced in the November-December 1992 Echo as being available from the Secretary. November 1995.


By: Bill T. Russell

In an SPS Management Committee meeting in late 1974, someone commented that there was a big gap between achieving the SPS emblem and finishing the list. Having a penchant for goals, I suggested creating a senior emblem with a 125-peak requirement or half way to list finishing. Doug Mantle thought that 100 would be a better number, and Duane McRuer suggested requiring two peaks from each of the list's geographic areas. We wanted to emphasize quality so we added the requirement of 15 mountaineers peaks.

We got membership support for the idea, and it was put on the 1975 ballot and adopted. I then marked all of the listed peaks on small scale, 1:250,000 maps, juggled boundaries, and derived the list's present geographic structure.

To make a sensible sequential list, we gave senior emblem status to all the list finishers. By 1980 there were 62 senior emblem holders, by 1990, there were 102 and the last holder (at the time of this writing) was number 115.

We discussed designs and costs for various senior emblem pins. I had the manufacturer of the emblem pins fill in the outer ring with burgundy enamel and after discussion with many SPS members, the Management Committee adopted this version.

In late 1978, after I achieved the senior emblem, it still seemed like a big gap to list finishing. Some of us felt that an intermediate step with 175 peaks including 25 mountaineers peaks and four from each area was warranted. Jim Erb suggested the name "master emblem." I satisfied these requirements in July 1981 and mentioned the master emblem in my trip report in the August 1982 Echo. After existing for several years as an unofficial emblem, the Management Committee placed it on the ballot in 1988, and it became official.

Various people talked about a master emblem pin, and in 1994, with the particular help of Patty Kline, the Management Committee chose to use the emblem pin with green enamel in the outer ring. November 1995 - Modified from that printed in the 30th Anniversary Echo.