The Home Court 100
by Jeff Howbert
Wherever there is an abundance of mountains to climb, mountaineers seem compelled to draw up lists of the highest or hardest in their area. Numerous such lists have been compiled for the state of Washington, but two stand out for their completeness and consistency. Both are tabulations of the 100 highest peaks in the state, using somewhat different rules for what constitutes a summit. The Bulger list, prepared in the late ‘70s by John Lixvar, covered mountains with 400 feet or more of prominence, with a few miscellaneous inclusions that are well-known but lack prominence, e.g. Sahale. It was the first comprehensive, topographically defined list, and became the object of a fierce competition among the Bulgers to be first ascendant of the full 100 (achieved by Russ Kroeker in 1980, and 8 others since). More recently, Stephen Fry published a scholarly summation of the 100 highest peaks in the state according to criteria of 500, 1000, and 2000 feet of prominence(1). Only one climber is known to have finished all the peaks on these three lists (John Roper, in 1993).
After returning to the Northwest and taking up climbing, I became aware of these lists, and gradually acquired the fever to tackle them. But doubting whether I’d ever possess the time or technical ability to complete these very serious groups of mountains, I considered inventing a more modest list to work on. I wanted to retain the spirit of variety and challenge embodied in the original Top 100 lists, but somehow scale back the demands of logistics and technical difficulty. The result is described below - the Home Court 100.
The area chosen for the list was dubbed the Home Court because it represents that portion of the Cascades closest and most accessible to people living in the greater Seattle area, especially the Eastside (this includes myself). It lies between Highway 2 and Interstate-90, and west of Deception Pass, that is, west of Deception Creek and the Cle Elum River. Although some neighboring areas of the Cascades are similarly accessible, I decided to limit the Home Court to these boundaries, because they define a natural and well-delineated physiographic block of uplands, surrounded on all sides by deep, prominent drainages.
A total of 19 of the current series of 7-1/2 minute USGS quads(2) were analyzed to find the highest peaks in the Home Court. The primary rule for admission of a peak to the list was that it have 500 feet of prominence, i.e. it rise at least 500 feet above the low point on the highest-running ridge connecting it to a higher elevation(3). Since topographic maps provide only a certain degree of resolution in their contours (40 feet on all the maps covering this area), some ambiguity usually exists on the elevation of connecting ridges, as well as many summits. For this list, the most stringent possible interpretation of prominence was taken. Low points on ridges were always rounded up to the next higher contour on the ridge, and summit elevations always rounded down to the highest contour visible, unless a surveyed value was shown(4). This ensured that all prominences were "clean", in the parlance of those who worry about such things, and could not be the subject of future quibbles over whether they belonged on the list (this has been a minor issue with the original Top 100 lists).
So, enough of methodology - what manner of mountains did this exercise select? To no great surprise, they are much more accessible than the remote giants of the Pickets and the Pasayten. There are probably none that could not be climbed in two days round trip from the trailhead by a truly motivated climber (though a few would be more comfortable in three). There are also relatively few where the elevation gain from the trailhead much exceeds 4000 feet, whereas a number of the statewide Top 100s involve climbs of 6000 feet or more. In addition, glacier travel can be largely avoided if desired, although good glacier climbs are certainly available (especially on Mt. Daniel). On the other hand, it appears that the overall technical challenge of the Home Court 100 may not be dramatically less than their bigger brethren. The summits of Chimney Rock, Bears Breast, and the Middle Peak of Index cannot be attained except by multi-pitch technical routes, and there are plenty of class 3 and 4 scrambles, such as Cathedral Rock and Garfield, that command respect. Such was the outcome - I chose the area and set the rules for selection beforehand, then let the chips fall without any adjustments along the way. I’m actually quite happy that some truly difficult summits ended up on the list. It will oblige me to continue pushing my technical standard, even if I stay close to home.
Anyone familiar with the area will quickly note that a number of popular and well-known named summits are missing from the list. This is a consequence of using purely topographic criteria - no weight was given to whether a prominence had a name associated with it or not. The flip side is that a substantial number of authentic summits were found that are not named either on the map or in the Cascade Alpine Guide (about 25, or a quarter of the whole list). To help in locating these more obscure peaks, a couple of aids have been employed in the table. Some have been provisionally named as subsummits of nearby named summits (e.g. South Peak of Thorp), while others are identified by the names of two nearby lakes or drainages (these are enclosed in parentheses, e.g. (Boomerang-Blethen)). In a few cases, an informal name used by local climbers has been listed, e.g. Canoe Peak. For me, the discovery of so many poorly known summits adds greatly to the adventure of climbing the Home Court.
As I write this, I have only just begun my quest (17 climbed, 83 to go). It appears very unlikely I’ll be the first to finish. Two of my climbing partners have already done more than 40 peaks from the list. One of them, moreover, has decided the Home Court is a worthy project, and is devoting a fair amount of energy to its completion. No matter. Like all mountains, they’ll always be there. But with the Home Court so close by, I can realistically look forward to eventually exploring its every corner. And I’ll always have the satisfaction and enjoyment that came from researching the list - that was an adventure in itself.
(1) See The Mountaineer Annual, 1983-1990. Also appearing in the same article are two very interesting lists of the steepest faces on Washington’s mountains.
(2) USGS quads used: Index, Mt. Phelps, Grotto, Skykomish, Scenic, Mt. Si, Lake Philippa, Snoqualmie Lake, Big Snow Mtn., Mt. Daniel, The Cradle, Chester Morse Lake, Bandera, Snoqualmie Pass, Chickamin Peak, Polallie Ridge, Davis Peak, Stampede Pass, Kachess Lake.
(3) This prominence-defining low point appears in the table in the column titled "SADDLE".
(4) All data in the table is taken directly from current maps, with a single exception, namely the height of Chimney Rock. The current quad curiously omits the triangulated elevation of 7727 feet for the main summit, which appeared on all previous USGS maps. This unfortunately leaves the impression that the northeast summit, triangulated at 7634 feet and clearly much lower in the field, is equal or greater in height. The omitted value is used here solely to direct attention to the appropriate summit, and does not affect the rank of Chimney Rock in the list, or whether it has the necessary prominence.