Companion blog: Adventures In Stoving

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Elevating" Shirley Peak – When is a Peak a Peak?

About a year ago, I published my list of Southern California Peaks Over 10,000 Feet/3048 Meters in Elevation.  When I first published my list, I included twenty four peaks.  Today, I'm adding another:  Shirley Peak (10,388'/3166m).
Peaks of the San Jacinto high country as seen from the north (from Folly Peak).
Shirley Peak is just left of center.
Note "The Rockpile" at the far right.  More on that later.
So, what, this peak just sprang fresh from the ground?  Well, no, of course not; it's been there all along.  At issue is when is a peak a peak?  I mean exactly what constitutes a peak?  Well, there is no commonly accepted definition.

The Definition of a Peak
Different web sites will talk about "prominence" (how far a given summit sticks out above everything around it) and "isolation" (how far away a given summit is from other summits around it), but there is no generally accepted values for what qualifies as a peak – and applying strict rules would disqualify many popular and well known peaks.  In reality, what people think looks like a peak generally gets recognized as a peak.  Subjective?  Yes, but that's the reality of it.

What's on My List?
For the purposes of my list, what have I done?  Well, I have included on my list any peak that I could find some form of general acceptance as a peak.  In other words, peaks generally recognized as peaks are on my list; peaks that have no general recognition are not.

Is "Shirley" a Peak?
Originally, I did not include Shirley Peak thinking that it was not generally recognized as a peak.  Yes, I knew that it had a name, but I thought that name was circulated among perhaps a single set of people (the local SAR unit) and that it really wasn't generally recognized as a peak.  But when I did not include Shirley Peak on my original list, a number of people contacted me, pointing out my omission.  It became quite clear to me that the name "Shirley Peak" was more widely known that I was first aware of.

"Elevating" Shirley Peak
Based on people's reactions, I began to consider including Shirley Peak on my list.  Then I took a photograph of the San Jacintos from about 95 miles (153 km) away.
The San Jacintos – from about 95 miles (153 km) away
Now, let's take a little closer look.  Let's zoom in a bit and look at the peaks along the main crest of the San Jacintos.  Now, notice something:  Shirley Peak can be seen as a separate, distinct summit, and Shirley has a very peak-like shape.
The main crest of the San Jacinto high country
Given that Shirley can be seen from nearly 100 miles away (over 150 km) as a separate and distinct peak-like object and that there is some general recognition that Shirley is in fact a peak, I added Shirley to my list.

Well then, what is not a Peak?
If you're going to add Shirley, why not add more?  I mean aren't there other peak-like objects out there that are over 10,000'/3048m in elevation?

Indeed there are.  So, what is not a peak?  Well, let's have another look at the San Jacinto high country.
A topographic map of the San Jacinto high country
On the above topo, I've highlighted the peaks on my list.  But what about the summit just north west of Marion Mountain?  Note that I've even labeled it "Mount Ellen."  Why isn't this on my list?

Well, the way that particular "peak" got a name is that a group of us wanted to honor a friend named Ellen, so we made a register, took a hike with our friend, and christened the peak.  However, sticking a can with a register in it on a rock pile does not necessarily a peak make.  Now, maybe the name will "stick," but until it does I think I'll hold off adding this one to my list.  Time and the outdoor community will have the final say.

Speaking of "rock piles", here's a photo of "Mount Ellen", seen on the far right.
Marion Mountain (left) and Mount Ellen (right)
"Mount Ellen," or whatever you want to call it, actually is fairly peak-like, so perhaps in time some sort of name will stick.  We'll see.

Unnamed "Peak?"
Now, on the topo map, notice another summit north and slightly east of "Mount Ellen."  I've just labeled this as "Peak?"  It's approximately the same elevation as Mount Ellen.  Would I suggest this as a peak?  Well, let's take a look; here's a photo.  The labels are a little small, so you may want to right click and open in a new window for maximum readability.
Peaks of the San Jacinto high country as seen from the south (from Marion Mountain).
To enlarge, right click and open in a new window.
The labels are a little hard to read, but the left most label says Unnamed "Peak".  That's the "peak" that I'm referring to.  Note that this "peak", while about as high as Mount Ellen, is very rounded.  There's no peak-like shape.  So, while it is a summit and it is over 10,000'/3048m, I doubt it will ever achieve general recognition as a peak.  However, if you did want to name it something, I'd submit the name "Joyce Peak" because my daughter Joyce hiked through there (well, was carried in a child backpack) when she was three years old and because a woman's name would fit with the general theme of female names on peaks in the southern portion of the San Jacinto high country.  I'm completely objective on this name of course.  ;)
My daughter, Joyce, "hiking" near "Joyce Peak"
Seriously though, I don't think this one will come to be regarded as a peak, and I don't intend to list it any time soon.

Now, note one more thing in the previous photo.  Between Folly Peak and San Jacinto Peak, there's a little summit which I've labeled as "Little Folly".  I don't think that summit is generally recognized as a peak, but who knows?  "Little" Charlton in the San Gorgonio Wilderness is considered one of the classic "Nine Peaks" of that wilderness, so perhaps in time Little Folly will gain recognition.  Will I put it on my list?  We'll see.

Admittedly, the process of determining what exactly constitutes a peak is more than just a little bit arcane, but I hope this post gives you some insight into what is and what is not a peak and how I've compiled my list.

As always, thanks for joining me,