THE FIRST SIERRA
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
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
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