What is Peakbagging?


Climbing mountains has always been my favorite activity.  There is so much to see along the way to the peak, and the thrill of reaching the summit never gets old for me.  I am what many call a “peakbagger” – that is, one who primarily climbs mountains and has a set goal of summits to reach.

Peakbagging is an excellent challenge because it requires a good degree of physical stamina and knowledge about how to navigate the outdoors, with plenty of amazing rewards for those who undertake the journey.  What better way to enjoy the outdoors than to scale a peak and marvel at nature’s beauty?  And there are always lakes, streams, meadows, and wildlife along the way to enjoy……

A Peakbagger's dream

A peakbagger’s dream…..9,983′ El Capitan, the second highest peak in the Bitterroots.

There are two main ways to compile a “peakbagging list.”  One is by height – for example, all the 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado, of which there are 54.  Another is by topographical prominence – the height of a mountain above the lowest point connecting it to the next higher peak.  There are 57 mountains in the lower 48 states with over 5,000 feet of prominence, and many peaks with a 2,000-foot prominence threshold in every Western state for those not inclined to travel across the country.

Montana, interestingly, has not joined the peakbagging craze, mainly because of its low population and remote summits.  But I believe that there are many worthy peaks in this state which would give great honor to a peakbagging list. Montana’s highest summit is 12,799-foot Granite Peak in the Beartooths, and its most prominent peak is 11,209-foot Crazy Peak in the Crazy Mountains northeast of Livingston, with 5,719 feet of prominence.

I personally prefer an “eclectic” list which combines height, prominence, aesthetics, and proximity to home – the beauty of this type of list is that it is perfectly customizable to anyone’s skill level.  Here follows a series of snapshots of great summits in the Missoula area to “put on the list”:

St. Mary Peak

Saint Mary Peak (9,351’, 2,011’ of prominence) – the Bitterroot Mountains’ easiest high peak, a delightful walk along an easy trail to a fire lookout.

Squaw Peak

Ch-paa-qn (formerly Squaw) Peak (7,998’, 4,016’ of prominence) – the distinctive pointy peak to the northwest of Missoula with two moderate trails leading to an excellent perspective of the whole area from its rocky cap.

McLeod Peak

McLeod Peak (8,620’, 3,720’ of prominence) – the highest summit in the Rattlesnake Wilderness, located on its north side and a great place to go if you want solitude.

Holland Peak

Holland Peak (9,356’, 4,016’ of prominence) – the monarch of the Swan Range north of Seeley Lake, offering a majestic view and amazing fishing at two lakes on its side.

McDonald Peak

McDonald Peak (9,820’, 5,642’ of prominence) – the highest peak in the mighty Mission Mountains, and one of Montana’s most alluring climbs, rising a dizzying 7,000 vertical feet above the Flathead Valley. For experts only!

As always, I encourage aspiring peakbaggers to learn prudent outdoor skills, get excellent maps/guidebooks and pair up with good partners who share this passion.  Cedron Jones’s Peakbagging Montana is a great recent introduction to the best peaks this great state has to offer.  Michael Hoyt’s Bitterroot Mountain Summits is mandatory for those building their Bitterroot peak list.  And there is excellent information about many other Montana summits on www.summitpost.org, the premier mountain website in the world.  If you want to learn more about topographical prominence as well, visit www.peaklist.org.

So that’s what “peakbagging” is, and I hope to see you on the way to the summit soon!


bio photo1Dan Saxton is a newcomer to Missoula.  He originally hails from New York, and spent the last four years in California attending graduate school in San Diego.  Dan was first introduced to Montana (and the West) at the tender age of six, and has considered it one of his favorite places ever since.  Although Dan is hearing-impaired and uses a cochlear implant, he refuses to view his disability as an insurmountable barrier.  Now he seeks to make a living in Missoula, spending plenty of time hiking and climbing along the way and sharing his experiences with many others!