We humans like high places; mountains always fascinate us. As a result, we like to talk about mountains, and that leads inevitably to the urge to divide these special places into categories.
In our local mountains we seem to have only one category. We call the mountains “fourteeners” that reach above an altitude of 14,000 feet. All the rest of our hundreds of high summits go unclassified.
Earlier this summer I ran into a more elaborate system. In the highlands of Scotland, the higher summits are divided by altitude into three categories. Each of these provides a list for those who want to seek out and climb the highest mountains in an area.
The mountains of Scotland are not nearly as high as our Sierra Nevada, with the highest being Ben Nevis at 4,409 feet. The Scottish mountains are very far north, however, and above 3,000 feet they are as barren and challenging as our own high country.
For this reason, the Scots tend to rank mountains more than 3,000 feet high in a special category. They have a name for them; they call them “Munros.” According to the 2012 list of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, Scotland contains 282 distinct peaks worthy of Munro status.
The name comes from Sir Hugh Munro, a founding member of that same mountaineering club. In 1891, Munro published the first list of Scottish mountains that exceeded 3,000 feet in height. He came up with almost three hundred such summits.
Munro’s list soon evolved into a challenge for Scottish mountaineers, who took to calling these peaks “Munros” in his honor. The first person to climb them all was the Reverend A. E. Robertson, who completed the challenge in 1901. Today, according to the mountaineering club, more than 5,000 people have climbed them all.
Soon, two additional categories of mountains appeared in Scotland. Peaks rising between 2,500 and 3,000 came to be known as Corbetts, and those mountains between 2,000 and 2,500 feet took the title of Grahams. These names, too, celebrated Scottish mountaineers.
I bring all this up because I think it might be fun to consider something similar for the Sierra Nevada. Our mountains are much higher, of course, and we would need to adjust the categories appropriately, but the idea of naming classes of mountains after early mountaineers does seem appropriate.
Let’s start with those peaks in the Sierra Nevada that rise above 14,000 feet. These, I propose, might nicely be called “Clydes.” The name comes from Norman Clyde, the Sierra’s all-time master of first ascents. Using this standard, the Sierra would have ten “Clydes.” (Half of these, incidentally, can be found along the eastern boundary of our own Tulare County.)
The next category would be summits between 13,000 and 14,000 feet. This list would be longer, running into the dozens of peaks. Following the Scottish logic, I would name these mountains “LeContes” after Joseph N. LeConte, a University of California professor who made the first recreational maps of the High Sierra in the 1890s and spent much of his life climbing Sierra peaks.
Our final category would include all those Sierra summits topping out between 12,000 and 13,000 feet. This list would include several hundred peaks, including many dozen locally. I would call these our “Solomons” commemorating Theodore Solomons, who was the first to identify the route that is now followed by the John Muir Trail and another early “peak-bagger.”
So, how likely is it that the peaks of the High Sierra are about to be categorized as Clydes, LeContes, and Solomons? The answer, I am pretty sure, is that this is merely my personal fantasy.
But if Scotland can have “Munros, why can’t we have “Clydes?” Certainly, such a name would be more descriptive of our mountaineering heritage than merely calling them “fourteeners?”
© Wm. Tweed