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In May of 2010, I was interviewed for an AT Journeys article on peak bagging that appeared in the July/August 2010 issue. The writer, John Otrompke, gave me a few preparatory questions to contemplate before our interview. The notes I wrote to prepare for the interview are here in a greatly expanded form.
What is peak bagging?
Peak bagging is climbing peaks on a list of mountains belonging to a defined group.
For example, the 48 4,000' peaks in the White Mountains of NH, the 65 in New England, 111 Northeast, the Colorado 14ers and the 6,000' peaks of the Southern Appalachia.
Each of these lists has a definition. For example, the New England lists include peaks that rise at least 200' from the nearest col between peaks. The Adirondacks require a 400' gain. In some cases, it is also necessary to specify whether or not alternative means of ascending mountains is allowed. Some peaks have roads, ski lifts, or trains leading to the summit. Are such means of ascending and/or descending allowed to "bag" the peak?
Is there a peak bagging list for mountains along the Appalachian Trail?
I'm not aware of a peak bagging list for the Appalachian Trail. To create such a list, someone would have to define a set of criteria to identify those peaks to include on such a list, and then survey the trail and area around the trail for those peaks that meet that set of criteria.
There are lists such as the New England lists and the Southern Appalachian lists that have a significant number of peaks along the AT but they have differing criteria for inclusion.
Is peak bagging as rewarding as regular mountain hiking or climbing?
Peak bagging is regular mountain hiking. When I was spending time hiking in NH, the 4,000'er list gave me a way to identify "new" peaks to climb and "new" areas to explore in the Whites. When I started looking at the list, I had no intention of becoming a peakbagger. At the time, completing a list like that seemed like something very extreme to me. I didn't even consider trying to "finish" the list until I realized that I had nearly completed the list. I had been hiking with a friend who wanted to hike peaks with me that were new to both of us.
After completing the NH 4,000'ers, I didn't focus on the NE 4,000'er list until after completing the AT. I then realized I only had a few mountains on the NE list left to complete the list.
How does peak bagging compare to thruhiking?
For many, the allure of peakbagging is attaining high peaks from which there are often views. The goal is to get to the high place. In many cases, each peak or sometimes multiple peaks can be bagged as a day hike and most peakpaggers choose to do many peaks as day hikers. Of course, depending on the list, there may be peaks that require backpacking but then the peak is the goal, the hike, secondary.
For thruhikers, the goal is the hike along the length of a trail. It may happen to go over a large number of high peaks but the goal is the continuous line from start to finish. The trail also goes over a large munber of PUDs or pointless ups and downs. Those are just as important as the higher peaks because they are along the trail. Even a section hiker's goal is more similar to a thruhikers goal than a peak baggers. While much of some long-distance trails can be slackpacked and therefore done as a series of day hikes, the goal is still connecting sections of trail into a continuous line whether or not it goes over high peaks.
Where are optimal places to do it?
Anywhere that interests you with a cluster of defined or definable high peaks. Most choose areas relatively close to home but there are lists that include mountains all over the world. Some mountains on these lists might require technical climbing knowledge and would therefor limit peakbaggers to those with such skills.
Are there environmental issues?
Yes. Peak bagging lists may concentrate visitors to the peaks on the list. This can lead to overuse of trails, degradation of the natural settings on the peak and along the trail, and too many people on the trails to these peaks thereby leading to a degraded outdoors experience.
By not identifying such lists, it is thought that hikers would disperse themselves over a wider range of peaks and spread the impact they have more evenly.
Alternatively, at least for me, when I started hiking, peak bagging helped me expand the area I was hiking in and eventually gave me the confidence to hike in areas much further afield than the Whites and eventually the United States. In one sense, it kept me from hiking the same peaks repeatedly. In another, it expanded the area I impacted and probably increased the environmental resources necessary to get to those far afield places. Perhaps a wash? I was already a world traveler so perhaps not.
What about in the South?
I have no experience peak bagging in the south.
With the exception of Mt. Leconte in the Smokies and some peaks along the Pinhoti Trail in Alabama, the only other peaks I've hiked in the south were along the AT.
Are there related lists?
Other lists which garner a following include high point lists such as the state high points and county high points. There are trail lists such as those that try to hike every mile of every trail in the Smokies, the Triple Crown (AT, PCT, and CDT), the National Scenic Trails list (Bart Smith may be the first or one of the first to complete all of them), etc.
While not a serious endeavor of mine, if I do find myself traveling near state high points, I will make an effort to seek them out if appropriate. Some I am never likely to climb such as Denali, Rainier, and some of the other higher peaks. Others are mere curiosities such as Panorama Point in Nebraska. I drove right to the high point monument there, in the middle of a field barely distinguishable as a rise above anything else in the vicinity.
Geocaching and letterboxing may also be considered related endeavors though while they can point people to places in the outdoors, they often include more urban locations.
Relevant online resources include:
Last updated, February 18, 2014.
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