Dear Action Line: Any idea who is responsible for naming the numbered peaks in the Weminuche Wilderness? – Count Mount Enz
Dear Count: This question turned into a doozy. There were apparently 23 numbered peaks in the Weminuche at one time, then 16, and now maybe just 15. But who named (numbered) them, and when?
The answer appears to be the now-defunct San Juan Mountaineers, probably around 1932. But the Mountaineers didn’t give names to all the peaks in the Weminuche. Not by a long shot. Before getting to the evidence for the answer, here’s some background.
The Utes certainly had names for many peaks before European settlers arrived, but unfortunately many or all of those names have been discarded. For a decade, beginning in 1869, the U.S. government’s four “Great Surveys” rambled through the West within a few degrees of the 40th parallel, taking stock of the land. (Read: Looking for natural resources to develop.) Among those, the Ferdinand Hayden and George Wheeler surveys spent time in Southwest Colorado.
Close to the numbered peaks in question, 14,089-foot-high Mount Eolus got its name because someone on the Hayden Survey was into mythology. Aeolus is the Greek god of wind. “There seemed to be somewhere in (the Needle Mountains) midst a regular ‘manufactory of storms,’” a survey member wrote in 1874. Aeolus at some point afterward lost its “A.”
Action Line’s research turned up a story in the Aug. 26, 1920, Durango Evening Herald on an expedition into the Needles. Regarding a 14,030-foot bump just north of Eolus, it stated: “The board of directors of the Colorado Mountain Club expects to name the peak in the near future.” It was unimaginatively named North Eolus.
Father of Action Line passed down a topographical map “reprinted 1917” of the Needle Mountains. It does not show any numbered mountains. No clues there.
Katie Sauter, director of the American Alpine Club library in Golden, came to Action Line’s rescue. “Back in the day,” she said, the Colorado Mountain Club managed the names of Colorado peaks. Later, maybe sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, the San Juan Mountaineers got into the act. The Mountaineers were well-established, complete with their own logo, but are now just part of history.
Later, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names became the official naming board.
There is not much information available on the numbered peaks in the database for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, Sauter said. However, she found some good clues elsewhere and formulated a hypothesis.
“Here is my theory on Peaks One thru Twenty-Three, which I strongly believe is the answer to your question:
“The San Juan Mountaineers named the numbered peaks, along with the peaks that have a prefix like E, S, T, U, V, and some others.” (For example, there is a V4 peak next to U.S. Grant Peak in the Ice Lake Basin area.)
Sauter dug out “The San Juan Mountaineers' Climber’s Guide to Southwestern Colorado,” an original printed in 1932, from her archives. It was written by Carleton Long, Melvin Griffiths, and Dwight Lavender, climbers of some renown. “You can see they number the peaks on the map. This is the earliest I have seen these peaks on a map.”
Action Line also contacted the U.S. Geological Survey office, which concurred with Sauter’s assessment. “The source of those numbered mountains is Carleton Long,” said Gina Anderson, USGS public affairs specialist. “On their maps they just put numeric numbers, but they correspond with today’s labels.”
Since 1964, the USGS topo maps have included the numbered peaks. The Weminuche was designated by Congress as wilderness in 1975.
Borrowing from a system used to name peaks in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, the San Juan Mountaineers’ guide says, “To the unnamed points in the Needle Mountains we have simply given numbers. Unnamed peaks in the balance of the groups were assigned numbers prefixed by a letter. This prefix is the first letter in the name of an outstanding peak in the group or in the name of the most important town situated within the group.”
(Action Line assumes that the “V” in V4 comes from nearby Vermilion Peak, at 13,894 feet the highest spot in the area.)
If you’ve ever skied at or hiked around Breckenridge, you know that summits in the Tenmile Range also have numbers. The Gore Range, not too far away, has lettered peaks – 26 of them, which, as some of you may recall, is how many letters exist in the English alphabet.
Although the SJM numbered 23 peaks, Peak Sixteen is now the highest-numbered peak. Seventeen through Twenty-Three are gone, and for some mysterious reason there is no Peak Twelve. If anyone out there stomping around finds Peak Twelve, please let Action Line know.
Action Line is really glad that the San Juan Mountaineers stopped at 23. And that they didn’t take cash for naming peaks, as publicly owned sports stadiums and arenas do these days. We could have ended up with “Cocaine Toothache Drops Mountain,” or “Dr. Batty’s Asthma Cigarettes Peak.” Yes, those were both once peddled as cures. But that’s another story.
Email questions and suggestions to email@example.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Maybe a peak name is too much to ask, but we can all agree there should be an “Action Line Avenue” somewhere around here, right?