What is a Peakbagger?

Ten Reasons why People Climb Mountains

  • Challenge: Climbers want to prove themselves against the mountains and give themselves tangible goals (summits) to see how they measure up.
  • Exercise: Mountain climbing is a great way to stay fit; those climbers who are not killed in accidents often lead healthy, active lives well into their 80s or 90s.
  • Social: Climbing is often a group activity and a great way to spend time with friends and family.
  • Wilderness: Mountains are often in wild, remote areas, and climbing is a great excuse to explore those blank spots on the map and get away from civilization.
  • Scenery: Mountains are visually stunning places to be, and the views both from the summits and on the way up are often spectacular.
  • Nature: Climbing mountains provides excellent opportunities to observe plants, animals, birds, geology, and other facets of the outdoors.
  • Sports/Hobbies: Climbing mountains lends itself to a whole host of fun sports and activities, such as skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, photography, trail running, fishing, base jumping, and others.
  • Climate: Mountaineering is a great way to increase the amount of wind, rain, snow, and overall coldness in your life, which is often a welcome respite for those from the desert or the jungle.
  • Inspiration: Sometimes a climber sees a peak and just somehow feels inspired to climb it, especially prominent and striking summits such as the Matterhorn or the Grand Teton.
  • Existential: Climbing a mountain to get to the top. Or, to quote Mallory, “because it’s there”.

Ten Signs you may be a Peakbagger

  • You have continued to a summit beyond a reasonable turn-back point despite terrible weather, including white-outs.
  • You keep a detailed log of all your climbs: peak name, date, weather, companions, etc.
  • You have taken hiking or climbing trips where the travel time to and from the base of a mountain is greater than the time spend in climbing the mountain.
  • You have made an effort to reach a spot in the lowlands that is completely undistinguishable except as the high point of something (for example, the highest point in Iowa)
  • You have visited a tropical island and climbed it's highest peak without ever going swimming or visiting a beach while there.
  • You see rock climbers on a sheer face and wonder why they bother, when there is a much easier way up on the other side.
  • You have driven over 2000 miles in a single weekend in order to climb a peak or peaks.
  • You have some familiarity with the concept of "prominence"/"shoulder drop"/"vertical rise above a col" and how it can be used to qualify a list of summits.
  • After the top of a technical climb, you took time to scramble over and "tag the summit".

Since I own the "" domain name, it seemed like taking a crack at trying to define the term and explaining a little bit about the concept would be an appropriate subject for a little rambling. So here goes:

Peakbagger (n): A mountain climber whose principal goal is the attainment of a summit, or a specific set of summits.

At first glance, this definition seems kind of oxymoronic; after all, isn't the goal of virtually all mountain climbers to attain summits? While that is true, my argument is that non-peakbaggers actually have other goals. Mountain climbers have always had trouble justifying their often dangerous and time-consuming sport, and in the table to the right I have tried to summarize ten of the more common justifications for climbing that are out there. The motivation to climb for most climbers comes from a varying mixture of those ten factors (and often other ones not listed, too).

My feeling, though, is that the peakbagger is focused disproportionately on reason #10 in the list at right. He climbs a peak because he wants to get to the summit, because it is there, because it needs to be climbed. Very often, he climbs a peak because it is on a list--by some combination of factors, it can be grouped as part of a logical set.

Orthodox mountain climbing is mainly focused on the challenge (reason #1 at right) of the peaks. Now that virtually all major summits in the world have been climbed, the focus is on what one could call "routebagging" (climbing new routes), "stylebagging" (using less protection, no oxygen, etc.), and "speedbagging" (minimizing ascent time) on the peaks. Most peakbaggers have very low interest in these kinds of pursuits. If the goal is the summit, how one gets there is not important. Why not just go up the easiest route possible?

Indeed, peakbaggers come in for a lot of abuse from most serious mountaineers. And, the worst-case scenario for a peakbagging exploit can certainly seem deranged. Imagine a boring hike on logging roads in cut-over forest, alone, in a rainy white-out, heading towards a non-descript clearing that marks the high spot of some random human-defined tract of land (such as a county, for example). There is no scenery, no social interaction, terrible weather, and precious little exercise, challenge, observation of nature, wilderness experience, or anything else. The main force behind this peakbagger's journey is existential summit drive. What other reason could there be for such a miserable trip?

Lists of peaks are central to peakbagging. While I think that it is perfectly valid to use the term in the context of a climber focused on an individual summit, most peakbaggers try to organize their summit fixations by going after peaks that meet certain criteria. "Highpointers" are peakbaggers that try to reach a set of high points--of states, countries, continents, national parks, or anything else. Another group of peakbaggers try to climb all summits over a certain elevation threshold in a certain area--the 4000 foot peaks in New Hampshire, the 14,000-foot peaks of Colorado, or the 8,000 meter peaks of the world. There are an infinite number of possible lists the creative peakbagger can dream up. This site features a listing of over 200 lists used by peakbaggers.

All of this leads to a certain emphasis on quantity over quality for many peakbaggers. Virtually every common peakbagging list has at least a few major, famous, or dominant summits, but the bottom rungs of many lists are often filled with many uninspiring peaks that would never enter the consciousness of a "real" climber. Today's serious mountaineer would rather climb Mount Rainier by several hard routes (Liberty Ridge, Willis Wall, etc.), while many peakbaggers would instead rather do Rainier by the easiest route and use the other ascents to get the state high points in Kansas and Iowa.

Many serious peakbaggers have a curious mix of skills. Technical rock and ice climbing prowess is usually not their strong suit, simply because there are very few summits worldwide that require those kind of skills. Generally speaking, you will not find peakbaggers in climbing gyms, at popular cragging spots, on waterfall ice, or on the big walls of Yosemite. Why, you can climb El Cap from the backside very easily! You do sometimes find peakbaggers practicing their rock or ice climbing, though, but only in preparation for a climb of some peak on some list that requires it.

Compensating for the general lack of technical climbing ability in many peakbaggers is a very strong sense of how to travel in the mountains. Peakbaggers are often excellent off-trail scramblers and bushwhackers, strong and tough hikers, and well-schooled at map-reading and navigation. Many miles of mountain pathway have given the typical peakbagger a toughness and variety of experience that many 5.14 crag climbers never get from their roadside cliffs. Real peakbaggers have really "been around": in deserts and rainforests, across snowfields and glaciers, up crumbly rotten rock ridges in terrible weather, on grueling 20-mile days--and in many cases, solo. (It can be hard to find partners willing to come along on many of the wackier peakbagging adventures.)

What I am trying to say is that we are not really that bad. If you meet a peakbagger, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste. The demons that drive them may seem strange, but are not really that much different from those of other climbers.

--Greg Slayden, April, 2004


Peakbagger's Hall of Fame

Initial draft--others inclusion pending

  • Sir Hugh Munro: In 1891, he created what is considered the first peakbagging list ever, the Scottish "Munros" (peaks over 3000 feet high).
  • Henry David Thoreau: Climbed high points of MA, NH, and ME in the 1800s.
  • Carl Blaurock and William Ervin: Completed the Colorado 14ers in 1923.
  • Robert Marshall, George Marshall, and Herbert Clark: Invented and completed the Adirondack 46 in 1924.
  • Arthur Marshall and Vin Hoeman: First to complete the U.S. State highpoints (Marshall the 48 states in 1936; Hoeman the 50 states in 1966).
  • Dick Bass and Patrick Morrow: First to complete the Seven Summits (Australia version by Bass in 1985; Oceania Version by Morrow in 1986)
  • Reinhold Messner: First to climb the 14 8000 meter peaks (completed in 1986).
  • Bob Schwab and Bob Packard: Have visited over 1700 US County high points (over half) as of 2011.


A peakbagger's summit photo in an almost total white-out (Mount Bogong, Australia, 1993)

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