Jim Richards

Blacktail Butte

Since the early '90s John and I have regularly wandered around together, mostly over various Washington peaks, often in the company of other Bulgers and fellow travelers. I learned early in our friendship that John was, and would always be, far more knowledgeable about the terrain we traversed than I. Whenever we arrived at a view point, if asked, John would quietly and confidently name every single peak in sight. His climbing resume was even more astounding: over 2,500 named peaks with The List growing every week or two year 'round. It seemed a very long shadow to huddle in but it also seemed that I was always welcome there.

One of our most recent outings, in the summer of 2003, was a rather mundane undertaking which, nevertheless, was great fun and also exhibited some of John's more pronounced inclinations. John has already reported on this trip in "Peakbagging in NE Washington" , July, 21-22, 2003. My version of events is slightly different than John's.

The trip was initially billed as a weekend endeavor involving two peaks near Lake Chelan-their names now escape me. I signed on eagerly. However, as the week wore on (and other invitations were declined) John became increasingly inclined to do half-a-dozen lesser peaks in the northeastern part of the state. He fairly and, as it turned out, accurately described them as unremarkable. Not explicitly stated was that over a single weekend The List could be lengthened by six rather than just two names. Nevertheless, I agreed to the revised destinations.

Conscious of his distain for new-fangled devices, on the drive east I only very gingerly unlimbered a GPS. John eventually deigned to notice the instrument and inquired, with a distinctly skeptical inflection, whether it had ever "saved" me when lost. I allowed as how it hadn't but thought to myself that it probably had prevented me from becoming lost---as had old-fangled devices like maps and compasses done the same for us both.

The trip's first objective was Blacktail Butte, noteworthy (in John's mind) due to the fact that it has 1886 feet of prominence and John had already climbed all the Washington peaks with greater prominence. First, though, we needed to obtain car-camping supplies at the giant Wal-Mart in Colville. These, it turned out, consisted of junk food and cheap beer. While there John also acquired a $12 pair of moccasins and two visors which he negotiated down to, as I recall, $.50 each. (I suspect the salesperson had had limited experience with clientele who treated Wal-Mart like an Indian bazaar.)

Thrift having been given its due we headed to the heights of The Butte. This consisted of bushwhacking up several hundred feet to a rocky knob which John seemed to indicate was the summit. I recall a hand being extended in congratulations. I peeked at the GPS and suggested we had about 300 feet to the SW yet to go. After consulting his electronic altimeter (an apparently permissible newish-fangled device), John graciously agreed to wander in the indicated direction. Soon we were on the true summit.

John responded equally graciously to the teasing I inflicted while consuming several several of his beers that evening. I suggested to him, and subsequently to a number of our mutual friends, that the incident on Blacktail called into question every previous summit on The List and that the only way to remove this shadow of doubt would be to re-ascend every claimed peak----with a GPS.

I suspect that this will be the only time my navigating will come close to outdoing John's and I'm forced to admit that it took $15 billion of DOD satellites to do it.

Jim Richards