July 14-15, 1966

Our first try:  John Roper, Gary Mellom


Pinnacle Peak/The Stump from the SE


Gary Mellom and I headed in for Pinnacle Peak (The Stump) on July 14, 1966, on our first "real climb" together--or attempt, anyway-- following what we thought was the approach used by the 1932 first ascent party of Herb Strandberg, Bill Degenhardt, and Jim Martin. This Pinnacle Peak name first appeared on the 1931 Mt. Baker National Forest map, and was probably Lage Wernstedt's appellation, since he surveyed this area. Unfortunately, Strandberg and Degenhardt had used the very same Pinnacle-term on a peak they climbed in the Snowfield-Colonial group the year before they were on the Picket Pinnacle. 

34 years after their FA here, Gary and I tried to follow these pioneer climbers into the Pickets by the route described in the sort-of-new 1961 Climber's Guide to the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington which restated Strandberg's instructions in perfect vagueness.

From previous trips, we had the route to the end of the Goodell road wired, but then floundered to Terror Creek. From here, the guidebook instructed us to "contour the forest slope beyond Terror Creek," and "ascend a brushy ridge between Goodell Creek and the next creek N to the SE base of Pinnacle Peak, a gain of 3800 feet."  There was a warning to "beware of a great thicket (1/4 x 1/2 mile) at 300 ft. where the creek flows out of the basin."

We fought vine maple and Devil's club past Terror Creek for an hour, then deciding it would be easier to fight brush on the level instead of on the sidehill, we dropped into Goodell Creek. It was already lunchtime. From here we angled somewhere up the right side of Stump Creek through recalcitrant scrub cedar and tag alder, in and out of endless riblets and gullies. I was in the lead and every time I made it to the crest of a new rib Gary would ask, "What do you see?" He must have asked that question twenty times that day. My reply was always, "More of the same." It was a miserable, frustrating, tiring day. From continuous pull-ups on the brush with our Trapper Nelsons catching on the limbs, our arms were as spent as our legs and our spirit.

By the time it was dark, we'd only made it to about 3200 feet (maybe here). We laid our bags out on a barely level place in steep woods, using a downhill tree as a barricade to keep us from rolling off the mountainside. We had had great views over to Triumph and Despair and an occasional glimpse of The Stump through the brush and timber on the way in.

Morning came and I was anxious to get up the peak, or get the hell out. Gary had plans though to cook us some of his famous pancakes, a recipe he'd perfected on his Ross Lake fishing trips. We rekindled the evening fire and waited his results. The hotcakes turned out just awful, burned black on the outside (the parts he could get off the bottom of the pan) and liquid-batter runny on the inside.

We decided that this was an omen to what the rest of the day might be like if we continued on, so we turned tail instead. Before leaving we carved a little rectangular notch in the bark of the tree that had propped us all night and stuck in it a 1"x 3" piece of copper plate on which we had previously etched our names, the peak, and the date. I am not worried that any other humans will ever come across these remains.

On the exit we splashed down Goodell Creek instead of fighting the Terror Creek brush banks. The creek was running tumultuously and at one crossing Gary was lifted off his feet in the middle of the torrent and was dunked in an unceremonious cartwheel in the rapids. I had my camera out but was too excited to record the event.


Pinnacle Peak appears on the map as this summit's name, but hardly anyone calls it this.

Glee Davis told me his story of the first use of the chopping-block name when I visited him in Sedro Woolley in the late 1960's.

About 1905, I believe, 100 years ago, Glee and Burton Babcock (who had a cabin on the Skagit just below Goodell Creek above Thornton Creek at Babcock Creek) went prospecting up Stetattle Creek jungle.  They turned left at Jay Creek, lured by a patch of rust-colored rock high in the valley. Glee told me that the early pioneers felt that “iron was the mother of all precious minerals,” so they would always investigate the red stains. Quite remarkably, the two made it all the way to the saddle at the head of Jay Creek on the ridge above Goodell Creek. They were naturally stunned by the view of the then-unnamed Pickets from here. They spotted the formation of “The Stump” (Pinnacle Peak) and Glee joked to Burton, “Look, there's Babcock's Chopping Block."

Back home the next day at his mother Lucinda Davis' roadhouse on Cedar Bar, just below Diablo, Glee sketched from memory a drawing of the Pickets which he showed me. The detail on the pencil sketch was incredible, as he had memorized and drawn the Picket shapes to perfection, the two McMillan Spires, the double-summit of Inspiration, and the Strandberg (Pyramid)-Degenhardt twins. The sketch was perfect, except that he had The Stump/Chopping Block slanting the wrong way, tilting towards the Pickets instead of towards Newhalem.

When I told Fred Beckey this story a few years later, his eyes lit up and you could see the wheels turning.  Then for the first time, the "Chopping Block" name turned up in print in the 1981 guide. I still like the name “The Stump,” which is what most Newhalemites called it when I was growing up here in the '40s and 50s, but for Glee's sake, I'll make personal peace with the tilted chopping-block moniker.


Just before I rewrote the above piece, I circulated this question to my mountain friends with the picture above,

"If you were naming this peak, what would you call it?"

1) Pinnacle Peak

2) The Blocking Chop

3) The Stump

4) The Chopping Block

5) Table Top

6) Other

Interestingly, the consensus of those that answered the question was split nearly 50/50 between "The Stump" and "The Chopping Block."  Nobody liked Pinnacle Peak.  Some of the "other" replies included, "Stump Mountain" (which actually was another Newhalem name for it), "The Anvil," "The Tilted Anvil," "Shark Fin," "The Chisel," "Beaver's Cleaver," "Talus Top," "Slanted Top," "Slanting Peak," and "a fun climb."  A few Newhalemites, including my cousin Mike Jonas, thought of this as "Table Top." 

For those folks who answered "Chopping Block," you've got to wonder if they ever chopped wood on a chopping block.  Don't you want a flat, level top for that?  Take a look at those rocky roots growing into the ground, and reconsider.