PEAK (The Stump)
first try: John Roper, Gary Mellom
Peak/The Stump from the SE
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.
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
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."
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.
the time it was dark, we'd only made it to about 3200 feet (maybe
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.
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.
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.
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.
Peak appears on the map as this summit's name, but hardly anyone
calls it this.
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.
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."
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.
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
before I rewrote the above piece, I circulated this question to
my mountain friends with the picture above,
you were naming this peak, what would you call it?"
The Blocking Chop
The Chopping Block
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."
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.
Copyright 2004, John W. Roper, MD.
All Rights Reserved.