In Celebration of California's 50th Highest Prominence

Cone Peak (5,145 ft)

Date: May 19, 2002
Author: Gordon McLeod

Prominence? Yes, indeed, P r o m i n e n c e. You know: the state of being prominent -- and not some kind of explosion on the sun's surface.

A list of 50 peaks under the title of "California' s Fifty Finest" was compiled by Edward Earl of San Diego and Andy Martin of Tucson, AZ, and was published in Andy's book, "County High Points" [which, incidentally, identifies the county high points of all 50 states]. A facsimile of the aforementioned list [hopefully appearing nearby] identifies the 50 highest prominences in California with Mount Whitney at the top and Cone Peak in the 50th spot. [By way of reference [or is it orientation?], North Palisade ranks 52nd.]

Finally (what you been waiting and were hesitant to ask for):
"Prominence" is defined as the elevation difference between the peak and lowest saddle separating the peak from its next higher neighboring summit. That's it ... except for a slight detail: namely, the matter of identifying them. They just don't jump up and salute. Think about it ... that's enough thinking -- I think you get the idea. Besides, Edward and Andy have saved you the trouble -- blessed be the gods for that offering.

To provide some needed perspective here as to the significance of the Prominence concept, consider this: In the lower 48 states, Colorado has 54 "recognized" 14,000+ foot peaks,1 California only 13 and Washington has Mt Rainer. The punch line: California has 8 of "Fifty Finest", Nevada and Utah 7 each, Washington 6, but Colorado has only 3 !!! So, high altitude does not -- by itself -- grant ascendancy to a Prominence List. Now, you can see the significance of those words as the end of the definition of "prominence" -- those having to do the "lowest saddle". It is those words that really set the Prominence List apart from other peak lists !!!

Anyway, as it turns out, in our rambling in the state over lo these many years, Barbara Lilley and I had inadvertently climbed 48 of the things, missing only Prominence 39 [Cobb Peak, which is north of St. Helena in northern California] and Cone Peak [the 50th -- as indicated above]. We bagged Cobb Peak in the spring of 2002 in anticipation of finishing the list with Cone Pk a month or two later.

By early 2002, Adam Helman [again of San Diego] had wanted for a year to climb Cone Peak owing to what he envisioned must be a sensational summit view afforded by a mountain just three miles from the Pacific coast and a full vertical mile above sea level. So when Adam learned from Edward that Gordon McLeod and Barbara Lilly were poised to complete the Fifty Finest list with Cobb Mtn and Cone Peak, he suggested to Edward a coordinated assault on Cone Peak -- that 50th CA Prominence -- so that the uniqueness of the event could be celebrated by one and all.

Recall that Edward is into Prominences in a big intellectual way -- he uses computing algorithms to ferret out those prominence things. Adam is taken with them also -- that is, with both algorithms and prominences. [An insider's joke: Adam is a Ph.D. mathematician, whose other accomplishments include ascending aforementioned Cobb Peak -- just like Barbara and me -- on the second attempt.]

Anyway, after much negotiating among the four of us, the time and place was set. Whereupon, Barbara, perceiving that maybe Gail Hanna and Richard Carey [both also of San Diego] would like to join us for the List Finish, extended an invitation for them to join us and further induced them with the identification of two range high points that they might climb in route.

Gail and Richard are both heavily into Prominences and Range High Points. Richard is the one who compiled the List of California Mountain Range High Points. That was all it took to make it a party of six for Cone Peak.

Seriously, Cone Peak (5,145 ft) is really a very distinguished prominence even though it ranks only as the 50th. Seafarers in the 1800s commented on the striking snow-mantled peak they saw south of Monterey. The Forest Service established a lookout on the summit some time in the 1920s [?]. That lookout is still there, albeit all boarded up for many years. It looks more like a small house than a traditional lookout, since it sits directly on the summit's bedrock. On the way up the trail to the peak and through the mist, we got infrequent glimpses of the Pacific Ocean and the coast line more than 5000 feet below us. Very impressive sights, indeed. Too bad that the weather didn't cooperate for the views north and south along the coast from the summit would have been spectacular.

That distinguished party of six [in a suitable festive party setting] can be viewed in this photograph -- except, of course, for the photographer (Richard Carey).

From left to right in the photo: Gail Hanna, Edward Earl, Adam Helman (in the aqua parka), Barbara Lilley and Gordon Macleod.

The festive goodies were furnished courtesy of Adam, who provided and carried not only all those delicious white chocolate raspbery almond cookies, but also the champagne itself [in its original bottle], as well as the associated ice and container. The ice could have been very well omitted, as weather had turned darned right cold by then -- a storm was coming in -- nay, it was arriving.

Needless to say, we hiked out the two plus miles in the drizzle/rain and drove out of the mountains as the rain intensified. Nevertheless, it was a very satisfying Prominence bagging climb -- too bad the splendid weather that prevailed in the days before the trip hadn't continued.

Many thanks, to Adam Helman for the goodies, to Edward Earl and Adam Helman for conceiving of a "Fifty Finest" List Finisher, and to Gail Hanna and Richard Carey for contributing their presence.

And, finally, thanks to Cone Peak for its prominence!

1 Some would claim that Challenger Point is a 55th Colorado 14er.