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What are Peak Baggers?

The Matterhorn is one of the most famous -- and deadliest -- peaks in the Alps.
Mount Everest, a life goal of many peak baggers.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2014
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Peak baggers are mountaineers who try to ascend a full “set” of peaks, such as the highest peak on every continent, every fourteener in America, or another similar goal. Difficult peak bagging lists like The Seven Summits are usually considered to be a life goal: few peak baggers in the world have successfully climbed Mount Everest, Aconcagua, Mount McKinley, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Vinson Massif, and Puncak Jaya. Peak baggers use lists to organize the mountains they have climbed, and to compare notes with other climbers. A peak bagging list can be an excellent way to set a climbing goal for a season or a lifetime.

Peak baggers use a number of criteria to make lists. The most common list is a high point list, which includes the highest measured summits. In addition to the Seven Summits, high point lists could include the ten highest mountains on a continent or within a particular nation or state. Some of the climbs on high point lists can be extremely technically challenging, requiring skill and support staff, while others can be undertaken by less experienced climbers.

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Other peak bagging lists might measure mountains by height threshold, isolation from other peaks, or prominence. Height threshold lists are lists of peaks which meet certain height requirements such as fourteeners and 8,000 meter peaks. Many climbers try to successfully summit all peaks above a certain threshold as a life long challenge, and some regions of the world, such as Colorado, have a high concentration of tall mountains to climb, making them popular places for peak baggers to travel to. Isolation is defined as the distance from another peak of equal or greater height. Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, has an infinite isolation value. In areas of clustered mountains, the isolation might be calculated as only a few hundred feet.

Prominence, also seen listed as vertical rise or shoulder drop, is an important factor in peak bagging lists. Prominence is probably best explained by example. Let us imagine that you have just summited a mountain. You start to climb back down, and after descending for some time, you find yourself climbing back up again. You have entered a gap or saddle, a depression between two high points. When you reach the top of your climb, the distance from the base of the saddle to the high point where you are standing is the prominence. Mountains with a high prominence are independent of other peaks and land.

Peak baggers are sometime criticized by other climbers because some of them take risks to achieve their goals such as climbing during inclement weather or without partners. Many peak baggers try to travel in groups or with clubs for climbing support, not only to counteract criticism but because it is safer and more fun. In 2006, several stories about climbers being abandoned to die on the slopes of Mount Everest raised questions about climbing ethics, particularly on dangerous high altitude climbs. Some older climbers suggested that the peak bagging fad was responsible for growing numbers of inexperienced climbers running into serious trouble while climbing.

Like any outdoor sport, mountain climbing can be dangerous for people at all levels of experience. Unfortunately, some peak baggers do lose sight of what is important while climbing, and this sometimes costs lives. However, others are ethical, responsible, and experienced, and the unwise actions of a few peak baggers should not taint our opinion of the rest of them.

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