Pre-Bagging Rationale
© 2013 Adam Helman


In a November 2013 survey 12 widely experienced county highpointers favored pre-bagging while 2 opposed it. These opinions are reproduced below in their own words without alteration.

I do not understand why pre-bagging is prohibited when such an overwhelming majority favors it. Is there something flawed in how our rules are derived which has led to this wholly unfair situation? My arguments with examples are presented below.

Majority Opinion

Bob Packard - "Boy I disagree with THIS one." (A reference to denial of pre-bagging credit.)

                      - "I will ALWAYS claim a member of ANY list if I have
                          done it even if it wasn't on the list when I did it."

                      - "1. Is the point on a list? 2. Have you ever been there?
                          If the answer to the 2 questions is YES then you get credit for that point
                          on that list. It is hard for me to understand how it could be otherwise. "

Mike Schwartz - "I concur with Adam and Bob P."

Dave Covill - "I can tell you 100% that both John (Mitchler) & I are totally OK with pre-bagging; we do it all the time for Nat Mons."

Scott Surgent - "If you hiked a peak at some point in your life and if that peak later gets included on some list, you get credit for that peak on that list regardless of extenuating circumstances. I guess all peaks we climb are "pre bagging" to some extent, hedging our bets."

Andy Martin - "Suppose I personally would give Hudson's party the credit no matter who was first up in 1959, so Adam you can record me as in favor of pre-bagging."

Greg Slayden - "My 2 cents is that “pre-bagging” is perfectly OK. I have one notable pre-bag on my resume—I climbed Barbeau Peak, Nunavut, in 1998, about a year before it became an official new territory of Canada. As with many new political units, the process of setting it up took years and the boundaries were known well in advance. On that expedition, we talked about the fact that we were pre-bagging it, and no one thought it was an issue (although we were obviously biased)."

Bob Bolton - "I'm sure this will come as no surprise: count me in favor of pre-bagging credit."

Edward Earl - "While I am pleased to be on the side of the overwhelming majority that pre-bagging should be recognized, I don't think that vote is any more valid than the 18-5 vote in favor of Bob's MSH claim on Skamania, and for the same reason." (Edward wants a generalized rule which addresses pre-bagging as a specific case.)

Gerry Roach - "Lists come, go, and change, but an ascent is forever. Let me illustrate.

Recently Charlie Winger urged me to spend more time with So, I went in there and added some more of my ascents. Then, to my amazement, horror, and amusement, I discovered that I am involved with 428 lists, and have only finished a measly 25 lists.

I quickly computed that, at my list completion rate, I will be 988 years old when I finish the 428 lists. But, there are almost certainly more than my 428 lists, since I am vastly underreported on peakbagger. Worse, the lists are obviously being created faster than I can climb. The big list - the list of lists - is an expanding universe, and the rate of expansion is accelerating. I go to the summits, but the lists are coming to me. The ascent is what counts, or as I put it a long time ago, “It’s not the list, it’s the love.”

In particular, lists of human defined areas are in constant motion. When a list is created or expands to include a peak I have climbed, then I have climbed a peak on that list. If the list contracts to dismiss my peak, then I lose one. Done. Date of ascent has nothing to do with a list tick."

Charlie Winger - "I totally agree. Hopefully after we're dead we'll still be climbing lists that didn't exist when we were alive." (Restated, one receives credit on a list that has yet to exist - "pre-bagging".)

Arguments and Examples

Peak lists come and go - while the peaks themselves endure. The time scale for a list's relevance is minuscule compared with the geologic scale during which mountains rise and erode.

A peak list samples peaks at a specific time point, based on some inclusion criterion that is artifical in comparison with the peak's physicality - its presence on the land. Thus denoting some peak a "county highpoint" is a politician's fantasy: the peak itself is unaltered, and could not care less what somebody decides to name it.

There is nothing fundamentally different between a summit before it is designated a county highpoint and immediately afterwards. In essence,

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Example 1

Suppose that county A has Packard Peak as highpoint. David climbs it.

Now A is subdivided into A and a new county B, the new boundary
defined to follow the ridge containing Packard Peak.

Does David have to reclimb Packard Peak to get credit for county B?

Now a third county is formed - and it's highpoint is, you guessed it - Packard Peak.
(This occurs when County C is a "pie slice" with apex at Packard Peak.)

Does David have to climb it AGAIN as credit towards County C?

Nothing substantial about Packard Peak has changed, yet somebody who denies
pre-bagging would require David to climb Packard Peak fully three times for credit.

Contrast this situation with Edward Peak: it used to be on public land, yet now is on military property and effectively inaccessible. The summit plateau has been leveled for a fenced-in radar facility.

This is a substantial change in how difficult it is to reach Edward's summit, and the current rules do not require anybody to reclimb Edward Peak after it became a far more serious proposition and hence impediment to state completion.

This is an illogical state-of-affairs: to insist on reclimbing a peak because of a mere designation shift, while not requiring reascent after a true (physical) change.


One individual attempted to provide counterexamples to the above arguments after I challenged him to that end. I found his examples irrelevant, involving multiple peaks rather than the same peak before and after county creation.

This individual denies credit for the first ascent of Alaska's highpoint to the 1913 team led by Hudson Stuck, Archdeacon of the Yukon. He considers the first ascent of Alaska's highpoint to be in 1959 after statehood was achieved. Although entitled to this opinion, one asks, what were those 1959 mountaineers thinking of when they neared the summit - "We've climbed Mount McKinley by a novel route!" or "We're the first people to climb Mount McKinley after Alaska became a state!" ?

This individual denies himself credit for certain peaks simply because the corresponding political entity had not yet been established.

One of my replies addressing his examples follows as it illustrates the requisite feature of SUBSTANTIAL, PHYSICAL CHANGE TO THE PEAK without which denial of pre-bagging credit has little basis. In particular, county boundaries do not provide such change.

"I'd not claim to have visited the United States of America had I toured 1775 Philadelphia - yet I would claim to have visited North America. The difference is one of CHANGE: North America's geology and overall shape has not been signficantly altered in the intervening timespan. In contrast, the political climate was radically altered one year later.

The analogy is apt: a mountain is NOT altered over such relatively small timescales. THIS is why a climb of it lasts "forever" - while lists come and go at the whim of those who generate and bag their summits. By corollary pre-bagging is permissible for credit on any list, present or future, containing the peak of interest.

Volcanism provides the exception, altering the mountain to such a degree, over human timespans, that a previous ascent does not necessarily correlate with a future ascent."

Example 2

The following example, admittedly quite farfetched, demonstrates the unpalatable and even absurd results that obtain when one denies pre-bagging credit. No similarly outrageous counterexample has been provided for what results when pre-bagging is allowed. I consider that absence significant.

Let highpointers Fred and David be friends who are doing the same loop route, albeit in opposite directions as shown in the figure. They are within County M with known highpoint Peak X (such as Missoula County, Montana's Peak X). There is also a Peak Y along their route, which is not currently a county highpoint: X is higher.
Example 2
Figure to accompany Example 2.
It is important that all elevations contain
contain nothing but the digits "0", "1" and "2".

Fred starts clockwise, heading north and then east, walking over X's summit to complete County M and hence the entire state. Hurrah!! He continues east, and then south, until the Peak X - Peak Y saddle which lies due east of their vehicle.

Meanwhile David starts counterclockwise, heading south and then east, walking over Y's summit. He continues east and meets A at the Peak X - Peak Y saddle.

Lo-and-behold the powers-that-be declare a new county at the instant A and B meet.

This new County N is formed from a portion of County M and has Peak Y as its highpoint. The new M-N boundary is directly under both the car and saddle.

Neither men know about this proclamation as they gleefully continue their appointed rounds. However even before they resume hiking, Fred has been grandfathered into completing the state since County N was not in existence when he summited Peak X. He climbed the current list and receives credit for it.

However David climbed Peak Y before it was pronounced a county highpoint. Without allowance for such "pre-bagging" he never completes the state even though he climbs over Peak X in short order.

Both highpointers climbed exactly the same peaks and yet are
rewarded or rejected depending on the order they were climbed.

It gets worse.

There is a Peak W in the newly truncated County M that was thought to be lower than Peak X. A resurvey of its height is made at the same instant that County N splits-off from County M - and W is found to be higher than Peak X.

Fred never climbed W, and yet still receives credit for both County N and the state completion because the existing list member was properly climbed - Peak X.

David has climbed Peak W. Yet he did W before it was the newly-christened County X highpoint. Therefore he does not get credit for County X even though he climbed Peak W - while Fred receives credit for County X while having never climbed its true highpoint.

An analogous situation has occured within the newly-minted County N. There, Peak Z was believed to be lower than Peak Y. Yet it was resurveyed upon formation of N and found to be higher than Peak Y.

Again, Fred has never climbed Z while David has climbed Z.

Since Fred passes over Peak Y AFTER Peak Z is known to be the true County N highpoint, you are tempted to claim he receives no credit for that county. However you'd be wrong - Fred was just grandfathered into completing the whole darned state!

Meanwhile poor David, having climbed both W and Z before they were declared county highpoints, never gets credit for either county.

Observations -

Hence denial of pre-bagging accentuates the need for grandfathering Fred (this pleases him to-no-end).

Hence acceptance of pre-bagging accentuates David's more meritorious accomplishments in that he does not then require grandfathering to be a state completer.

In essence,

The combination of {grandfathering, no pre-bagging} provides alarming, counterintuitive results. [1a]

If grandfathering is not at-issue, that it is a valid construct, then one rewrites [1a],

Disallowance of pre-bagging provides alarming, counterintuitive results. [1b]

I challenge anybody to claim these results are not bizarre and unacceptable -
the result of a flawed premise as denial of pre-bagging crdit.