The Sierra Peaks Section

  • Posted on 7 June 2021
  • By Tina Bowman
Founded in 1955, the Sierra Peaks Section (SPS) offered its first official trip May 5-6, 1956, to Deer Mountain in the Southern Sierra. Membership in the section quickly grew from eighteen founders to 176 by 1960, and the SPS was by then leading twenty-five trips every summer. As Southern Sierra said at the time, it was “by far” the most active section. Our renowned founding member Barbara Lilley is still climbing peaks, and two others are still alive, possibly three more whose whereabouts are unknown. Not bad for a section that will be celebrating its seventieth anniversary in four years.
The purposes of the section, as stated in the bylaws, include “foster[ing] . . . an interest in exploring and preserving the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Range,” “promot[ing] . . . trips and mountain climbs in the Sierra,” and “cultivat[ing] close comradeship among hikers and mountaineers.” In addition, the section strives to help conserve and preserve the wilderness areas of the Range of Light and to set a good example to others by practicing Leave No Trace principles. The section has done trail maintenance, most notably on the Shepherd Pass Trail, working with the Forest Service.
Beginning as a list of one hundred peaks, the SPS list, now in its twenty-sixth edition, comprises 248 peaks, with one peak suspended because of private property issues. Divided into twenty-four areas, the list features fifteen emblem peaks dominating an area, such as Mt. Whitney, North Palisade, and Mt. Humphreys. Thirty-five other peaks on the list are designated mountaineer’s peaks for their significance in an area, often, but not always, challenging climbs; examples include Bear Creek Spire, Clyde Minaret, and Mt. Starr King. A few mountains on the list are class 1, trail, or hands-in-pockets walking; many are class 2, where hands might be used occasionally for balance. Although fewer than the class 2 peaks, the class 3 mountains often are very fun climbs involving scrambling, where the use of hands is needed for upward progress. A few peaks are class 4, more challenging than class 3 or more exposure with ropes for safety. One, Mt. Starr King, is class 5; again, ropes are used for safety. Sometimes a summit block is more challenging than the rest of the climb.
The Rock Climbing Section (RCS) was an active entity when the SPS was founded. Although the SPS led climbs of peaks with some technical requirements, it generally left it to the RCS to lead technical routes. With the loss of Sierra Club insurance to cover liability for technical climbs, the RCS evolved into the Southern California Mountaineers Association, not connected to the Sierra Club. On the other hand, the SPS weathered the loss of insurance by leading non-technical climbs and helping members find partners for private climbs of the more difficult SPS peaks. Once the insurance was back in place, the SPS again offered what is now known as restricted mountaineering outings (i.e., allowing the use of ropes, ice ax, and crampons), requiring participants to be Sierra Club members and have the appropriate skills for the climbs.
The SPS has been the premier mountaineering entity in the entire Sierra Club for decades, offering more restricted mountaineering trips than any other section, group, chapter, or National. All of the chairs and most members of the Mountaineering Oversight Committee, a National committee that approves restricted mountaineering outings, have been SPS members and members of the Angeles Chapter’s Leadership Training Committee. 
Before the advent of,, and, climbers sought information about routes up peaks in guidebooks, in newsletter reports, and by word of mouth, still all good sources. A few SPS members stand out in this regard, definitely creating “an interest in exploring and preserving the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Range.” Hervey H. Voge, SPS emblem holder #94, edited the first and second editions of A Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra in 1954 and 1965. What was planned originally as the third edition to be edited by Andrew J. Smatko, the first SPS list finisher (in 1964), became the 1972 Sierra Club Notebook Mountaineer’s Guide to the High Sierra co-editor and Voge. Building on earlier guidebooks, RJ Secor, SPS member, and two-time list finisher, published three editions of The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, Trails, beginning in 1992. Jim Jenkins, SPS emblem holder #156, published Self-Propelled in the Southern Sierra: The Sierra Crest and the Kern Plateau and Self-Propelled in the Southern Sierra: The Great Western Divide; the third and last edition was titled Self-Propelled in the Southern Sierra: The Sierra Crest and the Kern Plateau and Self-Propelled in the Southern Sierra: The Great Western Divide.  Before writing his well-known Trails of the Angeles and San Bernardino Mountain Trails, founding member John Robinson published High Sierra Hiking Guide: Mt. Goddard and similar books on the Mt. Pinchot and Kern Peak-Olancha areas.
Although most of the outings sponsored by the SPS are to the Sierra to climb peaks, especially those on the SPS list, trips have been led to the Cascades, and the SPS has regularly been a sponsor of Leadership Training Program rock and snow checkouts and practices, both more locally and in the Sierra. Outings can be day hikes to week-long backpacks, though most trips are weekend and three-day outings. Typically, a number of outings are co-sponsored by the Wilderness Training Committee to help Wilderness Travel Course students participate in outings and climbs to graduate. 
One need not be a section member to participate in SPS outings, and we typically offer outings for people of all levels of experience and technical climbing ability, from introductory trips to climb class 1 or 2 peaks to climbs of peaks requiring the use of an ice ax and possibly crampons and/or ropes. Going on SPS outings is a great way for participants to grow their mountaineering skills; leaders are glad to share their enthusiasm for climbing and adventuring in the Sierra and help climbers practice and improve their skills. We’ve had gourmet trips, outings with potlucks featuring various cuisines, Mustache Moseys, and other trips with various twists on the usual hike and climb format, such as a trip to Mt. Henry with reports from the participants and leaders about people named Henry. We look forward to the return of outings, once National deems it safe to do so following the COVID pandemic.
To become a member of the SPS, one needs to be a Sierra Club member, climb six of the peaks on the list, and subscribe to The Sierra Echo, our newsletter, for $10/year. The first year’s subscription is waived, and one need not be a member to subscribe. An application form for membership can be found on our website, here.
We invite you to explore our website and have a look at our newsletter.  We also have a Facebook group you may wish to look at and join. If you have any questions, please contact me at

Header image: Taboose Pass Trail, Sierra Peaks Section


Blog Category: 

Add new comment

Enter the characters shown in the image.