MISSOULA — Cedron Jones has little interest in summit registers. In Montana alone, he’s ignored about 1,200 of them.
“You’ll usually just find broken pencils, a bunch of business cards and a little notebook with people saying, ‘Awesome, dude.’ So, I often don’t bother to read them,” the Helena guidebook author said. But it is how I discovered those first county peak lists.”
And lists are the obsession of this 70-year-old self-described compulsive mountain climber. His latest book, “Peakbagging Montana,” covers 53 mountains across the state. In addition to descriptions and maps of each destination, Jones includes a whole section of alternative lists to use up a lifetime of free time.
“Take O’Brien Mountain, north of Kootenai Falls,” he suggested. “It’s between Troy and Libby — a totally overlookable mountain.
“It’s covered with logging roads, a lot of cutting goes on there. But the Forest Service map has a national scenic trail there. It starts low, goes to the top, runs a ridge and comes down in the Yaak. It was a wonderful hike, and you feel you’ve got it all to yourself. There’s big spruce woods and ripe huckleberries — just a wonderful experience.”
He offers all the Montana mountains above 10,000 feet elevation, the highest in each mountain range, highest in each county and peaks with greatest prominence.
That last factor takes some explaining, which Jones’ book provides.
Prominence is the amount of rise a mountain has from its lowest base to its summit. So, while the state’s highest mountain is Granite Peak in the Beartooths (elevation 12,799 feet above sea level), Crazy Peak (11,209 feet elevation) in the Crazy Mountains near Big Timber has the state’s highest prominence, at 5,709 vertical feet. Granite Peak ranks fifth with 4,759 feet of prominence.
But he also includes targets such as the Chalk Buttes high point, a 4,200-foot-elevation cliff near Eastern Montana’s Ekalaka.
Although he acknowledges this barely counts as a peak, it is scenic sandstone country and the high point of Carter County.
“The real joy for me is getting out and experiencing the landscape — different habitats, different places, different weather, different critters, different feel,” he said.
Jones got a master class in Montana topography when he volunteered at the state Historical Society in Helena, putting borders on a collection of 3,000 topographical maps.
“I was perusing those and compiling lists of peaks, like the 100 highest in the state,” he said.
But, while on a swing through Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Arizona checking off United States state high points, he came across a new kind of list: summit registers at county high points.
“That introduced me to community of geeks and serious climbers who are really into this stuff,” Jones said. “It got me interested in the serious listing thing.”
High points are often organized by county, and as such may not be a mountain at all. Four Montana counties’ high points are just spots on a ridge leading to a real peak in a neighboring county.
“When I was growing up, I would go on a hike, and, once in a while, going on a hike would involve climbing a mountain,” Jones said. “Now my preferred hike is to climb a mountain.”
That extends to his preferred vacations, as well. Jones keeps several lists active, including highest state peaks and peaks with at least 5,000 feet of prominence (elevation above general ground level.)
After the book became a definite project, Jones had to winnow his climbing log to a manageable number. His tally stood at 1,200 Montana peaks, including 340 of the state’s 10,000-plus footers. But he wanted something more definable.
“I keep a hiking diary,” he said. “When I thought of a peak, there are three factors: my feeling about the peak, how well it was covered in other sources and was it bringing something unique in landscape or hiking experience to the book? And, if I’m not that anxious to get back there, why not drop that one?”
Last year, he retraced his steps on 43 of the climbs that made it in to the book. Some of the bigger, tougher approaches, such as Glacier National Park’s Cleveland, Kintla and Stimson, he didn’t repeat. He also gives those minimal description.
“The more difficult peaks should be tried only by people who are more experienced and who need less detail,” Jones said.
“The main thing an experienced climber needs to know is ‘that’s a significant peak I didn’t know about.’ For beginning peakbaggers and hikers who want to try it, it’s more important to coax them.”
Jones also wrote the “Helena Area Hiking Guide” in 2008. Those 21 routes are limited by being within 20 miles of the state capital.
“Peakbagging Montana” takes on the whole state.
Book-store manager Barbara Theroux said Jones’ book tapped into a growing interest in extreme sports.
“If you can’t afford to have the helicopter and go skiing, here’s some mountain peaks you can go do,” she said.
“I think there will be lots of interest in it, especially for people who’ve climbed all the known spots. This is opening up a whole new thing and showing them where it all is.”