I’ve been studying topographic maps for more than half a century, as an aid to my climbing. Even today, I look at hundreds of them every year and I can’t help but notice that there are a lot of different names used to label mountains. I’ll use my home state of Arizona in the United States in order to explain.
There are 7,497 peaks in Arizona with a minimum prominence of 300 feet – only 2 states in the USA have more. There are close to 2,000 different 7 1/2- minute topographic map sheets, or quadrangles (“quads”), that cover the state, and 1,333 of them have peaks. The other third of them have none because they usually cover flatter land. When you have over 7,000 different peaks from which to choose, you’ll see an awful lot of different types of names. Okay, I know I’m jumping around here a lot without getting specific, so let’s go.
Not all mountains are called “mountains” on the map. I’ve realized that for some time, that there are other words that are used. When I started thinking about this concept, I guessed that maybe there were 4 or 5, maybe 6 different words for a mountain, but to my surprise and delight I have found many more. I’d like to share my research with you. Some of these names used on Arizona’s map sheets are quite obscure, I must admit, such as these:
Pillar – I only found one of these, with the colorful name of “Pillars of Hercules”.
Bend – I found one of these, “Mule Hoof Bend”.
Promontory – there was just one of these.
Break – another great name, “Eminence Break”.
Loma – the Spanish language has had a strong influence in this part of the world, so it wasn’t surprising to find “Loma Alta” near Tucson.
Island – an isolated bump along a rugged ridge, we have “Fan Island”.
The previous 5 were all one-of-a-kind. Here are a few that are a bit more common.
Throne – as you might guess, these are impressive rises – “Vulcan’s Throne” is a good example, as is “Wotan’s Throne”.
Hump – we only have 2 of these; “Conner’s Hump” and “Devil’s Hump”.
Crag – there are only a couple of these, and “Eagle’s Crag” is a good example.
Arch – we have several of these.
Monument – just a few, such as “Explorer’s Monument” and “Powell’s Monument”.
View – not common, but they’re out there, like “First View”.
Lookout – only a couple, such as “Indian Lookout”.
Shrine – two of these, with great names like “Krishna Shrine” and “Rama Shrine”.
Pyramid – only a couple of things with this name, such as “Cheops Pyramid”.
Thumb – only 2 of these, and “Tom Thumb” is the best example.
Tit – just a few of these, all of which are rather inappropriate these days. Examples would be “Squaw Tit”, “Squaw Tits” and the related “Mollie’s Nipple”.
Crest – we have 3 of these, and “Awatubi Crest” is a good example.
Plateau – we have plenty of these, and sometimes their highest point is a summit. The “Kaibab Plateau” is a good example.
Terrace – the high point of this type of a level area can be a peak in its own right.
Park – we have a great many areas with the name “park”, and sometimes their highest point can be a summit.
Tower – I love this one, where we have things like “Tower of Ra”.
Cape – a good example of this one is simply “The Cape”.
Summit – although you might think that there’d be lots of these, we only have 5 of them in our state, such as “Miner’s Summit”.
As I continue through this list, I am getting into names that are more and more numerous.
Castle – we have 7 which qualify as summits, such as “King Arthur Castle”.
Bluff – there are 10 of these in Arizona, and “Coon Bluff” and “Rattlesnake Bluff” are good examples.
Overlook – a dozen of these, and “Hell’s Hole Overlook” is a good representative.
Needle – also a dozen, we have well-known examples such as “Weaver’s Needle”.
Divide – we have 13 of these, such as “Strayhorse Divide”.
Cerro – this is another nod to our Spanish heritage in Arizona – 13 of these, as well. A good example would be “Cerro Colorado”.
Eye – no less than 14 “eyes” – a couple of good ones would be “Eye of the Rabbit” and “The Eagle’s Eye”.
Dome – we have 16 of these, a well-known example is “Rockfellow Dome” in the Dragoon Mountains, which is a Class 5.9 technical climb.
Rim – there are 17 of these named sites in our state – perhaps the most famous is “Mogollon Rim”.
Knob – among our 18 examples can be found “Bald Knob” and “East Pocket Knob”.
Bench – our count is 21 of these, and one of them is “Horsethief Bench”.
Head – there are 24 in the state. Among them are “Cochise Head”, “Elephant Head” and “Montezuma’s Head”.
Top – some good ones among our 25 examples are “Ragged Top”, “Little Table Top” and “Double Top”.
Cliff – also 25 of these, including “Vermillion Cliffs” and “Grand Wash Cliffs”.
Temple – there are no less than 28 with this name, nearly all found in the Grand Canyon. Those who named these peaks had good imaginations or were well-read, or both. We have such beauties as “Brahma Temple”, “Confucius Temple”, “Holy Grail Temple”, “Isis Temple”, “Masonic Temple” and “Thor Temple”, among others.
Mount – we have lots of these, about 65 of them. “Mount Perkins”, “Mount Reilly” and “Mount Sinyella” are good examples.
Knoll – our maps revealed 74 of them, with such names as “Boardshack Knoll”, “Dutch Kid Knoll”, “Last Chance Knoll”, “Poverty Knoll”, “Smooth Knoll” and many others.
Rock – plenty of our peaks in Arizona are called “rock”-something-or-other. I came up with 157 of them, everything from “Blue Rock”, “Cathedral Rock”, “Lizard Rock”, “Window Rock” and many others.
Now we take an exponential step up in our naming, into some truly large numbers.
Ridge – there are 446 of these on our maps, so many I’ll just name a few: “Good Enough Ridge”, “Iceberg Ridge” and “Porcupine ridge” were ones that caught my eye.
Hill – I found a huge 463 items named “hill”. So many from which to choose, I can only name a choice few here: “Agua Caliente Hill”, “Bird Nest Hill”, “Frenchy Hill”, “Section 16 Hill”, “Manitou Hill” and so many more. Obviously, calling a peak “hill” is a very popular thing to do here in our state.
Point – we have a whopping 487 of these. To name just a few: “Asbestos Point”, “Bonanza Bill Point” and “Price Point”.
Butte – another one with staggering numbers, 497 to be exact. I’ll just name a few: “Bad Bug Butte”, “Black Butte” (12 different ones!), “East Mitten Butte”, “Los Gigantes Butte”, “Klondike Butte”, “Orange Butte”, “Roof Butte” and “La Tortuga Butte”.
Benchmark – now we’re getting into even larger numbers. There are a great many peaks that have a surveyor’s benchmark on their tops, and these are often simply shown with “BM” on the map. They could also bear a simple name, usually one word, such as these: “Bren”, “Rosa” or “Aspass”. We have many hundreds of these.
Mesa – another nod to the influence of the Spanish language in our state, I found a whopping 650 things called “mesa”. There are 20 peaks called “Black Mesa” as well as many called “Red Mesa” and “White Mesa”, and of course a great many others.
Peak – this name is applied to a staggering 652 items in Arizona. Examples can be found everywhere, so I won’t even get into naming any.
Mountain – even more than any others so far, I can’t even tell you how many we have with this moniker, probably something approaching 1,000.
Native American – this may be my favorite category of all. I’d say most of our peaks that have names like these are found in the Navajo Nation and the Tohono O’odham Nation. Some Navajo names are: “Tseh Any”, “Tse Binjoobaahi” and “Taah Hooti”. Some O’odham names are: “Suwuk Tontk”, “Etoi Ki” and “Ka Kotk”. Remember the Code Talkers from World War II? They were Navajo, and to outsiders their language is a mystery. Their mountain names are certainly a mystery to me.
Miscellaneous – we have a lot of peaks that have names but don’t fit into any of the previous categories. Many of these are interesting and unusual, such as these: “The Tipoff”, “Excalibur”, “Sinking Ship”, “The Cork” and “The Ugly Sister”. I don’t know how many of these there are, but their names are often unusual.
No Name – I’ve saved the biggest group for last. The previous 52 different categories of names for peaks total in the thousands, but when a state has almost 7,500 official peaks to identify, we are left with 2,000 or more that fit into this last category. Here’s what I mean by “no name”. A lot of peaks have no name, but do have a spot elevation marked on the map, such as this one, Peak 3319. Click on the link to see what I mean. There are lots and lots of peaks like 3319, which have a precise elevation on the map. Then there are a great many more which don’t, like Peak 4580. Have a look at 4580, and you’ll see that you’ll have to count the contours and then interpolate half-way to the next one to arrive at the height of 4,580 feet. Practically all of our map sheets bear peaks with no name, so you needn’t poke around very much to find lots of these.
So there you have it – more ways to name a peak than either of us ever knew were possible. Now all we need to do is get out there and climb as many of them as we can. Enjoy them, and stay safe!