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Spire for a Sierra Icon

April 24, 2004

Decades before triathlons, Xtreme games and even the first ascent of Mt. Everest, Orland Bartholomew skied the length of the High Sierra in the face of furious winter storms, 12,000-foot passes and severe avalanche danger. The onetime forest ranger made the daring trip alone. Along the way, he made the first winter ascent of 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney, the nation's highest peak outside Alaska.

Seventy-five years later, even the best backcountry skiers -- with high-tech skis, lightweight gear, cellphones and satellite navigation devices -- rarely attempt this route. In recognition of Bartholomew's epic journey, his son and a corps of Sierra history fans have launched a campaign to have an 11,099-foot mountain named for him. Rep. George Radanovich (R-Mariposa) has joined the effort, writing to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in support of a Mt. Bartholomew or Bartholomew Peak designation. The unnamed spire is in the Ansel Adams Wilderness west of Mammoth Mountain. Bartholomew worked as a ranger in the area later in life. This should be an easy decision for the board. It's unfortunate that a higher and more prominent peak wasn't named for Bartholomew long ago.

Scores of mountains bear the names of people who never even saw the Sierra and did next to nothing to deserve the honor, author Gene Rose told the Associated Press last week. Rose is the author of "High Odyssey," the story of Bartholomew's 14-week adventure in late 1928 and early 1929. "It's really almost tragic that history has almost bypassed this great Sierra icon," Rose said.

Bartholomew originally planned to ski the Sierra with a friend, aided by a $1,000 contribution from a tourist promotion organization. But the friend backed out and the sponsor withdrew the money. Bartholomew decided to go it alone, beginning the trip on Christmas Day, and subsisting on food cached in metal drums along the route the previous summer. From Mt. Whitney, Bartholomew skied 280 miles northward along the backbone of the Sierra to Yosemite National Park, roughly following what today is the John Muir Trail. He arrived unheralded in Yosemite on April 3, 1929.

If John Muir were alive today, he surely would be pounding on the door of the Board of Geographic Names in Bartholomew's behalf. Mountaineers and friends of wilderness should make their voices heard in Washington to memorialize Bartholomew's epic adventure.

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