|ost mountaineers establish reputations through personal climbing achievements: first ascents, dramatic climbs, unique physical endeavors, and heroic exploits. Jim Hinkhouse instead made his name in mountaineering with an idea, and by implementing that idea with the same determination and vision that a mountaineer uses to achieve a climbing objective. Jim’s contribution to mountaineering was a unique concept that changed lives and introduced hundreds to the joys of mountaineering. It set a high standard for a characteristic of mountaineering that is dear to many of us – the ethic of helping others regardless of the sacrifice of individual goals and aspirations that may accompany such a commitment.
In December 2000, the Washington State Board on Geographic Names unanimously accepted the application to name the peak just north of Washington Pass “Hinkhouse Peak” in recognition of Jim’s contribution to mountaineering in Western Washington. The location affords as dramatic a mountain vista as exists anywhere in the Cascades with a fabulous view of some of the most notable rock climbing peaks in the state.
Jim Hinkhouse was born and raised in Scappoose, Oregon, with a view of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood. Throughout his life Jim was a multi-talented athlete. He became interested in mountaineering when he moved to Seattle. Jim was a member of the Seattle Mountaineers, completing their Intermediate Climbing Course and becoming a climb leader for the club in the 1980s. He also was a member of Boeing Alpine Society (BOEALPS) and the American Alpine Club.
On a New Years Day hike up Mt. Si in 1989, Jim had an inspiration that occupied him for the remainder of his life. Jim recalled that day in a book he drafted in 1995:
“Snow hung on the branches in big bunches and formed a glistening blanket to hide the dirt and brush. The cold air was clean and crisp. It was a delightful day and I felt wonderful. Good to be alive and be sober and not have a hangover. Then a thought hit me. Why don’t I somehow combine mountaineering with recovery from alcoholism? It had been over ten years since my last drink, and my life had truly changed. Helping an old friend get ’off the booze‘ had been a rewarding experience. The idea began to form: Mountaineering as an aid to recovery from addictions. I had heard of mountaineering programs for misguided adolescents and rich executives. Why not something for the average drunk?”
In conjunction with the climb, Jim established One Step At a Time (OSAT), “an outdoor club for members and friends of 12-Step Recovery groups” such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Under his leadership and guidance OSAT grew to include climbers from throughout Washington.
At the time of Jim’s death on a Denali climb in 1995, OSAT numbered over 100 active members. Since then, OSAT has continued to grow, and carries on Jim’s vision of introducing people in recovery to the challenges and rewards of climbing as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. OSAT still conducts an annual glacier climbing class, maintains a schedule of alpine and rock climbs, and has grown to include skiing, running, biking, and kayaking activities. Members also lead regular weekly 12-Step Recovery group meetings in wilderness settings near Seattle to introduce others to climbing and its role in their own recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
Hinkhouse Peak – Choice, Application, and Approval
Late in 1999 an application was submitted to the Washington State Board on Geographic Names to identify a peak in honor of Jim Hinkhouse. Because the summit is situated on the boundary of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, the application was withdrawn at the request of the Board. (The Washington State Board on Geographic Names had previously found that the United States Board on Geographic Names is firm in their policy against granting new name designations in or abutting designated wilderness areas.)
Letters of support for naming a peak in Hinkhouse’s honor gave the Washington Board a sense of how his ideas continue to affect the lives of people who never knew him. The Washington Board and its chairman, Jennifer Belcher, were very impressed with the impact Jim had on the Washington climbing and recovery communities. One Board member commented that he “had a feeling I know him myself now.” Comments both on and off the record indicated that the Board believed Jim was worthy of the honor and were genuinely confident that naming a peak was the right thing to do.
Petitioners continued working with the Board and its staff to identify an appropriate peak that would commemorate Jim. After three subsequent hearings, on December 8, 2000 the Washington Board approved the designation of the mountain immediately north of Washington Pass as Hinkhouse Peak. Following approval in Olympia, the application was forwarded to Washington D.C., and on June 14, 2001, the United States Board on Geographic Names added its own approval.
Hinkhouse Peak – The Mountain
The summit of Hinkhouse Peak is near the east end of a ridge running 2-1/2 miles eastward from Cutthroat Peak. This ridge serves as the boarder between Okanogan and Chelan counties. No surveyed elevation for the summit is shown on the USGS (Washington Pass) topographical map; contours indicate an estimated elevation of 7560+ ft. From the summit, Liberty Bell and Early Winters Spires dominate to the south, and Kangaroo Ridge and Silver Star the east. West along the ridge is Cutthroat, and across the Cutthroat Creek drainage peaks stretch northward into Canada. The first ascent is attributed to Lage Wernstedt in 1925 or 1926. Wernstedt was an Associate Topographic Engineer for the US Forest Service. The mountain now known as Hinkhouse Peak has been identified through the years by a number of unofficial names including Washington Pass Peak, and Fickle Peak, and the four crags at the summit are known as The Towers of the Throatgripper. Most recently it was identified in Fred Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide as State Crag.
The 1968 Mazama annual mentions a couple of climbs of Washington Pass Peak as it was identified on a map accompanying the article about their Methow Outing. “Saturday was a day of light, intermittent rain. Its main event was the first of our two climbs of Washington Pass Peak.” On this June 22 climb the original summit register was installed by Don Eastman and a party of 3 other Mazamas. Three days later Eastman mentions, “Our only climbers that day were [Bob] Stites, [Harold] Deery, and Nancy Duckering on Washington Pass Peak.”
The Mountaineer in 1971 notes a June 1970 climb by John Bousman and Earl Hamilton under the heading “Washington Pass Peak, Towers of the Throatgripper.” “[We] set off on a cloudy, threatening day... after sitting through a day of rain at the newly built horse camp on Cutthroat Creek, impressed by the partial views of a collection of towers to the south of camp. We climbed each of the towers from the northwest. At no time could we see more than 150 feet but the climbing was enjoyable and not very strenuous. From northwest to southeast are Pinky, Ring, Fickle, and Index.”
OSAT celebrated the official naming designation with a club climb September 15, 2001, and the Mazama summit register was removed and returned to the Mazama archives in Portland. The 33-year old register recorded 48 parties, including 92 names of climbers. Dallas Kloke had signed three times, and three other climbers had signed twice. The summit had been visited by several dogs and reportedly a guinea pig and a hang-gliding Barbie doll. Several ski ascents were reported, as were three parties following the Bousman-Hamilton route up the north side and a solo traverse of the ridge from Cutthroat Peak.
The climb has been described as “like eating at a country buffet, offering a little of everything.” No trail goes up Hinkhouse Peak. An ascent of the mountain’s south slope begins across the meadow 2100 feet below the summit at the turnout for the Washington Pass Overlook, following any of the several shallow ravines through minor patches of bushwhacking and scree scrambles to reach the ridge. The approach to the summit towers is blocked by a short drop to a saddle, which can be down-climbed, rappelled, or (if snow-free) avoided by traversing a ledge on the northeast side of the first high point. The final pitch to the true summit is a rope length of class-four scrambling up a blocky ridge.
Hinkhouse Peak is a perfect adventure for the beginning mountaineer. For Jim Hinkhouse, climbing was a metaphor for life, a metaphor for taking on the challenges of life with no guarantee of success and no certainty of which obstacles might emerge as the most difficult to overcome. Jim would have reveled in taking old friends and new acquaintances up the mountain that now bears his name. He would have derived intense satisfaction from their enthusiasm and joy upon attaining the summit, in the same way he was an example of the Twelfth Step in AA, sharing experience, strength, and hope with others so that they might overcome their challenges.
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