The Hills are Alive… with the Sound of Music


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Cantata Peak in the South Fork Valley. Many of the valley’s features have musical-themed names.

photo by frank baker

If you venture into Eagle River’s South Fork Valley far enough, and often enough, you might think you hear the sound of music echoing off the mountains, perhaps a Symphony or Concerto, accompanied by the gentle strings of a Harp and the wind-like tones of a Calliope.  At the very least, you’ll be in the company of peaks and other natural features named after musical instruments and themes.

If you’ve ever wondered how the mountains and other natural features of South Fork Valley and the surrounding area got their names, many of them came from Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA) members who were among the first to climb the area’s peaks and explore its deep canyons. Many of those events were chronicled in the MCA’s monthly magazine, Scree.

Thanks to the MCA’s Steve Gruhn, who is editor of Scree, here is a summary of how the features were named:

A Cappella Point (5,686 feet/1,733 meters) – Named in the mid-1990s by Richard Baranow and Wendy Sanem, Eagle River climbers and MCA members.

Allegro (5,876 feet/1,791 meters) – Named in the mid-1990s by Richard Baranow and Wendy Sanem.

Calliope Mountain (6,821 feet/2,079 meters) – Originally this was called Icy Peak in the July 1967 Scree by Bob Hansen after he made the first recorded ascent with William “Bill” Hauser on June 24, 1967.  Hans van der Laan published a map in the March 1969 Scree with the present name and it became official through the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) in 1969.  Other names for the peak before the present name becoming official include Vibrant Mountain, Fugal Peak, La Musica Peak, Sonata, and Syncopation.  A calliope is a musical instrument consisting of steam whistles and a keyboard.

Cantata Peak (6,391 feet/1,948 meters) – After making the first recorded ascent with Karen Courtright on August 26, 1967, David Johnston published an article in the December 1967 Scree with the name.  The BGN made the name official named in 1968.  A cantata is a musical composition for singers.

Concerto Peak (5,505 feet) – First named Forgotten Peak by local mountaineer Timothy Kelley in a register he placed on the summit on June 22, 1991, but the name went unpublished for years.  The current name was applied by MCA veteran Thomas Choate in 2000 when he added the name to Imus Geographics’ Chugach State Park Map.

Flute Glacier – The name was published on a map prepared by Hans van der Laan and in an article in the March 1969 Scree.  The name reportedly reflects the music that abounded in the area during the summer of 1968 as both members of the research team headed by Dr. William Long were flutists.  That issue of the Scree also mentions that the State Geographic Board had already approved the name.  The BGN made the name official in 1969.

Flute Peak (6,634 feet/2,022 meters) – Originally called The Little Matterhorn by Bill Hauser in the November 1966 Scree, this peak was first climbed by Hans van der Laan and Roelf van der Laan in July 1968.  Hans van der Laan gave the peak its present name in an article and accompanying map in the March 1969 Scree.  The present name reportedly reflects the music that abounded in the area during the summer of 1968 as both members of the research team headed by Dr. William Long were flutists. 

Harp Mountain (5,001 feet) – Following the musical theme initiated in 1932, legendary Alaska mountaineers John V. “Vin” Hoeman and Grace Hoeman named this peak after its shape following their first recorded ascent on October 16, 1968.  The name was published in the December 1968 Scree.  The BGN made the name official in 1969.

Hurdygurdy Mountain (5,994 feet/1,827 meters) – The name was published on a map prepared by Hans van der Laan in the March 1969 Scree and the same issue of Scree indicated that the State Geographic Board had already approved the name.  The BGN approved the name later that year.  Other variations of the name include Hurdy Gurdy and Hurdy-Gurdy, which is a stringed musical instrument.

Organ Glacier – Named around 1981, probably after Organ Mountain.

Organ Creek – Probably named after the Organ Glacier.

Organ Mountain (6,980 feet) – Named in 1932 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) because a line of several high pinnacles on the mountain gave it the appearance from below of an organ.

Piano Point (6295 feet) – Named in the 1990s by Richard Baranow and Wendy Sanem.

Piccolo Point (6,453 feet/1,967 meters) – Named in the 1990s by Richard Baranow and Wendy Sanem.

Staccato Peaks – Named in the mid-1990s by Richard Baranow and Wendy Sanem, Eagle River climbers and MCA members.

Symphony Creek – Probably named after Symphony.

Symphony Lake – Bill Hauser suggested the name in 1967.  The BGN made it official in 1968.

Symphony Tarns – Named for their proximity to Symphony Lake.

Synclavier Mountain (5,240 feet) – Named by local mountaineer Tim Kelley in an article published in the October 1991 Scree after he and Timothy Miller made the first recorded ascent on June 29, 1991.

Synthesizer Peak (5,638 feet) – Named by Tim Kelley in an article published in the October 1991 Scree after he and Tim Miller made the first recorded ascent on June 29, 1991.  The name was given because it is near to, but smaller than, Organ Mountain.

Triangle Pass – Named after nearby Triangle Peak.

Triangle Peak (5,495 feet/1,675 meters) – The MCA’s William Hersman reported in the July 1988 Scree that he had learned in 1986 that locals called it Triangle Peak, after yet another symphonic instrument.

A lot folks who frequent the outdoors will agree that in many ways the mountains can weave a unique spell; and sometimes, if you listen hard enough, you might actually hear that magic manifested in the form of music.

 

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