North Palisade, they will tell you, is to California what the Matterhorn is to the Alps: an international icon, a force of nature that dwarfs any man.
Unless that man is David Brower, say those who want to rename the peak for the renowned environmentalist.
Brower, who died in 2000 at 88, was among the most influential environmentalists of the last half century, an indefatigable visionary who articulated a populist view of man's relationship with nature that reshaped American culture.
As the Sierra Club's first executive director, Brower transformed what was an adult version of the Boy Scouts into a well-funded national political force. He fought dams that would have flooded the Grand Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument. He advocated for wilderness on dozens of fronts, including what became Redwood National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore.
Uncompromising and combative, he split with the Sierra Club several times and formed new organizations, Friends of the Earth and the Earth Island Institute.
Brower was also an accomplished mountaineer and was one of a small clique of men who explored California's rooftop in the early 20th century. He pioneered a route up North Palisade and made the first winter ascent.
So when some of Brower's friends were mulling ways to honor him, they hit on what seemed like a logical idea: Why not name the mountain after him?
"North Palisade, if not his favorite peak, was certainly one of them," said John de Graaf, a Seattle author and filmmaker who made a documentary and wrote a children's book about Brower. He fondly recalls climbing North Palisade as a teenager and seeing Brower's signature in the summit register. "Ansel Adams and John Muir have peaks named after them. We want David Brower to be honored in a similar, significant way."
In July, De Graaf and others persuaded U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to introduce a bill to change the name of North Palisade to Brower Palisade.
But as word spread through the tradition-bound community of Sierra mountaineers, it was received like a falling rock to the forehead.
"It's one of California's 14ers, so it's a landmark!" said an incredulous Kastle Lund, who owns a climbing supply store in Lone Pine. "It's, like, why don't you just call it Staples Peak! . . . We here on the Eastern Sierra sure need the money."
What's in a name? Certainly not as much as there used to be. Only the most idealistic aren't hardened to the way cash trumps tradition in professional and college sports. (Does anyone really call them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?) Corporate logos are swapped out atop skyscrapers. Cultural venues are named after the most generous benefactor. A venture capitalist recently bought the naming rights to a bathroombathroom at the University of Colorado for $25,000.
Natural landmarks are a different story. Since 1890 the obscure U.S. Board on Geographic Names has been charged with maintaining a standardized nomenclature of place names used by the federal government. Every peak, island, gulch, lake, river, pass, hollow, swamp and ditch falls under its jurisdiction.
The board's guidelines are voluminous and fastidious. Name changes are discouraged -- especially those of high mountain peaks. Preference is given to "present-day local usage whenever possible."
"Place names are a very emotional issue to people. Changing them doesn't feel right," said Lou Yost, the board's executive secretary. "The bigger the feature, the bigger the emotion. Mountains really bring this out in people."
Only Congress can supersede the board's authority, but it rarely does. And that is where the Brower Palisade bill, which remains in a Senate committee, gets knotty.
The small towns of the Eastern Sierra have long had their destinies shaped by outsiders -- from Los Angeles' infamous Owens Valley water grab a century ago to more recent battles over wilderness protection of surrounding federal land.
So having two U.S. senators who live in the Bay Area sponsor a measure spearheaded by supporters of a lifelong Berkeley resident -- suffice to say it hasn't gone down well on the more politically conservative side of the mountains.