For every mountain I believe there is one place, one vantage point, from which the peak appears particularly fetching.
In some cases this singular perspective allows the mountain to dominate the surrounding terrain more thoroughly than from anywhere else.
In others the viewpoint transforms a peak that from other angles is mundane into something dramatic by emphasizing a sheer spire, or by drawing the eye to a knife-edged ridge.
There are famous examples of classic mountain views around the world.
The Matterhorn from Zermatt.
The north face of the Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg.
Kilimanjaro from the Tanzanian plains.
Everest from the Rongbuk monastery.
Much closer to home there are many candidates — Gunsight from the shore of Anthony Lake, Mount Emily from, well, just about anywhere in La Grande, Chief Joseph Mountain from the Wallowa Valley, Strawberry Mountain from Prairie City.
Some peaks, by virtue of their sheer immensity, defy the notion that there’s a single spot from which they ought to be appreciated.
Does Mount Hood inspire more awe from Timberline or from Cloud Cap? Or from Lost Lake?
Is Mount Rainier more spectacular from Paradise or from Sunrise?
(Sunrise, in my estimation. I’ve been to no other place where a mountain occupies so much of the sky.)
A few of my favorite volcanoes in the Cascades look so different depending on your position that I don’t even bother to wonder which I prefer.
Mount Jefferson as seen from the west, for instance, is so unlike the mountain viewed from the east that a person seeing two photos might not believe they show the same peak.
The west face of Jeff, the second-highest summit in Oregon at 10,495 feet, shows off both of its summit horns. The ultimate view is from Highway 22 along the North Santiam River near Marion Forks.
But from east of the Cascades only Mount Jefferson’s highest pinnacle is visible, and the peak more resembles a conventional, pyramid-shaped volcano.
Jefferson’s nearest neighbor, Three Fingered Jack, is much more diverse in its appearances. Jefferson continued to erupt for hundreds of thousands of years after Jack had gone dormant, and the erosive forces of ice, wind, water and time have gnawed away a great deal of the mountain’s original bulk.
(Jack tops out at a middling 7,841 feet.)
What’s left is a messy pile of lava pinnacles, ridges and spurs that vaguely resembles the remnants of a medieval castle several centuries after it was abandoned during a long siege.
You needn’t travel clear across the Cascades to appreciate Three Fingered Jack’s diverse appearances, which, despite its name, only occasionally show three main “fingers.”
The peak as seen from Santiam Pass is quite different from the view just a couple miles away where the highway curves around Hogg Rock and briefly aims straight at the mountain.
My brother, Michael, recently texted me a photo of Jack that he took from Round Lake, east of the pass. I recognized the peak because I knew it was near that lake, but it was still a new perspective of a familiar mountain.
I like it when that happens — when a mountain I have seen hundreds of times, and from more than a dozen places, suddenly seems, if not new then at least refreshed.
I had just that experience a few weeks ago when my wife, Lisa, and I took our kids, Max and Olivia, for a hike in the southern Wallowas near Eagle Creek.
Our destination was Red Knob. It’s a minor eminence near the Forest Service’s Lily White Guard Station.
Red Knob is one of several high points in the distinctive topography that runs roughly east-west between Eagle Creek at the east and Medical Springs at the west. The area is heavily forested but its most notable features are small rocky patches bereft of trees.
Such bare areas are called “balds” in the southern Appalachians.
At 5,121 feet, Red Knob is one of the higher of these balds in the Eagle Creek country, and although I had never been there I was familiar enough with the area that I was pretty sure the view from the summit would be expansive.
Indeed it is.
Not for nothing did the Forest Service build a fire lookout on Red Knob in 1932. The lookout was dismantled in 1968, according to author and lookout historian Ray Kresek.
As Max and I reached the crest (we had fallen behind Lisa and Olivia due to a shoe issue, something that afflicts Max occasionally) I was for an instant taken aback by the majesty of what I saw.
I expected to see the snowpeaks of the Wallowas, of course.
What I didn’t anticipate was how thoroughly the west face of Krag Peak dominates the view.
Krag Peak is a significant mountain, one of at least three dozen summits in the Wallowas that top 9,000 feet — albeit barely, at 9,048.
But every time I’ve seen it in the past, Krag Peak shared the spotlight, as it were, with other nearby peaks that loom above East Eagle Creek. That includes its nearest neighbor — Red Mountain, at 9,555 feet the tallest peak in Baker County.
From Red Knob, though, Krag Peak has no rivals.
This is largely because intervening ridges block most of the Wallowas.
Krag Peak lacks the notoriety of the Matterhorn and Sacajawea and of course Eagle Cap itself.
But from one place, at least, it boasts a grandeur equal to any peak.