Name That Peak!

Crater Lake as Seen From Mount Scott

Crater Lake

When you are standing atop a mountain,  you probably know the name of the peak you are on, but what about all those other peaks around you?  Maps can come in handy here.  It’s just a matter of unfolding the map,  orienting it toward north,  finding your position on the map and noticing which peaks are in which direction from your position.  Well, unless your map is too small and the peaks aren’t on it or maybe you don’t know your exact position or maybe there is fog obscuring the ground and some of the peaks or maybe there are just so many peaks it would take too much time to locate them all – what then?

In some places you’ll find roadside plaques that offer a panoramic view of the mountains with the peaks named, like on the graphic on top of this page.  Other places have a concrete platform with a center mark, where you stand, and named arrows point to each peak.  Unfortunately, in most places such aids don’t exist – what then?

PeakFinder on the WWW

The featured video in our December 18 weekly newsletter showed scenes extracted from the newest Star Wars movie.  It seems that many of the backgrounds were filmed in the Lake District of England around Derwentwater and Thirlmere.  The video’s producers, Colin Bell and Chris Chapman, were able to identify the various peaks shown in the movie and prove it by dropping a horizon over the video showing how the peaks in the video matched the peaks around the Lake District.

It was a neat trick using something called PeakFinder.  PeakFinder is an application that is free on your computer and can be found at  Go to the website and, if the application can determine where you are, it will display the named peaks all around you.  You can also choose a location to view in other ways from the dropdown menu at the top left of your monitor:

  • Choose “Maps” and drag the map around until the target is over the point you want to use.
  • Choose “Peak Directory” and search for the peak you want to use
  • Choose “Enter Coordinates” and type in the latitude and longitude of the viewpoint you want to use

The graphic at the top of this page shows the PeakFinder view from the top of Mount Scott looking westward toward Carter Lake at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.  The photo just below it is the same scene I photographed from the same spot atop the mountain.  PeakFinder matches the photo pretty well and it’s easy to identify each peak – click on the graphic to see a larger version with readable peak names.

PeakFinder has a tool bar with four icons that do the following:
icon-iDisplays information about the viewpoint


icon-binocOpens up a binocular view of the panorama.  When the virtual binoculars are centered on a peak, you can see the the name, elevation and distance to the peak.  This icon also displays more peaks to choose from.

icon-altitudeOpens a window that allows you to adjust the height of the viewpoint above ground.


icon-scaleDisplays vertical (degrees above and below eye level) and horizontal scales (degrees from north) on the screen.


These tools should help you identify the peaks of interest.

A Practical Use

I shot the photo below from Mount Scott looking southeast on the same day I shot the above view of Crater Lake.  Given the fog and the difficulty of estimating distance, I was having a hard time identifying the peaks.  Using PeakFinder I was able to easily find the names of most of them.  The one peak I couldn’t name also went unnamed in Google Earth and on USGS maps.

Applegate View with Labels

You might find PeakFinder useful for other things as well.  For example, recreation professionals may want to use it to develop roadside displays like I mentioned above.

PeakFinder App

The web-based version of PeakFinder isn’t very helpful if you are away from your computer.  For these situations, there is a “PeakFinder Earth” app for both Android and iPhone users.  It costs $3.99 at the app store and is well worth the price if you like to identify distant peaks.  The screen looks like this, with the same view of Crater Lake shown above:

PeakFinder Earth on iOS

The icons on the four corners do this:

icon-magnifyOpens a menu that allows you to choose your viewpoint by selecting from a peak directory, selecting from a map (only if you are online), by entering coordinates or by selecting from your saved list of favorite viewpoints

icon-directionIndicates the direction of your view.  In this case I am looking a bit north of west.  By tapping on this icon you toggle the display to show the direction you are pointing your phone vs staying in the direction you set it by dragging the panorama into position.  A blue circle surrounds the icon when in the automatic pan mode.

icon-spotUses the phone’s GPS capabilities to set the viewpoint to your current location. A “My Location” window pops up while the location data is being retrieved.

icon-infoPresents information about your viewpoint (GPS coordinates, Elevation, the number of named visible peaks), the app’s settings that you can change (meters vs feet, font size, degrees or direction, autotilt), coverage (shows the area for which you have downloaded the terrain model), and help (links to online help sources).

Downloading the App

It takes awhile to download the app because the original download includes the terrain model for much of Europe.  You will also need the terrain model for where ever you are interested in visiting.  It’s best to get that data downloaded before you go.  To get the terrain model you need, just choose your viewpoint and the model will automatically download it.  These are pretty large files so its best to do this with a fast Wi-Fi connection.  The model I use the most covers all of Oregon, Nevada, and Utah along with most of California, Idaho and Washington and parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  The download was about 72 MB, so be sure you have space in your phone before you start the download.

Using the App

The app is super simple to use.  Just open it and tap the viewpoint icon on the lower left.  In a moment the app will find your current location and display your surroundings.  Use your finger to scroll around the area or tap the direction icon on the upper right to have the app display the terrain you are pointing your phone at. You can zoom in and out using the normal finger gestures.

I will use this app a lot as I like to know the peaks I am seeing.  The added information, like the distance to the peak, is just icing on the cake.  I think you’ll enjoy the app too.

Please Share

2 Responses to “Name That Peak!”

  1. Sridhar Prayaga says:

    Hi Jerry – thanks for the para “using the app”. I’ve had the app for a while but couldn’t figure out how to use it 🙂 I still have one stupid question: “pointing the phone” – what exactly does that mean, how?

    is pointing the same as when i am holding the phone up to take a picture (vertical to ground)?

    or should it be that the phone is horizontal to the ground? (as if I were reading with a book in my lap)

    and in both cases, does it matter whether the phone is held in portrait or landsacpe mode? (I take photos mostly in landscape mode. It makes more sense to keep the phone in landscape mode when viewing in peakfinder).

    many thanks for your patience..

    best regards

    • Hi Sridhar,

      Since PeakFinder only works in the ‘landscape’ mode, that’s the way you need to hold your camera. That is, keep the long side parallel to the ground. As you point the main camera on your phone toward the horizon, PeakFinder can show you the mountains in the direction you are pointing. As you point it up or down, the horizon moves up and down accordingly. Unfortunately the current version of the app is not ‘augmented reality’ in that it does not use the camera to display the real scene with the mountain names over the photo.

      One thing you can do is decide on the photo you want to take, aim your camera in that direction and take a screen capture of the PeakFinder view. Then, shift over to your camera app and take the photo. You would then have a record of the mountains in your photo.

      Best wishes,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

Pin It on Pinterest