Words: Cindy Hirschfeld
It's hard to say which part of her recent trip to the Pacific Northwest Christy Mahon was most excited about, skiing five volcanic peaks in seven days or witnessing Chris Davenport and Jess McMillan in action.
Fresh off a trip to the Fairy Meadows hut in British Columbia, the 36-year-old Aspen skier—the first woman to ski all of Colorado's 14ers—and her husband, Ted, joined up with Davenport and McMillan about two-thirds of the way through the Ring of Fire Volcano Tour in May.
Though Mahon hadn't been able to ski peaks with Davenport before (her work schedule in nonprofit fundraising got in the way), her husband had accompanied Dav on many trips. This time, luckily, the timing was better.
Given Colorado's sketchy snowpack last winter, Mahon didn't train specifically for the volcanoes, but climbing from 5,000 to 7,000 feet every day in Canada helped. "Thank god we had that trip," says Mahon. "It was the first time I busted out my crampons and ice ax all year."
She credits her experience on the 54 14ers, honed over 10 years, for "giving me a base of mountaineering knowledge that I can use as a step to travel all over the world. The 14ers were such good training."
The Mahons met up with Davenport, McMillan, and others at the Mount Jefferson trailhead in Oregon, where the crew had just finished climbing and skiing their eighth volcano in eight days. From there, a caravan—including a state-of-the-art RV (aka the Spyder Land Yacht)—headed to Mount Hood.
When they got there, says Mahon, "the scene in the parking lot was pretty funny, a mix between hardcore mountaineers and baggy pants skiers," including Tanner Hall. "It was cool to see the interaction between Chris and Tanner, two very different skiers enjoying each other's accomplishments," she adds.
A team of 13 summited Hood in shorts the following day in what Mahon says was awesome weather, then skied the Cooper Spur route (including one naked team member—no, not Mahon).
Over the next six days, the skiers, joined by various friends, knocked off Adams, Mount St. Helens, Rainier (in one 11-hour push), and Baker. Ski conditions ranged from perfect corn to bulletproof in places on Rainier.
"The top was kind of hairy," says Mahon. "Frozen and icy. It was definitely a no-fall zone. Plus you had to look out for the crevasses. It was a whole step up from the stuff we'd been on, a little bit more serious of a mountain." Yet, she adds, she was really happy to be on skis as she passed hikers making the quad-brutalizing descent down the mountain.
Despite those challenges, the descents the group chose were technically easier than the Colorado 14ers, notes Mahon: "We pretty much skied the straightforward routes on the volcanoes. This was about having fun, it wasn't about pushing ourselves to the limits on technical routes." Another difference from her backyard peaks, she says, was the lower-elevation starts and the resultantly bigger climbs to the summit.
As the skiers racked up an ungodly amount of vertical—and amazingly little sleep—during the trip, Davenport's unfettered enthusiasm for mountaineering kept everyone going, and even drew in some locals for spur-of-the-moment skis.
"I have never been with someone who is more passionate about the mountains, more alive, and more willing to share those experiences than Chris," says Mahon. "He has this uncanny ability to inspire and encourage people."
Inspiration aside, how did she manage to pack in so much climbing and skiing in such a short amount of time? "When you tell your body it has to do something, it does it," she says with typical modesty. "You kind of get in a mindset and make sure you get enough water and fuel. It's really amazing what your body can do."
The people she met and skied with along the way also helped. "We had an amazing crew of people coming in and out of the trip," Mahon says. "It was really fun to have new energy joining us all the time."