Marquee Image: Davenport on the approach to Dallas Peak in April 2014. Mount Sneffels, a fourteener, stands tall in the background. PHOTO: Ted Mahon
This spring, four peaks remained for Ted and Christy Mahon and Chris Davenport in their quest to ski the 100 highest mountains in Colorado. The trio had already bagged 96 peaks, and yet this May proved to be the most trying time in the multi-year process.
The odds were stacked against them. The group had previously attempted and failed to ski the four remaining peaks during the past two years, forcing them to revisit the objectives this spring. Due to a winter of low snowfall, this season did not look promising either. Still, luck was on their side, and the stars aligned this May. An unexpected late-season snowfall and brief windows of clear, favorable climbing weather allowed the necessary time for the group to check off the last peaks on their list.
Jagged Mountain served as the final peak and a formidable challenge. Situated high in the remote Weminuche Wilderness near Silverton, Jagged is the only centennial that requires third, fourth, and fifth class climbing. As Ted Mahon says, "It's often the case that you leave those that present the biggest challenges until the end, because it's just easier to do the other ones." Both Mahons had previously climbed all of the Centennials in the summer, finishing in 2006 and 2010, respectively. In fact, when Ted Mahon finished climbing the Centennials, Jagged served as his 100th summit on that list as well.
This year, Jagged required a four-day trip that started by taking the Silverton to Durango narrow gauge railroad, which is typically intended for sightseeing tourists. After getting off at the Needleton stop, the group faced a wet, steep nine-mile approach along No Name Creek and two nights of camping before their summit attempt. On summit day, good weather greeted the crew with one of the few favorable days in all of May in Colorado. After a pre-dawn start, the group moved quickly and decisively through the mixed climbing portions and reached the summit at 9:40 a.m., before the snow became heavy and dangerous.
According to Christy Mahon, the summit experience was exciting, but short-lived. "To be able to get up to the summit and know that we could make it on the way down and things were going well, it was exhilarating. But we knew we had to get all the way down. We had to get all the way out." Jagged is not skiable from the summit, so they rappelled down to the couloir that was also a portion of their route on the ascent. The group skied out and descended back to high camp, where they gathered their things and continued on to low camp. It was there the accomplishment started to set in. They drank a little whiskey to enjoy the moment for what it was: a monumental feat.
When considering what the trio accomplished, it seems like the process would take the average human a lifetime. It only took them three years. The idea had of course been floating around for a while. "In 2010, after I finished (skiing) the 14ers that spring, that fall I climbed my last centennial," says Christy Mahon. "I remember finishing climbing them, and being like, 'Oh, we should ski them all.'" At the time the objective seemed far-fetched, but it became more than an idea in the spring of 2012 when the Mahons joined Davenport on his mission to ski 15 volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest. The trio wanted to keep the good times rolling, so Davenport proposed the new project of skiing the centennials in Colorado, the state's 100 highest peaks.
One hundred mountains is a lot. When they set out on this quest, all three skiers had already climbed and skied all 53 of Colorado's 14ers, giving them a head start. But that left 47 13ers to go. To put this in perspective, the lowest summit, Dallas Peak, is still a whopping 13,809 feet. In relation to other mountainous western states, the summit of Dallas would still stand as the highest point in Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and more.
Making the project even more challenging, most of the centennial 13ers have very little information regarding winter climbing and skiing routes. Compared to the increasingly popular 14ers, these 47 peaks were practically uncharted. With the exception of Cathedral Peak, a popular mountain near Aspen in the Elk Range, the group did not run into another skier on any of the centennial 13ers. But according to the Mahons, all of this added to the fun and made the accomplishments that much sweeter.
"The unknown adds something to the day when you're successful," says Ted Mahon.
It also offered the opportunity to contribute to the information on these mountains. "This was really more about us giving back," says Christy Mahon. "We're going to go out there and figure it out. And hopefully then, other people will be more psyched to spend more time on the 13ers."
The crew has not decided on a new large-scale objective, but they will likely ski more of Colorado's untapped 13ers. When they were standing on the summit of Jagged, they already picked out a few more peaks in the Weminuche Wilderness they would like to ski.
"It's kind of nice to not just jump straight into the next thing," says Christy Mahon, "but I can imagine it will be more of the same."