If Chris Davenport invites you to come along on one of his projects, you say yes. That's what Seattle-based photographer Scott Rinckenberger did. The two ran into each other in Aspen in February and started talking about Davenport's latest project—to ski the 100 highest mountains in Colorado, called the Centennial Peaks, with Ted and Christy Mahon.
Fast-forward to late May and Rinckenberger found himself coming from sea level to the top of 13,951-foot Ice Mountain in the Sawatch Range with a group of Colorado's most goal-driven ski mountaineers, about to ski the Refrigerator Couloir, a line that slices down the mountain and lives up to its name with firm snow and hammering winds. For the next 10 days, Rinckenberger followed Davenport and the Mahons across the state, climbing and skiing peak after 13,800-foot-plus peak, and photographing the experience along the way.
"It's ski mountaineering summer camp," says Rinckenberger earlier this week, fresh off the trip.
Rinckenberger joined up with Davenport and the Mahons to take photos of the group, who are calling themselves the Centennial Skiers. Davenport and the Mahons have already each skied all of Colorado's 53 14,000-foot peaks. So naturally, they decided to summit a few more, or 47 to be exact. As of last week, Christy, Davenport, and Ted have skied 80, 81, and 84 peaks on their list, respectively, out of the total 100. The Mahons started out with a bit of a lead, but Davenport caught up quickly, ticking off 27 centennial 13'ers in the last 30 days. Ted skied 18 peaks this month, and Christy checked off 15, while also balancing a full time job at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
"We wanted to raise the bar again and keep progressing ski mountaineering, not only in Colorado, but everywhere, by focusing on this new list," says Davenport, who had just returned from a solid day's ski on 13,850-foot Mount Edwards. And while he was out there, he summited a neighboring 14'er, too. Because, why not?
Here's the thing: Climbing and skiing the remaining 47 tallest mountains of Colorado's centennial club is, by and large, charting new territory. Hundreds of thousands of hikers and climbers and skiers have reached the top of any one of Colorado's 14'ers. Meanwhile, the 13'ers are deserted, even though many are just a couple hundred feet shy of 14 grand. When Ted was doing some initial research on some of these mountains, beta was scarce and hard to find. And in all their backcountry missions this last month, it was rare to see another soul.
"It speaks to you about how popular the 14'ers are," says Ted.
The idea for the Centennial project developed last year, when the Mahons joined Davenport on his tour of 15 volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest. Ted says he and Christy had loosely been thinking of climbing some of the 13'ers already. So when Davenport talked about making it more of a defined goal, the Mahons jumped on the opportunity to join in.
"I looked at Christy, and smirked, and said, 'Yeah, we're in.'" Ted says.
Granted, the group has their routine dialed, which makes this kind of hustle possible: Wake up at 4 a.m., make some coffee and drink a fresh kale and blueberry smoothie (thanks to a sponsorship from Whole Foods). Head out the door in the dark and wake up while walking through the forest. By the time the sun comes up, the group was usually cresting the tree line or in the upper basins of the mountains, summiting a few hours later. And then it's back to their RV, to pull out the lawn chairs and the astro turf and maybe drink another kale and berry smoothie.
"We would follow that with a beer, of course. Or two," says Christy. "Everybody was just on it. We all were really focused on what we wanted to do."
From valley to trailhead to mountain and back again, the group traveled across the Colorado, joined with friends like Rinckenberger along the way. Prime spring conditions, thanks to late snowfall, made their missions smooth. But with summer fast approaching and the snowpack melting quickly, the group is just about ready to wrap up for the season. Depending on conditions, they're hoping to stand on peak number 100 next year.
To follow the Mahons and Davenport as they reach their goal, and for beta and route information on the mountains they've climbed, check out their website, Centennial Skiers.