ASPEN - Christy Mahon said it was only fitting for an "Aspen girl" to become the first woman to climb and ski all of Colorado's 54 peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation.
The Aspen area, after all, is home to four guys who have accomplished the feat - Lou Dawson, Chris Davenport, Jordan White and Ted Mahon, Christy's husband. As near as she can tell from mountaineering blogs, she is only the seventh person overall to have skied the big peaks.
Christy joined the exclusive company on Sunday when she tackled Capitol Peak, in her back yard in the Elk Range. She and Ted started out at 11 p.m. Saturday, started hiking with two colleagues around midnight and reached the summit at 10:30 a.m.
Mahon said she had been dreading Capitol. Mentally, it was the toughest peak of the 54 because of the reputation of both the climb and the skiing. In reality, she said, it wasn't that bad. And once she finished the challenging part of the descent on Capitol's east face, she felt tremendous relief.
"I was so happy it was over, in a really good way," Mahon said. "It was a huge relief. I just felt like a huge weight had been lifted."
The birth of a project
Mahon, 34, skied her first 14er, Quandary Peak, in 2000. She chipped away at big peaks over the next few years, but it wasn't a goal at first to climb and ski them all.
She spent more time as the decade went on with Ted in his successful quest to ski them, and by 2004, it dawned on her that "this could be a cool project of my own." By that point, she had climbed all of the 14ers, but hadn't skied them.
Ted completed skiing the 14ers in April 2008. Christy had 25 left to tackle. She conquered the last nine this calendar year. Winter expeditions were rare, but she was able to safely scale some of the peaks on her list this winter, including Mount Sneffels and San Luis Peak in January; Holy Cross in February; and Little Bear Peak in March. The challenge of winter treks is the cold, short days and the amount of time traveling in darkness, she said.
Activity slowed when conditions dried out. "It started snowing again so it was game back on," Mahon said of the wet spring.
She got more exercise in May than most Americans get in a lifetime, climbing and skiing iconic Pike's Peak on May 1; laboring through the taxing one-two punch of El Diente and Mount Wilson in the San Juan Mountains on May 5; scaling hometown favorite Pyramid Peak on May 7; and topping it off with Capitol Peak on May 16.
El Diente and Mount Wilson near Telluride were the biggest physical challenge, she said. They are close enough to do together in one very tough day. She and Ted took off at 6 a.m. and got back to their vehicle at 9 p.m.
The peaks, dates of the climbs, routes of descent, partners and pictures are listed on Christy's page on Ted's website, www.stuckintherockies.com.
"The journey surpassed my expectations," Christy wrote on her page. "I experienced everything from epic, bluebird powder days to bone-chilling winds and less than desirable snow conditions.
"I trekked around the state to trailheads and mountaintops, and sometimes re-trekked those same routes when the actual 'mountain top' eluded me. I switched from tele boards to alpine touring gear and once shoveled snow where there was none on a summit in order to ski it - all the while reaffirming my love for the mountains a thousand times over," she wrote.
The web log shows that Ted made all but a couple of the trips with Christy. In the process, he scaled and skied many of the 14ers a second time.
"I owe a lot of this project to Ted," Christy said, calling him her "true partner" in addition to her husband. They were married in September.
His guidance helped keep them safe. She never suffered any injuries during her 14er project, and she said they never were threatened by avalanches. His experience on the peaks also kept them from getting lost.
Ted said he enjoyed Christy's project more than he thought, thinking it might be a case of "been there, done that." While it was "completely her day" on Capitol on Sunday, it was incredibly rewarding for him as well to see her reach the goal.
"I somehow felt it almost more fulfilling" to his own accomplishment, he said.
They were scheduled to travel to the Northwest this month to ski Mount Hood and Mount Rainier, but they canceled the trip and decided to tackle her last peaks. Christy said she never really thought it was important to be the first woman to climb and ski the peaks. But her competitive side was stirred when she read a Denver Post article earlier this year about two women closing in on the feat.
"That definitely added some pressure," she said. "Hopefully they will finish soon too."
Mahon said she feels very privileged to be the first woman to ski the big peaks and she hopes it will inspire other women to undertake the pursuit. There are definitely many women in Aspen who are capable, she said.
The 14er descent also reminded her to keep setting goals high - and going for them.
The Mahons had an impromptu barbecue Sunday evening with friends who heard about Christy's accomplishment. They are celebrating with a trip to Mexico on Wednesday.
They haven't pondered their next big mountaineering goal. Bet on something tough.
"It's great to be able to do so much with her," Ted said.