Vail mountaineer’s effort to break Davenport’s 14er ski record triggers debate
Vail mountaineer Jon Kedrowski isn’t taking credit for climbing and skiing all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in one season (thus breaking the record of Aspen mountaineer Chris Davenport) but he’s comfortable claiming one hell of an accomplishment.
Kedrowski started his quest to tackle the 57 tallest peaks as quickly as possible when he journeyed up and skied down Mount Elbert on Jan. 4. Five months later, on June 4, he ventured into Davenport’s backyard in Pitkin County with what he felt were two final peaks to accomplish the feat.
He climbed and skied Snowmass Peak on June 5 without a hitch.
“That left Capitol (Peak) for me to do,” he said.
He ventured up the difficult peak June 12 but didn’t feel the conditions were right for skiing. He returned two days later but found there wasn’t enough snow to ski from the summit. He skied what would be a hair-raising route for nearly every skier, the Secret Chute, but he didn’t ski from the summit.
He later posted on his website, “It is finished,” which touched off the latest round of social media storm that started about halfway through his effort. Some stops on his journey didn’t pass muster with the mountaineering community.
“People can get critical,” Kedrowski said.
Cranked up in April and May
Kedrowski, 37, is a mountaineer who isn’t shy about publicizing his accomplishments. He has written books about climbing and sleeping on Colorado’s fourteeners as well as climbing and skiing the summits of 20 volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest. He hits the speaking tour hard and maintains websites on his projects. That high profile also opens him up to scrutiny.
Kedrowski got interested in trying to break Davenport’s record of climbing and skiing the big peaks. Davenport accomplished the feat in 362 days between Jan. 22, 2006 and Jan. 19, 2007. Kedrowski wanted to complete them in one season rather than two.
In hindsight, he said, he started slower than he should have. He tackled five peaks in January, another five in February and 10 in March. He cranked up his efforts in April and May, crossing 33 peaks off the list during the two months. Nevertheless, it left him with too many peaks to climb and ski in too short of time before the snow melted off.
It was during the big push in April and May that observers started casting doubts on mountaineering websites.
Kedrowski said he thinks weekend warriors were casting doubt on his ability to climb and ski that many peaks in a short amount of time. In their own experiences, they get sore after tackling a peak and require several days to recover, he said. He’s learned how to eat right and take care of his body so he can endure multiday efforts, just as Davenport did, he noted.
Some people looked at the photos he was posting online as a trip log and questioning how he could have skied from the summit of this peak or that peak when it looked barren. In other cases, observers said his claims lacked proper photo evidence. There also were demands that he start carrying a Satellite Personal Tracker or similar device so his locations could be verified.
Kedrowski said he initially took the criticism in stride and didn’t worry too much about it. He was comfortable with his effort and accomplishments. Climbing to the summit of the 57 peaks was no problem.
“Almost every single one I skied from the top,” he said.
One of the exceptions was Wetterhorn, a peak he said no one can ski from the summit.
The biggest peaks in the Aspen-area presented the largest challenges. Kedrowski said he made five attempts at Pyramid Peak. He skied from the summit but had to climb down a 75-foot cliff band on the East Face that had melted out.
He climbed Maroon Peak twice, but couldn’t make it to the top the first time because of wet slide potential. He returned a week later for another attempt, but he and his party left their skis below the last cliff, about 100 yards from the summit.
“I probably could have pieced together a summit ski descent from a small section that would have technically met the fourteener skiers guidelines. However, I skied the peak from the summit several years ago, so I won’t be returning to ski it from the top again this year,” Kedrowski wrote in a personal statement he posted on his Colorado 14ers Ski Record website on June 16.
Half full or half empty?
Kedrowski said he took a scouting trip to Capitol Peak in April. In retrospect, he should have skied it then, he said, or gotten to it before too much snow melted in June.
“All this would have been a moot point,” he said.
But the inability to ski the upper crux on Maroon Peak and questions about other peaks would have still dogged him, he acknowledged.
“I was bummed out at the end that there was so much criticism,” he said.
He said he “went dark” on social media more than a week ago to avoid the debate. He was busy teaching a basketball camp in Durango, so he didn’t have time to check out the comments.
He said he will continue to post photos as part of his report on the effort. He believes those photos will answer some lingering doubts.
Nevertheless, Kedrowski said “purists” in ski mountaineering won’t credit him for skiing all the fourteeners in one season on technical grounds.
“There is a small number of people that will criticize it, but most of them won’t care,” he said.
He seems torn somewhere in between. In his June 16 online statement, he said he respects the mountaineering community and realizes he must “respect the guidelines” that have been set on skiing the fourteeners.
“I wouldn’t feel right about taking the record from Chris Davenport,” Kedrowski said Thursday.
On the other hand, he said he and his family and friends know what he accomplished. He said on his blog and in an interview that there are “gray areas” involved in the guidelines — such as how much skiing must be done off a peak to qualify. In some years, he’s been able to ski from the summit to his vehicle. In other years, the same trip at the same time requires hiking a couple of miles because of snowmelt.
“There’s all kinds of rules that people are trying to make,” Kedrowski said.
In his blog, he cited comments from Ted Mahon of Aspen, who completed his skiing of the fourteeners in 2008, for making him realize he didn’t set a record.
“Ted Mahon said it best to me the other day: ‘If we loosen the standards then suddenly we won’t have only 15 or 20 people that have skied the fourteeners, there will be like 100, and the accomplishment will become watered down and not as prestigious,’” Kedrowski wrote.
Davenport told The Aspen Times in an email that there were too many unanswered questions about Kedrowski’s effort.
“He got close but like with rock climbs, you don’t claim you did it unless you did it,” Davenport wrote. “I like John and have skied with him a bunch and I’m sad to see how he finished this project with a lot of unanswered questions, holes in his story, and half-truths. Didn’t need to be that way.”
In an email exchange with The Aspen Times, Mahon said, “There are strict rules in all arenas of climbing whether it’s on the Dawn Wall, on Everest or on a Colorado fourteener. Does it really matter to the ordinary person that he down climbed Pyramid? Probably not. But if everyone is allowed to dilute the task a little bit at a time, what are we all left with? Someone goes up and skis a strip of snow in June and calls a mountain skied.”
This story was edited to include a statement from Chris Davenport.
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