Aspen ski mountaineers complete Centennial Peaks Project
The Aspen Times
Three Aspen ski mountaineers successfully scaled and skied the last of the 100 highest peaks in Colorado on Wednesday.
Chris Davenport, along with husband-and-wife team Christy and Ted Mahon, reached the summit of Jagged Mountain on Wednesday, then faced a long journey off the isolated peak. They rappelled, skied, hiked and camped Wednesday night, then finally took the Durango-Silverton train back to civilization Thursday.
“The Centennial Peaks Project is a wrap,” Davenport wrote in a Facebook post at about 1:30 p.m.
While en route back to Aspen, Ted Mahon said by phone Thursday afternoon that Jagged Mountain was one of the most technical peaks they tackled. Most people would say it is the hardest of the 47 highest peaks between 13,000 and 14,000 feet in elevation, he said.
They had hiked the peak in the summer, but conditions are vastly different with the spring snow. There was little information available about the best routes, so they had to make their way based on information they learned. It wasn’t certain they were going to complete the Centennial Peaks project on this trip, Mahon said.
“As exciting as it was to be on the final peak, it didn’t necessarily mean we were going to be able to do it,” he said.
They completed their 99th mountain — the 13,983-foot Stewart Peak — on May 21. They had a tight window to try to complete Jagged Mountain. Davenport’s eldest son is graduating from eighth grade, so he had to be back for a party Thursday evening, then the family leaves on vacation. They had to complete the four-day trek up and down Jagged Mountain this week or it would be postponed until next season, Mahon said.
They rode the train Monday to get as close as possible to the peak in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains, then spent the rest of the day hiking in rain. They established a high camp Tuesday and reached the summit Wednesday.
Jagged Mountain was one of four Centennial Peaks where they couldn’t ski off the summit. The others were Wetterhorn Peak, a 14er, and Teakettle Mountain and Dallas Peak, 13ers.
“The rule is you always have to climb to the summit regardless of where the ski line starts,” Mahon said.
Davenport posted a picture of the skiers rappelling off the summit of the foreboding-looking mountain. Pete Gaston, another Aspen mountaineer, accompanied them on several trips, including their last climb and ski descent.
Davenport posted that the journey provided “the most heinous exit down the valley of all 100. We are exhausted and happy beyond words. And so grateful to be safe and sound.”
And with the project’s wrap-up, the Mahons and Davenport secured a revered spot in ski-mountaineering history with their awe-inspiring feat. They climbed and skied the 53 peaks of at least 14,000 feet in elevation in Colorado and the 47 tallest peaks above 13,000 feet.
They skied the 14ers separately. Davenport became the first person to ski the highest peaks in one year, which he accomplished in 2007. Ted Mahon skied them all by the following year. Christy Mahon followed suit in 2010.
Their decision to pursue the 13ers among the Centennial Peaks came basically on a whim. Ted Mahon said the three of them were skiing volcano peaks in the Northwest a few years ago when they started talking about what project they could pursue closer to home. They noted that many people hike Colorado’s 100 highest peaks during summers. They decided to ski the highest 13ers as well. Mahon estimated the trio skied 35 of the 47 peaks between 13,000 and 14,000 together. It wasn’t possible to coordinate all the journeys together.
They didn’t intentionally leave Jagged Mountain until the last.
“Often, the hard ones just keep on getting delayed,” Ted Mahon said.
A high level of dust on snow created lousy conditions and prevented them from tackling the peak in 2013. Last year, they couldn’t arrange to make the time commitment necessary to tackle Jagged Mountain.
When they finally tackled it, the mountaineers celebrated the summit of their final peak among the Centennials with a “muted high-five,” Ted Mahon said.
“We weren’t jumping for joy yet because it’s really complicated getting off the mountain,” he said. “The saying is, ‘Getting to the top is just half the day.’”
Their climb started at 4:45 a.m. Wednesday. They took apart their high camp on the trip down and set up a new camp as it was getting dark near where the train would pick them up Thursday.
The skiers don’t plan on a book or any big hoopla about their accomplishment. “More than anything, it’s just fun for the three of us,” Ted Mahon said.
They have always been interested in sharing their information about the routes on the peaks, particularly the lesser-known 13ers. They created a website, CentennialSkiers.com, and Ted Mahon writes an information-packed blog with descriptions of their experiences, photos and sometimes videos.
Ted Mahon said their contribution to mountaineering is providing the information. However, he is uncertain how many people will attempt to climb and make ski descents of the Centennial Peaks.
“It’s a small community that really does this stuff,” Ted Mahon said.
So what’s next for the trio? Possibly the bicentennial ski project, which means tackling the next 100 highest peaks.
“We’ve always talked about, ‘Should we keep this thing going?’” Ted Mahon said.