Artist Nathan Downey combines art with his passion for climbing 14ers
July 5, 2016
A native of Evergreen, Nathan Downey grew up climbing mountains. His father got him started, and he's been at it ever since.
It's no surprise, then, that he's caught what he calls "the 14ers achievement syndrome," a desire that drives him and hundreds of other climbers to seek out the state's tallest mountains (those with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet) and match his wits and will against their steep summits.
Like most who have taken on the task of tackling the 14ers, Downey wanted to display something to show himself and others his achievements. He did some searching but couldn't find anything he liked. So, he decided to design something on his own.
Downey is an artist, both by trade and by nature. His "day job" is acting as the artistic director for Integer Group advertising agency, and during his off time he takes on a variety of artistic projects, from art displays to collaborations with various organizations, including nonprofits. So a mountain-climbing artistic project was right up his alley.
"Honestly, it came out of my own need," he said. "I wanted it for myself. I had a blank spot on my wall."
After plenty of thought and planning, Downey designed a chart, detailing the outline of each of Colorado's 58 peaks taller than 14,000 feet. It didn't take long before he realized this was something that other people might want, as well. He collaborated with friend and fellow climber JB Leach, who also does screen printing, and the two created 200 limited-edition 14er charts.
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Each chart is 40 inches by 15.5 inches and features all of the mountains, which range they're in, their topographic profile and peak height. The chart also comes with a stamp that reads "Summited" and an inkpad. Upon returning from each 14er, climbers can put a stamp under the corresponding peak on the chart, making the display a living and continually updated document of their climbing achievements.
"Essentially, it's a wall chart that helps you keep track all of your climbs in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, and it captures the details of each mountain," Downey said. The idea is that it will be not only a conversation piece but a monument to the climb itself, as people can point out difficult or memorable aspects of their climb on the topographic outline. "It's a relatable silhouette," he said. "Each peak has a story, too. Each climb is pretty unique."
Downey estimated it took him about a year and a half to fully conceptualize and finalize the project's launch, which took place in July. He's sold a lot of the charts already, he said, but there are still a few waiting to be claimed by ambitious climbers.
So far, Downey has stamped 26 of the 14ers on his own chart, and he plans to get to them all, eventually. His latest conquest was Wetterhorn Peak in the San Juan range.
"Wetterhorn was awesome," he said. "That was a good way to end the season. I'm pretty happy with that."