Mountain Town News: Trio finally skis the top 100 in Colorado |

Mountain Town News: Trio finally skis the top 100 in Colorado

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

CREEDE, Colo. – In late May, a trio of Aspen residents finished skiing Colorado’s 100 highest peaks. The feat took Chris Davenport and Christy and Ted Mahon several years, and they saved the most difficult mountain for last.

Climbers have long known that the high 13,000-foot peaks pose generally greater challenges than Colorado’s 53 peaks that are 14,000-foot and higher. Together, these 100 highest are called the Centennial Peaks. (And Colorado, which was admitted to the United States in 1876, a century after the Declaration of Independence, is called the Centennial State).

In a posting on in May 2014, Ted Mahon noted an inverse relationship regarding Dallas. Located near Telluride, it is 13,809 feet in elevation, making it the 100th highest.

“As anyone who has spent time on the mountains knows, shorter doesn’t equate to being easier,” he wrote. By community consensus, he added, Dallas is the most challenging peak in Colorado to climb.

“It’s steep, the routes are complex, giant cliff bands block most direct approaches, and the rock is all very loose,” he said. All of that, he added, is short of the summit block, where a 90-foot chimney rated at 5.3 in technical climbing parlance must be ascended to gain the top. And then there was the task of getting down.

In late May, the climbers completed their arduous task with peaks in the San Juan Mountains: Turret Peak and Pigeon Peak, both located between Durango and Silverton and commonly climbed in summer by people who take the train and then backpack to the base of the mountains.

The final two were reached from Creede. “Once in a while a straight-up easy mountain can really put up a fight,” wrote Ted Mahon in a May 22 posting about Stewart Peak, which is a few feet shy of 14,000 feet. The mountain had turned them back previously this year.

This time they succeeded, but it was a 35-mile day that involved riding and then walking bicycles through mud for 12 miles with 20 pounds of gear on their back. Then they got on snow, which was no picnic, either, as they crossed fallen trees and fell through the “trapdoor” snow cover.

On Saturday, Mahon reported on climbing Jagged Mountain, their 100th and final mountain, was also their most difficult, harder even than Dallas.

The Denver Post talked with Christy Mahon after the party got back to Aspen. She was preparing to go to her day job at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. She said Jagged was the most difficult but also that the high 13ers are “Colorado’s finest peaks.”

Among those highest 100 are both Atlantic and Pacific peaks, but also Oklahoma, California, and Missouri, plus Phoenix and Dallas.

You can also find an Apostle, a Teakettle and a Holy Cross. Plus Ice, Sunshine, and a Wetterhorn. But there is always Hope.

Snow trickle creates mayhem in the Tetons

JACKSON, Wyo. — In May, the snow firms up and backcountry snow travel in steep terrain becomes safer. But there can still be risks, as witnessed by a very small but deadly avalanche in the Teton Range of Wyoming.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide explains that a quartet of climbers were in a small, narrow couloir on Mt. Moran, a majestic peak favored by photographers with a crook in the Snake River in the foreground.

One of the climbers, Zahan Billimoria, said the climbers were going to take a breather, but before they got their packs off they heard a dull sound coming from above. “As I looked up — 30 feet above me is my estimate — I saw a small stream of snow, like snowboards rolling down toward us.”

The snow was too little to cover his foot. Being wet and hence heavy, it nonetheless had enough force to knock down his three companions, just feet away from him, and send them tumbling 500 feet down the couloir.

All were injured, and one of them, Luke Lynch, 39, a lawyer and a father as well as ardent climber and conservation advocate, had no pulse when his companions reached him. A second was taken to a hospital in critical condition.

Said a friend of Lynch, “He was just a force of nature, just unbelievably passionate about life.”

County commissioners endorse a carbon fee

ASPEN, Colo. — Will the United States go where British Columbia has already gone, adopting a carbon fee-and-dividend? The Pitkin County commissioners have added their resolution to the growing list of jurisdictions in support of the proposal.

The Aspen Daily News reports a 4-to-1 vote but also difficulty grasping the intricacies of the concept. One commissioner was particularly disturbed by the idea of adding a tax to gasoline and other carbon sources.

“So how am I going to tell my constituency that I’m going to support raising the price of gasoline,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley.

The usual response by Citizens Climate Lobby, whose representatives pitched the idea to the commissioners, is that taxes will be levied on carbon sources, including coal, natural gas and oil — but reduced in other areas, such as in income taxes.

That’s the approach adopted by British Columbia in 2008, and while there has been some grumbling, B.C.’s economy has survived extremely well, according to most accounts.

The taxing mechanism advocated by Citizens Climate Lobby would exact a “fee” of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions at the source of production, increasing it by annual increments.

Whistler full of doubts about upstart ski area

WHISLTER, B.C. — Whistler is bristling about a proposed ski resort located about 45 minutes closer to Vancouver that would be called Garibaldi at Squamish. It’s just not needed, they say, and actually might harm Whistler’s business.

The resort would be almost half the size of Whistler, 22,000 beds vs. the 54,000 already in Whistler. Provincial environmental officials are reviewing the proposal.

Pique Newsmagazine talked with several prominent individuals in Whistler, and none minced words. Paul Mathews, president of Ecosign Mountain Resorts, a ski area designer with experience around the world, called Garibaldi a “shitty ski area.” He has examined the idea three times since 1978. He pointed to the lack of beginner and intermediate terrain and a screwy fall-line that would yield poor skiing.

Mathews also spoke about the proximity of Garibaldi to Howe Sound, which is at sea level. Climate scientists have warned about the greater vulnerability of coastal resorts to rising temperatures, a weakness exposed during the 2010 Winter Olympics by Cypress Mountain, located across the bay from Vancouver.

In fact, the base area for Garibaldi would be higher than that for Whistler Blackcomb, whose lower slopes often get rain, not snow. But the top of Whistler Blackcomb is in a different world, a place of glaciers, and Garibaldi is not nearly as high.

Dave Brownlie, who runs the Whistler Blackcomb ski area, said that Garibaldi, if it opens, may cause people to think that Whistler has no snow, either.

The developers project Garibaldi would be able to get 850,000 skiers annually, putting it in the top 10 of North American ski areas and No. 2 in Canada, ahead of Mont Tremblant and behind Whistler. Mathews scoffs. “It’s just not even believable on the back of a matchbook,” he told Pique.

Brownlie pointed out that skier visits have been flat in North America — including British Columbia. “For some reason this resort is going to generate an incremental 850,000 visits?” he asked rhetorically. “There’s not a chance.”

If development of new ski terrain occurs, Brownlie argues, it should occur at existing resorts, whether Whistler, Sun Peaks, Big White, or Silverstar. “There’s lots of available capacity to be built at the resorts in British Columbia.”

A third confirmed wolf in Colorado

KREMMLING, Colo. – Gray wolves keep turning up in Colorado, the latest being one that was mistaken for a coyote and shot in late April. The shooting occurred in the sagebrush steppes several miles north of Kremmling, a town about two-thirds of the way on the three-hour drive from Denver to Steamboat Springs.

DNA analysis by a federal lab in Oregon last week confirmed the species.

This is the third wolf positively identified in Colorado since the species became expurgated, or locally extinct, sometime between 1935 and 1945. These new wolves have wandered south from the Yellowstone-Wind River area of Wyoming. The first was hit on Interstate 70 just west of Denver in 2004, and a second wolf was poisoned in northwest Colorado in 2009. Wildlife biologists have also found other evidence of possible wolves.

Creating the electric highway in Colorado

KREMMLING, Colo. – U.S. Highway 40 between Denver and Salt Lake City now has another level-II charging station for electric cars, this one at Kremmling, population 1,400.

The 240-volt charger might cause some people to linger and go shopping in the town’s sparse commercial district, Mark Campbell, the town manager, told the Sky-Hi News.

But this is definitely a story still in progress. The closest Level II charging stations are 81 miles to the east, near Denver, or 214 miles to the west, in Vernal, Utah. A Chevy Volt has a 38-mile range on a battery-only mode, although it has 382 miles if combined with the internal-combustion engine.

Colorado’s state government offered financial assistance supplemented by a grant from the local electrical supplier, Mountain Parks Electric. The local government had to pay next to nothing.

Thinking of wildfires from Taos to Whistler

TAOS, N.M. – Wildfire is on the minds of some residents who live outside of Taos. It’s not that fuel conditions are particularly ripe this year. Rather, it’s that fire is native to the landscape and hence always a risk.

One plan is to create three cross-canyon fuel breaks in the Pot Creek area. The removed vegetation would act as barriers in the case of a fire, explains the Taos News. “Because stands of timbers are so thick in the area, these long fuel breaks give firefighters a place to make a stand instead of being forced to watch a blaze march unimpeded across the landscapes,” the newspaper explained.

Along the Continental Divide some 1,700 miles to the northwest in Alberta, the fire crew in Jasper National Park was mopping up after setting a prescribed burn that had been planned for eight years. The Vine Creek Burn creates a fire break that could protect neighbors from future wildfires – and potentially stop the spread of mountain bark beetles by reducing viable habitat, notes the Jasper Fitzhugh.

In British Columbia, a ban on open fires has been announced for coastal regions because of the warm, dry weather being forecast. Campfires are still allowed, as long as they have fire guards and there are at least 8 litres of water available if they must extinguish the fire, Whistler’s Pique reports. The ban is in effect until Oct. 16.

Collaring grizzlies in Jasper National Park

JASPER, Alberta – Parks Canada has captured and collared six grizzly bears this season and hopes to collar another four to help study bear habitat in Jasper National Park.

“We want to understand how bears are using the landscape and if they are using it the same way they did 15 years ago,” said Gordon Stenhouse, research scientist and grizzly bear program lead for the Foothills Research Institute.

The Jasper Fitzhugh notes that 100 to 120 grizzly bears are believed to be in the national park.

Jackson Hole ponders affordable housing tax

JACKSON, Wyo. – Voters in Jackson and Teton County may be asked to support a tax increase to pay for workforce housing. Sales taxes currently stand at 6 percent. A new amount that would be approved by voters has not been specified.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports little stomach for an increased property tax but broad support for a sales tax at a two-day housing summit. Since emerging from recession, Teton County has had housing as tight, or tighter, than has been known in modern times, local sources say.

The advantage of a sales tax is that it would ding the pockets of tourists, not so much locals. Official studies as well as informal observation point to a strong correlation between the tourism economy and its related second-home economy and tight housing.

But not everybody likes a sales tax increase. Jim Stanford, a town council member, said he prefers another approach. Instead of raising money to build affordable housing, he favors limits on commercial growth. He pointed out that a 2 percent lodging tax was collected to promote the economy while another tax is being proposed to pay for the effects of that tourism economy.

The News&Guide said others thought that those directly responsible for the need for affordable housing should be required to pay. “People building the big hotels, they need to pay it, not us working guys,” said Ed Smith.

Nancy Stirn said “… it never dawned on me … that someone should have to pay to help me live where I want to live.” She is a dude ranch owner and provides seasonal housing for her employees. She said she is happy to do this for her own employees but reluctant to do the same for someone else.

Another idea still being chewed is a real-estate transfer tax. Such taxes are banned in Wyoming, but can state legislators allow local jurisdictions to chart their own courses? Teton County Commissioner Paul Vogelheim suggests a threshold of real estate sales in a county, such as $500 million a year. Teton County’s sales last year hit $800 million.

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