Onward and upward
ASPEN – Chris Davenport was cleaning out his garage and taking his son to a birthday party last Friday instead of charging up one of the state’s highest peaks.The Snowmass resident, in the midst of his mission to climb and ski all 54 of Colorado’s Fourteeners in one calendar year, is stuck on No. 43. Unseasonably warm temperatures and poor snow across the state have led to the realization that he will fall short of that final summit this spring. He will look to complete the project at the end of the year but will have to rely on favorable conditions to do so. It is a position Davenport has become all too familiar with this winter. “If it was an average snow year, I’m 100 percent certain I would ski them all this season,” Davenport said Friday. “Usually, we’re skiing into mid-June. But now, I’m twiddling my thumbs. I’m so close.”While Aspen recorded its most abundant snowfall in years – nearly 360 inches fell, according to the Aspen Skiing Co. – regional disparities have been magnified, Davenport said. The San Juan Mountains, tucked in the state’s southwest corner, are experiencing 65 percent of average snowfall; Front Range snow packs are 40 percent of average. Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range experienced a winter with 20-30 percent of its average. With the exception of one line – the north face’s Y Couloir – Pikes Peak’s slopes were rock-strewn and barren May 15 when Davenport and friend Ted Mahon made the trip. Given the dry conditions, Davenport said he’s been fortunate.”It’s frustrating, but not disappointing because I was always very realistic from the get-go,” he said. “If snow was less than average, I said my chances would drop to 50 percent. If it was worse, it was going to be impossible. Exactly what I said is what happened.
“The lines haven’t been as long or good, but at this point, I’m trying to knock off numbers.”Davenport made the three-hour drive to Mount Bierstadt in early March but had to turn back because of no snow. Conditions were comparable on May 14 and, although Mahon retreated to the RV, Davenport pushed ahead, completing the solo excursion in 2 1/2 hours.Davenport and Chris Anthony – a mainstay in Warren Miller films – logged the project’s 43rd and most recent descent, Mount Columbia, on May 17. Now, Davenport waits.He centered his goal, which he admitted has evolved because of extenuating circumstances in recent months, on a new number: 47. Davenport, who continues to monitor the weather, is targeting Mount Evans, Longs Peak and Mount Ross in the coming weeks, he said. Also, the Mount of the Holy Cross in the Sawatch Range is well covered and “good to go” once its access road opens.”For sure, I’ll get to 45. Anything beyond that will be a bonus,” Davenport said.The RV has been returned. Members of Davenport’s crew have disbanded, some heading for the wilds of Alaska. Close to 50 hours of footage for a movie chronicling the project has been recorded; a portion will appear in the newest Matchstick Productions flick.
The rare moment of free time has offered Davenport the opportunity to reflect. Time to reflect on a season and a journey complete with unexpected – yet exhilarating – successes, and landmark career moments. There was a trip down the Landry Route on Pyramid Peak – the first since 1978 – and a harrowing descent on Capitol that succeeded in startling even the most accomplished of mountaineers.”After we did it, Neal (Beidelman) and I both said we wanted no part of that again,” Davenport joked. “We were lucky to be able to tell the story.”Davenport skied 14 peaks in 14 days, and 20 from April 4 to May 4. On May 4, he completed three peaks – Mount Wilson, El Diente and Wilson Peak – in a grueling 15 1/2-hour trek that covered 8,500 vertical feet on both the ascent and descent. He remembers fondly his trip to Ellingwood Point with Lou Dawson, the first man to ski all the state’s Fourteeners. “He’s always been a driving force for me and for him to come join a bunch of young bucks was great,” Davenport said. “He motivated us. He believed in us.”Davenport remembers crisscrossing the state with a group of close friends, logging almost as many stories and laughs as they did miles. His Ford pickup, which he purchased Dec. 1, and carried snowmobiles for the group’s moveable base camp, has 16,000 miles on it.Would he change a thing? Does he regret not summiting No. 54 this season? Not a chance.”Even if I could change anything, I wouldn’t. Everything was perfect, given the snow conditions,” he said. “Perfect. I didn’t have a blister, or any issues with my equipment. It has already exceeded my expectations by a lot.
“I went into this excited and optimistic. I thought this spring would wear me out, but it has done the opposite.” Davenport said he sees the finish line, and believes the path in between has few, if any, barriers. He eagerly anticipates next season’s first snow, and the moment when he’ll be standing on that final summit, whether it’s Little Bear, Crestone Needle, Blanca or another.Although the finality of his project and his journey is months off, Davenport has already come to terms with the weight of his accomplishments.”We’ve made enough of a statement with our descents and climbing that we raised the bar for ski mountaineering,” Davenport said. “I learned so much about myself and what I can do. “This journey has been incredible, by anyone’s standard.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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