(Last Updated On: May 10, 2016)
This is the final post of an ongoing series re-telling Brittany’s fourteener-skiing story. These reports were delivered every Thursday, as part of a Throwback Thursday theme. Visit Brittany’s Fourteener-Skiing Journey to view all the reports!
When I was about 2/3 of my way through my fourteener-skiing project, I started to think about which peak I would save for last. A few finishers had ended on Capitol, often thought of as the hardest one. But, after observing the pressure that these finishers had to deal with in needing a difficult fourteener to come into condition to finish the final peak of their project, I decided I wanted to finish on something “easy”.
So, I looked at the list of peaks I had remaining, and Pikes Peak seemed to fit the bill. My thought was that I could have a party, since it is possible to drive to the summit. I would invite friends who have helped me along the way, and have a big celebration!
Below is a slightly modified version of my report for skiing Pikes Peak, which would become my 54th fourteener skied, completing my fourteener-skiing project!
I’ve thought about this day for a long time. My final fourteener descent- Pikes Peak. How did it come to be here? I was given the advice by other fourteener skier finishers to make sure to save an easier peak for last. By the time I was given this advice, I basically had one “easy” peak left- Pikes Peak.
“It will be great,” Frank said. “You can drive up to the top and have a party on the summit of Pikes Peak!” This was in the spring of 2008. I had only 9 peaks remaining and those nine peaks seemed to take forever to finish. I lost a season due to tearing my ACL in 2009, but came back to tackle 7 more fourteeners in 2010. In mid-May last year, I was shut down on Pyramid by stormy weather. I knew then and there that the Landry line would have to wait until next season. Winter happened and spring came once again. And once again I found myself climbing fourteeners. Finally, I met Pyramid with success.
But, parties can be hard to organize. So, I opted to wait over a week in hopes that more people could join me on my last fourteener. Because the chances of the road opening to the summit was slim, I kept my fourteener party small–although I genuinely wanted a full on rager 😉 Frank and I picked up our friend Jamie in Golden, and headed to the bottom of the Pikes Peak Roadway where we rendezvoused with the 8 other members of our group. We consolidated our gear and ourselves into 2 vehicles and began heading up the road. At the gate, we were told that the road was open 16 of the 19 miles. But, the road crews were out.
We parked on the side of the road near mile 16 and began unloading our heaps of gear. Just as we were about ready to make the trek to the summit, the road crew drove by and announced that they were opening the road another 1.5 miles. So, all the gear we unpacked was re-packed. And we squeezed ourselves into our two vehicles once again. At mile 17.5 we unloaded once again, and laughed when we saw just how close the summit actually was. Sure, it was a mile and half on the road, but it was practically a hop, skip, and a jump over scree.
Group shot. Top row, from the climber on the left: Jim Clarke, Jamie Sampey, Dave Bourassa, Frank Konsella
Bottom row, left to right: Gerlinde Debie, Caleb Wray, Kim Ross, Me (Brittany Walker), Matt Kamper
Photo courtesy of Dave Bourassa and Keith Spargo
But, then the radios began buzzing. There was a downclimb on the line. I wanted to try to avoid a downclimb to ski the line as cleanly as possible. So, off to the other branch of the Y we went. Frank.
Photo courtesy of Kim Ross
And then Keith, from AE Films, radioed up from below. It was now or never. So, down I went.
Photo courtesy of Kim Ross
My hopes for a BBQ on the top of Pikes Peak quickly dwindled. Instead, we opted for a party in the van 🙂 While we skied, the road had opened to the summit, and Dan hiked back to the van and drove it to the top for us. Thank you Dan!
As I sat there, surrounded by some of my best friends while it dumped outside, I didn’t want the moment to end. I had just skied my final fourteener. I suddenly discovered that I didn’t want this moment to be over. For the last few years, I was so excited for my project to be over. Sure, I was proud of my accomplishment, but I was also surprisingly sad. For the last five years I had been “the girl that’s skiing the fourteeners”. Who will I be now?
The snow forced us to retreat from the top and drive back down to the bottom. We said goodbye to those who needed to leave, and a few of us headed out to dinner at Adam’s Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs.
A Goal Complete
It was February, 2006 when I initially announced my goal to ski all of Colorado’s fourteeners to a few of my friends and family. It’s funny to look back at the email now that I sent back then with my original announcement. Still, I made my goals clear. I hoped to be the first woman. But, I also knew that being first wasn’t the most important part of this goal. I wanted to finish all of my fourteeners safely, from the summit, and within five years. I can say that I have done all of that. And now my goal is complete.
The Fourteener Skiers Evolution
When I started skiing the fourteeners back in 2006, it was a different time. The only person who had completed all of the fourteeners was Lou Dawson. Chris Davenport was in the midst of his project and fourteener skiing was being pioneered by Sean Crossen, Pam Rice, & Chris Webster. New lines were still being discovered by many fourteeners, including the line on Capitol skied by Davenport, which was originally envisioned by Pete Sowar.
As I worked on my fourteener project, I watched more and more join in- many of whom finished before me. Currently, there are nine people to have skied/snowboarded all of Colorado’s fourteeners- Lou Dawson, Chris Davenport, Ted Mahon, Frank Konsella, Jordan White, Joe Brannan, Christy Sauer Mahon, Jarrett Luttrell, and me. After Lou, the remaining 8 people on this list have finished in only the last five years. It’s been amazing to be in the midst of this fourteener evolution. I am happy to say I have skied with every person on this short list. And I’m also happy to call them friends. We’ve all supported one another along the way- a testament to the fabulous tight-knit ski mountaineering community we have here in Colorado.
There is no doubt that fourteener skiing has evolved at an alarming rate in the last few years. Still, there are fourteener-skiers out there, discovering new lines (like Matt’s line on Yale), and working their way to checking those last fourteeners off the list. I can’t wait to help some of these people across the finish line!
What I Gained
When I originally began this project, I was motivated by the challenge. I was burnt out after years of mountain bike racing. I’d recently taken up backcountry skiing and was searching for a goal that took me back to my true passion- skiing. I loved the exhilaration of overcoming mental and physical challenges and then being rewarded by standing on top of a peak, enjoying hundreds of miles of fabulous views. I knew I wanted more of that, and I knew skiing the fourteeners would serve it.
But, what I didn’t know is what else I would gain along the way. This fourteener project has taken me places I would have never gone otherwise. I’ve traveled to remote places in Colorado to ski these peaks, driven down roads I’ve never been on before, and seen some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I’ve gained some solid backcountry ski partners who have morphed into life-long friends, including my soon-to-be husband, Frank. Now, it’s strange to envision my life without any of these people in it as it was 6 years ago. Last, I’ve gained skills. When I first started this project, I was barely a backcountry skier. Now, I am a ski mountaineer. I am a different person living in a different place because I took on this challenge.
People have asked me this a lot and to be honest, I’m not sure. Some people suggest that, now that it’s May, I should start riding bikes. But, I’m going to keep skiing, especially while the skiing is still good. And, it’s still fantastic. I’ll probably enjoy a year or so of having not too much of a goal- just doing what I want, when I want. I’ve wanted to spend some time in the Tetons and maybe even the Sierras and Cascades for quite some time now, but I haven’t taken the time to travel much because I didn’t want to “miss a good fourteener window”. I also have a constant “wish list” that I am always adding to, and checking things off. It’s in a constant state of flux which is nice because you always have something you want to ski next. Still, a constantly changing wish list is not the same as a pre-set list or goal. There is something so tangible and satisfying about counting down, not just checking off. I can’t say right now that I’ll return to a pre-set list or even what that list will be. But, I have some ideas. Either way, I’ll be out there skiing- and enjoying every moment I get in the big mountains.
I wouldn’t have finished this project, or even begun it, without the help of so many people along the way. Pioneers, partners, people who provided beta – all of them have helped me complete this project. I know there are names I’m likely forgetting, but I would like to take time to thank the following people.
Thank you to all of my partners including Pete Sowar, John Jasper, Chris Webster, Mark Cavaliero, Joe Brannan, Andy Dimmen, Jon Turner, Brett Foncannon,Ted Mahon, Christy Sauer, Jeremy Wegener, Jarrett Luttrell, Brad Bond, Dustin Sysko, Jim Clarke, Marko Ross-Bryant, Lou Dawson, Tom Runcie, Brennan Metzler, Matt Kamper, Kim Ross, Jamie Sampey, Caleb Wray, Catherine Shank, Kellie Baker, and many many more people who have helped and supported me along the way.
Thank you to Keith Spargo and Dan Bowers of AE Films for documenting portions of my project along the way. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Thank you to Pam Rice, my most solid female partner and one who is seeking to ski all the fourteeners herself. Your constant understanding of the underlying pressures of being among the first females to undertake this project meant so much to me. And thank you for your continuous support, despite the fact that we were more or less “competitors” trying to achieve the same goal.
Thank you to Dave Bourassa for his confidence in me to take this project on. In 2006, I sat with Dave on the summit of Crystal in the Mosquitoes, waiting for the snow to soften. I had been flaunting the idea in my mind of skiing all the fourteeners. When I revealed this idea to Dave, he was immediately supportive. Thank you Dave, for your constant support, from beginning to end.
Thank you to Jordan White for getting me up the toughest of toughest fourteeners. I don’t know who I would have gotten Capitol done without him. When I first met Jordan, he couldn’t even drink a beer with us at the bar. But, now he’s out there tackling and guiding big mountains, and rescuing people along the way. It’s been so wonderful to see you grow as a ski mountaineer and as a person.
And my biggest thanks goes to my best partner and now husband, Frank Konsella. I met Frank shortly after skiing my first fourteener, largely because I was looking for strong partners who could ski fourteeners with me. Since then, we have skied 38 fourteeners together (not including repeats) and have had countless other adventures. Thank you for keeping me going throughout this project. I love you!
Thanks for following along while I replay my fourteener-skiing journey. It has been a fun one to re-live as it has defined me for who I am today.
Since I’ve finished, many people have approached me about skiing fourteeners. It’s great to see people out there doing it! While there are definitely a handful of men working towards these accomplishments, I’d like to give a shout out to Otina Fox who is closing in on becoming the 3rd female skier. I’d like to see a female snowboarder jump up to the task though! And please let me know when you do!
I’ve also been asked for snippets of advice when it comes to skiing fourteeners. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – It’s all about the journey. I know those wanting to accomplish this goal want to race to the finish line. But, unless you’re a female snowboarder, the race is over. Now, it’s about doing it because that’s what you want to do. So, take your time. Make sure the line is in good condition. It’s worth the wait.
But, I’d also like to bring up a discussion on ethics. It has come to my attention that a lot of recent fourteener-skiers are not living up to the ethics that have been set by most of the finishers. In my opinion, Chris Davenport set the ethics for modern-day fourteener skiing. I believe it is our job as ski mountaineers to continue in his tradition and ski the fourteeners as good or better than he did. I’ve talked about the summit descents of Mount Wilson, but this applies to other peaks as well. I know not all fourteener-finishers have lived up to this standard, and frankly, it disappoints me.
Last, I also believe that a fourteener should be skied at least 1000 feet, or at least until the line sensibly ends, for it to count. For example, I know some people have only skied the ridge on Oxford rather than dropping into the basin between it and Belford. That doesn’t fit the 1000-foot rule. Ethically, those descents don’t really count.
So, to those aspiring to ski or snowboard the fourteeners… I encourage you to uphold the highest ethics so that other ski mountaineers will follow suit. And make sure to enjoy every moment of it – that’s really what it’s all about.