Until a few weeks ago, only 6 skiers had ever managed to ascend and descend all 54 of Colorado’s massive “14ers” — mountain peaks over 14,000 feet. Thanks to the dedication of Jarrett Luttrell, snowboarding has been added to the list. With his descent of Keplinger’s on Longs Peak, Jarrett became the first snowboarder to ride all 54 14ers, setting a new standard in ride-mountaineering and helping to open the door to the next wave of splitboarding. For anyone interested in really getting out there, this one’s for you. Congratulations to Jarrett on the achievement.
Name: Jarrett Luttrell
Hometown: Moorhead, MN
Home Mountain: DL Mountain, with a couple trips to Bridger and Big Sky, MT
Currently Riding: Crested Butte, CO. Crested Butte is a great place to test your skills on the steeps. It’s also very unforgiving and unpopular for
snowboarding-it’s riddled with traverses and uphill compression traps, interspersed with many sustained 50-degree pitches.
-Bomber alloy plates
-Scarpa F1 ’07 boots
Tell us a bit about yourself? Where from, how long snowboarding, etc.
I grew up in Moorhead, MN. It was a nice place to grow up, no mountains though. My Grandparents lived near the Badlands of North Dakota had a lake cabin on the Indian reservation. We used to climb all over those runneled clay towers and buttes. I played hockey until high school. It was incredibly competitive, but couldn’t make varsity or JV, so I started getting more into more individual activities like mountain bike racing in the summers. I didn’t start rock climbing until 1998, when I moved to Gunnison.
I moved to Winter Park after high school. I rode bumps and trees for over a hundred days a season. I forced myself to stay out all day. I worked the night shift. It was great. There were also access gates to a beautiful forest that has since been decimated by the beetles. Very sad.
My first backcountry snowboard runs were on Berthoud Pass and the Bear Claw on Perry Peak.
Congratulations on the big accomplishment! Can you explain what you just completed?
Thanks! I just became the first snowboarder to ride from the summit of every Colorado peak over 14,000 feet. There are 54 of them, according to the CMC (Colorado Mountain Club) and the USGS, including sentinels like The Maroon Bells and Longs Peak. Some are big rounded lumps, but catching snow from the summits tested my patience… There are a couple of access obstacles as well: we had to pay for our access through private land to get Culebra, for example. Setting a date in stone like that usually means bad weather, and every party to ride it has had to endure climbing through whiteout conditions on that one. We took the train in to access the Needles Range, and used bikes to haul into Holy Cross, The Bells, Castle, and Princeton. This spring was the culmination of all these experiences into one last push for the tough ones: Capitol, El Diente, and Little Bear.
How long did the project take you? You’re the first snowboarder to take on all 54 peaks; have any skiers done this feat before you?
Thousands have hiked them all in the summer, but only seven people have skied them all. Lou Dawson was the first person to finish, back in 1996. It took him 13 years, but he cleared a wide path, doing many-if not all-of the routes on each peak. He wrote the books. Chris Davenport skied them all in a calender year a few years ago-he was the second overall. Following were Ted Mehon, Frank Konsella, Pete Sower, Jordan White, and on the same day I finished, Christy Mahon, the first woman to ski them all.
What was your inspiration for such an undertaking?
All of these previous people were my inspiration. Lou was a great resource-he’s researched so much of Colorado’s ski- and ride-mountaineering history. In 2000, I asked him if anyone was riding them, and he said that he was still the only one to ski from all the summits. He also explained the high standard he held for exacting summit descents. Then there were the drought years… I completely gave up. That’s why Davenport’s project caught me as a surprise. He proved that those lines were not flukes, or only in good condition once every ten years. His success was the primary reason for the revival of 14ers.
How often were you alone during the trip? How many peaks were done solo?
Over half of them were completed solo-over thirty. Pyramid and the Bells were among them. On a few occasions I would meet other riders out there-usually just brief encounters¬-but sometimes I would cling onto a group for the critical parts, or vice versa.
How did you get involved in snowboard mountaineering, in the first place?
Just looking at some of those big lines was enough to plant the seed. I felt I was good enough as a rider, but there’s more to it than that. I took a couple avalanche courses and a Wilderness First Responder course. Mountaineering was something I always wanted to do. In college, I read mountaineering books when I couldn’t get out: Messner, Diemburger, Breshears, Simpson, Bass, Wells, Ridgeway, Krakauer… The books gave me an understanding of the mountaineering premise, but in terms of the practical applications there is only so much you can learn that way. I had some friends who were very competent with the rock and ice. I was fortunate to have someone who could take me on big routes in the Black Canyon, Ellingwood Arete or the Flying Camelot. On the 14ers, I hiked and climbed a lot of those peaks in the summer before deciding to ride them. I’ve also ridden many of the peaks in the Crested Butte area; the mountains there are singular and stoic, rather than points along a ridge.
For those out there interested in splitboarding, what advice would you give out?
Choose your partners carefully at first-ideally someone who is also on a splitboard. If it’s some chachi who’s only interested in telling you how superior his ski equipment is, than forget it. I usually found myself surrounded by the latter category… Lots of my partners were on teli-that’s just the way it is. The good news is the ones who rip have a confidence that precludes exhibition. Strive to maintain that level of composure, and if you catch a whiff of high horse, you can always just stop giving them switchbacks. Split skins are incredibly fat. They are awesome for steep trail breaking. Remember that you’ll be using different muscles for the descent, essentially starting fresh, and working less to make turns. Fabio Grasso and I once ripped a three thousand foot run in about ten minutes.
For someone who wants to follow in your footsteps, what did you learn during and after the trip that would have helped you prepare?
One thing specific to the high peaks is that they don’t fill in for most of the calendar winter. The dry snow just does not stick at the summits. Don’t even waste your time with them until the wet and heavy spring storms-work on your riding until the lifts close. Snow doesn’t stick to the north face of Longs until the end of May. The snow sets up, and then everything gets easier and safer.
Also, you may as well take your time to make each peak special somehow. Don’t succumb to the ‘peak-bagger’s disease’-finishing just for the sake of getting it over with. The journey truly is the prize in this case. For example, the Wilsons are close together, but the best lines go off in opposite directions, rather than back down into the same basin.
Top five necessities during the adventure?
Every trip is different!
1.Capitol: Rope for the rappel
2.Snowmass: Fishing pole for the lake
3.Sherman: Earplugs for the wind
4.Oxford: Music for the monotony.
5.The Needles: Beer for the creek-you take a train to those peaks, and generally spend some time waiting around at the trailhead afterwards.
Let’s talk about some of the peaks themselves. There must be stories for days… Which ascent and descent were the scariest / most difficult and why?
Capitol Peak is undeniably the freak show. I doubt anyone would ride that mountain if it were less than 14k. The climb takes a very sharp ridge with death falls on both sides. It doesn’t have a route that follows any kind of direct fall line-the descent route goes entirely sideways. It’s one big heelside traverse on sixty-degree snow above four hundred foot cliffs-all finished by rappel. It also somehow took me over 27 hours!
Sunlight also had a surprise at the top: An off-camber, 3-foot wide patch of snow, broken by small steps that dangle over the void… You don’t get a second chance here.
Which was the most memorable, for you?
Climbing over a 30-foot high debris pile left by multiple avalanches up Silver Creek, on Redcloud, is an old memory that stays. It filled the valley bottom for a half-mile. We made our way with glow sticks because our headlamps froze and died. Very surreal…
Pyramid is still a vivid one. I just kept looking at the moonlit face, wondering how I would stick to it. There were little snow pebbles zipping by the whole way.
It mostly just depends on the conditions at the time. Snowmass is always good, though. The Big East Bowl is a mile wide! It was one of the only ones I could really count on getting during the drought years.
Now that the project is complete, what’s in store for you next? Relax time, or do you have a new adventure already in mind?
I’m working on a trip to Shasta this summer to catch up with an old friend. I hope to come back, but… maybe I won’t…!