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Davenport describes descent of Lhotse Face

KEENE VALLEY – Few people have summited Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet, and even fewer have skied the nearby Lhotse Face while doing it.

Chris Davenport has done both.

Davenport was in the Adirondacks this past weekend for the Adirondack Backcountry Skiing Festival, organized by The Mountaineer gear store and Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides, both located in Keene Valley.

The ski festival featuredfree demonstrations and lessons at Otis Mountain, a private ski hill in Elizabethtown on Saturday. There were also guided backcountry clinics both days of the weekend.

Skifest is a benefit event, with proceeds supporting the New York State Ski Education Foundation’s Nordic racing programs and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, stewards of the Adirondack Park’s backcountry ski trail system, including the Jackrabbit Trail.

Davenport spent Saturday afternoon skiing with the public at Otis Mountain. That evening he gave a public presentation with slides and videos in the Keene Central School Beaverdome.

Davenport, who grew up in North Conway, N.H., skied about 2,000 feet of the Lhotse Face, a sheer wall that is located on Lhotse, a mountain located in the shadow of Mount Everest. Mountaineers climbing Everest from the southeast route must ascend the 3,700-foot wall. Davenport skied the Lhotse Face in May 2011 during a successful trip up Everest with fellow guide Neal Beidleman, a client and a team of sherpas. Only a handful of people have skied the face.

Beidleman was part of the group that was climbing on Mt. Everest in May 1996 when a storm came in and contributed to eight fatalities. The story was chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air.” Beidleman was serving as a guide under Scott Fischer, who died in the storm. It was his first time returning to the mountain.

Davenport, a resident of Aspen, Colo., is known for his ski mountaineering skills. He was the first person to ski all the Colorado 14ers, the state’s 54 peaks over 14,000 feet, in one year in 2007.

Davenport told the Beaverdome audience that when he first saw the Lhotse Face it was sheer ice and too dangerous to ski. However when Davenport and his group returned days later during their second rotation up the mountain, the face was covered in snow. This was during a period when the climbers were acclimatizing.

On this particular day, they were climbing from Camp 2 at 21,400 feet to Camp 3 and then back down again.

Davenport said he and Beidleman did a careful inspection to make sure that the snow wasn’t avalanche prone. At first, he went on a fixed rope.

“When I first went out there, I was really nervous,” he said. “This was a huge face on the world’s highest mountain with a foot or more of new snow on top of black ice. I mean, it’s all the ingredients for a big avalanche. But all the research we’ve done and all the homework is telling us that this stuff is looking pretty good. So with trepidation and nerves and also a level of confidence, I get belayed by Neil out onto the face itself.

“I’m on my skis. I ski out onto the face. I’m still on a rope and I get out there, and I kind of jump around. It’s feeling pretty good and I dig a little hole in the ice and I put an ice screw in, and I clip myself in. And I go, ‘Here I am, this thing I’ve dreamed about for years, standing out on the Lhotse Face.’ I wave to Neil. I come on out. I belay him out to me. He clips into the screw and we sort of sit there. You feel so insignificant out on this face with this one little screw and all of this snow around you.”

After a brief discussion, the two decided to cut loose and head down the mountain free of ropes.

“Out goes the screw and down we go,” Davenport said. “And we start skiing in this perfect powder snow down one of the most famous and largest faces in the world.”