He’s a native of the Western U.S. who has represented Colorado as a member of the Democratic Party in the state’s House of Representatives, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Yet in the San Juans, Mark Udall’s otheraccomplishments — if people only knew about them — would likely earn him just as much (or maybe even more) respect from both sides of the aisle.
Udall has summited not only every one of Colorado’s 14ers, but all 100 of the highest mountains in this state. He’s climbed Aconcagua in South America, and the 28,169-foot Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, in the Himalaya. He’s attempted Everest numerous times.
The San Juans are a place where alpinists are not only revered, but many of the world’s best make their homes.
“It’s a big win to have Udall in town” Friday, Sherbino Theater publicist Tessa Cheek said. “People will be very interested in his political history, and they’ll learn about his mountaineering achievements.”
Udall will be in Ridgway as the inaugural guest in the dZi Foundation’s new Speakers Series, where he’ll offer a presentation on “attitude, altitude and action.” (The complete title of Udall’s talk is “How attitude, altitude and action led to two equally dangerous careers: climbing on the world’s highest peaks and serving in the U.S. Congress!”)
Named for the beads considered to confer a spiritual benefit on their wearer, the dZi Foundation — which is based in Ridgway and is a key partner of Telluride’s Mountainfilm — was cofounded by its president, Jim Nowak, an accomplished mountaineer himself. The Speaker’s Series is Nowak’s brainchild.
“We’re super connected to the climbing community,” Nowak explained, “and I’d been wanting to do this. I finally got a gap in my schedule, and pulled the trigger. It honestly wasn’t that hard; a lot of people support us and believe in our work. I can’t say finding people to speak was exactly a challenge.”
Udall, for example, “has worked with dZi for years,” Nowak said. “He’s just an incredible individual. He was the executive director of the Colorado Outward Bound School, so he’s quite connected to the outdoor world. Yet people just don’t know about his background as a serious mountaineer.
“Now that Udall’s out of the government” — Udall lost a squeaker of a race, 46 to 48 percent, to U.S. Senator Cory Gardner in 2014 — “he’s got the time” to give a presentation in Ridgway, Nowak added. Udall resides in famed climbing mecca Eldorado Canyon, outside Boulder. Right now, though, “he’s visiting friends in Utah, and he’s heading this way.”
In the coming months, armchair mountaineers will be treated to a string of presentations from noteworthy alpinists, including Kelly Cordes, who will discuss climbing Cerro Torre in Patagonia; Brad Johnson, who has summited Mt. Everest, Ama Dablam and Makalu; Phil Powers, who’ll recount his climb on K2 in Pakistan; and mountain guide Dawn Glanc, who has twice won the women’s division of the Ouray Ice Festival (and first place at the 2012 Teva Winter Games) will discuss mixed climbing.
Up next month following Udall’s appearance will be the legendary alpinist Jim McCarthy, who’ll recount his first ascent of the “now-classic Southeast Face 5.10 route,” as Gripped magazine put it, of Lotus Flower Tower in the Northwest Territories’ Cirque of the Unclimbables.
McCarthy’s ascent, which he accomplished along with Tom Frost and Sandy Bill, earned the route a place in “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.” Mountainproject.com describes Lotus Flower Tower as “one of the most distinct pieces of rock geometry on the planet” and calls the 5.10c route, dubbed The Great Line, “absolutely that.”
Funds raised by the Speaker’s Series will support dZi’s work in Eastern Nepal, which has lately moved from infrastucture work — on buildings and toilets — to what Nowak calls “soft skills.” The foundation, which earns a perfect 100 out of 100 on Charity Navigator for “accountability and transparency,” has formed over 100 parent-teacher associations in its project areas and received funding for three years for “early-childhood development and teacher’s training,” Nowak said. “We’ll leverage those PTAs, in order to work more closely” with teachers and students. “Just like all of dZi’s work, this scaffolds. We’re always building,” Nowak observed. Like the subjects of the Speaker’s Series, the dZi Foundation’s direction goes one way: up.
Mark Udall’s presentation is Friday at the Sherbino Theater at 7 p.m. To learn more about the dZi Foundation and its projects, visit dzi.org.