Mount Massive

Elevation: 14,421
Location: Sawatch Range, Colorado

Mount Massive is the second highest peak in Colorado. More importantly to me, after climbing the two highest peaks in the 48 states, Massive was number three in the ranks. To me it was sort of the "bronze medal" after climbing Whitney and Elbert. Massive has a trail basically all the way to the summit, but it is long at 13 plus miles, climbing 4,400 feet. The trail starts at Halfmoon Creek, same as the route we took Mount Elbert.

Mt. Massive viewed from Leadville For Allen and I, this was our "big climb" of 2000. We had already climbed Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming and hiked Dream Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. We woke up early from the Super 8 in Leadville and got hiking quickly. The road to Halfmoon Creek is long and in a passenger car some parts are best traveled cautiously. The trailhead sits at 10,000 feet. The first mile is relatively steep, and in a few openings you can see Mount Elbert to the south. The next two miles are much more gradual and enjoyable along the "Colorado Trail", crossing streams a couple of times. Finally a sign marks the intersection with the Mount Massive trail (about 11,250 feet).

The first three miles are in dense forest, and you'll not see much other than pine trees. As you begin to climb towards Massive now, the trees start to thin and you can see both Leadville to the east, and the large bulks of Mount Massive to the west. Some smoke rising from the trees below gave concern with all the wildfires in the west this year, but it prooved to be nothing.

Approaching timberline on the Mt. Massive trail The trail plowed striaght towards a saddle between South Massive and the highest peak of Massive, still a fair distance away. I began to pull further ahead of Allen, but this was no problem as he had brought some lightweight radios that we were experimenting with. The trail became muddy in spots from the melting snow, and then we started running into small snow patches. The trail stayed quite clear (except for the boggy areas) all the way to the saddle at 13,900 feet.

From this saddle a clear view opened to the west and south. The bump of South Massive looked like an easy 250 foot boulder hop. The main peak looked more formidable. I rested for a while amongst the boulders enjoying the alpine scenery. I started the final stretch on a faint trail, but it faded often climbing up through the steep rocks and snow. A steep climb took me to the ridge, but I knew this was not the peak from watching a video of the climb. I continued along the ridge to the north until the true summit became obvious. The west side of the mountain appeared to be much more rugged than the east side. I stopped at the peak as a crow circled not far above.

On summit ridge looking north to true high point I rested amongst some rocks and radioed Allen, who was now part way up the summit climb. Soon he appeared over the false peak and joined me on the peak. We took photos of each other having both now climbed the three highest peaks in the lower 48. We found some comfortable seats amongst the summit rocks and stayed for a nice rest. Surprisingly for Colorado 14'ers, the weather was very clear and not threatening at all. Just as we started our trip down another solo climber came up.

Returning to the saddle down the steep rocks was not the easiest, but it was not severe scrambling either. I did not look forward to the six miles of walking back down. A couple more various climbers were coming up, but it was nowhere near as busy as Elbert had been three years earlier. We were both anxious to get off the mountain and get a good meal in. I started to feel the length of the trail on the way down, but Allen was cruising right down. I stopped a couple of times to rest my shoulder which was aching more and more.

From summit looking south to Mt. Elbert and La Plata Peak We finally arrived back at the trailhead and headed back to Leadville. Allen remarked that he found Massive to be easier than Elbert had been, while I said I thought they were very similar, with Massive being maybe a little more difficult due to the trail length. We headed to Pizza Hut for dinner and had the next day to relax in Leadville and buy souvenier shirts of Elbert and Massive. With three pretty easy Colorado 14'ers climbed now I've set my sights on a tougher peak for 2001, Mount Sneffels in the San Juan range.