Objectives: Mount Massive (14,421’) – CO Rank 2 Route: Southwest Slopes Total Distance: ~7.2 miles Elevation Gain: ~3850 ft Participants: Jim, Karen, & Pete
So far this year, Karen and I have managed a couple of exciting snow climbs and finished off the Sangre 14ers, and I was able to finish off the Front Range 14ers last weekend on Mt. Evans. This weekend marked my finish to the Sawatch 14ers as well as the last 14er Karen would be repeating for me to finally catch up with her. I like feeling productive! This weekend's adventure would also be one of first's: Pete's first time hiking a 14er and my first opportunity to lead my boss out into the wilderness. Thankfully, my route-finding ability isn't a part of my annual performance review!
The day started early, as usual, with Pete showing up at the house to pick us up at 3:30am. Doesn't it seem wrong that the days we get to "sleep in" are the days we go to work? Pete offered to drive, which allowed Karen to fulfill her life-long dream of riding in a Hummer. She was asking a lot of questions along the way though, about all its features and what the gas mileage was, etc, which was starting to make me and my wallet nervous.
The road in to the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead started out as an easy dirt road shortly before turning into 2 or 3 miles of obnoxious ruts and holes. We were amazed to see how the creek was just in a turbulent rage, rushing beside us along the way. We picked up a runner eager for a lift the rest of the way as well...we would see him later. The last 1/2 mile or so got interesting as we came across a Subaru and an Escalade with nice rims manuevering into a pull-out shortly before the trailhead. After turning the corner, we realized why, as we encountered a nice 100-ft steep section of the road with a set of large ruts and rocks at the top. Stock clearance was enough though and Pete powered on through.
Gearing up at the trailhead, we met a friendly group of 3 who we would encounter several times throughout the day. Eddie and Carol were from Ohio, making their annual pilgrimage to Colorado and visiting Eddie's cousin Tom, from Boulder. Eddie has been making the trek out here, working on the 14er list bit-by-bit for 25 years now!
(L to R): Eddie, Carol, Tom, Karen, and Pete
All geared up, we started hiking at 6:53am. Karen took the lead setting a quick pace as the first 1.5 miles of trail were pretty mellow. Nearing the turn-off for the SW slopes route we passed through a rather large avalanche field that was obviously from the recent winter. I remembered reading on the CAIC website about an avalanche triggered by a pair of skiers descending the southwest slopes several months ago and wondered if the debris was from that same slide.
The turn-off to the SW slopes route was well-marked with a sign and a large cairn, making it easy to spot in daylight. As Gerry Roach would say, "the introduction is over" and the trail started getting steeper in a hurry. The views west, back across the valley, were inspiring along the way and much more encouraging to look at rather than what was ahead of us.
The views across the valley were inspiring!
Pete stopping for a short break in front of CO's highest - Mt. Elbert
There was no snow along the trail until close to 12,000-ft, where we began to find intermittent snowfields to cross. At least one was steep and still firm enough to cause us to look for an alternative route down below on the rocks. Before long there was enough snow for us to lose the trail altogether. We continued along finding the path of least resistance across the snow and tundra.
Making progress up the SW slope
Around 12,500' Pete was starting to be significantly hindered with AMS, saying he was starting to feel dizzy and nauseous. We stopped for a good break and discussed our options. Since Karen had already summitted Massive, she offered to stay back with Pete while he acclimated and move up as much as they could while I went on ahead. We set a turn-around time of noon for them to reach the saddle between South Massive and the main summit where I would wait for them upon descent and we could decide if the weather was good enough for them to make the final push to the summit. The remaining ~1500' to the saddle maintained its steepness, and as the snow was starting to soften, I tried to take advantage of as much low angle snow as I could find.
Most of the route was a mixture of short snow fields and rock-hopping
Upon reaching the saddle I was reunited with Tom, Eddie, and Carol who were taking a breather from the last steep grunt and admiring the surrounding views. To my disbelief, the runner that rode with us to the trailhead was also at the saddle, except he had taken the trail that leads up to North Halfmoon Lakes, up to North Massive, and then south across the main summit. I felt like a huge wimp. Looking down the east side from the saddle I could see the virtually snow-free standard route and thought it looked much more mellow than what we had been coming up. Oh well, live and learn. The final push to the summit involved crossing a snowfield that was still several hundred feet across, but soft and well-traveled enough to provide a nice footpath. Upon gaining Massive's long summit ridge I found spectacular views of the Elks and other points west.
Spectacular views of the Elks and other points west from the ridge
It's been said a lot already, but there's still an amazing amount of snow out there considering it's almost July! Once on the ridge I picked up the pace a bit and managed to top out at 11:25am with Tom right on my heels. I spent about 15 minutes on the summit, enough time to have a snack and take some pictures before heading down, passing Eddie and Carol on the last bump below the main summit.
Looking north along Massive's long summit ridge
Back at the saddle I ran into 14ers.com member akmpolsen and his dog Brian. It was nice to put a face with the name and we had a good chat before I continued down. Nice to finally meet you Martin! Karen and Pete were waiting for me below the saddle at about 13,300' but I managed to completely miss them. It was shortly after noon, so I assumed they had already started heading down in front of me. So I took off scree surfing down several hundred feet and catching several nice long glissades. Still not seeing them as I was able to look further down the slope I figured they had either turned around a long time ago and would be waiting at the truck for me, or I had somehow passed them without knowing it. By the time I reached 12,200' I was pretty sure it was the latter and a short conversation with a couple from Minneapolis confirmed it. Boy was I upset with myself and not looking forward to hiking that slog back up the slope to find where they were possibly still waiting for me. Fortunately, Karen had seen me glissading below at one point and they had started down as well. I had only climbed 100' or so back up the slope before we made verbal contact and then visible. Phew! Karen and Pete took advantage of the snow as well on the descent and got in some good butt-surfing.
Ahh, the advantages of descending a route with lingering snow!
Tom, Eddie, and Carol were right behind them and the six of us made the trip back to the cars by 3pm. The last 1.5 miles were nice where we could actually talk and not have to focus so much on breathing. All in all, it was a steep but enjoyable day. Pete did really well for his first 14er attempt considering his bout with AMS (Pete, let me know when I can introduce you to Blodgett Peak for some altitude training hikes this summer!), and I am reminded yet again at how lucky I am to be married to Karen. So long Sawatch, hello Elks and San Juans! All Pictures
Hey Scott, thanks for your comment! The trail was virtually snow-free as far as the turn-off to Massive's SW slopes although a bit muddy in spots. I didn't get a very good picture of Oklahoma's SE slopes but what I do have makes it look patchy near treeline. Upper slopes are still covered and I assume as consolidated as the snow on Massive's upper east slopes. The SW slopes of Massive started softening up around 10am and were getting mushy by noon-1pm. Hope that helps, have a great trip!