Heading into the summer of 2006 I had grand plans for Colorado 14er peak bagging. I was shooting to nab as many as 10. As the summer progressed I realized that I would fall way short of my goal. Work was crazy, especially in July and August, and it was hard to get away for more than a day or two. Also, my climbing partner, Alan Arnette, was spending most of the summer in Pakistan on his Broad Peak/K2 expedition, so I had fewer excuses to get out into the wilderness.
By the end of July I had only summited two new 14ers, Yale and Shavano. My attempt on Shavano was supposed to include Tabegauche and Antero, but the true beginning of the monsoon season washed me out of the latter two peaks that weekend.
After Alan had returned from Pakistan we planned to go back to do Shavano and Tabegauche. I met him and Robert, at the Blank Gulch Trailhead on a Friday night during a downpour. It was the first time that the 3 of us were together since we climbed Mt. Rainer in July, 2004. We started out early the next morning. I realized that I was just not right. I was stressed and worn out after a hellish week at work and a bad night of sleep in my car. I knew that I was not in the right frame of mind or body to climb a 14er, let alone two. I apologized to Alan and Robert and turned around only a short way from the trailhead. I drove home pissed off at myself for allowing work to get a hold on me way too much.
That week Alan, Robert and I started to email each other about what our plans would be for the following week. I desperately wanted to get back in the saddle and climb something. After toying with the idea of La Plata and the Ellingwood Ridge, we decided on Colorado’s second highest, Mt. Massive, and its southeast ridge. Robert and I met at the Elbert Creek campground on Friday night. Alan joined us the next morning after getting stuck in Denver traffic the night before. We left the Mt. Massive Trailhead at 6:30 a.m. I forgot my topo maps, but fortunately had the route plugged into my GPS. After passing the Wilson Creek trail branch, we left the Mt. Massive trail about a mile from the start and headed up the southeast ridge. We spent a mile picking our way through open forest to treeline after some friendly debate regarding each others route finding abilities and senses of direction. In the end my Garmin GPS won out and we all agreed that Alan’s altimeter watch had been on too many 8,000 meter peaks and needed to be put out of its misery.
Shortly after reaching treeline we could see Point 12,381. This was the first of 3 summits we would ascend before reaching the top of Massive. It would be the easiest. The wind picked up immediately after getting above the trees, but the views were incredible. We were between the clouds. There was a dense cover over Leadville and the surrounding lower altitudes. We started to get a little concerned about some of the clouds that were forming in the west, but felt OK for the time.
At that point my sense of direction was totally screwed. Only after pulling up the waypoint for Point 13,630 in my GPS did I get my bearings. Point 13,630 is also known as “South South Massive.” It looked formidable with a steep slope to the summit. Robert led the way and seemingly sprung to top. Though tired, I realized how good I felt. After bailing on an easy 14er the week before, I knew that I had gotten my mind and body back in the game and loved every minute of it.
After reaching the top of Point 13,630 the weather changed dramatically. Before we knew it we were in a small blizzard with gusting winds. We threw on extra layers and headed down to the saddle between “South South Massive” and South Massive. No sooner had we reached the saddle when we went from snow to clear skies and sunshine. Colorado was throwing a weather variety show at us and we feared that this was the calm before the storm as we could hear thunder rumble in the distance. We stripped down to lighter layers and contemplated our future on South Massive (14,132 ft.), which was looming above us. There was a heavy outcropping of rocks in the center of the ridge with no definite route or trail through it. I suggested going around the right of the outcropping, which I think proved to be a mistake. We soon found ourselves struggling up a scree slope. It was the classic example of 2 steps forward and 1 step back, but we made it to the top. Finally the summit of Massive came into view with the saddle below. Cloud convexions kept building all around us and we became more and more concerned with the weather. It was 11:30 and we knew we were pushing what should be a Colorado 14er turn around time of noon.
We decided to press on and keep evaluating the weather as we went. We quickly reached the saddle between South Massive and the summit and headed up the final ridge. There were 500 vertical feet to go with the first 200 the steepest. Robert and Alan reached a small false summit ahead of me with the true top only a short distance away. The weather was holding and I knew we had done it. The 3 of us summited together and agreed with Gerry Roach that “Massive is Massive.” It was one of my more satisfying summits in Colorado. The trials of the past month at work were behind me and I realized that I should never let my job interfere with my family and recreational life the way I had. I knew that I had to work less, exercise more and spend a lot more time with my wife and 4 kids.
We completed the loop by taking the Massive Trail down the large meadow on the peaks east face until it intersected with the Colorado Trail. It was an easy trek to the trailhead after the up and down challenges of the southeast ridge.
I’m a Buckeye (College of Vet. Med. Class of ’92) from The Great State of Ohio and the day was capped off for me when I had the glorious opportunity to taunt a Michigan fan just above the trailhead. I reminded him how the Bucks had beaten his “Meeeechigan” in football 4 out of the past 5 years.
About a half mile from our campsite Colorado decided to throw one more twist of weather at us with a heavy downpour and some nasty thunder claps. Still, it seemed like an appropriate ending to a redeeming day in the mountains on Colorado’s second highest peak.