We took the North East ridge route to the summit. It is very strenuous in parts and can get discouraging as you keep seeing false summits, because as soon as you get over one, another shows up. However, it was very rewarding to get to the summit and be totally taken aback by the incredible beauty, and the fact that you can say that you have climbed the highest mountain in Colorado. It is also cool going down because you realize just how steep it is, it really reinforces the fact that this is no small feat!
Things I found useful:
1) Start Early, we started at 5:30am at the trailhead. Allow at least a 45 min drive from Leadville.
2) If you can, stay at the Columbine Inn in Leadville. It is a very nice place to stay.
3) Bring plenty of water. My dad and I actually ran out of water about 30min-1hr from the car. I brought 6 liters of water, and drank all of it. My dad brought 4.
4) Wear hiking shoes with wool, moisture-wicking socks.
5) Zip-off pants are a great idea
6) Bring rain gear in case of a freak thunderstorm, which you should always assume will happen. Check the weather forecasts the day before, and before you leave the hotel, there is no sense in making it half way up then getting turned around by rain!
7) Bring good food, we weren't sure how many calories we burned but it was several thousand at least. Make sure you are replacing those calories, or you will be wicked hungry.
8) Hiking poles are a must. Even one pole is a big help, mostly on the way down the false summit. It gets VERY steep.
9) Always be watching the weather, if it looks bad, better safe then dead.
10) Enjoy yourself! Take pictures! Look around! On a clear day, you can probably see more than 50 miles in any direction!
There is 4,700 vertical feet of elevation gain on the trail over 4.5 miles, one-way, for a total of 9.0 miles.
We started from the trailhead on Half-moon(?) Road at 5:30am, and made it to the top at 10:21am, which is kind of slow, because we took lots of breaks at the false summits.
We spent 1 hour on the summit, and made it back around 4:00pm. Watch those clouds for thunderstorms!
The route itself is heavily used, and if you stick to it, you will never run into problems losing the trail, and you will definitely run into people on the way up and down. It is very rocky above the treeline, so wear the right shoes unless you want 2 broken ankles by the time you get down. I wear Merrells, they are very comfortable. Make sure they fit properly, unless you enjoy losing toenails, proper use of hiking poles can alleviate this issue though.
If you want to bike this trail, (we didn't see anyone on this particular trail), you have to be a very skilled biker. Most people on bikes take the South Trail that I saw.
Looking back on the treeline @ 12,800ft
There were dozens of little flower patches I saw on the way up, which just goes to show you that even in these harsh conditions, life still exists!
The trail continues to wind up, and you pass several small cairns on the way up. Keep following the trail and watching the skies for signs of thunderstorms coming in. Ask people on the way down how the weather looked up there. There is no shame in self-preservation! There is some places before you get to the false summit where you are on a ridge and are quite exposed. It can get pretty chilly, even in the summer! Gloves and a hat are a good idea!
Mount Massive on the right.
1) Right at the treeline, there are some trees stacked up that you can sit on in the shade for a few minutes (popular).
2) At the end of each switchback, there are usually rocks to sit on to take a breather. If you are lucky you can find flat rocks that are actually surprisingly comfortable to sit on.
3) It is good to rest before, and after, every false summit, to keep conserving your energy.
4) On top of the false summits, it is generally flat, and you can find a rock to sit on.
5) If you need a bathroom break above the treeline, there is really only one good area, which if I remember right is on top of one of the false summits. You just go down on the side of the mountain in this big pile of boulders, no one can see you from the trail. :)
6) The summit, there are wind shelters to lean against, and rocks to sit on. Make sure you don't trip, I saw at least 3 people almost trip on some rocks on the summit.
The Major False Summit
Once you get above the treeline, there are about a dozen switchbacks or more before you set eyes on the major false summit.
As you can see from the picture, the trail winds up this ridge and around the backside of it, before coming out on top of it. The hardest part is that it is much steeper than it looks, and there are very large step ups in some places as you wind around the summit. If you aren't wearing proper shoes, you can slip, and your feet will take a pounding on the way down.
The False Summit.
Once you get to the top of the false summit, you are extremely close. Climb to the top of the next false summit which should take you less than 20 min, even at a slow pace, and it is a 1 minute walk to the actual summit after that.
People enjoying the view. The summit extends about 25 feet behind the picture, and 50 feet in front of it. There are wind shelters available.
Twin Lakes, Colorado. Facing the South Trail.
Summit! Mt. Massive in the background.
It tastes even better up here! Notice how the top is bulging out because of the decreased air presure!
The views make it worth it all in the end!
Tips and Tricks for Colorado 14ers
11) Acclimate in Leadville for at least a day, we did two days of acclimating, and neither me nor my dad suffered at all from altitude other than the normal hard breathing.
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