Mt. Massive - 14,427 feet
Mt. Massive - 14,427 feet
|Mt. Massive - SW Slope|
Mt. Massive - SW Slope
September 13, 2014
Mount Massive (14,421')
Distance: 13 miles
Elevation Gain: 4500'
Mt. Massive Trailhead
The weather this summer was very unusual for Colorado, for much of the entire country actually -- quite cool and very wet. I found only a few really perfect days to climb anywhere in the state throughout my 5-week visit. On many of the few good weather days I did enjoy, I also had to deal with very windy and chilly conditions which made my climbs less fun and more work. In addition, I had significant problems in keeping my hands warm and my fingers from going numb even while using my mittens. I also invested in some chemical hand warmers to help remedy this.
For the weekend of September 13th and 14th I had a couple of climbs lined up with two different partners. But one backed out due to illness and the other person didn't like the questionable forecast to warrant a drive over to the Elks. So that left me with a free weekend and little time to find someone new.
I decided to just remain in the Sawatch and do a couple of repeat climbs. The SW Slope up Mt Massive is a very nice climb and is very close to Leadville where I was staying.
I drive to the Mt Massive Trailhead and park my sedan in the lot. This is where the trailhead to the East Slope begins but I plan to do the SW Slope up the mountain. Because I don't have a high clearance vehicle, I need to walk 2.5 miles along the 4WD road. It is a little more walking but it is fairly level and easy except for the last half mile that climbs up to where the SW trail begins.
When I arrive at the trailhead, I start right up the forest trail. I soon overtake a large party of hikers with a dog. They are planning to do the SW Slope route to Mt. Massive too. When they discover that I've done it before, they ask me a few questions about the trail junction coming up soon. I tell them to look for the branching trail at the end of an open meadow. They will also see a marker post along with a large cairn so it should be easy to identify.
When I get to the junction, I stop briefly and grab a granola bar but then I start up the path. The trail immediately climbs sharply and zigzags around a few cliff bands but it is relentless in gaining elevation.
I come across another solo hiker, Tom, and we chat briefly and climb together for a short while. Our pace seems very compatible so we continue on together until I need to make an unplanned, but necessary stop. There are still a few trees around for cover but we will be rising above them soon. I tell Tom to just keep going and I will catch up with him as soon as I can.
As I start up the trail again, it passes through a patch of willows. Just adjacent on the left, there is a large unusual rock. I dub this landmark "the Rock."
Tom's pace matches my own very closely. I'm about 10 minutes behind him but I can never quite catch up with him. Now on the open alpine slope the wind is very strong again and I have to stop and put on another layer. I also open up the hand warmers and mold them around my pole handles under my bare palms. At first I removed my mittens thinking it might get too hot with them on. But I don't feel any real evidence of heat and am a little frustrated that they don't seem to be working.
I eventually put them inside of my mittens and then they seem to hold a bit more warmth. But with all my fussing around, adding layers, warming up my hands, replacing my mittens, I don't make very good time. The wind, coming down steady and strong from the saddle, is fierce and strikes me directly in my face. In all my visits to CO, I've never experienced such wind. It's made several climbs very challenging and at times has been most annoying.
When I finally reach the saddle between Massive and South Massive, I see Tom just starting up the ridge. While he follows a more direct line below the crest, I climb up to the top and follow along the ridge proper. I've discovered this is sometimes an easier route and is frequently a lot more fun.
About halfway across the ridge I surpass Tom and get to the summit first. There are a few people I meet who were descending, but I'm the only one on the summit now. Tom joins me about five minutes later. Finding a sheltered place behind a large rock, I remove my pack and enjoy the top.
I had been thinking about possibly continuing along the ridge and hitting North Massive too, as I've never been there before. That would involve some class 3 climbing however, and I'd prefer to have a partner along for that. It would also probably add another 1-2 more hours time. I invite Tom and a few other climbers that have joined us if they would be interested in trying it, but I find no takers. If the wind wasn't so harsh I'd consider attempting it alone, but I'm still a little concerned about the way my hands are getting so cold.
I decide to just be content with bagging Mt Massive and get back home reasonably early. By skipping North Massive and making today just a moderate one, I will then likely have enough stamina left to attempt La Plata tomorrow.
I head down once again following the top of the rocky ridge. It is a blast and I don't remember it being this much fun on previous trips. When I reach the saddle again, I meet lots of climbers now, most coming up from the East Slope. Several have dogs with them and there is even a Saint Bernard complete with a small barrel around its neck. I joke with the owner asking if it's filled with brandy, and he smiles back and winks, "No! Beer!"
While the trail down the East Slope offers a nice view of the Leadville valley and Turquoise Lake, I think the SW Slope is really much more scenic. It is just gorgeous with all the peaks and merging valleys of lakes and trees, especially now that some of the aspen are turning.
About halfway down I also come across a rock ptarmigan just off to the right of the pathway. I try not to disturb it while grabbing for my camera, but it begins to waddle away by the time I'm ready to shoot. I can only catch it's tail.
When I get close to the Rock again, I meet a trio of hikers who have an interesting accent. I ask them where they are from and they tell me Poland. They now live in CA but have only recently relocated.
I reach the trail junction once again and follow the valley trail along Half Moon Creek. The day has finally warmed up and the wind is no longer an enemy. I enjoy some truly beautiful views of the fall coloring and I'm glad to have the opportunity to be in CO this late in the season for a change. There are even some lovely stands of late flowers still blooming in the meadows.
I reach the trailhead around noon and am feeling good. If I can catch a ride down the road to my car, that would be great. But I'm just as happy walking the last 2.5 miles along the road too. It has turned into such a beautiful day and the scenery along the road keeps me well entertained. I make frequent stops admiring it all and getting some more pictures taken.
And as it were, I met no vehicles going my way. I arrived back at my car before 1:00 o'clock feeling very content. Just outside of Leadville I stop and take one last shot of Mt. Massive in it's entirety. I've climbed it 4 times now, but each visit has been special in its own way.
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