Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Mt. Massive  -  14,421 feet
Date Posted:  07/28/2020
Date Climbed:   05/27/2020
Author:  jvirene
 Action in the Sawatch   

Sawatch Mountains: Skateboard & SAR

This report has a couple of events on two separate trips that I hope you'll find interesting.

Summit pano on Massive

Mount Elbert- Failed attempt

It brings me great pain to divulge that we failed Elbert


Mileage: 8.50 miles

Elevation gain: 4500'

Time: 7.00 Hours

Difficulty: 5/10

Preface: It was the very beginning of the summer hiking season. School had just ended and both Phil and I were ready to start checking some peaks off the list once again. I had a very good idea- catch sunrise on the summit of the tallest fourteener in Colorado. Sunrise from the summit of Elbert would look incredible, and we had yet to catch sunrise on a summit. I figured that this would be a pretty straightforward peak however, this turned out not to be the case.

Preparation: Since it was the very beginning of the season, we still checked on condition reports and the weather, which told us of winds up to 15 mph, and a trail that is for the most part, in summer conditions- no traction needed. We figured that the wind wouldn't be too bad and the temperatures were in the mid to low thirties. Philip and I both brought an extra layer, and I brought a hat and gloves because I anticipated feeling slightly colder due to this being early summer season.

The drive: I drove to Philip's house at around 11:45 PM, and we soon headed out for the Halfmoon East trailhead outside of Leadville. Our drive went by quickly and was very straightforward; about two hours to Leadville.

Since Philip was driving, I was in charge of navigating to the trailhead, a very easy task. I typed the trailhead into Apple Maps, and it took us to this neighborhood that was about 45 minutes away from the trailhead, only maybe 20 miles away but we were very confused. I typed the trailhead into google maps, which took us to the proper trailhead. I was pretty irritated with myself for thinking that Apple Maps is actually a useful navigation service, and it definitely delayed our hike. So here's a pro-tip and hopefully you can learn from my mistake. Use google maps for any outdoor recreation and navigation. Apple Maps can get you around town, but it is very poor for navigating in the mountains.

We reached the parking lot for the Elbert trailhead at around 2:30, and we saw a truck parked in the lot with its lights on. It turns out that the vehicle belonged to the local search and rescue unit. We got ready at the car, and soon enough began our hike. About 1/2 a mile into hiking through the trees in the dark, we saw three headlamps ahead moving towards us. We reached the hikers, who were all part of the search and rescue unit. They were looking for a missing person who had gone missing the previous day. They told us to keep our eyes out for a man who got separated from his group, and we told them that we would. The whole scene seemed surreal. It was 3AM and here Phil and I were talking to SAR officers about a man who'd been missing overnight in some pretty cold temperatures. He was in a group with a couple buddies and I guess he just got separated somehow. I felt concerned for this guy's safety, and wondered what we would do if we found him, what state he would be in. My mind went all over the place. We continued our separate ways, and Phil and I pressed on towards the summit of Elbert, still intent on catching the sunrise.

The Hike: As we ascended, we found that temperatures continued to drop despite us hiking pretty fast and generating body heat. I was wearing all of my layers. Consisting of a nano puff, fleece and a rain shell, as well as gloves and a hat. We made it to treeline well before sunrise, and were making a pretty good pace up the mountain. Another 1000 vertical later, and we started to see the sun begin to peak over the mountains to the east. We accepted that we likely would not be seeing the sunrise at the summit, but pressed on regardless.The box creek couloirs also came into view and still looked very skiable. Philip and I stopped to choose our dream lines down the couloirs before we continued. Once we reached around 13000', the wind really started to pick up. I've never had much of an issue with wind and both Phil and I are pretty resistant to the cold however, this was bad. The gusts were around 30-40 mph, and we ended up having to stop and take shelter due to being so cold.

Taking shelter from the wind

This part was pretty gnarly, honestly this was a bad situation and I feel that if we had continued, things would not have turned out well.

Phil with the box creek couloirs to the left
Another view of the couloirs

The wind just cut through all my layers and I was shivering pretty violently. We made the decision to drop back down to treeline so that we could wait for the wind to die down and then summit. We lost about 800' of elevation gain before we found a good place to stop. We then decided to just wait there for about an hour before continuing our hike. Once we saw another hiker heading up, we figured it would be a good time to continue our hike, so we followed him up the trail.

We got back to around 12800' and were a bit surprised to see that the wind was just as bad; we thought it might have just been an early morning event. Regardless, we pressed on to around 13000' and then the wind really started to pick up. It was just as bad as when we were up there at 5:30. This lone hiker decided to continue up the mountain while Phil and I waited and assessed our options. This guy was wearing fewer layers than either of us, and we watched as he made it to 13500' before he ended up turning around as well.

I was stoked for our second attempt to summit.

We ended up deciding that we weren't summiting Elbert on this day, and made the tough decision to turn around and head back home. We warned other hikers of the chilly wind above and these groups decided they'd go see for themselves. It ended up being pretty crowded on the mountain for this early in the season, we saw around 12 people.

SAR: As far as the missing person, I am still unsure as to how the scenario played out. As we were hiking down the mountain, we heard helicopters circling around Mt. Elbert and the surrounding wilderness hoping to spot the guy from the air. One of the officers gave me the card for their office, and I called to inform them that unfortunately, neither myself or Philip saw anything on the mountain. The trail on Mt. Elbert is very easy to follow and well established however, this was early season and there were some patches covered by snow. I can see how someone might get lost in those conditions. Again, I wish I could say with certainty that they found him but I am not sure. I hope he's alright.

Review: I can only speak to the hike up to around 13000'. Elbert has a good hike up to this point, there are some sections that are a bit steep on the trail, but it was an awesome way for Phil and I to get in some early season miles in preparation for the rest of hiking season. Hiking through the forest in the dark was uneventful, so I didn't particularly enjoy this part. Once we got up to treeline and daylight started to shine, the views of the surrounding mountains and the sunrise itself was very gorgeous. This was a pretty cool hike and overall, I liked it, just wish it wasn't so cold so that we could have made the summit. Could we have made the summit? Probably yes. But honestly at that point it defeats the entire purpose of us going up to the mountains for a hike. We do this because we enjoy it and want to have fun. There really isn't any objective, we're not checking peaks off the list just to say that we did them. We hike for fun and this... well continuing our hike in those temperatures just wouldn't have been fun. From a safety standpoint, SAR was already out looking for someone, and it really would have been terrible if they had to rescue two more popsicles who decided to summit Elbert despite the chilly conditions. We will be back for our sunrise on Elbert!

Mount Massive: (Climbed 06/02/2020)


Mileage: 14.5 miles

Elevation gain: 4500'

Difficulty: 6/10

Preface: Both Phil and I found it terribly unlucky that we failed to summit Elbert, which is a pretty easy mountain- we almost dismissed it as a fluke. So we figured that around a week later, we would attempt Massive, Elbert's neighbor and see if we could do it. We did not want to do any harder, more technical peaks yet, as early summer conditions may require snow equipment or otherwise complicate the routes. We only did this a few days after because we knew that the conditions were fine, it just happened to be really windy on that day and it wouldn't happen again. This time, we decided against a sunrise attempt because we actually wanted a couple hours of sleep, so we just left in the early morning.

The drive: Nothing to report, it was a very standard drive. I will note that this time I used google maps instead of apple maps, and this time we did not have any issue navigating to the trailhead.

The hike: Once we got to the trailhead, it was around 6:00 AM, and we immediately began our hike. This hike marks the start of a new era in Philip's career as a hiker. Bringing his skateboard up the mountain so he can do kickflips on the summit. You make fun of him now, but when he's sponsored by multiple skate companies and outdoor companies and has ladies begging to meet the kid who's done kickflips on every single fourteener, he'll get the last laugh! Joking aside however, I told him it's a great idea to bring the board, as long as I don't have to carry it! He secured the board on his backpack straps, and we began our hike. This is a pretty long hike, but it has a really cool approach and I enjoyed it a lot. The forest in the Mount Massive Wilderness is really dense, and this early in the season everything was so green. Once we got high enough, we saw how dense the trees are, and it felt like a unique experience. Philip was unbothered by the weight and awkwardness of the board on his pack, so we kept hiking at a solid pace up to treeline.

Phil's skateboard setup. This was on a different hike if you're curious.
Dense and lush forest from about halfway up to treeline from the TH.

Once at treeline, we reached a section of trail with some snow. Of course, we ended up post-holing through this section of trail and getting our socks all wet, but it only lasted for about 100' of elevation and soon enough, we were past it. There were a couple more brief snow crossings, but nothing terrible. We gained pt. 12466' and took a short break for snacks and water, then continued towards the summit ridge. Once on the ridge, we hiked along the rocky, more difficult terrain towards the summit. We saw one group at the summit, became the second group of the day to reach it. One other guy soon reached the summit. Both of these other groups had hiked up the southwest slopes, and we were the only ones to do the standard route. According to both parties, the southwest slopes were steeper and they encountered a lot more snow than we did via the East Slopes (standard route).

The Summit: We took in the amazing views of the sawatch range from the summit of the second tallest fourteener in Colorado. There were some very gorgeous views, especially since all of the mountains were still mostly covered in snow.

Enjoying summit views
Phil flexing the board

And now for the moment of truth. 7.25 miles of hiking with a skateboard was about to yield a huge payoff, one of the largest flexes in the entire history of hiking in the Sawatch range. Philip took out his skateboard, found reasonably flat ground, took a deep breath and went for the kickflip. The first couple attempts were not pretty but eventually he got some good ones. I was pretty impressed, and ended up doing a couple ollies at the summit myself. How many people get to say that they've done skate tricks at the summit of a 14,000'+ mountain? We got some good pictures and videos, and just had a good time at the summit.



Insane summit views, still a lot of snow on these mountains!

Pics or it didn't happen.

The descent: Eventually, we'd had enough time at the top and decided to begin the hike back to the car. The descent went by pretty quickly. We got off the ridge, glissaded down a few hundred feet, then once on trail, hiked out back to the car. This hike back felt pretty long for me, and I wasn't even carrying a skateboard! But for the most part, we just kept a moderate pace and good conversation to make it go by quickly. We got to treeline, and were fine on this part of the hike. The part that felt long was everything below treeline. Again, we very much enjoyed the views of the dense forest surrounding the mountains, and soon enough, made it back to the car.

Review: Mount Massive was a pretty cool hike. It offers some breathtaking views of the Sawatch mountains, and during the early season, the snow made everything so much more beautiful. I found that it was worth it to take the standard route up the East slopes despite it being twice as long as the southwest slopes for a couple reasons. One: we did not run into anyone else going up this route on our way up, or our way down. This solitude is something that rarely occurs on a lot of mountains these days, and is extra special when it does happen. Two: I'm told the southwest slopes were steeper and held a lot more snow, so avoiding that for an easier hike was great.The hike itself was not particularly strenuous, there aren't any sections of steep elevation gain, and the hike didn't tire me out all that much despite its length. It was a great hike to whip us both into shape for our more difficult mid and late season peaks. I thought this hike was pretty cool, and would recommend it for anyone, especially if you're trying to get into longer days with more mileage.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
yvng phil
sup g
08/08/2020 02:26
how are these not viral, your trip reports crack me up lmao i love reading these

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