July 9th, 2005
Mt. Massive is located just outside of Leadville and is the 2nd highest Colorado 14er falling just 12 feet short of Mt. Elbert. The North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead access the backside of Mt. Massive which is one of the most enjoyable areas I've encountered on a 14er. There is a steep scree slope towards the end which is probably what discourages most people from taking this route, but the scenery definitely makes up for it. This side of the mountain receives much less traffic than the standard route, so you most likely won't encounter anybody until the summit.
Mt. Massive was Amy’s last 14er in the Sawatch Range. This 14er I didn’t mind repeating because the first time I climbed Mt. Massive, I didn’t realize North Massive is an unofficial 14er so I walked right by it. The “Massive Mania” traverse collects all five summits of Mt. Massive over 14,000 feet so we decided this would be an ideal route to collect North Massive and Mt. Massive. With Massive Mania on the agenda, we headed up to the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead Friday night. Near Copper Mountain there was a fine display of color across the sky as the sun began to set. I sped up Fremont Pass like a madman to try and get a good photo of the western sky ablaze behind the peaks. We missed the best of the color but I did manage a few decent pictures. We arrived at the trailhead around 10 p.m. and quickly set up camp in the back of the 4runner.
Even with the soothing sounds of North Halfmoon Creek I hardly slept. The alarm sounded at 5:15 a.m. and we were on the trail by 6 a.m. I was a little cool in just my base-layer but once the trail gained some elevation I warmed up nicely. The trail climbs along North Halfmoon Creek through a wonderful forest at a pretty mellow grade. At the meadow where the Southwest Slopes route breaks off to the right, there was a large CFI group stretching and getting ready for a long day of trail work. We said hello as we passed by and after about an hour we reached the spectacular basin near the North Halfmoon Lakes. From here the route goes around the right side of the rock tower in the center of the photo below.
The trail from this point slowly begins to disappear before fading out completely along the grassy terrain to skirt around the rock tower. We skirted the north end of high alpine pond and ascended into the basin to the south of North Massive. Last time I climbed Massive I ascended a nasty scree slope on the right side of this basin. Since we were making sure to climb North Massive this time we ascended the slopes on the left to gain the ridge.
The snow was quite firm in the shade so we were hoping the slopes higher up which the sun was hitting would be a little softer. Once we climbed high enough to get into the sun the snow was in good shape for kicking steps. The snow slope had a nice run-out and wasn’t steep enough to break out the ice axes, so we continued upward just using our trekking poles to ascend the slope. The slope went quickly and we gained the ridge that gave us some great views of the North Halfmoon Lakes and Mt. Oklahoma.
We were planning on hitting all of Mt. Massive’s summits over 14,000 feet so we headed off to the west, thinking the highpoint to our left was Point 14,169. Once we reached this point we finally got a view of Point 14,169 to the northeast so we went a bit out of our way. It wasn’t a big deal and we reached the real Point 14,169 around 9:30 a.m. It was a short stroll over to North Massive’s western summit where we chatted with a group of kids taking a 15-day outdoor leadership course. We continued over to the eastern summit of North Massive and stopped to take a break and some photos.
The ridge between North Massive and Mt. Massive’s true summit looks a bit tricky, but is pretty straightforward. Immediately down from the eastern summit it looked like we could descend either right or left off the end of the ridge. We chose the right side and climbed down the chute shown below.
This deposited us down on a massive pile of boulders that we weaved in and out of. Once through this we could see the ridge had a few rock towers we would need to bypass. Roach notes to bypass both towers on the right side of the ridge, but we decided to check out the left side and found an easy route around the first tower.
We climbed back up to the ridge and passed around the 2nd tower on the right side like Roach recommended. The terrain is pretty easy and the photo below makes it look worse than it really is. Guess it all depends on your route though.
With the difficulties of the ridge behind us it was just a cruise to the summit of Massive Green and then over to the true summit where we arrived around 11 a.m. There were some clouds building so we decided not to stick around. We took off down the ridge, not sure if we should summit South Massive or not.
Once near the saddle of South Massive the dark clouds told us we should descend. It was a bummer to miss the Massive Mania traverse by one summit, but better safe than sorry when it comes to weather in the high country. We dropped off the ridge to the west to descend the Southwest Slopes route. Since it had been three years since my last visit, I forgot just how steep this route is. About 1/3 of the way down we intersected the CFI trail, which made the descent much more pleasant. The temps dropped quite a bit and it began spitting snow pellets on us so we had to stop and put on some warmer clothes. Halfway down the CFI crew we passed earlier in the morning was taking their lunch break so we stopped to chat with them and thank them for their hard work. After about 10 minutes we were on our way again and the steep slopes began to wear on our feet and joints. My feet couldn’t take much more when we finally reached the main trail. I don’t think I would ever ascend this route unless there was money or beer involved.
It was a quick stroll back through the forest and we were back to the 4runner at 2 p.m. for an 8-hour roundtrip. I wore my heart rate monitor on this hike and clocked in at 4,963 calories, not a bad day’s worth of cardio. I had to soak my feet in North Halfmoon Creek for a bit and the cold water quickly numbed them, making them feel much better. This was Amy’s 43rd 14er and luckily her last one in the Sawatch. I think it is about time to start working on the 14ers remaining on my list.