I somehow managed to convince Angela to climb Mt Massive with me to celebrate her 32nd birthday. We were already in the area doing some mountain biking from one of the 10th Mountain Division Huts near Tennessee Pass. You can read about that part of our trip here. We were climbing via the southwest slopes route. This route is accessed via a 4WD road North Halfmoon Creek.
Our plan was to find a campsite near the trailhead, and sleep in my truck. We had removed the seats in my 4runner (to make a little extra head room). I would recommend camping the night before doing this route. It is a long hike, it takes a long time to drive to the Trailhead, the camping is exceptional, and you need an early start (due to the fact you can’t see weather coming over massive). There are LOTS of quality sites along the creek as you go up the 4wd road. The better ones are farther up the road. There are several nice sites, and level parking spots directly at the trailhead. There are also several outstanding back-country sites along the trail near timberline. The first site has two flat tent sites, and is hidden from the trail via some trees. The second site is near the split for Halfmoon lakes. It is in the meadow just below the trail. There are some nearby trees which should offer some protection for your tent.
We selected a site about 1/2 mile below the trailhead. It didn’t take long to ready the car, and set up our hammocks near the creek. We lounged in the hammocks for 1/2 hour enjoying a nice view. Unfortunatly the typical afternoon rainstorm chased us under our tarp around 3:30PM. We spent the remainder of the afternoon under the tarp. It was a Wednesday–but the area was unuaually quiet (we only saw one truck drive past us on the road). The rain had cooled it to a comfortable temperature, and the peacful gurgling of the creek combined to make good sleeping conditions. Knowing we had an early start we headed to bed around 8:30.
At 4AM my peaceful sleep was jarred by the sound of a marimba emanating from my iPhone. After fumbling around to snooze my alarm, I grabbed some clothes, stuffed them in my bag to warm them, and zipped the bag up tight—Brrrr getting up was going to suck. 15 minutes later I pulled on my clothes and stumbled out of the car to make coffee. It was brisk, but the twinkling stars told me the sky was clear, which was exactly what I wanted to see.
It took 45 minutes to eat breakfast, exchange some yawns, and get the truck packed up. Soon we were bouncing up the 4wd road to the trailhead. We arived at the trailhead, and were happy to see only one other truck. We set off around 5:40 AM with the faint pre dawn glow lighting the trail. Not far past the trailhead there is a memorial to those who died in a 2009 Blackhawk crash near the summit of Mt Massive. The messages written on the cross by friends and family are quite touching.
As we started up the trail I was immediately impressed by how lush and beautiful it was. Based on the beautiy in the early sections of this trail, I knew we were in for a treat. I don’t think the Sawatch Range gets enough credit. Sure these mountains are gentle and easy to climb, but they really are full of beauty. This route was absolutely gorgeous, and held our interest from start to finish.
We made good time to timberline, and soon we hiking through an exceptionally pretty alpine meadow. It is near the end of this meadow that the trail splits, one branch heads towards Halfmoon lake, and one heads up Mt Massive. At the Y we were tempted by the sounds of a nearby waterfall, but decided to wait until the return trip to explore the area. Soon after the Y, the trail changes from a leisurely walk to steep rocky uphill. Even though it was around 50 degrees and shaded, I was working hard, so I layered down to a short sleeved shirt and shorts. The steep trail persists until around 12,000 ft. It was around here we looked down and saw another party of 5 or 6 guys leaving timberline.
We took our time, savoring the beauty, and trying to capture a small portion of it with my camera. Both of us were feeling great, and really enjoying ourselves. We set a goal of to reach the sunshine, which was bathing the ridge at 13,500, before taking our first break. We hiked up and the warm sun crept down, soon we were sitting on a comfy rock. We lounged for fifteen minutes or so. We munched on snacks, applied sunscreen, and soaked in the incredible view. We particularly enjoyed the view of La Plata which we tackled a few weeks earlier.
we continued up, and soon the trail steepened again. Above 14K there are several short class 3 sections, which climb up the false summits. I went off route, and climbed these to gain some practice. Angela watched and fretted from the trail. She was particularly unhappy when I scrambled out to get a view from a rock with nothing but a thousand feet of thin air below.
Step after step…one false summit….two false summits…..14,419…14,420….14,421, whew we were finally on top of Colorado’s 2nd highest point. It was before 9AM, and there was already a small croud on the summit. We found a nice spot, and settled in to savor our accomplishment. I sunk my teeth into a juicy apple, and stared out on one of the best views I have ever been treated to. You can see at least 6 lakes from the summit. The view also includes many of Colorado’s great mountains including: The Maroon Bells, Capitol, Snowmass, La Plata, Mt of the Holy Cross, and Mt Elbert. The weather was perfect, A few small puffy clouds simply served to accentuate the view. One of our summit traditions is spreading some ashes of Angela’s brother (John Hornbeak). He was killed a few years ago in a Motorcycle crash. I scrambled around, and found a peaceful spot for him. He was 32 when he died, and today was Angela’s 32nd birthday. This tradition always serves as a reminder to me to be careful in the mountains. A couple of careless moments can bring a lot of pain and heartache to your loved ones.
With the fun part over we turned to the task of getting down this mountain. We came up a lot of steep trail, so we knew our knees and quads were in for a beating. Overall we made quick work of the downhill. I stopped a few times to chase marmots in search of a good picture. A little trail running, and I soon caught back up with Angela. As we reached the meadow we scouted around a little more for campsites (I am so coming back to spend a night or two here). We worked our way back to the waterfall we heard from the meadow. It turned out to be much less impressive than it sounded. As we lost altitude the temperature rose, our thoughts turned to cooling off in the creek. We found a nice spot near the trailhead where we soaked our tired feet. The ice cold water did its job of refreshing us. We sat in the stream for 20 minutes or so wetting our shirts, and hats which felt great. We put our shoes back on, and 10 minutes later we were back at the car.
One of the great things about Massive is that this mountain was loaded with wildlife. There were marmots galore!! Massive is home to a rare white marmot. We were lucky enough to see this guy on the way up, and on the descent. We also saw a Dusky Grouse (near timberline).
We also were treated to nature’s firework show in the form of tons of beautiful wild flowers. Including Alpine Forget me Nots, Alpine Sunflowers, Penstemom, Sky Pilot, Columbine (yellow and blue), and Rosy Paintbrush