Mt. Massive (14,421) - Tour de Massive (most of it)

6/18/2005

After having been stymied last weekend by foul weather (particularly frustrating after a week of beautiful weather where I was stuck inside an office), it was good to get back into the mountains again. Our destination was Mt. Massive, and with the forecast calling for good weather, we decided to tentatively plan on doing the Tour de Massive, which collects most of Massive's summits, and maybe even Mt. Oklahoma if we felt like it and the weather held.

We couldn't have asked for a better day. When I summitted, I could see for 50 miles in every direction, and I didn't see a cloud in the sky.

Mt. Oklahoma, seen just before the cutoff to the Southwest Slopes route.
Left Denver around 4:40, and it was already 43 degrees when we got to Leadville at about 6:10 or so. We headed up the road towards the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead, not really expecting to make it there because we were in my little 2WD car. We made it to within about 1.25 miles of the actual trailhead, which meant we had a bit of a road slog to contend with. We set off from the car at about 6:45, and made great time getting to the trailhead and then to the turnoff for the Southwest Slopes route. It was amazing how warm it was, and as we hit treeline, we kept passing though little pockets of warm air that felt really great.

The Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak, seen over the North Ridge of Mt. Oklahoma
This part of the route is very steep, which I guess isn't surprising in the Sawatch. I found myself huffing and puffing away, even though I was only at 11,200 feet or so (and quickly rising). Sean and especially Brian got well ahead of me here, though I later caught up to Sean. We made fairly steady progress up the slopes, and around 13,500 feet or so, were greeted with the lovely view you see to the left. There were a few snowfields here and there, and the ice axe was nice to have at one point. The CFI trail is quite good, but it gets ill defined towards the ridge, and disappeared under the snow for a bit.

The view from the ridge was great, and it made me realize just how much easier the standard route on Massive really is. We opted against South Massive. I got my second wind while climbing up this ridge, and started to do a lot better. After a few false summits, Sean and I were on the summit at about 10:45--about 4 hrs for 4,000 feet and 4 miles. We were the only ones there, too, and despite the number of people camping along the road, I only saw two other climbers all day.
180 degree panoramic shot looking west from Massive's summit
Brian was about 15-20 minutes ahead of us, and had already moved off to a subpeak to wait. I snapped some pictures (seen to the right), and checked for a register (didn't see one, but I didn't look very carefully) and then headed over to wear Brian was. We lazed around there for at least 45 minutes, eating and talking, because as you can see from the panorama, weather was definitely not a concern. Brian saw a snowslide on the lower slopes of Oklahoma just before we arrived at his location.

After we finally left, we headed on our way towards North Massive, which at 14,340 ft, would be the 5th highest peak in the state if it just rose about 50 more feet from it's low point with Massive. At first, it seemed like it might be easier to skirt the summit of 14,300 ft. "Massive Green," but as I soon realized, this was harder than just hiking over it, so I summited it and headed down to the beginning of the harder stuff.

Brian puts his poles on his pack in preparation for the harder stuffThis is what it looked like from the top of the rocks in the previous picture

The crux of our route up N. Massive
The real route actually curves left and avoids the rock that you see in this picture, but there were two things that led us here 1) it looked more fun, and 2) we missed the part where the trail goes around. Sean and I went up through the U-shaped notch to the right of the boulder at the top center of the picture, while Brian ascended a very steep snow couloir that isn't visible from here. This part of the route was a lot of fun, with some great scrambling and an occasional low 4th class move. It wasn't long before we summited.

After not too much time on the summit, we headed down across the jagged ridge dividing two small basins. Although Roach's route descends in the eastern basin, there was noticeable avalanche activity in there, and we didn't want to test it, so we headed down towards the lakes. Caught some glissades in some narrow snow gullies, although a day of incredible warmth (about 50-60 degrees during our entire 2-3 hour stay about 14,000 feet) made the snow fairly soft. Having witnessed a slide earlier, we were careful about choosing slopes to glissade on.

Mt. Oklahoma with a frozen lake in front of it.
The terrain down in the N. Halfmoon Lakes area was simply incredible. Little waterfalls and lakes and interesting rocks everywhere. Difficult to photograph because of the bright lighting conditions, though. We managed to find a number of glissade paths (some better than others) in this basin, remarkably. Of course, we did our share of postholing, too, and sunk up to our waists several times.

Brian and Sean negotiate a stream crossing, with Mt. Oklahoma in the background
We made great time heading back through the trees, though by this time it was getting quite hot. The creeks are all running high back there, but that makes for some great waterfalls. We made it back to the car by about 3:30, making for a 8:45 round trip, which isn't bad considering all the lollygagging we did. I highly recommend the Tour de Massive route to anyone (though Point 14,169 probably isn't worth it--we didn't bother), and if you want a bit harder terrain, stick closer to the ridge on the way up N. Massive. It was great to spend so much time above 14,000 feet on such a great day.