Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mount Massive

Mount Massive from Colorado 300
Mount Massive, the name is self-explanatory.  This is the 2nd highest mountain in Colorado and the view of it from Leadville is quite amazing.  As Gerry Roach says in his book Colorado Fourteeners: “If Massive were truncated at 14,000 feet, the area of the resulting plateau would be nearly half a square mile!  No other peak in the 48 contiguous states has a greater area above 14,000 feet.   By this measure, Massive reigns supreme.”  This has been on my list since hiking Mount Elbert a few months ago, so I got a hold of Brian and we made plans for another hike in the Sawatch Range.

The 2:30am wake up was less than satisfactory, but I do like the comfort of a bed rather than sleeping at the trailhead the night before.  I met Brian at the T-Rex Lot at 3:30am and we were off to Leadville.  From the Park and Ride Lot to the North Half Moon Creek TH took about 2.5hours.  After leaving the pavement from road Colorado 300 onto Lake County 11 the driving went very slow.  It was still pitch black and the wash board was pretty bad.  At a few points I wondered if my Blazer would hold itself together.  I never put my rig in 4WD, so just high clearance will do for now. 

At 6:15am we hit the trail and were finally on our way up Mount Massive.  I enjoyed the first 1.25miles on the trail since you only gain about 700ft, it gives your body some time to warm up before the steeps start up.  There was a lot of dew and rain drops on all the plants and trees from the previous night, and at some points the trail goes from a nice forest hike to a in the jungle hike.  I really enjoyed the changes along such a short section, because soon all changed to rock.

Mount Elbert
By the time we hit the trail turnoff for the summit trail the sunlight was hitting Elbert with a great light.  The view was amazing, so the tourist in me had to stop and take a picture or two.  I knew the easy part was over and the trail would be nothing but up, up, up for the rest of the day.  The steeps start quickly, almost directly off the main trail.  Before we knew it we were in the first boulder field making a bend around a large rock rib.  The trail work was pretty amazing, almost stairs all the way through the boulders which was great on the way up and on the way down.  It’s always nice knowing you can trust a rock not to move on you, so thank you trail crew for all your hard work!  We took our first break above the tree line and the boulder field somewhere around 12,000ft.  I didn’t get any pictures of the Pikas in the boulders but the chirping was constant.  They were hard at work gathering grass for the winter.  Between the Pikas and Marmots it was a busy day of wildlife along this route.

Elbert and the Collegiate Peaks
After the initial boulder field the trail mellows out quite a bit.  Not so much rock and lot more dirt which is always nice in my book.  I’m not saying it was any easier, because now we were getting higher on the mountain and I could tell by every breath.  There are a couple long traverses with nicely cut switchbacks that made it not so painful, but still hard as hell if you ask me.  The hard part about this route is you never really see the summit till you are there, so it’s little goals all the way up.  At one point we took a breather somewhere in the 13,500ft range.  Brian noticed what he thought was a White Marmot which I had never seen before.  The marmot was a ways off, but I did get a picture of it in my photo album.  See if you can find him in the rocks.

Summit Ridge
As we continued up the mountain I see we didn’t research the route information as much as we should have because on the upper portions we ended up directly assaulting the mountain after we missed the switchback heading to the West.  It came at a point where there were a lot of smaller trails heading directly up and we ended up following a couple of those till we found they ended.  It was nice climbing on the grass and rock and it was still pretty mellow, a little more heart pumping going on but I enjoyed hiking directly up the ridge till I stumbled upon the trail again.  You can kind of see this on the GPS Track just below the 14,000ft contour.

I remember looking at my GPS and seeing I was above 14,000ft and I still wasn’t on the summit ridge yet.  A couple youngsters were on their way down and said it wasn’t far and you will make it.  I hate that, just say have a good hike.  There is nothing worse than false hope, and what may not be far for you seems like eons to me.  After getting to the summit ridge I could see Brian ahead of me again.  He probably had 10 minutes on me, so I didn’t feel too bad.  There were about 6 other people on the true summit which you can’t really see till you get on the false summit.  So, be prepared for some false hope.  The summit ridge wasn’t bad other than the fact that you are above 14,000ft for so long.  It took me quite a while but it was a very enjoyable section.  The ridge stays class 2, but for the most part it’s a class 1 trail hike all day.

Summit In The Distance
The summit views were great.  It was a cloudy day, but at least no thunderheads in sight yet. I stayed on track at 1,000ft and 1mile per hour reaching the summit in just about 4hrs from the TH.  Not too bad for a 270 pounder, it hurt but it was a good hurt.  Right after I sat down on the summit Brian handed me my summit beer.  Today it was an Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner.  It was a great summit beer because the alcohol content was only a 4.7% so you don’t get too loopy up high.  Brian gulped his down…at least it seemed that way, I am a slow drinker on the summits, but get me down to 5,000ft and that story changes.  It’s funny that we are becoming beer testers at 14,000ft this year.  So far its been a different beer at each summit, it’s nice testing out the Colorado water up high.  As usual I had a great PB&J, had to deal with a couple begging dogs and enjoyed our little time on top after a great climb.  We decided not to linger too long just in case a storm starts brewing, so somewhere around 11am we started down.

As we were heading down the ridge we could see hoards of people heading up the standard route.  As I like to call them: Colorado Ants.  The standard route seemed almost like an amphitheater, because we could hear their conversations 1,000ft below us.  It was nice once we dropped back over our side of the ridge, we were now on our own again.  My knees were starting to ache as were my ankles because I was in my hiking shoes not my hiking boots today.  I am seeing that it is going to take a while for me to get used to hiking shoes because I have been a boot guy all my life.  Nothing that some medication can’t solve for now.

It was a slug down the mountain.  It took us about the same time to go down as it did to go up.  I was really slow in the rocky sections, but made it eventually.  We were able to stay on the trail the whole way down and made note of where we lost the trail on the way up.  At one point a trail runner came buzzing by us, he made it look way to easy.  Nothing really unique happened on the way down.  There were a lot of Marmots sun bathing on the rocks and a couple didn’t care for a few humans to walk by them.  The view on the descent is amazing.  All of the Collegiate Peaks are right in-front of you till you are down to the main trail.  I was in heaven when we reached the main trail again.  It was so nice to be off the rocks, the stairs on the way down were nice but being back on dirt was bliss to my knees and feet.

With just over a mile to go my body was glad the day was about to end.  I got a few more pictures of some wildlife and was able to walk a bit faster for once.  Brian was nice and never got too far ahead so he had a lot of patience for my slow slug down the mountain.  I was so happy to get back to the car and take the shoes off and put the sandals on.  Overall it was a great day.  I did enjoy this route even though it was so hard on my body.  I would do this route over the standard 13.5miles again if I ever did it again.  Maybe take next week off, maybe not.  It’s all about how fast I can recover, but I will always have that urge to climb another mountain.

GPS Track
Date: 8/7/2012
Starting Elevation:  10,500ft
Mount Massive Summit: 14,421ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,950ft
Distance: 7.8 miles
Time:  6:36 moving, 1:51 stopped 
Climbing Partner: Brian

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