Mount Massive (14,421′)

Adventures4 Comments

Distance 19.86 miles
Total Time 13 hr 18 min
Summit Elevation 14,421 feet
Elevation Gain 6,504 feet
Route Windsor Lake and Native Lake
GPS Analysis Garmin Connect

A few weeks ago, B2 says to me, “Hey, do you want to do the Mount Massive traverse with me?” Sure. I want to get Mount Massive checked off my list. However, that little word “traverse” was the kicker. Let me give you a blurb on Mount Massive:

Mt. Massive is the second highest peak in Colorado and the third highest in the 48 states. It’s name tells all. It has five summits above 14,000 feet on a 3-mile-long ridge. Massive has more area above 14,000 feet than any other mountain in the 48 states.

On the rest of these peaks around here, you get up to 14k feet and summit and that’s it. On Massive, its a long playground at 14k feet.

We drove up to the South Massive trailhead the night before to camp out in our trucks. After some beer and conversation, we retired for the evening into our make shift camps. The H2 sleeps OK but remember to put your smelly hiking boots outside before you go to bed. I set my Treo’s alarm for 2:30 AM. At about 12:30 AM, it started raining. The stars were gone. Oh man. This is going to suck. I am kind of a weather freak on these climbs. I want 100% clear. So its hard to get back to sleep because of that I guess. I never ever sleep good before climbs. Its not nerves. Its just anticipation, I think. Then I dozed off and my Treo woke me up saying — reminder — you have to wake up at 2:30 AM. Its 1:30 AM. God damn you, Treo. The alarm on that thing doesn’t work worth a damn. Laid there some more and got up at 2:30 AM. No rain. Yeah!

So we left B2’s truck at the south trailhead and drove my truck up to the north trailhead, which is called the Windsor Lake Trailhead. It took about an hour to get up there. So now we have trucks positioned at both ends of the mountain. Hence the traverse is possible. Climb from north to south across the whole mountain. Here we go!

Or not. Right off the bat, we can’t find the trail. Now, its 4 AM. We have our head lamps on. Um, where is the trail? After some searching, we start to find the trail then we back track and found the trailhead registration box. This would probably have been cake during the day but night adds an element to it.

So we started up along this creek that we were supposed to follow. The trail is lightly beaten down so you have to keep you eye out for the turns. After a mile or so, we got to a junction that seemed relevant. The more travelled trail started turning north, so we followed that. Via GPS, we knew where our first checkpoint was by Windsor Lake but GPS doesn’t give you the exact route. After 20 minutes of hiking, we both started really questioning the direction. We can’t see Mount Massive at this point because we are down in a basin behind it. We are going north and the traverse route is a complete south path. This has to be wrong. Let’s back track. So we got back to that junction and went the other way. More walking. Got to a narrow section that went through some rock ledges. B2 points out that mountain lions live in areas just like this. Hang on — getting my bear spray ready. More hiking and wandering. I am watching my GPS and it looks like we are headed to meet up with the spot we turned around at. Yup. We are going in circles. Ahhhh!

Now what? We just spent a few miles and over an hour (not exactly sure) walking in circles. We are here. Let’s salvage something. We wanted to start early because we knew it would be a long long day on a big 14k foot ridge. That isn’t a good place to be if the weather turns. Maybe we can still do this. How about we go back to the car and hit the other trailhead just a 1/4 mile down the road. That trail is bound to be better marked. Let’s do that.


Sun is now starting to light the way. I turned off my head lamp. As we start to descend back to the car, we cross this spot. Both B2 and I thought oh shit. That was the turn we missed in the dark. I walked down and saw a small log bridge crossing the creek behind some trees. Never saw it in the dark. Now what? Let’s go with the original plan. We are just behind schedule. Rock on. Hiking. Oh, there’s the lake.


We climbed up and got out of the trees and saw the backside of the Massive ridge. We needed to head up to the top of that. It was make your own trail. No path. Just find your way to the top.


Around this time, I was zoning out climbing away. My brain was mentally reviewing our morning so far and how we could have done better. Suddenly, I remembered something that happened at the car. After I had locked up the car, B2 asked me to reopen the car because she was going to put something inside. I took my pack off and opened the car and we were off. So now I asked B2 the question of the day — “Becky, let me ask you a question. When you asked me to reopen the car this morning, what did you need?”. She paused then said, “I was putting my keys in your car because I didn’t want to have to keep track of them during the hike since we drove your truck.” Oops. Remember, the whole traverse thing with one car on each side? Gotta have keys to drive a car! That was one of those moments for Becky where you wonder what you have done. Oh man. Our traverse is dead now. We are a good distance up and only have 1 set of keys. Now what? We strategized for a while and decided on a plan. We go anyway. We get to the summit. At that point, we will talk with people up there and see if anyone parked on the south side will drive us to the north for cash. If we can’t find a taker, we take another route back to the H2 on the north side and make a loop out of it. We are here, let’s do this. Off again to the ridge.


We are on the ridge. Time for a quick break.


Time to start crossing the ridge. We are at 13k feet now. See the highest point in the middle of the picture. That is the true Massive summit. That is a long way over there!


Down to our left (east) is the city of Leadville.


You might think its flat up on top but its not. Keep climbing up and up.


We keep hiking the ridge and make it to the first of the five 14ers up here. I gave the your #1 salute!


Around this time, I asked B2 to look at the map. She couldn’t find it. We lost the map! This felt so Blair Witch Project at this point. B2 ended up finding the map later in the day in some hidden pocket.


The hurt is starting now. We have been hiking for quite a while and the summit is still over there quite a while. I think we will hit it in 3 hours from now. 3 more hours on the ridge. Luckily, the weather was perfect.


Now, just for fun I guess, Mother Nature decided to put a small class 3 section between two of the 14ers up here. Oh thanks.


Took a little butt scooting to get down and across.


After that section, it was just a long grind up to the summit. You can see the people on the summit in the distance.


Heads down. Forgot to take pictures along the way. Its just more rocks anyway. And finally, the Massive summit. 2 finger salute to you, Mount Massive.


Nice lady offers to take our picture together.


View from the top.


Shot of Mount Elbert, Massive’s neighbor.


Back to the soap opera. Tons of people on the summit. However, they are all in some group with a professional guide. They have no interest in helping us with the shuttle problem. So we decide to take our destiny in our own hands and just go back to the H2. This is going to be a long day. We are already 10+ miles at this point. However, we are going to descend and hike back at a lower elevation so we don’t have to redo the class 3 section and the ridge. Down we go! Following the ridge seen here.


Turns out its faster and easier to “dirt ski” down. Here is B2 showing the form.


We hiked down to 12,500 and kept descending through grassy tundra. B2 had some waypoints in her GPS for the Native Trail that we were after so we just kept angling toward that. Can I take a 2 minute nap?


Then we found our favorites — The Willows! Remember, the Willows from Mount Bierstadt? These weren’t as bad but gives you the feel.


Still hiking. In the trees now. Lots of lush forest. GPS shows the car is just over there but we can’t seem to get there. I have this bad feeling that we have to summit the original ridge to get down into the basin.


Yep. The GPS shows the car is less than a mile the way a crow flies but we can’t go that way. We have to go up and over one last ridge. At this point, my GPS watch dies because its been on for 12 hours and its battery is gone. B2 and I are getting silly at this point. Everything hurts. Its a death march up this hill to gain another 1,000+ feet estimated to get over this ridge. Its probably 2 hours till the car at this point. This is one of those moments where you can either break down or suck it up and grind it out. We just kept moving! Finally, a lot later — we see the H2 down in the valley. It took forever to get down to it via this long set of switchbacks.

We hit the truck and took off our boots and almost passed out. Now, we have to go and retrieve B2’s truck before we can head home. After that task was complete, I took one last picture of Massive from outside of Leadville. We went from right to left across the mountain (nearly).


Using Google Earth to show the trail. Started at the top, went to bottom, and back to top.


Finally, I had to split paths with B2 but I had to be sure to give her the thumbs up on the trip. So we woke up at 2:30 AM, started at 4:00 AM, and were back in the car at 5:00 PM. I got home around 9:00 PM. It was epic — and she promised nothing less.