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Mount Massive -- "Tour de Massive"

July 5, 2004 Home

Introduction: The drive to the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead the night of July 4th was an interesting one. It was just after dark when I started out from Denver, and it was fun to watch fireworks in all the small towns in the valley along I-70. I didn’t have any trouble finding the dirt road south of Leadville, but once I got on it, I thought it would never end. The farther I went on it, the steeper and rougher it got, but after about 40 minutes I finally did arrive at the trail-head. Then I took a five hour nap before my hike.


5:40- I hiked from the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead into the Mount Massive Wilderness. What a scenic valley! I was surrounded by nothing but water and green flora, and huge mountains in the Sawatch Range. This being my first journey to this part of Colorado, I was immediately hooked by its beauty.

I took the West Route, up through the grandiose valley, full of wild-flowers and wildlife, such as squirrels, marmots and chipmunks. These I would see off and on the rest of my hike. The trail crossed a few open meadows and eventually became a little steeper, allowing views of the Halfmoon Creek below and the west ridge of Massive to the north and east.


Eventually I found myself in the large basin just below Massive, where I lost the trail altogether for a while and made my way up around the first ridge. From here I could see the Halfmoon Lakes below me, and a solitary tent with a guy sitting outside, possibly enjoying an early morning cup of coffee.

I moved up through this basin and onto an upper shelf, entirely consisting of snow and rock. The immediate scenery at this point wasn't as impressive, but the ridge around me was a spectacle to behold. North Massive stood assertively in front of me, and the entire Massive ridge looped around me, still blocking the sun, which had already risen hours earlier in Denver.

This buttress marks the beginning of the ridge leading to "North Massive."

Once in the upper basin, I turned left, up the steep south ridge of North Massive, which consisted entirely of scree and snow. I went pretty much straight up to the top of the ridge. I'm not sure if it was a trail or not, but clearly other hikers had used it in the past. As I reached the top, in fact, I could see another hiker well below me, just starting up the steep slope. I continued along the ridge-top. I was surprised to see this ridge was flower-laden. After some more upward hiking I got to a large flat just before a steep slope to the summit.

Final ridge to "North Massive."

The final climb to the summit of North Massive consisted of hiking up and over some large rocks. The wind picked up as I neared the summit, and I also was able to see the sun for the first time also. I dug in my pack for my sunglasses, only to find one of the lenses had partially broken away. I tried wearing them for a few minutes, but this made me terribly dizzy, and I was forced to put up with a large headache from the bright sun the rest of the day. At least I didn't get snow-blindness this time.

9:14- I came to the summit of North Massive, at 14,340 feet above sea level. Though this is not considered an officially-ranked peak, it was the highest I have ever been outside of an airplane, but in another hour it would slip to second place. The view, of course, was breath-taking, and I had my best look yet at the rest of the Sawatch Range, which I am sure I will be visiting again in the near-future.

Sawatch Scenery.

I only stayed a few minutes on the summit, before continuing south on the rough, class 3 ridge-top toward the 14,300-foot "Massive Green." I passed two false summits, and continued up the trail to the actual summit of the esteemed Mount Massive.

10:20- Mount Massive, at 14,421 feet in elevation, is the second-highest peak in Colorado, and the third highest in the Continental United States. The view from here was, well, pretty much the same as it had been from North Massive: Spectacular.

The hiker I had seen trailing me earlier finally caught up with me at this point. I found out he is actually from Hungary but now lives in Colorado. He had a thick accent but we had some good conversation. This was also his first time on Mount Massive.

Mount Massive.

Looking in the register, I found I was the tenth one to get to the peak this day, and all of the others who had signed it were from different states! I found this odd, but would find out later in the hike why that was.

Hikers with a view.

The Hungarian went ahead of me then and I sat to enjoy the view a little longer. At 10:50 I headed off the summit, passing a number of people, mostly couples, on my way down the south side of Massive's ridge-line.

Coming to the next saddle, I could see the more popular and standard route for Mount Massive (the aptly named "Mount Massive Trail") winding down through the valley to the east. My route was straight up the ridge-line to my third and final (though once again unofficiallyranked) summit of the day, South Massive.

11:22- I snapped some good pictures of Mount Massive from the summit of South Massive, at 14,132 feet. The hike to this peak had been an easy little walk, especially after all I had already hiked so far today. I stayed less than ten minutes. There were some snow flurries in the air, and I didn't want to taunt the skies in case they held any lightning.

As it turns out, they did not. The hike down the steep "Southwest Route" was a beautiful sunny one, though it seemed to go on forever. I reached this by walking back down to the South Massive/Massive summit and heading straight downhill on the well defined trail on the southwest ridge. There was a peculiar smell here, almost like perfume, which I attributed to the abundant wild-flowers gracing this steep meadow. The views of Colorado's highest 14er, Mount Elbert, were awesome the whole way down this ridge.

It wasn';t long before I caught up with a group of 12 hikers, who were taking their time getting down the mountain. I talked with one of the ladies, who I found was a leader in the group of teens. They had come from all over to do a 20-some day long hike through the wilds of Colorado. That explains all the different locations I saw listed in the register at the top of Massive. Interesting.

That group let me go ahead of them, which was a good thing, because I could hardly keep myself from running down the dirt trail. It was very steep. Still, I preferred it to the scree slope trail of Mount Bross.

I continued down this trail, across steep grassy meadows and rocky slopes, until I finally neared the final meadow at the bottom.

Mount Elbert.

1:00- I finally completed my "loop," reaching the North Halfmoon Creek Trail once again, which I would follow the rest of the way out through the valley.

1:45- The jeep was right where I had left it, and I was glad to complete this scenic and memorable hike. Tour de Massive was so far my favorite "14er" hike. And I have the pictures to back me up!