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At 14,421ft, Mt. Massive is the second highest summit in Colorado, a mere 12ft below Mt. Elbert. The name derives from its sheer size, with the largest contiguous area (about half a square mile) above 14,000ft in the Lower 48. The 5.7mi-long Massive Ridge is anchored at the northwest end on the Continental Divide, with five other informally named summits, none besides Mt. Massive with much prominence. The point where the ridge connects to the Continental Divide also happens to be the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness HP. I decided to do a all-inclusive tour of the ridge to take it all in. With a car shuttle one can avoid the duplicate section of the ridge and add several miles of the Continental Divide to the north. With only one vehicle, I started and ended from the Mt. Massive TH found along Halfmoon Creek, southeast of the summit. This is the most popular way to climb Mt. Massive and the TH happens to be within half a mile of the most popular route to Mt. Elbert. As a result, my dispersed camping site along Halfmoon Creek would see hundreds of vehicles pass by at all hours of the night, most of them heading to the Colorado highpoint. It didn't help that it was Friday night and the start of a busy summer weekend.
I was up by 5a, a bit too early. I joined the parade of vehicles making their way to the trailheads, happy to find most of the congestion was at the Mt. Elbert TH. The Massive TH holds perhaps 15 cars, with others spilling out onto the road both upstream and down. I was lucky to find a nice spot right at the TH, slipping the jeep between some trees. I dawdled around for almost half an hour, waiting for it to get light enough that I wouldn't need a headlamp. I started off around 5:50a, but came back ten minutes later when I realized I'd forgotten my phone. Seems there would be a good chance of cell service up high, so it seemed worthwhile to have it along. The Mt. Massive Trail follows along the popular Colorado Trail for the first three miles, traveling through forest, across several creeks and slowly gaining 1,000ft. It then diverges from the Colorado Trail and begins its uphill climb more earnestly. It soon breaks out of the forest and climbs almost 2,000ft in the next three miles. It had been 30F when I started out, warming some as I climbed out of the creek drainage. I had been quite comfortable hiking along in the forest though I could hear the roar of the wind high above in the treetops. Once out of the forest, all was exposed t o the wind and I stopped several times to add layers. I had brought rain gear though there was no precipitation in the forecast and would find myself using my rain jacket over my fleece as a windbreaker. Several parties turned back before reaching the saddle where the wind was expected to be fiercest. In retrospect, this would have been a good day for a late start to give the day a chance to warm up. Turning around at 8a just meant they started too early.
I reached the saddle around 8:45a and was happy to find the continuing trail stayed mostly on the leeward side of the ridge. This had the unexpected benefit of the highest part of the trail being less cold. Still, I had all my clothes on, including balaclava and wool mittens. The trail along the ridge winds its way through rock features, all class 1-2, but I had to look around in a few places to see where it continues. I reached the summit just after 9:15a, finding perhaps a dozen other folks already there, mostly keeping out of the wind on the leeward side. Several were busy with their cellphones, others taking summit pictures. Not wanting to hang with the crowd, I simply continued over the summit to continue northwest along the ridge all the way to the Continental Divide.
Once past Mt. Massive, I found myself alone and enjoying my Wilderness time, even as the wind continued to knock me around like a drunken sailor. It was gusting to 40-50mph at times, leaning me over at odd angles and sometimes thrusting me against rocks, threatening harm. There are portions of a use trail in places, but for the most part its a rocky cross-country effort, mostly class 2 with a class 3 section between Massive Green and North Massive. It took just over 20min to reach the first bonus, Massive Green, so named because there is actually stuff growing on this rounded summit, giving it a greenish hue, unlike most of the ridge. I spotted a couple with four dogs ahead of me at the saddle before Massive Green, but they were traversing around the northeast side without the detour I made to the summit. I caught up with them again near the saddle with North Massive. Because of the dogs, they couldn't follow the ducked route I used which had a section of snow that I had to gingerly navigate along its moat. They went much lower, which would necessitate more climbing back up. It took a little over 35min to reach North Massive where I found a register in a PVC tube, holding just a few paper scraps. The difficulties let up on the other side of North Massive and I spent another 15min to reach the last point, where the ridge meets the Continental Divide. This is where the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness meets the Mt. Massive Wilderness, which interestingly would give me two Wilderness HPs on this one outing.
The wind continued to buffet me around as I headed back towards Mt. Massive, but at least now it was mostly at my back. On my way through the class 3 section ' between North Massive and Massive Green, I once again came across the other party with their canines. One of them was howling loudly in protest as they were trying to get them up from one large block to another. I watched them from above and took pictures, impressed that they could manage four dogs through such terrain. As the gentleman afterwards explained to me, the three smaller dogs (collie/australian shepherd mix) were old hats at the game, but it was the larger dog's first time in such difficulties. They had plans to reach the divide and then descend easier terrain into the North Halfmoon Creek drainage to the south.
As I neared Mt. Massive for the second time, I could see an equally-sized crowd at the summit. The wind was still ferocious, but it was a little warmer at least, now that it was near noon. I watched several parties that had brought their own summit signs take turns with pictures on the highest rocks. As one explained to me, the summit photos all start looking the same without the signs. I might have argued their picture looked the same as 1,000 others that had done similarly with signs, but that would have been rude. I left them to their fun and continued back on the trail. I left it once again at the saddle where it drops into the basin to the northeast, heading instead on the ridge up to South Massive. None of the terrain is difficult from this point, but I was pretty tired and climbing each of the next three summits took its toll, even if none had more than about 250ft of prominence. Another mile southeast of South Massive and 500ft lower is the unimaginatively named South South Massive. This one had a register in a glass jar left by Mike Garratt in 2012. There were 3-4 pages of entries, the first "normal" register I'd encountered in my three days in the state.
Continuing southeast down the ridge, the wind began to relent and I was able to begin shedding my extra layers. Before I reached the last minor summit, Pt. 12,381ft, about 40min from South South Massive, I was down to a t-shirt and my usual hat. The ridge continues down, eventually into forest for another mile before intersecting the trail. Thankfully, the forest understory was easily negotiated with little downfall and not much in the way of shrubs. It was after 2:30p by the time I landed on the trail, only 15min from the TH. It had been a long but enjoyable day, despite the high winds, and the longest effort so far on this roadtrip. Time to get a shower and head back to Leadville to hunt me down some dinner...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Massive
This page last updated: Wed Aug 28 00:02:18 2019
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