Jack (8 Years Old) has been wanting to climb and ski a 14er all year. We've made multiple attempts this winter and spring (Yale, Quandary, two attempts on the Angel of Shavano). But the winds and weather have not cooperated this year. Until now. Massive's SW slopes proved to be the perfect spring snow climb and ski. Given the heavy snow in the northern part of the state, Massive held plenty of snow well into June, making June 18 feel like late May.
We drove up the Halfmoon Road to the N. Halfmoon Creek Trailhead on Friday night. The gravel road was recently graded and therefore smooth, and the road was open all the way to the SW Slopes Trailhead . We slept in the back of the truck on Friday night and woke around 5:30.
The weather was partly cloudy, but a surprise snow cloud dropped big flakes on us around 6:00 am for no more than 10 minutes.
Getting snowed on at 6am - out of nowhere. Mid-way up the climb it snowed again for about 1/2 an hour. But, by 10am the skies had cleared and turned into a beautiful day.
Starting the hike in.
Jacks says, "This is where corn snow comes from."
First view of the SW Slopes from the trail.
The hike on the trail through the forest had only a few snow piles which were easily crossed with 2 or 3 steps. There were a few muddy sections that required walking on the side of the trail. The first snow field was just below treeline and easily supported our weight (no post-holing). Just above treeline, after the trail turns south, the snowfields were continuous all the way to the summit ridge.
Hiking up the snow.
Hiking up the snow - higher up.
Initially, we used skis with skins on the lower slopes until the pitch increased beyond the capacity for skins to hold. We continued to the high-point of the snow, at around 13,900, just to the left of the saddle with South Massive. The last pitch was near 45 degrees and left us just a few hundred feet below the summit ridge. We decided to leave our skis just above the snow, and hike to the summit without them. This turned out to be a good decision, as the skiing from the summit back to the SW slopes trail intersection would have just been a big traverse anyway.
Looking up the summit ridge from the SW trail and East Slopes trail intersection.
Jack traversing the summit ridge.
After a couple hundred feet of elevation gain from the snow, we joined the summit ridge right where the East Slopes trail joins the SW Slopes trail. Although, the entire East Slopes trail was completely covered in snow. The east side of the ridge to the summit was completely covered in snow, but easily traversed with an ice axe in hand. Jack loves his ice axe.
Jack loves his ice axe.
Getting close to the summit on the ridge.
The ridge had some wind, mostly coming from the west, which made the snow traverse on the east side even more enjoyable. We arrived at the summit in beautiful sunshine and little to no wind around 10am. Total of 4 1/2 hours from the trailhead.
Happy boy on the summit
We descended by re-tracing our snow tracks across the ridge and back down the SW Slopes trail. We put on our skis and got on the snow at the highest possible point, close to 14,000 ft. It was close to 11am by this point and the snow had melted the top 3 or 4 inches into nice corn. The first few turns were steep, and still a little sun-cupped. But, the slope turned soft as velvet between 13,500 and 12,000. Great turns, and Jack loved chewing up his "corn".
Jack makes makes turns up high
Looking down the SW Slopes
Skiing the velvet
Jack Skiing down.
Jack chewing his corn.
We decided to continue skiing past the trail turn-off, thinking we might get lucky and follow an avalanche path all the way to the valley floor. We did make it down to roughly 11,500 ft, although it required navigating between pine trees and over a few willow bushes.
Skiing down the avalanche path - never quit skiing.
Our last turns left us atop the waterfall cliff bands right above the valley trail turnoff. So, we down-climbed between the waterfalls and met the trail right at the intersection. From there, it was an easy (and muddy) hike back to the trailhead.
Avalanche Debris covers the trail in the valley
Hiking in the mud