| Massive a la Southwest
I chose the Southwest slope route fully aware that it was a climber’s trail and in retrospect this added a measure of adventure to my hike that made it all the more memorable. I could’ve probably made it all the way to the North Halfmoon Creek trailhead in my Civic but chose to park by the side of the 4WD road just before the 110J junction. The last 2 miles up to that point were mostly a non-issue with only a couple of spots requiring just that extra measure of caution to navigate.
Trudging up the gentle 4WD road to the trailhead, I was surprised by the power of the creek running alongside.
The trail meandered gently through the woods and gave no indication of the brutality of the ascent yet to come.
Gentle trail through the woods
Just over a mile into the hike, the trail crossed the creek for the last time as it emerged out of the dense forest.
Last creek crossing
Still a good bit below treeline, I got my first glimpse of the southernmost tip of the lower southwest slopes.
As the trail continued to weave into a grassy meadow ahead, I kept my eyes peeled for the junction that would mark the climber’s trail leading up the steep southwest slopes. As it turned out, there was no way to miss it!
The trail going straight continued to the North Halfmoon lakes, itself a nice hike, and the one going right (north) would be my first introduction to the seriousness of this climb!
As I started the ascent up the still well-marked trail, I soon hit the lower boulder field.
Small boulder field
Still on course, I climbed steadily up to the next larger boulder field, now only a few hundred feet below the last of the hardy pines.
Large boulder field
Somewhere at this point, I lost the trail and the term “climber’s trail” began to take on a new meaning. I must confess now that I took these pictures on my way down and, climber’s trail or not, I didn’t as much as stray one step off route the entire downhill hike. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case on my ascent and these pictures don’t quite document that, but that may be just as well!
I climbed for the next 30 minutes over the relentless southwest slope bereft of all switchbacks and with nothing other than my “internal” navigator for guidance, which admittedly wasn’t all that accurate on this day! I knew I had to gain the large ridge that loomed in front of me and seemed to get more imposing the higher I climbed.
Steep southwest slope
As I struggled to maintain my balance on the steep slope, I decided to relegate my hiking pole to the backpack and started to use to my hands to grab rocks and whatever I could find to maintain my forward momentum. It is not often on fourteener hikes that your lungs will start to outpace your legs but on this pitch, that’s exactly what happened as my calves began to labor under the strain of ascending that brutal slope. The majesty of the view behind me to the southwest held no reward as I started to wonder if I would end up at a point on the ridge too far from the summit to make an attempt at the peak.
Spectacular views to the southwest
I looked hard for any signs of a trail and finding a cairn at that point would’ve been akin to a parched desert traveler discovering an oasis, but no such luck prevailed.
The relentless uphill pitch
I reckon that I’d climbed about a 1000 vertical feet off trail on what was not far from the path of most resistance, when I finally spotted two tiny specks much farther up the slope directly ahead of me. Hikers! Either they had made the same mistake I had and were climbing K2 or I was about to regain the trail. No prizes for guessing which one it was!
Regaining the trail
Once I was reacquainted with the trail, I marched with renewed vigor, now delighting in the ruggedness of the terrain and the altruism of this less traveled route. And to think that I almost missed the beauty of those wonderful wildflowers!
Also savoring the joys served up by the high country this fine day was this mountain goat and he apparently was quite alright with or without a trail!
Mountain goat on the rocks!
Mountain goat on the trail
Pictures do not begin to capture the steepness and ruggedness of Massive’s southwest slope but one can get an idea from this shot looking back at most of the trail below.
Trail below showing steepness of slope
This shot also looks back at the trail from over 13,000 feet, the lone hiker in the distance lending some perspective to the magnitude of this ascent.
Don't miss the hiker below!
The trail continued its inexorable climb as it weaved through rocky terrain.
Rocky terrain all but masks the trail
As I neared the ridge, the first false summit loomed into view.
First false summit surfaces
Looking down at the tranquil North Halfmoon lakes below, it is hard to imagine that they are at over 12,000 feet.
Halfmoon lakes seen from ridge
It wasn’t until I was on the summit ridge, that I got my first glimpse of the second highest peak in the Rockies.
First glimpse of Mt. Massive
The trail now offered a welcome respite as it gently weaved along the multi-summitted ridge. North Massive peak is visible to the far left in this shot.
Looking back at the ridge from over 14,000 feet, the standard east slope trail, the "crazies and montain goats only" southwest slope trail, and the junction where they meet are visible.
Looking back from the ridge at both trails
It was a spectacular day on the top, with breathtaking panorama. Here’s looking at La Plata, which I’d summitted three weeks ago.
View of La Plata from Massive
Elbert, the Monarch of Colorado and rising a mere 12 feet above Massive, is visible here.
Elbert seen from Massive
The aptly named Snowmass peak can be seen in this shot.
Snowmass Peak in the distance
All in all, it had been an exciting day with moments where I’d had that sinking feeling of climbing the proverbial beanstalk followed by exhilaration on regaining the route and eventually, euphoria on summitting. This may not be the top of the world, but it certainly felt like it at that moment!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):