Mt. Massive, North Ridge
Having completed the 58 fourteeners I have turned my attention to different and interesting routes. The north ridge of Massive came up on my search right away as it is one of the few Sawatch class 3 routes, it is seldom done and it represents a substantial physical challenge. I used the Roach and Dawson descriptions of the route to program my GPS and I received quite a bit of help from the Fourteeners website (thanks to Flips, Skypilot, Crossfitter and tommyboy360).
I left Breckenridge a little after 5am and drove to the Windsor Lake Trailhead some 10 miles west of Leadville. I started hiking at 6:35 and quickly reached Lake Windsor which is every bit as beautiful as advertised in the early morning light.
First view of Windsor Lake
Windsor Lake from above From there I could see exactly where I wanted to gain the north ridge 1000 vertical feet above and I headed straight for it.
Once on the ridge I headed straight south and enjoyed a beautiful 4.4 mile hike on grass interspersed with humps in the ridge which became increasingly bigger and rockier.
Most can be avoided but I figured it was a ridge hike and I like to scramble so I went right over every single one.
At this point I came to the true surprise and delight of the tour, North Massive.
At 14,340 this is a large very rocky feature northeast of Massive itself and there is no avoiding it. There are serious cliffs on all sides and you have to go over it. There were clearly many ways to deal with the many problems it presented and I picked out the ones that looked most interesting. I got “cliffed out” a couple of times and had to back track but all in all this was the most interesting part of the day. Because North Massive does not have 300 feet of prominence above the ridge line between it and Massive it is not an official 14er. This is a pity as it is every bit as worthy as North Eolus or Cameron or Conundrum.
The remaining half mile to Mt Massive was a much easier scramble over three or four of Massive’s many false summits. I stood on top of Massive at noon, 5 hours and 25 minutes after my start. I did not, however, tarry as it began to hale out of a fairly clear sky. There were clouds beginning to build to the west but virtually none close to me. My immediate task was to get off the high mountain and ridge and out of harms way. I exited as planned, going down the Northeast ridge. I stopped for lunch some 1500 vertical feet lower and at this point the sky was very clear and I was relaxed enjoying my turkey and bacon sandwich and looking forward to a couple of easy hours back to the car. Life was good. Ha!
From this point on I made three “micro” navigational errors which cost me some time and considerable energy. First, I dropped off the ridgeline into the drainage to the east too soon. If I had gone ¼ mile further I would have had a much easier descent and saved maybe 10 minutes. Secondly, I got sucked into the willows trying to find the trail and lost another 15 minutes in a “trial by willows”. Finally, I had trouble finding the Highline trail and wasted another 15+ minutes thrashing through the woods. None of these errors were significant but I went from feeling really strong to grinding it out. What’s worse, when I got back I reread the advice one of the 14er contributors, Skypilot, had given me and he had warned me of these very things. I guess I could not appreciate his comments until I was up to my eyebrows in Willows. Oh well. Once I did get on the Highline trail it was a cruise and I was back at the car at 4:30.
This is not the only way back to Windsor Lake. Some people merely retrace there ascent which is close to the same mileage and vertical gain and the navigating is much easier. The way I returned offers the advantage of being able to get down off the mountain and ridge much faster if you’re concerned about weather.
All in all this was a sensational day. My GPS says I covered 14.4 miles and 5,467 vertical feet in 10 hours which, by my standards, is a big day. You must also be comfortable with navigation as there are no cairns or trails for a substantial part of the tour. I should also say I hope you like solitude. Apart from people standing on Massive when I was on North Massive, I didn’t see one person the whole day.
It is very different than most of my 14er days and I recommend it to anyone up to the physical challenge.