| Saying Goodbye To My Friends
Saying Goodbye to a Friend.
Mt Massive, North Massive & Mt Oklahoma
September 9, 2012
Mileage & Gain: Unknown
Climbing Team: Solo
Parked 0.7 miles below N Halfmoon Creek TH
10am: Left car
12:45pm: Summit Mt Massive
1:30pm: Summit North Massive
4:00pm: Summit Mt Oklahoma
6:00pm: Return to car
8 hours round trip
Before I get started, I wanted to dedicate this report to Chris Gray, who was also lost in the mountains in August. I hiked with Chris in December of 2011 on a very memorable day. Aaron, Chris and I headed out to the Blue Lakes TH outside of Breckenridge for the Centennial 13er Mt Fletcher. A week later he came by my house to grab some gear he had left in my car. After that we kept in touch via PM, but our schedules did not align to go out together again.
Chris was a wonderful person with a true climber’s soul. Listening to him talk about his ambitions, you could tell that he was in the mountains for the right reasons. Unfortunately, he never seemed to get out as often as he would have liked, but after having seen the strength of his wife Taylor, it is clear that school, work and a committed family life were all as important to him as the mountains.
Rest easy Chris, you are missed by many. I take comfort knowing you were living your dreams in your last moments.
Chris Gray looks out over Blue Lakes - December 2011
Rob’s Memorial Hike
I woke up in Aspen on Sunday morning, having done the Bells Traverse the day before with some of Rob’s closest friends. My initial plan was to solo Thunder Pyramid, but when the alarm went off at 4am I lost all motivation. The sun was up by 7am and we were on our way home, or so I thought. As the sunlight hit Independence Pass on the drive, I felt the uncontrollable urge to take advantage of the weather and get up high again. I was with my friend Kristina and we figured we might give Mt Oklahoma a try. We arrived at the TH (parked 0.7 miles below the N Halfmoon Creek TH in my low clearance Subaru Impreza) around 930am and after eating breakfast and packing we were on our way. Only 10 minutes in Kristina decided today wasn’t her day and she turned back, insisting that I continue on solo.
In February of 2012, my friend and I agreed to meet Jeff, Rob and his crew on a Saturday morning to give Mt Massive a go from the Leadville Fish Hatchery. They would pack in on Friday, and our group would start early and we would meet up somewhere around tree line. The plan went well and a bunch of us got together soon after the sun was up. I didn’t know too much about Rob at the time, other than he was good friends with my friend Jeff. I was having a rough day and I lagged behind the group as I made my way up to the summit. Months later, I heard Rob say that it had been his hardest day in Colorado’s mountains, a sentiment which I shared. Rob was a much stronger climber than me, so it is no wonder I tried to take a nap a few times in the snow on the descent!
Over the following months we spoke often and got to know each other. We never climbed together again, but did share some beers here and there. Those of you who knew him well likely know the part he played in a certain shall I say, saga between some forum members and I.
Rob was wise beyond his years and a fiercely strong climber. During our short friendship he had a tremendous impact on my life. I am grateful for the friendships that he has helped me forge and for the standard of excellence he has set for us. I know in the coming years as my ambitions turn to higher and higher peaks, I will ALWAYS think of him as a partner, and will be in despair when I realize it cannot happen.
Once I was solo, I decided to summit Mt Massive as a personal memorial for my friend. I love you man…it’s only been 15 days and not a day goes by without tears. May we all strive to be half the man that you were.
Ryan, jeff and I raise our beers towards the ridge that took Rob's life (Summit of North Maroon)
North Massive to Oklahoma Traverse
The route Up Massive from N Halfmoon Creek TH is well-documented, as is the traverse to North Massive. I started up the road at 10am and reached the summit of Massive at 12:45pm to find 3 others up there. I began my traverse soon after and made quick work of it having known the route. In winter I stayed on the west side of North massive and went up a steep gully, this time around I found a walk around on the East side that proved to be much easier. If anyone wants any beta on this traverse, feel free to PM me. The rest of this report will focus on the traverse between North Massive and Oklahoma.
Parked about 0.7 miles from the TH in my very low clearance Subaru
Initial view of Oklahoma (left)
Summit of Mt Massive
Looking towards North massive from Massive
Summit of North Massive
The traverse looks long and intimidating and since I had never thought of doing it before, I had no idea what to expect. After speaking with friends, it seems the route can be kept at Class 3, but it is still very long and committing (very difficult to bail into the Halfmoon basin). The route I took was 4th class with maybe a few 5.0 sections, but I was solo and typically am not the best route finder, I also choose solid harder climbing over loose traverses.
Flats after leaving North Massive
Idea of exposure early on
Don't Look Down
The route off of North is fairly obvious and you can a very large plateau. The Massive side of the traverse is extremely easy and goes by quickly. As you approach the first rock towers, the terrain moves to 2+ with exposure here and there, but there are always many options.
As I continued on, I wondered if I was climbing into a trap as it appears that the Oklahoma side of things is quite gnarly indeed. The notch looks loose, steep and exposed and I was unsure if the grassy ledges above huge cliffs would end me. Despite my hesitations, I continued on, enjoying the beautiful weather and the time alone with my thoughts that most often dwelled on my fallen friends.
Mid way down a crux wall
One of the crux downclimbs nearing the saddle
Idea of the "less exposed" sections
The ridge is VERY long and it is difficult to recount each section. As I stated, you can always find a way, so if the south side looks bad, take a look at the north and vica versa. I tried to stay on the ridge crest as often as possible. There are a few ledges that are true ledges with some gnarly exposure.
An exposed ledge
Looking up at the route I chose on the largest tower
One of the difficulties
As you lose elevation, the towers become more dramatic and the exposure more real, care must also be taken for loose rock since this route is seldom climbed. The largest tower is just before the low point. I found a ramp on the north side that looked good, but it cliffs out. There was a way to traverse from there, but it was mid-5th class and I did not feel comfortable soloing. I returned down the ramp and found a 4th class slab that I climbed up for 50 feet or so before regaining the ridge crest. Many of these towers have 3rd and 4th class downclimbs coming off of them.
The ramp that led to nowhere
Getting a better view of the notch
The low point of the saddle is the crux of the route in my opinion, starting with the large tower. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the notch was far easier than expected and the up climb was a solid slab. The climbing here is very enjoyable and I was starting to relax knowing that I would not have to bail into the wrong basin!
The expected crux turned out to be much better than expected
Once above the slab, grassy ledges on exposed class 2+ and 3 terrain will take you all the way to the summit, but after a few hundred feet I took a right and headed up some cliff bands. I found this to be the safest and most enjoyable route to the summit.
Initial terrain above the notch on Oklahoma's South slopes
Route I took to summit
Looking down my chosen Summit Pitch
Another view of summit route
Almost 3 hours after leaving the summit of Mt Massive, I found myself on the summit of my 53rd Centennial Peak – Mt Oklahoma!
Oklahoma Summit Register
Summit of Oklahoma
The descent off of Oklahoma is fairly well cairned and simple. I followed the cairns to tree line where I bushwhacked for a while before locating the trail. By 6pm, extremely thirsty, hungry and tired, I stumbled back to the car.
Looking back at the Traverse
With the Bells Traverse the day before and this wonderful solo route, I had a truly spectacular weekend. I personally find it very fitting to find joy where my friends did.
If anyone wants any specifics about the traverse, feel free to PM me.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):