| Mount Massive from Willow Creek January 15-16, 2005
Participants were: Casey, Henrik, Emilio, and Joel, and myself.
It was a great trip. The trip was planned and looked forward to several months in advance. The plan was ambitious, to traverse all the summits of Mount Massive along the summit ridge---in mid-winter. January 15-17 seemed the logical choice since it was a three-day weekend for many.
This was the plan: Snowshoe from the Halfmoon road closure near the forest boundary, about 4-5 miles from the summer trailhead. Climb up the SW ridge of Massive to summit over peaks 12,381; 13,630; 14,132; and summit at 14,421. Continue along the north Ridge over peak 14,300; 14,340; 14,169; and to 13,125. Descend the east spur of pt 13,125 to Rainbow Lake. Stay high until intersecting the Native Lake Trail to avoid steep slopes. Native Lake Trail south to Native Lake. Native Lake/Highline Trail to Leadville National Fish Hatchery. That was the plan anyway.
Mother nature made sure to dish out a few surprises. Several feet of new snow fell in the week and a half prior to the trip. Avalanche danger was rated extreme all over Colorado, and the weather forecast was predicting cold temperatures. The planned route appeared to be pretty safe from avalanches, so we decided to give it a crack anyway.
We met the night of the 14th at the Leadville Hostel and discussed at the route we had planned. We knew it would be a challenge with all the fresh snow.
The next moring, we had a really great pancake breakfast. Then it was off to the trailhead! The hike started oout difficult right away. It didnt take long---less than two minutes to figure out that doing the entire traverse was a lost cause. The Halfmoon Road was closed after just a very short distance, so the route would be much longer. In addition, the snow was so powdery, we sank up to our knees or waist, even with long snowshoes on. Since the distance was so long to go to Halfmoon, we decided to pioneer a new route and headed directly towards the mountain at Willow Creek and skipped following the Halfmoon Road. Breaking trail was really tough and we made a whopping 3 miles and 1600 feet altitude gain in 6.5 hours on pretty gentle terrain on day 1. Navigating was pretty challenging through the thick timber, and we had often had to pull out the map, compass, and GPS. Henrick and Emilio, climbing and trail breaking machines, did the most trail-breaking and were light enough to float on the snow. Unfortunately, Joel and I would sink up to our waist even if not trail-breaking. We decided to set up camp at 11,200 feet and just below the Colorado Trail. While camp was being set up Casey, Henrik, and Joel broke trail up to near the timberline to speed the next days ascent, while Emilio and I (who had brought the tents) stayed behind to set up camp. The rest of the group joined us at around dark. We had only brought two tents to save weight, and it was discovered that we would be pretty crowded. Joel decided to sleep outside, but under the tent fly since he had a -40 bag. It was 5F (-15C) degrees when we went to bed. Luckily, it didnt get much colder throughout the night.
the next morning started out easier. Henricks, Caseys, and Emilios trail-breaking the night before helped tremendously. We must have done a great job navigating, because we missed the Colorado Trail by only a few yards!
Once we hit timberline the next morning, things got much better. The snow was hard, and windblown. There were also some occasion views of the mountain through the clouds, though the wind got stronger the higher we ascended. Joel, who likes to take photographs, turned back at 13,000 because he didnt see the point in climbing in the near whiteout since there wouldnt be any view.
Winds were very cold, with gust of about 70mph (I have learned that if the wind blows me over and onto the ground, its about 70mph). Casey and Henrick thumbed their nose at the storm and summitted in hurricane force winds. Emelio and I turned back at 13,900 feet (500 feet from the summit) at about the saddle between South Massive and the main summit. He was fatigued and didnt want to return alone and wasnt sure of the route, so I returned with him. He and Henrick were the toughest and strongest partners on day 1, and he was pretty fatigued on day 2 , since him and Henrick did the most work of hard trail-breaking the day before.
We both waited for Casey and Henrick in the shelter of some rocks at point 12,466 where there was some shelter from the freezing winds. Everyone in the group were very stong members and a real asset to the climb. We actually made it all the way back down in the dark on day 2 after a very long day. From camp, what took 6.5 hours on the way up, took 1.5 hours on the way down. There was no avalanche danger on the standard route, and it was a great trip. I hope we will re-attempt the entire traverse next winter. I think March would be best because the days are much longer and the snow more compact. Next time I hope we can all complete the entire traverse! Great trip and great company--this is what SP is all about!
On a humorous note: I called the forest service on the Wednesday before the trip. The ranger told me the Halfmoon Road was closed and we shouldnt try to drive it. I had relayed to the group that they probably just tell everyone that because the rangers dont want to have to go in there and tow people out who try to drive in there in a car or something. We did drive the road a short distance in 4wds before parking and the wind blew a big drift accross the road while we were on the mountain. After the climb, both 4wds got stuck. Joel had dug his truck out with a shovel. When Caseys vehicle got stuck, we were fortunate to have a truck on the other side of the snowdrift with someone loading up snowmobiles. Luckily they had a tow strap. When he ask where we went, I said Mount Massive. He asked "are you the one that called the ranger station earlier this week about driving the Halfmoon Road?" "Yes". "Im the ranger you talked to". I was kind of embarassed.