| North Massive, No. "59" — and others
North Massive, 14,340'
Massive Green, 14,300'
Mt. Massive, 14,421'
Not sure of the exact mileage, but I would guess we did around 8 miles or so. Elevation was probably about 4,300 feet, including all the ups and downs along the way. Keep in mind, a good portion of this route hovers around 14,000 feet, so it wears you out more than you'll realize.
Mt. Massive is the second-highest peak in Colorado and the third-highest peak in the U.S., excluding Alaska. Along its three-mile-long ridge, five points rise above 14,000 feet. And that area above that 14,000-foot plane is more than any other mountain in the U.S. (excluding Alaska).
Using the "300-foot rule," North Massive, which is almost a mile away from Mt. Massive (with Massive Green rising between the two), lacks only about 20 feet to be considered a ranked 14er on its own.
Long side story short, North Massive was our main objective for this climb. But since we were there, we thought we'd hit some other points along the way, assuming we were feeling up for it and assuming the weather was OK.
Friday, August 1, after telling our bosses we were quitting (until Monday), we hit the road and headed to the hills. Traffic and food-and-beer stops slowed our progress, but we eventually made it to that long dirt road with campgrounds on either side for many miles. Since it was getting late (almost 10 p.m.), we decided to crash at the lower Mt. Massive trailhead parking lot, so as not to wake everyone up by continuing up the 4x4 road. At 5 a.m. on August 2, I continued on up that road, trying to be as quiet as possible. However, most people were up anyway … and if solitude and quiet is what you're after, don't camp near a 14er trailhead.
By the way, most of the road can be done in a 2WD, although the last sections get a bit rougher (not necessarily rocky, but rather bouncy and undulating), and the last half-mile or so requires high clearance and 4WD (plus a bit of driver skill thrown in).
After eating some cold breakfast burritos, our long and arduous journey began at about 5:45 a.m. from the North Halfmoon Lakes Trailhead. The trail starts off pleasantly, as it meanders through a dense forest with a raging creek to your left.
Within no time, er, about 30 minutes, we passed the turn-off for the standard southwest slopes route ("CFI" trail). From there, we followed a pretty good trail to the N. Halfmoon Lakes area. We might have gone a bit too far north, but after encountering a wide/shallow creek we noticed the prominent tower, and we pushed toward it in a northeast fashion.
Here is a map of the area with our general route (in red):
(The letters A, B, C, D & E on this map refer to the locations of photos I took, which are designated in this report.)
Based on many reports, it's best to stay to the right of this tower and gain the ridge from the right side. With a small pond (not shown on the map, but it's right about where I put my letter "A" on the map) obstructing our path, we contoured its left (north) side and switchbacked up a slope to the base of the ridge.
Did I mention that wildflowers were blooming everywhere? It was quite the cornucopia of color.
At the base of the ridge, we easily hopped up some boulders … and then we traversed around the right side on some talus (much of it was shifty, so take caution) … and then we found ourselves looking for a good place to gain the ridge.
We noticed a loose gully, which, in hindsight, was probably the better way to go, but at the time, something steeper and to the left caught our eye. At first it wasn't so bad, but its ugly side soon surfaced, and we found ourselves on some loose, sloped rock. We constantly communicated, though, and we worked ourselves through the problem. Within a short amount of time, we found ourselves comfortably upon the ridge proper.
Jen, on the ridge, with North Massive behind her:
From there, it was just class 2 – and maybe one or two easy class 3 moves – to the broad slope above us.
For some strange reason, I thought Point 14,169 was up the slope to the left, so we headed in that general direction. As it turned out, that was just a broad mound (on the way to Oklahoma, a Centennial 13er) that lies to the southwest of Point 14,169.
A few minutes later, we were on the unexciting summit of Point 14,169. But it ended up being a good place to take a break, as we pondered the Windsor Lake approach to the north (a route we almost decided to take, but we 86ed it at the last moment for various reasons).
After nibbling on some food in the thin air, our attention shifted to North Massive, our main objective.
The climb from Point 14,169 to North Massive ended up being just a short scamper. At 9:45 a.m. we gained the 14,340-foot summit, and we had it all to ourselves.
View to our southeast, with a "bump" on the ridge, Massive Green, Mt. Massive and beyond:
Getting down North Massive's southeast side required a bit of patience. We noticed the steep gully that we heard about, but we wanted something better, so we traversed to the east, below North Massive's east pillar. We down climbed some class 3 rock and everything was going swell … until we cliffed out. After backtracking a bit and continuing an eastward push, we found some ledgy slabs to down climb. Ain't nothin' but a chicken wang.
In the following photo (looking back on our descent off North Massive), the blue line is the gully that people talk about (I'm guessing) and the red line is our general descent route.
Beyond those slabby ledges (or were they ledgy slabs?), it was just a loose hike down some talus and gravel.
We followed a trail to the left (east) around the "bump" (i.e., pillar) in the ridge. This is where we came upon a pretty steep snowfield. Even though we had axes, the snow was pretty mushy, so we opted to sneak between the snow and the rock wall. This ended up working out for us; just some class 3 scrambling with a left foot on slick and slushy snow and a right foot on some questionable boulders.
PHOTO E (left: our route before us; right: looking back, after passing through):
Beyond that snow encounter, and after crossing a narrow and steep gully, we found an easy-to-follow trail that traversed along the side of a steep slope. After a few minutes of hiking, we realized we were passing below Massive Green, and that the trail was completely bypassing that summit. So we pretty much hung a right from there and climbed up to the high point. At about 10:30 a.m. we gained Massive Green's summit, 14,300'.
You can't really see it in the following photo, but from this vantage point, we could see a lot of people gathering on Mt. Massive's summit.
Let me interrupt for a second to show you some photos of our route up the initial ridge, viewed from Massive Green …
Here's our general route up the ridge:
And here's a close-up view … the red line is the general route we took; the blue line is the gully we probably should have taken, in hindsight:
A few minutes before 11 a.m. we gained Mt. Massive's summit, 14,421'. We didn't take any photos, but we chatted with some friendly folks.
Here's a look back at the summit, just after starting down:
Clouds were beginning to build, so we didn't waste any time.
We briefly considered South Massive, but we were tired, it was a long way away, and this image sealed the deal (i.e., decision to get off the mountain, asap):
Halfway down the steep slope it started to sprinkle on us and we were glad we were heading down.
Can't say enough about the wildflowers:
At 12:50 p.m. we made it back down to the truck, where we dined on donuts and Diet Mountain Dew.
I had forgotten how fun the 4x4ing was … I had to get out and pick a line down this crux move:
Overall, this was a pretty fun route. North Massive is an underrated peak, in my opinion, and I think it's unfairly lumped with Mt. Massive's other points that rise above 14,000 feet.
After driving over Independence Pass, we quaffed a couple beers at the new Aspen Brewery, and then we checked into our hotel room and crashed early. After all, we were pretty spent, and we had plans to re-climb Castle and Conundrum the following day.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):