| Mt. Massive - SW Slopes from Halfmoon Creek
Mt. Massive seen from Leadville the afternoon before we climbed it
On Sunday May 17, blues311 and I climbed Mt. Massive via the SW Slopes route. Snow conditions were surprisingly good. We had numerous small snow crossings, but much of the route was melted out due to the southerly aspect and there was only one big snow climb, and with an ice ax and crampons it's an easy and safe climb. The trail was tough to follow at times, usually due to snow crossings, but we just kept scrambling up whenever we lost it, and usually we found it again pretty quickly since it switchbacks a lot.
We both arrived at the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead on Saturday evening and camped at the trailhead. The road to the trailhead was not a problem for 4WD most of the way, and a strong 2WD could probably make it to the standard (East Slopes) Mt. Massive Trailhead. However, maybe a quarter mile from the TH, there was a really sketchy part of the road that involved driving over a slickrock with a big dip at the top, and then a sharp turn to the right, with a big dropoff into raging Halfmoon Creek on the left. Driving this part made me really nervous, even with 4WD, and since it's only about a 5 minute walk from the trailhead, I would recommend parking before that point unless you're just a badass on the 4WD.
The rough section of road near the trailhead - it's worse than it looks in this picture
We set our alarms for 3:45 a.m. on Sunday morning, and after eating a couple of PBJs for breakfast and packing up, we were on the trail by about 4:15 with the temperature about 26 degrees. The first mile and a half or so before the turnoff was on an easy trail, though it was quite muddy with all the snowmelt, but that wasn't really a big deal. There were several patches of rotten snow that we had to posthole through, but they were all short-lived and I'm guessing they'll be melting away soon.
At first we planned to take the West Slopes route, but after passing the trail junction for the SW Slopes route, we immediately lost the trail in deep and rotten snow and quickly decided to turn back and try the SW Slopes instead, which ended up being a very wise choice. Around this time we were treated to a spectacular sunrise.
First light over the surrounding Sawatch peaks (help me out and tell me what these peaks are)
The SW Slopes trail began climbing steeply right away, and that's how it was the whole way up. For a while we encountered little if any snow, and were able to bypass most snow patches until the unavoidable snow climb we ran into.
Here I am enjoying the amazing scenery we had the entire way up
blues311 crossing the first snow slope...still hardpacked that early in the morning after a good freeze
Anyone want to claim these tracks?
The one big snow slope we did have to climb directly really wasn't that bad. My only issue was that on the way up, one of my crampons malfunctioned and we couldn't figure out how to put it back together correctly. So while Mike blues311 cruised up, I just had to wing it and kick steps the best I could in the frozen snow, but I made it up without issue. Upon reaching the rocky line in the picture below, I just scrambled across rock and snow the rest of the way up and it was actually a lot of fun. But either way, crampons definitely would've been preferable to not having crampons on that climb.
The snow slope we climbed
We were greeted by these two white tailed ptarmigans on the snow slope
Even though you can't see Massive's summit until you gain the ridge about half a mile from the summit on this route, there is a false summit that is within view most of the way after gaining the top of the snow slope in the previous picture. So whenever we lost the trail during brief stretches, we just kept making our own switchbacks and scrambled over rocks toward the false summit until running into the trail again. We took our time on the way up, but the rest of the climb was pretty straightforward.
Big views opening up behind us
blues311 scrambling up rock and snow
View of South Massive as we approach the ridgeline
View of a good portion of the West Slopes Route...glad we decided not to do this one!
After gaining the ridge and false summit, we had about another half mile to go and a few more false summits to cross, which ended up being an awesome scramble/traverse.
The final traverse to Massive's summit in front of us...Although the peak in the middle looks like the summit, the true summit is actually to the left of this point
We ended up climbing right over this first false summit after gaining the ridge, rather going around through the snow...it was a short, but fun little class 3 scramble
Making the final push to the summit
We reached the summit of Massive around 10:30 am. It was a chilly 35 degrees on the summit, but there were some nice rocks to huddle against for wind protection. The views were absolutely stunning.
Surrounding peaks still covered in white
We had outstanding views of the rugged Elk Range in the distance, with the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak really standing out
Mt. Sopris in the distance
Standing on the summit
The "official" summit
As we began our descent, we noticed several climbers heading up the East Slopes Route. Although it has more snow than the SW Slopes Route it looks very doable from what we could see.
Climbers nearing the summit ridge from the East Slopes
On the way down, our route was a little bit different. Since the snow was quickly softening and the snow slope we climbed on the way up seemed like it could be slidable, we skirted around the snowfield to the right on the way down, and made our way down the steep, rocky, knee-destroying slope until finally running into the trail near the valley floor. We made it back to the trailhead around 2:00, exhausted but also thrilled about our awesome day on Colorado's second highest peak.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):