| Mopping up the Massive Group
Point 14,020 (14,020')
Point 14,169 (14,169')
"North Massive" (14,340')
Partner(s): Susan Paul
Distance: Approx. 10.0 miles
Elevation Gain: Approx. 4,100'
I already had Mount Massive – twice, in fact – plus South Massive, North Massive and Massive Green, but I still needed Point 14,020 and Point 14,169 (AKA Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Highpoint) to complete my sweep of the 14K+ summits on the massive, Massive massif. Susan had just two of the six, so she came along in hopes of mopping up the rest along with me.
We drove up Friday night, set up the tent as an "emergency backup shelter," and then – despite the weather report calling for precipitation overnight – laid out our sleeping bags in the back of the open truck bed so we could sleep in the open air. I read a chapter from "Ride the Breath" then quickly fell asleep, thanks to the white noise of the creek bordering the South Halfmoon Trailhead. Around midnight I woke up and noticed the sky was clear and very starry – which was great for two reasons: we weren't going to get rained or snowed on overnight, and we'd have a nice clear start on the next day's hike.
In the morning, after some hot cream of wheat, fig newtons and tea, we headed up the 4wd road to the North Halfmoon Trailhead, filled out the wilderness permit, and continued on. We stepped off the trail briefly to let 3 younger, much faster hikers pass by on their way to Massive's main summit. The snow in the trees past the junction to the southwest slopes to Mount Massive (where we went straight, instead of cutting off and up to the right) was sporadic at first, but higher up there were large rolling mounds of snow, and steep, hard snowfields. We worked around them in some places, and just walked right over them in others – it was still cold enough that they held our weight, even without snowshoes.
Near the North Halfmoon Lakes we started to hike northeast on dry ground toward the basin below Massive Green, and eventually hit a huge snowfield that filled the entire basin.
First views of Point 14,020 and North Massive.
Hiking up the basin toward North Massive with Massive Green on right.
Under the brilliant sunshine, and with all that heat reflecting off the snow, we were soon down to our base layers. We both thought it reminded us of our trip to Gannett Peak last year, with how great the snow was – and how hot the glacier had been.
We ascended the snow slope on far left to gain the ridge.
This is an amazingly beautiful place, and the snow still supported our weight quite nicely. We climbed up the steep broad slopes in an ascending traverse to gain the ridge, stopping to pick out the couloir we would use for our descent from Massive Green, and a big pointy rock that would help us identify it from the top – some of the other couloirs would lead us to cliff faces, and we didn't want to make that mistake.
Gaining the top of the ridge southeast of Point 14,020.
Elbert looks to be getting some weather.
From the ridge we headed north.
Hope it's not coming this way.
"Susan, I'm getting concerned about this weather."
"Looks good from here Doug!"
Then west to nab Point 14,020 where we had fantastic views of the Elk Mountains, among many other peaks.
Me on the summit with Massive Green and Mount Massive in distance.
Looking southwest at the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak.
Looking west at Snowmass Mountain and Capitol Peak. Hey Susan can you see North Snowmass? We still have to get that one yet.
But for today let's head over to the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness HP (Point 14,169).
After a brief break we quickly headed northeast to Point 14,169, which also happens to be the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness HP. Up to this point we could see many peaks all around us getting snow showers, but we hoped we'd be able to dodge the weather and snag our summits before the clouds headed our way.
Me on the summit of 14,169.
Looking west as the ceiling bears down on us.
Looking north toward Holy Cross.
"Hey Doug, c'mere and hold my ice axe, will'ya?"
Summit 3 for the day, North Massive – and we better hurry the F up.
Scrambling up toward the summit of North Massive with Point 14,169 in distance.
We enjoyed a snowy scramble to the summit of "North Massive" and then the weather hit: snow, wind, fog… the usual.
Typical summit shot.
We eyed the slabby ramp off "North Massive," now covered in snow, and the ridge – disappearing in the clouds – over to "Massive Green," and decided to save it for another, drier, day.
The ridge over to Massive Green looked a bit too spicy with this weather.
Common sense finally kicks in and we get the heck out of Dodge.
Naturally, within 20 minutes of our descent, the snow quit and the sun came out. Oh well.
We retraced our route back down and were quickly reminded of the dangers of climbing steep slopes on hot days, late in the day. We heard our first "WHOMP" high on the slope, so rather than continuing straight down, quickly beat a sharp descending traverse across and down the slope, and the basin. We didn't stop moving till we were well out of the deposition zone – about a hundred "whomps" later. I sure was glad to get out of that basin!!
Crossing the flats, the sounds of collapsing snow continued at an alarming rate – step, whomp, step whomp. It was funny, now that we were out of danger, but after post-holing up to our crotches a few times, and having to physically dig ourselves out of the heavy, wet snow in order to continue, we couldn't help but think about how impossible it would be to get a person out of that stuff, in an avalanche. That was sobering. At one point we heard the rumbling of rockfall behind us that went on for a good thirty seconds. At that point we agreed that punting "Massive Green" due to the weather had been a blessing in disguise, as the conditions in the basin had turned even more dangerous, and we were happy to be out of there.
Leaving the basin behind.
Mount Oklahoma to the southwest.
At the lake, we broke through some pussy willows, picked up the trail, and made it back to "dry ground." We were already discussing a return trip so Susan could pick up "Massive Green" – coming in from the east since neither of us has done that route before. The hike out went quickly, but – just like our last trip – we spent the last 30 minutes hiking, and breaking camp, in the rain.
Bye-bye Mount Massive.
This is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in snow, and there are more awesome couloirs to climb than I could count, but it could also be an extremely dangerous terrain trap. Enjoy the beauty – explore with care.
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