| Fall in the Sawatch
The conditions looked favorable for a late season climb and I had an itch to get one more summit in to make an even dozen for the year, so I responded to an open invitation by Rob (colowolf) for an attempt on Massive. Also along for the ride were Matt (mattpayne11), Jared, and Brad. We met bright and early outside of Leadville and made our way to the North Halfmoon Creek trailhead. The road was snow free and in good condition.
We started up the trail at 7:45. Just around the corner from the trailhead is the memorial for the recent helicopter crash.
About two months before our hike, an Army Blackhawk crashed high on Massive during a training mission. All four crew members perished. The memorial seems like a nice tribute to those men.
Recent snowfall had left an inch or two on most of the trail up to treeline. We made pretty good time to the Massive/North Halfmoon Lakes fork.
From here, the trail quickly starts ascending Massive's southwest slopes. The amount of snow gradually increased as we climbed. The snow was not consolidated at all, so kick-stepping became the preferred mode of climbing. Depths varied from a dusting in places to a few waist-deep postholes. The average depth was probably a little over ankle-deep. For gear, we were all just fine with gaiters and trekking poles (no extra traction required).
We encountered many pieces of helicopter debris along the route. If you're planning on going up there, be careful! Lots of sharp edges, and some of them looked easy to dislodge and send downhill.
We attempted to follow the route as best we could, but higher up we decided to ascend the couloir directly to the saddle between South Massive and the summit ridge. The established route veers off to the left to switchback around the southwest ridge, but the snow conditions didn't look too favorable over there and the route was not obvious.
Once we reached the saddle, we started to pick our way along the ridge toward the summit. Sticking to the ridge crest minimized the snow.
We made pretty good time across several of Massive's infamous false summits and reached the real summit at 12:40. No register could be found, but judging by the lack of footprints we were probably the first people to summit in several days.
The weather was absolutely perfect, so we hung around on the summit for a while. Not a cloud in the sky as far as the eye could see, unseasonably warm (especially with the sun reflecting off the snow), and calm wind.
Looking west toward the Elks
Looking east over the Arkansas River valley and Leadville
Another pair of hikers joined us on top, and as we started back down we crossed paths with a few more parties. They all seemed glad we broke trail for them.
We made quick work heading back down. The snow was softening up fast, so plunging steps were the order of the day. The main obstacle here was avoiding shallow buried rocks under the snow.
After an uneventful (and long) hike back down to the trailhead, we finished hiking about 8.5 hours after we started. Most of the snow below treeline had melted off by the time we returned. It was a long slog, but what an amazing day to be in the mountains! 8)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):