Fellow Hikers: Bill (wildlobo71); Tana (mountaintan); Matt (mstahl); Emma (EmmaM).
The debate started in my head the night before, at my buddy Mic's (rubiblu06) annual BBQ-fest:
"should I leave early and drive up to the trailhead to Jeep-camp or should I leave early and go crash at home so I can get good sleep on my own bed before waking up at 3am for the 2 hour-drive in the early morning hours?" After pork ribs, pulled pork, jalapeno baked beans, greens of all kinds, and plenty of beer, I decided that sleeping in a bed beats sleeping in my Jeep, so I went home and woke up at 3:00. Leadville here I come.
Get in the Jeep, turn on the stereo and scan the Sirius/XM pre-sets; settle on some good singing-songs from the "70's on 7" channel, you know - to help maintain awakeness. The Spinners came on the radio, and really psyched me up at 3:30am for the trip, as Rubberband Man is a personal favorite!
Got to Leadville and soon met up with Tana; we then proceeded to the North Halfmoon Lakes TH where, right at 6am we met with both Matt and Emma. Setting time aside for gear adjustments and introductions, we departed the trailhead at 6:20am. The weather this morning was surprisingly mellow, even a tad warm; this led us to expect softer snow earlier in the day and a messier, harder hike. Even with these concerns we decided rather quickly to forego the use of snowshoes. Aubrey's trip report of the same trail, previous day, gave us confidence that the postholing would be minimal.
The first half hour, which follows the path of North Halfmoon Creek up into the Massive/Oklahoma/Deer Mountain drainage, was uneventful.
No snow until about 11,000 feet and, at that, it was sporadic and firm. There was already substantial morning run-off, indicating that the day was going to get much warmer and the conditions much messier down low. At 12,000 feet, well into the steps, occasional snow was greeted but nothing consistent until exiting the steps and getting into the south facing snowfield.
At this point was a spot for a first small break to make pack adjustments – and mostly pull off some layers as the heat of the morning and the work effort were rising much too fast. Taking a look across the North Halfmoon Creek drainage at Point 13,445' made me pause – the colors coming out in the morning; it was a gorgeous morning to hike!
Previous hikers up had chosen a path staying to the right of the field, while glissading trails indicated that the climber's left was optimal on the descent so we decided to maintain the chi of the previous successes.
Matt decided to carve shallow switchbacks while Bill decided straight up was the best path; Emma followed behind a tad, mixing it up in her aggressiveness on the path, and Tana also decided to pursue a more straight path.
The snow was good and firm from about 12,400 until about 13,200, Matt used nothing but boots, while Bill, Emma and Tana each had Microspikes on and they worked absolutely fine. My crampons stayed in the bottom of my backpack. I used my ice axe if only to keep my hands busy on the ascent, while Matt, Tana and Emma each used poles. At about 13,200 the snow started to soften to the point where some postholing was occurring, closer to exposed rocks. Tana decided she was not proceeding to her liking and held off – indicating she'd wait for us to return. From 13,200 to about 13,600 the snow was, indeed, much softer and more effort was wasted in the steps than previous so the time started to slip. Where we felt we'd make the summit by 11am quickly became 12:30 by our estimates.
At the 13,800' elevation, or so, the snow firmed up more, and someone prior to us (Aubrey?) had kick-stepped in some terrific steps that got us around and over the initial ridge this is a big THANK YOU to whoever did that; they saved us a lot of energy.
At this point, the wind had picked up and no more breaks were planned or desired – just get to the summit. We're still a half-mile from the summit and start into the 14,000 elevation and the multiple false-summits and points to cross to get to, first the main Mount Massive TH intersection, and then the final summit. A couple of minor route corrections had to be made to get around these rock obstacles – or over then rather than traversing the steep snow, but at about 12:15 the summit – and fellow hikers from 14ers.com, were happily observed. The weather stayed as clear and mellow as the morning indicated it might. At the summit we ran into fellow 14ers.com regular Terry Matthews (tmatthews) and his summiting party.
Congratulations to Emma on gaining her 2nd summit! Here's to many more!
Chill was in the air for those who reached the summit first and waited through the obligatory summit shots
and literal summit "shots" of Crown Royal (thanks Terry) and my own Glenrothes Single Malt Scotch. Final layers were added, gear adjustments made and descent became the word. On the way back to North Halfmoon Trail, just before 1pm, we observed the other summit party already a thousand feet below on the East Slopes route glissading happily; their yelps and exuberance carried for miles up the basins.
Matt forged ahead of Emma and me to scout a good line from which to start our own glissade run. We descended off the summit past the trail junctions and then to the climbers right to stay atop the ridgeline that was north of our ascent path. After dropping to about 13,800' we started to glissade but had to quickly stop and traverse south and back into the main snow field we originally ascended; the face we were on was bit too steep for our flavor, but could have been easily achieved by those with more … um… experience.
Once we found a good line, glissading resumed in earnest, near the 13,600' line. We descended several hundred feet, reaching approx. 13,000' in about 5-10 minutes. At this point who did we find but Tana – waiting for us as she said she would.
We still had a thousand feet of glissade descent to achieve, and the butt was already soaked and frozen, but we all pressed on slowly. In all, we glissaded almost 2,000 vertical feet – a personal best for me, and we got to the granite steps at about 2:15pm. From here, it was an easy jaunt with some minor breaks to discuss different political theories, religious principles, and most importantly – camping and hiking songs.
Confession: When I am hiking, a combination of my breathing and my foot patterns cause me to "hear" the theme song to the old television program "Grizzly Adams." I cannot shake it. Don't mock me or you won't get any future scotch shares - we all have our strange idiosyncrocies!
We reached the junction where the North Halfmoon Lakes trail joins and the walk down became increasingly muddy as the higher meltoff has overtaken the trail.
No cause for concern as we jumped and skipped around obstacles, and got back to our vehicles by 3:30pm. The end of an eventful day? Almost, but not quite. Out of the corner of our eyes a man across the fast-flowing creek is waving us down. As we approach it appears to be former WWF wrestler Hacksaw Jim Duggan decked in a red off-road motorcycle outfit. He stalled his cycle riding through the 3-4 foot high creek, and now wanted us to watch him as he walked the bike back across – not help, just watch, to make sure if he goes down with the cycle in the fast flowing water, we can say we saw him go with it, I suppose. He made it across with little fanfare, much to our astonishment.
Heading out after dropping Tana off at her car in Leadville around 4:30pm on Sunday night; wishing I had snagged some of Mic's BBQ for the ride home and losing the rest of my voice singing to the Dio tribute on Boneyard.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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