| Sliver White Winters Melt into Spring
Late Winter on Mt. Massive
Route: Northeast Ridge
Approach: Fish Hatchery
Length: 14 miles RT
Vertical: 5000 feet
Total time: 10 hours
Ascent Party: Mike, Jim
Mike Bean dancing the descent on Mt Massive's east flanks.
"Silver White Winters that Melt into Spring;
These are a Few of my Favorite Things."
First, I guess I better apologize to Oscar Hammerstein (though he's been dead since 1960) for borrowing the lyric. Winter 14ers have indeed become a few of my favorite things. This year was a tad rough on household tidiness, though. What with the winds and failed attempts and pushing to get another dozen, things got a bit crowded toward the end of winter, Mt Massive being the third of four ascents in the final two weeks of winter.
It's taken over a month to dig my life out of the wreckage of back-to-back winter trips this year. Ah, but what a way to pass the time with Ol' Man Winter. One is so busy trying to meet goals before Spring Equinox, that there is little time to muse about hot summer days. And before you know it, they're here! (Some of my real favorite things!!)
The Highline Trail is in great shape.
Mike and I did Yale earlier this winter, and decided to get together again for Massive. Given the flat approach to the alpine from the Fish Hatchery, I decided Nordic gear would make some sense for the way back. A few weeks earlier I'd been up North Massive, same approach, with Ken Nolan and Dave Cooper - the slog back on tennis rackets was about as much fun as a slog ever gets. Meaning, I'd rather be ferried by fiberglass. So I decided to ski the tele boards, ride the flip-flops, board the silly-sticks, kick-n-glide the skinny-skis. So along came the nordic neanderthals.
Jim keeps busy changing thumbs. Sort of like basketweaving for mountaineers. Photo: Mike Bean
Thing about nordic gear is, it can work really, really well if your wax is right. Like last Thursday on the Guanella Pass road. YessireeBob, Nordic spitfire! I could just about warm my hands from the flames coming off the tails! Oh, wait, yeah, forgot, that was the time I was trying to hot-wax 'em with the backpacking stove. Anyway, this was not one of those really, really right wax jobs. After a couple tries I was wearing my partner out from waiting, so I decided to slip on the kicker-stickers. Right after that the pace of the team picked up considerably.
First view of our objective. Photo: Mike Bean
View from the high point, just before the meadow. Massive left, North Massive, right.
For those unfamiliar with the route, here's what you want to do. Find the Leadville National Fish Hatchery - it's off Hwy 24 just south of the town of Leadville. Turn west on 300. Don't turn south (like for Halfmoon) but continue straight west. After about 2 miles, the road turns NW. Another half mile, and you see the Hatchery on the left. Go all the way back, and there is parking at the TH. It's very popular with XC skiers in winter - for about the first couple miles. After that it can be difficult if unconsolidated.
You want to gain the Highline Trail. A plethora of signs marks the way. You'll head more or less south around Evergreen Lakes, then curve west by the time you cross Rock Creek. Stay on the Highline, following it roughly west. After what seems like an inordinately long three miles, you cross the Colorado Trail. Continue west. Here, you may find unbroken trail, depending on the time of year.
Your objective is a long meadow at around 11,200, which is about a mile after crossing the Colorado Trail junction. From this meadow, you can either continue west for North Massive's NE ridge, or head S/SW to point 11827 and thence west to gain Massive's NE ridge.
View from the meadow, 2-22-11.
Looking roughly south, in the meadow, 2-22-11.
Starting the ridge. The rocky top of point 11827 can be seen protruding up through the trees at center. This is a key point for visual navigation.
Massive's NE ridge. North Massive is the beautiful point at right.
Several trip reports and photos suggested extremely hard snow and a difficult Class 2+ rock band which must be crossed en route. Fear not. At least, for us, there was no hard snow, and there were certainly no difficult sections. The rock band looks imposing. At first I thought we were going to be getting into some solid Class 3 climbing, but nothing exceeds Class 2. You want to head roughly for the middle of the band, where there's a reasonable break for a walk-through. (This break is not visible from where you first see the rock band.)
You can see Mike in the break, top center.
Mt. Massive's summit can now be viewed from the right side of the ridge.
The amphitheater below is the route to North Massive. The ridge at center is N Massive's NE ridge, which can be gained from several points along its lower reaches.
Photo: Mike Bean
We were both feeling pretty good and once in the alpine, the verts pretty much melted away, yeilding the summit. I wanted South Massive. Mike was content to stay on Massive and shoot a photo. Unfortunately, I wasn't thinking when I left everything in my pack, including the camera, as there were some stellar views off the south and west sides. (Edit: We weren't sure at the time which was South Massive; it's actually the next bump south and east - point 14132. Thanks to KPN for the correction.)
The summit of Mt. Massive.
Photo: Mike Bean
(Edit: What we incorrectly thought was South Massive. Photo: Mike Bean)
Turned out to be quite a nice day, so we spent some time at the summit eating and taking photos. Then Mike geared up and I got into position for some shots. The upper 1000 verts had some of the sweetest snow conditions this winter since the upper section of La Plata in January.
Photo: Mike Bean
Photo: Mike Bean
Mike, thanks for a great day out.
All, thanks for reading.
Happy Spring, everyone!