Peak(s):  Mt. Massive  -  14,421 feet
Date Posted:  09/14/2011
Date Climbed:   08/31/2011
Author:  mc24337
 Mount Massive - South West Slopes  

This was the last leg of our two-weeks hiking experience in Colorado. After Bierstadt, Grays and Torreys, and Elbert - we attempted Massive. I must confess we were somehow intimidated both by the name ("Massive is massive") and by the fact that it was the most demanding stage in our plan.

We picked the South West Slopes trail because we felt we'd rather confront a steeper, but shorter, route, than taking a chance with the very long approach required by the "normal" route.

As usual, we did some scouting the day before - we drove to trail head to make sure our CRV could make it. Once you pass the Elbert Trail Head, the road become somewhat more challenging (you definitely need a higher clearance, 4WD - especially in wet conditions). But the 4WD stretch is certainly in better conditions here than the one that leads to the 4WD Elbert east ridge...

We left Leadville at about 6:45 AM on a beautiful, cool morning.

On the way to the trail head, you could get a wonderful view of Elbert, which we had climbed a couple of days back. You can very easily spot the obvious normal route to Elbert's peak from here.

We parked at the trail head - at about 10,500 ft. The trail is (as it seems to be usual around here) very flat for the first third of its linear distance. At a moderate pace, it takes about 45 minutes to an hour before you start gaining any altitude at all. You finally get to a bifurcation: if you head West, you'll go to the Half Moon Lakes, while if you head North ("right") you'll go towards the top of Massive. At this point, you are still at 11,300 ft and only have 2.5 miles to go (and over 3,000 ft of altitude to gain).

You'll go through a relatively long stretch during which the trail is completely on rocks and boulders (still very easy to follow). At the end of this stretch, you'll be above the tree line. That's where you'll start wondering where the summit is (it's not visible until you get very close to the top).

There's another relatively flat segment, and then the gradient picks up again, rather aggressively.

But the view all around (especially as you look towards Elbert) becomes stunning:



The Half Moon Lakes will become visible far below, as you reach about 13,000 ft:

And then the final approach to the large summit area:

You will need to go up and down a bit to reach the real summit. There are several intermediate peaks before you reach the top:

The winds up there were very strong. Some gusts even made it difficult to stand - but it was sunny, and not too cold.

We got to the top in about 3h 45', hiking at a very moderate pace. We met probably a total of 5 other hikers throughout the day. My son and myself were alone on the top:


The view from up there is grandiose:


We saw many marmots during the hike. A couple of white marmots too.

In a couple of hours we were back to the trail head. A thunderstorm had caught up with us during the descent - luckily nothing serious.
At the trail head, there's a cross, and someone has left a bottle of bourbon with glasses at the foot of it. We were tempted, but didn't celebrate:



Final pictures at the trail head before heading back:


Thank You, Colorado! We already miss you!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Good stuff
09/16/2011 19:54
Good report. Glad you got to see the white marmots. I went Aug 28th (the same route)hoping to see them...but was not as lucky as you. Oh well.

I'd like to send a shout out to the CFI crew. Whenever they did that segment through the boulders they did a great job!!!


09/16/2011 21:25
Nice report. It looks like you had good weather too. Elbert gets the glory but Massive is a much more interesting climb in my opinion.


08/03/2012 00:26
Was the trail up the southwest slopes always easy to follow and discern? No way to get lost?


08/03/2012 03:23
K_C - the route is fairly obvious all the way through. I must admit that we had a GPS with topo maps (downloaded from this site), and that helped in one occasion on the way down... but unless you get really inclement weather (i.e. dense fog) you should be ok.

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