Peak(s):  Mt. Massive  -  14,421 feet
Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  07/27/2019
Date Climbed:   07/18/2019
Author:  Rupicolous0124
 Massive in the morning, Elbert in the evening   

There it is. First light of the morning. What time is it? I’ve been mostly awake since 1:30 just waiting for the clock to hit 5:00, my planned departure time for Mt Massive Southwest Slopes. Find my phone. 4:30, close enough. The unofficial start time for ascents is 5:00 AM when the car door slams and headlamp sightings begin. At this trailhead, North Halfmoon Creek, there was only one other parked vehicle last night, an uninhabited pickup. This parking area is not easily accessible, and I really didn’t want to be the first one out on the trail this morning so the initial headlamp sighting was very welcome. I had scouted the first mile or so in the light last night. Three significant avalanche areas before turning uphill. The third one took out the sign/cairn that marked the Mt Massive fork from the main trail. It was all under snow. Thankfully I had taken some of the pictures off 14ers with me while scouting and recognized the turn. Skirting the high side of the snow led me directly to the trail heading uphill.

Third avalanche area from above. Skirt the high edge of the snow to find the uphill trail.

The first and second avalanche areas were relatively easy to traverse last night but proved much more difficult in the dark this morning. Only once did I spot Mr First Headlamp in front of me. He was about one avalanche ahead as I had started 10 minutes behind him.

One of the avalanche areas. Pictured from my recon mission last night.
When you see this, climb up and over to re-find the trail.

Shortly after heading uphill I packed away the headlamp with dawn coming. The brisk wind made me glad I chose the stocking cap over the ball cap this morning as I’d be in the shade for another hour or so. The steady uphill was welcome. I’d rather be making steady progress uphill than have to gain it all at once. Still some snow in places, one long stretch made me glad for my other choice this morning, hiking sticks. I go back and forth using them but my plan to hike both Mt Massive and Mt Elbert today focused my mind on how to most efficiently use my 60-year old body to accomplish it. I caught up with Mr Headlamp, Thomas, just before the snow crossing and we crossed it together, which was comforting. Another “efficiency” choice was the lightest Nike running shoes I could find. My boots of choice are Keen’s but every ounce counts when you take 55,000 steps. Nike’s worked on snow since I had the sticks.

Mt Elbert from the slopes of Mt Massive, See you later my friend. Largest snow crossing in lower right.

Why did I choose to do this double? It crossed my mind three years ago after doing both separately, but it became a goal last summer after hiking Elbert for the third time and still having gas in the tank. My inspiration came from a post by jwsanders here last year who summited ten 14ers in one day. In his story he mentioned a quote he had heard, “people over-estimate what they can do in one year and under-estimate what they can do in one day”. My motto, “perspiration is the engine, inspiration is the fuel”. This dormant idea was like a dog laying there waiting for a reason to move. Now I discovered the fuel I needed to turn the idea into reality. Plus, I’m not getting any younger. My one-day goal was to summit Mt Massive and Mt Elbert on the same day. The two highest peaks in Colorado. This one-day accomplishment was actually the culmination of one year of planning and preparation; on top of a lifetime of experiences. But without the fuel, the engine would have remained dormant. Thomas and I continued together until he took a snack break and I told him I’d see him on the summit. I don’t like to stop. Or more accurately, I don’t like to restart. I can walk amazingly slow, but continuing to move is important psychologically. Trudging up the switchbacks I took my time so I could save energy I’d need later. Mentally monitoring my heartrate dictated slow and steady was the way to go. Approaching a false summit, I had a panic moment. Looking to the right I saw a much higher and very large area. Was that the summit? Did I miss something? Luckily there was an individual at that saddle close enough to call out to. “Am I going the right way?”. He confirmed I was. On I slogged as altitude was taking its toll. Sunrise as I neared the top helped thaw out my cold hands. Hard to put them in your pockets when you’re using sticks, and gloves were another sacrifice to efficiency. Up on summit. Or was I? There’s a long summit block and it’s hard to tell where the high point is. Just piles of rocks. I was first up so no previous summiters to guide me. I went to the far end.

Me on Mt Massive Summit. Summit ridge and Mt Elbert in the background. Boy was it windy.

It was 8:05, 3:25 after I had left the trailhead. Later, Thomas and Mike (my advisor at the false summit) confirmed this was indeed the summit, 4 feet higher than the area I’d first climbed up. Beautiful morning. I felt no need to hurry down. Before my later Mt Elbert attempt I’d need the rest. If weather was going to be a factor this afternoon it would likely hit prior to, or early on, my later hike, so time was not really a factor either. We talked, took pictures, and thoroughly enjoyed our accomplishment. The wind was still pretty brisk, but the sun offset it. I shared with them my goal for the day, as I had with many others over the last year of preparation. Making the goal public eliminated any chance of backing out when things got hard. Like a summit hike, the only acceptable path is forward, no excuses. I had one shot. I wouldn’t try this again. When I left the summit at 9:00 I felt totally refreshed, as if these were my first steps of the day. That changed on descent as it warmed up. Now in full sun I was feeling the effects. As I approached the intersection near the bottom of Massive, I was glad to sit with a couple of scouting hunters for about 15 minutes.

Arrival at my beloved Xterra was 11:00. Now to drive out on this lousy road. I suppose I should be thankful as it keeps the crowd down on this route. Even kept me away since my first summit here 4 years earlier. I will be back. I ate and drank for an hour and a half to fuel for the next step. Found a spot in the Mt Elbert parking area and was glad to see continued beautiful blue sky. Until I started up the trail at 12:30 that is. Within 15 minutes I was sweating like a pig. At ½ hour I started to wonder if I was going to have enough water. The bad thing about using a bladder is that it’s hard to monitor your usage. You kind of get a feel for it but on this trail, in the heat of the day, it could be vitally important. Too late to go back for more I trudged on. I’d been on this trail before, most recently a year ago, so I knew what I was in for. I had thought the shade of the trees would help but that was not proving to be the case. Could this be my undoing? I’d run out of water once, many years ago. The worst. I took smaller sips. A helpful tip from someone descending assisted. He told me it cooled off above tree line. That didn’t make sense to me as I knew I would then be in full sun the rest of the way. It proved to be true, the trees had been blocking the cooling breeze so once above tree line I resumed my normal drinking pattern.

Just above tree line. The trail goes up and around to the right of the snow field.

At tree line I also encountered a well-meaning advisor who was concerned about my late start. I knew the risk and was prepared to turn around if weather came in. He advised that 80% of the route was above tree line. Obviously his first time on Elbert. He had yet to experience the “unending trees” of the descent. This was 2:00 PM and I was very encouraged. My goal had been to summit by 4:00 but the heat made me modify that to 4:30. Even with the cool breeze every step was painful, as much mentally as physically. I’d had the statistics posted at my office desk for almost a year, 16.75 miles, 8650’ elevation gain. Now it was in sight, fuel for the engine. As I said earlier, I don’t stop, at least not more than a few seconds.

Nearing the toughest part. Up and around the false summit. Then it's home free.

I hit the real challenge at 3:00, the steepest part of the route. The facts that the sky was still clear and I was so near my goal made this challenge welcome. I pulled off my pack to check the bladder. Still had 60%. Indulged myself with a refreshing long drink. Onward and upward! Once up around the shoulder I knew the rest was a walk in the park. My goal was in sight. Finish. On summit I looked at the time. 4:00. Wow. 3:30 up for an afternoon ascent in the July heat? Wow. At 60 years old? Wow. I accomplished my goal of ascending Mt Massive and Mt Elbert on the same day. Wow. Some pictures, more water, then down. No hurry now. Even the unending trees were somewhat welcome. My reminder on descent, keep walking until you cross the bridge. Shortly after, turn right. At the parking lot at 7:00 PM. Total time, 14:20, including a 90 minute break between hikes. Back to Leadville, High Mountain Pies for dinner, Columbine Inn for a bath, shower and bed, where I’ll dream about the next eight days. Yale, Belford, Oxford, Missouri, Shavano, Tabazzzzzzz…

Me on the summit. Many thanks to the folks who took my summit pictures.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
07/28/2019 13:50
Great trip report and what an amazing accomplishment for any age, let alone 60.

07/31/2019 13:50
Fantastic trip report, thanks for sharing! Congratulations!!

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