Peak(s):  Mt. Massive  -  14,421 feet
Date Posted:  09/18/2019
Modified:  09/20/2019
Date Climbed:   09/16/2019
Author:  jcbmaverick
 Massive - East Slopes   

I woke up at 3AM in Leadville and arrive at the Main Mount Massive trailhead by 4AM. Only one other vehicle was there. I donned my headlamp, grabbed my day-hike bag, and my hiking stick. Here is some things I brought with me in the bag: trail mix, first aid kit, small binoculars, pocket knife, napkins, sunscreen, umbrella, Boost oxygen inhaler, beef jerky, and a canned Yerba Mate tea for the summit. Clothing wise, I brought a beanie, a scarf, a zipper hoodie, sweatpants, tube socks, long sleeve shirt under a T-shirt. I wore hiking shoes, but I wish I brought hiking boots that come over the ankle. Also, I wish I brought gloves.

Entering the wilderness at 4AM

The temperature was about 40 degrees at the trailhead when I started. The trail when you start is well-worn and easy to follow. There are a couple of creek crossings to watch for that are slick and muddy. For most of the way below treeline, you are on the Colorado Trail. Just after the third creek crossing, a sign tells you to get off on the Mount Massive Main trail. However, the way the arrows are pointing makes it seem confusing on which way to go. Maybe it was just me in my sleep deprived state, hiking under the cover of darkness, but it is something to pay attention to.

I had one big scare on my ascent. About 30 minutes into the hike, I saw some eyes glaring at me downpath in the darkness. I wasn’t afraid of bears, but I definitely feared a mountain lion. My heart raced as I barked loudly, like a seal, and stomped as I walked slowly closer. When the animal finally darted off, I could see it was a deer and relief came over me.

I streamed music out loud on my phone until the sun rose. Partly to scare off animals, and partly to keep a good pace for myself. I was the only one out there as far as I could tell, until later. I got above treeline as the sky started to lighten up, and decided to scope out a good spot to watch the sunrise. I walked through the willows and found a spot on some patchy tundra just off the trail and sat down. I ended up sitting there for a half-hour waiting: bad idea.

I started to get cold again and had to put all my layers back on that I was able to take off. I ate some trail mix, filled up on water, and waited for the sun to crest over the Mosquito Range. It was quite pretty. I got my obligatory pictures and carried on. Moisture was in the air as I continued my trek, and I could make out small snowflakes falling on my sleeves.

Daybreak on Turquoise Lake

Some wildlife I saw above treeline: pika, marmot, chipmunk, and a flightless bird that looked like some sort of grouse. The colorful lichens on the rocks made some of them look radioactive.

The summit of Massive was shrouded in clouds as I approached the ridge. When I got to the ridge, tundra made way to scree, and the route-finding became considerable. Remember: the main path is just to the right of the ridge. There are not many cairns up here to assist you, and you really must look for the grooves where the path is worn. Sand will be filling in the cracks for the most well-worn routes.

The rocks were damp but not too slick. At this point, I relied significantly on my staff to help me get further. The elevation gain on the ridge was hefty, and I definitely could’ve trained more for this climb. Once on the ridge, a deep chasm greeted me that seemed ethereal, with the way the clouds moved through it. This chasm on the western side is treacherous; one mis-step too close to the edge could send you tumbling like a rolling stone.

Caption Here

From here, it’s about a quarter mile to the summit. One great thing about Mount Massive is the cell service, and the fact that the trail is marked on Google Maps. I have AT&T and I had about 4 bars from Leadville up here. This helped me navigate through the fog, and let me know not to stop at the false summit. It also made me feel safe, in case something were to happen to me like a broken ankle. Something else that made me feel safe was that I was not alone out here: I passed three groups of hikers during my time near the summit.

I reached the summit about 915AM. There was no panoramic view. The only thing I could see was the rocks around me. I literally walked into the clouds, which is awesome when you think about it but at the time I was rather disappointed. I didn't stick around long at the top... I had a train to catch at 1PM.

The way down was much easier to find my route, and I got a good rhythm leading with my left foot. The gravity assist made for a swifter hike, as I hopped zig zags from stable surface to stable surface. I followed the trail beside the main trail that was showing some wear but was still softer ground. The air around me quickly cleared up as I descended, and I was able to remove some of my layers.

When I got below treeline, I felt much warmer but kind of stressed. I occasionally jogged to hasten the descent, but I am no trail runner. I made it back to the parking lot at 1215PM, and it was still a half hour drive to get to Leadville. I made the train on time, though.

Me pointing back to Mount Massive from the train.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Probably a mule deer
09/19/2019 11:25
The deer you saw was most likely a mule deer. There are whitetail deer in Colorado, but they are mostly found in river bottoms on the eastern plains. Nearly all of the deer found in mountain areas are mule deer. Elk are also common but considerably larger than mule deer or whitetails. Just an FYI.

ETA: The grouse you saw above timberline was probably a ptarmigan. They actually can fly, but often stay on the ground. Like many grouse, their usual response when people or animals are close by is to hold still and try to be invisible. Ptarmigan turn white in winter, and their mottled gery-brown summer plumage camouflages them quite well.

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