Peak(s):  Mt. Massive  -  14,421 feet
Date Posted:  08/05/2008
Date Climbed:   08/03/2008
Author:  KeithK

 Why Do I Do This?  

Mt. Massive (14,421')
August 3, 2008
Southwest Slopes Route
3,950' Elevation Gain
Derek(dfreed83) and KeithK

My legs are sore, and the soles of my feet feel bruised. A dull headache is slowly encompassing my mind, and exhaustion is the result of a restless night. I never sleep well the night of a hike; fatigue and weariness conspire to create a sort of detached awareness, my mind's refusal to relax even though it is the obvious cure for such discomfort. As I sit here on the day after, contemplating and reviewing the last 10 days, a strangely peaceful and encouraging realization is taking place. Life can be littered with obstacles, each seemingly larger than its predecessor, and we can choose to give in, to accept defeat, or we can choose to overcome.

It is often said that things happen for a reason, and that events occur, both good and bad, in bunches. Such is my experience. What was to be a relaxing, fun-filled weekend with close friends became scarred by car troubles, seemingly a theme for me this year. Even a reunion of sorts with my best friend became obscured in a cloud of worry, and an apprehensive five hour drive home was hardly the culmination to what is normally a great trip. The days following took their toll, and by Thursday I realized that stress was winning out. My partner for a planned hike on Saturday had to cancel for the best of reasons, family, leaving me feeling numb and increasingly apathetic. By Friday evening I was unsure that I'd do anything over the weekend, when I decided to post a last ditch attempt at finding someone to join me for a Sunday hike.

The cool night air is a refreshing change from the stifling summer days, yet hardly enough to make 3:00 a.m. any more enjoyable. Derek loaded his pack into my truck, and we set off, making good time along empty highways to the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead, about 10 miles southwest of Leadville. Paperless restrooms at the Mt. Elbert trailhead provide a last chance stop for personal comfort, and then the road narrows and becomes rough. The last half mile is really rough, and my normally strong confidence in my driving abilities was shaken from the events of the past weekend, and there was no way I was going to chance the protruding slab of rock about halfway up. We parked and began hiking, relieved to be breathing mountain air and stretching road weary legs.

"Jaws" blocking easy progress up the road (taken during the descent)

A very gentle trail through the forest provides a nice warm up to the morning, and the first mile passes pleasantly as we begin to approach the open meadow that contains the trail split. Left will take the hiker up to the Halfmoon Lakes, while the right fork points at the mighty mass of Mt. Massive. The grade immediately becomes steep, and for the next few hours, uphill is the only direction.

The trail junction…

Looking up at the route ahead…

Wildflowers desperately cling to what's left of an all too short summer (image by Derek)

A picture perfect start to the day (image by Derek)

A steep ascent amongst a cloud of insects would lead us up the slope, through rock slides and across bright green tundra benches. Perhaps the inordinate number of insects, especially mosquitoes that escorted us well above tree line is a result of the late winter. I do not remember so many insects this time last year. Insect repellent would have been a wise choice earlier in the morning. As the sun warms the slope, I am reminded that it is summer, and there are still sun-soaked days to enjoy in the high country, even if only for a short few weeks longer. This hobby that I've chosen has sure illuminated just how brief the summer season is, especially above tree line. With each switchback the Sawatch Range spreads out wider and wider behind us, providing a constantly changing perspective on the nearest peaks; French Mtn., Deer Mtn. and Mt. Oklahoma all become wider and more complete.

A trail runs through it…

French Mtn. to the southwest…

Deer Mtn. is impressive to the west (image by Derek)…

Mt. Oklahoma, a part of Derek's quest to complete the Sawatch Centennials this summer…

Looking up at the ridge, well, actually what we thought was the ridge. There is a great deal of hiking left behind the highest point in this image…

Dispersed hikers illustrate the route ahead…

What seemed like a steady and consistent pace earlier has now become a stuttering and disorganized gait from switchback to switchback, frequent pauses to slow an ever increasing heart beat winning out over the mind's urge to move faster. It's an interesting paradox, this activity that is agonizing and relaxing in equal parts, the physical challenge seeming to complement the emotional calm. As on many hikes, I asked myself the same old question, "Why do I do this?" Gasping for breath cannot possibly be fun, can it? Or the relentless insects, the hot sun or building dark clouds? Out here in the middle of the Wilderness, far away from those comforts that are so convenient during our normal lives.

More of the same, as the trail works its way up and across the huge southwest slope of Mt. Massive…

Castle Peak and Cathedral Peak…

Pyramid and the Bells…

Having a good hiking partner makes a big difference. Not in the disappointingly slow pace I was suffering, as it was now 11:00, a time I had hoped to have already reached the summit, but simple conversation makes the trail seem easier, allowing the repetition of steps to take place while the mind engages in something different. Derek and I pushed upward, onto the broad slope of the route, following the easy trail and always wondering just how much farther it would be until we reached the easier ground on the summit ridge.

Finally, the sky widens as the top of the ridge emerges…

The Elks look to be conjuring up inclement weather, let's pick up the pace…

Descending hikers are now telling us that we're close, very close. There is always that feeling as you climb, as you sense that there is only so much farther you can go, that motivates the spirit and washes away the discord, and provides what is needed to finish what was started. After all, the rocks are just obstacles, and they are there to be overcome. Cresting the ridge, the upper Arkansas River valley spreads before us, with the town of Leadville looking comically slanted at the base of the Mosquito Range. Everything is so small down there.

False summits cannot discourage at this point; the real summit is behind and to the left of the highest point in this photo…

As we reach the tiny summit, where a single wood pole marks the second highest peak in Colorado, the clouds seem to be surrounding us, yet not threatening us outright. A few pictures are taken, but we're certainly not loitering. As if there is some sort of time limit, the skies darken and begin to rumble, and it's time for haste as nature's alarm sounds.

I'm smiling, and happy. Perhaps I have the answer to my question…

Mt. Elbert (image by Derek)…

La Plata Peak…

Derek has not been caught in a thunderstorm high on a mountain before. Unfortunately, I have, and it's not something I seek out. We probably didn't start early enough, and I certainly wasn't expecting this mountain to be as difficult as it was. We rushed along the ridge, nearly reaching the trail split between the East and West Slopes Routes, before a few raindrops could be felt. Stopping to don the raingear, with thunder closing in, it felt like a race had begun. Hail began to pelt the rocks and ground around us, pinging off of our jackets with an odd rhythm, not quite in time with our footsteps. I never saw a single flash of electricity, but Derek did, and we moved down the wet and increasingly slippery slope as quickly as we could. There was a point that I heard a strange noise, a sort of buzzing, but not what I have imagined electricity would sound like. It seemed like it was the way the wind and hail was hitting my hood, more so than any sort of imminent doom. The storm did not last much longer, and we were well under 14,000' as the sky began to lighten to the west.

Snowmass and Capitol, bathed in bright sunshine behind volatile Sawatch skies…

The Columbines are still holding on to their glory…

Another look at Deer Mtn. underneath a painted canvas…

The heat of the sun and the return of the insects provided company for the rest of our descent, and it really was a beautiful day to be out in the Wilderness. As steep as the route is, I was surprised at how well we got down, making reasonable time on wet rocks. Shedding the raingear in a patch of shade, the last mile of the hike did not seem to be anything other than an easy way to wind down after a day of much effort. I marveled at Halfmoon Creek as we neared the truck; it is definitely one of the more beautiful stretches of water I've seen on any hike.

Halfmoon Creek rushes towards the Arkansas River…

Why do I do this? As I write, in the throes of a full-on raging head cold in the heat of August, I don't think there needs to be an answer in black and white. The stress and anxiety that built up over the course of the previous week are gone, and life seems to be in perspective again. Work is manageable and relaxed, and the week is proceeding quickly towards another weekend. Another chance to test physical limits, while drowning and cleansing those emotional obstacles. An interesting paradox, indeed.

A three hour drive home from Leadville allows for one last photo opportunity (image by Derek)…


 Comments or Questions

Awesome photos
08/06/2008 05:21 always do write up a damn good report! Keep it up!


Yes - exactly what the
08/06/2008 12:02
above poster said! Fun to read. Great job getting these peaks done with your arm, Keith! I noticed your cast is off?! In that case, we‘ll see you for Snowmass!


08/06/2008 12:52
Looks like you had a great hike!


It‘s always a pleasure...
08/06/2008 13:47
to read your trip reports.

Chicago Transplant

Early Storms
08/06/2008 17:38
Weather sure did move in fast, and I thought earlier than normal on the Sawatch on Sunday- it was raining pretty heavily coming over Independence Pass at noon on Sunday.
Keep on climbing, the smiling summit shot does indeed seem to answer your question of ”why”


Nice writeup!
10/30/2008 20:51
I had a great time out (well, maybe the traffic could have cooperated ) and your writing does a lot to illustrate it. We‘ll have to meet up again this summer sometime.


Thanks everyone
08/07/2008 00:54
I appreciate the comments. Derek, it was a great day, and a pleasure to hike with you.
Caroline, I‘m not completely sure I‘ll be able to make Snowmass, but I‘m trying to convince myself. I have a couple weeks of therapy ahead to try to get mobility and strength back, and it‘s still pretty sore at times.
Mike, I wish I could hike at your pace! It sure would be nice to be in the car at noon!


08/07/2008 16:52
The pictures are great and your pros are even better. Wonderfully done! Clearly you are a talented writer sharing the thoughts that we all have as to why we ”do this.”



08/08/2008 13:19
Chad, thanks for that kind comment. I appreciate it! I find writing trip reports to be a nice complement to the process of getting up at god-awful hours and hiking up these big hills. After all, most of us are at work all week, and at least documenting the previous weekend‘s journey serves as a way to tide things over to the next one.


A Great Read
08/19/2008 17:29

This is the first time I‘ve had the pleasure of reading one of your trip reports. I enjoyed the read; very descriptive while creating a sense of identity (like climbing with you). Both your, and Derek‘s pictures were great also. It encourages me, as a Michigan ”flatlander”, to keep coming back to Colorado to climb. We did Harvard, Shavano & Tabegauche as a double this past July; how would Massive compare? We‘re thinking of Massive, La Plata, and another one close by next July. How was the Southwest slope route and what was the overall trip length?

Keep climbing and writing and we‘ll keep reading and enjoying!


Enjoyed the Tale!
08/20/2008 17:05
This is also my first time reading one of your trip reports and I to enjoyed it! I love to pen on occasion but not as in stories, which you seem to illuminate the message so clearly.

Good luck with the arm and look forward to your next report!
(Half of)KlaBar


Great Read!
08/24/2008 02:56
Glad I came across your report this evening. Your first I‘ve read. I certainly agree with your points about the enjoyment of hiking with a partner. I thoroughly enjoy hiking with someone else, including those I have never met before. Always nice to have new conversation and new perspectives from others.

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