Mt. Massive

Mt. Massive (Sawatch Range) – Southwest Slopes (Class 2)

  • Attempted 7/15/15
  • 8 miles round trip (truly my watch measured 3.84 miles one-way)
  • 3 hrs to summit and 1.75 hrs to return to TH (4.75 hrs hiking time)
  • Easy 14er (Class 2)
    • Non-Standard SW Slopes Approach
  • +3,950′ net elevation gain to peak (14,421′)
  • Equipment:
    • sunblock (at that elevation, you’ll feel the sun)
    • tech shell (you will want a shell to protect you from the wind)
    • Nanopuff jacket (always layer when attempting a 14er)
    • headlamp (you’ll have to be starting this hike earlier than most 14ers)
    • light gloves (for climbing and warmth)
    • hiking poles (save the knees!)
    • Lunch and lots of snacks
    • Lots of water (I went through 2L of water even before we reached the summit)

We decided that the standard route, being 6 miles longer and even 600 feet more gain, was crazy to do when such an accessible alternative approach exists.  Kevin, per usual, drove his Outback.  The OR trail to reach this TH was particularly nasty, I would rate it at a 3 following trail damage’s rating system.  It was steep and bumpy with some rocks tossed in there.  I would say that a 2wd car going slow COULD make it to within about a half mile of the TH, pulling off at a small parking area before the obviously steep part.  However, I would think that crossovers would be better suited for the light bumps at the start of the trail.  At the TH, we saw Toyota Tacomas, a Toyota FJ Cruiser, a Isuzu Passport (which surprised me), a Jeep Liberty (also surprising) and our Subaru Outback.  It would be easy for someone taking the steep section too fast to bottom out, meaning that a powerful engine is going to prove better equipped to handle the upper section.  Clearance is a minor issue, anything with 8″ or so with good shocks will be alright, it is mostly the engine that will cause people to bottom out I suspect.  Take the trail slowly and in 4wd, you’ll likely lose a tire or two while climbing the crest.  Anything with too long of a wheelbase has a potential to get stuck here actually, so let’s keep the F-250s at home on this one.  Differentials would help climb the trail, but definitely aren’t necessary, as most SUVs don’t have them equipped in stock.

It looks too easy from the rear seat
It looks too easy from the rear seat
Tried to take a picture of the steep section, couldn't do it justice
Tried to take a picture of the steep section, couldn’t do it justice

This was the first 14er this summer that required headlamps at the TH.  We began hiking around 5:30a or so and it was pretty dark.  Because it had rained for the past few days, the trail was pretty damp; but it was obviously the rain and not run off from snow on the trail.  The trail has lots of low lying and dense branches that’ll get you wet if it has rained recently.

A nice shot of Elbert from the treeline on Massive
A nice shot of Elbert from the treeline on Massive

The trail had a few water crossings, but nothing to worry about – most everything has been easy after La Plata’s crossing on its standard route.  The treeline is surprisingly low on this mountain, perhaps 11,500 or just under, which was interesting to me!  I have been getting over a sickness since Tuesday, so the workout kicked my butt a bit more than usual.

So purdy, the mountains at the end of the valley you begin hiking up on this approach
So purdy, the mountains at the end of the valley you begin hiking up on this approach

After you clear treeline, you’ll begin to ascend steeper terrain with more and more rocks the higher you climb.  I found that my hiking poles were fine and made it all the way to the summit with a few spots where you had to hold onto them and climb.

Photo Jul 15, 6 12 49 AM
As might be obvious here, route finding is a bit tricky. When in doubt, take a moment to look around, you’ll be able to find the trail pretty easy.
Photo Jul 15, 7 59 17 AM
An obvious false-summit around 3 miles in. Once you take this ridge, you’ll only have about 350′ gain left to the summit and about a 20 minute hike to the true summit.

Photo Jul 15, 7 50 18 AM Photo Jul 15, 10 17 02 AM Photo Jul 15, 10 17 12 AM

Once you take the 14,100 foot false-summit, you’ll have the option to hike over to South Massive (an unofficial 14er).  Given that there are a few unofficial massive peaks (North, South, and Green), I was going to try the Tour-de-Massive sometime and bag all the unofficial peaks.  For this time, given I was a bit sick, I didn’t want to summit the South Massive peak.  It was only a class 1 approach from the ridge, MAYBE a class 2 and perhaps a half mile to summit.  It looked pretty easy.  I didn’t look too closely as to where Green and North Massive were, but from what I saw I would guess that all the unofficial peaks are within a mile and a half from the true summit, maybe approaching a difficult class 2 to get to.

South Massive from the ridge
South Massive from the ridge
Our walk to the summit - don't stop at the second false-summit, keep going!
Our walk to the summit – don’t stop at the second false-summit, keep going!

The summit is quite pretty!  It was a bummer that the clouds were rolling in from the west, limiting our vision to about 50-75 miles.  We had a great view over Leadville and could still see over to Mt. Elbert!

Photo Jul 15, 5 48 10 PM Photo Jul 15, 5 48 05 PM

Got Kevin to take my pano shot since my phone broke
Got Kevin to take my pano shot since my phone broke
I didn't get the memo this was a serious picture
I didn’t get the memo this was a serious picture

Photo Jul 15, 8 08 52 AM

Pano of what I assume includes North and Green Massive
Pano of what I assume includes North and Green Massive
This time Kevin didn't get the memo
This time Kevin didn’t get the memo

Photo Jul 15, 8 49 03 AM

So typical...
So typical…

Photo Jul 15, 8 49 20 AM Photo Jul 15, 8 49 47 AM Photo Jul 15, 8 49 58 AM

Overall this was a great hike to a beautiful summit, definitely one of the prettier ones I have done – perhaps just behind Mt. Sneffels to be honest!  It definitely helps that you get similar views to Elbert but without the crowd (we saw 2 other guys briefly at the summit and another group stopped at the second false-summit).  I definitely plan to return and do the Tour-de-Massive when I am feeling rather fit and healthy.  Easy to get to for killer views.  Just be ware of the offroad trail!  I found hiking poles particularly helpful here because of how steep it was when you literally climb up the backside of Massive in about a mile or so.  There was also a bone-chilling wind at the top where a tech shell proved to be a valuable purchase!  I have my nanopuff and tech shell on and was just a bit chilly from inactivity at the summit.  My hands definitely went numb though!

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