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Mount Massive, Colorado

Mount Massive, Colorado


Postby Clach Liath » Mon Aug 19, 2013 9:29 pm

Date walked: 23/07/2013

Time taken: 11

Distance: 22 km

Ascent: 1375m

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Mount Massive is the second highest peak in Colorado and the third highest in the lower 48 States of the USA (i.e. excluding Alaska). Just as we tick off our lists of Munros, Corbetts etc etc, there is a list of 53 14’ers that provides a challenge, i.e. 53 peaks of over 14,000ft which involve ticking off that list. Mount Massive is 14,421ft high and lies 5 miles from Colorado’s highest peak, Mount Elbert which is only 12ft higher. Just as once happened with Ben Nevis and Ben MacDui the supporters of Massive tried to build large piles of stones on the summit in an attempt to boost its recognised height. Elbert’s supporters then demolished them!

Massive’s name comes not so much from its height, but more from its bulk. It has a three mile long summit ridge and five summits over 14,000ft. That means this mountain has more land over 14,000ft than any other in the lower 48.

I was here to acclimatise for later adventures. This is helped by the fact that the terrain beneath Massive is between 8,000ft and 10,000ft. Nearby (10 miles to the east) lies the "city" of Leadville.

Here are Massive (on the right) and Elbert (on the left) from about 8 miles to the east.

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Leadville has a colourful history. This is summarised on the following sign.

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It still has buildings from its hey day. Here is the Tabor opera House.

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Horace Tabor made his fortune during the silver rush and became an important businessman and politician. But he lost most of his money when the US government stopped buying up surplus silver so that the silver price (and the value of the mines he had stakes in) plummeted. The spirit of the “Wild West” is maintained by the saloon.

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This is now an Irish bar – which rather spoils the effect!

There are some “character” properties.

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And this is the Delaware hotel, full of character and creaky floorboards (but perhaps a bit behind the times when it comes to modern comforts).

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If you explore, remnants of the “olden days” can still be found.

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So spending some time exploring the history of this area can help benefit the body in its adaptation to altitude. Surprisingly, coming straight to 10,000ft from the UK did not give me any problems. It just shows because altitude has affected me at 9,000ft before.

So within 48 hours of arriving in Colorado I was starting an ascent of Mount Massive.

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I was going to tackle a trail known as the East Slopes route. This is a 13¾ mile round trip with 4,500ft of ascent. Technically (other than coping with the altitude) the trail is straightforward. For the first 3 miles a long distance trail (the Colorado Trail) is followed.

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This photo shows a typical section of the trail. I started out at 5.30am. In Colorado in the summer it is sensible to have early starts in order to avoid thunderstorms that often build up in the early afternoon. The trails are generally well marked. Here is the sign at the junction of the Colorado and Mount Massive trails (note the patriotic numbering given to the Colorado trail).

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The thing about hiking (to use the American phrase) in the Colorado Rockies is that the first couple of hours is spent walking through the forest. This is quite pleasant early in the morning when it is fresh and the scent of pine fills your nostrils. Eventually you emerge above the tree line into open meadows. This was about a further hour after the junction between the Colorado and Mount Massive trails.

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There were some delightful camping spots here and I had passed a number of tents amongst the trees. Certainly, in the US, there seems to be a greater tradition of camping. I saw quite a few people laden with heavy backpacks on my return. Just before I reached the tree line at around 7am I met a guy on his way down who had been at the summit at 5am. He had started at 3am from his tent in the forest.

Mount Elbert came into view above the remnant trees.

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The trail then eased itself up the open slopes. The summit (which is at the right of the picture below) is still two miles away.

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Isn’t the sky great!?

The next shot is looking north towards a very distant Longs Peak.

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The summit was slowly becoming closer. The summer flowers carpeted the ground. Shortly after then I was overtaken by someone running up the trail.

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The route continued up a shallow bowl followed by a final steep but short climb up to the main ridge at 13,900ft. I stopped there for a drink and a bit to eat. A couple of other groups passed me coming down from the summit whilst I was munching some crackers. Even at that height it was warm in the sun. As I was enjoying my rest I saw some movement in nearby rocks. A couple of marmots were scurrying around.

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After 20 minutes I started the final 500ft of ascent. It is a rocky clamber and you pop up at the end of a narrowish rocky ridge with the summit (of course) at the far end.

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A 10 minute walk took me to the top. And here is the view along the same ridge but now from the summit itself. This is a view to the south with Mount Elbert (just beyond the point at the end of the ridge) and La Plata (with a thin sliver of snow to its right).

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There was a keen chill breeze but there were plenty of niches to dip out of it and still be in the sun. There was a couple from Boulder at the top with whom I chatted. They were on their 42nd 14’er.

They left and others came. It was quite convivial really. People had arrived via different routes. I spent over an hour at the top – perhaps too long, as nearer the end I felt a bit nauseous. Anyway, here am I blocking the view to the north.

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And here is a view to the west.

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And here is Leadville to the east with Mosquito Range behind.

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So I took how I was feeling as a big hint and started the descent. As I descended I knew I had not eaten or drunk enough. I was able to drink more but (a common effect of altitude) I did not feel up to eating anything. It was now hot, very hot. Although there was some cloud build up, there was no danger of thunderstorms. Here is a view back towards the summit.

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And, taken a little later, one down to the meadows.

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I was longing to be out of the sun. There was no breeze down here. Although I had covered up my skin and had a hat on, I felt as though I was frying. At the tree line I was able to find a convenient log to sit down on in the shade and to drink.

After 20 minutes I moved on. Whilst hiking through the trees in the freshness of the early morning is good, when it becomes hot in the afternoon this can become stifling as any breeze is blocked out.

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The trees also do not provide as much shade as you might think. Anyway, the ground was easy and good time was achieved. I passed several groups labouring in the heat with heavy packs who were planning to camp before continuing to the summit the following day.

I was back to my tent by 6.30pm after a 11 hour day quite tired but pleased at what I had been able to achieve so soon after arriving in Colorado.

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Further reports from my week in Colorado are posted here:

http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=35356 (La Plata Peak)

http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=35378 (Huron Peak)

http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=35414 (Quandary Peak)
Last edited by Clach Liath on Thu Aug 22, 2013 4:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Clach Liath
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby Bod » Mon Aug 19, 2013 10:25 pm

Great report CL, love the marmot pic :wink: :D :D
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby ChrisW » Tue Aug 20, 2013 4:29 am

Fantastic CL with stunning pics and all with that wonderful North American sky, not a lot of white stuff around there which surprised me given the height. Interesting comment about not eating at altitude, since coming to Canada I rarely eat more than fruit and occasional granola bars on the mountains, just don't fancy anything :roll: Anyway, cracking start to the adventure, can't wait to see more, well done on making this lump so soon after landing :clap:
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby Phil the Hill » Tue Aug 20, 2013 2:01 pm

Enjoyed that - I've been meaning to visit Colorado for years. It looks perfectly doable - altitude permitting. Interesting to see wild camping is popular.
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby Clach Liath » Tue Aug 20, 2013 7:47 pm

Bod wrote:Great report CL, love the marmot pic :wink: :D :D


More marmot pics to come in my report on La Plata Peak. :)
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby Clach Liath » Tue Aug 20, 2013 7:51 pm

ChrisW wrote:Fantastic CL with stunning pics and all with that wonderful North American sky, not a lot of white stuff around there which surprised me given the height. Interesting comment about not eating at altitude, since coming to Canada I rarely eat more than fruit and occasional granola bars on the mountains, just don't fancy anything :roll: Anyway, cracking start to the adventure, can't wait to see more, well done on making this lump so soon after landing :clap:


As for the lack of white stuff, this is typical for this part of the Rockies in August. Yes, altitude can affect one's appetite. So it can be important to get into the discipline of eating even if you do not feel hungry..

Report on La Plata Peak is now posted. TRs on two more Colorado climbs planned. :D :D
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby Clach Liath » Tue Aug 20, 2013 7:57 pm

Phil the Hill wrote:Enjoyed that - I've been meaning to visit Colorado for years. It looks perfectly doable - altitude permitting. Interesting to see wild camping is popular.


Thank you. Yes, for most of these hikes you just have to make sure you acclimatise properly and you keep well hydrated. Being quite fit also helps because, if nothing else, it alleviates the strain on your body as it copes during acclimatization.

Yes wild camping is popular. The Americans call it "primitive camping". Public land normally has rules and regulations about where to camp and do's and don't's which are to be complied with. But I found these to be quite sensible rules/regulations and they are normally reproduced on the websites of the public bodies responsible for the land in question.

Hope you get there one day. It is the easiest way to gain experience of performing at altitude without having to have alpine experience.
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby Stretch » Thu Aug 22, 2013 12:14 am

CL these are all great reports, thanks for sharing. My girlfriend was born in Leadville and I will make sure she sees this. Really must get myself out west in the near future!
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby madasa mongoose » Thu Aug 22, 2013 3:26 pm

Fabulous! Thanks for posting your fourteeners photos. Brought back very fond memories of several visits to Colorado climbing these fantastic peaks. LOVE Colorado! :D
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby Clach Liath » Thu Aug 22, 2013 4:03 pm

Stretch wrote:CL these are all great reports, thanks for sharing. My girlfriend was born in Leadville and I will make sure she sees this. Really must get myself out west in the near future!


My pleasure - it is an interesting part of the world to visit.
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Re: Mount Massive, Colorado

Postby Clach Liath » Thu Aug 22, 2013 4:05 pm

madasa mongoose wrote:Fabulous! Thanks for posting your fourteeners photos. Brought back very fond memories of several visits to Colorado climbing these fantastic peaks. LOVE Colorado! :D


This was my seventh visit to Colorado. Hopefully it will not be my last.

There is great skiing there too.
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