Mount Massive

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 13.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 10,062 - 14,421 feet
Elevation gain: 4,920 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 10 hrs.
Trailhead: Mount Massive
Fee: none
Attractions: 2nd highest point in Colorado




Mount Massive (14,421) is the second highest point in the state of Colorado and in the Rocky Mountains of North America. It is located in the Sawatch Range of the San Isabel National Forest and Mount Massive Wilderness Area near the town of Leadville, Colorado. There are two routes that lead to the summit, the east slopes route and the southwest slopes route. This post follows the east slopes route which is the longer of the two routes but with a much more gradual ascent. It is also the only route that is accessible without a 4-wheel drive vehicle.





To get to the trailhead drive south out of Leadville and turn west onto Colorado 300. Continue west for 0.7 miles and turn left onto County Road 11. Follow CR 11 for 1.2 miles and turn right at the Halfmoon Creek sign staying on CR 11. The road heads toward Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive with the pavement lasting for almost 1 mile before becoming a washboardy dirt road that leads to the trailhead after another 4.5 miles or so. There are several campgrounds along the road as well as several primitive camping spots. Camping isn't allowed at the trailhead itself.


As you leave the trailhead they are asking you to fill out a free Wilderness Permit and carry a copy of it with you. They are also warning mountain bikers that they will be fined $500 if they get caught riding the Colorado Trail.


The first 3 miles of the route to the summit of Mount Massive follows a section of the Colorado Trail.


The Colorado trail starts out with quite a bit of climbing. It gains a little over 1,000 feet of elevation between the trailhead and the point where the Mount Massive trail begins.


Most of the elevation gain happens as the trail leaves the parking area and works its way around the mountain. The rest is spread out over what's left of the 3 miles so much of the trail ends up being relatively flat. For a 14er at least. There are actually a few stretches of the trail that have slight down slopes to them. They aren't all that noticeable until the return trip when your legs are tired.


Around the 3 mile point the Colorado trail crosses a stream. After doing so there is a trail sign on the left that marks an old route and a slight trail that joins in from the right that might be the one coming up from around the fish hatchery. Continue past this point for less than another quarter mile and you will be at the start of the main Massive trail. Our GPS showed the elevation at this point to be 11,085 feet.


As the Mount Massive trail departs from the Colorado trail it continues through the sparse forest gaining a little more elevation as it progresses.


At the 4 mile point the trail has reached an elevation of just over 11,700 feet and is beginning to leave the last of the forest behind. South Massive can be seen straight ahead with Mount Massive off to the right.


After another half mile the trail begins climbing at a higher rate as it works its way up and around a large rounded section of the mountain.


At the 5 mile point the trail has passed the 12,300 foot level and most of the rest of the route to Massive's summit is in view. Mount Massive has a large summit ridge. The highpoint of the ridge can be seen better from here perhaps than from the ridge itself. North Massive is out of the picture further to the right of Massive.


The trail gets rockier the further you progress up the tundra. A lot of this is because as hikers travel over the trail the vegetation gets trampled out so that when the snow melts and when it rains the dirt gets washed away from around the rocks leaving more of them exposed. Once the rocks are exposed and a new wave of hikers comes along they tend to create a new path off to the side of the original trail where there is still vegetation and it is much smoother. As this continues to happen the trail gets wider and wider. I guess that is a good thing if you want to be able to see the trail from Leadville or from outer space.


By the time the trail reaches the 6 mile point from the trailhead it has crossed the 13,200 foot threshold. The tundra is thinner here and it is rocky pretty much everywhere. Someone has put in a massive (pun intended) amount of work to build a lot of stone steps that make it a little easier than it otherwise would be.


The trail reaches the saddle in the ridge between Massive and South Massive around the 6.5 mile point. The elevation at the saddle is a little over 13,900 feet.


From the saddle the rest of the hike is simply a matter of working your way up the ridge. The best route to follow is usually the most obvious.


The route that comes up from the North Halfmoon trail joins in around the 6.77 mile point where the elevation is nearing 14,300 feet. The best route for the rest of way is to scramble up the right side of the crest of the ridge. The exposure along the east side of the ridge isn't very dramatic or anything and the trail seems plenty wide with lots of rocks to grab ahold of if you feel the need.


The route up the ridge gets progressively easier until you find yourself standing on the first point of the ridge. From here the trail descends a little bit and continues north along the ridge to the official summit a hundred yards or so away. From here you can see all the way west to the Maroon Bells and other peaks in the Elk Mountains Range. Below the ridge on the west side are the North Halfmoon Lakes and below the ridge to the east is Turquoise Reservoir and the town of Leadville, Various other 14ers dot the skyline to the south with Mount Elbert, Harvard and La Plata Peak being the most prominent.


While hiking back down the ridge from the summit you will discover that the trail is much more obvious going in this direction. On the hike up the ridge most of the trail is above eye level so it is harder to decide which way is best. Going back down it is all laid out before you. You can also get a good feel for how wide the ridge is and how it slopes off on each side looking down it in this direction.


There was lots of mountain goat scat around the summit but no animals to be seen. We have seen mountain goats in the past on La Plata Peak and bighorn sheep on Mount Elbert. We did manage to spot  5 or 6 ptarmigans that were only happy to pose for a picture. They are so camouflaged that most of the time people go right past them without seeing them. These birds were transitioning to their all white winter color which made them stand out just a bit more than usual.


The other route up Mount Massive is only 8 miles round trip. It is much steeper but it also has about 500 foot less elevation gain. Whether you have a high clearance 4-wheel drive or not might be the determining factor on which way you choose to go. The route described in this post is moderate all the way to treeline. Although the trail gets steeper after that it still isn't anywhere near as steep as Mount Elbert and the footing is better as well. The extra distance does eventually take its toll making the overall experience a strenuous one. Even with the extra distance that the east slope route requires it is worth every bit of the effort because in good weather Mount Massive is a great mountain to hike with wonderful views. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.