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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Lee

Mount Massive

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

May 29, 2023

Mount Massive via Southwest Slopes | 14,427 feet

Route: AllTrails

7 miles; 4335 feet elevation gain

Total time: 7 hours

Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer in my mind, but Colorado doesn't usually agree. This was the first Memorial Day weekend in a few years that it hasn't snowed so in our minds, we got lucky. The mountains are starting to melt after a long snowy winter but there is still a lot of snow hanging on. Prior to heading out we read the most recent trip reports to determine if the route was safe and to assess what gear we would need to carry. Snowshoes were not needed, there was no post-holing if you start early and use some judgment when route finding. Microspikes, poles and gaiters were absolutely necessary. And, an ice axe was extremely helpful to have.

We arrived at the 4WD trailhead at 5am. We were the first ones on this route and the first ones to summit this day. The road to reach this trailhead is mostly just bumpy but does have a few sections that are narrow and a bit tricky clearance wise. High clearance was helpful, my 4Runner made it without any issue. The first mile of this trail is very easy, relatively flat and well maintained. This mile took us 24 minutes. The next mile gains a bit more elevation and is more rocky but still relatively easy. This mile took us 35 minutes. The views in the basin are so beautiful the entire hike, especially with the rising sun hiking them. You can see many alpine lakes starting to melt into a stunning blue color. There is no snow for the first two miles.

Around 12,000 feet is when the climbing really starts and the confidence you built on those easy first two miles goes out of the window. Currently the trail is difficult to follow past this point because of snow, you will need the route downloaded. This is also the split off to take the marked route or ascend onto the ridgeline. As of our hike on 5/29 the marked route is completely under snow from 12,000 feet to 13,000 feet. It is a large, hard-packed snow field. We took this route rather than ascending to the ridge and this was not the easiest option. We ascended directly up the snow field, where the route would normally be a series of switchbacks, using spikes and ice axes. Of the people climbing this day people took a variety of routes including straight up, diagonal in either direction and the ridge. Until more snow melts I would not recommend the route we took unless you are experienced with this type of terrain and climbing. It was very challenging and exhausted. I would recommend heading up to the ridge (see Bryce Wilson's route from 5/13/2023 on AllTrails) where there is no lingering snow. From 13,000 feet to the summit you will encounter on and off snow along the ridgeline climb. I recommend starting very early to avoid post holing on this part of the route. You are climbing along a steep slope angle so post holing could mean an accidental fall. There are a couple false summits before you reach the true summit. We reached the summit at 9:10am, 4 hours and 10 minutes after starting. There was minimal wind on the summit and we had it to ourselves for the entire time. The views from the summit of Mount Massive are absolutely spectactular and 360 degrees. You can see everything, even the Maroon Bells!

It was a very quiet day on the mountain, we didn't see anyone on our ascent and only saw a 4 other groups on our descent. We cut off a lot of time and distance on the way down by glissading. Glissading conditions were perfect but I would highly recommend an ice axe if you plan to do this as it was steep and fast. We didn't need to self arrest at any point but having the axe to control speed was very nice.

In less snowy conditions, which I imagine will be in 2-3 weeks, I bet this trail is much easier and absolutely stunning. Today the route was very challenging, but doable. The mountain really made me work for the summit but this was definitely one of the most beautiful routes I have completed.

Hike Details:

Trailhead: 4WD required, high clearance recommended. Parking is limited.

Camping: dispersed and paid camping along Halfmoon Creek Road.

Fees & Reservations: none.

Bathrooms: no bathrooms at the trailhead.

Trash: no garbage available at the trailhead.

Dog-friendly: this trail is dog friendly and accessible.

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