Mount Massive


Mount Massive direct from North Halfmoon Creek

[LD 10-10-04 use existing data block, ski rating Advanced D7]

Summer after snow melt-off: Drive the Halfmoon Creek Road (see section introduction) to the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead. Hike the North Halfmoon Creek Trail to 11,100’ (about 2 miles, depending on parking). Leave the trail here, swing right, continue a short way up the North Halfmoon Creek drain, then climb to your right (NE) up an obvious Colorado Fourteeners Initiative improved trail to a saddle on the summit ridge at 13,900’. Use your altimeter/GPS and map to be certain of this trail, since other routes lead to rugged terrain on South Mount Massive (14,132’). From the saddle climb the ridge 1/4 mile W, then stay on the ridge as it swings N to the summit of Mount Massive. Descend the same route.


Spring snow season: Snow climbers will find steep snow on the summer route above. This is not the best route for an exact summit ski descent, but it does access interesting terrain.

Safety Notes: Summer climbers with shaky knees my want to descend via the Mount Massive Trail, thus forming a loop trip with lower angled downhilling. Spring snow season climbers should start early to avoid thawing snow. Figure sunhit for standard sunrise, since snow near the top of the route faces east.


Mount Massive from North Halfmoon Lakes

[LD 10-10-04 use existing data block, ski rating Advanced D6]

Fit fourteener aspirants will enjoy this climb. The route takes Mount Massive from the same drainage as the more direct Colorado Fourteeners Initiative improved trail, but it is much longer. This is a beautiful winter route, but seldom done because of the long distance. Spring skiing on this side of Mount Massive is a joy. Steep bowls abound, and sunhit is late. You'll probably need a high camp, however, as the snow closed access road can be a tiresome slog.

Summer after snow melt-off: Drive to the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead (section introduction). Hike a well used trail 2 1/2 miles to a point on the east side of lower North Halfmoon Lake (12,030’). Continuing climbing north from the lower lake 1/4 mile to 12,400’. Pause here to study your map. The summit of Mount Massive is up to your right—up a dreadful talus slope. While this route is a good snow route, you can avoid the talus by climbing another 1/4 mile towards the summit, to 12,720’. At this point begin climbing directly north, up a drainage to the left of a tower studded precipice. At 13,400’ in the upper part of the drainage, swing right (NE) and climb another 680 vertical feet to the crest of Mount Massive's north ridge. You are now about a mile from the summit, but you've avoided frustrating scree.

Nip south over a false summit above the aforementioned precipice, then walk an elegant ridge to Mount Massive's summit. Descend your ascent route.

Spring snow season: Park as high as you can drive on the North Halfmoon Creek Road. If you park below the trailhead, remember to add more distance and vertical to your trip plan. Stay on the North Halfmoon Creek Trail as it passes through timbered areas to 11,200’. You'll find sheltered camping in the trees just below here. From 11,200’ take a climbing traverse to about 11,800, then stay between the two streams and follow a series of steep sections and shelves up to lower North Halfmoon Lake.

Pass to the right (E) of Lower Halfmoon Lake then climb to another shelf at about 12,440’. From here ski or walk (depending on snow conditions) up the west side of Mount Massive to a saddle (14,200’) 1/4 mile north of the summit. Follow the ridge south to the summit. For a ski descent drop to W off the summit, traverse to a point near your ascent route, then ski your ascent route.

Winter: Though long on miles (unless the Halfmoon road is open due to mining, or you use a snowmobile) a winter climb of Massive via Halfmoon Creek makes a terrific expedition. Park at the Halfmoon Road snow closure. Ski the snow covered road up the long valley to the North Halfmoon Creek Trail (section introduction).

Safety notes: Winter: The Halfmoon Road crosses several slide runouts, and above 11,000’ the route crosses numerous avalanche paths. Because this is the west side of the mountain the snow is often wind scoured, compacted, and stable. Such conditions, or a spring snow pack, would insure a safer trip. With unstable snow you can follow several ribs and ridges to the summit, most notably the one directly east of lower North Halfmoon Lake. Unfortunately this ridge is discontinuous, especially at the beginning, thus forcing you to cross avalanche slopes.

Summer climbers should take normal precautions and be careful of rockfall on talus slopes. Watch for climbers above you–do not climb below others. Add 2 1/2 hours to standard sunrise for sunhit.


Mount Massive via the Mount Massive Trail

[LD 10-10-04 use existing data block, ski rating Advanced D6]

Summer after snow melt-off: This is the easiest route up Mount Massive, but it is long. It's a classic ski touring line.

Drive the Halfmoon Road to the Mount Massive Trailhead (see section introduction). From parking at the trailhead, hike NE then N on the well-defined Colorado/Main Range Trail 3 1/3 miles to 11,260’. Here take care to locate the Mt. Massive Trail, which heads W from the Colorado/Main Range Trail at a (sometimes) signed intersection.

Power hike up the Mount Massive Trail 2 1/2 miles to a saddle on the summit ridge at 13,900’. From the saddle climb the ridge 1/4 mile W, then stay on the ridge as it swings N to the summit. Descend your ascent route.

Spring snow season: This side of Mount Massive provides the best summit ski descents. You'll need a very early start or high camp to avoid the consequences of an early sunhit. You may be able to drive to the summer trailhead. If that is the case, by all means use it. If the Halfmoon Creek Road is closed at Halfmoon Campground (or before), a good gambit for this route is to take a direct line from snow closure up through dark timber to the Mt. Massive Trail. Then follow the Mt. Massive Trail to the summit as described in the summer route above. You must have impeccable map, compass and altimeter skill to navigate through the dark timber–a GPS could be useful as well (with prior planning of waypoints). If in doubt slog the Halfmoon Road to the summer trailhead and use the summer trail route –many groups fail when they opt for the shortcut, due to tough route finding and deep snow.

Direct approach in detail: Use your map and perhaps a GPS to locate Willow Creek from snow closure. Travel to Willow Creek, possibly using an old logging road that will pass a logged area. If you stick with the general location of Willow Creek, you’ll arrive at a marshy section of willows, this is Willow Creek. Follow the general location of Willow Creek to intersect the Colorado/Main Range Trail, then take the remainder of the standard trail route to the summit, with variations dictated by snow cover and avalanche danger.

Winter: Again, the direct approach described above may save you miles of trekking on the snow covered road. But you must be an expert orienteer to use it. Also, if deep trail breaking is possible in the forest, the extra miles on the Halfmoon Road and Colorado/Main Range Trail might actually be easier. Halfmoon Road is usually packed by snowmobile, and the Colorado/Main Range Trail is likely to be packed by winter skiers and snowshoers. While traveling the Colorado/Main Range trail be careful to find the Mt. Massive Trail, since trail signs at the intersection may be covered with snow. "Mount Massive Trail," of course, is only a generalization of the route you would take in the winter, depending on snow conditions. But following the trail-cut below timberline can save you from bushwhacking. For your descent enjoy the general route of the ascent. If you do this one in good style you're ready to teach an orienteering class.

Safety notes: Summer climbers need only be concerned with weather hazards—so long as they pay attention to their map. During snow season, avalanche hazard is nil until you reach timberline. If need be, you can find a safer ridge route, but these ridges are hard to gain without climbing on avalanche slopes. Snow season climbers who challenge the dark timber must use an altimeter (and possibly GPS) to find the Colorado/Main Range Trail. Use standard sunrise for sunhit.


North Mount Massive from the Fryingpan Drainage

[LD 10-10-04, use existing data block, ski rating Advanced D8]

Mount Massive is a long ridge studded with 14,000’ bumps. The true summit is flanked by two bumps that aesthetically qualify as peaks, and many climbers feel that any one of the three summits counts for a fourteener hit. North Mount Massive is one of these bumps, and it happens to be a convenient climb for people from western Colorado.

Also, you can climb this side of Mt. Massive from the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association Betty Bear Hut. This hut is open both winter and summer. It's quite a distance from the hut to the optimum winter routes, but summer hikers will find the hut is a good base for climbs of North Mount Massive.

Summer after snow melt-off: Drive to the end of the Upper Fryingpan Road (Road 505, section introduction) and park near the valve station (10,000’). Cross an obvious foot bridge over the river, then hike a well-defined pack trail about 3 miles to 10,800’ in the Fryingpan River Drainage. Look up to the east and pick a likely looking flank for a hard hike/climb to 13,500’ on the Continental Divide ridge. The farther up the valley you start, the rockier the climbing. Hike the ridge to the summit of North Mount Massive (14,320’). Descend your ascent route.

Spring snow season: Though this side of Mount Massive is often wind scoured, couloirs can trap enough snow for excellent snow climbs and ski descents. One advantage of these routes over Massive's eastern routes is a late sunhit.

Instead of using the foot bridge and summer trail, start to the left (N) of the creek in a small clearing adjacent to the valve station. You'll probably start in the dark, and it's easy to get disoriented in the timber here. To stay on track, travel close enough to the creek to use it for navigation. Once in sparser timber, follow a series of clearings and denser patches of timber several miles up the Fryingpan Drainage to 10,890’. Keep looking to your left and you'll see a very obvious cut through the trees leading up to a wide deep couloir. Climb this couloir to 11,700’. Here, swing right and climb an obvious couloir which leads to a low angled area on the ridge southwest of the summit. Continue along the ridge to the summit. Descend your ascent route.

For a lower angled, slightly longer route continue up the valley to another obvious snow couloir/bowl that drops from the summit ridge. Hundreds of other snow climb and ski routes exist on the peaks in this valley–it is common for mountaineers to set a base camp at timberline and ski a half dozen peaks in as many days.

Winter: Use the summer route. Follow wind blown ribs to avoid avalanche danger. An alternative is to head E from the 10th Mountain Betty Bear Hut and gain the long north ridge (Continental Divide) that connects to Mount Massive. You can then follow this ridge to the summit. It's mostly a technically easy hike, but a long one at extremely high altitude.

Safety notes: If you've got knee problems skip hiking this route—the descent involves an arduous 3,000 vertical foot drop without trail switchbacks to ease the angle. Snow climbers and skiers will find the best conditions during spring. In winter, stick to wind blown ribs to avoid avalanche danger, and take care with the many slide paths dropping into the Fryingpan River Drainage. Add 3 hours to standard sunrise for sunhit.