At 14,429 feet, Mount Massive is the big number two in Colorado’s high points.
Because of being number two and it’s close proximity to number one (Mount Elbert), Massive is usually a pretty busy climb.
Luckily, with an early alpine start and going up the Southwest Slopes route instead of the standard East Ridge route, I didn’t see another soul until I was starting my descent.
In the Wilderness. In the Dark.
The Southwest Slopes route looks great on paper since it’s 7.25 miles instead of the 14 mile roundtrip of the standard route. Paper and reality don’t always match though, and it turned out to be not such a great idea. You essentially gain your elevation in a shorter distance, which means a steeper climb. Couple that with massive avalanche damage which has wiped away a huge section of trail, and a ton of snow this year, and it becomes quite the slog to the top.
I had seen reports of the avalanche (avy for short) damage, so I knew it was there, but I really had no idea what to expect. Acres and acres of pines trees had been stripped from the mountainside and deposited at the bottom. Pretty amazing to see, not pretty amazing to have to pick your way through! Once you make your way through the trees you have to try to find some semblance of a route to the top since the trail is buried under feet of snow. Garmin to the rescue, and the trail maps I downloaded to my watch and GPS were pretty much spot on. The trail is still buried though, so with ascent-focused snowshoes and strong legs the hot ticket is just to blast straight up the gully.
Once you clear the gully and hit the ridgeline it’s just a short trek to the summit, where I shared some alone-time with a marmot who was looking for a handout. In Leave-No-Trace fashion, I left him to find his snacks naturally. As I started my descent a few stragglers started showing up from the standard route, happy to be halfway through their 14-mile day. I wasn’t looking forward to picking my way back through the avy damage, but the long steep glissades made up time and fun-factor to alleviate the pine tree maze time.