Length: 13.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,371 ft.
Time: approx. 10 hours
Grade: A (For views, difficulty, and trail quality)
Three weeks ago I had an austin bunionectomy, meaning that I won’t get another good hike in for at least two to three months! With the upcoming hiatus, I spent 10 days in Colorado, where I did two great hikes to mountain lakes and two 14ers. The real highlight of the trip was the Great American Beer Festival — I spent four hours trying about 65 beers, most of which were of incredibly high quality.
I’ve seen many hikers and trail-runners go to Colorado and do nothing but 14ers, which is a real shame — hikes to mountain lakes can be just as tough (and in fact, tougher), provide more variety, and have incredible views. But my favorite hike this trip was a 14er: Mount Massive. We did Missouri Lakes in the Holy Cross Wilderness (An awesome hike and a close second!) and stayed overnight in Leadville, CO. We enjoyed post-hike pizza and wings at High Mountain Pies (The wings were very good — and from a Buffalo native, that’s saying something.), but everything else in Leadville, including the new distillery, was closed. That morning, we started off the day with breakfast and coffee at City on a Hill, this mountain town’s token high-quality coffee shop, and then we headed to the mountain for a long hike with a ton of elevation gain. Unlike other 14ers I’ve done, Mount Massive’s trailhead is not halfway up the mountain. The Mount Massive Trailhead is at 10,050 feet and about 7 miles from the summit. The road in was in pretty bad shape and I don’t recommend attempting without four-wheel drive.
We used the book Colorado’s Fourteeners and the TI map for Mount Massive Wilderness.
We had hoped to hike the loop option from this trailhead, by turning left roughly a mile into the Colorado Trail and approaching the main massive summit from the southern summits, but this trail does not seem to exist anymore. Even using the GPS coordinates and my watch, we couldn’t find it. So, we ended up doing the out-and-back option. Since it was mid-week and in October, we only saw two groups of two to three people on the mountain and a few campers on the way down.
The directions for this hike are easy: Hike 3.3 miles from the trailhead on the Colorado Trail, turn left onto the Mount Massive Trail, elevation 11,260. Follow to the summit. But, I recommend to always be prepared with a topo map. The trail was easy to be found except when it was covered in a foot of snow, but that’s to be expected in Colorado in October.
Our day varied in temperature by 30 degrees; it was cold at the start, but once we were above the treeline, the warm sun made me wish I had a t-shirt on. The climb up the pass/saddle was long but not difficult, except for the patches of snow and ice. The BF and I discussed how this hike was so much easier than our mountain lake hike the day before. Then we hit the ridge trail and I saw just how much farther we had to go to reach the summit. Our earlier claim debunked, the half mile from the saddle to the summit took nearly an hour and a half. I’m sure in the summer, it’s much quicker, but the ice and snow made for a slow finish. There was hardly any snow on the mountain, but you know how snow lingers on trails.
There are several false summits and the views on this hike are hard to beat.
What a great climb. Lots of variety, great views of Leadville, Mt. Elbert, and the Mosquito Range. We didn’t linger at the summit because of how slow the footing was and we wanted to make it to the car before dark. That said, we ran into a few idiots on the way down who were a good three to four hours behind us and didn’t even bring lights. Seriously considered alerting forest service, but it was closed due to the government shut-down.
All in all, one of my favorite hikes due to how long and challenging it was. When we finally finished, we stopped at Two Guns Distillery for a shot of whiskey — a proverbial tipping of the hat to VHTRC.
Staying in Colorado for a week? I recommend Quandry Peak for an easier 14er; the “Presidentials”: Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, Missouri Lakes in Holy Cross Wilderness (an excellent 14 mile loop); and Deluge Lake in Eagle’s Nest wilderness.