Mount Massive

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My second climb up Mount Massive (elevation 14,421 feet) was on 22 August 2004. I chose the popular East Slope route, starting from the Mt. Massive trailhead. I like this hike, though it is long (13.6 miles round-trip with 4450 total feet of elevation gain) and it can really wear on you if your knees don't like long descents. It also spends more time that I would like below tree line, but it's all worthwhile when you emerge from the trees. The views are wonderful, and the willows and the variety of wildflowers are a very pleasant setting for high-altitude hiking. Leadville and Turquoise Lake are plainly visible to the northeast. The trail is easy and well-defined until the very last part on the rocky ridge, but as you're following the ridge line your destination is clear.

My hike started with good conditions that lasted until well above the tree line. Before reaching the ridge, rainfall began, which shortly became driving snow with limited visibility. I saw three groups that were discouraged by the bad weather and turned back. However, the trail was not hard to follow, and once I reached the ridge I just followed it to the summit. I noted one hiker wearing sandals! These guys amaze me. It was quite cold at that point and my fingers were so numb and stiff I could hardly hold my camera, and it was dark enough that the camera refused to take several shots that I wanted. By contrast, Leadville was clear and 60 F (16 C), and Denver was sunny and 79 F (26 C).

I met two guys from Michigan on the summit. I stayed long enough for a few photos, then the three of us headed down. When we reached the bottom of the bowl below the ridge, the weather cleared, the sun reappeared, and it became quite pleasant. We halted there for a food break. This was perhaps the highlight of the hike. The sun was out, but it was still a little cool, and the clouds had retreated to where they were level with us. The clouds were constantly in motion, sometimes on one side, sometimes on another, flowing over the ridge and then back. Lunch in the clouds in an alpine field -- how cool is that?

I'm slow on descents, so we split up not long afterwards, and in time I had the trail to myself. It was so quiet I could hear the blood singing in my ears, and it was so nice I wasn't in a hurry to get down. I paid for my slowness later on when a light rain came through, but by then I was well into the forested area so I didn't get too wet. I was worn out by the time I returned to the trailhead.