September 10, 2016

Mount Massive – 14,421′

14er rank:

# of climbs:
First climbed:
Last climbed:
Routes climbed:


1,961' (Mt. Elbert - 5 mi SSE)
Lake County
9.9 mi SW of Leadville
17.3 mi E of Aspen

Southwest Slopes (Class 2)

Google Maps


*This is NOT the standard route up Mount Massive!

This is the 20th 14er I've climbed, back in July 2015 with my friend Tim. It is the 2nd tallest peak in the Sawatch Range and in Colorado, behind only its neighbor 5 miles south, Mount Elbert. It is also the 3rd highest mountain in the contiguous United States, behind Elbert and California's Mount Whitney.

The view of Mount Massive from the town of Leadville, only 10 miles away to the east, is incredible. Mount Massive is, as its name implies, massive! It has five different summits, each topping out at over 14,000', that are connected by a 3-mile-long ridgeline. The area of land on Mount Massive that is above 14,000' is greater than on any other mountain in the lower 48 states.

As you would probably expect, a mountain this immense requires a pretty strenuous hike. The standard route is a 14.5-mile trek up Massive's east slopes, gaining ~4,500' in the process. It can be quite popular on summer weekends. Since we were hiking the peak on a Saturday in July, we decided to instead take another route to the top. We decided on the Southwest Slopes route, which follows a trail up to the summit from the other side of the mountain. It is typically less crowded since (1) the trailhead is harder to get to, and (2) it is a steeper hike.

The route begins at the North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead at 10,500', in the valley south of Massive. It heads north along the mellow North Halfmoon Creek trail for 1.3 miles to 11,200'. From here, another trail breaks off to the right (east) and immediately begins ascending Mount Massive's steep southwest slope. There are multiple switchbacks along the way as the trail climbs 2,900' in about 2.4 miles to a notch in the long Mount Massive ridgeline at 14,100'. Although the hike up is exhausting, the views back to the south and west of the Mount Massive Wilderness are breathtaking!

Once at the ridgeline, the trail turns left (north) and follows the ridge, meeting up with the standard route along the way. After 0.3 miles, the summit is reached. Instead of following the same route back down, Tim and I decided we wanted to go on an adventure. We thought it would be fun to descend via the West Slopes route, which really isn't much of a route at all. This route is not shown in but it is described in Gerry Roach's book Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs*. I would not recommend that anyone attempt this route, either going up or down, without first reading a more detailed description of it.

From the summit of Massive, we followed the ridge to the north and skirted around the 14,300' sub-summit "Massive Green" on its east side. We then reached the 14,060' saddle between "Massive Green" and another sub-summit, 14,340' "North Massive". The West Slopes route then turns left and descends ~800' down the steep rock-filled slope/gully on the west side of the ridge between the two sub-summits. This part was no fun at all, although part of the reason I did not enjoy it was that I got sick along the way.

Once down the slope, you reach the large basin just below Massive on its west side. This is part of the Mount Massive Wilderness and was full of wildflowers when we were there. There are also a few scenic lakes tucked in back there, reachable by the North Halfmoon Creek trail that we began the day on. Some bushwhacking is required since there wasn't much of a trail to be found until we got farther down the basin, closer to the lakes. Eventually, the North Halfmoon Creek trail comes into view and, on a nice weekend, you may see others hiking on it up to the lakes. Reach the trail and follow it back to the trailhead.

*Click here to get this book on Amazon!


Trip Reports

Mount Massive (July 2015)