2007 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

 

   
 
Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
 
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  MASTERING MT. MASSIVE  

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 1

 
"The two highest peaks in the state are tempting side trips for many hikers on this stretch of the
CT [Segment 10]. No technical skills are required for either climb. Still, one must regard
these as serious undertakings due to potentially exposed weather conditions and
strenuous high altitude hiking. Be prepared -- start early, bring warm clothing and rain gear,
and turn back if you encounter bad weather or experience symptoms of altitude sickness.
 
- The Colorado Trail Official Guidebook, Seventh Edition, p. 114
 

 

There is just something that draws me to 14ers, especially when they are right outside my door. I've never had a great desire to try to climb all fifty-four of Colorado's 14,000+ foot mountains but I'm not ruling it out in the future. Problem is, I keep climbing the same ones over and over, mostly because they are convenient. I'm talking about Mts. Elbert and Massive in particular (I've also climbed Pikes Peak).

When we were camped at Clear Creek Reservoir, I missed my opportunity to climb four nearby 14ers near Winfield: Missouri, Belford, and Oxford, which are fairly close together and can be done in one day from the Missouri Gulch trail head, and Huron Peak. Maybe I can climb those when Jim is tapering for his race and can crew for me. I should also climb Mt. Sherman while we're here. It's easily reached just east of Leadville but we've never climbed it.

Hmm . . . all those would give me eight summits . . .

Jim decided to take a rest day on his birthday today. Since we're alternating our long and hard runs while he's training for the Leadville Trail 100-miler so we can take each other to trail heads, he encouraged me to do whatever workout I wanted to do today. He's saving his energy to run only portions of the race course. I chose to take Cody and go climb Mt. Massive, Colorado's second-highest peak at 14,421 feet.

Jim and I climbed to the summit of Massive in 2002 or 2003 with Tater on the most popular route, which starts at Halfmoon Creek on the Colorado Trail and goes up the east side of the mountain. There is another trail on the southwest side that is shorter but steeper; I read about it on the 14ers.com website and briefly considered going up that side and coming down the Halfmoon Creek side. A sign at the top of Massive says the SW trail is closed for restoration, however, so I'm glad I chose to go up the standard route.

Mt. Massive has three prominent peaks, with the northern-most one having the highest summit. It's on the far right in the photo below:

This approach is labeled Class 2 but it's an easier climb to the saddle between the middle and northern peak than it is to climb Elbert on the Halfmoon route. The Class 2 part is only in the last quarter mile on the ridge where you have to climb over boulders to reach the highest point:

I knew before starting my trek today that I'd be climbing only to the saddle, which is at least 14,000 feet high. Last time Jim had to hoist Tater up and down some of the boulders at the summit, and I knew I couldn't lift 80-pound Cody by myself. Besides, I had my fill of boulder climbing on the Appalachian Trail two years ago and my knees don't need that abuse. Been there, done that -- I've already "bagged" this summit and don't need to do it again to feel satisfied.

My goal today was to have a good workout going up, enjoy the views of surrounding mountains that I missed last weekend when Elbert was socked in, and run back down. The distance was about the same as my Elbert circuit -- 13 miles -- and I estimated about six hours out and back. Even with a 13-minute break at the top, I finished in 5:35 hours: 3:22 up and 2:00 down, pretty respectable for an old lady. ☺ (In another entry I'll share a funny comment or two about 58-year-old ultra runners that was on the internet Ultra list serve today.)

Jim dropped me off at the Halfmoon Creek trail head for the Colorado Trail. After filling out the form required of all hikers entering the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area, below,

Cody and I followed another hiker north, decidedly uphill, on the CT/CDT. When we passed him he said he "hoped" to summit Mt. Massive but he wasn't sure he could do it because he'd just arrived from Florida.

Oh, my. He's a brave soul, tackling a 14er without acclimating to the altitude first! He probably made it, though. When I came back down, he was within a mile of the summit and still had a smile on his face. A beautiful day on a beautiful mountain will do that to you.

It's a three-mile trek up the Colorado Trail to the Massive trail head from this direction (farther from either the fish hatchery or Timberline Lake trail heads). Twelve hundred feet of the 4,500-foot elevation gain to the summit are along the CT. The first mile is mostly up, then the trail rolls up and down for over a mile, then there's a rocky uphill grunt to the Massive trail head. It was a nice run coming back (mostly) down at the end of my adventure. Although there are some rocks and roots, much of this section is smooth and runnable, quintessential forested "Colorado Trail:"

  

This is a beautiful section of the CT through shady pine forest, a couple of open meadows, and across two branches of Willow Creek (below). Cody enjoyed the creeks both directions and the half dozen streams we unexpectedly found in the tundra. I had to give him water from his pack only once, on the way up. The middle section of the climb is the driest.

  

Once on the Massive trail, it's a rocky, straight-up-the-mountain grunt for at least half a mile until you reach a stretch of beautiful blue spruces, Colorado's state tree, near timberline.

 

 

Then the trail climbs much more gradually through the last trees and into my favorite part of the climb, the "willows."

This is one of the parts of the trail I remembered the best -- about half a mile through low shrubbery and meadows full of flowers.

  

It's on a plateau with great views of the Arkansas Valley. This morning the valley and ridges to the east were pretty hazy and looked like the Blue Ridge Mountains more than the Rockies. I couldn't see Leadville, although Turquoise Lake was visible:.

When I came back down the air must have been more clear because I could see Leadville better. The next photo is from the saddle at 14,000+ feet. It still looks hazy but it was much less so to the naked eye:

I knew Jim was acclimating over on that ridge somewhere above the mining district this morning and wondered if he had the binoculars out. Even on a clear day he probably couldn't have seen me climbing Massive, though. (He did try, but couldn't see anyone that far away.)

Near the top of the willow section, we spied this beautiful little alpine pond about fifty feet off the trail. I said, "There's some water!" and Cody was in it in an instant:

That scenic view looks north toward the mountains in the Holy Cross wilderness.

After the nice break through the willows, the trail climbs at a moderate to moderately-steep pitch the rest of the way to the saddle -- about a mile and a half. Sometimes you lose sight of the mountain until you pop over the next rise:


Another photo?? Cody is so patient.

There are some little plateaus where you can catch your breath and walk more comfortably.

 

The trail is easy to follow, mostly rocky, sometimes wet, and surrounded by flowers. That was in stark contrast to the Halfmoon trail up Elbert, which had many fewer flowers and green "grass." I'm not sure why that is, because the eastern sides of both mountain receive a lot of sunlight.

I was amazed how many of those Little Pink Elephants were growing just below 14,000 feet! They look so delicate. This is just a portion of a large patch of them in a wet area near the saddle:

I saw numerous white and yellow Indian Paintbrush, yellow Avens, Alpine Harebells, Alpine Sunflowers, Parry Clover, American Bistort, Alpine Phlox, Moss Campion, Kings Crown Sedum, purple Asters, and others. I even spotted a couple of new kinds of flowers I haven't noticed in Colorado before, including the white bell-shaped ones below:


What am I?

I found it easier to climb through the tundra today than on Elbert. Perhaps I wasn't pushing as hard because there weren't any other hikers around. Maybe it was because I stopped so often to take photos, rather than to just catch my breath. Or maybe I'm getting more used to the altitude. Still, it seemed to take a long time to reach the saddle because, like most mountains, there were the inevitable "false plateaus." Here you can see your goal better than on Elbert, but it can seem to take forever to reach it.

I could see stick figures along the rocky ridge to the summit and hear folks yelling occasionally at their friends. It looked like at least a dozen folks at the summit and on the ridge. There were eight or ten back packs left at the saddle while folks climbed the final ascent. I saw six hikers on the trail as I went up and down, for a total of about twenty people I saw today. That's more than I expected for a weekday.

The weather was great today. I probably should have started about 7 AM to avoid any rain (I began at 8:15) but the clouds were just starting to get gray as I reached the saddle. It was warmer and less windy on top than it was on Elbert a few days ago. I didn't need a jacket or gloves.

I took lots of photos of the deep valley, Mt. Elbert, and the 13ers west of me:


Sign warning SW trail closed, above.

 


View of Mt. Elbert's summit, above.

There were some very interesting rocks, algae, and plants in the saddle that intrigued me, too. This is just one little nature study I enjoyed:

After thirteen minutes, Cody and I began our descent of the mountain:

I considered trying out either the old logging road to the fish hatchery on the way back (so Jim wouldn't have to drive as far to pick me up) or the Highline Trail, which also takes a circuitous route to the hatchery. Both intersect the Colorado Trail/CDT north of the Mt. Massive trail head.

But as I scanned the landscape more thoroughly on my way down the mountain, it looked like it would be several miles longer than returning to Halfmoon Creek. I called Jim to let him know I was on schedule. I had four bars up there and, unlike some times when he doesn't have a signal down in the valley, he also had four bars in town (he was at the college library when I called about noon).

I had some good views toward Twin Lakes and Mt. Elbert Forebay on the way down:

Despite sore knees and the rocks in the trail, I descended pretty quickly into the trees -- more because of the gathering clouds behind me than any other reason! I wanted to get down into the trees before a storm rolled in:

 

I was getting hot as I dropped lower in elevation. I found a big log and took my pack off to remove my vest and lower pants legs. Just then it began to rain and sleet, so I kept those items on in case there was a downpour. There wasn't, and in a few minutes it was dry again. The sky remained overcast, however. Driving back to town we could see a thunderstorm on the eastern side of Massive. I just missed getting drenched.

In retrospect, I think I like this climb better than Elbert (either the Twin Lakes or Halfmoon trails) because it's greener, more colorful, and feels like an easier climb. All three trails gain between 4,300 feet and 4,700 feet, but this one at 4,500 feet is spread over more miles so it's less gain/loss per mile. I don't like the boulder climbing at the summit, but you can still get up to 14,000 feet without doing the last quarter mile. If you're climbing Massive for the first time, however, I recommend going through the boulders just so you can say you did it.

This is also a better trail for dogs than either Elbert trail because of all the water. Even the rocks are less of a problem for their foot pads. Cody wisely chose to walk through the grassy areas rather than the rockiest parts of the trail, a luxury in which I didn't indulge. His "footprints" are much smaller than a human's so he doesn't damage the tundra like people do when they walk off-trail (and there was plenty of evidence of renegade trails on Massive).

Now, which 14er will I climb next . . .

24-HOUR MERRY-GO-ROUND

Actually, I should be completely changing my training about now -- or sooner.

We're debating between returning home after the Leadville race and running the Hinson Lake 24-hour run in late September or staying in southern Idaho for The Bear 100-miler the same weekend. We'd both run Hinson Lake, but only Jim would enter The Bear. Jim's done a 6-hour race before but not a 24-hour one. I've never done a fixed-time race; I think it would be a good type of race for me, better than a trail 100-miler.

The training is totally different for a relatively flat loop course than what we've been doing all summer. While Jim continues to train for LT100, I need to begin doing more flat running. That's difficult, except on a track, in hilly places like Leadville and Roanoke. I also need to buy some road shoes because my trail shoes are too beefy for road running. Stay tuned.

Thanks to all who wrote to say happy birthday to Jim! He spent the 5 hours waiting for me by doing two of his favorite rest-day activities: enjoying a few hours acclimating in the mining district above Leadville and going to the library. It's a fairly short drive up to the mining district, it gets him up over 11,000 feet for several hours, and it gives him a chance to read and listen to our favorite radio talk show host, Neal Boortz. Tater likes running around up there, too. He also enjoys using the internet at the new college library, where he often runs into friends who are acclimating.

Jim didn't want to eat dinner out to celebrate, instead asking me to make his favorite pizza. We both like the ones we make ourselves better than most we've ever bought. We don't often eat out when we're camping or at home. Simple life, simple pleasures. We don't need much to make us happy.

Next entries: more of Jim's training runs on the LT course, observations during the Boom Days celebration (always fun!), more wildflowers, and those hyperkinetic hummingbirds we've invited to dinner.

Rarely a dull moment,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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