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Mount Massive via Halfmoon Lakes
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mini location map2017-07-17
25 by photographer avatarrvcarter
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Mount Massive via Halfmoon LakesSouth Central, CO
South Central, CO
Hiking avatar Jul 17 2017
Hiking12.82 Miles 4,190 AEG
Hiking12.82 Miles   9 Hrs   22 Mns   1.49 mph
4,190 ft AEG      46 Mns Break
1st trip
Partners none no partners
Not many people try to climb Mount Massive from what calls the “Southwest Slopes Route”. It starts from the North Halfmoon Lakes Trailhead on what is marked on my National Geographic Map (Aspen Independence Pass, #127) as the North Halfmoon Trail #1485. Following #1485 northwest 2.7 miles will lead you to the North Halfmoon Lakes.
About 1.6 miles in on #1485, the trail leading to Mount Massive takes off to the right and goes up, up, up a steep, sometimes boulder strewn slope with many, many switchbacks to the top. The point of departure is at a sign shown in my photos. However, the sign merely says “Mount Massive Trail 1451”, with no mention of trail #1485 or indication which route leads where. Luckily, I had a GPS route I had downloaded from which indicated that I should turn right and up the slope. This point is the only question mark over the entire trip, and could cause some hikers without a map or GPS some confusion.
I did some exploring on the internet and found the Forest Service Environmental Assessment (FONSI issued May 7, 2003) which contains an evaluation of various Mount Massive climbing activities and their impacts. The significant increase in hiker interest to bag 14ers had caused several social trails to develop with consequent environmental impacts such as increased erosion. Part of the preferred action to address these impacts was to “stabilize the climbing routes from the North Halfmoon Lakes Trail to the Summit of Mount Massive from the south side of the mountain”. So, they built a single ridgeline route which blocked all other routes to and from the top. That route is referred to by the Forest Service in the EA as Forest Development Trail #1451, and sometimes as the North Halfmoon West Route.
On the day I did this hike, I mistakenly stayed on #1485 toward the lakes and within a hundred yards or so, came to an area that had been subjected to a snow avalanche which obliterated the trail. My GPS by that time told me that I was off the trail to the top, so I bushwhacked a bit to intersect the trail up. I hope the pictures I posted and the information presented here will help others avoid this same mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make; three others behind me a few hundred yards did the same thing.
This may the longest, continuous steep climb I’ve done in Colorado. Here is the heartbreaking part. When I got to the saddle where this route joins with the standard East Route # 1487, about a half mile from the peak (and 170 feet below the summit), the thunder over on Mount Elbert to the south kicked up. As I recovered with some food, the thunder got worse and clouds got blacker. I could see it raining there. The last half mile looked to be some class 3, and I didn’t want to get caught out there, so I pulled the plug and headed down the East Route. I figured to live and hike another day, but didn’t want to tackle the severe down slope on the way I came up. At that point, I was just anxious to get below the tree line. I scooted down to about 13,000 feet and thought I had a few minutes to eat something (it was then approaching 2:00 p.m.). After a few bites, here came the hail. After a few minutes of hail came sleet, then snow, then just rain. I didn’t even have time to get my pack covered, but did manage to get my raincoat on. I was totally drenched within minutes. Luckily the lightning held off till I got to the tree line. I didn’t get a chance to finish my lunch till about 4:00 p.m.
So, I completed the loop up from North Halfmoon Trailhead and down to the Mount Massive Trailhead (at the point the Colorado Trail crosses CR 110), and included the road between the THs to boot. I won’t soon forget this day. My wife asked me the next day if I was going to try another 14er. I told her “I’m done for this year”.
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