As some of you may know, we like to plan at least one long hike to do while on our two week summer trips. This summer it was another of Colorado’s 14ers (peaks in excess of 14,000 feet) that we chose: the 2nd highest Colorado peak, Mt. Massive.
Standing an impressive 14,421 feet and containing a total of five summits over 14,000 feet on its own, Massive is more a region than a mountain. Its majesty can be seen from miles away as it towers over all but its sister peak, nearby Mt. Elbert. Nonetheless, Massive is our destination over the summer of 2011.
We had made reservations at our favorite site in Lakeview Campground in the San Isabel National Forest and arrived just after 1 pm on July 27th to set up. A half hour later, we are off to check out the trailhead for our hike the following morning. I have spent a great deal of time researching this hike as climbers had gone missing on nearby peaks earlier this summer and trail conditions had been marginal in some locations. I communicated weekly during the months before we left with very helpful posters on the 14er’s.com website that updates trail and climbing conditions for persons planning to hike these Colorado peaks. I am assured the Massive trails are in good condition and snow-free and get detailed directions to the trailhead.
As you might imagine, there are several routes up this monumental peak. As we are all in pretty decent shape (me, mostly because I have been training 5-6 days/week at 28% on our incline trainer in anticipation of this trip; the others just because they are–lucky!)we have decided to attempt the shorter, steeper route rather than the easier one. Always impatient, our teens decided they would prefer hiking 6.2 miles, rather than the 11 mile distance listed for the “easier” route. Instructions lead us to a reasonably good dirt forest road (except for the usual washboard and potholes) which takes us to the traditional Mt. Massive trailhead. This is the starting point for the long, easy route. We are to continue on an additional 2 miles on the “now rugged” road to a small junction, then “if you have 4 WD and good clearance, drive another 0.5 miles to the small, marked trailhead on the right.”
We reached the trailhead and the road definitely took a turn for the worse at that point—and we hadn’t even reached the actual 4 WD road yet! About a mile down the 2 mile section of road, Terry decided he’d had enough and we would NOT be driving any further. Afraid of bottoming out the Durango and incurring expensive car repairs, we turned back and began the process of reconciling ourselves to a hike about twice as long as we had planned.
I inform my fellow passengers that we could now expect an 11 mile hike, recalling what I thought I had read. We stop and snap a few photos at our “new” trailhead, the official Mt. Massive Trailhead. On our way back to our camper, we took a detour and stopped at the Forest Service headquarters in nearby Leadville, CO for further direction, only to learn our hike is now actually 12.3 miles in length.
My fellow hikers are not pleased. On the way back to the campground, I consult the Colorado hiking books I have brought with me, and learn that, much to our dismay, the “easy” hike is not, 11, not 12, but 13.6 miles in length with an elevation gain of 4,450 feet over that distance. Our campers are most certainly not happy now!
Coming up…Part 2 “Lost on the Mountain!”
For more information about where to stay and what to do in Colorado, read more about Colorado camping.