Mount Massive: Colorado fourteener of the week No. 31

By Josh Friesema Special to The Gazette - Published: July 18, 2013 | 6:40 pm 0

Mount Massive earned its name by being, well, really big. It is a sprawling mountain that boasts five points above 14,000 feet and more land area above 14,000 feet than any mountain in the Lower 48 states. It absolutely fills the western skyline as seen from nearby Leadville.

Massive lies entirely within Mount Massive Wilderness Area, making it a gigantic haven of alpine splendor. At the start, the route follows the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile path from Denver to Durango.Massive is a popular side trip for those traveling through the area on the Colorado Trail.

Not surprisingly, the standard route is a long one at nearly 14 miles round-trip. Fortunately, this also means a relatively gentle grade, making the miles pass more easily. Because the slopes of Massive are not steep like a lot of fourteeners, a layer of topsoil is able to cling to the mountain, resulting in one of the greener routes to 14,000 feet.

The trail winds through miles of fragile alpine tundra. From late June through July, this tundra features flowers, grasses, bushes and mosses that take full advantage of the short growing season.

Resist the urge to run through the tundra with arms up, singing "The Hills are Alive." The fragile plants don't handle boot lugs well and your friends might post it on YouTube.

The most frustrating part of hiking Massive is a series of false summits. After hiking uphill for more than 6 miles, it's hard not to get your hopes up when you see what appears to be the summit a short ways ahead. Those hopes quickly are dashed as you crest the false summit. This happens several times in the final half mile, leaving many hikers to question if they still need to continue to the next point even after reaching the true summit.

In fact, some of these points are so close to the summit's elevation it can be hard to decide which is the highest. The best bet is to look for the summit register on one of these points or use the GPS coordinates to verify.

From the summit of Massive, you simply have to look north to see the only taller peak in the state, Mount Elbert. .

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Friesema is a Colorado native who has scaled each of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. Read about his high-country adventures at hikingintherockies.com.

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