14er Peak Rank #2/53

The appropriately named Mount Massive – featured on Colorado 14ers Series Map 5 of 16 – is only barely nudged out by its neighbor Mount Elbert – by a mere 12 feet of elevation – for the status of the highest peak of the Rocky Mountains, leaving it number 2. Deep in the Mount Massive Wilderness, this peak doesn’t attract the same amount of visitors as the larger Mount Elbert, but it is still relatively popular compared to other peaks in the Sawatch Range.

Mount Massive

Mount Massive (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Matt Mordfin

The Hayden Survey – mentioned also with Longs Peak – was an early group of surveys and explorers that in 1873 lugged surveying equipment through the Rocky Mountains to obtain topographic and geological data of the region. One member of this party – Henry Gannett – is attributed the first recorded ascent of the mountain that year. A geographer and later founding member of the National Geographic Society, Gannett contributed a great deal to topographic mapping in the US and is often called the “father of the quadrangle” – a term familiar to many hikers and climbers who use these USGS maps for backcountry navigation.

Henry Gannett (right) with crew on Hayden Survey expedition

The standard route to hike Mount Massive is from the east via the Mount Massive Trail #1487, accessible from the Colorado Trail. Starting at the Main Massive Trailhead (elevation 10,080′) off Halfmoon Road near Elbert Creek Campground, head north for 2.9 miles along the Colorado Trail until a junction with the Mount Massive Trail to the left. Follow that up the relatively gentle east slopes for 3.4 miles before meeting up with the trail from Halfmoon Lakes (described below) 0.3 miles south of the Summit – almost 4,350′ in elevation gain from the trailhead.

Mount Massive East Trail

Mount Massive East Trail (CC BY-SA 2.0) by gregw66

Alternatively, the shortest path to the summit starts at the North Halfmoon Trailhead (elevation 10,560′) also off Halfmoon Road west of Leadville. From this trailhead, the trail climbs gently along North Halfmoon Creek for 1.5 miles before a junction with another trail to the left leading to North Halfmoon Lakes. Turning right toward the summit, the trail climbs steeply away from the creek north for 2.2 miles to the summit. This route has a total elevation gain of 3,860′.

Other options might have one start further north at the Leadville Fish Hatchery, taking the Highline Native Trail for 2.9 miles and then Colorado Trail 2.2 miles south to the junction with the Mount Massive Trail. One could also park at the Willow Trailhead off Halfmoon Road following South Willow Creek Trail #1486 for 2.2 miles from trailhead to junction with the Colorado Trail, turning north for 2 miles to the junction with the Mount Massive Trail.

Mount Massive Summit

“Mount Massive Summit” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Matt Mordfin

The second highest peak of the Rocky Mountains – Mount Massive – requires as much or more diligence than as with any 14er: remember to be prepared, know your limitations, watch the weather, drink plenty of water, and don’t forget your 14ers Maps. Mount Massive is one of two fourteeners featured on Outdoor Trail Maps Colorado 14ers Series Map 5 of 16.

Directions to Trailheads:

From the center of Leadville, take US Hwy 24 southwest for 4 miles, followed by a right/west onto CO Hw 300 for 0.8 miles. At that point, turn left/south onto County Road 11/Halfmoon Road. Bear sharp right to stay on Halfmoon Road (County Road 11)at 1.3 miles, just after crossing over the creek. At 1.3 miles after this turn, pass the FS Road 152 turn off for the Willow Trailhead (1.1 miles west on FS 152) and continue 5.5 miles to the Main Massive Trailhead on the right. 

For the North Halfmoon Lakes Trailhead, follow directions as above but continue past the Main Massive Trailhead further west on Halfmoon Road for another 2.5 miles (9.3 miles total from initial left turn onto Halfmoon Road off CO Hwy 300).

The Leadville National Fish Hatchery Trailhead is 2.3 miles off US Hwy 24 along CO Hwy 300 (turn-off for CO Hwy 300 is 4 miles southwest of Leadville center).