Snowboard descent of Colorado’s second highest peak, the third highest peak in the contiguous 48, Mount Massive 14,421′ (39.1875°N 106.4757°W)
February 15th, 2011
Partners: Weston Bierma, Jordan Winters & Sam
Route: Winter road closure via snowmobile to Half Moon Creek Trailhead, ascent and descent on the southwest slopes
Round trip distance: 6.92 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,200 feet
Total time (including the snowmobile) – 9 hours
One of our running jokes is “You might be a ski bum or a mountaineer if you look forward to going to work because you get to sleep in” (I start work at 6:30 everday). This was just the case. I awoke at 4am to load up the sled and pick up Jordan for the one hour ride to Leadville. We drove the truck as far as we could on the winter closure and unloaded the sled under first light. The sled took us the next 9 miles in between Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. The sled ride in was a huge success, only getting stuck once.
Upon cutting the engine at the summer trail head we were deafened by the silence. Our skins gliding through the deep powder on the valley floor only occasionally disturbing a surprised hare or ptarmigan. The first 1.5 miles were nearly flat leaving us nearly 4,000′ of climbing in just two miles.
The ascent of over 4,000 feet was like traveling through a series of different environments, deep powder in the forest, mashed potatoes, wind hammered slabs, and scoured summit ridges.
With unseasonably warm temps Jordan and I sat on the summit in just our soft shells eating some flat and chilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The descent off the proper summit was less than thrilling in terms of skiing, but some days it isn’t all about the turns. The views from Mt. Massive were second to none of the Elks to our west. Nothing is better than having one of the biggest peaks in the lower 48 all to your self during mid winter.
After picking our way through the top talus filled snow field we found slightly better turns in the lower flanks of the mountain. Jordan and Sam went ahead as I peeled off into a safe zone that I had specifically picked out to nab a couple of descent photos. Lucky for me the sun was already casting a late afternoon shadow and yielded some very nice shots.
All of us celebrated our descent when we hit the valley floor, but we knew that our day wasn’t quite over. We had to skin the 1.5 miles back to the sled, then we had to rally another 9 miles out to the waiting truck. Jordan was a champ as I towed him behind the sled all the way out with out a stop. We blasted through drifted snow and zipped across the flats back to the truck. We all sat on the back tailgate enjoying a celebratory cold one looking up at the sun setting behind Mt. Massive. It was hard to imagine that a mere 3 hours earlier we had been sitting atop the summit, that’s way I always say “I only go up so I can go down”.