General Mountain Information: Mt Massive
Video Hike Review: Mt Massive
Mt Massive Trail Rating: ★★★ (⅗ Stars)
Distance: 14.6 Miles RT (East Ridge – Winter Route)
Elevation Start: 9,780 ft
Summit: 14,429 ft
Total Elevation Gain: 4,900 ft
Estimated Time to Complete: 10-12 Hours RT
Difficulty: Difficult- Strenuous What does this mean?
Class: Class 2
Season: Year Round – Expect snow November– June
Trailhead: Leadville Fish Hatchery
Getting Here: From Leadville, head through the town on US 24 and turn onto Colorado 300 (right if coming from North, left if coming from South). Stay on Colorado 300 for about 2.4 miles until you reach the Fish Hatchery on your left. Once in the Hatchery, head back and towards the left side of the building to find the Nature Trail and start of the hike up to Mt Massive. You can enter Leadville fish hatchery into your favorite navigational device.
Parking: Since the east ridge of Mt Massive is the least popular of the 3 main routes, there is not a massive parking area here. However, the fish hatchery itself has ample parking, so worst case you may have to park in another area of the hatchery and walk a bit to the TH. There is a plumbing bathroom (with a shower actually) that may be open when you arrive. I do not think it is officially for hikers, but it was open when I arrived. Parking is free.
Dogs: Mt Massive is a dog friendly hike if your dog is okay with loose rocks and lots of rock hiking. The hike is 11+ miles though, so I would make sure your dog has seasoned paws or some kind of protection for its pads. One other thing to keep in mind regardless of the route you are taking- there is a lot of exposure to weather on this hike. I would not recommend bringing your dog on a winter or spring attempt of Mt Massive.
Camping: There is not a great selection for camping spots on this route of Mt Massive. You could backcountry camp along the trail once out of the fish hatchery area (about 3-4 miles into the hike), but there is no camping allowed at the fish hatchery itself. You could however sleep in the car which is what I did for this hike.
Other Events In Area: Things to do and places to do things in Colorado: Concerts, Festivals, Events – eventsincolorado.com. The most complete calendar of things to do throughout the state of Colorado including concerts, fairs, festivals and family friendly activities.
Make it a Loop: Mt Massive is an out and back hike, but there are plenty of other hikes in the area if you want to extend your trip. Check out my map of hikes for other ideas.
Trail Summary: Mt Massive is the second highest peak in Colorado, just 10 feet under Mt Elbert which is the tallest. This 14 mile hike has over 4,800 feet of elevation gain and will be sure to test even the strongest hiker. In the summer, this is a difficult class 2 hike with some exposure. Trail conditions range from packed dirt to minor rock scrambling along ridgelines. In the winter, the east ridge route is the most popular way to summit Mt Massive because of the year-round trail access. Even though Mt Massive is 10 feet below neighboring (and Colorado’s highest) Mt Elbert, this hike is by far more difficult.
Trail Route – Winter Hike – East Ridge
Trail X Factors: Lack of Trail
Without a doubt, the biggest X-Factor of hiking Mt Massive in the winter is the trail itself or lack of. When you hike any high elevation mountain in the winter or spring, there will be snow on a large majority of the trail. Sometimes this is not a problem if there is an obvious trail or route to your destination/summit. For Mt Massive however, this can be very tricky without the proper information. You will have no problem following the trail for the first 3+ miles, but once you leave the Highline Trail, the real fun begins. In my case, I was following one other set of footprints that clearly got lost and I was lucky to find another group of guys who had a GPS. Together, we were able to navigate out of the trees and to the ridge line. Others may not get so lucky, so have a compass and know the general direction you want to head in order to get to the east ridge of Mt Massive. Even if you are well prepared, when its 4AM and pitch black, your navigation skills will really be put to the test.
- Waterproof Hiking Boots/Shoes
- Mickey’s Mountain Kit
- Water / Snack
- Protection from sun – lots of exposure to weather on this route
- Optional: Hiking Poles
- Optional: GPS
- Optional: Snowshoes – these may not be optional depending on snow level
- Optional: Gaiters – especially in springtime
- Optional: Camera
Mick’s Tip: Start Early, Have GPS, Take Nature Trail at Start of Hike
If you plan on hiking Mt Massive in the winter, I have a few tips for you:
- Start early, like 2AM early. Are you insane? Yes, but you should still listen to me. This hike will take you about 10-12 hours RT, so an early start time will give you plenty of wiggle room if you are going a bit slower. With a start this early, you will most likely avoid any afternoon storms and hopefully most of the snow warming, which can make for a tricky or dangerous descent.
- Have a GPS/maps/pictures of route. When you hike Mt Massive and there is a clear trail to the summit, this may not be a huge need for you. However, just because someone else has hiked before you does not mean they are going in the right direction or even going to the same destination as you. There are several other trails that start at the fish hatchery and you will scream bloody murder if you end up lost because you are following some other jank.
- Take the Nature Trail. Finally, at the start of your hike take the Nature Trail instead of the route described on other sites. While this will not save you a great distance, it is a shorter route than heading up the road to the first Evergreen lake.
Photography Tip: Mt Massive involves 14+ miles of hiking, so choose your photo gear accordingly. As with most mountains, there are great spots for night photography. In my opinion, the best views of Mt Massive will be towards the east. Once you are on the summit, you will be able to see the Maroon Bells, Collegiate Peaks and down into Leadville. There are some options early on for long exposure water shots as well if you want to bring your filters/tripod.
Mick’s Trip Mt Massive
I am not sure why, but I always seem to find myself starting these reviews at an early hour, in less than ideal situations. Mt Massive started after 3 hours of “sleep” in my car at the fish hatchery right outside of Leadville, Colorado. Earlier in the spring I had attempted to drive to the standard East Slopes TH and start from there, but there was too much snow. This time, I started from the fish hatchery and was attempting the East Ridge route. This is by far the best way to summit Mt Massive in the winter or spring since it can be accessed by car year round.
Even though it was May, I was worried about the storm we had received a day before leaving the mountain with a fresh coat of white paint. My car clock read 3AM and I was ready to hit the trail. I gathered my things, lit up the dark night with my headlamp and started towards the summit of Mt Massive. The first 2-3 miles were very straightforward and without snow. I essentially just followed signs for the highline trail and followed a hiker from the day before. The moonlight was almost nonexistent which left the sky filled with bright stars. This kind of hiking is my favorite.
After about 4 miles, I started to get frustrated because the snow level was now much higher. It was easy to walk on, but eventually I did lose the trail. Luckily, I ran into another group of 3 hikers who had GPS. After a quick conversation, I decided to tag along with them. This was their third attempt at Mt Massive after dealing with high winds and blowing snow earlier in the winter. We slowly wound our way through the trees to work up to the ridgeline. As we were breaking treeline, the sun was rising which provided us our first summit views of Mt Massive. As we worked our way up towards the east ridge of Massive, we ran into another pair of hikers who were also heading towards the summit.
Once we had conquered the ridge, Mt Massive was staring directly at us. It seemed like it was so close, but LOL at all of us because that was far from the case. This wide open space before the summit played games with my eyes because the summit was still several miles away. The snow on the ridgeline was easy to deal with until we reached a section around 6.5 miles. At this point, the trail picked up a lot of elevation to gain the final ridge before the summit of Mt Massive.It was here that we decided to take off our snowshoes. This turned out to be a bad decision, but from our vantage point they were not needed here on out. This section of the ridge was the steepest with the most exposure. I kept an eye out for wet avalanches as the snow had been sitting in the hot rays of the sun for several hours. Luckily, I did not see any.
The final mile and a half towards the top of Mt Massive was extremely slow going. The snow was almost waist deep in places which would have been much easier to trek through in the snowshoes we had ditched about an hour before. The pair of hikers did beat our group to the summit, but we were still breaking trail much of the way to the top. It took me about 7 hours to reach the summit of Mt Massive, but the views from the top were outstanding. Clear skies and snow covered peaks in all directions. Best of all, we had the second highest peak in the state all to ourselves.
After a couple rounds of pictures and refueling on snacks/water, we decided to make our way back towards the car. The forecast had originally called for snow and there were some clouds rolling in. Mt Massive was not the mountain I wanted to get stuck in bad weather. Treeline was about 3 miles away with absolutely no cover from any kind of incoming storm. Luckily, the clouds produced only small showers of snow and quickly passed to produce sunny skies once again.
The remainder of the hike down was fairly uneventful but full of mentally taxing moments. One of the best parts of spring hiking is sliding down sections you had to hike up on the ascent. The snow was so warm though that we were not able to slide more than 3 feet without sticking to the ground. Although postholing was not a big issue either, the hiking back to the first 3 snowless miles were very slow going.
About 12 hours later of slogging through the snow, I was back at my car and so grateful to be off of Mt Massive. Mt Massive is a massive mountain (BREAKING NEWS!) and those 14 miles are closer to 15. I was so happy to have met up with this other group since their GPS was so key in guiding us out of the forest with the lack of trail. Without a doubt Mt Massive is a much tougher mountain than neighboring Mt Elbert, even though it is shorter in stature.