| Massive Mania
My last Sawatch 14er! "Massive Mania" is what Gerry Roach calls the Mt Massive traverse with an ascent of the North Ridge Route (from the Windsor Lake trailhead) and a descent of the Southeast Ridge Route (to the Mt Massive trailhead). It is aptly named, although at some points along the way I felt less like a maniac and more like a moron. Not so much for choosing the route or for underestimating it, but because of overestimating my physical preparedness (despite two relatively recent >10mi >5000ft days in the Sawatch). Well, we made it in 10:40h, with plenty of breaks (for 5000ft and ~12mi, with probably almost half of it above 13,000ft elevation). Not that bad, I think, but I clearly slowed Ethan down quite a bunch. With a 7:45am start, we were back in camp with still some daylight left (after the car shuttle from the Mt Massive trail head).
Unfortunately, the haze from the wildfires somewhat limited the views, and we could barely make out the silhouettes of the Elk range 14ers in the distance. Otherwise, the weather was excellent (just a tiny little bit windy at times) and no chance for storms in the forecast (otherwise, I would not have done this long ridge route). On this Sept 22, there was some dusting of snow on the mountain, but only very few and only small patches of snow on the route. Most importantly, the 3rd class downclimb from North Massive was completely snow free.
There are several "cruxes" to the route:
1) You have to get back to you car at the Windsor Lake TH after your hike ends at the Mt Massive TH. So we stashed a car there before setting camp at the starting TH. You also have to remember to actually bring the keys for the stashed car with you on the hike. I might have forgotten this (with my car out of sight) if it wasn't for a previous trip report that pointed out their blunder...
2) You have to find the Windsor Lake TH and trail. This is not that hard either, but when you are heading down Lake County road 4, you may be tempted to follow the paved road instead of making the left at a Y-intersection (past Turquoise lake, maybe 1-2 mi; there are signs, and you want to go towards Hagerman Pass). The TH is at an obvious hairpin curve (~150 yards past the Native Lakes TH), and is marked "Windsor Lakes". From there, cross two streams and follow the signs that say "trail".
3) Climb up to the correct notch in the ridge above Windsor Lake. You will see two likely notches; the northern (right) one will initially seem more likely, but this is not where you want to go. Instead, aim for the southern (left) one; this route will start to look better as you get closer.
4) The class 3 part of the route is the downclimb from North Massive to the low point before Massive Green. Stay on the left side of the summit ridge, leaving the nearby sub-summit on your right before you descend (do not downclimb the gully between the summits; you may see evidence that some people have done this, but also that this has lots of loose dirt on the rocks). After this downclimb, there is still a little bit of route finding. You mainly stay on the west side of the ridge, but there is a short stretch where you will cross over to the east side. It should be obvious along the way, so don't try to force anything that may get you into trouble.
5) At the saddle after Mt Massive, be able to convince yourself that you really want to climb up South Massive (or better: be able to make the smart choice, if taking the -also not exactly short- east slopes trail down is the better decision at this point...).
6) On your downclimb from South Massive, avoid the temptation of the slopes to your left (east); you'll end up in ugly steep scree. Instead, stay close to the ridge line, where a rock outcropping seems to block the way. Keep up your route finding, and it will stay at difficult class 2 (maybe with a couple of easy class 3 moves).
7) After the last high point on the ridge (PT12,381), much of your descent will be through the woods until you hit the Colorado Trail. We didn't encounter anything too dense, though (and thus can't really call it bushwhacking). You want to follow the general ridge line (at this point mainly east and slightly south) and avoid the steep slopes to the south.
8 ) This route long, and stays at high elevation for a long time. The second to last picture on the Mt Massive photo page shows the profile of almost the entire route on the ridge, but still not quite. So, pick a day with perfect weather, and still plan ahead for possible escape routes.
In any case, this was a nice tour to complete the list of Sawatch 14ers. I thought I might want to do the Cross Couloir some day, but I'm less sure about that after looking down the route two weeks ago. So, Huron would be my most likely repeat... or maybe a spring ski on Shavano. Oh, and then there is also the Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata. Hm, I might not be quite "done" with the Sawatch after all...