Posted by: joshrduncan | June 26, 2010

2010-06-19 Mount Massive

Mount Massive

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

“Live your life each day as you would climb a mountain. An occasional glance towards the summit keeps the goal in mind, but many beautiful scenes are to be observed from each new vintage point.” Harold B. Melchart

I had several emotions from the week before that I was taking into this hike.  The most pungent feeling weighing on me was that this last week the Colorado climbing community lost a fellow hiker in a climbing accident.  Kevin Hayne passed away at the early age of 18 on Little Bear Peak, one of Colorado’s most difficult 14ers on Tuesday, June 15, 2010.  This is the first time I encountered a situation like this since I started on my journey.  I wasn’t sure if I would write about this on in my trip report but I thought about it throughout the week, throughout my hike, and even since then.  I took it with me onto the mountain so I figured I should write about it.

I watched the story of Kevin’s passing unfold on before the news agencies even picked up the story.  I followed the forum on daily and a post came in from Kevin’s climbing partner that day, Travis (travis19877) and it stated the following:

“Today me and Kevin8020 were hiking the hourglass just shy of the summit of Little Bear Peak. The hourglass was completely iced over and was unpassible, we decided to take a ledge on the left side of the hourglass and decided to wait and see if the sun would help melt anything out. 30 seconds after this decision was made, Kevin’s hand/foothold (i could not see all of him) broke lose and he fell several hundred yards down the mountain.

When I got to him he was breathing heavily and both him arms looked broken, both of our spot trackers malfunctioned at a terrible time. I waited 30 minutes by chance that the distress signal did go out, tried to comfort Kevin, and after no response from either Kevin or SaR. I made the hardest decision of my life and had to hike out, leaving my partner behind.

I hiked from just below the summit to the car parked on Lake Como road not far in at all, 1.4 miles. In just under 3 hours. Then did everything in my power to get to Alamosa and get contact with SAR, within thirty minutes they were contacting me and I provided everything I could. It’s now been over 6 hours since I left him and there is one chopper team and one foot team on the way to Kevin.

PLEASE, keep Kevin in your thoughts and prayers.”

The evening wore on and the information went from an injury, to a crash of the helicopter sent to aid Kevin, and to the notification of his unfortunate and untimely passing.  Experiencing this event as it unfolded was tough. I prayed and I sympathized with Kevin, his friend Travis, Kevin’s family and friends, and the climbing community as a whole.  I shared in this loss as though I had lost a friend.  I think having a greater appreciation for the mountains made it very real for me.  Although I didn’t know Kevin personally, his passing had me asking a lot of questions about my own passion for the mountains.  For example, I thought hard about what if that happened to me and I was lying there.  I had thoughts of my own hiking experiences and the risks I take every time I go to the mountains. 

Since last Tuesday I have learned more about Kevin, through his own stories, recollections from his friends, and stories of who he was.  Of all the things I learned, I was moved by his undeniable faith in God.  He was an amazing beacon for our Heavenly Father at a young age.  I wish I would have had his faith and passion at that age.  The mountains provided an environment that enabled him to experience God.  I shared in that tremendous passion with him.  I share with Kevin a love, passion and desire for the mountains and the great benefit of being closer to God.  From his posts, his obituary, and the people that knew him, Kevin was alive in the mountains.  A comment on by SusanJoyPaul summed it up remarkable well for me:

“This is an incredibly sad and so heart-breaking, and it’s clearly evident from the photos, video, and comments on this thread that Kevin was a positive force in the world.  The only greater tragedy would have been if he had lived a safe life, a docile life, one without adventure, passion and wonderment.  It takes courage to make that choice – live that life.”

I choose to live that life.  I have reaped personal growth, love, a passion for something larger than me, a deeper sense of faith, experienced pain (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), and a greater appreciation for life while hiking and climbing.  I will strive to continue to live that way.  It makes me feel alive.

One valuable lesson I have learned from this experience is that life can end at any moment.  Risks in life occur each and every day.  Some risks we don’t even think are risks because we are so numb to them.  We take risks when we walk down the stairs, when we leave the house, when we get cut vegetables, when we drive a car, and when we hug or kiss someone.  Risks are there; it is how we prepare for a risk that is vital.  I realize that I need to place a little more effort on assessing these risks and not take them lightly. 

I think when tragedy strikes, people reevaluate priorities.  For example, I think most people’s lives were changed after 9/11.  My life was.  Kevin’s passing has also made me reevaluate priorities when it comes to my passion.  What is my first priority?  Mine is being safe so that I can home. Getting home to Courtney, my family, my friends, co-workers and everyone else is my first priority.  No risk is above that. Being safe is key.  I really thought about myself lying on a mountain realizing what if I didn’t make it home.  I would be saddened for the life I could have had.  A potential wife, a family, new friends, deeper relationships, missed opportunities.  I don’t want that to happen.  However, that doesn’t mean I will stop hiking and climbing. 

There is a lot at stake for me when I climb…passion, life, a childish excitement, freedom, peace, and faith.  It is a huge part of me.  It doesn’t define me but has shaped me and continues to do so.  I cannot, I will not give that up.  I now like to think of my climbing as taking a calculated risk.  I will prepare to the best of my ability.  I will buy the best gear.  I will strive to be in the best shape.  I will complete a thorough research of the mountain including the route, weather, and terrain.  I will attempt to be as safe as I possible when hiking, not only for me but for the people who love me.  However, I have come to terms that I may be thoroughly prepared but bad things do happen.  Unfortunate situations do transpire.  I may never know when it will happen, that is in my Lord and Saviors hand, but I will do everything in my power to be as prepared as possible.  I will rely on my faith for the remaining piece.

Another vital lesson I have learned is that the mountains will always be there.  I know that I have pushed safety in order to summit.  The weather did not look good when I climbed Mount Democrat…I still pushed to the summit.  I was exhausted after a difficult downclimb from Harvard to Columbia…I still pushed to the summit of Columbia.  It has turned out okay, but I may not be a lucky in the future.  I may reach a point where I feel uncomfortable and I will turn around.  The weather may not be cooperating and I will turn around.  I just may not feel right, I need to turn around.  The mountain will still be there.

Okay…onto to the hike. I am glad I was able to let that out.  

Mount Massive is a mountain that lives up to its name.  Standing high above Leadville, Colorado at a staggering 14,421 feet, Mount Massive is the second highest peak in Colorado and the third highest in the lower 48 states.  It is an impressive mountain that has an undeniable presence in the area. 

This was my third planned trip to climb this mountain.  For some reason, I have been drawn to its summit over and over again.  Although my first two attempts never actually required me stepping out of my vehicle, I was hoping this third encounter would permit me to at least challenge the mountain.  For a little background, my first planned attempt of Mount Massive was in August of 2009.  A day before my anticipated hike a tragic accident involving a Blackhawk helicopter sadly claimed the lives of 4 service men and women.  I humbly bowed out away as they closed the mountain and in respect to the soldiers who lost their lives in the training accident.  A cross bearing the names of the soldiers who lost their lives now stands at the trailhead as a tribute.  My second failed attempt was less than two weeks ago when we were turned away as we drove up Halfmoon Creek Road leading to the trailhead.  The road was unfortunately washed out by the high runoff we are currently experiencing in Colorado and emergency repairs prevented us from traveling up to the trailhead.  I started off this morning just hoping to finally put my foot on the ground in an attempt to hike towards the summit of Colorado’s second highest peak.

A very exciting component of this hike for me was my hiking partner, Courtney.  I have talked about her in some of my previous hikes and about reading the letters she hid in my backpack on my ascents of Humboldt Peak and Huron Peak.  Today, I was hiking with her and I was truly energized to experience our first 14er together.  To add to my enthusiasm, this was her first 14er.  I couldn’t wait to sit on top of a 14er with her and God together.  To experience a form of intimacy that is spiritual, emotional and physical with an incredible woman who I am so fortunate to have in my life.  I was also excited to share my enjoyment, enthusiasm and passion for high altitudes with her.  I wanted her to experience firsthand the blessings I cherish on a mountain.

Hiking with Courtney also made me slightly nervous.  This was her first 14er.  I was concerned for her safety as I felt responsible to her to protect, guide, and lead her.  Her father was concerned with her safety too, which didn’t ease my anxiety.  I was also nervous about myself.  I believe I am a fairly patient man and I consider this is a strong quality of mine. I was going to be in my element and I am a fairly aggressive hiker.  I knew with Courtney I would have to be patient.  We are different hikers.  We are made different.  I have long legs and hike a 14er almost every week during the summer.  Altitude doesn’t impact me significantly and I have experience.  I asked myself if I would be ok with being passed and it taking longer than usual.  These questions and concerns just added to my worry.  I knew that I needed to be patient on this hike and display this characteristic value within me.  I truly wanted us to enjoy every moment on this mountain with her.  I wanted this to be an experience for us to grow together.  That became a portion of my focus. 

After some deliberation before the hike, Courtney and I decided that we were going to follow the Southwest Slope route to the summit of Mount Massive.  It was a shorter hike than the standard East Slope route and required less vertical elevation gain but that meant the hike was going to be a little steeper.  Our hike started at North Halfmoon Creek Trailhead at an elevation of 10,500 feet.  The route required an elevation gain of 3,950 vertical feet and 8.0 miles roundtrip and is comprised of slopes up to 35 degrees.   As I prepared to write this trip report after the hike I read something in route description that I missed in my initial review.  It stated “This is not an easy hike – from the lower meadow to the summit there’s nearly 3,300 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles.”  When I read this I immediately apologized to Courtney for not “taking it easy on her” for her first 14er. 

Our day began at 4:00 in the morning.  We had stayed in Silverthorne the night before at our friend Mike and Sharon’s townhome.  I figured this would help Courtney get a little more acclimated to the elevation and would shorten up the drive the following morning.  I think she began to realize my excitement that morning when I started singing songs right after waking up at 4 am.  We headed for our starting point at 4:30 and arrived at the North Halfmoon Creek trailhead at approximately 5:45 am.  As we drove up Halfmoon Creek Road I noticed the newly installed culvert that two weeks ago prevented me from attempting Mount Massive.  The remaining 2.5 miles of the road leading up to the trailhead were rugged and having my Toyota Tundra, some good clearance and 4WD made it easier.  Upon arrival I was impressed yet dumbfounded that there were cars in the trailhead.  I guess if you drive carefully you can make it but I wouldn’t recommend it.

We began our hike right at 6:00 and the temperature was approximately 34 degrees.  Courtney was chilled and ready to start moving.  I like that enthusiasm.  My enthusiasm was the same but the cold wasn’t my motivating factor, I wanted to start the experience of hiking to our first 14er together.  The trail for the beginning portion was mild in elevation gain and paralleled a high flowing Halfmoon Creek.  The resonating sound of the flow provided a nice background noise with our hike.  There was the occasional puddle obstacle created by snow melt and high runoff.  This portion was easy to manage.  I actually became a little nervous about this portion because I didn’t want Courtney to think this is how the entire hike was going to be.  I knew things were about to change.  

After 1.5 miles we reached the fork in the trail.  The fork, which lies at approximately 11,200, sits in a nice open meadow with small waterfalls lying to the east and west.  At this point, the mild hike turned into the typical 14er climb.  When I say climb, some people will likely say it is still hiking.  Climbing is when you are moving vertical, Class 4 or Class 5 terrain.  I don’t disagree.  I refer to a lot of my hikes as climbs for two reasons; the first is to use a different verb to describe the physical activity and the second is because hiking a 14er is not like your typical hike in the mountains.  Maybe my perspective will change once I get into the very difficult 14ers that require climbing.  But until then, I say this hike turned into a climb from this point forward.  I know Courtney would agree.

The ascent for the remaining 2.5 miles broke down into four segments of different terrain and conditions.  The first segment was from the trail junction at 11,200 feet to approximately an elevation of 11,800 feet at treeline.  I decided this was the first logical segment because of its characteristics of being within treeline and its boulder pathway.  This portion of the hike felt like I was just walking up stairs, as boulders were placed in the form of a stairway leading up the mountain.  I realized that work had been completed along this portion to formalize a path and to place the boulders in this manner.  The path was easy to follow and there were cairns to identify the trail.  At one point, we had taken a nice break when a magnificent mountain goat, full of fur, white like a ghost, emerged from a rock outcrop and trees.  It moved so easily over the lose boulders and disappeared very quickly. 

Once we emerged from treeline we obtained our first real glimpse of the southwest face of Mount Massive and the terrain shifted.  The formalized boulder steps changed to a dirt path, snow, and boulder fields.  This segment of the hike was from approximately 11,800 feet to 13,400 feet.  There were several switchbacks, the vegetation turned to alpine grasses with the occasional mountain wildflower and there were several boulder fields.  The sun was beginning to rise above the summit of South Massive and it was intense on my eyes, even with sunglasses. 

In this segment we started to take more breaks as the altitude and incline increased.  Courtney was slow and steady.  I did not want to rush her and repeatedly provided her words of encouragement.  I was so proud of her.  At one instance, I waited for her at the end of the switchback and was humbled by my thought of her.  No words were needed; I was just peaceful in watching her hike.  I realized at that moment even if we didn’t make the summit, I was so thankful to have this experience with her and I was grateful that she even attempted to hike up this mountain with me.

During this second segment, snow began to impede the trail in areas.  An abundant snow field covered a majority of the standard route from approximately 12,200 feet to the false summit at 14,400 feet.  We could see two people ahead of us and they were not taking the standard route.  I preferred the route they were ascending and felt it was a safer alternative than continuing to switchback on the large snow field.  We took a break while a large group of people were approaching.  We could see about 20 people spaced out as they moved at different paces and took breaks at various times.  We chatted with the four individuals in the lead for awhile and it was a mentoring group with Campus Crusade for Christ.  The group was part of a leadership program in Vail that brings college students from throughout the country and teaches them techniques of education and evangelism through outdoor activities.  Climbing 14ers is one of those activities.  We slowly met different students as they passed us at different portions of the mountain.  There were students from North Carolina, Minnesota, Indiana, Colorado, and other states who were pushing up the mountain just like us, maybe not loving every minute of it, but appreciative of its blessings.  It was great to meet them and I really enjoyed my multiple conversations with them. 

To finish out this segment, we paralleled the snow field up on loose scree.  The final push to 13,400 feet required some boulder scrambling over talus since we were not on the standard route anymore.  Courtney did a great job of ascending through this material by making sure she had three points of contact on the mountain.  Above 13,400 feet was a nice meadow with some running water and a great area to rest.

The third segment was from 13,400 feet to the saddle between Mount Massive and South Massive, which lies at an approximate elevation of 13,900 feet.  This next 500 feet was on very loose material that was more difficult to ascend up.  The material gave way with each step so with one step up you moved about a half of step back.  This material reminded me of the same material on Mount Columbia but not as step and not as continual.  There was also erosion along this segment due to runoff and the loose material.  The wind also began to pick up in this section.  Up to this point, the wind was fairly non-existent except for the occasional gust.  It was fairly persistent now with little resistance.  We pushed towards the saddle and were exposed to the full brunt force of the wind.  I moved to the side of the saddle as I waited for Courtney because the wind was intense. 

Once in the saddle (ok that doesn’t sound right, let me try again)…Once at the saddle, Courtney and I got our first view of the summit of Mount Massive…so we thought.  I had unfortunately left my map in the truck and didn’t realize we were looking at a false summit.  At this point we combined with the East Route (standard route) and proceeded up the ridge.  Near the upper portion of the ridge we would reconnect with our original route that we left due to the snow.  From here, it was fairly mild hiking since we were at approximately 14,400 feet.  We would cross some snow fields and would work around boulder outcrops.  Once we arrived at the false summit, we realized we weren’t there yet.  There were several people on the actual summit.  We had a little more way to go.

We arrived at the summit TOGETHER at 11:00.  I found this moment one of the best yet. In my best Boston accent (which is horrible) I would say “Wicked Awesome!”  This was a great moment for me, for us.  I was overcome by joy in reaching the second highest summit with Courtney.  The thrill of overcoming this hike together and the delight in standing so high was truly amazing.  This was Courtney’s first attempted and first successful 14er.  This summit would not have been the same, as great, if I didn’t have the joy of experiencing it with Courtney. 

I was also thankful she could experience my thrill of the summit firsthand.  She knows how God moves me and blesses me with growth on mountains but this time she was able to partake and go through this moment with me.  I was thankful she was able to experience my joy.  With that joy and excitement, I think she got a little annoyed with me (actually I know she did) as we made our final push.  I did not want to stop because this is when my greatest adrenaline rush comes.  We stopped and this was a true test of my patience. 

I had some very meaningful moments with her on the mountain.  I surprised her with a letter, similar to the ones she had previously given me, to just tell her some words from my heart.  She surprised me by reading her journal entry of our first date.  It was a great hearing those words for the first time, her hopes, her trust in God and asking for His hands to shape our relationship.  Our first date was the start of something special and it was moving to me to hear those intimate words from her.  Thank you honey.

I also spent some time to reflect and give thanks to God for a successful ascent.  I thought a lot about Kevin.  I took a picture dedicating this summit to him.  I did this as part of a collection of individuals on that were taking pictures on top of Colorado’s summits and dedicating it to him.  On there has been a Photo Memorial thread started to document the climbs and peoples dedication of the summit.  The mountaineering community amazed me in the faith, togetherness, and sympathy during this event.    I specifically provided the following message for Kevin:

MOUNT MASSIVE, June 19th, 2010


Philippians 1:21 – For to me to live is Christ, to die is to gain

Thanks for sharing your faith and reaffirming to me what living life to the fullest truly means

Courtney and I spent almost 40 minutes on the summit.  It was great to hear her talk to her parents on the summit.  Her Dad said it well “What goes up, must come down”.  So we began the descent.

I thought the descent would take approximately 3 hours since the ascent took us 5 hours.  I was wrong.  It took us 5 hours to also descend.  It was slow moving but safe.  I had the pleasure of teaching Courtney how to glissade since there were multiple snow fields.  I had a blast and it was great to see her be excited about this aspect of climbing.  I took multiple videos of her and she summed up her joy of it so well by saying “My butt is cold but it beats climbing down that”.  We were able to glissade approximately 500 feet of vertical elevation down the mountain.

On the descent down and after we finished glissading, I needed to acquire a glimpse of my own normal pace.  I was motivated to briefly move at my own standard pace to reacquire the trail that was present ahead of me.  This was a choice I made.  I moved ahead of Courtney but kept her in my sight.  I probably moved about 500 feet in front of her during the descent.  I arrived at the trail so I could break, wait for Courtney and reapply sunscreen as the sun was intense.  When she arrived, Courtney let me know that it worried her that I moved so far ahead of her and that she little upset with me.  We typically don’t get into arguments or frustrated with one another so I felt this was an opportunity for us to communicate.  I realized that I didn’t have to move ahead but I choose to.  I also recognized her fear and concern.  Three years ago, I would have probably become frustrated and shut down.  Instead, I realized this wasn’t about my pride, this was about her sense of security and comfort.  I wanted to be sensitive to that and apologized for moving ahead and thanked her for being open and honest with me.  I told her that she loves my motivation; there can also be a negative to my motivation.  I think our communication skills help in mitigating issues, just as it happened with this circumstance. 

We arrived back at the trailhead around 3:45.  There was a man and woman, whom had earlier passed us, standing by the cross for the fallen soldiers.  We conversed with them, like everyone else on the mountain and talked about the cross.  They belong to a group of Christian hikers who get together for climbs.  One man was training for Everest and told us his testimony, which was truly amazing.  He had literally been told he had two months to live due to cancer.  He is the only survivor of the type of cancer he had and has had so many surgeries and transfusions that his blood type changed.  He gave up his thanks and fortunes all to the Lord.  “Wicked Awesome!”  It was so cool to hear his testimony and to meet so many people with the similar passion as mine throughout the day.

Once we arrived at the trailhead, we quickly left se we could reacquire cellphone coverage.  I always leave a detailed description of my route with emergency contact numbers and a “worst” case time I should be back with one person.  If I haven’t contacted the person by that time, they should call the sheriff’s department.  My “worst” case time for today was 5 pm.  This hike took a lot longer than I anticipated.  We arrived back into cell phone coverage around 4:20 and were able to avert the emergency phone call!

I once again want to thank my Lord and Savior for everything He provides.  He is truly an amazing God and I am grateful for all the wisdom and blessings He provides.  I also want to thank my lovely hiking partner!  It was a blessing to hike with you today.  I am so proud of your accomplishment and the opportunity that we shared together.  I love you. 

Finally, this hike revealed two key items for me:

Change in Priority – My priority has shifted from the mountain to coming home safely.  It is not about checking off the summit on my list of 14ers anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to continue to climb all of the 14ers in Colorado and I DO want to check it off my list.  But that is not my priority.  I know I have more at stake when I am climbing now.  My priority is to be safe and to come home to the people I love.

Change in Objective – This is similar to the change in priority but different in significance.  I have had a change in objective from the summit to the climb.  It is worth repeating to me, it not about checking off the summit on my lists of 14ers anymore.  It is about the ascent and the descent.  It is about who I become as I hike up to the summit.  It’s about the relationships I strengthen, develop and create.  It is about the man I become in the process; a man that is responsible to people, a man of integrity, passion, commitment, faith, and love.  A man of God!  The process of attaining the summit and returning to the trailhead is where I gain these attributes, the summit happens to be the destination.

All Photographs property of Josh Duncan
copyright 2009-2010
All Rights Reserved
The unauthorized reproduction and usage of any image is strictly prohibited.



  1. thanks for great sharing

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