Peak encounter

Colorado's second-highest mountain is a first-rate summer hike

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Climber

The air is rare ― as is the 360° view.

Paul Bousquet

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From Mt. Massive's 14,421-foot summit, it seems you've reached the rooftop of the Rockies. Thin air darkens the sky cobalt, the Arkansas River headwaters spill far below, and dozens of snow-clad peaks prick the horizon. So what if neighboring Mt. Elbert, a mere 12 feet taller, is the highest of Colorado's 54 "Fourteener" peaks? Massive boasts the Lower 48's greatest landmass above 14,000 feet.

The easiest way up is the 13.6-mile round-trip East Slopes route from the Mt. Massive trailhead, climbing 4,450 feet along the forested Colorado Trail before veering west above the timberline to the summit ridge. A shorter but steeper alternative leads from the North Halfmoon Massive trailhead, a route receiving $1.5 million in trail improvements this summer by volunteers from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative ( www.14ers.org or 303/278-7525).

The Mt. Massive trailhead is 16.5 miles west of Leadville. The best map is National Geographic Map Store's "Aspen/Independence Pass" ($9.95; www.ngmapstore.com or 800/962-1643). Start at daybreak to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Pack water, snacks, sunscreen, and a shell jacket, and enjoy a day of massive adventure.

INFO: For trail updates and directions to trailhead, contact the Leadville Ranger District ( www.fs. fed.us/r2/psicc/recreation/trails/ldv_massive.shtml or 719/486-0749).

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