| Season finale on Holy Cross
Season finale on Holy Cross
July 9 & 10, 2011.
Peak: Mt. of the Holy Cross
Route: North ridge (standard route) ascent, cross couloir descent, from the road closure.
Vert: Approx. 8,000
Mileage: Approx. 27
On a Friday night in October of 2007 a group of us hiked up to the notch mountain shelter to climb Holy Cross via the halo ridge. At sunrise, we caught an amazing view of the storied cross couloir, and for the first time I can remember, I caught an interest in skiing a 14er.
Fast forward about four years and Marc and I were planning an attempt on skiing the cross couloir. It would be my 54th 14er ski descent and Marc’s 46th on a snowboard (we’re using the 58 peaks list). Plans to head in the first weekend after the road opened in June were thwarted by the Forest Service’s decision to keep Tigiwon road closed to vehicles all summer for removal of trees killed by the pine beetles.
Not to be defeated, a group of five of us (Me, Marc, Joe, Bean, and Kim) headed in with our bikes on Saturday afternoon to tackle the 8 mile approach. While the road closure caused this trip be among the most physically demanding of the year, it also meant we had Holy Cross to ourselves. Marc and I utilized out recently acquired gear chariot and for the first few miles the weather actually cooperated.
Progress slowed at 4 miles in as I took the reins of the chariot through a section of the road that had been torn up by the logging activity. Things became more difficult and considerably less pleasant as a storm quickly built and heavy rain commenced. At times I struggled to literally drag my bike with the 100+ pound trailer attached through the mud. Shelter was temporarily taken in a dense stand of trees near the road.
As the rain tapered off we continued the slog until reaching the community house at a little over 5 miles from the road closure. Apparently our bike chariot was not engineered with proper drainage in mind as the basket filled with water, soaking some of our gear. Imagining that team morale might be suffering, we decided to take shelter for the night.
Joe arrived a half hour later and gave us the news that Bean and Kim had decided to call it a day. Bean, not knowing we had stopped at the cabin, left Kim and his gear to peddle ahead and hand off his share of our tent to Joe, who carried it the rest of the way. This was much appreciated, as even though I didn’t need the tent, I did look forward to the Red Bull I had stashed in with it. A fire was built and we enjoyed our Chipotle burritos purchased earlier that afternoon.
The alarm went off at 1am. I immediately went outside and was pleased to be able to see the stars. We packed quickly and were peddling up the road by 1:30am. The stars were gone. By 2:30am we were at the trailhead, standing in the bathroom to escape the rain. After about fifteen minutes we began to discuss what we were all thinking… do we stash the skis/boots and come back next weekend or push on in hopes that the weather cleared. We left the trailhead at 3am, deciding to give it our best effort and see what happens.
We reached East Cross Creek a little before 5am. The creek is still running high so we had to take of the shoes and wade across, in the rain, wondering if we would soon be turning around anyway.
Our original plan was to make it to Patricia Lake Saturday evening before sunset, thereby negotiating the route finding crux of the trip in the daylight, and climb the couloir Sunday morning. In retrospect that plan was overly ambitious. Plan B was climbing the standard route, which now made sense for a number of reasons. We reached treeline as the sun crested the horizon and for the first time since it started to rain the evening prior did I think we had a shot at skiing Holy Cross.
The blue sky seen here, with the summit of Holy Cross on the left, didn’t last much longer than the time it took to take this picture
Looking back at Joe from a little over 13,000ft as the weather was quickly changing. Fortunately the clouds moving in were thin and not ready to build at this early hour.
We reached the top around 8:30am and confirmed that on this 10th day of July Holy Cross would be skiable from the summit!
Headed over to the top of the couloir a little after 9am.
No sun cups, what a nice surprise.
I dropped first…
Followed by Marc…
Cranking out the last few turns of the season down to the Bowl of Tears.
Concerned that the weather might deteriorate before we make it back over Half Moon Pass we didn’t relax for long before beginning the bushwhack to Patricia Lake and East Cross Creek.
I had heard the route finding was arduous between Patricia Lake and the creek but we didn’t even make it that far before finding ourselves at a dead end, albeit a scenic one.
The next couple hours involved a decent amount of short and awkward down climbing,
as we worked our way past the lake,
and tried to find a way through the mess of boulders, snow, and mini waterfalls.
This picture makes it look like we could head down the snow and through the trees to the valley below. Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy. Without success we spent some time looking for a way past the cliffs that the trees here hide. After 12 hours of moving on very little sleep we needed a sure thing. So with that in mind, we ascended the terrain behind us, traversing above the high cliffs over Joe’s left shoulder, and descended the slope in the middle ground.
Finally back at the creek in the early afternoon, Joe grabbed this shot of Marc and me before we climbed the 1,000 vertical feet back to Half Moon Pass, hiked back to the trailhead, and biked back to the truck.
As I cruised the last few miles back to the trailhead with both the front and rear break almost totally depressed to prevent the fully loaded chariot from pushing me down the road at what felt like highway speeds, the scope of this season of ski mountaineering began to set in. What started with an attempt on Columbia in early March continued almost every weekend through mid July, yielding a couple dozen memorable ski descents. It’s been an incredible season. I’m sad it’s over, but I’ll admit I’m ready for a brief break before ski season begins again in two to three months. Thanks to all my partners that made this season what it was... and the snow for sticking around an extra month.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):