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Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Holy Cross Ridge  -  13,831 feet
PT 13,768  -  13,768 feet
Post Date:  11/13/2011
Modified:  02/19/2012
Date Climbed:   07/16/2011
Posted By:  Marmot72

 Holy Cross from God-knows-where   

The subtitle of this report is how I got the "V" shaped scar that covers the front of my left shin. For those who read, you'll note some examples of poor judgment. I've related them not because I am oblivious, but to share as we can learn by examples of "what not to do" as much as by seeing "what to do."

Closure of the Tigiwon Road for logging made my intended Halo Ridge trek unfeasible, so I opted for the Holy Cross City jeep road approach to ascend the South HC ridge and view many lovely lakes. Round trip 14 1/2 miles (according to Dawson) with only 3800' of elevation gain, but it felt like more.

The road has a few switchbacks and is very rocky in places -- keep a look out for the trail on the right soon after you cross the the creek. That trail is a mild walk through a meadow; at first, it parallels the road, then it turn to the right (North) and leads to Hunky Dory Lake. It took me just over an hour to reach HD Lake from the beginning of the HC City Jeep Road. Below is a picture of the road where a stream crosses it -- the trail to HD is not too far past this spot on the right, lower down from the road so it can be easy to miss in dim light.


Hunky Dory Lake is a glassy gem bordered by trees on the east and the southern ramparts of HC ridge on the west.


Beyond the lake, the trail continues mostly straight north and climbs gradually. My original plan was to gain the ridge just south of Point 13,768, going by the Seven Sisters Lakes, there may be several small ponds - I realized after that these were just boggy areas of snowmelt, but I left the trail early, thinking that the E-W barrier ridge in the shot below was the ridge to the North of the Seven Sisters. In fact, it is a smaller ridge blocking them from the South. the trail goes around it to the right. For those of you with the Roach 13er book, I ended up following route 5 v2 instead of route 5 v1.


I angled left toward the HC ridge. It rose majestically, with rugged crags:I was eager to begin scrambling. Below are views as I aimed for a slabby sub-peak South of Point 13,618 - there was a higher point to the left. This traverse across snow and scree to then climb to the ridge ate up time: the first picture below was taken at 7:34 am and my picture #6 from the top of the ridge was taken at 9:22 am.



From a distance, I thought the slabs looked nothing harder than class 3, but on the upper section, I had to zigzag, following cracks and ledges to keep the difficulty at class 4. This part was avoidable: one can bypass to the right and continue up the ridge.

From here, a view southwards to suspended Cleveland Lake caught my attention:


The ridge run from here over to Pt 13,618 was a fun trek and it looked like this:


The ridge between 13,618 and 13,768 was fun class 2 and 2+ with views all around, a spine with sheer drops to the right (east) in many places, but often with moderate terrain to the left. Flowers adorned the grassy areas between rocks.


I didn't keep track of when I reached Pt 13,618, but I made it to the top of Point 13,768 at 11:46 - nearly right at 5 hours from when I'd left the TH and a little less than 2 1/2 hours from when I gained the ridge. Following are views of the Tuhare Lakes (NE) and the Seven Sisters Lakes basin (SE) from the summit. This second picture also shows my descent route, which was very loose - I think a better descent is done from the summit of HC Ridge N of the Tuhare Lakes.



The ridge northward from this point was less interesting - no more flowers and just fields of talus. Here's a look back at the down-walk from Point 13,768.


I reached the summit of Holy Cross ridge at 12:49: just under an hour from when I left Pt 13,768. Here is a view back S to Pt 13,768 from HC Ridge:


Below is a view of the advised descent route from HC ridge down to the Tuhare Lakes:


From the HC Ridge summit, the ridge broadens and flattens: it's a mild walk for a half mile and then a climb up steep talus for .2 miles to the summit of Holy Cross. My progress was delayed, however, by a storm. I saw the dark grey clouds moving fast from the west and heard the thunder, so I crouched in a low spot as the thunderheads passed over, flailing small ice pellets. I don't know how long I waited that out. Here's a view of a snowfield and the summit pitch of Mt of the Holy Cross:


More clouds had moved in and I spent just enough time on the summit to sign the register: it was around 2:40 or so (roughly 7 hours since my start). I boogied down to the saddle. the sun had come out and I relaxed. Now I made a seemingly small decision that proved a major misstep: I had intended to descend the Tuhare Lakes basin, but I was tired and did not like the idea of reclimbing HC Ridge, so I bypassed it on the western slopes. Partway across, I realized my error but decided that I would just descend the 7 Sisters Basin from Pt 13.7k. Halfway across, I saw to my chagrin that more dark clouds were heading my way from the SW. I tried to hurry. This whole section was tedious: in contouring the western slopes, I was walking across unstable blocks. And then it happened.

I had stepped with my right foot onto the next block. I felt my weight shift from left to right, then I felt a sudden weight on my left leg. Luckily the force spun me inwards toward the mountain as the right side of my body twisted forward and to my left. I barely even saw the rock- maybe the size of my torso, it covered the whole of my leg. All I could think in that moment was that I was not going to let myself be penned by a boulder. I bent, grabbed it with both hands and heaved it off my left side, scraping my abdomen. Then I felt an intense ripping in my left shin - it felt like a giant ice cream scoop with a razor edge had just sliced upward from my ankle to my knee, rolling the skin up into a ball.

I took a step and the pain exploded in my head - I didn't even cuss, just let out some bellow like a wounded animal. I scurried to find some fairly stable boulders to sit on. i couldn't see the wound: my whole leg was covered in blood, both my wool sock and my liner sock were drenched. I located the main cut; it was on the upper shin. I clamped my hand over it, hard, to try and stop the bloodflow and cleaned the shin with my iodine towlette. My ankle was unscathed; I had several small cuts in the middle of the shin and then, the spot where most of the blood was coming from did not feel like a cut: it was a flat spot on the upper shin and an obscene mass of skin and whatever else was balled up above it. I wrapped the shin below this mass tightly with my entire gauze roll, then set on regaining the ridge crest and getting over to Point 13,768. The pain had diminished and the leg was just a heavy throbbing ache.

The left leg felt like it was twice as heavy as the right and I did contour westward to avoid a false summit on the reclimb of Pt 13.7k. This saved me neither time nor energy, because I found myself on the south side of the point and had to reclimb it from that vantage.

The downclimb into the Seven Sister Basin (pic 10) was loose scree and dirt on the upper slopes. Lower, by the lakes, the terrain is much more broken than it appears: there steeper slopes hidden from view below the upper of the Seven Sisters (the "Finger Lake').

I hadn't come up this way and I had made the major oversight of forgetting my ice axe, so I was dismayed by the snow slopes I encountered. They were moderate for sure, but with an axe I could have glissaded and I now had to face in and punch steps with hands and feet for two stretches of 20-30 yards. I had begun the descent from the point at approx 4:50; it took me until 7:30 to get down to the trail. Adrenaline is a helpful thing: I was able to push the pace with the bad leg so that it took me only an hour down - I reached the car at 8:35. It had taken me between 4 and 4 1/2 hours to cover the 6 miles or so from the point of the injury.

Some guys in a highly modified Jeep were blocking the entrance to the Forest Service road from the HC road. They evidently reconsidered the idea of attempting the formidable HC Jeep "Road" at night and tore off ahead of me, leaving a trail of dust. Sitting in the car brought the pain back from a dull ache to small waves of shooting pain, and I stopped in the Vail Emergency Room instead of pushing on to Denver. When I got out of the car, I could barely walk to the doors of the hospital. After several shots of novacaine, I received 29 stitches.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

Ouch!     11/14/2011 13:53
That just sounds super painful - glad you are okay. I think we were in there the week after you were. Great pics!


OMG!     11/14/2011 21:31
That takes some serious focus and persistence - yikes.
Glad you made it down ok.
I think we may have crossed paths at the bottom of the HC Jeep Road that day - did you have a bike, but the chain (or something) broke? You took off on foot, blazing pace!
I measured the route at about 17 mi r/t to Mt of the HC summit via the HC Jeep Rd. Looked like a good overnighter. We bailed on the summit that day - just hiked to Hunky Dory Lake and back. Beautiful place!


Too bad!     11/14/2011 23:17
Good to hear that you are ok. Great pictures!


thanks, Sunny!     11/15/2011 05:30
The two of you were in a truck the HC Jeep TH? I wondered if you made it up to the peak. Yeah, my original intent was to bike up the jeep road so I could save time biking down after the hike, but the chain broke. WIth the injury I sustained, it was a blessing -I could not have ridden the mountain bike down that gnarly road at dusk. Gorgeous area!


Yep...     11/16/2011 03:37
That was us.
We'd started our a.m. at the French Creek TH, which was flooded and closed, then recognized the HC Jeep Rd was the ONLY access at that point. After studying it from that angle, it became obvious a successful same-day summit with a late-ish start was out for us.

You really put the pedal to the metal! Congrats on a memorable summit and again, I'm glad you made it down ok. One you'll remember, for sure. Bodily sacrifice has a way of doing that!

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