I’ve been trying to schedule a hike/climb to bag Mt of the holy Cross for some time now as it’s my only remaining unclimbed Sawatch 14er. We finally set up a trip this past weekend, planning on leaving from COS Saturday afternoon and then driving to the Half Moon Trailhead and Campground. Before we left, we were undecided on route, but exploring several options. We were leaning towards the Halo Ridge route because it allowed us to view the peak during our hike near dawn, but knew it would be a long slog. We also wanted to do the loop as opposed to packing in so that we wouldn’t have to carry such heavy pack. Weather was a worry, too, of course.
Tigiwon Road into the area was clear and smooth enough for almost any passenger car. We arrived at the campground at about 6pm and scouted the area. We chatted with some hikers that had been in the area for a couple of days and they assured us that the trail turn from Fall Creek Trail up Notch Mountain was obvious and easy to see even in the dark. So, we decided to set up camp in site #1 and do a scouting hike up the trail.
We did just that and easily hiked about 1.5 miles along Fall Creek Trail in an off-and-on light rain. The trail was in great shape and the experience and pace at which we hiked only increased our confidence that we could do the whole loop the next morning.
We woke up very early and were on the trail at 0350 with headlamps. We hiked just past the two mile mark (confirmed by GPS) and couldn’t find the sign. We continued on and finally encountered the sign at the 2.40 mile point just after the trail had done its first few (3 or 4) short switchbacks. (Spoiler alert:: we confirmed that distance of 2.40 miles upon our return, too). We made it to this point in just under 55 minutes and were quite happy with our speed.
The trail marker to Notch Mountain is, in fact, VERY obvious and virtually unmissable. The trail up is even better than the Fall Creek Trail and is truly Class 1 with very shallow pitch for the next 2.8 miles. The sky steadily lightened as we ascended and by the time we got above treeline there was an obvious orange glow developing. Over the next hour we were treated to as beautiful a Colorado sunrise as I’ve ever seen, with the Gore, Ten Mile, and Mosquito Ranges backlit by the sky, and the twins of Torreys and Greys Peaks in the distance. We made it to the Notch Mountain Shelter at 0625 and met a young couple that had hiked in parallel with us, leaving about 20 minutes earlier from the same campsite. We relaxed for a little while and felt really well, no doubt buoyed by the amazing views in all directions. (img12>
We left almost 20 minutes later, heading for the succession of summits that would lead up to MotHC glaring at us in the new daylight from across the Bowl of Tears.
The bouldering over the next two mini-summits (13,248 and 13,373) were anything but easy. The boulders are big and the three descents of each, in particular, really took a toll on our quads. I liken it somewhat to the boulders of Mt Princeton and I know there aren’t many fans of that sort of climbing. Because of the size of the boulders, it was easier to climb than to descend and we slowed at each descent picking our way through the rocks with the benefit of any noticeable cairns to mark a preferred route.
One of our hikers was lagging significantly and I wasn’t feeling very good either—my quads quivering from the descents and also a bit light-headed—something I attributed to returning from a 10-day trip to the low-altitude Pacific Northwest just two days before. I made it to the base of Pt 13,831 just before 0800 and didn’t feel good at all. I rested while the others caught up over the next few minutes—longer for the final member of the team. The remaining two peaks didn’t look too inviting and I as distinctly worried about finding myself either atop 13,831 or (worse) in the saddle between that point at the MotHC summit feeling even worse, with no good choices.
We pow-wowed for a few minutes and considered splitting into two groups—returning from when we came and summiting MotHC. The weather was still quite good with no hints of T-Storms, but after a pretty thorough evaluation of options, we decided that we would all return via the shelter and Fall Creek route, abandoning the summit for this trip.
We did just that, struggling over the two mini-summits again and hating those boulders. Our fourth hiker again lagged and we waited for him at the shelter, enjoying a relaxing lunch in the Sun as upslope clouds started to build pushing up from the valley below. It had taken us more than 90 minutes for this part of the return. We stayed another 30 minutes and started down again at 1005. The remaining descent was easy, but long, covering 5.2 miles back to the campsite in just over 1:45 and arriving back at camp just before noon.
We were disappointed that we didn’t summit, but even more convinced that we had made the right decision. It was one of those beautiful days in the Colorado mountains with an amazing sunrise and great views, plus we’d learned enough that now we have much better plans for finally conquering MotHC before the season comes to a snowy end—we’ll do one of the following: traditional route out and back in one day; pack to East Creek and do the traditional route starting the next morning; OR pack into the Notch Mountain Shelter and do the Halo Ridge out-and-back. I’ll keep you posted on what we decide.
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