| Party in the Couloir
I remember looking at pictures of Mt of the Holy Cross years ago thinking that not only was it a cool mountain because of the cross on it, but it was a cool looking mountain because the cross looked like a sweet way to climb it. A couple weeks ago a friend and I decided it was time. We found out that the Tigiwon road was opening on the 21st, and started the planning. The plan was to drive up Friday evening, hike to East Cross Creek and camp and do the Cross Couloir on Saturday morning. To add to the fun of the trip, my dad decided to come along with us and climb the standard route while we climbed the couloir.
My dad and I arrived at the trailhead around 3:00 on Friday afternoon. As soon as we arrived, we passed a guy who had just skied the couloir. I talked to him for a few minutes to gather intel on the couloir conditions. I basically gleaned that couloir was in good shape and that the snow should be great for cramponing up.
We hiked over Half Moon Pass and dropped into East Cross Creek. On the way we got our first glimpse of the mountain.
We arrived into camp about 5:00. While in camp I ran into several others that were also planning on climbing the Couloir. Including my party, I counted 7 climbers and at least 2 skiers. It was going to be a crowded day. In my head, I had images of boulders flying down the couloir. Fortunately, we never witnessed any such thing.
We awoke at 5:30 on Saturday morning to beautiful blue skies, no wind and a pleasant temperature of 55 degrees. I had a quick, cold and pretty gross energy bar breakfast and we were on our way. We found the climbers trail just over on the west side of East Cross Creek (though had no luck finding the trail that didn’t have the “Restoration Area” sign on it… sorry.) and were on our way up along East Cross Creek.
We hiked on a clear trail for about a quarter of a mile. After a little ways, the trail seemed to dead end at the creek, so we crossed over to the East side. We quickly found out that this was the wrong decision. The key is to stay on the west side of the creek. There are a few big boulders that you have to scramble up and over and after the first little bit, the trail is actually above the creek and not right next to it. We got to the base of the cliff where the creek cascades, and found the climbers trail going up a gully on the west side of the drainage. The trail was very clear. We also got a nice view of the mountain at the top of the gully.
The mountain in early morning
Once on the trail we followed it for a while longer til we lost it in a snow bank… again. Fortunately we knew we had to go up, so we just kept going. When we got above Lake Patricia, we temporarily found the trail, but we ended up going the wrong way and were lead though a massive boulder field. When you get to the top of the little valley above Lake Patricia, don’t go far right, stay left. The picture here shows where we made the wrong turn. The correct direction is to go to the left side of the rock pile here.
Go left if you get to this spot!
After doing some boulder scrambling, we got back down to the valley floor. We hike a few hundred yards further and were able to see the bottom of the couloir. The couloir runs out into a cliff, so unless you have rock climbing gear, you must go to the south east face of the mountain and drop in the couloir above the cliff band. One of the groups I talked with was actually doing the technical ascent. If you look closely, you can seen them in the picture, pretty much in the center, just to the right of the couloir.
Looking up the cliff at the bottom of the couloir
We continued upstream to the bowl of tears where we began the steep climb up the slopes to couloir. From the Bowl of Tears we could see the route up to the grassy slopes to the couloir. Two other climbers were about 15 minutes ahead of us on the hill.
The route up to the couloir
Looking back down on The Bowl of Tears
We reached the entrance to the couloir mid morning, maybe about 9:00-9:30. The other climbers were just starting the couloir as we arrived.
We geared up, donning our helmets, axes and crampons. It was my first challenging snow climb in a few years so I also put my harness on in case I got uncomfortable and had to be put on belay. I stepped in a traversed to the center with my other two companions right behind me. The angle was 30-35 degrees at the start.
Looking up the couloir from the bottom
I climbed a little further and gained slightly on the other climbers. At the same time, a group of about 5 skiers and one snowboarder were descending the slope. The snowboarder was even sporting an ice ax… smart for self arrest, maybe not so good for sharp object in a fall! You can see 2 climbers, 2 skiers and 1 snowboarder in the picture below. It was feeling pretty crowded!
Party in the Couloir!
We climbed further. Just before the horizontal part of the cross, the couloir narrowed to about 15 feet and also got a little steeper, perhaps 40 degrees. I stopped here to take one more shot of the rest of my party climbing up towards me.
Looking back down just before the center of the cross
We stopped at the center of the cross and took a 5 minute break to hydrate and snack before the last part of the cross. The remainder of the cross got steeper again, topping out at about 45 degrees. I was making sure my ax was secure and each step was carefully kicked and secure! As I was finishing the climb out, the first of the rock climbers from earlier in the day passed me.
Pictures never make it look as steep as it feels when you are climbing out!
We arrived at the summit to meet my dad, who had been hanging out for over 2 hours! He just finished a marathon 2 weeks before, so he made quick work of the standard route! Fortunately it was gorgeous weather on the top: in the 50s or 60s with only a light breeze. We soaked up the glory of the summit for a while, and took the obligatory summit photos.
Summit shot with my dad
We also took the obligatory Which Wich photo, but didn’t have the bags, so we’ll photoshop those later… shhhh!
Which Wich shot... to be photoshopped!
Update: we fixed the Which Wich Bag photo. Is it too obvious?
Fixed the Which Wich Bag Problem
After a long slog back to camp, we recouped and snacked for a while. Knowing that we couldn’t stay the night with only a ½ cup of granola, we packed up camp and headed back to the cars. Hit the road and made it home to the family in time for a reasonable bed time… after a much needed shower.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):