| "I don't need to walk around in circles"...Oh wait, yes I do. (Halo Ridge)
Start time 5:00 a.m.
Finish time 5:58 p.m.
Miles: About 13.0
Total Elevation: About 6,037'
We stood atop (in this order):
Notch Mountain (13,237)
PT 13,831 (Holy Cross Ridge)
Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005)
You know how every book, every website, every trip report, every person lending advice will say that Halo Ridge is a long day, well, they are all lying. Just kidding What a massively behemoth day in the hills, especially when you add PT 12,743 and Notch Mountain.
A band called Soul Coughing has a song called "Circles" and it played on repeat in my head because we walked in a gigantic circle to make the summit of Holy Cross. We went around that whole damn mountain and saw her from every possible angle. She couldn't hide anything . Lucky for us she's a beaut. Circles for summits, it's the new thang!
~Half Moon Trail, 1.7 miles up Half Moon Pass
~Left on to vague frost covered "kind-of" trail into some willows and trees
~Abandon elusive trail and opt to scramble/boulder hop up the north side of Point 12,743 on some blocky (but solid) talus
~Rejoice the sun coming up on this 12,000 foot mountain before heading over to Notch Mountain.
~Admire things from the summit of Notch Mountain, head to Notch.
~Get lost in Notch and end up on some sketchy class five stuff covered in snow and ice
~Have a minor mental break down
~Bypass Class 5 snow and ice stuff on Class 3 snow and ice stuff
~Spot shelter, discuss possible cable/wi-fi hookups for over night stays, oh wait that is not allowed anymore
~Move on to PT 13,248
~Continue on to PT 13,373 where the brilliant idea to traverse Holy Cross Ridge to PT 13,768 from PT 13,831 (highest point on ridge) comes into play
~Eyeball and really hype up unknown part of ridge during traverse from PT 13,373 to PT 13,831
~Summit PT 13,831 and say "What the hell were we thinking? This is like really hard." Decide to tackle the rest of Holy Cross Ridge from Fancy Pass and perhaps involve Whitney Peak in a separate outing that does not already involve 13 miles and 6,037' in total elevation gain.
~Come to realization that this route really IS as long as everyone says while admiring and respecting the jagged terrain to the right
~Summit Holy Cross and celebrate with a coconut water
~Descend standard route
~It's true, there is a 1,000 foot elevation gain at the end of a really tiring day. It is not that bad and Half Moon Pass is spectacular.
~Control trail jog the last 1.7 miles watching out for roots that want to cause exhaustion face plants
~Get back to car and realize that everything you own hurts, even your hair and it may be a few days before you can walk right again. That's okay though, everyone in your math class already thinks you're weird.
Despite being warm and comfortable in my mummy bag I got about 3 hours total sleep at the Half Moon camp ground due to a little disease I have called alarm anticipation anxiety. It creeps up the night before a big exam or a big climb and fills my head with thoughts of my 3 set alarms simultaneously failing and me sleeping forever. Against all odds we hit Half Moon trail at 5 a.m. by the light of the full moon and quickly made our way up to the turn off for shall remained nameless PT 12,743. Let me tell you a story about the full moon reflecting off a frost covered forest. Magical, sparkly beautiful magic. Now if any of you crazy kids decide to tackle this beast, in this direction, in the dark, and happen to stumble upon my trip report I hope this may potentially help you. The turn off for PT 12,743 is very discrete (especially in the dark). It is a left hand turn at the top of the pass (if you start descending you've gone too far) and about 10 feet before is an offset pile of intertwined grass rocks.
(Taken on the way back)
The purple arrow shows the standard route on Half Moon Pass the pink arrow shows the very faint turn off trail to PT 12,743, the red arrow shows the landmark of grass rocks, and the yellow arrow shows the route we took; just climb up.
We were only on this turn off trail for maybe 5 minutes before we made the decision to scramble directly up to PT 12,743 where we watched the sun come up from the summit. I think the trail wraps around and still pops you out close to the summit. The scrambling is off trail class 2 with zero exposure and it is only mildly steep.
Someone's happy ( :
I would like to make mention of something both Andrew and I noted about this loop. It is not technically difficult (the hardest part is working around the notch in Notch Mountain) however, it is EXTREMELY easy to roll an ankle, sprain an ankle, or break an ankle and it would be quite awful to hobble down from any point along this ridge line. From the moment we began ascending PT 12,743 until the stairs began on the standard route descent we were rock hopping. There are a few spots where we needed to use our hands but for the most part the ENTIRE ridge is up and down, up and down, up and down boulder jump balancing. I think this skill is somewhat of an art and if you are not good at it you will be after this loop. We also noticed that there were far less loose boulders and everything was fairly (there were still ankle biters lurking) solid. If you don't like bouncing from rock to rock this is not the route for you. It is not just mindless walking, if you break attention you break an ankle.
From PT 12,743 Notch Mountain is easy to attain but the rest of the ridge is deceivingly hidden and looks much shorter than reality will demonstrate. We found a plaque on the climb up giving us a little history of the first man to sit on atop a large boulder and gaze at Mount of the Holy Cross. This sparked a conversation about the first men and women to summit these mountains. How did they do it without golite equipment, camelbacks, 14ers.com route descriptions, trip reports, or Guenella Pass Road?
Here sat a man on a boulder....
Holy Cross from Notch Mountain.
The next move was to get from Notch Mountain over to the Notch Mountain shelter and this was the most technical part of the day. There was snow on the entire route above 12,000 feet and where it was a nuisance in places (no we did not have microspikes tsk tsk) it presented the biggest challenge in working our way through the cliff bands after the notch. Standing on the summit of Notch Mountain getting to the other side of its namesake looks completely impossible but there's a way, there's always a way. Unfortunately I don't have many pictures because things got a bit dicey. First, descend off of Notch Mountain a bit and come to a fork in the road where two common options present themselves; left or right? Right (west). Traverse through some minor class three stuff (covered in snow) to attain the actual notch.
It will be quite obvious standing in the notch that the only way to maneuver back up to ridge proper is to continue on the right (west) side unless you have some climbing gear or major cojones. The safest route back up from the west side is not obvious and there was lots of snow and ice to farther complicate things. We chose to traverse for a couple of minutes and then ascended too soon placing us in some nice cliffy class 5 terrain covered in ice and snow. We lost some time here trying to find a route up before we called it and descended back down (this is where I had a (mmm) minor mental meltdown (snow is cold and slippery!)) to where we started at which point we re-assessed. We went down and around the lowest cliff band and then made an ascending traverse until we popped back up on the ridge. This was the class 3 way to do things. The original choice we made could have been fun had there not been ice and snow.
The original of this photo was quite amazing showing the bluebird day, changing fall foliage and mountains in the background, and a good portion of the initial ridge we traversed but I had to muck it up if I was to put any sort of visual to my words. The notch is obvious, the pink arrow is the initial difficulty, the red NO sign is where we first ascended and it is most certainly class 4/5 terrain, and the yellow arrows show the class 3 way we found around. This photo was taken from the summit of Holy Cross and it looks as if the snow has melted but I doubt that seeing how there was still snow present on our way off (west side) of Holy Cross.
Slightly rattled we made our way over to the shelter and poked around inside while eating energy bars. This is the point we both decided we were super sick of energy bars and needed to come up with new hiking food ideas. Earlier this summer when I first began climbing mountains my appetite seemed to be non-existent and I would bring these ridiculous gourmet meals that took up 80% of my backpack. Since I wasn't eating any of the 30 pounds of food I was lugging around I decided to go with electrolyte gel, fruit snacks, bars, coconut water, and a pb&j sandwich. This worked for a while but the last few mountains I have climbed I become "ravenously-my stomach is eating itself hungry" and energy bars only serve to intensify this feeling. Back to the food preparation drawing board I suppose.
Shelter seen from PT 13,224
I enjoy off trail hiking and route finding but some don't so I bestow upon you the gift of more information. Once we left Half Moon Pass there was no more trail until the stairs begin off of the standard route of Holy Cross. There are cairns along "Halo Ridge" but in my personal opinion it is very clear and very obvious where to go. We had a good old Sky Terrain topographic map of the area and a compass but we only used it to identify the mountains surrounding us. The only way I think one could get lost on this ridge is if the weather suddenly turned or clouded judgment due to exhaustion led someone to believe a random descent would be possible (it normally never was). We were above 13,000 feet for 8+ hours and there really is NO escape. This is a phenomenally beautiful area but it is also one of the most rugged. I understand why Holy Cross wilderness is dubbed the Bermuda triangle of Colorado. The story in Gerry Roach's book about the woman who found this ridge too arduous and tried to contour in-between the saddle of Holy Cross ridge (PT 13,831) and Mount of the Holy Cross and was never seen again weighed heavily on my mind Both of us were properly conditioned for this day however, it pushed us and I did end up with a slight case of altitude sickness (again 8+ hours above 13,000 feet).
Onwards we go!!! The trek from the shelter to PT 13,248 starts as a walk on a grassy saddle and ends with a scramble up some talus (never exceeds class 2). Funny story: You cannot see the Bowl of Tears until you round the bend and start up PT 13,373 but there is some tricksy depth perception plateau thingy surrounded by death cliffs with a dried up puddle that I kept insisting was the Bowl of Tears. I kept asking Andrew why Mount of the Holy Cross stopped crying and even though he clearly stated many times we just couldn't see it yet I insisted I was right (sadly I was not).
Summit of PT 13,248
PT 13,248 to PT 13,373 is more involved and a decent amount of elevation is lost meaning a nice steep upward push will follow. After making the summit of PT 13,373 I started feeling the day (and it wasn't even close to being over).
Gaining the summit of PT 13,373
Real Bowl of Tears.
Summit of PT 13,373
Behind Whitney Peak is a very snowy Mount Massive and Mount Elbert.
Whitney Peak (13,271) stands behind the Tuhare Lakes.
It was atop of PT 13,373 that we caught sight of Holy Cross Ridge in all of its glory and realized that the portion we would traverse (from Point 13,831 to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross) was a mere morsel of the ridge in its entirety. We consulted our map and decided that we could traverse from PT 13,831 over to PT 13,768 and back to add on a little something extra and experience more ridge. However the trek from PT 13,373 to PT 13,831 is exhausting and once we made the summit of PT 13,831 (named Holy Cross Ridge because it is the highest point) the final section of ridge over to Holy Cross showed itself and it was still far away. Although the weather was PERFECT we knew this extra endeavor was a bad idea (we were both tired). From the top of PT 13,831 we choked down more energy bars and came up with a plan for a different day. I am pretty excited about this one !!! From Fancy Creek TH we would take the Fancy Creek trail to Fancy Pass where at the crest we would make a right (north) and attain Holy Cross Ridge from its start. Traverse this ridge in its entirety making the summit of PT 13,192, PT 13,618, PT 13,768, PT 13,831, and finally Mount of the Holy Cross. Re-trace our steps back to PT 13,786 and turn left (east) unto the connecting ridge (not sure if it connects) between PT 13,786 and Whitney Peak. Summit Whitney Peak and drop down to connect with Fall Creek Pass and then Fall Creek Trail. From here it is slightly confusing on my map but it appears there are several ways to get back to Fancy Creek Trail. Unless anyone can rain on my parade it looks doable? If our plans for the Bells or Wetterhorn/Matterhorn fall through next weekend this is our contingency plan. Either way I loved this area so much I will return to try this route and I would be honored to stand atop Holy Cross again.
Taken from the descent off of PT 13,373. The yellow triangle is (Holy Cross Ridge) PT 13,831 and the Halo Ridge route continues to the right (north). The pinkish triangle points to PT 13,768 and behind that (south) Holy Cross Ridge extends.
Glad we saved this portion for another day (in between yellow and pink triangles)
From PT 13,831 to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross entails a long and tedious downward boulder hopping session and then the non-trail route meets with the "standard trail" which is some cairns leading the way to the summit. We also had close up views of the insane couloirs that crazy winter people climb (amongst whom I hope to join the ranks of). We got some strange "where the hell did you come from" looks and one lady even asked us if we "went the right way?" However, the actual summit we had to ourselves (LOVE that). We were able to see our accomplishment in a panoramic span and with a little bit of altitude sickness (on my part) happily high-fived each other. It was one thirty p.m. and there was one small cloud to the far far east of us, it looked like a feather. It felt and smelled like fall. In all of the days I have had in the mountains I have never experienced weather this perfect. Where it was definitely chilly there was hardly any wind and it was bluebird. Anyone who climbed a 14er, 13er, 12er or just looked outside on Friday will agree: Best weather day of the season!
Mount of the Holy Cross, Number 20!
Mount of the Holy Cross, Number 25!
Following the standard trail down was a breeze. The initial descent (final ascent) is the trickiest part and required more boulder hopping a skill we had mastered. Once back on the North Ridge, trail crews have built stairs the entire way down making for a quick and smooth descent however, it is still nearly 6 miles back to the TH. Six miles of beautiful wilderness. There was some discussion in a post I made about Notch Mountain over which way is best to do this loop. In my humble opinion coming down the standard well maintained trail at the end of a long day is the way to go. Much of the debate was over the last 1,000 feet of elevation you must gain on Half Moon Pass on the way back to the TH. Let me be quite frank, compared to what we had done this was a super mellow grade that switch backed up an established trail in a beautiful forest. In other words, it was not difficult. We were not setting any time records but both of us joked over the Half Moon hype. If you are in good enough shape to do this loop you will have no problemo with this 1,000 foot gain at the end of the day. The reason I highly recommend traversing the ridge first is it requires a lot of mental attention (as previously mentioned) where walking down the standard trail the mind can wander with far less consequence. And sometimes a mental break yields a second wind.
Someone's STILL happy!!! (Standard trail on North Ridge)
Before Half Moon Pass begins its treacherous climb uphill there is a creek crossing and some established back country camping spots in an amazing area. I'd love to stay one day. Andrew scurried across the creek and set up on the other side to catch some action shots if I fell in (because I do quite often).
I didn't fall in!!!
Half Moon Pass......beautifulllll
So...I kind of figured out that long ridges seem to be my thing. This day was comparable to Ellingwood Ridge although far less technical but perhaps a wee bit more physically demanding (I say this with hesitation). Either way I like long days, long mileage, lots of elevation gain, and if I can get some scrambling out of it, I'm happy.
Fall was present all day and I understand why it is for some the favorite of the 4 seasons. Holy Cross Wilderness blew my socks off, what a fantastic area. Even if you're not into hiking 14ers, the hike up and over HMP alone is simply stunning. There is a dusting of snow on Holy Cross and we saw snow on all the mountains in the Elk Range (we had unprecedented views) and the Sawatchers we could see (Massive, Elbert, and La Plata).
Couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to do this circle! My hopes are someone reads this and follows in our footsteps. I HIGHLY recommend this route (don't leave out PT 12,743 and Notch Mountain) and in this direction. There isn't intense scrambling (as long as you heed my warnings around the notch) and as long as you are in good physical shape this is simply a great day. We were able to see the same views from many different vantage points and different views of the surrounding area, it gave me a new perspective on mountain climbing.
I don't have a lot of fancy computer gear but I am going to attempt to string together ridge shots in a manner that shows the length of this route.
Taken from the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross, the black arrow points at PT 12,743. We came up the side (north) that is not visible. If you look at the bottom left corner of this photo that is the HMP area. The notch is easy to see and Notch Mountain is on the left side. The pink arrow points to PT 13,224 and the yellow arrow points to the Notch Mountain shelter. The green arrow is where the route is heading.
Also taken from the summit of Holy Cross, the Notch Mountain shelter can be spotted on the ridge on the very far left in the photo. The black arrow is pointing to PT 13,248 and the red arrow is showing where the route is heading.
This photo was taken from the summit of PT 13,373 and is looking back at the ground covered. PT 12,743 is not visible but Notch Mountain and its shelter are. The black arrow points to PT 13,248 and the green arrow is showing where we scrambled up.
The next photo was taken from Notch Mountain and shows the ridge in between PT 13,373 (pink arrow) and PT 13,831 (Holy Cross Ridge) (black arrow). This was the most tiresome part for me. The yellow arrow shows PT 13,768 on the more southern part of Holy Cross Ridge. And the orange arrow is where the route is heading, it is not visible, Holy Cross blocks the view.
I took this photo from the descent off of PT 13,831 (black arrow). The red arrows show a different angle of the ascent to gain the high point of HCR. The yellow arrows points south on HCR.
Shot from the same vantage point this photo shows the final route to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross!!! (black arrow)
And that is a wrap! Happy climbing everyone
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):