| Quite the adventure in the HCW
RT Mileage - ~ 28 miles
Group - Kiefer, Sean, Pete and I
Elevation ~ 8,000ft (give or take 500ft)
Ski season over, it was time for some spring climbs. Kiefer, in preparation for his Denali trip next month, had been eyeing a challenging winter/spring route for some time. Having made an attempt at Holy Cross last winter with his climbing friend, Glen, it sounded each time we spoke, he was eager to get back up there. Sean (sstraus on this site), Pete, myself and Kiefer all met up at the T-Rex lot Monday afternoon, packed up the Jeep and made our way for the Tigiwon Rd. Sean was nice enough to drive his grand cherokee and we smushed our 4 monster packs in his ride for the drive to Minturn.
We arrived at the 7,900 ft TH around 5pm, which proved to be a tad late for an evening approach, especially for a route of this nature in this time of season. With darkness approaching and the heavy packs weighing us down, we opted to camp out at the Community House with dinner preparations and firewood assembled with the fading sunset.
Our hike up the road, fortunately the road was packed down due to NOVA Guide snowmobile tours
Our view from our campsite
We all slept very well that night and woke up around 5am. This would prove, as the day wore on, to be the biggest mistake of the trip, but experience and hindsight gained and another lesson learned. A 5am start may work on a mountain other than Holy Cross, but we all agreed, given our camp elevation, group size, knowledge of the route and length of the route, an earlier start would've given us a much better chance to summit. Nonetheless, it was a great tour of the Holy Cross Wilderness at the very "least" and a seldom visited region this type of year, not to mention a brutal workout.
Anyways, back to the climb. We reached the summer TH around 8am, about an hour and 15 minutes from our departure from the community house. We put on our snowshoes and made our way for Halfmoon Pass at 11,640 or so feet. After a steady 1500 feet of consistent climbing, we reached the pass around 9am, with a decent view of our route for the day and not a cloud in the sky, nor wind.
Ascending towards Half Moon
Our view of the route to the North Ridge, as well as one of the few avy prone sections along Notch Mtn's North slopes
From reading Steve Gladbach's report as well as Dawson's winter description regarding the descent/ascent from Half Moon Pass into the creek, we knew this was going to be the crux of the route. Steve mentioned postholing through sugar on the way back up after his recon the night before summit day and Dawson simply telling the climber to "persevere". Kiefer kept stressing the difficulty of this section and none of us really grasped this until we were in the thick of the basin.
As we were passing along the north slopes of Notch, spread apart as much as possible, we got our first glimpse of our objective...
It was a tad demoralizing, given its distance from our locations, but mesmerizing and awe inspiring at the same time. This is an incredible mountain, I could instantly see Kiefer's draw to its appeal.
We travelled quickly across the snowfield of Notch's northern slopes with no signs of concern and reached the dreaded start of our descent into the basin below. Kiefer found a nice vantage point to assess the slope and was able to find a grove of small aspens with a mellower slope than the cliffed out, steep slopes surrounding us. There was a decent amount of slipping and postholing involved, but we were able to navigate our way to the basin floor in an efficient matter of time. According to Pete's altimeter watch, we had descended well over 1,000 feet down into the creek. Accurate or not, we felt we had lost a lot of our previous efforts from the past couple hours and this was even more demoralizing. As a group, we did a solid job of keeping the mood at ease and trying to keep our minds off the grueling task at hand.
Here was a noticeable landmark while navigating through the creek
At this point, Pete had been sweating perfusely and used up 75% of his water for the day. Kiefer was running low as well, but having climbed with him many times before, I knew he was unlike most humans and could survive and climb just as strong with minimal intake, he's just fortunate in that way. Sean and I had the most and elected to brake trail for a little while. We were able to navigate our way through the trees in a southwesterly direction towards what we thought was the bse of Holy Cross' North Ridge. We overshot our objective a tad to the West and came face to face with a very open snowfield on its western slopes.
Our view towards the ridge
I was in lead at this point, giving Kiefer a rest from trail braking duties and decided to travel in a switchback direction to conserve some much needed energy. Sean and I "persevered" up the slope, taking minimal stops until Kiefer and Pete caught up. Kiefer had stayed a little behind to motivate Pete, who had nearly depleted his water supply and was really beginning to show signs of fatigue, if not complete exhaustion. Kiefer really must've inspired Pete, cause by the time they caught up to us, everyone seemed to have found a second wind and a newfound spirit. I really thought, at this point, we all were going to make it. We had enough food and water to ration between the group, but time was really not on our side. That and the endless number of false summits of the North Ridge, it was a sick joke.
Sean with Holy Cross finally coming into view along the North Ridge
Kiefer had broken off from the pack and was a good couple hundred feet above us. Sean and I were climbing together with Pete bringing up the rear.
Looking over at Notch
Sean and I decided to takea short break and allow Pete to catch up. He did and stated he was in "survival mode". This was the nail in the coffin as far as pushing on and Sean and I knew we had to find Kiefer for a group discussion. I told them I'd run up and try to catch Kiefer and let him know the situation, while Sean stayed with Pete. He said if he didn't see me in 30 minutes, they'd start their descent with the hopes we'd either elect to summit and catch up eventually or just regroup and get the hell out of there.
I began to run up the ridge but then noticed one, I was nearly exhausted and two, I was running a little too close to a cornice overhanging the ridge and immediately had glimpses of Sarah Thompson's nightmare a year before. I backed away and hugged the rock outcroppings as much as possible, following Kiefer's tracks. I finally met up with him around 13,400ft, just below the final push to the summit, we were so f**king close.
What a view
I told Kiefer the situation and we went over our options. Option A was to drop our packs, dart for the summit and meet up with Sean and Pete. Option B was summit, take the Halo Ridge back to the TH and hope they find their way back the way we came. Option C was to simply head back as a group. After a long contemplation, we decided sticking together as a group of 4 with more food and 2 headlamps, we'd atleast guarentee we all make it safely back to camp and have a good night's rest in the shelter. It was tough to make the call, given our closeness to the summit, it was literally right there, but I wasn't going to let summit fever get in the way of the best interests of the group. In this situation, it felt better to forego the summit, it just did. Its a fine mountain and we all knew we'd be back sooner or later.
Our last view of the summit before we turned around. I ran into Kiefer a couple hundred feet higher along the ridge
The descent back into the basin was taxing on all of us. Somewhere along the line, I hit a wall and all the aches and pains were wearing on my psyche. The bum left ankle, the blisters, the shoulder straps and my energy level all began to weigh down on me. The ascent back to Half Moon Pass was not welcome by any means. I'm in a pretty good mood right now so I'm not going to recollect. Between me wanting some hot raman, Sean's starburst and a small fountain of melting ice, we made it back to the Pass in less effort than I thought.
The ascent was a bitch, the views definately were not. I've always looked upon the Gore Range quite fondly, especially while climbing in them. Yesterday, we all were fortunate enough, despite the strenuous efforts of the climb, to get an amazing view of them with the sunsetting. Here's a few shots.
Eagle's Nest, Powell and the Ripsaw Ridge
Our route back to Halfmoon
Halfmoon Pass at dusk
And the last remnants of the sun setting over The Grand Traverse and the Eastern Gores
During this stretch, I completely forgot about the pain and the frustration of not summiting and was able to enjoy the remainder of the day. We reached the summer TH around 8:30pm, a 14 hour day and we still had 2 miles to the campsite. Hot ramen, cold beers, jack daniels, cinnamon bagels, teriyaki chicken and most importantly, Chipotle Tabasco, were enjoyed by all.
The next morning (which happens to be this morning since I couldn't sleep when I got home and decided the best way to spend my Wednesday was to write this), we awoke casually, packed up and were ready for some big, hot meals, preferably mexican.
Pete was more ready than ever to get the hell out of dodge. I think the only words out of his mouth since the night before was "I got nothing left" and "Lasagna".
Gores with Pete haulin ass to the car
Never made the summit, but it was an adventure nonetheless with a solid group. I guess the biggest thing we got out of this outing was to not make such big assumptions and start EARLY. Holy Cross is no slouch, thats for damn sure.
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