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 Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Holy Cross Ridge  -  13,831 feet
PT 13,248  -  13,248 feet
 Post Date:  08/03/2009 Modified: 08/04/2009
 Date Climbed:   07/25/2009
 Posted By:  KeithK

 Measure Twice, Hike Once   

Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005'), Holy Cross Ridge (13,831'), PT. 13,248'
July 25, 2009
Route: Halo Ridge, starting at Halfmoon TH, finishing at Fall Creek TH.
Elevation Gain: ~5,200'
Round Trip: ~14 miles/12-ish hours.
Willing Sufferers: Colleen (oriiion), Stephanie (slynn4_13run), Kiefer and Keith


"We are just going to do something mellow… maybe Halo Ridge." – Stephanie, email correspondence.

Yes, mellow, that's what I'm looking for. Wait? Halo Ridge??? Umm, okay, why not!? I don't know what has happened to me, but I suddenly seem to be very agreeable with ideas that once would have been completely disagreeable. Fifteen miles, most of it above tree line, and a great deal of trail-less class two rock hopping, that sounds fun. Fun? That sounds like a ruthless slog! Well, it once would have, but now… fun!

Mount of the Holy Cross has maintained a stigma of sorts in my mind. The mountain has a reputation for losing hikers, and the route is known to be a long, grueling trek. A lot of people choose to backpack in and make it a two day affair. Some have said that it's harder than Longs Peak. All of these factors combine to pique the curiosity, and build the trepidation.

Colleen was first to arrive; only minutes after Stephanie called to inform me that she and Kiefer were running late. No problem, I thought, since I really wasn't feeling inspired at 5 o'clock in the morning. A late night as the result of an hour-plus wait for Pizza in Buena Vista and a quick foray into the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs was to blame for my lethargy, in addition to the twelve mile, nine hour trek across Tabeguache Peak and Mt. Shavano earlier in the day. This is a vacation? I guess so. Colleen and I set off at 5:35, knowing that Stephanie and Kiefer would catch us soon enough, more than likely before they locked the doors on the Liberty. I was looking forward to hiking with these two, as we've corresponded for a long time, but have never really hiked together. I was also intimidated, knowing that one of them thinks that it's fun to run long distances on purpose, while the other has been off globetrotting across peaks named Denali and Rainier. Maybe I'll catch a third wind before they catch up to me… somewhere before Half Moon Pass.

A lazy sunrise reveals the jagged skyline of the Gore Range…


I began to feel a bit livelier as the sun found the back of my head, only a few minutes shy of the Pass. Stopping to admire the expanding views, I heard voices and there they were, Kiefer, Steph and Zion, one of the hairier hiking partners I've had to date. And also one of the most amenable, he never once argued about the route, the weather, or berated me for taking pictures of his less attractive side. I'll hike with you anytime, Zion! ;) We caught up to Colleen, made some introductions, and began the leisurely walk down-hill into East Cross Creek. Actually, almost a thousand feet of down-hill, which has to be re-climbed on the way up to Holy Cross or on the return trip for those that are more sensible in their choice of route. Either way, it's a cruel trick for the trail makers to play.

Mt. Jackson can't be that hard to climb, it's no taller than a pine tree…


The famous mountain makes its first appearance…


Dropping down into the valley was easy, made all the more expedient by the swarm of thirsty mosquitoes that relentlessly accompanied us. From the early stages of the hike, the insects were present and accounted for, and hungry! Too bad the Deep Woods Off was still in the back of my truck. Maintaining a decent pace, we crossed the creek and began the remorseful climb back up out of the drainage, stopping just before and after tree line for a snack and some sunscreen.

A wider view of the big mountain…


Another glorious Colorado morning…


It's not difficult to see why people can get lost on the descent from Mount of the Holy Cross. The talus blends into a sloping landscape that drops away from the East Cross Creek drainage, and it would be easy to become disoriented in bad weather. Marking the trail at tree line with a GPS waypoint or on a topo map would be very wise. The trail does continue through the talus and tundra, though, and is easy to follow in good weather. Large cairns are plentiful.

Venturing into the lower talus field as Mount of the Holy Cross looks on…


Colleen and Kiefer nearly disappear…


As we steadily gained our way up the ridge, the views of the Bowl of Tears and Lake Patricia continually evolved, and it was easy to see why this area is so fondly embraced by so many hikers. A gorgeous, rugged basin belies a taste of the Sangre de Cristos in the Sawatch, setting itself apart from its more ordinary cousins throughout the range to the south. To the west, the Elk Range was resplendent and nearly complete, with Pyramid Peak, the Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mtn., Capitol Peak and Mt. Sopris all competing for attention. This was definitely becoming my favorite Sawatch hike.

Peeking into the Bowl of Tears…


Lake Patricia nestled snuggly against the towering face of Notch Mtn…


The Elk Range beckons…


The relentless elevation gain continued, and so did my declining energy. Going uphill makes me tired. Fortunately, my partners would make frequent stops, allowing me to at least catch up and feel like I was making progress. We finally reached the top of the Angelica Couloir, which marks the base of the summit pitch. It looked a lot harder than it was, as the boulders are large and abundant, and there are multiple routes up, over and around them.

Spotting some trail segments along the lower part of the ridge climb…


Kiefer discovers snow but can't goad Stephanie into a snow ball fight…


The misleading but imposing view of the summit ridge…


Summit bound…


Cairns mark more than one route, so we just picked what looked easiest; I eventually trended more to climber's right as that seemed to offer better lines. Before long, I joined my team on the summit for some chocolate, Accelerade and Zingers. Zingers have coconut on them. I've never seen such a violent reaction to coconut. Zion seemed to like what his mommy didn't, though.

The perfect symmetry of Grays and Torreys…


Eagles Nest and the rest of the Holy Cross Wilderness to the west…


Yet another great look at the Gore Range…


Previewing peak number 2 for the day…


Our group on the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross… (image by Kiefer)


I asked Kiefer what he thought of the weather, and he replied "I think it looks good!" That was all we needed, as we began the descent, veering to the northwest side of the ridge, aiming for the snow-covered saddle between Mount of the Holy Cross and Holy Cross Ridge, the Centennial thirteener that would be our next destination for the day. I expected that we'd be hard pressed to find a trail, and I was more or less right, although there are cairns scattered along the ridge up to the summit. We ran into a couple of groups on their way down, and they warned us that it was a grueling route. I took their advice seriously, although I was a bit skeptical, since Kiefer and I had discussed the logistics of climbing the route counter-clockwise, effectively achieving the majority of the elevation gain early in the day. We pressed along the familiar talus blocks, finding less solid footing than we had enjoyed earlier. This would require a bit of careful attention to detail for the rest of the journey along the ridge.

Descending towards Holy Cross Ridge…


Doesn't look so bad…


Kiefer leads the way across the impressive cornice at the saddle…


Steph and Kiefer, no doubt contemplating some future adventure…


Zion dresses a bit heavy for summer… (image by Stephanie)


On the summit of Holy Cross Ridge…


With a long trek ahead, and undetermined weather, we spent little time on the summit of Holy Cross Ridge. The descent was an easy, deliberate boulder hop down to a long tundra flat. Easy hiking was a nice, albeit brief, reprieve from the rock hopping, but we were soon back to the next point along the ridge, which of course Steph and Kiefer insisted we climb. And they weren't letting me off the hook to take the quick class three route that they did, either. Colleen was more sensible. It was fun to scramble for a few feet, and our energy was still good, even though the realization of the length of this journey was beginning to creep in. We weren't even half way yet! The weather was cooperating, though, and the views were spectacular, with the Bowl of Tears on one side, and the Tuhare Lakes down to the west. Mt. Massive filled in the southern skyline, and the coolest 12er in the state, Mt. Sopris, maintained its presence as well.

The Bowl of Tears from south of Holy Cross Ridge…


The Tuhare Lakes…


Not to be forgotten, Mt. Sopris doesn't hide over in the Roaring Fork Valley…


Mt. Massive…


A representative shot of the terrain before reaching the most difficult route-finding of the day…


Unranked Pt. 13,373' soon reared its ugly head, and we began scrambling over class two blocks again to its summit. I'm not sure if there was a by-pass route for this one, and I'd like to know if there is, as the down-climb on the south side was by far the most difficult part of the day. The boulders were spaced awkwardly, and there were not the same clean lines that we'd had the fortune of enjoying up until this point. The important part of this down-climb is to aim due south, as the point drops away into sheer cliffs to the east and north. Kiefer and Steph made this section seem easy, but I struggled with it. I think my trekking poles actually proved to be more of a hindrance here, as it was too steep and awkward for them. Somehow I ground it out, and caught up to join Colleen as she too carefully picked her way down the talus. With this section behind us, fatigue was beginning to set in, and I think we were all getting tired. This was longer than we thought it would be.

Downclimbing from Pt. 13,373'to manageable terrain…


Trying to discern the route through the next set of obstacles…


Mount of the Holy Cross in living color… (image by Stephanie)


Steph and Zion long for the Notch Mtn. Shelter… (image by Kiefer)


After a subdued break, we set off to explore more of the ridge line. Mike Rodenak mentions a series of gendarmes in his Halo Ridge route description, and these would be our next challenge. The boulders were huge, but more than navigable, and we climbed, scrambled or scooted our way through the difficulties. Did I mention spiders? Oh yeah, there are spiders. Everywhere. You cannot move ten feel anywhere on this ridge without encountering an arachnid, and their webs blocked every gap within the talus. For the most part, I found it easiest to stay on top of the boulders whenever possible, avoiding down climbing into holes or notches, where huge webs were sure to be strung.

Scrambling over and/or around a gendarme…


Kiefer and Steph were tutored by mountain goats…


Beyond the last gendarme, with ranked Pt. 13,248' in our sights…


Our first peek at the Cross Couloir…

Back on the talus/tundra mix, easy hiking ensued, and I let the way towards Pt. 13,248'. I was out of water, and thirsty and getting tired of the boulder hopping/tipping/climbing that had been the order of the day to this point. As we began the last of our elevation gain for the day, it began to rain. Well, the wind picked up, and it began to blow rain at us. Colorado is great; you can hike in sunshine and still be rained on. Following an obvious gully of sorts across the tundra, we returned to the ridge crest where the next big pile of rocks sat in front of us. The rain subsided on cue, and Kiefer and Steph set out to begin the traverse along the north side of the ridge, before I suggested to Kiefer that this might actually be a ranked point. I knew that would get his attention, and it was straight up from there! From the summit, it was more rock-hopping along the ridge, the Notch Mtn. Shelter now within our grasp. I actually really began to enjoy the day again, as the boulders were spaced perfectly, and jumping from one to the other became a rhythmic exercise, less work than routine. Or I caught my fifth wind.

Finally…


Notch Mtn. teases, but will have to wait for another day…


Taking a welcome break from the wind, Colleen kindly gave me a half liter of water, which did not last very long. This is a long hike, and there are no water sources above tree line, so plan accordingly! I was on my fifth liter at that point. Already close to 4:00, we reluctantly gathered ourselves for the final push, knowing that it would all be downhill. All of it. We thought it was about 2 miles to the trailhead. Not 2.5 miles to the trail split, where another 2.3 miles awaits before anything resembling a parking lot appears. Oops, I guess I should have read the route description more thoroughly!

There are only about 700 switchbacks on the descent from the shelter, and they don't go by quickly. Still, this is a good place to learn things. For instance, I learned that I need to see The Dark Knight immediately, or Kiefer will not be my friend. This is in addition to an earlier recommendation that we all need to see The Watchmen. I'll get around to it, Kiefer, I promise I will! ;) Finally reaching the first stunted signs of tree life, the trail drops into a brief but beautiful meadow, where the wild flowers were on full display in the afternoon sun. There is also the sounds of water running, a welcome relief for those that carried a filter in their pack for the first time all summer. A fortuitous choice.

Staring off into the future…


Kiefer stops to chat with a couple on their way up…


Unfortunately, the proximity of water also brought the presence of hungry, flying insects, and we would be assaulted all the way back to the trailhead by the relentless creatures. Fortunately, my filtered water kept me going, and the blood loss was not enough to cause dizziness or hallucination. There's a headline, "Hiker passes out from blood loss. Happy mosquitoes not available for comment."

At the trail split, we met Jeremy from Boulder, who provided a welcome reason to take a break. A short break, while the insects continued to work feverishly. Stopping anywhere in the wilderness below tree line is just a bad idea, I think. We marched down the trail, and I began to even jog a bit, thinking that we were close to the end. We weren't. Finally turning a corner to find Colleen soaking her feet in the creek (she had turned on auto pilot at the shelter and finished break free), we all sighed with that satisfaction that comes from curing trailhead fever. And knowing that a cooler full of ice cold Fat Tire is only a hundred yards away… With some deliberation, we opted for Chilly Willy's in Minturn for a post-hike meal. Best guacamole I've had in a long time, highly recommended! As is the Halo Ridge route, if you're confident in the weather, ready for a 14-15 mile day, and like class two spiders with the occasional class four mosquito. Pick good hiking partners, they make all the difference. Thanks Colleen, Kiefer and Steph, I had a blast!

I think Kiefer has successfully replaced that Windows Desktop Wallpaper, the one with the tulips. This is way better.

 


  • Comments or Questions (8)
lordhelmut


damn Keith     2011-02-04 17:22:16
you are on a terror, in a really good way. Couple things. Kiefer will always say he feels good about the weather. Stephanie has a cool dog, too bad if I was to name mine after my favorite Utah NP, it‘d be Canyonlands, kind of an awkward name. Finally, Dark Knight is a must. Watchmen is sweet, just be prepared for a lot of digital c*ck though.


bergsteigen


Nice area     2009-08-03 15:34:41
...too bad I climbed it in the fog. Glad to see your photos. Maybe I need to go back and try for the ridge when I get on a 13er tear.

Yeah, those movies are a must. Both left me a bit wide eyed, but for different reasons


Chicago Transplant


Nice climb Keith (and co.)     2009-08-03 16:02:10
Great climb, one of my favorites. I have done it in both directions and think Holy Cross first is probably the easiest in terms of elevation gain so you don‘t have to climb back up Halfmoon Pass. No matter which way you go, the steep slopes on the east side of PT 13373 are kind of a pain. How ‘bout them spiders? I think I even mentioned boulder hopping on top of the talus to avoid their endless sea of webs


dcbates80911


Great pictures...     2009-08-03 18:32:01
I may have to move this one up on my list to this summer. Nice shots.


Kiefer


Awesome read     2010-11-30 10:28:48
You had me laughing quite a number of times, Keith! Class-2 spiders with an occasional class-4 mosquito! That's awesome!
Super glad we FINALLY got the chance to hit the trail together. Been a long time in coming.
Steph‘s reaction to the coconut was awesome! Haven‘t laughed like that in a while!
I agree...it was a really good day, one of the better ones I've had of 2009. And thx for the Fat Tire! It does a body good!
Oh, and you missed my reaction when you said you hadn‘t seen The Dark Knight...priceless!
Thanks for writing this up Keith! You‘ve had an incredible 2 weeks


kimo

Another excellent trip report...     2009-08-04 18:27:11
Thanks for that Keith. I am considering an attempt at Halo Ridge later this year - this helps me understand what to expect.

Those movie recommendations are interesting. I loved them, but they do take a certain taste in film...


Ridge runner


Put the lime in the coconut...     2011-01-31 17:24:16
and I still won‘t like it! It was great finally getting out and hiking with you, rather than just burning trees and walking on them. You‘ve had a very solid year and I can‘t wait to see where you‘re off to next!


KeithK


Mmm, limey coconut...     2009-08-06 08:41:15
Steph, there is a lot to be said for post-climb fire walking. The Fall Gathering is only a couple of months away...
Thanks for the comments everyone. This was a fun route, in hindsight. A bit of a grind in real-time. It sure made a standard route day on Holy Cross seem pretty easy, though.



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