Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Date Posted:  07/04/2012
Modified:  09/07/2012
Date Climbed:   07/04/2012
Author:  Stee Vee Dee
 Holy Cross on the Fourth of July  

It is a Magnificent Mountain

We almost did not make this trip because of the fires. Back in Kansas, the moment we told anyone we were going to Colorado, their first remark was to watch out for the fires. You would think that the whole state was engulfed in flames from the Kansans' perspective. Of course, if that were the case, you would have thought that some of the smoke would have drifted across the state line.

Although the droughts that our states are experiencing are pretty bad, at least Colorado had the good sense to ban fireworks this year.

Still, we had concerns, especially when we heard that there was a fire near Eagle and another east of Leadville. The owner of the Leadville hostel assured us that there were no problems and he was right. It is a great place to stay IMHO and wish I had known about it when I still had lots of 14ers to climb in the Leadville area.

There was a good chance of significant precipitation, so we headed out early for us. The Tigowon road reminded me of a Kansas farm road after someone had removed a hedgerow. The parts where there had not been any cutting were fine, the areas where trees had been removed were rough and would have become muddy problems in the rain.

We started up the trail about 6:30, which is early for us. After a smooth hour, we reached the top of Halfmoon Pass. Image
Mount Jackson from Halfmoon Pass
Notch Mountain from Halfmoon Pass
Soon after beginning the dreaded descent to East Cross Creek, we got out first views of Holy CrossImage
Holy Cross while on descent to East Cross
. It is more impressive that most of the photos I had seen. It looked really steep. Image
A good view of Angelica, never get to see the Cross Coulour
As we descended, the trees again blocked the view. It was a steep descent and with every steep step I took, I dreaded the return even more.

To tell the truth, we had considered two alternate routes that would have eliminated the 1000 feet climb on the return. In Roach's book on 13ers, he outlines a route from the south by way of the Seven Sisters Lakes to the summit of Holy Cross Ridge 13831 and then it would only be a short jaunt from there to Holy Cross itself. He also gives his "easiest route" on Holy Cross Ridge as starting at Halfmoon Campground and following the Fall Creek Trail to about 12000 feet and then approaching Holy Cross Ridge by way of Tuhare Lakes.

Both ideas appealed to me until I read a trip report that led me to believe that the Tuhare Lakes route was much harder and may even have been technical. We felt there were probably good reason why these were not the standard route, so we went the usual route. By the two hour mark, we were across East Cross Creek and on our way up again. Three hours had us just a little bit above timberline, where I set a GPS waypoint so that we could find our way back into the trees if we got off trail. Image
Back up to the level of the Pass 3 hours in
Perhaps I should say WHEN we got off because I knew it would happen.

We saw relatively few people on this trip. The most interesting by far, was someone who was carrying an American flag and running a bit. Somehow I feel especially patriotic climbing on the fourth and have done it several times. Mt Columbia in 2011, Redcloud and Sunshine in 2008, Sherman in 2006 and Elbert in 2005.

After breaking through timberline, the route was mostly over talus for the remaining 2200 feet. Image
Holy Cross peeking over the north ridge
There were trail segments and cairns but no single route. The CFI had put down orange and yellow markers to help, but I ran out of these in the upper 12's to low 13's.Image
Notch Mountain from north ridge
At about 13100, the steepness relented, and we turned south to follow a ridge to about 13500 Still it wasn't easy going and then something bad happened. My old GPS which I had dropped really hard the day before, quit working. Knowing the altitude has always helped motivate me to finish. Now I was clueless. Additionally, I had lost the waypoint for the return of the trail into the trees. We met a climber descending who assured us it was only about 500 feet to the summit.Image
Fellow traveler on the steep descent
the last few hundred feet
I wandered too far from the edge of the ridge because I did not want to knock anything down the Angelica Coulour, especially myself. Image
route goes around top of Angelica
Beth who had not wandered so far from the edge summited firstImage
Beth on summit ahead of me
Summit marker 14005
. I reached the top at about 1:30 Image
The last few feet after seven hours
. Thankfully, it had not yet started raining, and there were some breaks in the clouds for pictures. We could see more than we could realistically shoot and identify later. Somewhere out there was Elbert, and Massive, but it was becoming almost foggy so we shot ourselvesImage
Hazy summit shot
Together on summit (shot by timer)
Beth sitting on summit with Notch Mtn
and a couple other viewsImage
Holy Cross Ridge 13831

We needed to leave quickly to beat the rain. Image
Let's get down before it starts raining
We neglected to take pictures of any of the lakes or distant waterfalls on the descentImage
Missed opportunities for waterfalls and lakes
. Then it began steady rain that would last most of the way down, at least to timberline.

I am not good when I am wet and tired. At least, there was no thunder and I had adequate raingear. It was a painstakingly slow descent, and without the GPS to guide it was even moreso. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw a trail segment. Beth could not remember being over there, and she persuaded me. I should have lied and said there were no other trails in the area and that this had to be the right one, but I wasn't 150% sure.

So we contour across more talus looking for a trail that "looked familiar." By now the rocks are wet and slippery and Beth takes a nasty fall which would later require stitches. After wandering back and forth along timberline, I finally spotted "another" trail that was descending, perhaps 150 feet away from the spot where the trail did not look familiar. We wasted about an hour on this futile exercise Image
looking back down north ridge where we wandered for an hour
. The hour became very important because now we would be finishing in the dark.

At about 7:00, we resumed our descent on a trail. I was in no mood to dawdle and pushed down to East Cross Creek to filter water, since I had run out. After crossing East Cross Creek, there is no reliable source of water, so take plenty. I told Beth to wait for me at the top of Half Moon Pass, so we grunted up that stretch separately. It was dark enough for head lamps by the time we reached the pass. What took an hour to climb on the way in was going to take me 50% longer because it was dark. I learned to ignore lines of three rocks intersecting the trail at an angle. There were for erosion control and not a turn in the trail. I reached the car at about 10:30, a 16 hour jaunt in the wilderness. Still I enjoyed the trip, just needed to have a good GPS and understand the value of false confidence a little more.

It was worse for Beth, though. She spent a good part of the night at the Leadville Emergency room, getting seven stitches in her calf.

#33 for me and #16 for Beth

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