Mt. of the Holy Cross - 14,007 feet
Holy Cross Ridge - 13,831 feet
Unnamed 13248 - 13,248 feet
Mt. of the Holy Cross - 14,007 feet
Holy Cross Ridge - 13,831 feet
Unnamed 13248 - 13,248 feet
|Dropping lines around a Halo, to avoid a Bowl of Tears|
Mt of the Holy Cross, Holy Cross Ridge, Pt 13,248
Trailhead: Tigiwon road closure
Elevation Gain: 11,003'
Routes: Cross Couloir, North Couloir West on HCR
Standard route up Cross using Half Moon: 12.25mi and 5.6K
Notch Mtn trail down Halo: 13-14mi 6K
That's a difference of 1-2 more miles depending on how you navigate after the trail junction, and an extra 400'! Plus I got more & better skiing in than over Half Moon. Pick your poison! I'd rather have a bit more easy vert, than the hassle and tedious nature of the regular approach!
Day 1 - Hike a Bike and set up camp
Elevation Gain: 5,106'
Timing is everything. Not just on timing the snow corning, or when it's too cold or too hot. But also time of year to ski a line. Too early and you have sustrugi and breakable crust. Too late and you have runnels and avy debris from point releases and rollerballs. The road closure complicates this peak even further. For a few years, I've been waiting for that magic June 22 date and hoping enough snow would be left. I was supposed to ski Holy Cross last year on June 22, but on June 19 I broke my leg from rolling my ankle badly.
So now, almost a year later, and not a single new 14er skied (due to weather, partners and a few other factors), and I'm back to where I was. It was time to 'suck it up buttercup' and get up the dry road by any means necessary. I asked Joel if I could borrow the bike trailer that hauled my gear out last year from the Snowmass-Hagerman trip, and so after a drive out to Gypsum, I had the means to get down the road quickly. Uphill... well that's gonna hurt. I'm not exactly an avid mountain biker, despite getting in a couple good tough rides every year. So far, I think I've biked 2 miles in the past month or 4. So I figured I would mostly push the bike uphill. The fun part would be on the way down anyway!
After a decent nights sleep, I started heading up the road just a bit before civil twilight. I had thought about starting earlier, but just couldn't justify decimating my sleep on such a big effort day. Just had to hope the snow after the summer trailhead wasn't complete mush...
So here's a 'pro tip': Last time you ride your bike before setting up trailer - down shift! The first part of the road was too steep to even attempt to ride, so I was pushing. But when I got to a nice flat-ish spot and wanted to ride, I had a tough time. It took a little while to realize I wasn't in my lowest gear yet. Probably about the time the coffee kicked in. From there I was at least able to bike a few sections, before it was too much effort, and went back to hike-a-bike.
Despite the weight and weird way of moving it all, I was making decent time. Probably around 2.4mph, but as I got higher and the road remained too steep my non-bike ready legs, I slowed down. Then after the Tigiwon Community Center, I hit my first snow bank (about 10K). I pulled my bike and trailer through it. Not easy, but I made it. Hmmm, how much farther can I go like this? I got around the next switchback which had a solid ice sheet. Above that it was dry, but as soon as the road switched back into the trees, there was a huge, deep and long snowbank that continued as far as the eye could see... Done! Maybe I should have shouldered my pack and made the trailer light, and continued, but I didn't think that clearly anymore. Plus the snow was quite thick still. By the time I left, enough snow had melted that it would have not too bad to bike through it all on the downhill. By this writing - I'd be surprised if there is much if any snow left.
Pulling the contraption through a snow bank
So I stashed the bike and trailer in the woods, and switched to booting. I had made it 5.6 miles, that would cut off a lot of time on the way down! Booting up, there was still a lot of snow, so I knew how tough pushing the bike and trailer would have been. Thankfully the snow cat had packed down the snow enough, that walking on it wasn't too bad. Where they didn't drive, was mush. Within a 0.75 miles of the trailhead was the first downed tree, another is just a bit closer to the trailhead itself. Dry parking lot and then... deep snow into the woods. Transition to skinning. Let's hope the snow is supportive enough, otherwise I'm camping low.
Surprise! Ski and snowshoe tracks! Old ones, but apparently enough traffic has used this trail, that the snow is all packed down. So as long as I stayed on it, the snow was fully supportive. Off it by an inch - sink! So I made fairly decent time. The snow was patchy, but I'd say it was 90% snow when I started. When I left... 75% snow? Only a few short dry sections that required a quick portage, but otherwise it was a fairly easy skin. The contour section of the trail wasn't always fun, but that's spring skimo, it will make you suffer a bit no matter what route you take. This route is mostly in the trees, whereas the Halfmoon is out of the trees for a bunch of it. So pick your poison. Snow with dry patches, or dry patches with snow.
Mini celebration break when I got to the trail split. I had hoped to find tracks going uphill, but I did not. So I made a fairly circuitous track uphill as I tried to find my way in the woods. I had done this trail in the late fall in 2013, but my memory isn't that strong to remember details other than many switchbacks. I had looked at my gpx briefly before the trip, but that was all.
Once I reached treeline, it was easy to spot the most efficient way up. Snow was still good, though I chose the lowest angle way up that I could. I was getting tired at this point, and was blowing all my time estimates for uphill progress. My original plan was to ski down off Halo ridge and make camp. But as my multiple-updated 3pm Halo Ridge arrival time slipped farther and farther, I figured it wouldn't be good to ski a western slope that late. Besides, I didn't even knew if it went! Since most people ski Holy Cross after the road opening, all photos of the western ridge are dry. Only beta shot came from Davenport and the Mahon's trip on Holy Cross Ridge. So I had some hope. But tonight was not the time to test the theory...
The surface ice layer flying around in the wind - ice devils!
So once I finally reached the ridge, I found a nice camp spot, blocked from the NW wind, and settled in for the night. I woke up briefly hoping that there would be a nice sunset, but such was not the case.
Day 2 - Mt of the Holy Cross & Pt 13,248
Elevation Gain: 3,419'
I woke up early, hoping for a good sunrise shot on Holy Cross, but the clouds were too much. At least the view east was pretty spectacular! The wind and clouds kept everything cool as I skinned up and over Pt 13,248 for the first time. With exploring a new route, I didn't want to do it in the dark, so I was glad for the clouds now. I kept the skins on for the downhill, just in case I had to come up with plan B. I got to the top of the line and temporarily removed the skis to clamber on some rocks and look down. It was thin, but it seemed to go. There was a steep roll off, but that was mostly down the gully. I had decent expectations that the snow would go.
So back to the skis and transitioned to downhill mode. The top was smooth and icy, but once I got to the choke, it was getting rough. I went skiers right of the choke, but left also goes. Below the choke, there's enough debris that the skiing was really rough. I had hoped to miraculously be able to ski to the base of the climb up the Cross, but no go. The terrain has too many undulations. So I ski as low as I see a traverse line, and switch to crampons.
The snow had a minimal-decent freeze the night before, but I did sink a little from time to time on the traverse. Getting close to the base of Holy Cross, the sun finally started to peek out from behind the clouds. There was only one major avy debris pile to cross, at this time, so progress went fairly smoothly. When I finally got up to the entrance to the couloir, I swapped my ski pole for an ax, and entered in. 1K to go!
First close up view of how bad the runnels are. Not terrible, small and icy. I saw one set of tracks up and down, but the booter wasn't really apparent throughout, so I made my own. At one point I somehow got delusional enough to think a rollerball bouncing down the couloir was a person's tracks. I was cursing them when I had to make 2-4 more steps than them. Then as I got closer to the top, I noticed the tracks veered off to the cliffs to the left, and then I felt quite foolish! Hmmm weird what solitude does to you. Makes you try to see human signs, when there are none!
Time was passing quickly in the couloir. It was getting later than I wanted. But the summit was so close, I could see it! The snow was holding up. The runnel that started off icy and firm, was corning nicely. The snow to the side was becoming perfect. But still I had a 100' to go. Motivate! Then I got into some deep storm snow that hadn't quite consolidated enough. I swam. 50' Motivate, it's right there!!! That's when I heard a voice, and looked up. A person! I stepped to my left and got onto firm snow, and made the summit, finally. 2 guys had come up the standard route, and were also late.
We traded beta on the routes and quickly parted ways. The guys dropped as soon as I summited, and I quickly transitioned while they skied down. After spinning in a circle, snapping photos, I dropped into the couloir. With the 2 other guys tracks as a guide, I could see the snow was actually perfect! The clouds and wind allowed all of us to safely ski the line. The runnel was easy enough to cross, as we skied both sides of it when we wanted. After climbing this mess of snow, I hadn't anticipated a good ski, but it was much better than expected.
The 2 guys had taken a break down below, where they could see up the couloir. As soon as I got down to the exit, they took off. I decided to try a high traverse south out of the exit. I had originally planned to double up the day with a climb and ski of Holy Cross Ridge. But it was late, and the snow was becoming really soft and no longer supportive. Even though the climb up to Halo Ridge was north facing, part of the HCR line is east facing, and I didn't think it would be safe by the time I got there.
So now comes the conundrum. I want to ski Holy Cross Ridge since I put in all this effort to get up here with the road closed, but I didn't plan on 3 days. Did I have enough food? So I ski traversed all the way over to the base of my climb, and as I transitioned for the reclimb, I made an accounting of my food. If I only eat 2 epic bars, my beef jerky - trail mix and all my dried cherries, I will have 1 epic bar and 3 Gu's for tomorrow (1 for each climb, and 1 for the trailhead or oh sh!t moment along the trail), when I eat 1 Gu to get me up this gully. Hmmm, I've eaten far less on trips, I think I can make this work. Oh the food afterwards!!!
I had hoped that the reclimb wouldn't be too bad, even at 11am. But it was. I post holed like mad. I kept checking my GPS, as I was inching up the slope. Once I got to the choke, the snow firmed up enough, that I could make more speedy progress. Back on the ridge, the snow was soft, but not bad once I got skis and skins back on. From there it was a quick return to my bivy spot, and relax for the evening! With cell service up top, I was able to get weather reports and tell the necessary people of my plans.
Day 3 - Holy Cross Ridge & Pt 13,248
Elevation Gain: 2,538' (-7,453')
Morning 3 I got the sunrise shot I wanted! Nice alpen glow on Holy Cross and Holy Cross Ridge. Following my tracks up Pt 13,248 was faster, now that I knew the way. I got to my western drop point quickly, but today I was continuing along the ridge. A huge cornice drops off to the east, so after a bit of looking, I decide to get below the cornice and do a super high traverse, loosing as little elevation as possible. The traverse started off firm and icy (don't lose that edge!) and by the end, 120' lower, the snow was soft. Wow... soft snow already?!? 20-40 minutes after sunrise, the sun had already made the snow barely climbable on an eastern slope! That's fast!
Once I got up the 300' to contour around the ridge, the snow got better, and firmer on the southern facing slopes. It was nice to see continuous snow and that the ridge wasn't too complicated. I had only read aholle88's TR on Halo Ridge, and from that it sounded tedious. 5 hours?!? It better not take me that long! If I needed to, I could put on my skins and skis if I needed to. But I rarely if ever sank into the snow. Or at least not enough to justify the time. Though, once onto the rockier slopes, there was plenty of sinking, anytime the slope turned to the east.
After only 3 hours, I was on the summit of Holy Cross Ridge. Not too bad, I actually made my time estimate today! I checked out my line from above, and it was still smooth. Only a couple small point release sections, that would be fairly minor to cross, and I even had a smooth-ish exit below too. I wouldn't be able to do the Davenport-Mahon exit exactly, as it was mostly melted out. But I'll take a big long smooth traverse too!
I was able to take a little bit longer on the summit to enjoy, but while the initial drop just got into the sun, the eastern traverse got a sunrise hit. No lulligagging today!
One minor careful step around rocks, and it was a quick drop to the top of the line. The cornice was small, but it had been 2.5 months since I'd been dropping the West Ridge at Copper, so I took a few moments to anticipate the cornice drop. I poked at the snow. It was firm but corning. About the most I could let it do. After a momentary heart flutter, I was over the cornice and making nice turns down the slope. I only briefly stopped at the start of the traverse, as it was getting warm. Then I quickly made it over to the final drop. Just on the edge of sloppy. Glad that the slope angle wasn't too bad, but with cliffs + cornices above, and cliffs below, I wasn't going to hang around long. Caught my breath and skied in between the cliffs to my right and the slide to my left, all the way down into the valley in one go.
From the lower valley, I enjoyed the slide back around to my reclimb gully. A few stomps uphill in places, but otherwise not too bad. Got a nice view of some of the north lines off Halo Ridge. So many things to ski! Most of the north lines were mostly or completely smooth and free from Avy debris.
Davenport + Mahon line up to ridge
Another NE facing line looking good
I traverse skied over to the highest point I could on my booter, and transitioned again. 10am, and hour earlier than the day before. Snow should be better, right? The sun has only been on it for 20 minutes, and at an angle. So I shouldn't post hole, much if at all. Fantasy. Such fantasy! I post holed my post holes, all the way up!
I was approaching the choke and turned to look back up the valley at my tracks. They were gone. A point release from above had taken them out. Good thing I dropped the line at 9am!
Point release slides obliterate some of my tracks at 10:30am!
Tele turns off Pt 13,248
Goodbye and thanks for all the Turns!
I get back to my bivy stash and dry out a bit as I pack up my overnight gear. It was sad to leave my backcountry wilderness camp, but it was time to return to civilization, and eat lots of food.
The turns off the ridge were much better than expected! Especially with all the weight I was carrying. The skiing was easy until I entered the trees. Then it got patchy as I made my way down to the trail. Managed to find the trail where it intersected the stream perfectly, for a recharge of more water.
Skins went on the skis within a few feet, and stayed on all the way to the trailhead. More melted patches made things interesting. So did the stream that took over the trail. That got a bit scary in ski boots! After what felt like an eternity, I reached the trailhead. Put the skis and soaking wet skins on my pack. There must be 3 pounds of water contained in those skins now!!!
A quick walk to my bike and trailer. Then it was an exciting 35 minute downhill bike ride to my car! Had to stop to allow my arms and legs a bounce break, and to periodically check on the trailer. Though, I am happy to say that my max speed was on skis, not on the bike. I blame it on the trailer and needing to go slowly for that. What a fast end to a long slow couple of days!
I have to carry all this wet heavy stuff? Uggg!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
|Comments or Questions|
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