Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Date Posted:  08/13/2008
Date Climbed:   08/07/2008
Author:  COmedic04
 A Holy Nightmare  

Trip Report - Mt. of the Holy Cross via the North Ridge
07 Aug 2008
Ryan - "COmedic04"
John - "Vykadin"
Louie & Dizzy

The GPS track of our route

It had been a couple of weeks since my last climb, and I was eager to get back up to the mountains for another. My weird work schedule made it impossible to climb with one of my usual partners, so I starting looking to the forums for someone to come along! I ran into John "Vykadin", who was also looking for a climb during the middle of the week, and we quickly formulated a plan to meet up and climb Holy Cross.

Since I had left my dogs behind on my last few trips (N. Maroon, Y-Couloir), I felt that I should bring them along this time, and from a quick study of the route, decided it'd be doable for them. I drove up and met John at his house in Highlands Ranch at about 1715 on Wednesday evening and quickly hit the road.

We made a quick trip up I-70 to Hwy-24, then the long drive up Tigiwon Road, arriving at the trailhead at around 2130. It was lightly drizzling, but we managed to find a well-secluded campsite that had plenty of large trees for cover. We pitched camp and, after situating our gear for the following morning, hit the sack.

The dogs and I getting ready for bed

The alarm sounding at 0330 was painful, as usual, but we quickly got up and got ready to go. After some oatmeal and wonderful Egyptian licorice tea, I was feeling charged and ready to go. We took a little longer than I had hoped to break camp, since we decided just to take everything down in the morning and move the Jeep to the trailhead parking lot above the campsite. When all was stowed and packs were finally on, we got to the trailhead sign shortly after 0500.

The dogs and I, rearing to go

John, looking stoic at the trailhead sign

We made our way up the trail, stunned at how wet everything was. This should have been a warning to us how much rain this area had gotten (and would get), but we just tromped along and made good time to the top of Halfmoon Pass.

John on Halfmoon Pass

Louie, ever the poser

We then made our way down the trail into the East Cross Creek drainage, evaluating our possible return trip and the anguish we had read about regarding this climb from the creek. We were considering returning over Halo Ridge, as we had heard about the beautiful views from that trail, and wanted to do something different on the way back. After discussing it, we decided we‘d decide after getting to the summit, based on the conditions, which way we‘d head. After turn one corner, we were treated to gorgeous views of the mountain herself, the Angelica Couloir, and the waterfall that comes down from Bowl of Tears:

We made quick time descending into the valley, and again appreciated how lush and green it was, due to the large amount of moisture. This lead to some beautiful wildflowers:

We passed several campsites at the bottom of the trail, which I would have loved to stay at, had we gotten to the trailhead earlier. If I do this hike again, I‘ll definitely stay down here; it‘s gorgeous! Even just a short backpacking trip without summitting would be great here. Anyway, we made it to the creek, and quickly made it across the rock bridge.

We also scouted further down the creek to see the rapids, which, ironically enough, were a pretty good representation of what the "creek" looked like at the crossing after the rainstorm that would ensue later that day:

We began the climb up the trail to the talus field without any difficulty, although it was quite steep. We passed one man on the way up who had turned around, saying "It doesn‘t get any easier after this, boys!" He does know this is a mountain...right?

Louie, wandering through the tundra

The summit provided some awe-inspiring peeks as we climbed

Checking out the massive cairns that marked the route

After passing the huge cairns in the bottom of the boulderfield, route-finding became quite tricky, especially with the dogs. There seemed to be multiple cairned routes leading every which way, and we found ourselves following some, but not others, navigating our way through the talus. Louie, my Jack Russell, was having a great time, but my Beagle, Dizzy, had some problems in a few spots and I had to assist her, which slowed us down.

A few times I considered stopping and letting John continue, because it was taking so long to help my dogs over the boulders, but it seemed that every time I‘d be just about ready to stop, the route would ease up and allow us to continue easily for a while. In retrospect, I probably should have listened to my instincts, but I was hungry for the summit, and felt badly for slowing down a climbing partner with whom I‘d never climbed. Needless to say, the views from the ridge were enough to quickly dismiss any woes:

John posing on a rock with Halo Ridge in the background

A great view of Bowl of Tears

We were so close at this point, we could almost taste the summit. The snow on the left side of the ridge also provided a much easier route for the dogs for a ways, although I was wary not to venture too close to the edge, knowing all too well of the cornice below.

Louie, getting summit fever

John walking along the snowfield

There she is!

As we came to the saddle where the Angelica Couloir meets the ridge, the conditions were starting to get pretty bad. But it was just lightly drizzling, and the clouds were more "wispy" than threatening, so we continued...bad idea. We hadn‘t heard any thunder, and figured we‘d be safe for a quick summit push.

Angelica Couloir

As we got closer and closer, the weather just seemed to get worse and worse, as if the mountain didn‘t want us to capture the summit. Finally, we took a quick look at our GPS and determined we were within 50-100 feet of the summit. The dogs were slowing us down, so I told John that if he wanted to make a quick run to the summit, I‘d stay put with the dogs. He made a dash for it, as we waited. He quickly returned, saying that it was only a short distance away. I had already resigned myself to not making the summit, even so close, but his reassurance made me change my mind and go for it. I asked him to stay with the dogs while I made a quick run for the top. I made the summit block quickly, found the register and signed our names and took a quick snap of the marker and myself, then turned around at a noise, only to see that Dizzy had broken away from John and continued up after me! I was amazed, and glad to have the company on the soggy, wet summit.

The soggy summiters

As Dizzy and I made our way back down to John, I heard the strangest noise, and it took a few seconds to figure out what it was my ice axe I had strapped to my pack, and it was buzzing like a Tesla Coil!! Needless to say, the hair on the back of my neck stood up from that realization, which was quite a feat considering it was soaked from the rain!

We quickly descended, only to find that we had dropped off the summit slightly to the right of where John and Louie were, so I yelled out to John (who must‘ve been freezing in his tshirt and shorts) to just make his way down, and we‘d meet up below. He yelled back that Louie had broke free and was making his way towards me, so I waited, looking for him, and finally found him. John had already started down, and I began the slow process of descending with the dogs over the wet, slippery talus. This process wasn‘t much helped by the fact that everytime I would turn so that my axe was the highest part of my body, it was buzz and crackle with the static from the air. I ran into a group of three climbers just below my position, who asked the way to the summit. I told them there wasn‘t really a good route, as far as I could see, and that I‘d really recommend not attempting to summit, because of the buildup in static. One listen to my humming axe, and they quickly turned around!

After I had finally made my way to the bottom of the summit ridge, I realized John was quite a ways in front of me, and continuing down. He must‘ve decided it was silly to wait in these conditions, so I continued as well. I started to get really nervous about the fact that I had a "lightning rod" strapped to my pack, and was easily the path of least resistance while walking along the trail on the top of the ridge, so the dogs and I dropped down off the trail onto the left side of the ridge. This made for much more difficult talus-hopping, but I felt we were a little safer below the ridgeline.

Conditions continued to deteriorate, with several flashes of lightning and thunder very close by, so I finally made the decision to find the closest outcropping of rock and find shelter until the thunder subsided. At this point, I couldn‘t see John, and figured he‘d probably gone on ahead. We quickly found a good boulder, which had some room underneath it; I got out my tarp (which I was very glad to have brought along!) and built a quick shelter. The dogs and huddled underneath and tried to warm up while lightning flashed all around us. Several of the flashes sounded to be no more than 50 feet away. We shared some jerky to try and warm up and get some energy, and I attempted to dry the dogs up a little with my chamois towel.

We quickly began to shiver, just sitting down, and although the lightning hadn‘t completely stopped, I decided it had thinned out enough that I needed to continue to stay warm. I estimate we were probably in the shelter for 45 minutes to an hour, although that figure could be far off.

We slowly began our trek down the ridge, through the boulders, the tenuousness of which was exacerbated by the fact that we were all cold and very wet. I could just barely make out John‘s shape passing the tree line at the bottom of the ridge, so we made for that point, trying to find the easiest way through the talus. That basically consisted of trying to descend to the nearest grassy area, continuing in a likewise fashion until we got down. We met up with a nice couple from Minnesota, and my spirits were lifted to have someone else to talk to as we made our way down. By the time we finally found ourselves at treeline, but at this time, I noticed that Louie was walking very slowly, and seemed to be having a tough time breathing. I knew that the dogs‘ pads were pretty cut up from the talus, but I wasn‘t sure why he has wheezing the way he was. He was walking so slowly, I decided that I needed to carry him, otherwise it‘d be dark by the time we got out. I bid adieu to the Minnesotans and made a quick phone call to let work know I wasn‘t going to make it out, as well as to try and contact John, and then hit the trail.

As is quite obvious by now, this portion of the trip report is sorely lacking pictures, as I was just desperate to get down, and didn‘t stop to take any.

We made it down to the creek crossing, which, as I had noted before, had now become a raging rapid. I was still carrying Louie, and didn‘t want to attempt to ford the creek at the rock bridge, so we struck out to find a different crossing. Upstream, the creek appeared to break into a delta-like marshy area, with several small crossings instead of one large one. This was good enough for me, and I began to cross. If we reached a crossing too large for the dogs to jump, I‘d toss Dizzy across, then hop over myself with Louie in my arms. This provided to be an effective method until we reached the last crossing. I trusted a log a little too much with my weight, and it rolled, plunging me into the creek. As I dropped, I tossed Louie onto the bank, and went face first into the stream. I was soaked up to my neck. The current was quite a bit stronger than I had imagined, and the water was icy, it took a few seconds to pull myself out. I thought to myself "no problem, we‘ll just hike to the campsites we had seen earlier, ask to stop and dry off for a minute, then continue." Well, needless to say, it appeared that all of the campers had fled before the storm, and I was forced with the decision to stay or go.

I had foolishly neglected to pack my spare clothes in ziploc bags, as I usually do, so I knew my spare socks and shirt were soaked. My camera was shot, and I was nervous that my phone was likely ruined as well. But Louie‘s condition seemed to be worsening (at this point, I had convinced myself that he had broken a rib, punctured a lung, and was developing a pneumothorax), so I decided I needed to continue.

I had been dreading the climb up the ridge back to Halfmoon Pass all day, but either the determination to get out or the survival drive must‘ve been in full-swing, because not only did I chug up the ridge without stopping, I barely remember most the hike up. I surreptitiously found myself standing on the pass a short time later, soaked, but encouraged by my newfound reserve of strength. I must‘ve been quite a sight, because I was passed by a Boy Scout troop just before the pass whose wide-eyed stares betrayed how badly I looked: soaked, slightly limping from twisting my ankle in the stream, bleeding from a cut to my hand, carrying a soaked, wheezing Jack Russell, and closely followed by a soaked Beagle. I laugh as I think about it.

As we descended the trail to the trailhead, it started to get dark, and I was nervous about running into a bear or mountain lion in the dark. So I started singing any song I could think of the words to at the top of my lungs...which consisted of "I‘ve Been Working on the Railroad", "The Air Force Song", and various songs from my daughter‘s "Backyardigans" cartoons.

The singing helped my morale a little, and kept my mind off of my aching, soaked feet, and my arms, which were burning from carrying my dog for this long. We finally found our way to the trailhead, just as it was starting to get too dark to see the trail. I was greeted by a group of woman who shouted "Are you the guy with the dogs?? Thank God!!" I chuckled, and said "Thank God, indeed!" I limped my way over to find John, drying out and sleeping in his Jeep. I situated my dogs in the backseat with a blanket and some food, and collapsed into the seat.


This trip really tested my self-determination and has made me re-evaluate several factors in my climbing mindset. It has definitely made me more ready to accept defeat and turn around, like I should have on several occasions on this trip, as well as made me plan better as far as my gear and preparedness is concerned. I had been thinking a lot about the story of Michelle Vanek which preparing for this trip, and can now definitely see how one could easily find themselves lost in this vast wilderness area.

After monitoring Louie through the night, his condition hadn‘t improved by morning, so I took him to the vet, prepared for bad news. After a couple of X-rays, the vet told me that while there weren‘t any fractures, there was diffuse pulmonary edema throughout his lungs!! This was not the diagnosis I was expecting, and after discussing the trip with the vet at length, we decided that, in addition to the extreme fatigue, it‘s possible that he might have been exposed to some electrical shock from the proximity of the lightning strikes, which would cause the edema. This shock could have easily been transmitted through the rocks and given him enough current, while not affecting him immediately, would cause some of the same secondary effects of lightning strike, namely pulmonary edema. In any case, some Lasix diuretic and some precautionary antibiotics, and he was quickly back to his old self.

Now that I‘ve had nearly a week to reflect on our experience, I look back on it as a learning opportunity, and feel greatful that we escaped with as little damage as we did. It has definitely given me a great appreciation for the vast, wild nature of the mountains, and have found myself encouraged to continue with my passion for the mountains.

Needless to say, my dogs will be taking a hiatus from mountain climbing.

 Comments or Questions

Hey Ryan!
02/05/2011 00:22
Thanks for waiting near the creek for us but we tooootally understand the need to keep moving. You must have been SO cold after falling into the ”creek" -that was a big concern of ours. We’re really glad you made it out ok.

Thank you too for the company, it was great to see someone and talk to someone else, especially someone like yourself with more experience.

The rest of our vacation went well, we actually ended up doing another easier 14er (Grays)...after recovering for a few days. Wow was that different from MHC!

We’re sure that the pups thoroughly enjoyed their burgers. They were well deserved!


Well you are alright.
08/14/2008 00:13
Thank goodness you got down from the mountain in safe condition Ryan, sounds like your pooch has another story to tell though. I turned back on Holy Cross last year due to weather and knowing that this mountain can be real tricky in the boulder field. Congrats on the summit, I will see you tomorrow at Phantom.


08/14/2008 00:16
I don‘t even know what to say right now. Your TR was great and good trip. Good you got down safe and sound, that trip could‘ve been much worse. Also the part about the singing is hilarious!


08/14/2008 00:25
For sharing your story. As much as we like to revel in the successes of others, it‘s just as important - perhaps even more so - to talk about our ”learning experiences.” Been through the ”humming ice axe on the back” myself - scary shit. Glad you came out OK - and your little dog too!


Thanks for sharing your learning experience...
08/14/2008 00:56
It will help those understand what tough decisions need to be made. Glad you made it out OK.


Awesome TR.
08/14/2008 01:37
I know where your coming from with the singing, been there myself, little Bears west ridge. Glad all is well and you made it out to tell us your story.


Holy Jeez!
08/14/2008 01:56
Unreal. Good to here that in the end everything worked out ok. Most excellent trip report.

Ridge runner

02/01/2011 00:24
Wow, I had to read your report twice to fully understand what all you went through. I‘m glad you, your partner, and your dogs all made it out ok. I know how easy it is to convince yourself to keep going when the summit is so close despite the weather. As a dog owner myself, I‘ve never thought about how lightning may affect him. Thanks for posting this.


08/14/2008 02:23
Thanks for the trip report, I plan on doing this before the end of summer

James Scott

Thank you
08/14/2008 02:37
I‘m planning on Holy Cross this Sunday, and if there was any danger of me underestimating it, that‘s gone now. I‘m glad that I read this so that I go into it with eyes wide open. I‘m so glad you‘re okay. I hope my trip report is far more boring than this!!!


Excellent report!
08/14/2008 02:54
Very informative. Lots here to learn from. Thanks and I‘m glad you‘re all OK!

Wish I lived in CO

What a hike!
08/14/2008 12:29
I was up there a few weeks ago. I‘m sure you may consider the halo loop at some point in the future. I try to be very prepared for hikes; putting the spare clothes in ziplocks was something I never considered before and will do from now on. Thanks for sharing the ”lessons”


Very Informative
08/14/2008 15:39
Excellent report COmedic04. Good job describing how things can go ”south” very quickly in the mountains. Your report appears to answer a question that pops up here occasionally - are dogs affected by altitude the same ways humans are? The answer apparently is ”yes and then some”.


Holy Cow!
08/14/2008 20:40
I got turned back on Holy cross before.. but my adventure was nothing compared to this.. Hope your pooch is ok!


Nice Report
08/15/2008 03:38
Was that you I heard singing in the whiteout on Mt. Silverheels? The weather hasn‘t been very kind to you this year. I‘m glad that you made it out okay, and I hope that your luck improves.

Chicago Transplant

Glad it worked out
11/30/2010 17:28
Glad everyone got back safely, sorry your pup got sick - hope he is recovering well!
I shared this TR with a friend of mine who volunteers with Vail Mountain Rescue (the guy who would have been there to find you if things didn't go so well ). Some constructive lessons learned from him...
1. Don't split up! If you would have been washed down the creek it would have been very hard to find you. Your partner would have called in a missing hiker and been asked where he saw you last, which of course was near the summit. Nowhere near where you would have been lost. Most people get lost going down the wrong side after the summit and the first responders would have been looking for you in Cross Creek, one drainage west of where you really would have been.
2. Perhaps the most obvious, if things don't feel right, turn around! Summit fever can be hard to overcome sometimes, but the mountain will still be there, if it doesn't feel right - go back. Its hard for the pups to verbalize how they are doing, but if my partners were having that much trouble in the boulderfields we would have turned around. Its the same with dog companions, if they are struggling, go back.
3. Good job with the temp shelter and with singing to yourself to stay motivated/ward off animals. Obviously you did something right, you got back (relatively) safe and were able to self-extract your injured party. Hopefully the next trip is less "exciting"


Deffinately a Holy Nightmare
08/16/2008 03:11
Agreed, splitting up wasn‘t the best of ideas but at the time we split up COmedic04 was with a group of 3 other hikers (the ones he mentioned who were on the way up to the summit when we were coming down, and I met up w/ a couple from MN who was also on the way up but decided to turn back when the say me rushing down with my hair standing on end!)

At the time of the split, I assumed he was going to pack it out w/ that group of 3, unfortunelty the electricity in the air and the ice axe on his back forced a change of plans.

I hiked to the creek with the couple from MN (who had camped on the West side, so once I waded waist deep through the creek I was on my own again). A few hundred yards up the trail on the East side of the creek I happened to run into a couple from Gunnison (I think)who offered me some food and gave me a dry place to sit and warm up w/ their camp stove (btw, if your reading this, THANKS!) After drying off for about 45 minutes we got ready to head back up the trail.

I then hiked out with them and waited for the next couple hours at the trailhead with them and a group of 3 women who were camping at the trailhead getting ready to hit the summit the next day. Still under the assumption that COmedic04 was with the 3 hikers I‘d left him with I continued to wait. As darkness approached I became nervous but knew (from what I‘d last seen anyway) that he wasn‘t alone. Then the 3 hikers I‘d last seen him with appeared at the trailhead; they told me the he‘d stopped to make a shelter until the storm cleared and was planning on continuing after a rest. I knew that he had his GPS and knew his way out so I wasn‘t terribly worried about him getting lost, but more nervous about the elements (that rain was cold and I knew how soaked I was from crossing the creek!).

At approximately 2100 hours he made it back to the trailhead, roughly an hour or so after the other 3 hikers he was with emerged. I‘d spent the last few hours with the Jeep running trying to dry out my clothes with the heater, most of the under armour was dry (or close to it) so I didn‘t have to mkae the drive home in soggy clothes. We got the dogs tucked in w/ my jacket and a blanket in the back seat and hit the road. Thankfully everyone was alright; it was quite a trip. Not one I‘m looking forward to repeating any time soon!

{Probly should have made this a TR in itself instead of just a reply posting, but the first 3/4 would have been exactly the same anyway}


MN couple you hiked to tree line with chiming in -
02/05/2011 00:22
Hey Ryan it’s great to hear you and the pups are all right! We were a bit worried (and wondering) about how you crossed the raging creek with Louie & Dizzy. We really wished we could have been moving faster and able to help you cross the creek with the dogs. By the way, did Louie & Dizzy get the steaks they were promised?

We will be posting our own TR soon with the same lack of pictures in the second half as well. This was one adventure that we learned a few things on too. Thanks for posting such a detailed and well written TR!

After reading Vykadin’s post above it sounds like there was another couple from MN on MHC that day, talk about a small world.


Andre and Sarah!
11/30/2010 17:28
Hi!! I'm so glad to hear you two got down ok! When I got to the creek and had to scout around for a better crossing, I waited for a while to see if we could help each other get across safely, but after a while decided I needed to continue so as not to be stuck out too long after dark with Louie in his deteriorating condition. Thank you both so much again for your company, it definitely lifted my spirits after that horrendous boulderfield! Hope you enjoyed the rest of your vacation!

P.S. I downgraded a little to a hamburger patty for each of them when we got home.


Louie and Dizzy
08/17/2008 00:00
I‘m glad you and the dogs are okay! Thanks for a well-written report that has some important lessons in it. BTW, I have Geckos named Dizzy, Ella, and Louie.


Great Report
08/17/2008 00:46
A super report---and it points out again that none of these peaks are cake.
This mountain beat me with a snowstorm in 1984 but I finally got even by summiting on August 8 last year.


Dizzy, Ella, and Louie
08/17/2008 03:48
Awesome! I have a friend who has two huskies named Miles and Bird.


Inspiring Story
08/21/2008 17:05
Thanks for posting that story. I couldn‘t stop reading. It was very inspiring and reminds us all of the strengh within. Say hi to Louie and Dizzy. They are very cute.

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