Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Date Posted:  09/13/2009
Modified:  09/15/2009
Date Climbed:   09/12/2009
Author:  emcee smith
 Sawatch finisher  

Holy Cross (9/12/09)
Half Moon Trailhead: 4:45am
Summit: 8:45am
Half Moon Trailhead: 1:00pm

My Sawatch finisher. As Roach mentions, this is a tough one day hike. To me the toughest part was the north ridge coming around to the west for the final push to the summit. That ridge seemed to go on forever, and it seemed at least half the time, it was talus/boulder hopping. Tough on the way up and down.

Given the odd things that have happened, this trip probably more than most, I was turning around and noting my descent path. I had also studied the maps/photos to see where I could go wrong, and where to go if I did. Based on those views, and my own descent path, I can see how people get into trouble. It is easily avoidable if, on the way down, you stay on the ridge proper until you get back into the grass.

Trip Report

I left Denver Friday afternoon, planning to sleep in the car at the trailhead and get an early start. I arrived at the trailhead around 7pm; there were several hikers gearing up for a walk into Cross Creek as well as SAR folks (they said they were up there for work, but wouldn't say more).

The next morning, I started from the car about 4:45am and began walking with the headlamp. The trail up to Half Moon Pass was a little slower than expected; the initial trail on the other side of the pass was a gentle descent for maybe a half mile or so. I wasn't thinking about this on the way down, but it's noticeable on the way back.

Once on the switchbacks, the descent to the creek went quick. There are many trail segments (to campsites I guess) near the creek, but I followed what appeared to be the straightest and largest segments, and soon reached the creek. Once you see the creek, turn left as the trail appears to continue on parallel to it.

On the other side, and up the hill the trail is initially easy, with quite a few cairns to reassure. Up some switchbacks bring you to the top of the cliffy area and almost out of tree line.

The hike up to the ridge was fairly quick, then it seems that you are on the ridge forever. Some trail; in other places cairns want to lead you a bit to the right of the ridge. It may have taken me an hour to follow along the ridge to the corner. All along the ridge, the summit looked deceptively close.

Near the corner, looking up at the summit

By this point, the weather was getting worse, windy and spitting a bit of snow. There was nothing that I didn't feel I could descend, but was a bit concerned with route finding if visibility dropped.

After turning the corner, I stayed pretty close to the east edge on the way up. There was quite a bit of trail, but there were cairns farther to the right.

Looking back on the north ridge from near the summit

There were about 6 people on the summit with me, but the weather was deteriorating fast. I didn't stay long.

Looking west from the summit

The way back down from the summit to the ridge went fast. By this time, it was snowing a bit harder.

Coming back across the ridge, it became evident to me how people can get lost. Frequently on the ridge, very good trail segments drop lower and to the left, and they are all cairned well. I took one down that traversed back to the right and rejoined the ridge.

However, I took two others that seemed to go farther down than I wanted, and had to traverse back off trail to the right about 1/8 mile twice to rejoin the ridge. I was a bit concerned, as I was out of site of the ridge, and probably out of shouting distance. A twisted ankle would leave me fairly deserted. After that, I stuck faithfully to the ridge.

Looking down from the ridge, plenty of opportunities to go farther down and left than I wanted.

Note that you will eventually have to drop off the ridge to the left, but it is near or on the grassy area, not much before. (green arrow) I can easily see how one could think they are on the right path, forget about rounding the corner, and drop too far down to the left too early (red arrows). The only good escape would be to follow the blue arrow back to the trail

Coming round the corner, the switchbacks and trail down to the creek were easy enough, but don't look up to see what is ahead.

I was surprised how quickly I gained elevation on the other side of the creek, heading up to the pass. Turning around, there was still quite a bit of weather on the summit.

After coming up the switchbacks, the trail takes a long straight stretch back to the left. I was feeling good until I rounded the corner and saw the rest of the way up to the true pass. Although the trail is gentle, it was still another half mile or so to the top. I had forgotten about this on the way in.

Over the top, the trail down to the car was long and tiring. I was ready to be done. Once you get past the lake, you are almost there.

Back to the trailhead at about 1:00pm. By this time, the solid clouds had broken up, but it looked like what was left could be nasty. I was glad to be done with this one, and glad to be done with the Sawatch.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

deceptive ridge
09/13/2009 15:47
Good advice about staying on the crest of the ridge, coming down, as long as possible. I concur that this is, indeed, how many people get into trouble on this mountain. Congrats of finishing the Sawatch.


helpful advice
09/13/2009 16:25
Mike, that sounds like helpful advice to stay along the ridge crest until you curve around to the right. I‘ll be sure to remember that when I tackle Holy Cross. Congrats on finishing the Sawatch!


Another helpful TR
09/13/2009 23:01
Congratulations on the terrific success you have had this summer. Looks like HC provided a bit of weather excitement for you and I‘m just glad to read that it all ended well for you. Much of that is due to the excellent conditioning you‘ve enjoyed throughout the summer. To bad we all have to pretty much start over next year


good job
09/14/2009 14:00
I was up there during the same time so I don‘t know if i bumped into you or not, I was solo. Good job on the trip report.

emcee smith

I was wearing orange
09/14/2009 14:07
Trying to encourage the OSU Cowboys, but no luck. I saw a few soloists, but up high around 9am, the wind and snow made conversation difficult.


i had orange and tan hat
09/14/2009 15:15
ya you were right on my tail for that final push, it kept me motivated to keep going and not stop


09/15/2009 21:33
for the trip report. Good, useful beta as I head up on the 17th.

Congrats on finishing the Sawatch.


Great advice and report!
09/19/2012 16:57
I know Im 3 years late to respond, but I am thinking of heading up this way end of Sept and there weren't many report to be found around this time of year. This has given me a good idea of what to expect and mentally prepare for (weather, length, route finding and all) Thanks for posting!

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