| Holy Cross - Then I Saw Her Face!
Having summited Mt. Shavano just a couple of weeks ago, it was only fitting that I take on Mt. of the Holy Cross for my adventure today. Not only do these two 14ers define the physical boundaries of the great Sawatch range, home to fifteen of Colorado’s 14ers, both have unique snow features that have prompted religious references. My undertaking would be a one day affair, a hike that Roach aptly describes as a “tough one day climb”.
I promptly broke the first rule of 14er hiking, i.e. “Get an early start”, signing in at the Halfmoon TH registry at 9:05 a.m. so aside from sturdy legs I definitely needed the weather gods on my side as well!
The Holy Cross wilderness area is beautiful and these pictures simply don’t do it justice. The Halfmoon trail is excellent though this section as it winds through the dense trees and vegetation.
Early Halfmoon Trail
This portion of trail leading to Halfmoon pass has a fairly steady gradient as it climbs 1300 feet over 1.5 miles. On the return trip, this would make for a good warm down and a welcome change from the steeper elevation changes on the remainder of the hike.
Trail through pine forest
The trail soon breaks out of the thick forest affording views of the ridge rising to the south.
I maintained a good pace through this section and soon hit the first landmark, the top of Halfmoon pass at 11,650’.
Top of Halfmoon Pass
Marked by a cairn on the left, a faint trail heads south and eventually climbs Notch Mountain via Talus Point 12,743 which can be seen rising to the left in this picture. Notch Mountain (13,237') is a lovely Class 3 hike in itself and can also be climbed en route to Holy Cross, but this wasn’t my goal today.
I took a moment here to enjoy the view to the northwest, noting the smoke filled skies.
View of Mt. Jackson (13,670') to the Northwest
As another hiker would later remark, “Good day for a hike, not so good for photos”. I guess you can’t have it all!
The trail then starts its descent of nearly 1000 feet, gently at first and then literally plummeting down into the beautiful valley.
Initial descent from Halmoon Pass
Then I saw her face! As I picked up a jogging pace through the gentle downhill, lo and behold! Mt. of the Holy Cross came into view, almost tentatively at first and then in all her glory, rising majestically out of the valley, its lofty summit seeming so distant and unapproachable!
First Sighting of Holy Cross
Holy Cross in all her glory!
Most Sawatch 14ers have a benign appearance courtesy of their lofty rounded peaks, but Holy Cross boats a unique ruggedness that is both beautiful and awe inspiring at the same time. I will admit that this first sighting of the peak was a little intimidating, an emotion that wasn’t helped any by the seemingly impossible appearance of the final slope of the ridge to the summit.
After I picked up my jaw off the trail, I resumed the steep descent into the valley. There was work to be done even before the ascent toward the North ridge of the peak could start.
Looking back at the steep descent
Trail switchbacks as it descends
Eventually, the trail flattens out and before it crosses East creek at 10650’, there are a couple of marked (numbered) tributaries leading to what I figured would be campsites, good locations for hikers opting to bag the summit over two days.
Valley bottom - Tributary 1
Valley bottom - Tributary 2
I mentally mapped my path over the large rocks and crossed the stream without drama.
East creek crossing
The main trail continues its journey, as five more tributaries feed into it before it starts its earnest climb.
Last tributary - 7 and 8
And an earnest climb it would have to be, what with over 3300 feet of elevation still left to gain!
Ascending out of the valley
The trail soon flirts with treeline for the second time, but this would be for real!
As I passed that last of the stunted pines, the summit also made its second appearance, looming in the distance as the trail launched a steady attack up the grassy ridge.
Second sighting of Holy Cross
Notch Mountain also sprang into view – and no prizes for guessing how it got its name!
Notch Mountain - aptly named!
The route from 12,000’ is entirely Class 2 talus hiking, and the CFI volunteers had clearly done an amazing job paving the path with rock steps and marking it with large cairns and bright colored ties that made route finding a cinch up to 13,000’.
Well placed cairns through talus
The crew can be seen at the top of the boulder field in the next picture.
CFI crew hard at work - Thanks guys!
I knew the trail eased momentarily around 13,000’ before making the final pass, so I huffed and puffed through this section to reach the broad flatter portion of the ridge.
Talus nearing 13,000' - note the red trail marker at the bottom
From here, the trail snakes along the edge of the broad shoulder, with a spectacular close-up view of the north face of Holy Cross, and the steep west ridge marking the final pitch of the hike to the summit.
Viewing the final ridge route to summit
As I made it to the corner where the trail heads east, I took a few cautious steps toward the edge to peer down the first gully. Lake Patrica can be seen in the distance, with Notch Mountain rising steeply out of the valley.
First gully at corner
There isn't much of a trail beyond this point, but the route is obvious as the north ridge joins the upper part of the peak. Climbing southeast now, I tried to pick the path of least resistance, stopping mometarily at the next notch - the top of Angelica Couloir.
Peering down Angelica couloir
With just over 300 vertical feet to gain, I made one final push, scrambling over the steep talus. A lone hiker can be seen near the summit at the top of this picture.
Here is yours truly on the summit. I’m not sure of the origin of the expression, “egg on your face”, but I had just fortified myself with a well-deserved hard-boiled egg, the remnants of which were still on my face as seen in this picture! Notch Mountain provides the saving grace by forming the backdrop.
I had the summit to myself, reflecting on what had been a near-perfect hike, thanks in no small part to the weather holding out.
Bowl of Tears at 12,001'
Once off the summit, I strayed off the main trail by wandering too far west west on the broad rocky shoulder, but was able to make my way back after spotting the CFI crew closer to the ridge.
The hike down through the boulder field was somewhat slow and required careful line picking, but I made up for lost time by picking up the pace though the tundra and into the valley. The 1000 feet of uphill climbing from East creek back to Halmoon pass was just what the doctor ordered, a refreshing break from the relentless downhill slog to that point, and I gleefully jogged through a good portion of it save for the seriously steep sections.
It was 4:15 p.m. and I was minutes from the trailhead, when I heard a resounding clap of thunder that echoed in the valley I’d left behind not too long ago. I had certainly pushed my luck with that late start but the elements had smiled on me today. And I would have the memory of the face of Holy Cross to cherish for some time to come.
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