Mt. of the Holy Cross - Halo Ridge
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(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
|Difficulty:|| Difficult Class 2 |
|Trailhead:||Half Moon (Tigiwon)|
|Total Gain:||5,210 feet|
|RT Length:||15.0 miles|
|USGS Quad.:||Mount of the Holy Cross|
|County Sheriff:||Eagle: 970-479-2201|
|National Forest:||White River|
|Wilderness Area:||Holy Cross|
From Interstate 70, take Exit 171 and follow U.S. 24. Drive almost 5 miles and turn right onto the Tigiwon road. The turn is just before U.S. 24 crosses the Eagle River and starts to switchback up the hillside. The Tigiwon road is dirt and cars can usually make it to the trailhead. Drive just over 8 miles to the trailhead. More information on the Tigiwon Road (#707) can be found on the US Forest Service Motorized Vehicle Use Map for the Holy Cross Ranger District.
The Fall Creek Trail starts to the left side of the parking area near the entrance for the campground and is well signed. Note: This is NOT the Halfmoon Trail used for the standard route! Cross Notch Mountain Creek on a log bridge and turn right (south) up the excellent Fall Creek Trail Photo #1. The trail is mostly gentle with a few short steeper bursts along the way. Continue through the forest to a wash-out area about a mile and a quarter in. Just pass this you will reach a stream crossing at approximately 11,080'. This stream can be high early in the season, but there are plenty of good rocks to use for the crossing Photo #2. Past this you will get a glimpse of the notch in Notch Mountain at a talus clearing. The trail can be a little muddy after this point before steepening, and then dropping slightly around some large rocks. There is a small switchback at a stream and the trail crosses this small stream above the switchback. At about the 2 1/4 mile mark there is a small clearing and the signed junction with the Notch Mountain Trail Photo #3. Take a right here and begin to ascend the Notch Mountain Trail back to the north and west.
There are two small stream crossings as the trail switchbacks through some trees to reach a beautiful meadow near 11,600' Photo #4. The final stream crosses the trail at some willows near the base of this meadow. This is your last chance to fill up a water bottle until well into your descent. Begin ascending the meadow through a series of switchbacks that cross in and out of some trees to the left (south). At the top of the meadow much of the remaining route to the Notch Mountain Shelter is visible Photo #5. Cross a tundra and talus area to the base of the steepening talus slopes near 12,400. There are in excess of 30 switchbacks up this talus slope as it gains over 600' in a mile. This image Photo #6 looks back down at the start of this slope from about halfway up it, and this one Photo #7 looks up to give you a general idea of the terrain ahead. There are great views of the Gore Range, as well as Mounts Elbert and Massive from these slopes. The occasional glimpse of the namesake notch on Notch Mountain reveals your progress through this seemingly endless sea of switchbacks. Finally turn left at a large cairn Photo #8 and follow the trail to two large cairns just below the Notch Mountain Shelter which mark the end of the trail Photo #9. You are now at 13,077' and approximately 5 miles from the trailhead. The views of the Cross Couloir from here are famous, and pilgrimages to this point to view it have occurred ever since the cross was first photographed.
There is still plenty of climbing to do, and the summit is over 2 miles away. This is the start of the Halo Ridge, which circles around the Bowl of Tears below to reach the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross. There are two ranked thirteeners and an additional unranked one to cross en route. Check the weather and your conditioning before continuing on, there are no safe escape routes between you and the Bowl of Tears. Cliff bands and loose rock are all that is below, but the ridge crest is enjoyable class 2 talus.
Your first obstacle is the unnamed PT 13248, a ranked thirteener. Hike around the south of the Notch Mountain Shelter on grass and large talus boulders. Stay on or just right (west) of the ridge crest through this section Photo #10. There is a large population of mountain spiders throughout this route, and this will be your first encounter with them. Due to the size of the boulders you may opt to talus hop on top of the boulders to avoid the webs. The talus steepens just below the summit Photo #11, but is not difficult. From here you can see your next objective, unranked PT 13373 Photo #12. Descend southwest on grass and talus slopes Photo #13 towards the 12,940 saddle with PT 13373. This saddle is the lowest point on Halo Ridge, you will not drop below 13,000' for several hours!
Just above this saddle there are two small gendarmes to cross, it works best to stay on, or just to the left (east) here. From the second gendarme the steepening slopes of PT 13373 become evident Photo #14. Cross the saddle, and begin the ascent of these steep blocks. The rock is mostly stable, but there are a few loose ones. Climb close to, but left of, the ridge crest through this section. Due to the mountain spiders you may find yourself scrambling on top of the larger blocks, due to this steep scrambling and occasional loose rocks this is considered the route's crux. This image Photo #15 shows a close up of the typical rock conditions through this section. Just below the summit of PT 13373 the slopes relent and the route turns due west. You get great views of the Teardrop Couloir from here if it is in condition.
The next section of the ridge offers an enjoyable reprieve from the talus. Descend about 120' to a large flat grassy area between PT 13373 and the next summit, PT 13831 Photo #16. PT 13831 is the highest point of Holy Cross Ridge and is one of Colorado's 100 highest peaks. The grass catwalk narrows to about 6' wide Photo #17 and offers views down to the Bowl of Tears (right) and Tuhare Lakes (left). The plateau widens and turns to talus after the catwalk. Cross the talus Photo #16, and Photo #17, and begin your ascent up PT 13831. Initially you will climb a moderate talus face to the left (south) of the ridge crest Photo #18. This slope will take you to the first of three false summits along the way. You are now on the ridge crest, climb the crest past to the next false summit Photo #19, and to a third false summit. Descend to a notch that marks the top of a couloir on the north face of PT 13831 Photo #20. The snow here lingers late into July, beware of the cornice to your right when crossing this slope. You can look back from this summit and see the majority of the route, as well as the remaining route to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross Photo #21.
Descend along the ridge crest to the north-northwest to reach the 13,500' saddle with Mount of the Holy Cross Photo #22. Bypass any of the more difficult rocky sections on the left (west) side of the ridge crest. From the saddle, begin to climb north-northeast up gentle talus slopes to a 13,650' talus bench Photo #23. This bench is at the top of the Teardrop Couloir, and usually has some lingering patches of snow early in the season. Cross or traverse around the snow and continue northeast up moderate talus Photo #24 towards the summit. The climbing is a consistent pitch here, and it abruptly rounds off just below the summit. The summit is directly in front of you Photo #25.
- I have called this route difficult class 2 because of the strenuous nature and occasional scrambling that may be encountered along the way.
- Mileage and Elevation gain are given for a round trip ascent.
- If you descend the standard North Ridge Route the route is 13 miles round trip and 5,420' of elevation gain.
- The Notch Mountain Trail gets a lot of sun in the morning and can be quite warm, wear sunscreen and carry plenty of water.
- There are no water sources above treeline, the last chance to fill water bottles is in the meadow in photo 4. Carry plenty of water for this route.
- This route works very well as a decent route from the standard route or any of the couloir routes if you are not camped at East Cross Creek. The descent has about 1 1/2 miles of extra hiking, but slightly less vertical because you do not have to reclimb to Halfmoon Pass.
- The Notch Mountain Shelter was built in 1924 and is Forest Service property. It is meant to be a lightning shelter and has lightning protection devices on the roof. It also can be used for overnight camping on a first come-first served basis. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Holy Cross Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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