Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Notch Mtn  -  13,237 feet
Date Posted:  08/23/2015
Modified:  01/16/2017
Date Climbed:   08/01/2015
Author:  MtnHub
 Round 2: Notch Mt / Halo Ridge / Mt Holy Cross  

Round 2: Notch Mt/Halo Ridge/Mt Holy Cross

August 1, 2015

Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005')
Notch Mountain (13,237')

Trailhead: Half Moon (Tigiwon)
Distance: 15 miles
Elevation Gain: 5400'

Climbers: emgordon (Elliott) and MtnHub (Doug)


I had just completed a Notch/Halo Ridge/Mt. Holy Cross loop last year, one of my all-time favorite hikes, and wasn't planning to repeat it again this year. But when I was putting together a possible itinerary for this year's vacation, I saw a request for a partner to do the Halo Ridge by another climber. I wrote him saying I'd consider doing it again this summer if he would add Notch Mountain to it for a full loop.

Last year I climbed through the Notch alone and with some lingering ice and snow and I ended up ascending one of the western gullies because the traditional route up the face was too icy for me to attempt. I always wanted to go back there and give it another try under normal summer conditions.

He agreed to add Notch Mountain as well, so we made plans to do it on the first of August.

The Climb:

This loop puts you at a lightning risk for several hours since you are very exposed above 13,000' for half of the climb, so a perfect weather day is essential. We both wanted an early start to help assure this, so we planned to be on the trail by 0330.

The sky was clear when we started and the full moon (a blue moon) was shining brightly. When we got above the trees at Half Moon Pass, the sky was just beginning to glow with pre-dawn light. I stopped to take a picture of the eastern horizon.
Pre-dawn in the eastern sky -- from Halfmoon Pass.

(After I arrived back home and organized my pictures from my trip, I noticed something very puzzling. In the image above, there can be seen a faint outline of what appears to be the moon. I don't remember seeing this when I took the shot and it couldn't be the Earth's moon since it would be setting in the western skies at this time of day, as evidenced in the next shot. After posting the puzzle on the site, a couple of excellent photographers provided an explanation. It's most likely an orb from having the flash on when I took the image. Thanks to the knowledgeable mountaineers in our midst for clearing this up for me!)
The blue moon setting over Holy Cross.

Since I have been here several times before, I took the lead when we got to the branch trail to Notch Mountain. Especially in the dark, it is fairly faint and difficult to see. After a short jaunt through the pines, it comes upon a boulder field. At this point you climb up the talus aiming for the ridge. Then it's just a simple matter of following the long ridge to the Notch summit.
The Notch Mountain ridge. (Holy Cross can be seen at the far right margin.)

The ridge is a very long boulder/rock hop with only scattered remnants of a trail in a few places so it can be rather exhausting. We reach the summit just after 0600. The view across the valley of Mt. Holy Cross illuminated by the early sunlight is hard to beat!
Elliott coming up to the Notch Mountain summit.

Mt. of the Holy Cross at dawn.

From the summit we can see across the huge notch in the mountain to the stone hut on the saddle on the other side. Crossing this is where I appreciate having another person along. Other people have reported it involving only C3 climbing and I'm curious to see how difficult this really is.
Looking across the Notch (hut on the left).

We climb down the more gradual northern side of the Notch all the while closely studying the opposing rock face.
Looking back across the Notch from the face.

The route is supposed to follow the huge, blocky steps in the face right at the edge where it falls into shadow.
Across the Notch -- the face we're planning to climb.

It looks pretty straightforward at least until it reaches a protruding rock overhang which we call the Horse Head. Then, from where we are at any rate, it is difficult to tell whether it has an exit to the top.
A closer look at the Notch face.

I let Elliott take the lead and he climbs up the steps without much difficulty. I follow him and am very pleased with the rock. Although the edge is quite exposed, the rock is solid and has good holds.
Elliott climbing up to the "Horse Head" rock.

... almost to the Horse Head.

When he reaches the base of the Horse Head, there is a narrow crack that needs to be climbed. It is quite steep and sheer for the most part. Elliott has a little trouble at first but eventually makes it up to a shallow cavity. I make a couple of attempts but can't quite flex my knee enough to reach a foothold. I still have some stiffness because of arthritis.

When Elliott offers his hand to grasp, it is just enough to pull me up and over the narrow ledge. Climbing to the top is then very doable. Maybe I still don't recognize the difference between C3 and C4 moves, but I cannot think that the moves we did under the Horse Head was anything less than C4, and maybe even low C5. If we had to downclimb this section it would have been extremely difficult if not impossible without a rope.

We boulder-hop down the last slope to the stone hut to take a longer break. Elliott then tells me his ankle is giving him a little trouble and he doesn't think it would be wise to continue on the Halo Ridge. Since we've only come about a third of the way, this is probably a smart thing to do. He returns to the parking lot by the easy trail down the eastern side of Notch Mountain to the Fall Creek Trail.

I plan to continue finishing the entire loop however. I spot other hikers ahead of me so at least I will have some company if I get into any kind of trouble.

The Halo Ridge is one of my favorite places on earth and I relish the views on either side. They have become very familiar to me by now but it's not something I will ever get tired of. I could repeat this loop every year!

I continue along the high ridge following the crest, even to Pt.12,831.
Lake Constantine -- what a beautiful setting!

The Halo Ridge from Pt. 13,248'

Looking back from midway on the Halo Ridge: Notch Mt, the hut, and Pt 13,248'

Holy Cross Ridge

Mt. Holy Cross from Halo Ridge.


The catwalk along Halo Ridge.

Pt. 13,831'

Lower Tuhare Lake

Bowl of Tears

Pt. 13,831'

Mt. Holy Cross from the saddle of Pt. 13,831'

Since it is a Saturday, the Holy Cross summit is a busy place. When I finally reach the top, I eat something quickly but don't linger.

The descent is long but I savor every moment. I love this place!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

 Comments or Questions
Jon Frohlich

08/23/2015 09:58
I was wondering if you guys did it that day. I looked over to see if I could see anyone coming up Halo but I was on top of HCR very early. That was a beautiful day. Glad you had a good repeat!


Nice photos
08/23/2015 12:12
Though none of the shots of me are very flattering! It was fun hiking with you and I did not regret going down having to pass through so many meadows in full bloom.


08/23/2015 14:02
@ Jon – Yeah, I LOVE this loop! I could probably do it every year and not get bored with it. Nice job in the Crestones too! You had some really excellent shots of the Needle and Peak.

@ emgordon – I don’t know, I think the ones of you going up to the Head were pretty good! You got me through the tough spot anyway. Thanks! Glad you got back safely!


Gorgeous area!
08/23/2015 21:21
I did the Halo Ridge as my 14er finisher – it really delivered.
You’re right, the views are exquisite.
Strong work!

I want to get back there to do some more summits to the south, starting with 13,768.

Congrats on another great day out!


Love it!
08/24/2015 10:10
My twins and I did this route earlier this summer and loved it. Despite the long hike and boulder hopping that turned some off to this route, we thought it was fantastic; especially the notch. Rather than climbing to the horse head as you did, we continued around to the right and climbed a chimney that was class 3 (much more our speed). Thanks for the great pictures, particularly that of the Bowl of Tears. Timing/sun angle/my camera didn’t do it the justice you did in image 22. Great work!


Thanks for your comments!
08/24/2015 17:14
@ sunny1: Yeah, one of my favorite places! It never gets old, and I already have another person interested in doing it next year! Ha! Twist my arm!

@ glenmiz: Thanks! Would be interested in the chimney you found to climb up. Don’t think I’m wanting to climb up the Head again. Was it just in one of the loose gullies going up from the west side?


Round 2
08/25/2015 16:17
Good job getting it done!

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