Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Whitney Pk  -  13,276 feet
Date Posted:  10/22/2010
Modified:  03/24/2011
Date Climbed:   10/20/2010
Author:  shaunster_co
 Holy Cross Wilderness  

This is a supplement trip report to look for missing hiker James Nelson in Holy Cross Wilderness, who came overdue after Oct 3rd.

Day #1 - 10/20/10 (Weds) - I drove up to the 'bridge out' point of Fancy Pass Road (about two miles past the Missouri Lakes & Fancy Pass Trailheads). This road eventually meets the VDL Jeep road to Holy Cross City. I hiked from the bridge out point to the Newman Mine shaft, then traversed to Mulhall Lakes to Fancy Lake via the top of Fancy Pass. It was dark by the time I reached Fancy Pass and I returned to my camp on Fancy Road under headlamp.

Day #2 - 10/21/10 - I packed a full pack and headed out pre-dawn to Holy Cross City. I checked the HC1, HC3 & Fancy adits which were the ones I really wanted to get to. The HC1 is a vertical shaft - I tied a strobe to 200' of 550 cord and still not not reach the bottom of the shaft. On the other hand, I didn't see any signs that someone had fallen or entered the shaft. I checked the 'unnamed' shaft point on the way up to Cleveland Lake - again no sign of entry. From Holy Cross City I went up to Cleveland Lake (off his route, but I figured why not). Aside the teaming trout, no signs anyone had been up there. From Cleveland lake I traversed (Class 3+) down to the trail that begins up the Fall Creek Pass though the staircase of seven lakes known as the Seven Sisters.
HC2 Mine adit

Cleveland Lake overlook - Mt Whitney adjacent

Just a side note to set the record straight: some asked if the lakes themselves had been searched - because with a 70lb pack you could surely be pulled under if you tripped at a shoreline while filtering water or what not... Cleveland, Fancy, Seven Sisters, Hunky Dory, and most all of Constantine are so clear you can see the bottom at the deepest points (see photos). These lakes do not have ice on them yet, so I want to put that rumour to rest - if he fell in a lake with a pack on, we would surely see him. The only lakes this might not apply to are Tuhare Lakes below the Halo Ridge Traverse. These lakes are fed by couloirs of the Holy Cross Ridge and do not have a gradual shoreline so to speak. They deepen fast. Still you can see into them quite a ways from Halo Ridge and the aerial search.
Cleveland Lake

I ascended the Seven Sister lake chain to Fall Creek Pass. Since the area from Fall Creek Pass to the outskirts of Lake Constantine is tundra, I broke trail at the pass and ascended the unnamed 13er adjacent from Mt Whitney and scanned the entire area with a spotter scope. I then traversed to other side of the up Mt Whitney and did the same thing. Both vantage points give a clear shot from Fall Creek Pass to Constantine Lake below.
one of the Seven Sisters lakes

I circled each of the Seven Sisters during the descent and checked rock alcoves on the way down. I descended down to Hunky Dory lake, circled it and the outlying area near the cliff bands. Made back down to camp just as a headlight was needed. I decided to drive from the south side of the wilderness boundary back to Half Moon / Fall Creek Trailheads that night.
Fall Creek Pass

Side note: I put a small poster at the Holy Cross City townsite sign. When I drove down I stopped off at the Fancy Pass Trailhead to place one, but someone had already beat me to it - whoever that was - thank you.

Fancy Pass Trailhead

Day #3 - I met up with 'Mountain Woman' at Half Moon campground. The snow was picking up at a viscous pace by the time we reached the pass. We were geared for pretty heavy duty stuff - both of us have summited peaks in the winter, so we were ready for whatever was thrown at us. We covered the Half Moon Pass trail to the point at East Cross Creek where James would have to had bushwhacked up East Cross Creek from the lower Cross Creek trail. I tied marker ribbon every 100 yards on the descent down that drainage. I noticed ribbon of another color tied in area down that drainage from SAR. We covered every conceivable trail headed down to the last cliffbands that over look Cross Creek Trail. This bushwhack is no picnic - I have seen other reports regarding this route. The is a series of game trails that wind up through cliffbands in places, but it would not be an easy route. The snow was really starting to pick up and had already completely erased our tracks so we opted to ascend back to East Cross Creek trail junction. From there we surveyed every conceivable route he may have taken - including the possible mistaken route in to the Bowl of Tears. We acsended back over Half Moon Pass and returned to Half Moon Campground in low visibility. A forest ranger was at the trailhead going through permits. We had a brief conversation about the oddity of this whole thing - she was a very cool person though.
Half Moon Pass - 'mountain_woman' prepping for the descent in to Cross Creek

Looking down in to Cross Creek from East Cross Creek

The North Ridge & Mt of the Holy Cross

Bowl of Tears from E. Cross Creek

Traverse back to Half Moon

In all, 15 miles were covered on Aug 14th when I did the standard route to Mt Holy Cross, and traversed the Halo Ridge route to Notch Mountain and down Fall Creek Trail.

The past three days an additional 34 miles we covered of all the places I thought were most likely. I could go on speculating for days, but my intuition tells me either something went wrong early in his trek at Constantine Lake, or somewhere along Cross Creek.

If the snow wouldn't have hit so heavy up there this evening I would have gone another day. For anyone heading up over the weekend, be careful. The shoulder season is giving away and conditions are varied. At Half Moon 1-2 inches had fallen, 3-4 at Half Moon Pass, and it looks like 6+ on the ascent from East Cross Creek to Mount of the Holy Cross. The lower areas have less snow. I would recommend crampons up high, probably yak's on the Half Moon Trail near the narrows.

Another thing I want to add - if you go up there (especially on the south side - Homestake Rd) - WEAR AN ORANGE VEST! Elk Rifle season is now open. One would think that since you are in wilderness you wouldn't have to worry about that - but logic does not go that far.
My short story about hunters I encountered at Seven Sisters yesterday:

When I was descending the Seven Sisters lakes area I literally came over a bluff and right down on to two hunters between lake #3 & #4. Face paint, the Elmer Fudd outfits, dogs, the whole nine yards... Yes, halloween came early that day. I told them to keep their eyes open for a missing hiker that has been overdue since Oct 3rd. The response I got was "well where did he go missing at?"

To cut short - I was dealing with Dumb & Dumber. Play it safe, where colors out there! Normally I would be intimidated coming up upon two guys with high powered rifles in the middle of nowhere. Guess it is the First Sergeant in me - I just had to tell them to get their dogs on a leash...

Day #1 & #2 were fall conditions. Day #3 was winter conditions and it was going from bad to worse as the day went on.

I can't help but to feel pretty defeated here.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

 Comments or Questions

Much Credit to You
10/23/2010 03:54
You covered an enormous area on your own and are to be commended for your efforts! I am glad to know there are people like you amongst this community that care so deeply about everyone else. Thank you!

Doctor No

Very nice work!
10/23/2010 04:16
It takes dedication to do what you did!


strong work!
10/23/2010 05:18
Thanks for what you are doing. I know it is appreciated by all.

mildly neurotic

Wilderness regulations
10/23/2010 05:27
As far as I know hunting is perfectly legal in wilderness areas, as long as you are on foot.


wilderness regs
10/23/2010 05:39
mildly: true on that, however, full elk season does not begin until Oct 23rd (which is why I asked if he had a 306). I don't hunt, but I am quite familiar with arms. They thing that really annoyed me is that they had their ATV's inside the wilderness boundary. The dog thing put me over the line. ;)


10/23/2010 12:59
Im figtting the same battle over in Meredith. The hunters assume they can get away with what ever they want. ATV spook the game anyway. Theae idiots dont realkze that as soon as they drive in on them the Elk hear them and leave. Nice work on your hike search.


10/23/2010 13:48
Thanks for your extraordinary courage and commitment in this search. You make us all proud!


10/23/2010 13:50
of you to go up and search the area. I'm impressed!
Thanks for taking the time!

Thank you!
10/23/2010 14:34
Shaun - Thank you for what you did! It means so much to his family, friends and me. I appreciate what you took and left behind. It made me feel as though I was there. It is what his friends would have done! It is comforting to know that there are people still out there looking for him. That there are still people like you, mountain_girl... and many others. Thank you!


Excellent work
10/23/2010 14:35
As already mentioned good job man, you make us proud to be a part of the mtn comm.

Rich H

well done Shaun
10/23/2010 15:15
heck of a job

10/25/2010 05:33
Well done, thank you for looking. Although I'm left scratching my head at your 306 remark. It's written .30-06 and pronounced ”Thirty ought six,” because the cartridge is 30 caliber and adopted in 1906. so I think the hunter was right. I have never heard it referred to as '306'. Not that it really matters, but you made a point of it.

10/25/2010 19:13
306 has never been used in reference to the 30-06 (or 7.62x63) in the entire history of the round. .30 M1 Ball or .30 M2, maybe, not 306. Hasn't been a standard military round since the mid 1950s.

Dogs can be used for hunting ptarmigan in the wilderness (or dusky grouse) -- they come in pretty handy. My beagle/fiest mix flushed her first dusky a couple weekends ago, and ended up finding it in the weeds. She was pretty happy about it.

Good work on your searching -- that is rough country. Spent a week exploring that area a number of years ago. Special place.

Careful on dis'n hunters -- we pay for all wildlife management in the state, and happen to climb 14ers (sometimes).


the hunters
10/25/2010 19:23
Hey I don't mean to make it sound like I am bashing hunters. I just have a HUGE problem with the ones that come in from out of state and do what they please in wilderness. I can pretty much put two and two together and can tell when they have their dogs running around and ATV's parked inside the boundary that they are likely the ones I have no problem confronting. Not saying ALL hunters are disrespectful, but these two were a case in point.

10/25/2010 19:49
Not trying to be an a$$ -- just defending my turf.

FWIW, I think ATVs should be banned for all hunting (both resident and non-resident) -- get off them and walk. I prefer to hunt elk in the wilderness, and the further from the road, the better. That way, I don't have to be around the a$$holes on ATVs. Of course, I nearly killed my self several times packing elk out of places that I really shouldn't have been (130 lb pack + waist deep snow + 21-year-old ego = two weeks hobbling around)

Again, good work on the search -- you hit some tough country very well.


10/25/2010 20:36
Hey I can totally respect that. I have a lot of respect for hunters that go off the beaten path - they typically get a closer look at the elements than anyone that follows a trail. In all my years 90% of the hunters I have encountered are completely cool. But the ones that completely disregard the regulations; it means more rules, more restrictions, more money that has to be spent protecting it from the idiots. When I came up on these guys I was looking for a reason to engage them in a conversation. When I was All-Army we fired .30 cal weapons (all NATO & non-NATO). the .30-06 was referred to as 'three-oh-oh-six'. So, simply said 306.. I know it's not bad.

That is wild packing out in waist deep. Gives 'post hole' a whole new meaning.


306 - 30-06
11/30/2010 17:28
Steaky, yes I should have clarified. 306 shorthand for standard military .30 caliber.. hence 30-06. We would call them a 306, I guess its demographics. "three-oh-oh-six", shorthand three-oh-six. Nice. See this is why I am not a news anchor..

01/06/2011 18:42
You used a .308 not a ”306” in the army. .308 is 7.62x51mm whereas 30-06 is 7.62x63mm. Both are 30 cal cartridges but are not the same thing. The .308 is fired in the M14, M240 belt fed machine gun, MK48 belt fed machine gun, M40A1 Sniper Rifle, and SR-25 Knights Armament Sniper Rifle. Unless you invaded Normandy with an M1 Garand or fought the North Koreans you didn't fire a 30-06. I'm sure their sarcasm meter was pegged when they said ”yeah I guess it is a 306, you sure know your firepower” It is no wonder they looked away and showed the body language normal people do when they want to end a conversation but don't want to be rude. Also, I noticed that in the sentence right after you called the hunters ”dumb and dumber” your spelling of wear was incorrect. How ironic. What was your MOS First Sergent? I hope it wasn't a combat MOS. You should probably stay in your lane. First Elk season started on the 16th, but there were earlier rifle seasons in September up there. Good job with the search and all the pics. If I wasn't overseas I would have gone up there this year and hunted as well as searched. I looked quite a bit for Vanek when I was up there in 05. I am spending another winter in the sandbox and it is nice to see pictures and read about one of my favorite places. (Sorry if I sounded a bit harsh but I have been messed with by hikers while hunting more than once, so my BS tolerance is a little low.)


Thank you!
02/05/2011 00:22
You have touched my heart and made me wonder what the hell my brother was thinking. Thank you so much for taking the time to try and find a clue or something of my brother. Only he and God know where he is and I don't understand how no clues can be found. Thank you so much again. The pictures were both good and bad.


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