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After climbing Deseret Peak in Utah the previous day, I had spent more than eight hours driving across Utah and Colorado to get me to the Sawatch Range where I planned to hike today. I didn't get to bed until after 11p, so it was with some trouble that I got up before 5:30a for a 6a start. The forecast had isolated thunderstorms and showers on tap, so it seemed prudent to get up early and get off the mountain before such weather develops. Mount of the Holy Cross is the northernmost 14er in the range (with 15 total, it is the has most of any range in Colorado), barely qualifying with just 5ft over the magic threshold. It is also the highest point in Eagle County as well as the Holy Cross Wilderness - so many things to cross off with just one summit! The Holy Cross Trail starts at the Halfmoon Trailhead, climbing to the summit in about 6mi. Total gain is about 5,600ft, including a 970-foot climb to get back over Halfmoon Pass on the way back, if one returns the same way. I avoided this by combining it with three surrounding bonus peaks for a loop, making for a pretty full day, even though I finished up by 1:30p.
I got started just before 6a, about half an hour before sunrise and just enough light that I didn't need a headlamp. The trail climbs to Halfmoon Pass in under two miles, mostly through forest, then traverses the north side of Notch Mtn before dropping dishearteningly for almost 1,000ft to East Cross Creek and the campground found there. This is a popular overnight location for those not wanting to do Holy Cross as a day hike. After crossing the creek, the trail begins to climb, this time much more earnestly than it did in reaching Halfmoon Pass. This is no stock trail, just lots of elevation gain in a few short miles. Not long after the creek crossing, I came across the first of 5 parties I would encounter on my way to the summit, two parties of three and three parties of two. All of them were of mixed gender, all with exactly one male. Climbing CO 14ers seems to be a popular dating activity. The trail climbs out of the forest soon enough and begins a several mile journey through rock wonderland, the trail an engineering marvel that makes what would otherwise be a tedious boulder and scree slog, far more enjoyable. Large cairns, often closely spaced, mark the route, though the trail is obvious, except perhaps when covered in snow. There was some snow in the higher elevations, but none on the trail and no need to cross any of it.
I reached the summit just before 9a, almost exactly 3hrs from the start. The highpoint isn't obvious at the flattish top, and I failed to find a register if there was one (none of the day's peaks had one, far as I could tell). I had passed the last party only about 10min below the summit, so I didn't stay more than a few minutes in order to let them have it to themselves. There were only hints of clouds across the horizon, so I figured I had some hours still to do the loop I had planned on. Holy Cross Ridge lies 2/3mi to the SSW along the connecting ridgeline with a drop of 500ft from Holy Cross. As the 91st highest summit in the state, it is one of the Colorado Centennials and sees a good amount of traffic. It took me 45min to get from one summit to the other, no trail, but fairly pleasant cross-country, with few loose blocks and lots of dirt/grass fill between the rocks. This was pretty typical of all the cross-country travel I encountered today. From the summit of Holy Cross Ridge, I only briefly considered continuing south along the ridge to Peak 13,768ft, another mile to the south. I dismissed it as too much out of the way and making for a longer day than I'd like.
I turned east to head to Pt. 13,373ft, again along the ridgeline connecting it to Holy Cross Ridge. The weather was beginning to develop after 10a, much along the lines forecasted. It took me another hour and 20min to get from Holy Cross Ridge to Peak 13,248ft, found a mile east of Mount of the Holy Cross. There was a solo gentleman sitting there, busy on his phone (I was surprised to find that I had cell service on Holy Cross and for much of the looping part of the route). We talked briefly before I left him where I'd found him and continued north to the last summit, Notch Mtn, another mile further north. The sky was about 50% overcast by now with some precipitation falling to the east. At the saddle between the two peaks I paused to check out an impressive stone building found there. It looks to be of excellent construction, though its purpose unknown. A sign on the door says "Please close door", but though the lock was unlatched, I failed to push the door open with my shoulder. Perhaps I'm just too weak to earn a visit inside. I returned to my northward journey, finding the notch just south of the summit, for which the peak is named. I didn't spend much time finding the easy way down this deep notch (there are easier routes on the west side of the crest), but descended the steep drop from its apex, an unexpected, spicy class 3-4 route that worked nicely. I then hustled up to the summit soon after 11a, just in time for the first bits of hail to start dropping from the sky. No thunder and no lightning, thankfully. The small, light hail pieces melted almost upon contact and were never a real issue. I found the trail that continues north along the ridge, ducked and in pretty decent shape that I could use to get myself back to Halfmoon Pass. The hail turned to fat drops of rain as I descended and I paused to stuff my electronics in my pack and put on its rain cover. Still, it didn't last long and I never really got wet - the wind would dry me quickly.
The sky was almost completely overcast by the time I returned to the trailhead just before 1:30p, and still the rain held off. I suspect if I hadn't been carrying raingear in my pack it would have been a different story. I took a shower somewhere off Notch Mtn Rd before descending to SR24. I then drove about an hour to Breckenridge where I whiled away the afternoon and every evening. Nothing like an upscale mountain town to shake the Wilderness out of your being...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mount of the Holy Cross - Holy Cross Ridge - Notch Mountain
This page last updated: Fri Aug 23 14:08:58 2019
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