Introduction/StatsObjective: Mt of the Holy Cross (14,005’) – CO Rank 51
Pt 13,831 – CO Rank 91
Pt 13,248 – CO Rank 441
Date Climbed: July 13-14, 2007
Route: Halo Ridge II
Elevation Gain: 5410’
Total Distance: 15.0 miles
Participants: Jim & Karen Ohl
We had made our first attempt to summit Mt of the Holy Cross almost a year ago, on a day in which we probably shouldn’t have gotten out of the car at the trailhead. The weather report said it was going to be a nasty day, but we waited until 400’ from the summit in the rain to finally turn around. The forecast this year was looking better and this time we decided we’d take an alternate route to the summit by ascending the Angelica Couloir, a snow-filled gulley that reaches a steepness of 45 degrees and is often in good condition until mid-July. We left Colorado Springs early Friday afternoon and found ourselves at the Halfmoon trailhead just outside of Minturn, CO at 5pm. Our intent was to backpack over Halfmoon Pass and camp down near East Cross Creek to allow for an alpine start. However, as we packed up our gear we realized we had left our climbing helmets at home. After reading reports from the previous week that the top of the gulley was full of loose rock, we knew that this route was now out of the question. What seemed like a Friday the 13th event would turn out to be a blessing in disguise as we would later see that the couloir was no longer in any condition to climb anyway. Anyway, on to Plan B. I had done quite a bit of research on the various routes to the summit and suggested to Karen that we take the Halo Ridge, a long but scenic ridge that circumvents the Bowl of Tears Basin en route to the summit. Karen needed a little arm-twisting but I knew this route would not disappoint as long as the weather held, and I secretly had my heart set on this route all along. By 5:39pm we were packed up and on the trail.
Notch Mountain ShelterThe first leg of the trip is an easy 5.0 mile hike up to the ridge south of the summit of Notch Mountain. There is an alternate route that would have taken us over Notch Mountain but would have also required negotiating some class 3-4 terrain toward the end – not a wise move with dwindling daylight. Our plan was to continue on the next day along the Halo Ridge to the summit and then descend via the standard route. We had heard that the shelter was a good place to spend the night, but after starting so late in the afternoon, I was unsure if there would be room for us inside, if several others had the same idea. We decided to chance it and left the tent in the car to save weight. The Fall Creek trail that heads along the east of Notch Mountain was pleasant as it ascended gradually with soft dirt underfoot.
We were able to maintain an aggressive pace over its 2.2 miles to the junction with the Notch Mountain Trail. According to the map, it looked like we’d be parallel to a creek the whole way to the junction, but for the most part I could neither see nor hear it. Our water bladders were only half-full to save weight and I was nervous that we would have to spend time searching for this creek as the sun was setting. A trio of hikers descending gave us some good information about the ridge, noted that it looked like we would have the shelter to ourselves, and that there was indeed a few more small creek crossings ahead of us – all great news! Sure enough, a hundred feet past the junction on toward Notch Mountain we came across a tiny creek crossing but found a small running pool where we could fill our water. The remaining 2.8 miles to the shelter was easy as the trail was heavily switch-backed and we did a good job of keeping stops to a minimum.
We reached 13,080-ft, our highpoint of the day at the Notch Mountain Shelter at 8:30pm, just in time to admire the awesome panorama of Mt of the Holy Cross and the Halo Ridge. The shelter was much larger than I thought it would be, probably close to 300 sq-ft inside. As we changed into warm clothes for the night and set up sleeping bags we realized that Karen did not have her sleeping pad. We determined that it must have fallen out of her pack when we stopped to refill our water. I did my husbandly duty and gave her my pad and set up my sleeping bag on top of a wooden picnic table built inside the shelter. We were down by 10pm, for what was the highest night sleep I had ever had, and the highest attempt-to-sleep for Karen.
Halo RidgeWe had read that the traverse across Halo Ridge was LONG, so to have any hope of beating any weather to the summit, we decided to leave at sunrise. Up at 4am from a night of tossing and turning, we packed up and had some time to enjoy the sunrise and views of Holy Cross until we didn’t need our headlamps to hike. The views of Holy Cross and the Halo Ridge in the morning light was simply breathtaking – this route was already worth it for me.
Our first objective for the traverse was ranked 13er, Pt. 13,248, which we ascended with ease – this route is going to be faster than I thought, right? Guess again.
Once at the summit of Pt. 13,248 the reason why the Halo Ridge was such a long route came into view – several spots where the ridge curled around, out of view, and over bumps not seen from our previous vantage point at the shelter. Nevertheless, the elephant gets eaten one bite at a time – on to Pt 13,373.
The views along this section of the ridge were spectacular as the Bowl of Tears came into view and reflected the summit of Holy Cross in alpenglow – WOW!
We looked for ways to bypass Pt. 13,373 and thought we found brief sections of footpaths along the way, but ended up deciding that the fastest route was over the top. We were moving slow, not having fully recovered from the fast-paced trip up to the shelter the previous night, but we persevered to the next bite, centennial Pt. 13,831 – somebody give this Pt a name already! Tuhare Lakes came into view to our south as we gradually ascended several false summits en route to Pt. 13,831. We bypassed one of the false summits and topped out 9am.
At this point, the continuous talus hopping was starting to get annoying and my trip odometer said we had passed the 2.5 mile mark from the shelter a while ago – so much for what my guidebook said. We took a few photos and refueled for the remaining jaunt over to the summit of Holy Cross.
Mt of the Holy CrossWe met another climber as we descended to the saddle who had started that morning at 4:30am, done the traverse over Notch Mountain, and caught us on the ridge – what a speedster! He was good motivation for me on the final ascent as I pressed on from the saddle at a slow but steady pace and finished off the elephant at 10am with only a few pauses to rest and with Karen right behind me. Special Congrats to Karen for finishing off the Sawatch Range 14ers!!
We stopped for about 40 minutes to take in the views, chat with some nice folks on the summit, and refuel. There were clouds starting to build around us, but not threatening. We nixed plans to return down the Halo Ridge and Fall Creek trail to try and retrieve Karen’s sleeping pad, and decided to descend via the standard North Ridge route. The North Ridge involves more talus hopping on a trail that is difficult to follow at points, but lends itself to great views of the north face of Holy Cross. As soon as the Angelica Couloir came into view we knew that leaving our helmets at home was a blessing in disguise.
The last 100 vertical feet of the couloir was steep loose rock, and the snow conditions further below were thin at best. Had we taken this route we surely would have turned around before reaching the top. Perhaps more skilled and steep scree-tolerant climbers could have done it, but this didn’t look like any fun at all for us. The rest of the descent was punishing as usual for me as my knees were begging me to stop. I was glad to reach the softer trail at treeline and the shade offered some relief from the hot sun as well. The trail wound gradually down through the forest and we reached the East Cross Creek crossing where we had intended to camp the night before. The creek’s cold water felt great and we rested to cool off before heading back up to Halfmoon Pass. The 970’ hike back up to the pass was taxing but a welcome change to the pounding downhill we had just finished.
We kept it slow and steady and tried to enjoy the last beautiful views of the Holy Cross Wilderness. Reaching the top of the pass we were in the home stretch, as the trail made a gradual 1300’ descent back to the parking lot over 1.7 miles. We were back at the car just before 2:40pm – long 9 hr day complete and well worth it!