Holy Cross Ridge Overview
Photo of Holy Cross Ridge taken by Colonelpyat
Holy Cross Ridge or UN13,831 is the highpoint on a long and beautiful ridge running south-southwest from the great fourteener Mount of the Holy Cross. The ridge harbors three ranked thirteeners and of course, the popular above mentioned fourteener. Residing directly on the north, south running ridge is Mount of the Holy Cross, the Cenntenial thirteener UN13,831, and lesser known UN13,768, and the unofficially named "Fancy Peak" (13,192,)just north of its named pass.
Holy Cross Ridge resides in the northern mountains of the Sawatch Range, extending from the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross south for about 4 miles to Fancy Pass (12,380-ft.) This ridge separates the vast Cross Creek Drainage to the west, from a series of smaller lake-ridden areas to the east. This area east of the ridge includes the beautiful Tuhare Lakes, Lake Constantine, Seven Sisters Lakes, Cleveland Lake, The Mulhall Lakes and the intimate Hunky Dory Lake.
Overshadowed by its more famous 14er neighbor, the ranked summits of Holy Cross Ridge are not climbed often and attaining them requires a physical effort greater than most standard routes on fourteeners. Sticking to the typical Sawatch mountaineering theme, expect a long approach, heavy vertical gain, and endless class 2 hiking on talus.
Routes for UN13,248 & UN 13,831-ft & Mount of the Holy CrossThere are three reasonable routes to this elusive summit of UN13,821-ft. on Holy Cross Ridge. Click here to view an excellent topomap depicting the following routes.
South Slopes Route
The easiest route would be the South Slopes Route which starts at the Fall Creek TH and ascends to the Tuhare Lakes Basin. The route is long at 14.2 miles however the vertical gain is only 3,500-ft. I recommend this route when the monsoon season has kicked in. The route stays off of exposed ridges for most of the day and last second ascends the south slopes of UN13,821.
North Ridge Route via the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross-
The most popular route is the North Ridge Route via the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross. This route starts at the popular Halfmoon TH and ascends the standard North Ridge Route of Mount of the Holy Cross. Begin by descending 520-ft down Holy Cross’s south ridge and back up the north ridge of UN13,831. This route is shorter in distance at 13.4 miles but vertical gain is high at 6,100-ft.
Halo Ridge Route
In my opinion the most eloquent route for UN13,831 is via Halo Ridge Route, which encircles the Bowl of Tears. The route also includes a visit to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross. Starting at the Fall Creek TH,d ascend the excellent Notch Mountain Trail to Notch Mountain. From here you get the best view of the cross couloir on Holy Cross. The remainder of the route runs the class 2 ridge for 2.5 miles on stable talus. This stretch of ridge contains a ranked thirteener, UN13,248-ft, and the unrankedPoint 13,373. Soon the Halo Ridge Route swings west and connects with Holy Cross Ridge at UN13,831. From the summit of Point 13,831, descend 520-ft and continue .05 mile to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross at 14,005. Use the fourteener's standard North Ridge Route for descent to the Halfmoon TH. The route is very long on distance at 15 miles, including 5,700-ft of vertical gain.
If you choose the Halo Ridge Route it is critical to know and understand the current weather because the route keeps you above tree line for 4 miles. There are places to escape, however leaving the ridge likely deposits one deep in the Holy Cross Wilderness far from your starting point. Calculate about about 4 to 5 hours above tree line. Using this route in September can enhance your luck for of succeeding.
UN 13,768 via Seven Sisters LakesThe Seven Sisters Lakes area is one of the most beautiful areas I have visited in the Sawatch Range. A high alpine basin flaunting emerald green lakes and spectacular mountain scenery. Point 13,618-ft and the ranked UN13,768 along with the ranked Whitney Peak (13,271) dominate the mountain scenery surrounding these lakes.
There are at least 8 to 10 different alpine lakes in the area. One in particular will be forever remembered as one of the most beautiful, intimate lakes I have ever viewed. This tiny lake comes with a rock island and rests in obscurity at the base of UN13,768-ft. The lake cannot be seen from the Fall Creek Pass Trail and requires a long hike to get to; thus the pristine nature of this lake. The feeling of solitude I felt while resting on the banks of this emerald green gem was powerful.
Halfmoon Campground THUse this TH if you want just Point 13,831 and Mount of the Holy Cross.
From Denver Colorado, take I-70 west to the resort town of Vail. From Vail, continue west another 2 miles to the US-24/I-70 junction. Select US 24 and follow it as it immediately runs through the tiny town of Minturn. From the center of Minturn, stay on US 24 for another 2.5 miles and look sharp on the right for a signed turnoff for “Tigiwon Road”-FS 707. This sign and turnoff is easy to locate.
The Tigiwon Road is an unimproved dirt road. This road is considered by many to be rough, so a high clearance vehicle is recommended.
Follow the Tigiwon Road as it switchbacks up the hillside. At 6 miles you will pass the Tigiwon Campground. At 8.5 miles you will arrive at the Halfmoon Campground, this is also the trailhead. There is a parking area here that is probably sufficient for a mid week, hike but it might be a little small for a weekend hike, so arrive as early as possible.
French Creek-THUse this TH if you want Point 13,618 & UN13,768 on Holy Cross Ridge. This TH gives access to the Seven Sisters Lakes area and Fall Creek Pass.
First, getting to this TH can be a little confusing. From US 24 to the TH is 12.1 miles. The last 2 or 3 miles is the confusing part. I would recommend planning ahead with a good topo and locating the TH before you start your drive. Using your map together with these directions should get you there with no problems.
From Denver Colorado, take I-70 west to the resort town of Vail. From Vail, continue west another 2 miles to the US-24/I-70 junction. Select US 24 and follow it as it immediately runs through the tiny town of Minturn. From the center of Minturn, follow U.S. 24 south for 10.6 miles and look sharp on the right for Gold Park Road (FS 703.) This road is well signed and not too tough to locate.
Measure from this point going forward. Take FS 703 (improved dirt road) and follow it for 7 miles to the Gold Park Campground. About a half mile passed this campground you will see the start of the Holy Cross City Road on the right. At mile 8.0, turn right on FS 704 and follow this road as it switchbacks up the slope. This road is passable for passenger cars, although it may seem rough. At mile 10.3 turn right onto FS 727. Continue on FS 727 and pass the Fancy Pass TH at mile 11.3. From this point going forward the road is not very well maintained and I would recommend a high clearance vehicle.
Turn right at 11.3 staying on FS 727 and at mile 12.1 reach the end of the road and park here. There is no signed trail here and you know you are at the right spot when you locate another entrance to the Holy Cross City Road just to the right. This entrance is the TH for the Seven Sisters Lakes area.
The following was updated 6-30-2005 by Aaron Johnson
Several Colorado wilderness areas now require a free user permit to be in the wilderness, or shortly will require same. The wilderness areas are Holy Cross, Maroon Bells/Snowmass, Mount Evans, and Mount Massive. Permit tags are available at trailheads and are a two part tag. The white part goes in the box provided and the card portion is to be attached to the outside of your pack. There is currently no penalty if one does not have a permit. However, large fines could be levied within a few years for non-compliance. The preferred method now for dealing with violations is education of the users.
The reason for implementation of this required permit is the Forest Service has been unable to obtain accurate data on use patterns from the voluntary sign-in system. The estimated compliance range is currently 10-30%.
The hope is to obtain better data with this new method. While some may feel this is a precursor of some kind of quota system, the opposite is actually true. Accurate information on visitor use patterns will allow the forest service to attempt to evenly distribute impacts and encourage use of alternate trailheads for the same destinations. However, given the magnitude of the state's continuing population boom, folks should not be surprised if quotas in certain areas become a necessity.
Thanks to SP member mtnhiker13 for supplying this vital update via the Colorado Mountain Club's email service.
Specific information can be viewed here.
Red Tape(per Aaron Johnson) The mountain is in the Holy Cross Wilderness, part of the White River National Forest. Please observe wilderness protocols while visiting, particularly since this is a very popular, heavily impacted area. Please register at the trailhead. Hikers must carry a copy of Trailhead Registration. No fees are required, although a fee system was being researched in 2002. More information concerning this important issue can be accessed on Aaron Johnson’s frequently updated Mount of the Holy Cross
Holy Cross Ranger District
P.O. Box 190
24747 US-HWY 24
Minturn CO, 81645
Regional Weather/When To ClimbClick image to enlarge
Considering the approaches to this mountain are very long on such varied terrian I would only recommend winter ascents to those with the required mountaineering skills to do so. The Tigiwon Road is closed in the winter as well which only increases the overall dificulty. Winter ascents on Mount of the Holy Cross are rare so I would only imagine that a winter ascent on Holy Cross Ridge is would be more difficult.
CampingCamping opportunities are plentiful in this wilderness. The most obvious place to set up camp would be either the Tigiwon Campground, which is located 6.5 miles up the Tigiwon Road at 9,900-ft. Drive another 2.5 miles up the dirt road and you will find the Halfmoon Campground at 10,230-ft. This is also the trailhead for the standard North Ridge Route on Mount of the Holy Cross. Also, this is a popular trailhead for hunters during hunting season which begins mid September.
For extensive backcountry camping information please visit the Mount of the Holy Cross