Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005 feet)
Holy Cross Ridge (13,831 feet)
Via the North Ridge, descent by the Halo Ridge
July 20, 2003
Sam and I knew that this hike would be a long one. No matter which route we chose, we were looking at 12+ miles and 5000+ feet of elevation. So, we started out with the intention of doing the North Ridge Route from the Halfmoon Trailhead.
We stayed at the Halfmoon Campground the night before. We got up at 5:45am, and by the time we got breakfast and pulled all our stuff together, we got to the trailhead around 7:00am.
The first bit went pretty good. But, we knew that we where only climbing up to the Halfmoon Pass, and that the vertical we were gaining now would only be lost on the other side of the pass. About a mile into the trip, Sam told me to go ahead. So, I went ahead, hoping that Sam would kick it into a high gear towards the top of the pass. I eventually made it to the top of the pass at around 11,600 ft. This took about 50 minutes. I spent a bit of time admiring the view; about 10 minutes. Then, I started the painful hike down. Very quickly though, I began to appreciate this down hike. Although, I was losing precious elevation, the view was outstanding. And, when I finally got my first view of Holy Cross, I was awestruck. This is a beautiful peak. It took me about 35 minutes to get to the bottom. At the bottom, you first pass several camp sites, then you cross East Cross Creek. This is at about 10,700 ft. After that, it is time to go UP! The up climb at this point is a little bit tougher than the climb up to the Halfmoon Pass. At about 12,000 ft, the climb turns into a mild boulder climb. This lasts until about 13,100 ft, where you crest the initial ridge, then start heading south towards Holy Cross. At this point, the boulder climb get just a little more difficult. The last 700 ft of the climb was the toughest for me. I had to stop every couple of minutes to breath, then I would kick it back in for another 30 feet or so.
I made the top in about 4 hours 25 minutes. I had hoped to get it in under 4 hours, but this was not to be. I spent about 20 minutes on top. While on top, I was trying to recruit a climbing partner to do the whole loop with me. I had met a guy on the way up named Ryan. Ryan was climbing with his golden retriever, Lex, and they toasted me on the way up. Well, eventually, I convinced Ryan that it would be easier to hit the Halo Ridge on the way out, so we wouldn’t have to regain that 1000 ft up the Halfmoon Pass.
Ryan, Lex and I headed down Holy Cross, and started looking toward Holy Cross Ridge. We decided to make our final decision after we got a better look at the Holy Cross Ridge up climb. It looked like the up climb to the Holy Cross Ridge was only about a 45 degree boulder climb, and it seemed like a pretty straight forward climb. So, we decided to go for it. We made the top of Holy Cross Ridge about 45 minutes from leaving Holy Cross. Having another person (and dog) to push you really helps. We just spent 5 minutes on top, and started our travels around the Halo Ridge. At the base of Holy Cross Ridge, we met some ladies going the opposite direction. They gave us some tips about our upcoming terrain. Basically, we decided that we wanted to try and circumnavigate the 3-4 peaks that were on the ridge instead of going over them. I think we went over the first one because it wasn’t much of a climb. The second one, we went around the right side. The other side had some extreme exposure, and was definitely class 5 plus terrain. On the third peak, we decided to go around the left side, but the peak was only about 25 higher than we were anyway. Eventually, we made it to the Notch Mountain Shelter. Most of the terrain from Holy Cross, around to the shelter was boulder hopping. This was only class 2, but it was pretty tiring on the legs. We took about 30 minutes of break along the way; mostly as we got closer to the Shelter and realized that Mother Nature was not going to be chasing off the mountain today. We reached the Shelter in about 2 and a half hours from the Holy Cross Ridge (including break).
We were both amazed with the lightening protection system on the Shelter. There were something like 6-8 lightening rods, and each of these had a huge steel cable running down the building, and into the ground. Ryan and I both agreed that this might be a pretty exciting place to be in the middle of a thunderstorm.
After a final short break, we started heading down the switchbacks off of Notch Mountain. Holy cow this is a lot of switchbacks. Although the switchbacks were long and obviously inefficient travel, we agreed that it was nice to be hiking brainless after hours of boulder hopping. And, the vote from Lex (the dog) was very obvious. This trip down from the shelter took us an additional 2 hours.
Overall, the full loop took me right at 10 hours. This was an awesome, but very demanding hike. I would rate it right along side Longs, via the Keyhole for overall difficulty. Overall elevation gain was 5450 ft. Distance, according to Roach is 15 miles. The miles of boulder hopping is tough on the legs and the long hike down from the shelter is, well, long. But, this is without a doubt the best way to get a full view of this wonderful mountain.
What happened to Sam, you ask? Well, Sam made 12,300 ft. He was in awe with the view of this mountain also. He ended up meeting up with some cool guys from New York, and they all hiked back out together. Overall, Sam ended up with about 4000 ft of elevation and a tough 10 mile hike.