The Ever Evolving Itinerary
By the time I finalized my itinerary for this year’s week long trip to Colorado, I was focused on three main objectives; Crestone Peak, Mount of the Holy Cross and North Maroon Peak. Anything else we accomplished would be gravy.
There was some good reasoning behind these choices. I chose Crestone Peak because Rob
wanted to try for a more difficult 14er, and for a number of reasons, that is the peak I chose; Mount of the Holy Cross via Halo Ridge had been on my overdue list for four years now; and I had wanted to give North Maroon Peak a try after my first trip to the Maroon Bells in 2009, and even more so after we didn’t get a chance in 2010, after being snowed off of it before we even started.
And while these peaks ended up being the main objectives, I originally had conceived of a much different plan for this year’s trip, and it didn’t include any of these peaks, or any 14ers. I really enjoyed the San Juans on our 2011 trip and my preferred itinerary for this year was a 13er festival in the Grenadiers, with Arrow
high on the priority list. But then Rob threw me a curve ball when he told me “I wanna try a more difficult 14er this year!” We had raised the bar last year with our climb up the southwest ridge of Mount Sneffels
and now Rob was itching to raise the bar a little higher. Rob also informed me in this same conversation that he was now interested in trying to go after all of Colorado’s 14ers. This bit of information would play an important part in a number of the decisions we made over the course of the week, in our ever evolving itinerary.
When he said “more difficult” it got me thinking about the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. When we were driving by the Sangres on our way home last year I pulled out Roach
and started skimming through the route descriptions for the 14ers. I remember there being a large number of references to “difficult”. Since we hadn’t been to the Sangres it made sense to consider that for the 2012 trip. It would allow us to get to a new area, and Rob would have a few good options for that more difficult 14er. Rob also tossed in the idea of finally getting to Mount of the Holy Cross. With that suggestion, I was all in! I had wanted to get up Holy Cross via Halo Ridge for four years, so the research began! I came up with what I thought was a pretty good itinerary; a three night backpack into the Holy Cross Wilderness with a base camp at Lake Constantine followed by a three night backpack into the Sangres with a base camp at South Colony Lakes. I’d get to do plenty of exploring in the Holy Cross Wilderness and Rob would get his more difficult 14er via Crestone Peak in the Sangres. A win win for both of us!
Well, as John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” Not to bore you with the details, but due to some personal business that came up less than two weeks before our trip, I really needed to change plans. It was crucial that I had some cell phone coverage on Wednesday and Thursday, so I couldn’t be in the backcountry those days. I made a call to Rob asking him that we change our plans, which he had no problem with. Based on the long approach to Crestone Peak I thought it made the most sense to stay with the plan to backpack into South Colony Lakes, and bail on the overnight into the Holy Cross Wilderness. Crestone Peak in a day was more than we were up for, but Holy Cross in a day was doable.
Now all that was left was deciding what to do with the two days that this change in plans made available for us? I knew instantly where I wanted to go. It was a no brainer! We would head back to the Elks and maybe we would finally get that shot at North Maroon Peak. To say that I was excited about this little change in itinerary would be an understatement!
Saturday: Adventures on Travel Days
Since my son Andrew couldn’t make it this year, it was just Rob and me so we decided to fly instead of doing the all night 20+ hour drive. We were fortunate to both get early flights into Denver and it was well before noon when we started heading south towards the Sangres. But we still had to stop for a few supplies that we didn’t pack, like fuel for Rob’s Jetboil. (I never asked but I assume the airlines frown on carrying fuel canisters in your checked luggage!) We decided to stop in Colorado Springs to pick up the supplies, which led to a number of delays and wrong turns. The only good thing about this is that we stumbled across Phat Hatties
, which has awesome BBQ. We did need some food and this would be the last good meal we would have for the next 72 hours. It was worth the stop!
At this point we were running a little late, and so was Kiefer
. We were supposed to meet him at the trailhead but he was at least a couple of hours behind us. Kiefer and I had been trying for the past four years to meet up for a hike, or beer, during one of my trips to Colorado. Our schedules never seemed to work out, but this year looked like the year. Until now! By the time we reached the trailhead we knew we needed to start heading up the trail. It was already 4 PM and we were parked at the lower trailhead, so we had a long walk ahead of us if we wanted to get close to Lower South Colony Lake and set up camp before dark. I could only hope that Kiefer might stumble across our campsite, or that we might cross paths on Sunday.
We started up the trail and fortunately within 100 yards, a truck drove by and a nice young man by the name of Hollis asked if we wanted a ride to the upper trailhead. I wasn’t shy about accepting! I hopped in the jump seat and Rob grabbed the front. It was a long slow bumpy drive to the upper trailhead, but it sure beat carrying a heavy backpack 2.7 extra miles. When we arrived I couldn’t believe the large number of cars! Being Saturday and a long holiday weekend, I expected it to be busy, but this was a little ridiculous. I got concerned that we’d even be able to find a spot to camp near the lake. It was a long slow trudge up to the old upper trailhead. We crossed the log bridge and saw a few open camp spots. We also saw the sign that said it was still another 1.5 miles to the Lower Lake. We didn’t debate long! We grabbed the first site available. We had enough time to set up our tents, boil some water and eat some supper. Then it was off to bed. We came here to hike, and the alarm was going off early!
Sunday: Kitty Kat, Obstruction and Humboldt
My original plan for Sunday was to try for Crestone Peak. But after seeing the large crowds I decided to change plans. For one, I wanted a little more solitude on our Crestone day, and even more important, I didn’t want to be in the red gully with a slew of other climbers. I could only imagine how much rock was going to tumble down with a steady stream of climbers. So I changed plans and decided to head to Columbia Point as we were considering the “Shuttle Peak Traverse” over to Challenger. Regardless of the peaks we would go after it was going to be an ambitious day so we set the alarm early, for 4 AM. It was 4:30 by the time we hit the trail and I could feel some raindrops. Not exactly the weather I hoped for. Fortunately it didn’t drizzle for long. Since we were so close to the old trailhead, we headed for the old trail to the Humboldt saddle, and started up in the dark. I think we were one of the first groups to hit the trail. But as we ascended to the Humboldt saddle I kept looking back towards Broken Hand Pass. As the morning passed I could see a steady stream of head lamps heading for the pass, with hopes of success on the Needle or the Peak I’m sure.
We reached the Humboldt saddle at the perfect time, just in time for sunrise. We took a break and enjoyed the scenery. The Crestones looked impressive! I asked Rob if he wanted to climb up Humboldt and take care of the 14er now, but he said no; we’d save it for the end of the day, depending on how things went with the “Shuttle Peak Traverse”. At this point we knew we were going to go with one of two options. If we went for the shuttle peak traverse we would head to Challenger after summiting Columbia Point. If we bailed on that then we would just turn back at Columbia Point, climb Obstruction Peak and then finish with Humboldt. I was intrigued with the shuttle traverse. It was technically the more challenging of the two options. I had studied the route pretty extensively beforehand and knew that it required good route finding to keep things Class 3, and the route finding was supposed to be challenging. Whether or not we would try it would depend on a large number of variables, particularly, the weather would have to be perfect and we would have to be feeling good physically. But like I told Rob, “If all we do is Columbia, Obstruction and Humboldt, well…that’s nothing to exactly be ashamed of.”
Colony Baldy at Sunrise
The Crestones at Sunrise
We headed for the ridge traverse to Bear’s Playground, not exactly sure what the best route would be. I started off on the North Colony Lakes side of the ridge, and this seemed to work pretty well. As we had read, we had to cross back and forth over the ridge crest a number of times before finally making it to Bear’s Playground. The ridge traverse would be the best part of the day. Although there were cairns most of the way, the route finding was a little frustrating at times, but the scrambling was a blast, and there was just enough exposure at times to add in a little extra excitement. The traverse seemed to go on for a long time. We kept getting glimpses of Bear’s Playground, but for a while I wondered if we would ever make it there.
Rob crossing from one side of the ridge to the other.
Once to Bear’s Playground we had to decide if we were going to go up and over Obstruction Peak or traverse around to the Obstruction/Columbia saddle. Again, Rob wanted to save Obstruction for the hike back, so we went for the ascending traverse to the saddle. This traverse was fun as well, with just enough scrambling to make it interesting.
Traverse to the Obstruction/Columbia Saddle
From the saddle, the climb up to Columbia Point looked a little intimidating. Steep would probably be a better adjective. We stayed to the right side most of the way to the top. Rob followed the cairned route while I chose to enjoy the solid scrambling the conglomerate rock offered. Since we would be climbing Crestone Peak the next day, I figured I might as well get used to climbing up this stuff! On the last portion of the climb to the summit, we followed the route that traversed across the upper face of the peak.
This is a great summit. The views towards Kit Carson and back to Crestone Peak and Humboldt Peak are stunning. When we looked over to Kit Carson we started discussing the possibility of trying the traverse. In reality, it wasn’t much of a discussion. I had made up my mind before we even reached the summit of Columbia. I wasn’t going! It took us five hours to get this far (I’ll never win a race in the mountains!) To make the traverse we had plenty of climbing, and route finding to do. I was concerned with the time. I was even more concerned about leaving some gas in the tank. I came to South Colony Lakes to climb Crestone Peak, which we were doing tomorrow. Trying for the traverse would have made for a difficult day, and probably leave me very tired for the Peak. Rob was content as well with turning back. He also knew that he was going to get his 14er when we went back to Humboldt. So once the decision was made, we slowed down and enjoyed a good 30 minutes or more on the summit.
Obstruction and Colony Baldy
Humboldt and the Crestones
While I sat on the summit and spent time taking countless photos, Rob was on a mission to find the Columbia shuttle marker. He never did find it! After our long break it was time to head towards Obstruction and Humboldt. It was a simple ridge climb up to Obstruction. We took a break on the summit, enjoying our second summit with no real traffic. After a few minutes I could have swore I heard someone coming up the opposite ridge. A solo hiker came into view and blurted out “Well hi there Mark!” It was Kiefer! Amazingly, after four years of trying to meet, we finally crossed paths on the summit of Obstruction. We chatted for about 15 minutes and parted ways. Ironically, he was doing the same loop as us but in the opposite direction. So he headed for Columbia and we headed for Humbolt.
Obstruction Peak from the saddle.
Nice exposure on the Obsruction ridgeline
Finally crossing paths with Kiefer!
The ridge traverse on the way back was a little more difficult than in the morning. We followed the cairned route a little closer than we had in the morning and it seemed like the route was more difficult. Eventually we made it to the Humboldt saddle and took another break. By now we were pretty tired, but there was never any doubt that we were going to summit.
The ridge traverse, from Obstruction Peak
It wasn’t necessarily pretty (us, not the views) but we did make the long hike up to the summit, which we had all to ourselves. It was getting late so we didn’t stay on the summit long. It was a long hike back down to the campsite, which we reached at about 6:15 PM – just under a 14 hour day!
Humboldt's west ridge
Humboldt summit view
Later in the week I would learn that we didn’t actually reach the true summit of Columbia Point. The reason Rob couldn’t find the shuttle marker is because we were on Kitty Kat Carson. When I learned of my mistake all I could do was laugh. I wondered about this when we were up there, but from where I stood, I didn’t see anything higher – and apparently Kitty Kat is 13,980 feet just like Columbia. Oh well! Of course now I would have to change what I told Rob earlier in the day. “If all we do is Kitty Kat, Obstruction and Humbolt, well…that’s nothing to exactly be ashamed of.” I still have to agree!
Monday: Crestone Peak
Today was the day for Rob’s more difficult 14er. The alarm was set for 5 AM, but unfortunately I wouldn’t need it. It started raining shortly after we climbed into our tents on Sunday night, and it rained off and on all night. Despite how tired I was, the constant pitter patter of rain drops didn’t help me get a good night’s sleep. Our tents were close to the road, so I was amazed when I heard some hikers heading up the trail at 5 AM, in the rain. All I could think was “The red gully is going to be wet!” I didn’t even bother to yell over at Rob and see if he was thinking about heading up to the Peak. I rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. By 7 AM the rain had stopped and Rob was out of his tent, woke me up and informed me that he was ready to get started. At this point I was still the glass half empty guy. There were still plenty of low lying clouds and I was worried about the gully being wet. There was no way I was heading into the gully if it was wet! But I rolled out of the tent anyway.
For me, the most difficult part of the entire day was the long climb up to Broken Hand Pass. I don’t remember any part of it being easy. The lower section was steep boulders. Then there was the Class 3 section in the middle. And after that it was endless scree to the pass.
Broken Hand Pass
Broken Hand Pass
Terrain to the pass, above the Class 3 section.
Eventually we did make it to the pass and unfortunately the weather still wasn’t cooperating. The summit of Crestone Needle was clouded over and looking towards the Peak, all I could see was clouds. We headed down towards Cottonwood Lake anyway.
By the time we made it past the lake and to the start of the trail towards the red gully, things still didn’t look very good. The summit of the Peak was still clouded over. It was here that we would meet the only other climber we would see all day. At first we thought he was heading up, but he informed us that he had already been to the summit – and that it had been completely socked in at the top!
The summit of Crestone Peak is up there somewhere!
We headed up and I will have to say that I did enjoy the red gully. The conglomerate rock made for some great climbing! There was a lot more scree in the gully than what had been advertised, but it wasn’t a big problem as it was easy to avoid. The gully is pretty relentless though. I would describe it as Longs Homestretch
…on steroids! And while the climb did seem to go on for a long time, I did reach the point that I knew we were going to get the summit. It was a great feeling to finally reach the red notch and look up the ridge. The final climb up the ridge was easier and less exposed than I expected.
Looking down the red gully from the red notch
The ridgeline from the red notch.
We had the summit all to ourselves! We probably spent close to 30 minutes up there. The views were incredible.
Kit Carson and Columbia Point
Showing off my true colors on the summit...
The descent down the gully was loser than I had hoped, with more scree than I was expecting. When we reached Cottonwood Lake we were feeling really good. I think both of us were surprised with how good the climb went. While physically challenging, neither one of us felt that any of the climbing was technically difficult. I know I didn’t ever feel uncomfortable with any of the terrain all day!
So we were feeling rather good about ourselves, and Rob threw out the idea of trying to get Broken Hand Peak in as well. The only problem with this idea was that I hadn’t studied the route much beforehand so I had little or no beta. I just remember reading that if you stayed away from the pinnacles you could keep things at Class 2. We also weren’t sure if we should head towards the ridge via the pass or start a little lower. We made our way back to the pass and tried getting to the west ridge from there – which was a mistake. We gained quite a bit of elevation heading towards the west ridge. We got to a gully - that we hoped was the correct route – but if it wasn’t we were going to have to think about bailing on this plan. A storm was rolling in and it wasn’t a matter of if we were going to get wet, but when. The gully led us to some Class 4 (or more difficult) spires. I was able to cross over to another gully and see if that could be the route. All this gully offered was some fun Class 3 scrambling, and another dead end at the top with more spires in our way. At this point we knew we were done and we bailed, and headed back to the pass and then down.
Broken Hand Peak
Looking up the west ridge from near Broken Hand Pass
Some fun Class 3
Sometime before we reached the trail above Lower South Colony Lake the rain started. It was a cold rain and the winds didn’t help. Fortunately it only lasted about 20 minutes, and when it cleared we were treated to the most perfect rainbow I think I’ve ever seen.
You should be able to see it if your screen is at the correct angle...
Crestone Peak made for a great day. It was a great route with great scenery. And we got our first dose of “more difficult”. We should have celebrated by sleeping in on Tuesday, but we didn’t…
Tuesday: Mount Shavano
We would get a not so gentle reminder today that a walk up, does not necessarily mean a walk in the park!
While the standard hike up Shavano won’t test your climbing skills, it might just test your conditioning program, particularly if it comes on the heels of two hard days in a row.
After we got back to camp late on Monday afternoon we discussed our options for Tuesday. Going after Crestone Needle would make for an even more difficult prize, and over the previous two days we had discussed the possibility of giving it a try. I personally didn’t have a strong desire to climb it. I came here for the Peak and got it. I was content, although I will admit to being a little curious about the Needle. But since it wasn’t that important to me I deferred to Rob. Over the previous two days he had had mixed feelings about trying the Needle. Maybe we were just tired, or maybe we couldn’t get excited about climbing up Broken Hand Pass again, but the answer was no. I had a feeling that Rob was going to want to give one of the Sawatch 14ers a try. I’ve made this trip to Colorado with Rob six times now and know what he likes and we have a pretty good feel for what to expect from each other. Knowing that we had to drive through Buena Vista on Tuesday to reach the Holy Cross Wilderness, I knew Rob would be thinking Sawatch 14er, and I was right. His idea was to break camp by 5 AM, hike out and then choose a peak. I had Roach in the car, so while he drove towards Buena Vista I could skim through the routes and find a peak to climb. And that is what we did!
We broke camp in the dark, loaded up our backpacks, were on the trail by 5:30 AM and made the 5+ mile hike back to the car. We hit the road around 8 AM and I immediately started flipping through Roach, trying to figure out what to climb. My first inclination was Huron. It sounded the easiest. But Rob was interested in one of the combo routes – go two for one if possible. With that, the Shavano/Tabeguache combo looked like a decent option.
This wouldn’t be a great day for me. I felt like crap all day. There is no other way to put it. This was nothing more than a trail hike – a fairly steep trail hike, at 9.7 miles roundtrip with 4,430 feet of elevation gain – and I just never felt good. Rob ended up getting fairly far in front of me as we got above treeline and approached the Shavano/Esprit saddle, but I could tell by the number of breaks he was taking that he didn’t feel a whole lot better than I did.
When we reached the saddle and looked up at the final stretch to the summit I knew we were going to make it…or at least I hoped we would. Eventually we reached the summit and again had it to ourselves for a portion of the time. With the way I felt I knew that I wasn’t going to try for Tabeguache. If Rob still had any hopes for it, the decision not to go was made easier when a climber reached Shavano after making the traverse. He said it took him three hours. With how late it was and still needing to drive up to the Holy Cross Wilderness we knew we had to turn around. I was more than happy with just bagging one peak today!
Connecting ridge to Tabeguache
Wednesday: Rest Day and Ptarmigan Lake
When we got back to the car after bagging Shavano Rob asked me what I wanted to do on Wednesday. Our plan all week had been to climb Mount of the Holy Cross. Again, maybe it’s a bad idea to decide if you are going to go after a physically challenging peak when you are dead tired. But all the way down Shavano I kept thinking that with how tired I was, there was no way I was going to make it up Holy Cross - and enjoy it. A motel, hot shower, pizza and cold beer was my recommended prescription, along with a rest day for Wednesday. Rob quickly affirmed my choice, so we headed to Buena Vista and the comfy confines of the Super 8. Pizza and craft beer at the Eddyline
topped off the evening!
I honestly did not plan to do any hiking on Wednesday. After Shavano I was content to actually rest. We took it easy in the morning, sleeping in, eating plenty of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast and then walking over to the outfitter The Trailhead across the street and browsed around. One of the shopkeepers told us about a short hike out to a nice lake. The trailhead for Ptarmigan Lake was right up the road towards Cottonwood Pass. It was a short 6-7 mile hike roundtrip with about 1,600 feet of elevation gain. We had lounged around enough so we headed to the trailhead.
It ended up being a nice, easy, peaceful hike. The easy terrain allowed Rob and me to chat a lot about our three previous days along with our hopes for Thursday and Friday. We got to the lake and had it all to ourselves. As I sat there, enjoying a nice alpine lake, I started thinking back to my first few trips to Colorado in 05’ and 06’, when hikes to alpine lakes like this were so much of the focus then. Yeah, I went after a few peaks, particularly Longs, but hikes to alpine lakes were what I loved. Six years later, the itinerary had taken a completely different turn, with the focus pretty much just on summits! I couldn’t help but wonder if those were simpler, but just as enjoyable trips. I thought about it for a few moments and then realized I didn’t have the time for such sentamentalities. We needed to get back to the car! Since we would be climbing North Maroon Peak tomorrow we were running short on time and needed to start heading for Aspen and Maroon Creek Road, unless we wanted to set up our tent in the dark. We ended up having dinner at Little Annie's
in Aspen, and did run late, and did end up setting the tents up in the dark at Silver Bar.
Thursday: North Maroon Peak
I should have known that North Maroon was going to be different. While we had stepped things up on Crestone, North Maroon would prove to be much more challenging for me. Tough physically, but more so mentally! I found myself concentrating and thinking about my movement more than I ever had on a mountain. Yes, North Maroon would definitely be more difficult. After it was over I told Rob, “For the week, we've now had a double dose of more difficult.”
Considering my mental disposition the evening before the climb I’m surprised I even made it up the peak. I didn’t sleep very well, and while I tossed and turned my thoughts turned negative. For the past three years I had reviewed the route info and pictures for North Maroon countless times, and I always felt confident that this was a peak I could summit. Yeah, I was always a little concerned about the chimney crux, but there didn’t seem to be the type of exposure anywhere on the route that would keep me from trying. Sure, it was steep, but it didn’t look exposed, which is why I was confident. But all that confidence seemed to drift away as the climb got closer and closer. The reality that this can be a dangerous peak sort of took over the tape that kept playing in my head.
I decided to compartmentalize the climb into three sections. By definition I don’t know if a climb can have more than one crux, but that was the way I was going to approach the day, and I saw three. The first was the 2nd gully. If it was steeper than it appeared in photos that was a concern. The second crux would be the cliff bands below the ridge crest as this looked like the most exposed section of the climb. The third was of course the Class 4 chimney.
The alarm was set for 4 AM but neither of us needed it. Rob was approaching North Maroon with just as much respect as I was so he didn’t sleep all that well either. We were on the trail by 4:30 and didn’t take long to make our first (and only) mistake of the day. We had both been out to Crater Lake two times before, but somehow we both managed to walk past the turn for the trail to the lake and ended up on the Scenic Loop Trail. Just so you know, the Scenic Loop isn’t very scenic at five in the morning. This little mistake cost us at least 30 minutes so it was 6 AM by the time we made it Crater Lake. We wanted an early start to give us plenty of time, so the extra delay was annoying to say the least.
Sunrise over Maroon Lake
Things were pretty uneventful as we ascended. The route was steep, but easy to follow, and we took our first good break at the traverse to the 2nd gully, where we were joined by some resident mountain goats. It turned rather humorous as I assumed they would find another ledge and go past us. But they wouldn’t. They patiently waited as we took our break and then followed us all the way across the traverse.
"Trail" to the 1st gully.
Terrain below the 1st gully.
Traverse to the 1st gully.
Looking up the 1st gully.
Looking down the 1st gully.
Things went pretty smooth in the 2nd gully. We tried to stay with the cairned path, which we were able to do pretty easily. Although towards the top of the gully we figured we got off route a little. First crux down!
Traverse to the 2nd gully.
The 2nd gully
The "trail" to the 2nd gully.
Terrain in the 2nd gully.
The cliff bands below the ridge crest were a challenge! We took our time with the route finding to keep the climbing as simple as possible. There was plenty of loose rock, and a number of Class 3 moves getting to the ridge crest. For me this would be the real crux of the day. It took a while, but we slowly made it to the ridge crest. Second crux down!
Cliff bands below the ridge crest.
We made it to the Class 4 chimney and my initial reaction was that this was doable! Rob went first and had no problems. Getting up the initial move proved a little challenging for me. I ended up using my arms to push myself up to get my feet up to a good hold, but after that it was pretty straight forward. Third crux down!
Rob, in the chimney.
Views below the chimney.
Views below the chimney.
Someone forgot to tell me about all the difficult climbing from the chimney to the summit! Maybe it was mental, but I was expecting that after the chimney things should be easy. Well, they weren’t! In my morning mental preparation, if I would have known how challenging this last section was I would have had to add a fourth crux to my plan. There were a number of Class 3 moves to get through and again we had to work hard at the route finding to keep it from getting more difficult. As we had all day, we primarily stuck to the cairned route, which worked.
Final push to the summit.
It was on this last stretch to the summit that we would finally see some other climbers. There was one couple that came up behind us. They were doing the Bell’s traverse and moved a lot quicker than us. I was amazed at the solitude we had on the mountain this day. I guess there is something to be said for climbing 14ers during the middle of the week, in early September!
When we reached the summit we were both rather happy with the achievement, but there was no celebration. We were saving that for when we got back below the 1st gully. The weather was great so we stayed on the summit for close to 30 minutes, taking a large number of summit photos. The couple doing the traverse left shortly after we arrived at the summit, so we had the place all to ourselves. I love the Elks and the summit of North Maroon is a great place to enjoy the views of these beautiful mountains. It was a great reminder of why I continue to come back here! This is still my favorite place in Colorado.
More so than on any other mountain I was concerned about the descent. Like most people, I prefer to climb Class 3 than descend it, and on North Maroon, the biggest difference compared to any other peak I have been on is that it never really gets very easy on the way down. All the way down to the rock glacier we found that we had to be aware of our movements. It was mentally much tougher than it was physically. Even though the terrain does get easier as you descend, there are still plenty of places to make a mistake.
Looking down the long, steep descent down the 2nd gully.
Most of the descent went pretty smoothly. I was much less graceful getting down the chimney than I was climbing it. The route finding down the cliff bands below the ridge crest was challenging. And we did find ourselves a little off route on the descent of the 2nd gully. Looking up towards the ridge crest we could tell that we had veered too far left, which we pretty easily corrected. After that it was just the long slow descent down, down, down. We made it past the rock glacier, were back on a real trail, felt comfortable again and finally had our summit celebration!
Rob hiked on ahead of me and reached the trailhead a good 15 minutes before I did. The uneven hiking across the rock glacier and then the never ending scree back to the trail put my high ankle strain over the edge. Early in the week I twisted my ankle a couple of times. I couldn’t remember where exactly. It’s not uncommon for me to give the ankle a quick twist once in a while on uneven trail surfaces, so this was no different than normal, except that what had been a barely noticeable strain up to this point was becoming a regular nuisance. A regimen of 800 mg of Ibuprofen twice a day had kept the pain away…until now. Hiking downhill seemed to aggravate it more, so it was slow hike back to the trailhead.
Maroon Creek Valley
Maroon Creek Valley
Signs of fall...
We made our way back to Silver Bar so we could break down camp and head for Tigiwon Road. We stopped in Leadville for dinner and some celebratory ales, and arrived at the Halfmoon Campground pretty late. For the second night in a row we would have to set up our tents in the dark! After our hard day on North Maroon I was hoping for a good night’s sleep…
Friday: Mount of the Holy Cross
Unfortunately we wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep as my biggest fear of the week was playing out! With all the rearranging of our schedule I was very nervous about moving Mount of the Holy Cross to Friday. That would only give us one shot before having to leave for home, and if the weather didn’t cooperate I’d be waiting at least another year for this summit. It rained all night and things weren’t looking positive.
If there is such a thing as ideal, less than ideal weather, that is what we had for the day. Eventually the rain stopped, but the skies weren’t very clear, although the low lying clouds turned out to add to the ambience of an amazing area.
It didn’t take long for me to be smitten by the Holy Cross Wilderness. This is a special place! Even with all the clouds, the scenery was spectacular. The fog in the Cross Creek Valley added to the great views for much of the day. When we descended from Halfmoon Pass I was hoping that the clouds would have cleared enough so we could get that spectacular first view of the mountain. It didn’t happen! Low lying clouds were still blocking out the summit. It wasn’t until we reached the north ridge that we got our first good view of Holy Cross.
Patricia Lake from the north ridge.
Cross Creek Valley
We made the long haul up the north ridge and finally ran into some people that were on their descent. It was a repeat of the same theme we had all week. The routes we were on were pretty much empty. Other than a few random hikers here and there, we had these mountains to ourselves.While it was still cloudy, the low lying clouds had cleared long by the time we reached the summit, and the views were spectacular.
Bowl of Tears
Holy Cross Ridge
I knew we would just be going up and down the standard route, as the weather wasn’t cooperating, with a storm slowing rolling in, and my ankle
wasn't enjoying the talus. My original plan, when we were going to camp at Lake Constantine, was to climb up via Tuhare Lakes. There was plenty of exploring I wanted to do along Fall Creek Trail, including getting to the Seven Sisters Lakes area as well as Tuhare Lakes. I had hoped to descend via Tuhare Lakes but today would not be that day. I was perfectly fine with this. By now I knew that I would be coming back to the Holy Cross Wilderness. Now having Mount of the Holy Cross checked off the list, this will free up more time to go exploring along Fall Creek Trail. It’s all good!
We enjoyed our 20-30 minutes on the summit, but knew it was time to get moving. Chances were pretty good we were going to get wet on the descent, and we would. This was another theme that had played out all week long. When it rained, it rained at the right time. Other than on Shavano and North Maroon, we dealt with some rain every day. Sometimes in was during the night, or early in the hike, or as with Crestone and Holy Cross, on the descent, but always at the right time.
Ironically the weather cleared as we descended from Halfmoon Pass. We made it back to camp and packed things up.
Holy Cross was the end of the trip, and what a long great trip it had been
. We had to head east for Denver as we had flights home on Saturday afternoon. But after such an awesome week we were ready for some celebrating.
Our plan was to meet up with a friend of Rob’s that recently moved from Columbus to Denver. The original plan was to crash at his house, but in another last minute change of plans we were comped with a room at the downtown Sheraton. We had plans for a late night in downtime Denver, celebrating an awesome week with some good food, good friends and plenty of good beer! Rob was able to catch up with an old friend, and while I would love to say we painted the town, we were both too tired for that. We hit a couple of local breweries and called it an evening pretty early into the night. It had been a pretty tough week and we were beat...