Sometime in October Scott Patterson started looking to put together a group to recon the feasibility of an ascent of Mount of the Holy Cross via cross creek. It seemed like a good idea to check out the route in the fall before snow cover was too deep. Originally the last weekend in October or the first weekend of November was chosen. As various people chimed in it appeared that those weekend would not be the best time for everyone to get together. We pushed it back week by week until the date was set at November 18th and 19th. Colorado received one of the biggest early season storms in several years in late October, and another storm on November 13th and 14th that shut down I-70 from Georgetown to Vail for nearly a day.
As the days grew nearer we started to talk about conditions that we would find on the route. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center came out with its first regular forecasts for the year, and they didn’t look good. Every aspect was in the moderate to considerable danger level. The Route looked to traverse at the base of nearly every aspect. Martha reported several Avalanches in the Berthoud Pass area. Independence pass area was reporting slides with remote triggers up to 500 feet away.
crzyJT on route
8:00 the morning of the 18th Jon (crzyJT) and me arrived at the trailhead. Our group had been reduced to two by this point. The Tigiwon road was still being kept open by hunters trying to bag an elk for the year since 4th rifle season still had 2 days left in it. W3e took this as a sign of good fortune and drove the truck to the second switchback where the trailhead is. There was a group of hunters assembled there talking about quitting for the day and how the terrain was too tough to actually get to any of the elk they could see in there binoculars. For some reason this didn’t sink in.
We started off down the trail talking about how lazy the hunters were for not being able to just cross the valley and hunt the elk. I mean, we had seen on the topo that the valley was just an easy, open meadow with possibly a few willows, how tough could that be? The trail went quickly at first as the hunters had packed it with snowshoes and boots. Very early we noticed that the trail seems to have just as much down hill as uphill.
The snow cover was also surprisingly thin on the trail. We figured it was due to the low elevation (8500) and the traffic the route had seen from hunters. At 8600 feet or so the route crossed to the north side of the creek. The ground cover looked like it had been slush the day before. Luckily it was still early enough to be frozen. As the trail went on the snow cover would go back and forth from good enough to not at all.
At about 12:30 we decided to stop for lunch and asses the situation. We had worked out way out of the trees so that we could see Holy Cross and could see that we were still painfully far away. We had traveled 3 – 4 miles and only 1100 vertical feet. 4 hours and 1100 feet!!!! The trail was spotty at best and we had spent a lot of time going up and down. We talked over our progress. It was mentioned that going down this drainage in the dark would be even worse than going up since there were so many terrain obstacles. After about an hour of debating weather it was even possible to make it up the drainage before dark, let alone summit the next day and make it back down before we got benighted In the thick forest, we decided to turn back. It was a hard decision as we both really wanted to make this route work. We ended up skinning the last 1.5 hours in the dark, luckily we had gotten back to where the hunters had boot packed the trail and it was easy to follow.
Turn around Point
1) The cross creek drainage climbs much more than the 2000 feet suggested on the topo. Possibly even 3000 feet. The terrain is also much more difficult than the topo would suggest.
2) Excess snow and avy danger were not the issue, poor coverage due to the southern exposure was.
3) If this route was to be used a full day for the approach, another day for the climb and partial decent, and a third partial day to finish the decent would be required.
4) Cross creek may be too large to cross after there is snow on the ground, but not enough ice. It was much larger than we expected, but there was a bridge at out first crossing.
5) The crux of the route would most likely be crossing cross creek at east cross creek and making it up the north facing slope to the base of the north ridge route. It looked to have much denser vegetation that the southern slope we were on, and where we were it was pretty thick.
6) It was a good thing we turned around, we spent 3.5 hours climbing the drainage, but over 5 hours coming back down. We would have never made it out on the 19th if we were decending all the way from the summit.