Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mt. of the Holy Cross (14,012 ft.)
Still no Cross

Trisha finishes the Sawatch!

10 July, 2008: When I learned that the Forest Service had a plan in the works to close down the entire 8-mile length of the Tigiwon Road—the access road to the trailhead for Mt. of the Holy Cross—in order to do something or other about the massive pine beetle infestation in the area, perhaps as early as 2009, I suggested to Trisha that we really needed to do this peak this year. As faithful readers will recall, I had already climbed MotHC, back in ’05, but I was definitely up for a re-match with this nifty peak anyway. So when I came up with just a single day off for the week, and we needed something that could be done as a day trip to avoid letting the week slide by, Holy Cross was the obvious choice. A recent trip report had confirmed that the trailhead was easily accessible, and most of the snow was gone from the climbing route, too.

So we set off at 3 am MDT, on our first truly summery climb; we didn’t take ice axes or crampons. Thanks (I think) to my own missing a turn on the road just outside of Leadville, it took us longer than anticipated to reach the trailhead so, once again, we didn’t even need headlamps. We had hoped to be hiking by sunrise (about 5:45 am MDT), but as it turned out, it was about 7:30 when we finally shouldered our packs and headed up from the Halfmoon Campground trailhead (10,320 ft.).

The morning was beautiful, calm and clear, and we were jettisoning clothing before we had even gotten to the top of Halfmoon Pass (11,640 ft.). It was only after we had climbed over the pass, and were actually not far from bottoming out at the crossing of East Cross Creek (at 10,670 ft.), that we finally saw anyone else on the trail.

First, we met a party of four guys who informed us that they had summitted the previous day. A lot of people do this peak as a two-day adventure. Then, just before reaching the creek, we encountered a family (two kids and a dog), who had been unable to find an acceptable way across the creek and were turning back.

When we reached the creek, we saw why! There was considerably more water then when I had been there three years earlier, although it seemed that the very same collection of logs was in place to constitute a make-shift bridge, together with some stones. After scouting up and down stream, we decided that there was no better option than to remove our socks (keeping them dry to re-don on the other side), and scamper across as best we could.

I went first, using my hands as well as my feet. My hands got a little cold in the water, but, to my surprise, the logs offered decent traction, despite being mostly submerged. After that, Trisha boldly sauntered all the way across standing up; I was amazed!

Finally, it was time for the real climb: 3,340 feet up. First the trail winds counter-clockwise around onto the west side of the ridge, then ascends steeply in a more easterly direction to top out on the ridge crest. Needless to say, the going got somewhat slower.

It also got hotter. It wasn’t very long before we stopped to shed clothes, hiking for the first time this year is simple summer garb: short sleeves and short pants. Unbroken sunlight continued as we made our way up out of trees, and onto the jumbled but solid rocks of the ridge.

After we got our first close-up look at the summit, it was just a matter of slogging on through the rocks, following cairns along the increasingly sketchy trail. It’s fairly steep, with one respite just before finally tackling the summit block.

Before we came to that respite, we passed a pair of hikers who were also on their way up. They both looked to be about my age, and one of them informed that he had climbed an amazing 49 fourteeners. We chatted for a few minutes before pressing on.

The final push to the summit is a boulder-hop over large but stable rocks, coming up from the west. We were able to avoid virtually of the remaining snow, and topped out just after 12:30 pm MDT. Trisha got to the summit first, and I found her perched on the summit rock (which holds the benchmark) as I came up over the final lip onto the small summit plateau. What a glorious summit! Holy Cross comes in much higher on the prominence list than it does on the elevation list.

Trisha found that her cell phone had service on this summit, so we “phoned home,” to let Suzanne know that we had made and that all was well. With the beautiful weather, we stayed on the summit for about half an hour, soaking up the incredible views. We could easily pick out the summits of the fourteeners of the Elk Range to the west. This confirmed for us that that particular range is still(!) shrouded in too much snow for a summer-type climb, so those peaks are going to have to wait.

The trip down was mostly uneventful. At the bottom of the summit block, we met the hikers we had passed earlier, still on their way up. We assume they made it. For whatever reason, we dropped off the ridge crest sooner than we should have, and had to do a bit of free-lance route finding to get back on the trail, which we did just above timberline. Then there was just the grunt of re-climbing Halfmoon Pass. Needless to say, this entailed a number of stops to rest, but we finally made it.

Just over the pass, we encountered two parties of people making their ways up. They were doing it the smart way: hiking part way in, camping overnight, and doing the summit on the second day. (This is, in fact, what most people do. We just didn’t have the luxury of a second day, so…)

I had taken numerous pictures on my previous climb of Holy Cross in ’05, but I posted them on Sony’s Imagestation, which has since terminated its existence. So the pictures I took this time are at:

We made it back to the trailhead 10 hours and 14 minutes after setting out. Not too bad, really, considering the 5,600 feet of climbing needed to claim this summit which is only 3,700 feet above the trailhead!

Long life and many peaks!


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