Mount of the Holy Cross
via Halo Ridge
David B. Rogers
"This long, scenic tour is the big one" begins Gerry Roach's description, and he is right. I reached the Halfmoon Trailhead (10,320 ft) at 7 pm after a 7 hr drive. Two unhappy looking women walked out of the woods a little later, in the dark. Two hunters camped nearby subsequently told me the women said that they had been lost most of the day. This really improved my attitude about my planned solo journey...
After a beer and a pleasant snooze in my car, I hopped on the trail at 6 am, an hour before sunrise. The temperature was below freezing and a lovely 3rd quarter moon lighted my way. Much of the trail was snow covered, but well trod by previous hikers. I shed goretex during my 1300 ft climb to Halfmoon Pass, at about 11,600 ft. An hour into my journey, I reached the pass and was greeted by the rising sun. The descent into the East Cross Creek drainage brought lovely views of the Mt. of the Holy Cross. After crossing the creek at about 10,600 ft, I began the 3400 ft climb to the summit of the 14er (14,005 ft).
While making the climb I had ample time to consider that Roach listed the elevation gain for the trip to the peak and back at 5600 ft, while Dawson gave it 4700 ft. I decided that Lou had forgotten to add in the 1000 ft climb back up to Halfmoon Pass on the return trip.
The lower portion of the north ridge of Holy Cross is covered with trees and the trail was covered in snow, but again the path was well trod by earlier hikers. At treeline the paths of the prior hikers dispersed. The way ahead was a field of large rocks with deep snow between. I began what was to be about 9 hours of rock hopping and postholing. I was glad I had my trekking poles along, as they made keeping balance on the narrow rocks somewhat easier. The real excitement came with stepping between the rocks- would I slip and break a leg, or what? Visions of a frozen, injured hiker danced in my head.
At 11:30 (or 5.5 hrs) I reached the summit of Mt. of the Holy Cross. The day continued sunny, with the temperature in the low 30s, and the wind was intermittent. The views were unbroken: I noted Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells. I had been eyeing the rest of the Halo Ridge during my climb, especially Notch Mtn., trying to decide if I wanted to commit to that. I did want to step on the summit of the high 13er south of Mt. of the Holy Cross, known as Holy Cross Ridge (13,831 ft). I did so at 12:30, after about a half hour of rock hopping from the 14er.
At this point the way ahead to Notch Mtn. looked no worse than the way back (perhaps I need new glasses). Thus I committed to another 5.5 hrs of rock hopping and postholing. But heck, it was new territory and the views of the Bowl of Tears Lake and Mt. of the Holy Cross were grand. The curse of an X and a Y chromosome; believing that stuff is fun. I hopped, hoped, and postholed around to the Notch Mtn. shelter, where the Cross Couloir began to come into view. The temperature had risen to nearly 50 while on the 13,000 ft ridge.
At this point I debated the relative merits of returning to my starting point via the 5.3 mi Notch Mtn. and Fall Creek trails. The prospect of a snow covered trail seemed much less inviting than a few more hours of scenic views, along with rock hopping and postholing. Besides, by sticking to the summit, I could attempt to cross the "the crux of the route" as Roach calls it: the notch that gives Notch Mtn. its name... It sounded so good.
I stood atop the cliff on the north side of Notch Mtn's southern summit and my faith in Gerry Roach was shattered. He describes the "careful route finding" required to traverse the notch, by a scramble down the east side of the northern summit, and a scramble up broken rock to where I stood (atop a hundred foot cliff). All of this looked like sure death to me... so I backtracked about 150 ft on the *western* side of the southern summit, and downclimbed some rather easy and obvious class 3 in a small chute. An easy walk to the north took me through the notch where I followed a ramp up the *western* side of the north summit of Notch Mtn. This ramp reached the ridge top about 200 ft or more north of the notch.
Another joyous (read relentless and seemingly endless) 1.25 miles or so of rock hopping and postholing brought me again to the Halfmoon Pass, at about 6 pm. Eleven hours had passed since I'd last stood here. A delightful 2 mi or so of trail (compared to rock hopping and postholing for the previous 9 hrs) returned me to my car. It was almost an hour after sunset, just before 7 pm, nearly 13 hours into my trip. Except for a distant view of 2 hikers as I returned to Halfmoon Pass, I hadn't seen another soul all day. I was tired... The double latte at Bongo Billy's in Buena Vista would have to wait until the next morning.
My altimeter (aka performance measurement system) credited me with 5930 ft of elevation gain over the 13.4 miles of hiking. This is close to the 5900 ft Roach lists. Were I to do this again, (which won't be soon unless I sustain a head injury) I'd consider reversing the route. In this fashion, the sun would be shining on the Cross Couloir for better photos, instead of shining into my face. Also, the fun of rock hopping and postholing would be over earlier, with only a trail and 1000 ft of climbing to Halfmoon Pass to finish off.
Obviously this trip is best in June or September, when thunder storm danger is less. Until I reached the Notch Mtn. shelter, escape into the Bowl of Tears basin only seemed inviting between Holy Cross Ridge and Mt. of the Holy Cross. For footing, either no snow or a stable snowpack would be best. If you are hidebound, bring a few companions. Preferably the kind who bring along ice cream, like James Hunter, for example.