Peak(s):  Holy Cross Ridge  -  13,831 feet
Date Posted:  09/07/2012
Date Climbed:   08/30/2012
Author:  flyingmagpie
 Holy Cross Ridge through Tuhare Lakes   

A Rainy Day Up Holy Cross Ridge--South Slopes, Through Tuhare Lakes

Reference Source: Gerry and Jennifer Roachs' Colorado's Thirteeners

Gerry and Jennifer Roach say of this route: "This is the easiest route on Holy Cross Ridge. It is the best route if climbing Holy Cross Ridge is your only objective, and it allows you to visit the beautiful Tuhare Lakes."

The "easiest" route sounded good to me. ("Easy", however, doesn't mean "short". The round trip is over 14 miles.) Holy Cross was my only objective. And I thought that if I visited Tuhare Lakes climbing, I could also scout them for a possible future fishing trip.

So, all in all, this seemed the best way to go. The Roachs' topo map showed that the approach was Class 1 to the turnoff to Tuhare Lakes, and Class 2 from there to the summit. Despite all of the reasons to use this route, however, I didn't find a lot of good information out there about exactly what to expect. That is one of the reasons I am writing this trip report--to fill in the blanks.

I drove up to the Half Moon Trailhead on the evening of the 29th. I remembered the campground and parking lot from my Mount of the Holy Cross climb in July, 2005. There had been a lot of excavation work going on in the parking lot at that time. Everything was finished up now, and the two trails leading off from the lot were clearly marked and identified. I wanted the Fall Creek Trail. I filled out my Wilderness Permit in the evening light so I wouldn't have to do it by headlamp in the morning. Then I spent the night under my topper in the back of my pickup. Sure beat sleeping on the ground in a tent!

Through the night, when I would wake, I was dismayed that clouds had moved in. I could see them because of the moonlight. The Blue Moon. Cloud cover hadn't been predicted. Nothing but fair weather had been predicted. But I knew Leadville often manufactures its own weather, different from the rest of Colorado. I was up by 4 a.m. By 5 a.m. I was on my way up the trail by headlamp. The clouds seemed to be breaking up, and I could see stars. Maybe the day would be OK, I thought.

I hiked up the trail in the dark until I came to the sign marking the turnoff to the Notch Mountain Shelter. The Fall Creek trail was a big, easy-to-follow trail. There were some downhill sections that I knew would be tiring to climb back up later in the day on my way out. Overall, though, the hike went pretty fast. Soon I could see well enough to turn my headlamp off.

A little further up the trail, I could hear people talking. I came upon three guys taking a rest break. Turned out they were a father, Eddie, and his two sons, Randy and David, 18 and 16. They were headed to the same place I was. "We're not fast," Eddie said. "We're just persistent." He asked if I was climbing the Centennials, and I said I was. He said he had climbed the Highest Hundred with his father years ago. Now he was climbing them with his own sons. They were going to climb Holy Cross Ridge, and then go on to Holy Cross itself. "We'll probably see each other again," I said when I moved on.

I passed Lake Constantine. There was some trail braiding in this area, but I figured most of the trails toward the lake were there for fishermen and sight-seers. I stayed to climber's right. The trail furthest from the lake was the through trail. There were some boggy areas around the lake. The trail went right through these. It was good to have waterproof boots.

Some time later I came to the trail branch. It was marked with a sign. The Roaches, in their guide, write "Leave the Fall Creek trail just before it crosses Fall Creek. . . ." And their topo map shows the Class 1 trail taking a sharp right and becoming Class 2. I had imagined I would turn right at the trail junction. That wasn't the way I found the route on the ground at all. Instead, the trail to Tuhare Lakes continues straight on ahead. It is the trail to Fall Creek Pass that takes a sharp left, then crosses a log bridge over Fall Creek in a grassy area. Here is the sign. It was finally light enough that I could take photos.

The "turn-off" to Tuhare Lakes

In other words, my trail kept on parallel with the creek. There was some trail braiding here once again, but all the trails headed in the same direction and ended up coming together again. Shortly there WAS a right hand turn "near a small, unnamed lake. . ." as the Roaches write. The trail became Class 2 and began to climb. I encountered a couple of nice waterfalls below the lakes.

Waterfall Below Tuhare Lakes

Second, Higher Waterfall

At about the same time as I encountered the waterfalls, it began to rain. The morning's clouds had filled the sky again. A strong climber's trail led me up the steep slope to Lower Tuhare Lake, which was beautiful. A waterfall from Upper Tuhare Lake spilled into it. Because the rain seemed to be increasing, I got my rain jacket out of my pack and put it on.

Lower Tuhare Lake

I hiked around the right hand side of the lake, up a little gully below the water-stained cliffs in the photo, then cut left again toward the waterfall. I followed the outlet of Upper Tuhare Lake to the lake itself. There were some cairns to follow, but no more trail. There couldn't be, over solid rock. At Upper Tuhare Lake, the rain and graupel really started falling hard. You can see how dark the sky had become in this photo. The high point on the left of the photo as you look at it is Holy Cross Ridge. I did not know it at the time, though. I didn't know for sure until I had climbed it. You cannot see Holy Cross Ridge on the route until you reach Upper Tuhare Lake.

Upper Tuhare Lake

I waited at the Upper Lake for quite a while, but the rain did not stop. Here is another photo of the lakes with the rainfall and graupel dimpling the water. Once again, the high point in the center of the photo is Holy Cross Ridge.

Upper Tuhare Lake in the Rain

Because the rain wasn't stopping, I decided to abort the climb. The storm didn't seem dangerous in that there was no thunder, no lightning. But the rock was sure getting slick. I didn't want to take a tumble.

I turned around and headed back down.

Between the the upper and lower lakes I ran into Eddie, Randy and David heading up. "Don't give up now," Eddie urged me. "We can see some blue patches of sky to the east. We think they are headed this way and it's going to clear up."

It was a lot easier to consider going on up since I was no longer climbing alone. The Roachs' directions said to hike around the upper lake's north (righthand) side. We did that--too high, I realized when I returned. When I came back later, on the descent, I found cairns that led around the lake's shoreline right down next to the water. We climbed a bit farther up the slope on our ascent. It was tough going, rock-hopping on the water-slickened talus. Both Eddie and I felt it was taking a lot longer than we expected. In the photo immediately above these paragraphs you can see that you have to go around the lake to bypass cliffs that block immediate passage to the upper slopes. On the left border of the photo, you can also see the "tiny basin" that the Roaches mention as the starting point of the real climb up to the summit. The good thing that happened here was that by the time we reached the "tiny basin", the sky had indeed cleared and the rain had stopped. The sun had come out and we all took a break to take off our rain jackets, put on sunscreen and get a good drink of water.

Upper Tuhare Lake from the "Tiny Basin"

From the "tiny basin", we headed up the slope. At first there were some areas of grass and tundra. Then the tundra got scarce and it was mostly rock talus. Here is a photo of Eddie, Randy and David beginning their climb below me.

Eddie, Randy and David Climb the Slope

By the time I reached a kind of bench above the first slope, I couldn't tell for sure which of several seemingly high points above me was the real Holy Cross Ridge. They all looked about the same elevation from close below. Once I reached the ridgeline, however, the high point was more obvious and to my left, almost directly west, just as the Roachs' topo indicated. The summit was the closest high point, and from the ridgeline was a quick Class 2 scramble to the top. From the summit of Holy Cross Ridge, there was quite a view of Holy Cross itself.

Holy Cross

And a view of the Notch Mountain Shelter with the Bowl of Tears below.

Notch Mountain Shelter, Bowl of Tears

Here is my trekking pole and pack on the summit of Holy Cross Ridge, with Holy Cross behind. I found a summit tube with one endcap missing. It was empty. The cable that was supposed to attach it to rock was broken.

Summit, Holy Cross Ridge

Eddie, Randy and David joined me on the summit in only a few minutes. Here is their photo. Note how benign the blue sky and puffy clouds look behind them. Pretty deceptive.

Eddie, Randy and David

Randy took a picture of me on top, too.

Me, Holy Cross Behind

Finally, after a granola bar and some gatorade, it was time for me to descend. Because of the good weather (!), Eddie, Randy and David were going to descend to the saddle, and then climb Holy Cross. They were going to head out via the standard route over Half Moon Pass. I was going to head out the way we had come in, past Tuhare Lakes. Here is the last picture I took for the day, of upper and lower Tuhare Lakes, as I began my descent. The sky is a little gray to the west. Upper Tuhare Lake is a beautiful emerald color.

Lower and Upper Tuhare Lakes

I didn't take any more photos because the camera would have gotten soaked. By the time I was halfway down toward the lakes, I started to hear thunder. The sky had darkened. Luckily, I had put my rain jacket back on at the top of the peak, before heading down. I hadn't believed I would need my rain pants. By the time I thought about putting them on, the graupel had started. When I reached the upper lake, it was raining and hailing hard. There was lightning and thunder. It was already too late to put on rain pants. My nylon hiking pants were already soaked.

The rocks had become very slick, and I had to be careful hopping from one to the other. I found the cairns that led around the upper lake right down near the shoreline. The route there went faster than the way we had come in, higher up. Some of the stone at the outlet to the upper lake had been glacially polished, and I knew that if I tried to walk on it I would slip. So I had to find ways around it. By the time I reached the first vestige of trail before the lower lake, the trail had become a waterfall itself.

Now I had slick mud to deal with as well as slick rock. The hail, running with the water down the trail, was beginning to pile up where the currents eddied. I was happy when I reached the first trees below the lower lake.

All the bushes along the trail were wet, and whenever I brushed up against them, my pants got wetter. I was grateful that my rain jacket was keeping my core warm and dry.

As I reached the Class 1 trail, it was still raining and hailing pretty hard. I could see sheets of rain and hail falling through space between me and the far ridge. It was really pretty, I had to admit.

Going around Lake Constantine, the boggy areas were boggier. My boots were no longer dry. They were still waterproof, but a lot of rain had leaked into them down from my socks. Ah well.

Gradually, as I hiked out, the rain and hail lightened up. The trail grew drier the lower I got. When I was almost to the turnoff to the Notch Mountain Shelter, the trail was almost dry. The force of the storm had been concentrated up high.

I was really happy to reach my truck back in the parking lot, where I got out of some of my wet clothes. This would be a climb I would remember, that's for sure!

I hoped Eddie, Randy and David, and everyone else who had been caught up high by the storm, had been able to shelter OK, or get out through the weather safely as I had done.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Constantine and the Tuhares...
09/08/2012 02:09
... in my opinion are among the most beautiful places on earth! They are reminiscent of the Loch Vale area in RMNP only without the crowds. Beautiful and different approach to MHC. Thanks for sharing!

filling in the blanks
09/09/2012 02:55
Thanks! I, too, have found good info on this approach very limited. Your text and photos will be very helpful.

Thank You
09/09/2012 14:17
This is a route that has intrigued me for a long time and thank you for providing some information. Did you by any chance notice is there were any good camping spots around lake constantine?

Holy Cross Ridge and Lake Constantine
09/29/2012 15:53
John: Thanks for posting your trip report. That storm definitely moved in quickly! We would have been down sooner if we didn't have to wait for 90 minutes for the lightning to move far enough away that we felt safe continuing to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross.

Gonzalj: There were a couple of fishermen camped near Lake Constantine when we hiked past, so I know there is at least one place to camp there. I didn't take a good look at the campsite, so I can't guarantee the quality of the site.

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