Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,007 feet
Holy Cross Ridge  -  13,831 feet
Date Posted:  08/30/2013
Modified:  08/31/2013
Date Climbed:   09/20/2012
Author:  tlongpine
 Repent or Perish: Pride and Redemption on Halo Ridge   

After much deliberation I've decided to share this trip report, from last September. Although I'm not a religious person, I've included some religious allegory in this Trip Report since it seems a fitting way to tell the story of our ascent of Mt of the Holy Cross.

View form Notch Mountain at Sunrise

The Prelude
Last summer I accepted a job in Kansas City, left the mountains and relocated to the humid rolling landscape of Kansas City. One sticky July night, perhaps tired of hearing my laments about how much I miss the mountains, or perhaps intrigued by the topography I described over beer, a Kansas City friend asked to join my September to Colorado and attempt his first Fourteener.

Immediately, I knew this was trouble. Andrew (not his real name) was out of shape and too frequently enjoys pairing cigarettes with whiskey. However, he had successfully hiked much of the Inca Trail - including the highest pass above 13K. He'd also done limited mountaineering in the Interlocken region is Sweden following graduation.

So, I made a conditional agreement. He could join the trip if he spent the next 8 weeks preparing with a fitness routine that included re-building a cardio base, squats, and stairclimbs in Kansas City's downtown skyscapers. He eagerly agreed.

7 weeks later we met to make final arrangements for the trip to the Holy Cross Wilderness. Witnessing little change in physique, I asked how training was treating him. Defensively, he quipped, "This is the only time you'll question my fitness for this trip. I'm ready!" That may have settled the question for him, but I remained concerned that he didn't take seriously the demands of the Halo Ridge Loop. For anyone in good shape and who spends a moderate about of time in the high mountains the Halo Ridge should be an easy outing, with appropriate attention paid to water rations and weather windows. My partner was not in great shape, had not spent much time in the mountains, and was flirting with a dangerous denial of his own preparedness.

Perhaps I should've pulled the plug then, but I didn't.

A week later we arrived in Breckenridge to acclimate for an overnight before meeting local friends and heading up the the Notch Mountain Shelter where we planned to spend the night. I spent the day doing another something I miss: running along Lake Dillion. My travel partner stretched his legs out exploring Summit County.

We ate a late lunch at the Breckenridge Brewery and he barely drank any water. I encouraged him to drink more, so he would be adequately hydrated. Again, he snapped back, "Tyler, don't worry about me."

Pride goeth before the fall.

Penance was demanded quickly.

From the Trailhead we began the ascent to Notch Mountain in waning light. Making good progress we reached treeline moments before the stars became visible and planned on making tracks to the shelter.

Unfortunately, it was time to offer the first pound of flesh. As the light faded my partner decided he needed to bundle up, so after a 10-15 minutes of unpacking, changing, repacking, and adjusting we were making track again.

Now he's too hot. Repeat process. Begin moving again.

"Guys, I'm cramping"
"We're almost there"
"No man, I need to stop"
"Matt, go ahead to the shelter, I'll stay with him"

After a ten minute break we begin moving again. We gain one switchback then the madness begins.

Rolling on the ground:
"AHHHHHHH! I'm completely cramped!"
"Okay, let's rest for a few minutes. We're almost to the shelter. I'll take your pack, and then it's just an uphill walk."

Finally, the pride relents. He surrenders in pack and we begin moving again. I've got my pack on my back, and his strapped to my chest. If I had fallen it's entirely possible I would've rolled like a snowball. Picture that - I did, and it made me smile during an otherwise absurd and frustrating experience.


My partner is literally rolling on his back on the trail grabbing his quads. I cannot believe the sh*tshow I'm seeing with my own eyes. Neither can Matt, who has come back down from the lodge concerned about the slow progress and wailing. He laughs at the sight of me carrying two packs, and offers a little tough love:

"Get the f*ck up. Tyler's walking up this mountain with two packs on and you're rolling around in the dirt. We're two switchbacks from the shelter."

There's water and food in the shelter - and of course, because he's dehydrated and beginning to suffer the altitude he has no appetite.

"Andrew you have to eat this. I know you just want to go to sleep but I won't let you until you drink this nalgene and eat this food. I've been in your shoes before. Eat. You'll sleep better and you'll feel better in the morning."

After convincing him to choke down food and water we resolved to re-assess in the AM.

I retired that evening knowing that a morning descent would be the wisest course of action. Matt agreed.

The day began with Andrew feeling much better. The food and water had helped. Matt and I discussed our intention to descend, but Andrew was determined to push on.

We made our best attempt to communicate the challenges of the route ahead of us. We also explained that we would certainly run out of water before the end of the day b/c so much of the ration has been used to re-hydrate him.

Nonetheless, he insisted that he would continue. Matt and I couldn't stop him, and we certainly couldn't let him do it alone.

So, a 8:00am, we began a very long day.

Steam engines are slow and heavy and take a while to warm up, but once the start moving they're hard to stop. That was Andrew. He wasn't moving fast, but he was moving steady. 5 hours later we reached the final pitch of Holy Cross - a few hours prior, understandably, lost his patience, and proceeded ahead of us. We were completely out of water, Andrew had sweat through several unnecessary layers of outerwear, and momentarily, he lost the steam. Viewing the final pitch he sat down.

"Go ahead. I'll wait here"
"Are you sure? You're almost there."
"Yeah. I'm ready to get off this mountain."
"Me too. I'll dash up, grab Matt, snap a summit pic and we'll head down."
"Okay - see you soon."

In some faith traditions redemption must follow surrender. It certainly did that day on Mt of the Holy Cross. Only after Andrew buried his pride and surrendered to circumstances was he allowed a shot at redemption. Halfway up my ascent Andrew yelled up to me.

"Hey! I didn't come this far to fail now. Wait up!"
"Alright! It's not as steep as it looks, we're almost up"

Finally atop the summit Matt greeted me with a cool True Blonde Ale. Dehydrated as I was I wasn't going to shirk my summit tradition. Matt had been there for more than 2 hours making small talk with everyone else who summited as he watched us circle the ridge behind him.

The weather was perfect so we spent more than another hour on the summit while Andrew elevated his legs and took a quick nap. For my part, I soaked in the kind of views I miss.

The Descent

The descent began after 3pm, and Andrew was still moving slow. Trying to avoid a repeat of Andrew's sh*tshow I had given him most of my water, and we were now completely out. I spent the next 4 hours hiking through headache and darkening urine before we found the creek and campsite Matt had scouted out.

We had only enough time to set up camp before the light faded. Now, I found myself where Andrew had been the night before. Dehydrated and without appetite. Pumping water was resentful experience, and forcing myself to eat was no joy either. I ate, nodded off, and re-woke at 9pm rejoin Matt and Andrew.

We shot the breeze for a couple hours before retiring. The next day we exited out through the Half Moon Pass and ate lunch in Minturn.

Such an experience gives one plenty of food for thought a year later there are still lingering and conflicting take-aways.

1.) Know your limits, and the limits of your partners. This saga might've been avoided with a little honestly with one's self, and one another.
2.) Don't limit yourself. Andrew overcame unpreparedness and inexperience to achieve an enlightening experience.

1.) Don't hike alone. Andrew would've been in real trouble w/o Matt and I.
2.) Hike alone. I could've avoided a lot of trouble if I had just gone solo.

Photographing the Loop

Summit Nap

View form the Ridge

Fall Colors in the Valley

Me on the Summit

Image #9 (not yet uploaded)

Image #8 (not yet uploaded)

Notch Mtn Shelter

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 10

Comments or Questions
Craig Cook
Just so you know...
08/31/2013 04:50
...if Andrew isn't his real name, and you don't want people to know it, read through your section of dialogue - you call him by a different name at one point.

Otherwise, very interesting report! I'm also from Kansas City - let me know when you're planning future climbs (I'm in good shape, by the way! Lol)!

Liked the 1. 2.
02/14/2014 07:40
just like conflicting maxims. Definitely a pretty dry route and reminded me of first making the shelter gassed out as well. My redemption required a second trip. Congrats to your friend (and his friends) for persevering.

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