Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,007 feet
Holy Cross Ridge  -  13,831 feet
Unnamed 13248  -  13,248 feet
Date Posted:  08/17/2014
Date Climbed:   08/16/2014
Author:  hokiehead
 Mt. of the Holy Cross - Halo Ridge up, North Ridge down (Pushing our limits)   

Start of climb: 5:48AM
Junction Fall Creek and Notch Mt Trails: 6:59AM
Knotch Shelter: 8:50AM
13248 summit: 9:37AM
Mt. of the Holy Cross summit: 1:43PM
below treeline: ~3:00PM (too late for my comfort, despite goregeous weather)
finish: 6:00PM
mileage: 13.0
Total elevation: 5420'

tl;dr version: (1) this was probably too much for my second 14'er, third real ascent. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I would do it again. I should've prepared better and built up to this a little more. Halo Ridge took something out of us. (2) After doing both, I couldn't imagine doing the North Ridge up and down -- Halo Ridge is far superior in views and crowds. All that being said, we covered 13 miles, > 5400' of elevation and spent over 7 hours above treeline -- we feel pretty damn good about it.

Detailed version:
This was the second 14'er for Little H. and I. We were supposed to do the hike with Digger, who had completed Halo Ridge a few years ago. Unfortunately he had to back out at the last minute for a medical issue. Little H and I decided to go for it anyway.

Planning and route selection:
After having a blast on Quandary three weeks ago, I really wanted a summit climb with some scrambling and a little route finding, so that I would "feel like I really climbed a mountain". Early in my research, Mt. of the Holy Cross popped out on the list -- with me suggesting the standard route. Digger insisted that the Halo Ridge route was the "best hike I've ever done" -- the views are beautiful. He said there wouldn't be crowds on a non-standard route. That homed us in on Halo Ridge fairly quickly. I read the route reports, and trip reports, notably goingup's TR was very helpful. We decided to go down the North Ridge for a few reasons: (1) any time a reasonable loop vs out and back presents itself, I give it consideration to see more rather than the same views (2) the reduced mileage and reduced time back to tree line appealed to us.

We had done hikes in the 15 mile range, we had done a 14'er, neither had taxed us fully --> we decided Halo Ridge was a good choice. This was mistake #1 -- we did it, but we were slower than projections and we didn't realize how taxing the talus hopping and scrambling on the ridge would be. This trip fully taxed us -- we were spent.

Bought the Trails Illustrated map (admit I really like these maps and look for reasons to buy), confirmed I had a tough day in front of me, printed both route descriptions and downloaded 14'er route data to my phone.

Equipment and supplies taken:
I took 5 liters, drank 3.5
Little H took 2.5 liters, drank 2.25

food: summer sausages, apples, PBJ, ham sandwiches, snickers bars*, M&M's, granola bars, block of cheese -- less than half of it was eaten.

printed route descriptions (referred to frequently)
Trails Illustrated map, compass (never used during the trip)
downloaded route info from 14'ers to my phone (never used)

clothing: I might spend more time planning clothing than any other aspect right now. We also don't own the greatest collection of modern outdoor activewear, yet.
hokiehead: REI Sahara hiking pants, synthetic T, synthetic base layers, rain jacket, gloves, stocking cap, sunglasses, wool socks, hiking boots, backup socks //didn't use backup socks, stocking cap, or bottom base layers. The long sleeve top baselayer was going on and off all day long.
Little H: leggings (not dad's first choice), cotton t-shirt, baselayer top (lost on trail, if anyone found and disposed -- thanks), cotton sweatshirt (need to invest in some better clothes for her), wool socks, hiking boots, gloves, stocking cap //used all except stocking cap. forgot her sunglasses that I bought three weeks ago for her on Quandary

bug spray & sunscreen (necessary, as all the other TR's state)
chapstick (not that most go anywhere in Colorado without)
trekking poles (haven't mastered mountaineering with poles, but getting better)
phone used for downloaded route descriptions/photos, notes to record times
first aid supplies*
head lamp
flashlight (backup only, not used)

Summary of the trip:
Up at 2AM, wake Little H, start coffee, pack the cooler, make sandwiches, hit the road by 2:30AM -- drink coffee.

Trailhead is accessed by an 8 mile narrow road. I agree that 2WD is fine, although your shocks are going to get a workout. Note that the trailhead is not the Tigiwon Community House, which was active and whose parking lot looks like a trailhead in the dark. Nor is the trailhead the area where the CFI/VOC is setup, which also looks like a campground/TH in the dark, but you're close -- it's about 1 mi. further. The drive was beautiful, filled with aspen groves. Parked on side of the road and hit the trail at 5:48AM. Too late to be back below the treeline before noon -- this was mistake #2, we should have camped near the TH the night before.

5:48AM. The trip up the Fall Creek Trail is pleasant forest hiking. Started with headlamp on (Photo 1), which was a first (feeling like a real mountaineer). I liked getting warmed up on a fairly gentle slope for the first couple miles before the serious climbing started. Reached the Notch mountain Trail a little over an hour into it and turned right, headed to our first peak, feeling good! The creek crossings presented no concerns for less than water proof shoes -- always good rocks or logs to cross (Photo 2). We encountered a covey of quail (I think they were quail, I had to google 'group of quail' to learn that 'covey' is the right word); no good pix.

Once starting up the Notch Mountain trail, we encountered the oft-mentioned switch backs. The meadow we passed through is as beautiful as reported (Photo 3) and we started seeing a lot of marmots and field mice (I think they were field mice). I liked the switchbacks and found this part of the trip very pleasant; we could have done those for hours more. I saw what I believe is my first columbine sighting since moving to Colorado (Photo 4). The slope was gentle, the views great and the critters provided some entertainment. We were surprised when the shelter came into view (Photo 5), feeling good about reaching 13k and having plenty of gas left in the tank. We hang around the shelter, sent text messages to Mrs. H and Digger who were monitoring our progress. We then started on the ridge.

Now, the route description states "There is still plenty of climbing to do, and the summit is over 2 miles away". I have two comments on this:
1. 'still plenty of climbing' is a gross understatement. I'd rephrase something like, 'your day of climbing has just begun'
2. that's the longest, slowest 2 miles I have ever traversed. ever. we averaged well under 1 mi/hr. wow.

The ridge kicked our ass, took something out of us, (insert your favorite synonymic collequlism). When we first looked at it, we got a "how in the hell are we going to cross that" feeling (Photo 6). It was more passable than it looks from a distance, but no less exerting. Other than one short break, the ridge is nothing but talus hopping and talus scrambling and I didn't appreciate how hard that would be at 13k. The route description as well as goingup's TR suggest staying to the left/East as a general rule, which I found to be correct. Difficult Class 2 is correct -- I just underestimated the impact that the talus would have on my exertion level. We made it past the peaks, but noted that I got more and more lazy about taking pictures and recording times (Photo 7). by the time was passed the 13248, I was notably fatigued. We did a weather and time check. 9:37AM and the clouds didn't look threatening at all. We had a rationale discussion and decided that (a) we feeling good enough and (b) the weather looked clear enough to continue. Feeling good, we progressed onwards across the ridge(Photo 8). Views of the mountain lakes, notably the Bowl of Tears (Photo 9), are stunning -- and this route gives you constantly changing, yet equally spectacular, views all day. I'm not complaining (haven't been a member here long enough to have that right) but I found the route description to be very hard to follow for the ridge section. I suggest referencing goingup's TR, which has a little more detail. Few cairns above the ridge, and the one's you see are small, 3 - 5 rocks. We saw the first other people of the day on the ridge, passing a group of three doing the loop CCW instead of CW. Passed a group of two on the last peak and that was all until the base of Mt. of the Holy Cross..

Summiting the mountain was mostly all talus, with around 50% scrambling. If there was a route up that was mostly walkable, we didn't find it. We probably were on the 'right route' about 60% of the time based on cairns we passed. ~8 hours to the summit, covering 7.5 miles. Slow by any standards. Little H and I spent about 10 minutes at the summit. We were drained and exhausted. We did the obligatory pix (Photos 9, 10), sent another text message to mom and tried to eat. I couldn't get my sandwich down, so I ate some nuts and a Snickers bar (I love Snicker's bars, and got really excited at all the Snickers references on 14ers).

Ran into some great people on the summit, including a Badger who told he and his friends had just made the road trip from Madison the night before, and did this on virtually no sleep. He went on to say that a friend told him Mt. of the Holy Cross was "very similar to Bierstadt". I told him that guy was not his friend . Actually, all the people we passed and talked to seemed to be very agreeable, which wasn't a surprise.

Confirmed our decision to head down the North Ridge, not that it was ever much in question. I wouldn't have felt confident at all heading back across Halo, based on my current fatigue level. The sky still looked good, but I was a little nervous being above treeline after noon. Also, to be honest, after ~7 hours of strenuous activity above treeline, forest looked like an oasis (not only beautiful, but a mirage in that it kept looking the same distance away for a long time).

We headed down the mountain, scrambling down Talus. the route going down the North Ridge was much better cairned, but the slope of Holy Cross was steep and still required use of hands (at least for us) (Photo 11). The North Ridge itself is easy to follow (Photo 12) and once you cross that, tree line gets closer. Traversing the talus going down, I was hurting -- my joints were sore and complaining loudly with every large jaring step. There were some steps, of which I was extremely grateful (pitying the poor soul who built them, but grateful). During one break, I remarked to Little H that we were going to stop at a pharmacy and pick up some ibuprofen on the way home -- she responded by pulling out a small bottle of Midol. I'm the type who takes pain killers an average of 2 - 3 times a year, but oh, was I grateful to see that. Swallowed two right away and 15 minutes later noticed a difference. By the time we got past the talus, I was mostly pain free.

The 1000' climb after the 10 miles we just had was not fun, but I'm glad we returned that way. Again, I wouldn't have felt confident returning on the ridge. Once we finished that climb, we were able pick up the pace nicely, heavily using our poles. Finishing felt oh so good! (Photo 13)

The aftermath: We drove the 2.5 hours back, had a meal, shower, and then Mrs. H reported I was awake for a solid 8 - 9 seconds after my head hit the pillow around 9:30PM. The next morning, I knew I was going to be hurting. I knew it was going to be bad -- my body made it quite clear to me 1/2 through the trip that it didn't appreciate what I was doing one little bit, but yet, I kept subjecting it to more. To my surprise, I woke up the next morning feeling pretty good. Not much soreness at all. I finished unpacking the car and ended up going for a 2.5 mile hike in Caribou Open Space with the Mrs (she loves the outdoors as much as I do, but her knees make anything beyond 2 - 4 miles on relatively level surface less than fun). Good choice - a mellow hike was exactly the wind-down and loosening my body needed, and I still feel good enough to write this TR! Also a good choice, we saw a family of moose, including a calf, in Caribou. The worst physical issue is a blister on my foot that had grown and busted during the trip without my notice, and a case of chafing (note: preventative mitigation with body powder next time).


  • The reason that Halo Ridge took so much out of me may have something to do with our inexperience at navigating talus fields. Future area of research and training.
  • There are good arguments to do this loop CCW (North Ridge up, Halo down). I'm glad we did it CW. Summiting Mt. of the Holy Cross is going to be tough either route, but I woudn't have wanted to tackle Halo Ridge after that summit.
  • I'm not good about stretching. I may have benefited by doing some before we started the trip.
  • The Halo Ridge has to be the far superior route by most people's standards. Give it strong consideration.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Comments or Questions
Most Excellent!!!
08/18/2014 01:25
Glad you had a great time, beautiful route.

08/18/2014 03:13
I'm a Hokie as well- did the Halo Ridge last weekend and I completely agree, it's a much better route than the standard route. We camped at the notch mountain shelter so we could see the sunrise.

Great hike
08/19/2014 13:37
Nice report with great detail. Thanks for posting. That is an awesome route you took. Good job. I was out there the day before you with an out and back on the standard trail. Love that area.

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