Colorado 14er: Mount Of The Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross is barely a 14er, with its summit reaching 14,005′, but it is not Mt. Holy Cross it is “Mount of…” which I find sort of pompous but I digress. I’d heard that Holy Cross was a beautiful mountain and I was kinda skeptical since it’s listed on 14ers.com as part of the Sawatch Range which never quite does it for me. (I have become a mountain snob, I won’t lie to you.) I was wrong. Holy Cross was a great mountain to climb. It is, however, the highpoint of Eagle County, and it was my 49th county highpoint in Colorado, bringing me to just over 78% completion!

Famed western photographer William Henry Jackson, photographed the mountain in 1873 from the flanks of neighboring Notch Mountain (Notch actually obscures Holy Cross from US 24 so it cannot be seen) while traveling with the Hayden Party. Some questions exist as to whether Jackson doctored the photo so that the cross was more distinct.

The National Museum of American History
In 1874, another famous artist of the American West, painter Thomas Moran climbed to the flanks of Notch Mountain to make some sketches of Mount of The Holy Cross for a painting. Moran’s inspiration by Jackson in turn inspired Henry Wordsworth Longfellow to write a poem “The Cross Of Snow.”

Anyway, in addition to being Mount of the Holy Cross, there’s a lake named Bowl of Tears and another snowfield called the “Supplicating Virgin.” This also finally explains to me the name of “Shrine Pass” leading from Red Cliff to I-70 near Copper Mountain (no joke this always made me think of the Shriners…). In the 1920s there was a large push to develop the area around the mountain, as well as the mountain itself, as a place for “devotion” and worship. The Colorado Mountain Club pushed back, advertising a 1923 outing as an opportunity to “see it BEFORE it is desecrated in the name of religion. It is a glorious mountain, in a splendid and so-far inaccessible setting of ragged ridges and sparkling lakes.” After their trip, they were clear to note in their report that the cross was barely visible as a result of it being late summer.

As a result of all the interest surrounding Holy Cross, President Hoover declared the area a National Monument in 1929 leading to the construction of Tigiwan Road in 1932 and 1933. The Tigiwan Community House, spotted on the drive to the Half Moon Trailhead, was built to house pilgrims and the CCC built the stone house visible on Notch Mountain from the summit of Holy Cross was built to shelter them as they viewed the cross.

Then, as quickly as it had grown, the pilgrimage movement ended in the late 1930s. In addition to economic hardships followed by World War II (and the heavy usage of the Leadville area by the 10th Mountain Division for training), for various possible reasons the cross always seemed to be less impressive than promised. (One suggestion is that rockfall happened in the right arm to make it less apparent.) In 1950, the National Monument was decomissioned by Congress.

Okay, giant historical aside is over but I owe a huge thanks to Kevin Blake’s article “Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado” for allowing me to really geek out on this.

As a hike, Holy Cross is a bit of a bear because the standard route from Half Moon Trailhead climbs about 1000′ to Half Moon Pass before descending 1000′ to East Cross Creek and only then can you make the 3200′ ascent to the summit. This, of course, means that one must also climb 1000′ on the “descent” of the mountain to get out of East Cross Creek’s canyon.

I’d given a half-hearted effort to climbing Holy Cross back in fall 2015 so I knew it’d be nice to get the climb to the Pass out of the way before going for a summit and decided to camp at East Cross Creek. I arrived at the trailhead about 2pm and really hoped that I wouldn’t wind up just getting drenched on my way to camp since the clouds were looking somewhat ominous.

Although a few drops fell on me as I started to pitch my tent, it never actually rained overnight. I had hoped to crawl into the tent and do some reading but I lasted about 30 minutes before I promptly fell asleep… at 5pm.

My headlamp appears to have jumped from my daypack, which I discovered when I woke up about 11pm, so I set my alarm to go off at 5:30 since hiking before that without a light source would be rather silly. I hit the snooze button once and started climbing up the ridge of Holy Cross about 5:45.

Notch Mountain in the background
It never ceases to feel magical to be in the mountains as the sun makes its way over neighboring ridges. This one was no exception. Suddenly, as the sun crested Notch Mountain, Holy Cross started to shine.

There’s a great stairstep-y path leading a good chunk of the way up the talus slopes before you cross a somewhat flat section of the ridge and then tackle the final steep, 500′ easy scramble to the summit.

I’d been worried the last 800′ to the summit that the weather was going to take a turn significantly before the 10am predicted by the National Weather Service but it actually seemed to get better while I was lounging at the top. By this point, I was basically dreading the ascent back to Half Moon Pass with my pack. It wasn’t particularly heavy but it was enough to just not want to do.

It was only after grinding the first 500′ of the climb out of the way that I had a chance to really appreciate that I’d gotten my 49th Colorado County Highpoint (of 64) and my 14th 14er (using the CMC list).

 

Sources:

Blake, Kevin (2008) ‘Imagining heaven and earth at Mount of the
Holy Cross, Colorado’, Journal of Cultural Geography, 25:1, 1 – 30. DOI:10.1080/08873630701822588.

Longfellow, Henry Wordsworth. “The Cross of Snow.” The Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44629/the-cross-of-snow.

“Mountain of the Holy Cross.” National Museum of American History, National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1276028.

McMillan Peak and Ohio Peak

I’ve been complaining about this on Twitter but it’s a real problem: getting an alpine start when you work until 11pm and then you’re wired and can’t sleep is next to impossible. I’d had some ideas about bigger peaks in the Sneffles range and elsewhere along Red Mountain Pass but ultimately settled on a pair of 12ers above Brooklyn Road because I could leave the house at 7:30 and have plenty of time.

Things went according to plan until I wound up behind a herd of sheep being driven up onto a chunk of private land around Red Mountain 3. I sat stopped for a bit while the herders seemed to be taking a mid morning break. Since none of them signaled to me or said anything, I put Ruth in 4-low and just started creeping through the herd. It seemed to work.

Finally, reaching US Basin, I started a pretty direct ascent up the western slopes of McMillan Peak. Sprocket was delighted to find some snow on its flanks and before long we’d reached the 12,804′ peak.

I ran down the slopes of McMillan while Sprocket frolicked his way along.

It wasn’t long before we reached the Ohio Peak-McMillan Saddle where some old mining remains were.

It was sunny and gorgeous and the mountains were making me smile so we took a little break to lay down in the alpine grass.

Or I did, anyway. Sprocket seemed to want to move on. We made out way to the summit of Ohio Peak, 12,673′, where I briefly considered continuing on to another 12er, Anvil Peak but decided against it worrying about the endurance of the SP. We made our way back to US Basin along the ridge and then descended through the most beautiful wildflower bloom I’ve ever seen back to the road.

Jackson County Highpoint: Clark Peak

With all my focus on getting the house built, my Colorado county highpoint quest was temporarily delayed. (Over a year has past since I grabbed Pikes and Devils Playground!)

When I managed to find myself with a three day weekend, I started scanning my list deciding where I should go. I finally settled on Clark as a primary objective and getting something else (perhaps a third try at Pettengel) if my old pup was up for two consecutive days of hiking. Clark Peak is not quite a 13er, measuring in at 12,951′ but it does have the dubious distinction of being the “tallest Colorado peak this far north” aka there are no peaks in Colorado north of Clark that are taller. A much less random assertion is that Clark is also the highpoint of the Medicine Bow Range.

I’d heard rumors that the 4×4 road approaching the trailhead to Jewel Lake was in pretty rough shape so when I entered State Forest State Park in the waning daylight hours I didn’t really know what length of hike we were in for the next day. As it turned out, I was able to make it 2/3 of the way up the 4×4 road and on some more examination on the way down from the peak in the morning, I’m pretty sure the obstacle where I stopped was totally do-able by Ruth (although perhaps a spotter would have made me more apt to take it on) and was also the last piece of any consequence on the drive.

The hike up to Jewel Lake went quickly and I refrained from letting Sprocket swim as I wanted him to save his energy for the stiff climb from the lake to the summit (about 1600′ in less than a mile!).

The weather was glorious so we didn’t hustle ourselves too hard up the grassy slopes, pausing frequently to enjoy the view.

I tried to spend some time at the summit but Sprocket seemed anxious to get moving so I took some photos and we started to make our way down the mountain.

Clark Peak marks my 48th highpoint in Colorado. Of the ones I have left Blanca Peak (and its associated slope point) is the highpoint of three counties and Crestone and East Crestone can be combined leaving me with 13 more outings. I’m going to try and get a couple more in 2017 but summer 2018? It’s on.

Backyard Hikes: Blue Lakes

Working at Mouses I frequently get asked about hikes to do in the area. One of the ones that I am always asked about is Blue Lakes Trail.

To be honest, I’ve basically avoided this trail. If everyone is asking about it, it must be overrun. (I’m not wrong, my friends saw over a hundred cars there a few weeks ago!)

I didn’t get a terribly early start but it was early enough that there wasn’t a ton of traffic on the trail. I could see why it was a big deal; the views are incredible and its steep but not insane.

Sprocket was out of his mind. He had hiked and there was a lake. And then there was another lake.

The thing we learned is that there aren’t any sticks at alpine lakes and that breaks dogs hearts.

I look forward to doing this again… but probably in the fall when we can have it to ourselves again.

Colorado #13ers: South Hayden Mountain

Despite working until 11pm the night before, I agreed to a 5:15 hiking meet up with my friend Dave. We had a bit of a miscommunication about where to meet up so we didn’t quite start hiking until a little bit later.

We headed up toward Richmond Pass gaining elevation rapidly in the trees.

Being above treeline never hurts so despite being rather tired and undertrained I had zero complaints.

Mom Came To Visit!

My mom decided that she wanted to see my house at the very beginning before coming back to see the finished product! I picked her up on a Tuesday afternoon and we had a lovely day shopping in Ouray, having lunch at Timberline Deli, and then taking a little jaunt up Yankee Boy Basin.

The next day, we drove up over Red Mountain Pass to Silverton. We made a stop at Ironton ghost town, at the pass and then at Mineral Creek on the way back north.

Back in Ridgway, we hung out at the shed for a bit before going to Colorado Boy for dinner. Mom got to meet so many Ridgway people!

The next day, we had to go up to Montrose to look at window colors and make a few other house like decisions. Once we got back, we relaxed for a bit, had dinner at Provisions, and then went to Ouray for the concert. The main band was awesome and we danced a lot. It was a great way to wrap up Mom’s trip to Ouray County!

Sometimes You Change Your Plans…Hiking with #otherpeopleskids

I was sitting at a local establishment in Ridgway drinking coffee and planning to go for a hike later that day. The owner’s daughter sat down next to me and said, “What are you doing today?” I told her I was planning to go hiking and her response was “Is hiking fun?” Knowing full-well that she’d been hiking before, I called her bluff and asked if that was code for “Can I come?” She agreed it was and next thing I knew, we were a hiking pack of three for the day.

I had five miles or so planned for the day but that turned into just barely two and I was totally fine with it. Sprocket and Elsie are good buddies and we all had fun exploring a bit. Sometimes I wonder what kids ask their own parents because when they have a non-parental adult all to themselves they’ll have the craziest conversations. We talked about public lands and how they belong to all of us (but how you can’t build a cabin because that would make other people feel unwelcome). We talked about snow melt. We talked about soccer and how I was going to have a house and quit living in my shed. I hope Elsie enjoyed it as much as I did.

 

Ouray Hiking: Old Horsethief Trail

When we got back from Oklahoma City, it was time to do some hiking! Sprocket and I parked at the Old Horsethief Trail near the Hot Springs Pool and headed up-up-up. Unfortunately the day was really windy so we only got up to the junction of Old Horsethief and Horsethief Trail. Instead we contented ourselves with just being happy in the mountains. It wasn’t hard.

Sorry not sorry for the obnoxious string of selfies.

Uncompahgre Plateau… Peak Undisclosed

It was the last week of school and I might have bought a bottle of wine. My roommate might have “stolen” a couple of glasses from me which lead to a second bottle being opened. This might have hatched a plan for evening hiking the next day.

We might have tackled a 10+ mile hike after work. These might be the photos from a site that might be on the Uncompaghre Plateau.

Aw, we’re always hiking alone so Sprocket and I never have great summit photos!

There’s no might about it, that’s my little town in the valley:

 

After School Canyons

I wandered into my roommate’s classroom after-school looking for some motivation to go running. She declared the 75-degree weather too hot to run. I disagreed with 75 being too warm to run but when she suggested heading out to Uravan for a hike followed by Blondie’s burgers and shakes, I wasn’t about to say no.

It actually turned out to be close to 85 down near Uravan which is a little hot for Sprockey-Poo so he and I spent most of our time in the very bottom of the canyon. It was lovely though!