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.

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.

Pikes Peak & Devils Playground: El Paso & Teller County Highpoints

The main goal of our roadtrip was to start checking off some peaks on the County Highpoint list again. I hadn’t gotten one since summiting Bushnell back in March so it was high time to make progress on the goal. Since this time of year is a little tough in terms of access, I had limited peaks to choose from and decided to go ahead and drive up Pikes Peak since I would not only grab the El Paso County Highpoint on the summit but also the Teller County Highpoint, Devils Playground along the way.

Pikes Peak Toll Booth

We arrived at the toll booth quite awhile before they opened but happily passed the time chatting with some other people in line. I even made some coffee on the stove in the back of the XJ for the drive. I snapped a couple of shots of the mountain going down the road but most of them turned out really well framed just like this one:

Pikes Peak

When we left the toll booth, they’d said that because of high winds on the summit, the road was closed at mile 16 although they were fairly confident that wind speeds would drop and we could continue up at some point. I wasn’t too upset since mile 16 is where Devils Playground was located. We arrived and immediately started up the small slope. Sprocket was delighted to be playing in the snow. He ran right up to the summit and stood on the rocks and waited for me. Clearly, my dog knows what’s up. Teller County marked my 46th Colorado County Highpoint!

Devils Playground from the road

Devils Playground Summit

View from Devils Playground

With perfect timing, the road opened all the way to the Pikes summit when we were just below the Devils Playground summit. I had so many good laughs watching SP frolic his way back down to the Jeep. He definitely knows how to have fun.

Sprocket on Devils Playground

Just a couple minutes up the road, we reached the summit, my 47th county highpoint in Colorado! It was pretty windy so we didn’t stick around too long before heading back down the mountain.

Pikes Peak Summit

 

 

Colorado County Highpoints: Northern Plains

After saying goodbye to Bart, Leigh, and Boone, Sprocket and I headed north from Burlington making our way to Yuma, Colorado. There was snow on the roads but it wasn’t icy (or as it would be later slushy).

Blizzard aftermath

Normally, one would be able to pretty much drive right to the Phillips County highpoint but the north-south road was drifted with about 4-8″ of snow so Sprocket and I jaunted north from the intersection just to the south.

Phillips County highpoint

After Phillips County, it was just a short drive to Sedgewick County with its short hike out to the highpoint. There was some pretty deep drifted snow on the way out past the abandoned barn but after that the going was fairly easy and the snow was already starting to melt rapidly!

Sedgewick County Highpoint

Sedgwick County Highpoint

We made our way north into Nebraska, grabbing lunch in Sidney, before making our way to Colorado’s Logan County highpoint. By the time we arrived, the snow was almost gone!

Logan County Highpoint

Logan County Highpoint

We tried to visit Panorama Point but unfortunately the snow was really drifted on the last mile to Nebraska’s highpoint. I wanted to drive all the way home that night so I was aware of time constraints, plus the landowner’s sign warned that because of bison in the area hiking wasn’t allowed.

Baby cows

Instead, we headed south through Pawnee National Grassland to Shannon Benchmark, the highpoint of Morgan County. On our way out to the highpoint, Sprocket was reminded of his hatred for prickly pear. (He used to almost refuse to walk across the field of the Log Hill property.)

Tagging Shannon Benchmark Shannon Benchmark Beth at Shannon Benchmark

I briefly debated spending another night in the area and trying to arrange a visit to the Terry Bison farm for the next day but after the blizzard adventure, I decided to put it off for another time but in the space of three days (including one mostly weathered out!) I’d added 9 Colorado County Highpoints to my total bringing me to 45 of 64 (70.3%)!

 

P.S. Ruth was the best ever: we had a tank of gas going over the mountains where we got 30mpg! (XJs love 45 mph and elevation; there’s a reason we make a good team.) I can’t imagine a better vehicle for someone with a county highpoint hobby.

Logan County Highpoint

Colorado County Highpoints: South End of the Plains

Last December, I headed to the central plains to collect a few more highpoints before the end of 2015. As I start to think about attempting to finish the Colorado County High Point list before the end of 2016, I really wanted to finish out the plains highpoints. Sprocket and I started out our loop with the southern most points of the plains.

Dry Bluff Southweste

Appreciating the plains points takes a little bit of extra attention. I studied the cholla and the yucca plants. I poked around small towns and stopped at view points and informational markers:

Exploring

The highways were lonely and many of the dirt roads were even lonelier.

Plains

Ruth even summited a couple of the highpoints along with Sprocket and I:

Carrizo Mountain East Slope

Dirt roads

My ascent of Two Buttes (Prowers County HP, 4711′) came on Day 2 in some crazy winds: sustained 24mph with 51mph gusts at the time of my hike kicking up white caps on Two Buttes Reservoir. We were there, though, and it was only about 400′ of ascent to the summit so Sprocket and I decided to tough it out and get ourselves to the top.

White caps

Two Buttes

Two Buttes selfie Beth

Sprocket on Two Buttes

Bushnell Peak: Fremont County Highpoint

When I’m home on a Friday, my day usually starts out with puppy cuddles and gently transitions to coffee at my computer for #hikerchat. A couple of weeks ago, as the chat was just gearing up, Mike mentioned that his climbing partners were hurt and wanted to know if I was down for a summit. I am always down for a summit.

We started trying to decide where to go and I immediately gravitated to my county highpoint list. Many of the peaks were out because of distance or potential avalanche danger. I narrowed in on Bushnell Peak in the northern Sangre de Cristo range. I could find precisely one report of it having been climbed in late-winter conditions around the end of March. It had been quite awhile since Colorado had received any snow and none was predicted for the coming week so we decided to go for it.

Dirty windshield Sangre De Cristo
‘Scuse the dirty windshield

We met up in Poncha Springs and headed south in the growing dusk to the trailhead. We really lucked out, I did not realize that all the roads in the Raspberry Creek area are closed starting March 15th for Sage Grouse protection! The road up towards the trailhead was rough but not very difficult. Be careful though; there are some sharp rocks here and you can get yourself in trouble really quickly with a slice to the sidewall of your tire.

We were able to drive up to about 8,800′ and I probably? could have pushed up to about 9,000′ in the jeep. We discovered when hiking the next day that once the road entered the trees, the snow was both slushy and about a 1′ deep. Parking down at 8,800′ added less than a mile so it wasn’t too big of a deal.

Jeep cuddles

Early early alpine starts are not my forte so I was glad that Mike pushed me to hit the trail at 3am. I rolled out of bed at 2:45, walked Sprocket around a bit, and was ready to hit the trail. As I mentioned above, we shortly ran into snow and the postholing started. I started out breaking trail and immediately began to think, “There is no way we’re going to reach the summit with these conditions.”

The old mining road peters out as it reaches the wilderness boundary and attempting to follow it in the dark was more difficult than I had expected. We crossed Raspberry Creek and I wasn’t seeing the road continuing up the creek drainage that we expected to follow. Mike and I briefly consulted and we decided to just head directly up the southwestern ridge of Bushnell.

This wound up being a really great plan. Just out of the flats we started to run into bare ground on the top and south sides of the ridge. From about 9300′ up to nearly 10,200′ we enjoyed just patches of snow and mostly easy forest walking. As we reached an aspen grove, the slope abated a little bit and the sun started to rise.

Northwest from Bushnell's SW Ridge

What started out to be a glorious sunrise lighting nearby Twin Sisters and the Collegiate Peaks to the northwest faded a bit as dark clouds began to gather just on the eastern side of the summits. We briefly discussed the weather and both agreed that the clouds seemed to be moving more north than west towards us so we pressed on.

Bushnell Ridge

The snow got harder and more difficult to traverse but the final pitch to the summit looked to have plenty of exposed rock that looked easy enough to walk up. Here, my spirits started to rise. I was feeling strong and I realized “We could actually do this.”

Bushnell Ridge

The wind at this point was cold so we just kept moving. At the summit, I snapped just a couple of photos, including this selfie, before hi-fiving Mike, and getting moving again. I’m pretty sure I excitedly fist pumped as I walked the last few feet to the summit for my 36th Colorado County Highpoint.

Summit selfie

Looking south from Bushnell Peak

View southeast from Bushnell

Downhill travel is always faster and that pace really helped to warm me up, plus I was motivated to down out of the wind! As we approached the valley floor, we found ourselves descending into a beautiful spring day.

SW Ridge of Bushnell on Descent

Thanks for an awesome, confidence building day Bushnell. I had a blast and I was so so excited to know that my recent efforts to prepare for the mountains are working. Thank you to Mike for the suggestion to get out and do something big and for being willing to work with my goals!

Central Eastern Plains Highpoints

I have been very adamant about one goal for 2015: I was going to reach 50% on Colorado’s County High Point list. I spent most of #SummitSummer working to make this a reality. I’d secretly hoped to make it to the 50% mark with “real” highpoints (aka mountains and not flat plains points) but that was just a secret hope. When I’d summited Douglas County’s Thunder Butte that had put me within four high points of my goal. I’d toyed with plans that would have let me get a few of the “real” highpoints before the snow fell but thanks to life, they didn’t quite work out.

But, the goal was still in reach, I had the Eastern Plains in my back pocket and I really hoped to make one of what I figure will be three trips before the end of the calendar year. I got distracted by Christmas things (getting my tree and crafting) and before I knew it, I was down to just two windows of time. Pushing it off until the last second seemed a little bit dumb knowing that a winter storm could roll in and make driving hundreds of miles on dirt roads the opposite of fun so we seized on last weekend.

Shay was kind enough to let Sprocket and I spend Friday night at her place. We got up early on Saturday morning to begin our adventure. Just outside of Byers, we saw a herd of bison then a herd of antelope. I decided this whole flat land thing wasn’t that bad.

Bison

We pulled up to the Washington County High Point, wandered around the side of the road matching up the GPS point with what appeared to be the highest non-road spot and snapped a photo with our new selfie stick; Sprocket was a little bit unsure and is demonstrating pro side-eye.

Washington County Highpoint

Washington County Highpoint

Washington County Highpoint

We headed back to US 36, passing through Last Chance, and headed on to the Yuma County High Point, another road side “attraction.”

Last Chance

We wandered around on the side of the road being sure we touched the high ground and enjoyed the sunshine a bit.

Yuma County Highpoint

Yuma County Highpoint

Yuma County Highpoint

Getting to the Kit Carson County High Point and Overland Benchmark East (the Cheyenne County High Point) was a little interesting. Some of the roads I attempted to travel southward from Flagler were just two-tracks between two fields. The dirt was mostly dry but there was some snow drifted in as deep as 9″ in some places but they were just small and never encompassed both my front and rear tires at once. Since, there were ample turn around possibilities and the snow wasn’t that deep so I just kept pressing forward. Ruth didn’t miss a beat and plowed right through the narrow slushy “drifts” and we eventually made it to a windmill near Kit Carson County High Point. Afterwards, we hiked south to Overland Benchmark East where I reached my 50% Colorado County High Point goal for the year!

Overland Benchmark East

It was only about 12:15 when I got back to the Jeep from Overland BM so we headed south to the Kiowa County High Point. Along the way, we reached a fork in the road.

Fork in the road

And then we found an interesting monument:

Interesting historical monumnet

Somehow, the flat wasn’t boring, just kind of relaxing, actually.

Flat.

We saw some more pronghorn:

Pronghorn

We hiked out from the end of County Road 44 to the Kiowa County High Point and enjoy some pretty views of mountains off to the west.

Kiowa County Highpoint

Kiowa County Highpoint

Kiowa County Highpoint

I knew I was starting to run low on daylight so I sadly had to forgo Crowley County’s High Point in order to reach Lincoln and Elbert’s high points while it was still light (they were fairly directly on my way home).

Lincoln County Highpoint

Returning to the mountains

It felt a little bit like we were racing against dark to get to the Elbert County High Point:

Approaching Elbert County Hihgpoint

But we made it, just as darkness was falling, for our 7th county highpoint of the day.

Elbert County Highpoint

Elbert County Highpoint

Thunder Butte: Douglas County Highpoint

After our hike of Buffalo Peak, Sprocket and I headed down Stoney Pass and for Thunder Butte. I wasn’t totally sure I was going to tackle it that day but it was certainly our next objective for the weekend. When we arrived at where we would begin our hike, it was just after 3pm and although the skies to the west were looking a little unsettled, it appeared that the weather would hold for a couple of hours so off we went through the patchy burn.

Thunder Butte

This hike was one where we walked along on almost entirely flat ground for a good chunk of the distance and then did all of our climbing at once heading fairly directly up the southwestern slopes.

Thunder Butte

As we climbed, Pikes Peak came into view to the south and I could better see the storm clouds building to my west. I hustled Sprocket upwards but we were only making marginal time. Sprocket was clearly tired from our adventure on Buffalo Peak earlier in the day and he was taking his sweet time.

Thunder Butte

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since some internet sources suggested that this climb would be made a lot less fun as a result of increased brush on the slopes after the fire. Maybe it was a result of some fall die back but this wasn’t too big of an issue. Of more concern was not brushing up against charred trees.

image

Finally, we found ourselves on the summit. A few photos and a look around and it was time to head down. I was starting to hear thunder rumble in the distance and my fellow #omniten and #teamawesome member Justin had burgers waiting down in Woodland Park.

Benchmark

The light on the way out was amazing. I was so happy to spend another fall day out enjoying nature with Sprocket.

Thunder Butte

And the light on Sheep Nose with Thunder Butte lurking in the background? That’s pretty awesome too.

Sheeps Head and Thunder Butte

Buffalo Peak: Jefferson County Highpoint

Sprocket and set off Thursday after school for some more fun in the mountains of Colorado. I selected the county highpoints of Jefferson and Douglas Counties in Pike National Forest. It was a long drive in the dark to get there but we arrived at Stoney Pass (not to be confused with Stony Pass in the San Juans) just before midnight and I happily crawled in the back with Sprocket and fell asleep.

Thursday Jeep

Sprocket had me up fairly early and we started the climb up to Jefferson County’s Buffalo Peak (sometimes known as Freeman Peak). The reports that I had read for this hike on cohp.org and Peakbagger made it sound absolutely horrendous—from what I could tell, I’d signed up for some not-so-fun deadfall laden bushwacking.

Buffalo Peak

The first stretch out of the parking lot wasn’t that bad. I’d used Caltopo to create a proposed line of attack that was direct as possible while still bypassing the miscellaneous knobs and rock outcroppings on the hike and then exported it to Gaia GPS for use in the woods. This worked out really well for me on the ascent; I wasn’t regaining elevation and was taking a pretty direct route to the summit.

Buffalo Peak

The weather was everything I could have hoped for. It was sunny, there were still fall leaves in the trees (although I think they were about a week past peak) and the woods had that delicious fall smell that makes you want to hike then eat cider donuts.

Views northwest from Buffalo Peak

After a bit, I finally got this glimpse of Buffalo Peak. The slope relented for a bit just after I took this photo and then quickly steepened again.

Buffalo Peak

Views from Buffalo Peak

Buffalo Peak

Buffalo Peak

The views continued to improve as we moved higher and the slight breeze that was kicking up felt really good. The view below is looking back to the north-northeast looking at Green Mountain with Stoney Pass between it and the ridge below my vantage point:

Near the summit of Buffalo Peak

image

Finally the rocks of the summit came into view! This actually turned out to be the false summit. If you want to avoid some extra scrambling, you can bypass this to the right (north) and climb the actual summit. Sprocket and I chose to climb the false summit then wander its ridge to a small notch that we descended before reascending to the true summit.

Buffalo Peak

Buffalo Peak

Lost Creek Wilderness

Lost Creek Wilderness

Summit with Sprocket

I don’t think this gets climbed too often…

Summit Register

Benchmark

I got a little lazy on the descent and wasn’t paying too much attention to either the GPS or to my surroundings and found myself going too far to the west. (That creek drainage made for such quick going though!) We wound up wrapping around a small knob and then making more directly for the car.

Fall leaves and Columbia Peakfreaks

All things considered, this wasn’t nearly as terrible as trip reports would have lead me to believe. I think a chunk of that comes from the fact that Colorado bushwacks are rarely as terrible as a normal off-trail outing in the Pacific Northwest. And man, I know I said the colors were a little faded, but I am definitely not complaining about the aspen show on my 27th Colorado county highpoint.

Fall color on Buffalo Peak

James Peak: Gilpin County Highpoint

I had hoped to head up Mount of the Holy Cross on Saturday, but after I had kind of a tough day on Elbert, I changed my plans and headed for James Peak. I’d hoped to climb this back in July but when the power steering pump on my FSJ died, I skipped it in favor of playing mechanic at Aleya‘s place. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I’d learned about the existence of the Kingston Peak Jeep Trail in the meantime which cut way down on the elevation gain and hike distance.

Kingston Peak Road

Kingston Mountain Road

James Peak

I got a little nervous heading down a loose hill from the “stone house” since I’d have to reascend it to get out but I figured if it was really a problem, I could go out to the north. Just a few minutes later, we were at the start of our hiking route to James Peak. The “trail” is a former jeep road and the hiking went really fast as we approached the peak.

James Peak

This angle of James Peak is really pretty but we wrapped around the peak to the south (left in the above photo) and ascended up the much gentler south side.

James Peak hike

As we reached the south side, views of Loch Lomond, Ice Lake, and several other smaller lakes.

James Peak hike

Loch Lomond

From here, the ascent went quickly as we gained the ridge and then the summit.

James Peak

There were a few people on the summit but I still really enjoyed taking in the views from the peak.

North from James Peak

SW from James Peak

Beth & Sprocket

South from James Peak

James Peak

We made quick time back to the Jeep and started our slow drive down the mountain. James Peak is my 26th Colorado County Highpoint; I’m steadily approaching my goal of being at 32 by the end of 2015!

Full size Cherokee