- Date Hiked: July 2, 2004
- Miles Hiked: 12.0
- Elevation Gain: 5,625'
- Hiking Partner(s): Rob Judd
- Since I was working in western Colorado for the week, I thought it
would be a good idea to try and climb Mount of the Holy Cross on the way
back home. Apparently mid-June to mid-July is the best time of the
year to attempt the Cross Couloir, so this became the plan. The
Cross Couloir is a steep snow climb with the angle exceeding 45 degrees
near the top. I would whole heartedly agree with this statement
and clearly consider this the most difficult and dangerous snow climb I
- After having mixed feelings about backpacking for Challenger and Kit
Carson, I decided to dayhike Holy Cross and compare the two trips.
Unfortunately, the circumstances in terms of timing were different for
the two trips and I think I made the wrong call on both of them
now. Maybe someday I'll figure it out. Anyway, the extremely
late backpacking start on Kit and Challenger didn't assist that
hike. My arrival at the Halfmoon Trailhead near Holy Cross was
much earlier and backpacking in during the late afternoon would have
likely been a wise choice for the Cross Couloir.
- I actually got nearly six hours of sleep before waking at 2:20 am for
Holy Cross. I knew an alpine start was needed in order to reach
the couloir before it had received too much morning sun. I was
hiking by 2:45 am and reached East Cross Creek in 1 hour and 45
minutes. Unfortunately, things slowed down considerably here as I
fumbled around trying to locate the climbers trail heading to Lake
Patricia and the Bowl of Tears Lake. I wasted 45 minutes to an
hour trying to find some sign of the trail before realizing my efforts
were futile in the dark with only a headlamp. At this point, I
knew the lost time may hurt my chances of quality snow conditions, so I
simply hit a "Go To" on my GPS for the coordinates of Lake
Patricia and started bushwhacking.
- The initial hiking was difficult and slow, but once I reached the
large boulder fields after climbing 300', things eased up and I began to
enjoy myself again making adequate progress. I never did see Lake Patricia as I passed it far to the west, but was happy to realize
that after missing the lower lake, I was only 400' and about one half
mile from the Bowl of Tears when the first sun started to hit Mount of
the Holy Cross.
- I passed below the base of the Cross Couloir and proceeded to the
frozen Bowl of Tears Lake. I slapped on lip balm and sunscreen,
stripped down to shorts and a t-shirt and started up the west slopes
above the Bowl of Tears Lake to the entrance of the Cross Couloir.
By circling around the base of the couloir and gaining 800' on its south
side, you avoid the nasty cliffs that reside at the bottom of the
couloir. I located the entrance of Cross Couloir and tested the
snow conditions that appeared fine to begin with. I entered the
Cross Couloir at 8:20 am (12,800') feeling relatively confident with
only 1,200' to go.
- The steepness of the cliffs below were unnerving to begin with, but my
initial progress and the task that lay ahead shifted my focus as I
concentrated on gaining elevation in the now stronger sun. It
didn't take me long to realize that the hour I lost at the creek made a
significant difference in the quality of the snow conditions. The
snow was softer than I would have preferred, but I had committed to the
couloir and down-climbing was not an option on the steep grade.
- The shaft of my axe would enter the snow all the way to the pick and
adze on almost every plant at which point I would take two or three
front point steps kicking deeply into the snow. There was no
margin for error. I couldn't use a low-dagger or high-dagger
technique with my axe because the snow was too soft for the pick to make
any sort of descent hold. I continued to the cross ledge where I
was able to climb onto some rocks and remove my pack for a short period
of time. My confidence remained moderate at best as I was
extremely fatigued at this point and still had 400' to go. My
upper body was tired from planting my axe and holding my other arm above
my head the whole time. In addition, by having to often kick two
or three times to get a solid placement, every step was more like two or
- I didn't feel as though the couloir became much more steep after the
ledge; however, I thought the whole bloody couloir was very steep, so a
few more degrees apparently didn't make a huge impact on me. I
gained another 100' and than had to begin counting steps. I had
slowed significantly and was stopping far too often. This actually
helped me a lot and the last few hundred feet went by fast. I took
30 steps and then rested, 30 more and then rested, etc. etc. etc.
I finally saw the grade ease up and thankfully popped out on the ridge
only 30 yards from the summit.
- I sprang onto the ridge where I saw Rob Judd on top and yelled
"Is this it?" I startled him and he responded that I had
made it. It was 9:50 am. I would have likely stayed on the
top longer, but wanted some company on the descent, so I removed my
crampons, had a quick bite to eat, took a few photos, and started down
with him. He had completed the Halo Ridge route and was ready to
head back. The hike down was uneventful, but time went by fast as
we picked our way down the north ridge and discussed mountains.
Rob pulled away from me on the hike back up to Halfmoon Pass and I
arrived back at the trailhead at 1:40 pm completely exhausted.
- Additional Statistics: This was a long and difficult day hike
that took me nearly 11 hours of total trail time. I think that the
fact that I was solo and very fatigued from the long approach from the
trailhead made the Cross Couloir more intimidating and menacing than it
actually was. With a good nights sleep at East Cross Creek and an
early start, the snow conditions would have been better and my physical
condition would have played less of a role in my opinion of the climb.
||Halfmoon Trailhead - Halfmoon Pass
||Halfmoon Pass - East Cross Creek
||East Cross Creek - Lake Patricia
||Lake Patricial - Bowl of Tears Lake
||Bowl of Tears Lake - Entrance of Cross Couloir
||Entrance of Cross Couloir - Mount of the Holy Cross
||Mount of the Holy Cross - East Cross Creek
||East Cross Creek - Halfmoon Pass
||Halfmoon Pass - Halfmoon Trailhead
||Cumulative Elevation Gain/Grade/Miles
- Click here
to view a 2D
map of the area where this hike is located.