Mount of the Holy Cross: Colorado fourteener of the week No. 21

By: Josh Friesema Special to The Gazette
May 9, 2013 Updated: May 9, 2013 at 8:25 am
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Mount of the Holy Cross is named for a prominent feature on its eastern face.

A large couloir runs through the center of this face and about three-quarters of the way up is a large horizontal ledge. From the right location - and in the right snow conditions - you can see a 1,000-foot cross of snow. Unfortunately, this view is not on the standard route. It is best seen from Notch Mountain.

Holy Cross has a foreboding reputation with hikers. Numerous search and rescue efforts have taken place on the mountain, which has earned the nickname of the Bermuda Triangle of the Rockies. Two of these incidents ended in mysterious ways.

In 2010, James Nelson planned a long solo circuitous route on the mountain, but he never returned. An extensive search was launched, but Nelson was not found. Nearly two years after his disappearance, a hiker wandered into Nelson's final campsite and discovered his remains, though what happened to him remains a mystery.

In 2005, Michelle Vanek disappeared when she got separated from her hiking partner near the summit. One of the larger search operations in state history - which involved hundreds of people - failed to yield one clue. The search was called off after a week, and Vanek remains missing.

The numerous successful rescues on Holy Cross generally leave us with the lesson of paying attention not only to the trail ahead but the trail behind.

Often when hikers descend Holy Cross, they go too far and end up in the Cross Creek drainage instead of going over Halfmoon Pass.

When you ascend, especially at trail junctions or turns, look back over where you've hiked. That way, the route will look familiar on the way down.

Holy Cross is a long hike that many break into two days. When doing so, most camp near East Cross Creek. That means they will have to carry all their camping gear back up Halfmoon Pass.

Don't make this mistake. The best place to camp is on the west side of Halfmoon Pass, where you will find a few campsites, a small stream and an amazing view to watch the sunset.

While this will leave you with 20-30 minutes more hiking the next day, you won't be doing any uphill with your full pack. Also, the mosquito swarms by East Cross Creek are legendary while they are hardly present near the pass.

If you've never done an overnight trip on a fourteener, Holy Cross is a fantastic choice for your first.


Friesema is a Colorado native who has scaled each of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. He has been a member of Teller County Search and Rescue since 2003. Read about his high-country adventures at

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