Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado

June 21-22, 2003

Dave Svilar


Taken from the summit of Notch Mt.  If you lack imagination, blur your eyes and the "cross" should appear.  The route climbs the couloir that makes up the center of the cross.

I was taking a pee in a friend's house in Telluride last winter when I noticed a picture of a mountain hung over the toilet.  The mountain featured a striking snow formation in the shape of a cross.  As I shook off I thought to myself, 'that needs to be climbed.'  I committed 'Mount of the Holy Cross' to my memory and filed it away for a future summer weekend.  Sure enough, a few months later I found myself back at school in Fort Collins, CO looking for something to do on the weekend.  My options were quite simple: either sit at home and make runs to the liquor store for my 19 year old female roommates, or go climb a mountain. 

I drove three hours to reach my objective which is just west and a little south from Vail.  I set off at warp speed up the trail until nearly losing my breath.  Searching for answers as to why I could be so sluggish I finally realized I was nearing 12,000'.  I slowed my pace successfully crossing a pass, descending into a small valley and finally, and after a couple of hours of losing the trail and getting 'cliffed out' I reached the base of the route. 

I threw my bivy sack down on a fluffy bed of grass amidst a slew of boulders and looked for something to do.  Searching to fill the void left in my life by my friend Peekay I started reading "Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck.  Actually Peekay is just a fictional character from the book "The Power of One", but I had become quite attached to him.  Steinbeck's book wasn't doing it, so I took a walk around the boulders surrounding a frozen lake.  Upon returning to the bivy I caught an enormous marmot that looked more like a small bear eating my favorite hat.  That hat had saved my bald head in the heat of Africa and other memorable locals.  The rage in me boiled over.  I chased the marmot over hill and dale zinging rocks in its direction with lethal intent.  I hit him with three fastballs.  Hard fastballs.  Unfortunately I don't have a marmot skin to show for my work, but the big rodent never did get another bite of my hat.

I went to bed early as my bare legs couldn't take the wind.  Despite the relative comforts of the fluffy meadow I didn't sleep a wink.  I tossed and turned listening to the wind rustle my bivy sack until my 'wake up call' at 3:45 a.m by a pair of climbers who were starting early in order to reach the summit for sunrise.  I ate some breakfast packed my belongings and started up a half hour later towards the summit still a vertical 2,000' away.  Another group of three was starting at the same time, but were moving slowly and I never saw them again. 


Bivy on the grass at the bottom of the route.

The route starts to the left of the actual couloir and must be accessed by ascending a snow/scree slope.  I couldn't wipe the goofy smile off my face as I happily crunched up the frozen snow and scree in what seemed like perfect solitude.  All I could see was the 15 feet of headlamp-illuminated ground in front and a faint glow in the sky to the east.  The couloir can only be reasonably accessed in one spot due to cliff bands, so I was relieved to see I had guessed correctly as I entered the couloir.  Steps from the pair in front of me were visible in the perfectly frozen snow.  Not that route finding was an issue - only a moron couldn't find the way to the summit upon entering the obvious couloir.  Another concern was my lightweight crampons which are made from recycled Pepsi cans and aren't designed for anything steep.  Luckily the grade never seemed to exceed 45, so front pointing was never necessary for long.

I caught the pair in front of me just before reaching the top.  I topped out less than one and a half hours after leaving camp, and most importantly, just as the sun came over the mountains to the east - perfect timing!  I snapped a few pictures of the other pair and watched the sunrise until my bare legs nearly froze from the wind that ripped over the summit.  Speaking of 'ripped' the other two climbers invited me over to a sheltered area for a quick puff.  They were amazed I was wearing shorts and could tell I was freezing.  They were also fairly certain some weed would warm me up.  I politely declined.

Taken near the summit.  Three climbers visible lower in the couloir.


Sunrise on the summit looking south towards Aspen.

I was too cold to stay on top for longer than an hour, so I headed down the north side of the mountain and eventually rejoined the trail.  With time to spare I decided on a little side trip up Notch Mt (13,000') with the idea I could get views of the 'cross' I had just climbed.  No more than 15 minutes after breaking off the trail and just before leaving tree-line towards Notch Mt I spotted two wolves trotting through a meadow.  I chased after them, but never did see them again nor was I quick enough for a picture (of course).  I wasn't even sure wolves were supposed to live in Colorado, but a little more research showed that they aren't that uncommon in these parts. 

Climbing the scree pile towards the summit my mind started wandering to this website.  I started to worry about what a reader could take away from a visit to my site.  Good climbing?  Hardly.  Detailed route descriptions?  No.  After some more thought I came up with something.  How many people reading this can boast of being unemployed for over a year in their 20's?  It takes a person with little self respect - the type of person who's willing to move back into his parent's basement at the age of 27.  The type of person willing to spend two hours in REI copying route descriptions out of guidebooks.  The following is a quick tip on how to be a cheap bastard like me:

Moving to a new place (Colorado) I was clueless about where to go and how to get there.  I obviously needed a guidebook - a climber's 14er book, a bouldering book, a hiking book, and a trail running book.  Problem was I didn't have $80 to blow on four guidebooks.  I began copying notes out of the guidebooks onto scrap paper.  Apparently, I'm not the only person tired of buying guidebooks, because by the time I was done copying notes there were three other people doing the same thing.  I didn't have the wrist strength to continue, so I ended up buying the last two books making sure to keep them in perfect condition.  Three weeks later I returned them no questions asked.  Four guidebooks and $0 dollars spent.  So my advice is that if you don't have enough time to copy the guidebook by hand, just buy it from a place like REI and return it when you're done.

Enough digressing.  The climb made me realize that Colorado mountains are mostly just chossy mounds, but in early season there are some couloirs that can provide fun climbing.  Overall, the weekend was a success - I climbed my first Colorado 14er and avoided buying booze for my teenage girly roommates. 

-written July 2003

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