Holy Cross is an impressive mountain with a dull, painful standard route: a long trail approach (with 1000′ lost elevation over Halfmoon Pass) followed by an extended boulder-hop along a gentle ridge. Fortunately, there is a classic, sacrilegious alternative: clawing one’s way up the cross, the snow couloir that gives the peak its name. It was late in the season, but the cross couloir was the only way to do the peak in style.
I got my usual lazy alpine start, but made decent time over the pass, and easily found the cutoff and climber’s trail at the base of Halfmoon Pass. Unfortunately, I completely missed the first lake, so I wandered straight past Bowl of Tears Lake and past some puddles south of the peak. Seeing nothing I recognized from the half-remembered route description, I backtracked until I saw a grassy slope above the lake I now knew to be Bowl of Tears, wasting an hour.
After slogging up the grass and talus, I entered the cross around 10:30, donned crampons and axe, and proceeded up the slush. While there was still enough snow to cover the scree, it was thin in places, and soft everywhere. A month ago and a couple hours earlier, it would have been an awesome snow climb; now, I would almost have chosen flippers or Wellingtons over crampons. The climb was not dangerous, but wet and slow.
As promised, the couloir’s exit was about 20′ from the summit, where I met a father and son and, soon thereafter, a large party of summer ski bums. I wrung out my gloves and socks, took in the views, and loitered for awhile, chatting with the unusual crowd. After exploring an exposed promontory to the northeast, I headed down the standard route along the ridge.
Around treeline, I met a group of (paid!) Colorado Fourteener Initiative workers repairing the trail. These guys and girls work hard: they do five days on and two days off from now to October, packing tools into the backcountry, then hacking dirt and moving rocks at high elevantions. While improved trails destroy the “freedom of the hills” aspect of mountaineering, I understand the need in this case, and even on Colorado’s 14ers, most nonstandard routes are still adventures.
The climb back over Halfmoon Pass was less painful than expected, and I returned to the crowded (2WD, close to Denver) trailhead without incident.