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Backpacker Magazine – December 1997

Colorado's Heavenly Holy Cross Wilderness

Wilderness doesn't get much better, or higher, than Holy Cross.

by: David Kotzebue

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When summer arrives in the Colorado high country, a curious natural phenomenon occurs on the east flank of 14,003-foot Mount of the Holy Cross. Winter snowpack recedes from exposed slopes but lingers in a deep couloir that runs up the mountain, then along an intersecting ledge about two-thirds of the way up. The result is a short-lived, cross-like apparition that in days gone by attracted religious pilgrims by the hundreds. Nowadays the peak and the surrounding wilderness that bears its name draw pilgrims of a different stripe.

With 26 peaks soaring above 13,000 feet and plenty of alpine lakes, crystalline streams, and lush glacial valleys, the Holy Cross Wilderness is about as close as you'll come to finding heaven on earth. Deciding which of the 164 trail miles to hike can be tough, but one of the best routes, in my book, is the 28-mile Fall Creek-to-Cross Creek Trail loop around Mount of the Holy Cross. To accomplish it in one weekend you'll really have to hoof it and take two cars for a shuttle. Park one at Cross Creek trailhead, then drive up to Halfmoon Campground and the Fall Creek trailhead. In summer you'll likely share the first few miles of trail with dayhikers headed up Notch Mountain (13,237 feet) to catch the incomparable view of Mount of the Holy Cross.

As you continue along Fall Creek Trail, the crowds begin to thin. After passing Lake Constantine, you'll rise above timberline on the march to 12,600-foot Fall Creek Pass, one of Colorado's highest and most scenic passes.

The trail descends steeply past the Seven Sisters Lakes, a chain of pools stair-stepping into French Creek, to the ruins of the old mining town of Holy Cross City. Enjoy the relatively flat terrain because you'll soon be climbing again, this time to Fancy Pass (12,350 feet). The pass is barely half way through the loop, but rest easy because the hard stuff is behind you. It's all downhill from here as you follow Cross Creek through a beautiful, glacier-carved valley to the Cross Creek trailhead and your waiting car. You remembered the keys, didn't you?

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