Want to pitch a tent in one of the most sublime spots in all of the Rockies? You'll find it in the isolated Bowl of Tears cirque, midway around a 12-mile loop that tops out on 14,005-foot Holy Cross. The clockwise route skirts the peak's spectacular, cross-shaped eastern cirque, ascending Notch Mountain, Halo Ridge, and Holy Cross Ridge, with in-your-face-views of the mountain all the while, and descending the standard North Ridge Trail (which gets moderate traffic).
From the trailhead at 10,300 feet, follow the Fall Creek Trail southwest for three miles, climbing switchbacks to gain the south shoulder of Notch Mountain (site of an emergency shelter in case of bad weather). To reach the aforementioned campsite, stay on the trail .3 mile west-northwest from the shelter, then scramble south-southwest down 1,000 feet of class 2 talus; now camp lakeside in the magnificent Bowl of Tears, and thank us later.
Continue the climb by ascending south, then west past an unnamed lake, and scrambling easy slopes to Holy Cross Ridge, .4 mile and 500 feet below the summit. To reach the summit from the Notch Mountain shelter, continue west, hugging the trailless ridgeline south, then west, then looping north to gain the summit after 2.75 miles and another 1,000 feet. For your descent, hop boulders and faint trail down the North Ridge, making sure you turn north at 13,400 feet to follow the ridgeline. --Steve Howe, howephoto.us
MORE INFO: White River National Forest, (970) 827-5715; fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver
- Distance: 19.3
Location: 39.500456, -106.433069
Fall Creek Trailhead
Location: 39.477347, -106.460502
Notch Mountain (13,237 ft.)
Location: 39.468966, -106.459644
Follow Halo Ridge to the southwest above the Bowl of Tears.
Location: 39.462174, -106.487024
Holy Cross Ridge
Location: 39.466713, -106.481659
Mount of the Holy Cross (14,003 ft.)