Scramble the Halo Ridge on Mt. Holy Cross

Half Moon (Tigiwon) Trailhead, Minturn, Colorado, United States

  • Activities:

    Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Advanced

  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    15 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    5210 Feet

Forest
Scenic

The Halo Ridge on Holy Cross is a long, dramatic ridgeline that provides a good introduction into class II scrambling without much dangerous exposure. Along the way you'll find the absolute best view of the famous Cross Couloir, the historic Notch Mountain Shelter at over 13,000 feet and dizzying views into the Bowl of Tears.

The Halo Ridge is by no means the easiest route to the summit of Mt. Holy Cross, but it is definitely the most interesting and scenic. You'll begin at the Half Moon (Tigiwon) trailhead, but instead of the popular Halfmoon Trail, you will start on the Fall Creek Trail as it leaves the campground.

The Approach

Follow the gentle Fall Creek Trail for about two miles until you reach the intersection of the Notch Mountain Trail, where you'll turn right and the real climbing begins. At a meadow at 11,600 ft you'll find excellent camping if you want to break up this very long day. A stream through the meadow is the last water source you'll see from this point on, so be sure to filter here if needed.

From the meadow you'll switchback steeply up a talus slope to treeline where you'll reach the Notch Mountain Shelter at 13,077'. The stone shelter was built in 1924 to accommodate large numbers of religious pilgrims that were traveling to the mountain to view the famous Cross Couloir. The shelter is now managed by the Forest Service (unfortunately camping is currently prohibited).

The climb to the shelter and the amazing views of Holy Cross and Notch Mountain would make for an excellent day hike, but if you plan to continue, your day is really just getting started. The summit is still over two miles of cumbersome talus scrambling away and - once committed - there is absolutely no retreat in case of bad weather. Evaluate the conditions here and decide wisely.

The Halo Ridge

If you decide to continue, you'll need to climb and descend three distinct landmarks on the ridge - starting with PT 13248, then PT 13373 and finally PT 13831. Each summit involves a steep scramble up to a high point then a decent to a saddle before starting up to the next.

Your final reward after PT 13831 is one final push to the summit of Holy Cross itself at 14,005'. Once on top you'll have amazing views of the semi-circular ridgeline you've just crossed, over to Notch Mountain and the surrounding peaks of the Sawatch, Elks and Gores.

You can return the way you came for a grueling 15 mile day (know you'll have to RE-climb all of those smaller peaks along the ridge on your way back!). To shorten it by two miles, you can continue down the more popular Halfmoon Trail back to the trailhead.

Online Resources

14ers.com Route DescriptionUS Forest Service Description of Notch Mountain Trail

Pack List

  • Backpack
  • Food
  • Plenty of water (see note above about water sources)
  • Layered clothing with wind protection - it can get really windy up there!
  • Sunglasses and sunblock (once on the ridge there is absolutely no shade)
  • Gloves (even if it's not cold, after scrambling on rough rock, your hands will thank you!)
  • Trekking poles can be helpful for the approach but become cumbersome during the scrambling - you'll want your hands free
  • Rain gear
  • First aid kit
  • Map and compass or GPS
  • Camera gear

If camping overnight:* Tent* Sleeping bag and pad* Water filter* Stove and cooking gear

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Reviews

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My wife and I crushed Halo Ridge this past July. End of June to Mid September are the best times to avoid snow on the peaks. Brian, great pointers on water and when to make weather decisions. This was one of the harder day hikes I've ever done. The unreal views, mini-wildflowers above 13k and sense of accomplishment is all worth the screaming knees.

4 months ago
4 months ago

Brian Lewis

Trying to do life right as a filmmaker, adventure junkie and semi-serious runner.

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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