Exlporing the Colorado high country with Kim Fenske
Whitney Peak and the Fall Creek Pass south of Notch Mountain.
Editor’s note: I’m glad to announce the return of Kim Fenske’s series on hiking Colorado’s high country. Kim also has some new e-books for sale at Amazon: Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties, and Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness.
Story and photos by Kim Fenske
Author Kim Fenske along the Notch Mountain trail.
Notch Mountain, 13,237 feet, is the traditional pilgrimage site for those who want a close-up view of the snow-gilded cross on the eastern face Mount of the Holy Cross,14,005 feet. The summit of Notch Mountain is not found at the end of the trail. Notch Mountain Trail is a gentle switchback ascent of the east ridge of Notch Mountain that ends at a rock shelter built on a saddle south of the summit, a mile east of Holy Cross Ridge.
In winter, the Notch Mountain hike is 24 miles from the gate closure at the base of Tigiwon Road. However, in summer, the hike from Fall Creek Trailhead at Halfmoon Campground, 10,300 feet, is only 10 miles. From the end of Tigiwon Road, the Halfmoon Pass Trail to the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross begins west of the parking area. At the south end of the area, Fall Creek Trail crosses a small wooden bridge and proceeds on the west edge of the Fall Creek Valley toward a junction with the Notch Mountain Trail.
Looking back on the five-mile trail from Halfmoon Campground to the shelter on the ridge at Notch Mountain.
Fall Creek Trail ascends gradually for 600 feet to a stream crossing 1.3 miles from the trailhead where Mountain Bluebells, Mertensia ciliate, cover the slope in mid-summer. During spring snowmelt, a bit of rock-hopping is required to pass the tumbling water. The Notch Mountain Trail junction is 2.1 miles from the Fall Creek Trailhead at 11,230 feet, among several large boulders perched on a steep drop-off into Fall Creek Valley.
Turning away from Fall Creek Trail on switchbacks that cross fir-lined meadows filled with paintbrush, bistort, monkshood, and other wildflowers, Notch Mountain Trail continues to a small basin in the krumholz. The trail swings south across the tundra turf until Whitney Peak, 13,271 feet, is visible across Fall Creek Valley, then ascends through a boulder field to the rock shelter 3 miles above the junction with the Fall Creek Trail at 13,070 feet. The rock shelter rests in a tundra field on the saddle facing Mount of the Holy Cross, approximately a 4-hour hike from Halfmoon Campground.
The Notch in Notch Mountain.
Kim Fenske is a former wilderness ranger, firefighter who has hiked thousands of miles in the Colorado mountains. He has served on the board of directors of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
More travel and hiking stories:
Kim’s winter 14er series:
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