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Notch Mountain

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 4.9 (7) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

Abundant wildflowers and stunning views characterize this lesser-known alternative to summiting Holy Cross.


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Map Key

10.9

Miles

17.5

KM

Out and Back

13,084' 3,988 m

High

10,342' 3,152 m

Low

2,831' 863 m

Up

2,831' 863 m

Down

10%

Avg Grade (6°)

31%

Max Grade (17°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Camping is prohibited at the Notch Mountain Shelter. It is okay to go inside this stone shelter during storms – it has a lightning rod! Camping is OK in the rest of the Holy Cross Wilderness but you must self-register at the trailhead and carry the permit during the visit. Tigiwon Road is closed annually from May 1 to June 21 and opens on June 21 if the road is snow-free by that date.

Overview

Don't be deterred by the sheer number of switchbacks at the end of this trail – although the altitude is high and the trail surface is mostly small, loose rocks, the grade is not excessively steep. This steady ascent rewards intrepid users with solitude and sweeping views of the Gore Range, Sawatch Range and other distant 14ers. Notch Mountain is the best place to view Mount of the Holy Cross, although the Ptarmigan Loop in Vail or the Shrine Ridge Trail #2016 are considerably easier!

Description

From the busy Half Moon trailhead, proceed south on the Fall Creek Trail #2001 through initially non-descript woodland with a rocky/rooty trail surface. Soon, things become more interesting as brief Gore Range views appear and the trail crosses several sizeable ravines scoured by recent landslide events. After a few small stream crossings, prepare to be dazzled by large meadows brimming with wildflowers. Late July and August are prime season for the widest variety of wildflowers here.

Resist the urge to bed down among the colorful flowers and continue the steady ascent. Large glacial boulders and erratics are scattered along this valley. At about 2.3 miles, you'll reach a large, shady trail junction where the Notch Mountain Trail #2000 leaves towards the west. Take the Notch Mountain Trail #2000 contouring up through forest and more scattered wildflower meadows. Soon, the trees become more sparse and you reach tree line. Intense high-altitude sun and no more shade mean you should sunscreeen/cover accordingly. The chunky talus slopes open up and the views get better and better the higher you climb. The rocky trail gradually becomes more narrow and the switchbacks get shorter, but the overall steepness remains manageable – just keep chugging away.

The trail does not pass through the "notch," but instead ascends up and over a southern shoulder. When it finally ends, the trail levels out and deposits hikers onto a wide saddle (13,077 ft) between the two summit peaks. This beautiful alpine landscape is covered with large boulders and tufts of fragile tundra mosses (try not to tread on the grasses). The stone shelter atop Notch Mountain was built in 1924 by the CCC. Mount of the Holy Cross looms over Notch Mountain from across a large valley, and it is even possible to see climbers along its ridge and summit. Peek over the edge facing Holy Cross: the sapphire blue lake is called Bowl of Tears, presumably a reference to the famous cross couloir photographed from this location by William Henry Jackson in August 1873. When you've had enough high-alpine splendor, retrace your steps back down the switchbacks to the junction with Fall Creek Trail #2001 and then back to the Half Moon Trailhead parking area.

Flora & Fauna

Get ready for plenty of spruce and fir, a huge variety of wildflowers, and marmots and pika at the top of Notch Mountain. Deer, elk, ptarmigan, and mountain goats have also been spotted along this route.

History & Background

At the saddle is a large boulder with a metal plaque explaining how William Henry Jackson was the first person to photograph Mount of the Holy Cross from this spot. His work helped popularize this iconic mountain. With its seasonal bands of snow in the shape of a cross, Holy Cross became a famous spot for religious pilgramages. Some people believed that this formation was a literal sign from God endorsing manifest destiny (the belief that the US should expand and populate the North American continent and that this was both justified/inevitable). A program was set up by faith healers to allow ill people who could not visit the mountain in person to still receive a blessing. People would mail handkerchiefs to Colorado, and these would be carried up Notch Mountain. Prayers would be said over the hankerchiefs and then they would be carried down and mailed back to their owners.

Contacts

Shared By:

Megan W with improvements by swblack

Trail Ratings

  4.9 from 7 votes

#719

Overall
  4.9 from 7 votes
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Recommended Route Rankings

#143

in Colorado

#719

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Photos

Views of Mount of the Holy Cross don't get much better than this.
Aug 6, 2017 near Minturn, CO
Early August wildflowers are spectacular here.
Aug 6, 2017 near Minturn, CO
The wonderful views from each of the many, many switchbacks keep your mind off the climb!
Aug 6, 2017 near Minturn, CO
Friendly, chubby marmots hoping to be fed will pose in front of Mount of the Holy Cross
Aug 6, 2017 near Minturn, CO
Rocky Mountain Columbine along the Fall Creek Trail
Aug 6, 2017 near Minturn, CO
Great views towards the Gore Range and Vail's back bowls
Aug 6, 2017 near Minturn, CO

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Check-Ins

Jul 22, 2018
Michael Johnson
10.3mi
Jul 7, 2018
Michael Johnson
10.9mi
Jul 1, 2018
Anna Abrahams
9h 00m
Sep 2, 2017
Sarah Hartman
Many breaks. Beautiful day!
Aug 6, 2017
Nick Wilder