OUT Haggerty’s Hikes July 12, 2009
By BILL HAGGERTY
Special to the Sentinel
In 1982, former Division of Wildlife pilot Joe Frothingham said, “Come on, Hag, let me show you what it’s like to stock high mountain lakes from the air.”
With a load of 4-inch native Colorado River Cutthroat in tubes of water on the back seat of the DOW’s little Cessna 185 Tail-Dragger, we zoomed off to Mount of the Holy Cross, a 14,005 foot tall behemoth along the Sawatch Range between Vail and Leadville. Our destination was Bowl of Tears, but after the wild roller coaster ride I experienced, I think a more appropriate term would have been (please excuse the vulgarity) Bag of Barf.
It was one of the most beautiful lakes I’d ever seen, but I only saw it for a moment before Joe pulled up abruptly after daintily depositing the fish in the lake. We climbed away from the center of the cross on the jagged face of the mountain and that’s the last I saw from outside the plastic bag provided me by my companion, who did not want his plane messed up.
I returned to the scene of the crime a few weeks ago — well, close to the scene — when a couple buddies and I trekked into the Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Mount of the Holy Cross.
We met and camped along Homestake Creek, just southeast of the 14er, and hiked and fished for a couple days. Plenty of rain meant you’d better have pitched a taunt tent.
Daytime temperatures, however were delightful and the rain kept the mosquitoes at bay.
To reach this area, travel east on Interstate 70 for about 112 miles. Take Exit 171 for Minturn and Highway 24. Turn right and continue about 12 miles up Tennessee Pass to the Homestake Creek Road, Forest Service Road 703. Three different official Forest Service campgrounds — Hornsilver, Homestake and Blodgett — are all found along this road, and there’s plenty of open camping on Forest Service property as long as you’re more than 100 yards from the water.
The Homestake Creek campground is located on both sides of U.S. 24 and the creek in a beautiful forested setting. Homestake Reservoir, about 10 miles west on Homestake Road, is a 480-acre, man-made impoundment that provides excellent wildlife viewing.
Homestake Creek Campground has 12 available campsites with picnic tables and fire grates. Parking spurs at these campsites are 30-feet long. There’s a vault toilet, but no electric hook-ups or dump station. All sites are available on a first come, first serve basis between Memorial Day to Labor Day. The other campgrounds in this area operate similarly.
Several hiking trails into the Holy Cross Wilderness are nearby — Whitney Lake, Missouri Lakes and Fancy Pass trails. And, of course, if you’re tough, you can try to climb Mount of the Holy Cross itself. If Class 1 means easy hiking on a good trail, this climb would be considered a Class 2 climb, which means more difficult hiking that may be off-trail. You may also have to put your hands down occasionally to keep your balance, and it may include easy snow climbs or hiking on talus/scree.
If you’re headed up the peak, you really want to start from the northeast via the two-wheel
drive Tigiwon Road off of U.S. 24. This road ends at the Half Moon Campground and Trailhead at 10,320 feet in elevation. (Drive about five miles south of Minturn, then turn right onto the Tigiwon Road. The turn is just before U.S. 24 crosses the Eagle River and starts to switchback up the hillside. The Tigiwon Road is dirt and cars can usually make it to the trailhead. Drive a little more than eight miles to the trailhead.)
Don’t bother trying to climb this peak on the weekends, because it gets packed. There were about 20 vehicles at the trailhead when we were there, so NO, I didn’t bag the peak.
We hiked the other trails, and fished and camped on Homestake Creek, instead.
You can ride your mountain bike along the dirt road to Homestake Reservoir, or four-wheel drive just outside the wilderness area along Holy Cross City Jeep Trail No. 759, one of the toughest roads in the state. Road No. 704 is an alternate and easier four-wheel drive road to the historic Holy Cross City. No Name Jeep Trail is also nearby.
Off-road driving is not allowed, so please stay on the Forest Service roads. Tons of road bicyclists ride Tennessee Pass itself, but many of them are masochists.
If you’re hot and tired of being in the valley, this is a great alternative. Sure, it’s a couple miles away, but isn’t that what you were looking for? It’s a great drive and it’s better than looking for that bag I was talking about earlier.