A selection of my photos with words from Devon O’Neil about our adventure to ski the Mount of the Holy Cross Couloir in Colorado.
What’s more exhilarating than summiting Eagle County’s iconic fourteener? Reaching, then skiing, the Cross Couloir.
Aside from being the Vail Valley’s most-climbed pinnacle, Mount of the Holy Cross happens to be one of America’s most famous peaks—and has been since William Henry Jackson’s iconic photograph of the east face was published in National Geographic in 1873. Jackson’s shot depicted a majestic cross of snow in the middle of an otherwise sheer rock wall, deep in the Colorado wilderness, and so captivated Americans that the peak became a religious shrine, attracting thousands of Christian pilgrims each season to an overlook at Notch Mountain where, in the mid-1920s, a stone shelter was erected to accommodate the crowds. By 1929, so many were visiting the mount that Herbert Hoover declared it a National Monument, ultimately maintained by the National Park Service.
But the love affair was short-lived: after erosion and rock slides obliterated much of the snow-filled crease forming the icon’s horizontal arm on climber’s right, Holy Cross’s prominence as a shrine waned. Visitation plummeted, and in 1950 Congress stripped the peak of its National Monument status and cast it off to the U.S. Forest Service. Nevertheless, as Eagle County’s sole fourteener, Holy Cross retains its allure as a mecca for summertime endurance hikers, myself included.
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