Holy Cross Mountain
For quite a long time, I was, among my circle of peak-bagging friends, the only person who had not yet climbed Holy Cross Mountain in Alberta's Kananaskis Country.  Though I had plans to climb elsewhere on 29 July 2012, I changed them at the request of a friend who could not join me for my original intended trip.  With no need of a bicycle or hip waders, Holy Cross Mountain seemed like an easy, no-nonsense alternative, and I wanted to "cross" it off my to-do list anyway.  Since this was a last-second decision, I did not have an opportunity to review the wealth of trip reports available on the Internet, but I felt confident enough about the route such that I left Andrew Nugara's guidebook, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, in the front seat of my car as I proceeded up Gunnery Creek trail.

For the most part, I followed Nugara's suggestion to ascend the northeast ridge and descend the east face, but the real crux of the trip is getting across the terrain between the trail and the scramble routes with the least amount of suffering.  A flagged route which veers off the Gunnery Creek trail just beyond the pass is ill-defined and easy to lose in the trees.  I eventually abandoned the flagged route and just bushwhacked up to Nugara's "grassy hill" which grants the first good view of Holy Cross Mountain's east face.  From there, Nugara's description nonchalantly says to "drop down to the creek from the hill, cross the water, and then head up the other side through light forest."  I found this to be much less trivial than it sounds as the banks on either side of the creek are very steep and not altogether easy to negotiate.  With the long uninteresting approach, the bushy traverse over the hill and the exhausting grunt up to the rock band guarding the northeast ridge, I felt rather fatigued four hours into the trip and even began to wonder why I was not back in Calgary golfing instead!  However, once I scrambled through the weakness in the rock band and began tackling the northeast ridge proper, I perked up considerably.  I stuck close to the crest of the ridge throughout the ascent and relished scrambling up the handful of challenging cliff bands along the way.  There was hardly a breath of wind as I reached the summit ridge, and I continued up to the summit without any trouble.

After a 45-minute break at the top, I started down the east face which, when snow-free, consists of numerous short cliff bands interspersed with tedious rubble.  With no wind, the mosquitoes were maddeningly relentless here.  I circumvented a sizeable drop-off near the bottom of the face on skier's left before veering over to the south edge of the basin below.  I eventually picked up an excellent trail (plainly visible from the northeast ridge) which traverses a north-facing scree slope.  This trail eventually leads to the flagged route I abandoned earlier, and if I were to do this trip over, this would be my preferred access to the northeast ridge as opposed to Nugara's route.  Once I regained the Gunnery Creek trail, I thought that all difficulties were past until I ran into a herd of cows lumbering up the same trail toward me.  An abundance of young calves along with their watchful mothers made me think twice about being bull-headed and plowing right through the lot, and I grudgingly endured a little more bushwhacking just to give the herd a wide berth.  After regaining the trail with the cows behind me, I marched back to the trailhead without further issues.
'Monarda fistulosa' as the ancient Romans would say! Among the many wildflowers blooming alongside the trail is this wild bergamot.
Even without snow, it's possible to visualize the "cross" on the face. Here is the first view of Holy Cross Mountain's east face from the grassy hill.
I strongly don't recommend this route! Sonny begins to drop down to an unseen creek from the grassy hill before climbing up the ridge on the other side.
It would be a tough down-climb if you were to return this way. This is the weakness in the major rock band guarding the lower portion of the northeast ridge.
Took over 4 hours to get to the fun part of the climb... After a lengthy approach, Sonny finally gains the crest of the northeast ridge.
Of all the summits in the Canadian Rockies, it's worth getting Head at least once...or twice! The hulking mass of Mount Head is hard to ignore to the north.
Sure, you could bypass this to the left, but how much fun would that be? Some sections of the northeast ridge are quite challenging.
Definitely nobody I know... Two scramblers make their way down from the summit.
You'll be getting lotsa Head in this trip report! Mount Head looks spectacular from this spot along Holy Cross Mountain's northeast ridge.
This is usually when all the fatigue and weariness disappear... Sonny gains the summit ridge of Holy Cross Mountain.
An enjoyable finish to a bloody long ascent! There are a few narrow and exposed sections just before the summit.
Even the mosquitoes were loving it up here! Sonny basks in warm sunshine on the 2669-metre summit of Holy Cross Mountain.
Doesn't look that difficult from up here! Here is the northeast ridge as viewed from the summit.
If you look closely, Gunnery Mountain is dead centre. Although Nugara has climbed Holy Cross Mountain via the southeast ridge, the route is not likely to become popular.
All very enjoyable hikes as I recall... Further away to the southeast are Mount Burke (centre), Sentinel Peak (left), and Saddle Mountain (far left).
The photographic light would've been better had I started out much earlier...or perhaps much later! A sea of peaks stretch out into the hazy distance to the west.
I'm sure it has been done, but I don't know of anyone who has traversed this ridge. This is the connecting ridge to Mount Head.
Told ya you'd be getting lotsa Head in this trip report! That joke never gets old!! Here is a last look at the summit cairn of Holy Cross Mountain with Mount Head dominating the view to the north.
Just when I thought I was home free... A cow blocks the Gunnery Creek trail.
Route-finding is trickier than it looks for this trip.

Total Distance:  15.9 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  9 hours 35 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  1210 metres

GPX Data