Pilgrimage Fact Sheet: Mount of the Holy Cross
Mount of the Holy Cross, in Eagle County, Colorado, is 14,005 ft.
high. It is the northernmost of the "fourteeners" in the Sawatch Range. It's most prominent feature is a perpetual
cross of snow extending downward from its summit, approximately 1500 ft. high and 750 ft. wide.
It was known to early explorers and settlers because of its visibility
from the Continental Divide, to the east, but it was not precisely
located until 1873.
William Henry Jackson, official photographer for the Hayden Survey, made the mountain famous when he climbed adjacent Notch
Mountain on August 23-24, 1873, and photographed the cross of snow.
Because of adverse weather on the 23rd, he spent the night
with his companions at timberline, setting up his camera and darkroom-tent for the photograph on the morning of the 24th. He returned many times for subsequent pictures.
The mountain was first climbed on that same day, August 24, 1873,
by a party from the survey, Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, Dr. William Whitney, and James Gardner. The survey party was especially intrigued by
In 1874, Thomas Moran climbed Notch Mountain and painted
the first of several paintings of the mountain,
some of which can be seen today in the Cowboy Hall of Fame,
the Denver Public Library, and the Denver
In 1879, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who had been impressed by Jackson's photographs, wrote a sonnet about
the mountain as a tribute to his wife.
It was found in his portfolio after his death and was published
In 1912 a party of Episcopalian priests and bishops climbed Notch Mountain for a communion service facing the Cross of Snow.
In the 20's, a Protestant dentist from Eagle, Dr. O.W. Randall,
and a Catholic Priest from Glenwood Springs, John P. Carrigan, conceived the Pilgrimages climbs of Notch Mountain during a certain week of the summer with a worship service on the summit before the Cross. The first Pilgrimage Party of Boy Scouts and
Campfire Girls', was led by Dr. Randall in 1927. By the following year, The Denver Post began to promote the Pilgrimages which attracted thousands of people from all over the world. In 1934, The Forest
Service built a new trail and shelter house for the Pilgrimages on the south summit of Notch Mountain. During the week of the Pilgrimages,
a post office ("Mount of the Holy Cross, Colorado") was established
at Tigiwon, the base camp. The Pilgrimages
were discontinued in 1939 because of World War II.
During the years of the Pilgrimages, radio evangelists in Denver were promising cures from handkerchiefs packed into the Bowl of Tears, the lake at the foot of the Cross, and dipped in the water. At least one
baptism was held in the lake.
In 1929, encouraged by F.W. Bonfils and Al Birch of The Denver Post, and
O.W. Daggett, publisher of The Holy Cross Trail in Red Cliff, President
Herbert Hoover established the Holy Cross National
Monument. It was abolished by congressional
action in 1950. In 1922, the Secretary
of agriculture set aside an area on Shrine
Pass, from which the
Cross can be seen, for both religious and recreational purposes.
The Cross was featured on Colorado's
75th anniversary stamp in 1951.
In 1976 the Pilgrimages were revived as a Bicentennial event by the Town of Red Cliff. They have been
continued on a certain weekend of the summer by Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Vail.
In 1980, the area around the mountain
was designated a wilderness area.
Each year thousands of skiers and summer visitors view the Mount of the Holy Cross
(and, obliquely, the Cross of Snow) from nearby Vail Mountain.