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Holy Cross Wilderness: Fancy Lake & Holy Cross City

Saturday & Sunday, September 21-22, 2019

Although I wanted to try to climb Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005) with Diane this summer, we just never found the time to squeeze it in. Still, I wanted to get in at least one short backpacking trip into the Holy Cross Wilderness this year since I really haven’t spent much time in the northern Sawatch Range before, so we decided to go on an easy overnighter to Fancy Lake this weekend. From Fancy Lake I would also be able to revisit the 1880’s ghost town of Holy Cross City which I first visited way back in 2005 by driving the rough 4×4 road in my Jeep. Now that it’s getting late in the season, this will probably be our last backpacking trip into the mountains for the year since it’s starting to cool down and it’s time to get back to exploring the Colorado Plateau!

We left home early on Saturday morning and grabbed a little breakfast on our way to the Fancy Lake Trailhead near the Homestake Reservoir between Minturn and Leadville. We shouldered our packs and hiked up the steep trail to Fancy Lake. The entire trail was in the trees with limited views until we reached Fancy Lake, where we finally had a nice view of the surrounding mountains. No one else was camped around the lake when we arrived, so we had our pick of sites and found a great site near the lake!

Starting our hike from the Fancy Lake Trailhead.

Fancy Lake Trailhead Sign

After hiking uphill through the trees with limited views along the way, we reached Fancy Lake.

Fancy Lake

We found a great sheltered campsite above the lake with great views of the entire basin.


After setting up camp and resting for a little bit we started our hike over to Holy Cross City.

Holy Cross City Trail

We left the Holy Cross Wilderness area along the way.

Holy Cross Wilderness Sign

When we arrived at Holy Cross City we checked out the two main cabins that are still standing. This was the first one we came to.

Holy Cross Cabin

A look inside the first cabin.

Cabin Interior

Then we walked over to the second cabin.

Holy Cross City Cabin

This cabin had a wooden frame of what I assume was a bunk bed inside.

Bunk Bed

A look at both of the cabins as we started heading back to camp. Diane spotted a large bull moose as we were hiking back, but it went into the trees before I was able to see it.

Holy Cross City

Whitney Peak (13,276) towers above what’s left of Holy Cross City.

Whitney Peak

When we arrived back at camp for dinner a bunch of clouds had moved into the sky above the peaks and it eventually became pretty overcast out.

Campsite View

View From Camp

After dinner I started hiking up to Fancy Pass for sunset while Diane stayed behind in camp. While the sky was pretty overcast out as I hiked to the pass, I really hoped that the clouds would clear out a little before sunset. When I arrived at the pass it was very windy and chilly, and there were a few flurries of snow falling from the sky, but it looked like there would be an opening in the clouds near the horizon, so I found a spot to get out of the wind as much as I could and waited for the light. I’m glad I did, because when the sun broke free of the clouds for a short time, it was pretty nice!

Nice light on the rocky ridge that leads to Fancy Peak.

Fancy Peak Ridge

Light & Shadows. Quandary Peak (14,265) and Mount Lincoln (14,286) are the two highest points visible along the horizon.

Light & Shadow

Looking up the ridge on the other side of Fancy Pass.

Fancy Pass Rocks

An evening view over Cross Creek with Middle Mountain…right in the middle.

Cross Creek

A closer look at Mount Jackson (13,670).

Mount Jackson

Beautiful warm light fills Cross Creek Basin with Treasure Vault Lake visible in the background. Missouri Pass is just to the left of the lake. We will have to return another time to hike the entire loop.

Cross Creek Basin

After the sun disappeared behind a bank of clouds near the horizon I started hiking back down the trail to Fancy Lake.

Down The Chute

The clouds above started to change colors.

Clouds Above

On my way down a little red light did come out to illuminate the top of Homestake Peak (13,209) and Galena Mountain (12,893), which both sit along the Continental Divide.

Homestake Peak Light

A magenta view of the Tenmile Range and Mosquito Range on the horizon.

Magenta Layers

Following the Fancy Pass Trail back down to camp at dusk. I arrived just before needing to get out my headlamp and went right to bed.

Trail At Dusk

With the autumn equinox on Monday it was going to be a long night, and I ended up getting about ten hours of sleep in. There were strong gusts of wind on and off all night that sometimes missed our tent and sometime hit it head on. When the wind did strike our tent it blew in a lot of dirt and dust from the ground around our campsite. It seemed like everything inside the tent was covered with dirt in the morning. I woke up shortly before sunrise to a crisp and clear morning and took a few photos from around Fancy Lake and then we packed up camp and headed back down the trail so we could get home early.

First light on Fancy Peak (13,192).

First Light

A sunrise view of our campsite above Fancy Lake.

Fancy Lake Camp

This is the best reflection shot I was able to get since it was still pretty windy out this morning.

Fancy Lake Morning

Morning light in the Fancy Lake Basin.

Morning Camp View

Fancy Lake Basin

Diane stops along the shore of Fancy Lake for one last view before we started hiking back down.

Leaving Fancy Lake

After returning to the trailhead we were ready to start the drive home, but as soon as I left the parking area my Jeep started complaining that the driver side front tire was low, so I pulled over to check things out and found a screw sticking out of it. Although I’ve had a wheel fall off this Jeep twice in the past, this is the first flat tire I’ve had. I quickly changed to the spare and we were on our way back home in no time. We had a very nice weekend in the Holy Cross Wilderness!

>> Fancy Lake Photo Gallery

One Comment

  1. Stevo PETERMAN.
    Stevo PETERMAN. November 16, 2020

    Cant wait to check it out! Greetings from the Sangres. Stevo.

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