Peak Past: A Love Story Involving The Mount Of The Holy Cross

ByDavid M. Conte

Sep 23, 2021

The following is part of the KRCC “Peak Past” test series.

Size isn’t everything, even with the Fourteeners.

One of the most iconic peaks of the gigantic might well be the Mount of the Holy Cross, so named for the clear cross it forms when the conditions are right.

He barely earns Fourteener status, breaking the strip at 14,009 feet, near the bottom of the height standings. But the story of how it was mapped and photographed – well, that’s top notch.

According to author Jeri Nordgren, the first written mention of the peak was in a letter written by botanist William H. Brewer on August 29, 1969: “The Mount of the Holy Cross was forty miles away, with its pure white cross, d ‘a mile high, hanging against its side.

Aspiring superstar photographer William Henry Jackson considered the summit the perfect type of challenge.

An American Civil War veteran, Jackson was once acclaimed for taking photos of Yellowstone that helped persuade Congress to declare Yellowstone the world’s first national park in 1872.

Wikimedia Commons
William Henry Jackson, pioneer photographer, in his youth.

The following year, explorer Ferdinand Hayden invited Jackson to Colorado, for Jackson to lead a team and take photos on a mapping expedition. Before leaving, Jackson promised his fiancée Emilie that he would find and photograph “Snowy Cross” mountain.

By July 1873, the group had reached Twin Lakes, near what is now Leadville. The leader of the Hayden expedition indicated that they “will end the season by obtaining this mountain of the Holy Cross once and for all”.

But it turned out to be more difficult than expected.

In a chance encounter near the Tennessee Pass, the group encountered a friendly group of Utes led by Chief Ouray, who gave Hayden and Jackson directions to the elusive peak.

One Sunday, August 24, 1873, Jackson took eight photos of the cross on the mountain, one of which has become world famous.

But more importantly for those of you who have a soft spot for romance, Jackson got his wedding present for his fiancée Emilie. And he lived happily ever after.

Thank you for listening to this conversation on the mountainside: be good, be well, and whatever happens, climb.

Peak Past (formerly Peak Perspectives) is a weekly segment written and voiced by Matt Cavanaugh, US Army Lt. Col. and resident of Manitou Springs where he lives with his wife and two young children. Through his writings, Cavanuagh explores life in the Pikes Peak region, including the gradients and intricacies of our lives in the shadow of America’s Mountain.

You can find more work by Cavanaugh here.

KRCC Abigail Beckman manages the “Peak Past” series. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not claim to reflect the opinions or views of KRCC or Colorado Public Radio.

Peak Past is sponsored by Gold Hill Mesa.

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