A Love Story Involving Mount Of The Holy Cross

*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on September 23, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

Size isn’t everything, even with Fourteeners. 

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

It barely earns Fourteener status, breaking the tape at 14,009 feet, near the bottom of the height-rankings. But the story of how it was mapped and photographed — well, that’s top shelf stuff. 

According to author Jeri Nordgren, the earliest written mention of the peak was in a letter penned by botanist William H. Brewer on August 29th, 1869: It reads, “The Mount of the Holy Cross was forty miles away, with its cross of pure white, a mile high, suspended against its side.”

Budding superstar-photographer William Henry Jackson saw the peak as the perfect kind of challenge. 

A Civil War veteran, Jackson had already earned acclaim by taking photos of Yellowstone that helped persuade Congress to declare Yellowstone the world’s first national park in 1872.

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

By July, 1873, the group had reached Twin Lakes, near what is now Leadville. Expedition-leader Hayden directed they would “wind up the season getting that Holy Cross Mountain once and for all.” 

But that proved more difficult than they expected. 

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

On a Sunday, August 24, 1873, Jackson took eight photos of the cross on the mountain, one of which became world-famous. 

But most importantly for those of you with a soft spot for romance, Jackson secured his wedding present for his fiancée Emilie. And they lived happily ever after.

Thanks for listening to this mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

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