Mt. of the Holy Cross was once a United States national monument due
to a rock gully appearing to be a huge cross when snow filled.
But as erosion destroyed the image of the cross, the distinction
was rescinded in the 1950's. Today is is probably best known as one of
14ers seen by skiers at Vail, only 14 miles to the north. In the winter,
the snow on her east face still creates the famous cross which has inspired
many for over a century. But for me I just wanted a nice workout and
another 14er checked off my list. I had always heard that the Cross was
a little difficult and in Gerry Roach's Colorado Fourteeners guide book
he emphasizes the need to be in top shape for the climb.
Remember to click on any image to see it larger.
I left home about 3:00AM on Sunday July 22 and was departing the trailhead
around 6:30. It was another great day in Colorado and the parking was
limited since so many people were also enjoying the mountains. The
trail to the summit of Holy Cross is a 12 mile round trip and requires
an initial climb from 10,320' to 11,200 then a steep descent to East
Cross Creek. This North Ridge route has a reputation of being tough since
you have to descend 1000' and regain this same altitude upon the return
- an additional 2000' of altitude gain - for a total of over 5600'.
It was an absolutely perfect day. Not a cloud in the sky, mild temperatures
and no wind. I made great time of the 1.4 miles to Half Moon Pass and
began the descent to the creek. I glanced around remembering a failed
attempt to summit Holy Cross in February 2005. The snow was so deep then
that we simply got lost and turned backed. Now with nothing but clear
ground and fragrant pine trees I could see where we went wrong and the
spot where we spent a cold night out.
were many couples, singles and families on the trail as I headed up from
the creek towards the treeline at 11,700'. The summer of 2007 had been
a wonderful year for wildflowers and this mountain had not been left
out. I must have taken 20 pictures of the flowers alone! As
I left the shade of the trees, I also left the clarity of the trail.
Now it turned into huge, loose boulders. The route was clear and a little
intimidating, as I could easily see the small crown of rocks at 13,300'
and the left turn up the steep north ridge of Holy Cross. From this vantage
point it looked long, steep, narrow and rocky. Some climbers were sitting
on the huge boulders just staring ahead.
I continued my climb in a purposeful and steady pace and soon was climbing
the ridge. Basically it was pure boulder hopping at this point since
the nice even trail had long since disappeared. It didn't take long and
soon I was on the summit - along with 20 other people and 2 dogs! It
had taken about 3:30.
The weather continued to be nice but a few small white fluffy cloud started
to form. I took my usual summit video.
I walked around the huge summit enjoying the views of the multiple coulars
that give personality to this 14er. I made a mental note to return and
climb one in the winter one year. After finishing my early lunch and finishing
my second liter of water, I left the summit. At this point I stepped on
a huge loose boulder that gave way and pinned my left leg against another
rock. A nice bloody abrasion formed below my left knee but nothing more
serious. Hmm, maybe there was something to this cross after all!
The downclimb was quick and I enjoyed the views once more as well as the
comforting sound of the rush water through East Cross Creek. At the base
of the slope, I looked up and calculated perhaps an hour to regain the
Half Moon pass. But I was determined to use this climb to push my fitness
since it was only five weeks until I left for Tibet and the 8000m mountain
Shishapangma. With motivation clearly in hand, I made the climb in thirty
minutes. I felt great!
Another 45 minutes and I was back at the car - 3 hours from the summit.
About this time a huge clap of thunder hit the area. Raindrops the size
of small birds began to fall and I hustled to changes clothes and get in
the car. Just as I shut the door the bottom fell out! How lucky?
I thoroughly enjoyed Holy Cross. It was a pleasant hike through the forest
and a nice easy challenge through the boulders to the top. It was very
satisfying to stand on top and review the route since at times it looks
quite hard. This was my eighth 14er summit in 2007 and I felt great. Now
about that cross ...
I returned in 2013 to climb Holy Cross via the Halo ridge.