| Mt of the Holy Cross - North Ridge (standard route)
Before I get to my trip report, I will start with a few details that will hopefully help out future hikers:
The Road/Drive: The road to the trailhead can easily be driving by car. I have a small Subaru hatchback which made it to the trailhead with no problem. Not once did I feel uneasy about my lack of clearance or 4wd. The road is narrow and bumpy, but if anything, having a small car was kind of nice for getting around the larger trucks coming in the opposite direction. It took about 30 minutes to drive the 8 mile stretch from Minturn to the trailhead.
Camping: There are seven designated campsites right at the trailhead and it costs $10 to use one of the sites (drop box and honor system). About two miles before the trailhead I saw a couple of tents pitched around a little lodge, but outside of this, I didn’t see any other places to set up camp on the way. The campsites at the trailhead are nice and spacious with picnic tables, plenty of space for tents, a stream for water, and a toilet within walking distance. But, HOLY MOSQUITOS!! DO NOT forget bug spray.
Back Packing. About 3 miles into the hike (right after the long descent into the valley) there are ten designated campsites for backpackers to use, all near a stream. In this same vicinity there are also some flat areas where one could reasonably pitch a tent if the sites are full. The sites are numbered with signs in front and once you pass the 10th site, the trail quickly becomes a steep climb moving away from the stream. After this point, a flat plot of land for tents will be very had to find. My recommendation would be to not go any further pass the 10th site if you are looking to camp for the night. This area also seemed to be a thriving metropolis for mosquitos, so plan accordingly.
The Trail: The trail climbs steadily for the first two miles or so before dropping down into the valley for a one mile descent. In the valley you cross a stream and pass several campsites and then it turns into a steep and exhausting climb going up to the summit. The trail is easy to follow for the first three miles, but can be a little difficult to follow in spots as you get above tree line. The final push to the summit is accurately described as a difficult class 2 scramble. There is no clear cut path on the final summit push and there are Cairns in just about every direction you look. There seemed be no “best way”, so just keep going up and watch for loose rocks. When coming down, stay to the left and go slow. There is a big drop off to your right so avoid going in this direction.
Final Note: This trail is difficult because of the steepness and amount of climbing you have to do, both on the way up and on the way down. That said, this is also one of the most beautiful trails I have hiked so far with beautiful plants, waterfalls, streams, and mountains. In the midst of tiring hill climbs, don’t forget to stop and take in the scenery.
The Trip Report:
Mountain: Mt of the Holy Cross - my 24th 14er
Route: North Ridge (Standard Route)
Date: Sunday, 21 July 2013
Start time: 5:30 AM
Summit time: 9:10 AM (about 15 minutes at the top)
Return to car: 12 PM
I departed Littleton on Saturday around 1 PM. The plan was to drive to the trailhead, backpack into one of the campsites, and then summit early Sunday morning. My plans immediately went awry. The traffic on I-70 was terrible with the construction and it took almost 4 hours to get to the trailhead. Once in the parking lot (already behind scheduled), I talked with a hiker who had just come down and was informed that all the campsites along the trail were occupied. At this point I decided to camp at the trailhead instead of backpacking in that night. Thankfully there were several sites still available.
I made a huge mistake by forgetting to bring bug spray. In the short amount of time it took to set up my tent, I already had several mosquito bites. The bugs were everywhere. I pretty much just spent the rest of the evening in my tent, because there was no other escape from them. At least I managed to get an early night sleep.
Normally when I hike 14ers, I make an effort to start hiking by around 3 AM, but with a favorable weather report, I decided to sleep in a little later and set my alarm for 5 AM instead. By 5:30, I had torn down camp and begun hiking. The trail was pretty easy to follow most of the way, but there were a few moments where I found myself unsure of where to go. Thankfully, a look up ahead would usually help to find the trail. I also managed to lose my footing while crossing the creek and had wet feet the rest of the hike. I was absolutely amazed at the beauty of this hike, especially on the long downhill stretch. This is a very scenic area.
I moved pretty quickly going up the mountain and did not see a single other person until just before the final summit push where I caught up with two other hikers. We chatted for a bit and then finished the summit together. We were the only ones at the top and it was nice to have a bit of solitude on top of the 14er. The wind was minimal, the sun was warm, and it was a beautiful morning to be on top of a mountain. No sign of any clouds and clear in all directions. The three of us continued chatting at the top, took pictures, and then descended together. Most of my 14er friends have since gotten married and had kids, thus most of my 14er summits lately have been solo. It was nice to have some company this time around. It makes the trip go by faster and it was a nice distraction from the tediousness of the descent.
Coming off the final summit is a bit of a chore as you down climb on boulders. Coming down, it quickly became apparent that we were too far to the right and we traversed to the left to avoid an eventual dropoff. Thankfully we spotted this early and moved away from the troublespots before ending up in a bind. It is a long and steep trek down, but we moved quickly. We then reached the campsites where my new friends had camped out, we said our goodbyes. I then proceeded up the long climb back out of the valley and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I reached the top knowing I only had a two mile descent to go. I am currently committed to a challenge to run at least one mile every single day for an entire year and I didn’t want this 14er to break the streak for me. So, for the last two miles, I ran down the mountain, full pack and all. This was a treacherous way to go down. Thankfully the stretch isn’t too rocky, but I definitely had a few close calls with tripping hazards.
I made it back to my car by noon, had a slow drive back to Denver (boo construction) and made it back to my home by 3:30. It was a great day and a great hike. I really enjoyed this mountain and it is one of my favorite 14ers so far.