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Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Post Date:  10/08/2006
Modified:  10/09/2006
Date Climbed:   08/09/2006
Posted By:  dghack


 Holy Cross Adventure   

At 60, I decided it was time to accomplish one of the "things on my list," climbing a 14er in Colorado. In passing, I had talked of the trip for several years when I worked at Fin and Feather. Dave Booth was a customer and an acquaintance of mine and he went to Colorado each year climbing 14ers. By this summer, he had reached the summit of 26 mountains.

We met and talked about a possible trip and when schedules permitted, we planned a specific trip – Mount of the Holy Cross – for early in August. Because Dave was a seasoned climber, I followed his lead, read trip reports, collected gear and prepared myself physically for the journey.

I increased my daily walks and included as many hills as our "flatland" provided. I've never been totally out of shape, and as Dave assured me that he's a slow and deliberate hiker, I felt comfortable with my preparation.

To allow for the altitude change, we left Iowa on a Friday and arrived at the home of Dave's daughter in Steamboat Springs for the weekend. The following Monday we went camping in the Flat Top Mountain Wilderness and from there, we journeyed closer to Holy Cross and spent a night in a motel before we approached the climb. The four days at altitude seemed to help me avoid the usual altitude related symptoms. I had no headaches, nauseous stomach, or other problems associated with gaining altitude too quickly.

On Wednesday, after a leisurely coffee in Breckenridge, we made our way toward Minturn and the mountain road to the trailhead. It was a long, but uneventful drive on a road that Dave assured me could be much worse. His four-wheel drive Tacoma handled the rough switchback road with ease. When we reached the trailhead, we discovered many other travelers as the designated parking spaces were filled and we parked along the road.

It was a beautiful day and we quickly sorted and packed gear. We intended to spend the night at Half Moon Pass and head for the summit after an early start the next morning. We reasoned that by staying at the pass instead of going down to Cross Creek, we'd only have to carry our heaviest gear uphill once instead of twice.
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Our vertical climb began at trailhead (elev. ca. 10400) and progressed through a beautiful wood. The trail wasn't extremely challenging and at the start it was truly a "walk in the woods." We proceeded at a leisurely pace, stopping frequently for water, to catch a breath, or just to sit for a spell.
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Nearly three hours later, we approached the pass (elev. ca. 11600), and we definitely knew we had not been on a walk through the woods. Evening approached, I was tired, it was hard to get full breaths and everything I did took a great deal of effort. I was actually beginning to understand the effect of elevation on physical capabilities.

However, those feelings were so minor compared with the awesomeness of the view from the pass. No matter where I looked, I felt blessed by the beauty of the surrounding mountains.

The shadows were lengthening, making it important to get camp set up as soon as possible. At the pass, there is plenty of open ground and some sheltered areas amongst the trees. However, finding space that was level without rocks and boulders was definitely a challenge.

I found a relatively level piece of ground almost the size of my tent beneath some trees. The pine needle bed even provided a bit of a cushion and if I laid out my sleeping bag in just the right direction and didn't plan on turning over much in the night, I could possibly get a decent night's sleep.

Dave and I feasted on a freeze dried dinner, granola bars and gorp not because we were hungry, but because we knew that eating and drinking water was essential to survival. Having no appetite was a new experience for me and I ate only because I knew I had to. Dave also found he could use his cell phone from the pass and make contact with the outside world.

We turned in early because we planned to get up at four to prepare for the summit climb. I slept not very restfully; I was so very tired from the previous day's climb and I frankly didn't know if I would feel up to making a summit attempt or not. However, when I got up, I felt pretty good and thought I was ready for the day.

We ate, packed our daypacks, and took care of our bodily needs. By six, we were ready to descend to Cross Creek (elev. ca. 10,700). It was a beautiful, cool morning. Because the pass is really on the slope of Notch Mountain, it is impossible to see Holy Cross until the trail circles around to the backside of Notch.
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It's difficult for me to describe the feeling of first seeing Holy Cross in person. From the side of Notch, it seems so close, and yet we still had to go downhill to the creek before we even began the climb. Yet there was a great deal of excitement thinking that in a few hours we'd be "up there."

It took nearly two hours for us to reach the creek. We rested there for a bit and filled our water bottles and hydration bags.

As we made our way uphill, quite a few hikers passed us. I suppose we were amongst the slowest climbers out that day. Of course, I rationalized, many of them were younger or native to Colorado. After a couple of hours, the trees thinned out and we could really feel the incline as the trail became a series of tight switchbacks.

I had been leading the way, and about 10:30 I was starting to tire. I worried that I was slowing Dave down too much. I knew he had a rule about making the summit by noon. During a short break, I suggested that he lead at his own pace, and I'd follow at mine. Knowing that this would separate us, we agreed to contact each other every hour on the hour. We were carrying Garmin Rinos, so we had radio contact as well as GPS.
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Dave moved ahead and I slowly followed until I reached the boulder field. I was resting as much as climbing at this point and made my way to roughly 12,300 ft. It was 11:00 and I knew there would be no way of reaching the summit by noon. In fact, as I looked up the boulder field and the tiny specks of other climbers, I knew I was done climbing.

I had promised myself before I even began the trip that I would listen to my body and only do what it said I could. At 12,300 feet in the middle of a boulder field with no end in sight, my body told me to stop. I reluctantly did so, but felt a peace about knowing I had made a good decision. I firmly believe that had I pushed on, I would have been carried down the mountain.

I decided to hunker down out of the wind, sit on the sunny side of a big rock, and eat some lunch. It was awesome to do so. The sights around me were incredible and thought occurred to me that I was seeing things that few others ever see. I ate some bars and trail mix and took pictures while picas scampered around me. It was a wonderful lunch.

After lunch and a good rest, I decided to head downhill. I had talked to Dave and he said he had a bit to go before he reached the summit. In the picture above, you can see where I was headed. Our camp in the pass was in the saddle in the extreme right of this photo. The downhill slope is Notch Mountain, so I needed to go to the bottom of the hill I am on and back up the hill to the pass.

I took my time going downhill, knowing I still had to climb from the creek bottom to the pass. It was a good thing, too, because going back up the hill on the other side of the creek took everything I had left. After several hours, I was reduced to a mantra of "left foot in front of right, right foot in front of left." And eventually I was saying, "I know I can make it to that big tree." "I know I can make it to that rock up ahead." "I know I can make it to that next bend."

At 3:00 in the afternoon, I stumbled into our camp, managed to zip open my tent and fell into it and a two hour sleep. I finally woke because I had to go to relieve myself, which was also a challenge.

I was tired, chilled, worn out and anxious for Dave to return. I had talked to him and knew he made the summit about 1:30.
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At 7, Dave finally rounded the last bend to the pass.

Neither of us felt inclined to light a fire for a hot meal, so we settled for cold snacks and turned in while it was still light out.

Morning came and we were ready to pack up and head to the trailhead and be on our way. It took us a couple of hours to get to the trailhead from the pass, and we were both glad to get back to the truck.

It had been an exciting adventure, but ended up being much more work than we had anticipated. I would, however, not take a moment of the trip back. The discomfort never reached painful, and the beauty and the personal challenge far exceeded my expectations. I learned so very much about myself that couldn't have been learned in any other way than to have pushed myself to the limits of my endurance.



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