| Mt. of the Holy Cross - North Ridge Standard Route
Trailhead: Halfmoon Trailhead
Elevation: 5,625 ft
Distance: 12 miles
Hike time: ~8.5 hours round trip; 4 hours up and 4:30 down
Overall Impression: One of the better climbs in the Sawatch Range. Though it is a long climb, the grade isn't severe.
I drove in the night before on Tigiwon road to camp at the campground. It took about 30 minutes to drive in from Highway 24. The campground has about 10 camp sites and each has a fire pit, picnic table and a site to pitch a tent for $10/night. The trailhead parking lot and the campground both have an out house.
We started on the trail at 5:15am under the cover of darkness. There wasn't but a sliver of the moon in the sky amidst the billions of stars. The air was cold, probably in the high 30s or low 40s, so I had lots of clothing on. Hiking up to Halfmoon pass by flash light we gained altitude and warmth. The air seemed to get considerably warmer as we gained altitude so I took off my jacket and fleece and hung them on a nearby tree as I didn't want to carry the extra weight to the summit. By the time we reached the pass we could see a hint of the sun rising in the east and I stripped down to a hat and shirt. By now the sun lit the area enough that we could put our flashlights away and use our poles in the decent down to East Cross Creek.
As you cross over the pass and head down into the valley you get your first good views of Mt. of the Holy Cross. It stands out amongst the other peaks in the area. The hike down to the creek is gradual and not difficult. It seemed to go quickly as well. By the time we reached the creek the temperature must have dropped by 10 degrees with the cold air holding low in the valley. There were two people camped near the stream but there appeared to be several camp sites near the creek.
View of Mt. of the Holy Cross just below Halfmoon Pass
The creek is an easy ford this time of year. After a short hike across level ground you start climbing in elevation and you don't stop until you reach the summit. The trail is very well graded and well maintained as you hike through the trees and beyond past tree line.
Mushroom on the trail past East Cross Creek
After you break from tree line you get your second opportunity to see Mt. of the Holy Cross and most of the trail to the summit. From here the trail is rocky but well marked by a series of cairns, some as large as a small mountain, others no more than several rocks piled high. The trail mostly follows the ridgeline through a vast boulder field, or just to the right of the ridgeline as it climbs up to the summit.
Second view of Mt of the Holy Cross just after tree line
The rocky climb to the summit
The weather was beautiful today as I was able to hike comfortable in a shirt while being warmed by the sun. There was virtual no wind or clouds to speak of. The trail crosses the entrance of the Angelica and Holy Cross colouirs allowing you to gaze down at those rubble gulleys. There was still a small snowfield tucked in the shadows of the Holy Cross Colouir. After crossing by the Holy Cross Colouir the climb gets a little steeper and was completely shaded. Many of the rocks were frosted over, or had black ice, from the previous day's rain.
After 4.5 hours we reached the summit and enjoyed the fantastic views. It was a picture perfect day, great temperatures, little wind and no clouds. We met two guys on the summit, one from Nashville and one from Dallas, that had camped at East Cross Creek.
All in all the hike was much easier than I expected. This was the longest hike and largest elevation gain I have accomplished to date while climbing 14ers and it wasn't that difficult. In fact, it didn't seem physically harder than Crestone Peak (8 miles, 4,400 ft) I climbed two weeks before. I think the climb was easier due to the moderate temperatures and nice grade of the climb. The hike back over Halfmoon Pass was not difficult, it took approximately 1.5 hours from East Cross Creek to the trailhead. I would definitely do this hike in one day and not camp at East Cross Creek.
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