Mt. of the Holy Cross - 14,005 feet
Mt. of the Holy Cross - 14,005 feet
|Holy Cross via North Ridge and Camping at East Cross Creek|
Mt. Of the Holy Cross via North Ridge and Camping at East Cross Creek
Holy Cross has been on my list for two years. Everytime I thought I would have the opportunity to climb it, the weather forecast wouldn't look good, or my climbing partner and I didn't have two days off together. After last year's season coming to a close without checking off this beautiful 14er, we decided to climb it the first chance we got, regardless of rain in the forecast. Luckily, this past weekend, the forecast gave us a nice window on Sunday morning to summit. We'd have to camp in the rain, but hey, if the conditions were perfect everytime we climbed, there wouldn't be as much of an adventure.
We arrived at the trailhead around 10:30am and found a full parking lot. We had to park along the side of the road on the way back out from the trailhead. Wasn't that big of a deal and it was very easy to make a quick escape after the hike was concluded. The trailhead for Half Moon Pass is at the end of Tigiwon road, at the end of the parking lot. There's another trailhead there but they are both marked well so it's easy to see which one you want.
The trail up Half Moon Pass is beautiful. The actual trail itself is easy on the feet. Though it starts a little steeper than I would have liked, it's manageable and there are plenty of Aspen trees and wildflowers to distract you.
From the top of Half Moon Pass, there's a relatively small decline for a whlie before the steep switchbacks start.
Around 12:40 the thunderstorms rolled in with lighting. We were able to see it coming in quick so we prepared our tarp and found some cover. We weren't set up for two minutes before the rain and hail started. About 15 minutes later the storm was directly over us with cracks of lighting and thunder. Thirty minutes after it began, the storm moved past us and we continued on the trail. It wasn't log after that we made it to East Cross Creek. Total time over up and over the pass to the creek took us 2 hours and 15 minutes.
The creek is the only location along the entire trail where there is water. We each carry a 32oz water bottle and 16oz backup pouch. We also brought a 2L camelback pouch with backup water because we read about so many people running out of water. Because we camped and brought our filter to fill up at the creek, we were actually good. We used the camelback water to cook with and just used our water bottles and backup pouches for the Half Moon Pass section, the hike up to the summit, and then back over Half Moon Pass. We refilled our water bottles at the creek twice the entire trip.
I was pleasantly surprised by the camping sites. I thought it would maybe be more or less a flat area with a few spots around in a circle or something, but these camping spots were amazing! They were individual spots that had their own trails back off the main trail. This allowed for privacy at the camp sites and also, when you're hiking through, you still have the feeling of being in the wilderness without having to hike past a bunch of tents and people. We arrived around 1:15pm and there were plenty of camp sites available (on a Saturday!). We chose camp #4 which was just past the creek. We were close enough to the creek that we could get water easily. The site was high and had a steep incline to reach the spot where you can pitch your tent. It was large enough that you could maintain distance from tent to cook area. Benefits of this high camp were that it was dry after the storm because it was elevated and also it was above the trail so we could kind of see people hiking by but they couldn't see us. Downside is that it was very open and exposed so not a lot of shade when you would like it and you'd have to be careful using the bathroom at night not to fall off the ledge. But you have a beautiful view of Notch Mountain and can see the summit of Holy Cross! (I'll skip the specifics, but imagine here a speech about LNT in regards to toilet paper at the camp sites.)
We hung out (literally, we brought our hammock) at camp until about 4pm when the storms starting moving back through. From there we hid in our tent, did a crossword puzzle and played cards until about 6pm. We cooked under cover of our rain fly and ate dinner in the tent. Worried about bears for a second and then figured even if we got eaten by a bear, it was worth it because the experience was well worth it! We went to bed around 7pm. It was still raining but the weather promised to be clear after about midnight. We did bring bug spray with us and wore it this night but didn't have to use it the second day. I think our camp spot was high enough away from the creek that we escaped mostly unscathed.
The next morning we woke up at 1:30am under a full moon. We made and enjoyed our coffee and breakfast (highly recommend the Breakfast Skillet Pro Pack by Mountain House) for a while before packing up to head to the creek for water. After a leisurely morning, we hit the trail around 2:50.
The trail from the creek to treeline was fairly moderate. Even in the dark you can tell when you start to reach treeline. It took us about 1 hour of hiking before we reached treeline and took our first break. Once we hit open skies, the wind picked up and we had to layer up a bit.
There are a few boulder steps at this point- above treeline but before the talus field. The trail steepens but there's still a good bit of dirt that you are walking on.
Once you reach this point the dirt mostly goes away and you're pretty much on the boulder steps until you reach the flat area at the top of the ridge.
From the top of the flat area of the ridge, it steeps considerably as it get to Angelica Couloir. This was a hard part for me because I thought the ridgeline that I saw was all I had to climb. Halfway up the ridge it flattens and crosses Angelica. We caught a beautiful sunrise from this point.
From here the trail turns in to a Class 2 scramble. Fun! Don't get me wrong- I was pretty tired and bummed we didn't make the summit for sunrise, but I always enjoy a nice scramble. Ten minutes in to it though, I was contemplating my life choices. I had developed an alpine cough and it considerably slowed me down since I was trying to keep my breath to keep from coughing. That taken in to consideration, it only took us about 20 minutes to scramble up the steepest part of the hike. The most magical moment came when I emerged from the shadow of Holy Cross summit in to the sunlight and saw that we had made it! Three hours and thirty minutes from the Creek to the Summit.
We were the third group to reach the Summit on Saturday morning. One couple and one single and then us! The five of us shared the summit for a little while and after about 15 minutes we had the summit to ourselves. We climbed to the south of the summit and just had fun monkeying around, drinking our summit beer, and taking photos for about an hour.
At about 7:30 we began our descent. About this time was when everyone else was on their way up. It took us longer than expected to get back to our camp site because we were going downhill and had to keep stopping for people coming up. We bought trekking poles prior to this hike specifically to help us on the way down the boulder steps. Very useful and would highly recommend.
We were very cautious on our ascent to watch where we hit treeline and where we came up on the ridge, after reading so many stories of people losing the trail and getting lost on their way back down. Those stories must be old because the trail is very well established the entire way (thank you CFI). I guess if you go straight down after the Class 2 section you could get lost that way- but I don't know how you wouldn't remember coming up along the ridgeline. Maybe people who didn't do their due diligence with planning and mapping? But regardless, the trail is very easy to see, even in the dark, and as long as you know the trail in is the same trail out, you'll be fine. Just be aware.
We made it back down to camp by 10:10, so it took us about 2 hours and 40 minutes to descend.
At camp we took our sweet time resting, airing out our feet, and refueling with lunch. Around 12:00pm we hit the trail back up and over Half Moon Pass. It took us the same time (2 hours, 15 minutes) to get up and over the pass on the way back. The rain started around 1:00pm but only sprinkled on us. I bet though, above treeline had a heck of a time, what with the wind and the rain that was probably hail that high up.
I can see how this would be a miserable day trip. We camped and really enjoyed spending our weekend in the back country. It was nice to get a break on the way in and on the way out. This was for certain the most beautiful 14er we have climbed yet.
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