Peak(s):  Mt. of the Holy Cross  -  14,005 feet
Date Posted:  08/23/2020
Date Climbed:   08/21/2020
Author:  Pedro F
 To Hike In and Camp, or Not to Hike In and Camp -- That Is the Question   

Holy Cross was the 16th 14'er for me and my flatlander lungs. After arriving in town the night of Wed 8/19, I hiked Sherman (SW Ridge) the morning of 8/20 to warm up, then headed over to the Half Moon TH. To get between the two, I had a choice of heading north on Hwy 9 then I-70; or south via Hwy 285 to Hwy 24. Despite being a bit longer, I'm really glad I chose the latter: I hadn't driven through Tennessee Pass before, and I gotta say: it's beauty is spectacular.

I turned onto the road to the TH. This was the first day that the TH road was reopened after roadwork was done. As TH reports indicate, this is a very smooth TH road...although there were still a few washout ruts in places where one must take things slowly. Plus, there are some blind switchbacks where if there was opposing traffic with both folks going at a fast clip, it would be problematic

Generally, a very smooth TH road

I arrived at the TH around 2:30pm. Having read the TR's before, I heeded the advice of many and decided to hike in and camp at the creek campsites, thus cutting out half of the distance to summit the next morning. The plan was to meet up with some local buddies for this, but due to that darn thing called work, they were delayed...and they informed me that they were not going to make it up to the TH in time to hike in and camp that night. Rather, they'd now car camp at the TH and meet up with me en route in the morning. I suppose I could have just waited at the TH for them and car camped as well, but I had schlepped all of my camp gear halfway across the country, and by gum I was gonna use it!

A great preview of your goal, from near half moon pass

It was sprinkling off and on at the TH when I left, but based on the radar, precip was stopping very soon, so I went forth. It's important to keep in mind that stretches of half moon pass are above the tree line, so you don't want to be caught up there when a thunderstorm hits. It took me roughly an hour and a half to get to the campsites. The switchbacks as you are approaching the creek have some pretty steep dropoffs (note: because of this, for those starting from the TH in the wee hours of the morning, I'd really advise against hiking this in the dark sans a headlamp...which some folks I'd talked to had done)

The ten campsites may appear to be right on top of each other, but they are actually a fair bit apart from each other

The campsites were fortunately only about half occupied. When given a choice, consider what sort of experience you want. For example: #1-#4 have the sound of the creek; #2 is very close to the trail and thus little marginal work to get to/from it; #4 is elevated and has a nice view of the stars; #8 is tucked in under a nice stand of pine trees; etc. At any rate, I picked an open site and promptly set up my tent. I was glad I did because within about 15 minutes it started drizzling and thundering.

My buddies were suppose to leave the TH at 4:00, so I set my alarm for 5:00 to be ready to leave my campsite around 5:15, when I figured would be about the time to intersect with them. I saw a couple of sets of headlamps coming down the switchbacks east of the creek, so this appeared to be working out really well. Until the headlamps made it to me and none of them were my buddies. Well, 5:45 rolls around and no sign of them. I had to get rolling cuz I knew it would be a really long day and I had a flight home to catch in the evening that I didn't want to miss. Fortunately I had told my buddies beforehand (under the correct assumption that there would be zero cell reception at the campsites) that if something had happened, I'd leave around 5:30 and they could just catch up with me (having better lungs than my flatlander ones, this should not be a problem).

It felt great heading out, being of course a lot lighter than the hike to the creek. With the forest fires in Glenwood to the west, it was a little hazy, but I never noticed a smoky smell. It was great to see the sunrise.

Sunrise over Notch

I saw some hiking activity below me gradually catching up with me as I was going. I thought it was my buddies, but alas it was not, it was just 1 guy. We were basically the same pace so we ended up hiking together from then on...a cool gent named Nick...nice when you can make a new acquaintance on the trail!

I see huffing and puffing in my future

We made the summit at 8:30. At this elevation, I was able to get cell reception, and a text came in from my buddies saying they were 40 min past camp. I knew I couldn't wait for them at the summit or else I'd have no chance of making my flight, so we agreed that we'd have to be content with crossing paths.


Nick and I departed the summit around 9:00. Yes, we did run into my buddies perhaps around 12,800', and after hanging out for a bit we went our own ways. I'd hoped that it would be a lot quicker to the campsite than the 2 3/4 hours it took me to get up (usually I'm around a 2:1 ratio up:down), but this took me 2 hours to get down to the campsite :(

OK so now it's a bit after 11:00 and I'm at the campsites. Nick went on his way while I decamped. Right about now is when it hits home that in a typical 14er, you'd be done with your hike. But nooooooo (said in John Belushi voice) still have 3 miles and 900' of gain to do. And you have to do it with your camp on your back.

Man, those switchbacks east of the creek are nasty. They would be no picnic even with just day hike gear -- but with lugging camp gear, I was pretty miserable. It really seemed to drag on, both on the upslope and on the downslope after half moon pass. I made it to the TH at 2pm.

Reflecting on this: although yes with a camp it was nice to be able to sleep in (relatively speaking), if I were doing Holy Cross again, I'd car camp at the TH, and just leave there at like 3am. Yes you're doing more mileage on the day of, but IMHO that is less of an issue than the grief of lugging your camp gear -- which you've used for only one night -- to the creek and back out. Being lighter, you'll be much quicker in the first leg to the creek and the last leg from the creek, to boot. Lastly, having a camp at the creek precludes you from taking the Halo Ridge route back to the TH, if you wanted to get some variety.

Two exceptions I can think of: 1) spend at least 1 extra day at the campsite, thereby amortizing your camp lug effort over more than one night; or 2) if you went with an ultralight camp setup consisting of basically just a hammock, rain tarp, and sleeping bag -- you'd have the best of both worlds

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

hike in
08/24/2020 07:38
I've always been a strong proponent of the long day hike rather than a two day camping hike. By the time you factor in the extra exhaustion from carrying all that extra weight and not getting a good nights sleep, you are better off doing it in a day.

Plus, regardless of what some people think, hiking in and sleeping at over 10,000 feet only hurts your acclimatization for the next day.

Hike in too
08/24/2020 09:59
I did the night hike-in for Belford/Oxford on August 22nd and I second your advice of leaving overnight gear behind if you can. While a quiet night under the stars next to a babbling brook (I hiked all the way up Missouri Gulch to the last available water, just below the Elkhead Pass / Missouri Mountain trail junction) was nice, plus it let me sleep in until 0430, the extra weight on my feet and quads was a killer when descending from Belford.


thx for report
08/29/2020 20:30
good info, heading out in a couple weeks, looks like the road will be easy.


10/06/2020 20:04
Thank you, this is helpful!
I appreciate you handling the question of whether or not to camp... especially THIS hike.

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