It was the wettest, stormiest, and darkest 14er we’ve done. And we dragged my sister, Caitlin, the Chicago flatlander along for her first trip above 14,000 feet.
We chose Holy Cross because it lends itself to backpacking and we wanted to get out into the woods a good ways. Christine and I had climbed it last year on Labor Day and despite the fact that you go up-down-up-down-up-down, we loved it.
We left Denver Saturday afternoon once Christine had finished work. We took a couple of cars as Christine was hoping to sell her Jeep on the trip as well to a family in the high country. Due to all of these activities, we started later than we intended to from the trailhead, but we had headlamps and were meeting some others who had already established camp in East Cross Creek so we weren’t concerned.
And then it started raining. Then it kept raining. And kept raining. We kept telling Caitlin, it’s Colorado, it’ll be a quick shower and then it’ll pass. Nope. It rained for the entire 1.7 mile climb to Halfmoon Pass. It took us 1:12 to reach the summit, which is approximately 1300 feet above the trailhead. Not too shabby on the time category considering conditions.
Thankfully, the rain tapered off at the summit of the pass, but now we had another variable to deal with: darkness. We put our headlamps on and began to work our way down to East Cross Creek. Our spirits had lifted since it wasn’t raining anymore. Almost to the point that the darkness didn’t bother or concern us.
As we started to reach the bottom, the trail became a bit tougher to follow and some cliffs appeared on our right that I didn’t remember from the last trip. Everything is a little more fearsome in the dark when you can’t see the bottom. Around the same time, Caitlin began being quizzed on her beau Tom. I’ll save that information for another day!
We arrived at Campsite 1 to find the Zelkins huddle in their tent attempting to stay dry. They had been rained on heavily as well prior to our arrival. Ultimately, we covered 3 miles in 1:52 which was about the same time it took last time in much better conditions.
Camp was frantically set up and dinner made and enjoyed. Nothing like black bean soup to warm you up after a cold hike and some hot chocolate before you head to bed.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any pictures from the first part of this hike as the priority was to be dry!
We were up at 6 the next morning, hoping to be on trail by 7. The sky was still cloudy, but it wasn’t raining. The clouds did make me nervous as the morning began, but I hoped they would burn off as it warmed up. It took as a while to get packed and going. Everything was some level of damp if not downright wet. We laid a lot of our clothes/gear on the rocks behind us hoping they would dry off. It was mildly successful.
We finished our oatmeal and coffee and it was time to cross East Cross Creek. Unfortunately, Kris, Amanda, and the new pup Merlin would not be joining us as Kris had sprained his foot towards the end of the hike last night. It was going to be chore enough just to get out, much less summit and get out. We left camp at 8 am, an hour behind schedule. More on that later.
The trail was beautiful and steep as it meandered through the campsites and we arrived at treeline 50 minutes after leaving camp.
The summit of 14,005 foot Holy Cross plays hide and seek for much of the climb. We had snuck a brief peek on our hike in the night before. Caitlin was impressed to say the least. She had returned to hiding until we approached treeline where she revealed our goal for the day.
We had budgeted about 1 mph to reach the summit and we were right on pace so far. Having gotten a late start, there were plenty of people around us, but it wasn’t unreasonably crowded.
We continued to maintain our 1 mph pace as we reached the ridge. The trail is excellent up here, but the air is rarified and we begun to feel the affects. Our breaks increased both in frequency and longevity even though the steepness had relaxed. Their simply is not much oxygen to breath this high, especially if you haven’t ever been this high or haven’t been this high in a few months.
As you reach the ridge, the terrain eases. Holy Cross is “only” 14,005 feet tall so one of the benefits is that you reach 14,000 and you are there unlike some of it’ Sawatch friends where you can spend a mile or more above 14,000 feet. We worked our way across the ridge to the base of the summit approach where the Class 2 climbing began for the last pitch to the top.
It’s only slightly more than half a mile from 13,400 to the summit, but it takes over 35 minutes to find our way. Clouds are starting to build around us, but they aren’t of the worrisome type…yet.
After some rock hopping and plenty of breathing brakes, the terrain begins to ease and we find ourselves standing on the summit of 14,005 Mt. Holy Cross.
The summit was beautiful and airy. There were others up there, but not an overwhelming amount of people. We say we’re going to spend 10 minutes and head down. We spend 20+. Such is life.
We made our way off the summit around 11:15 a.m. Later than we’re used to, but certainly not unreasonable. It took us just as long to downclimb the Class 2 section just below the summit as it did to climb it, but after that, we were motoring along.
We were back at treeline 1:45 after leaving the summit. Pretty good time. But not fast enough. For the first time in my 14er experiences, the skies let us know that we had stayed past our welcome. Thunder became rampant. Rain began. Lightly at first with a drop here and there, ultimately opening up into a downpour. Throw in a couple minutes of hail and hiding under trees for good flavor and you’ve got a t-storm at 11,700 feet. It was intense but not overwhelmingly stressful…unless you were Casey, who hated every second. We were amazed by the amount of people who had passed us still climbing. Undoubtedly, the were scrambling for covered now.
As we set in the cover of a tree grove, we discussed our options.
1. Stay until the storm stopped
2. Hop from tree grove to tree grove
3. Make a run back to camp which was a little more than a mile away
We chose option 3 as the storm seemed to be abating. Everything we had was already wet so that ship had sailed. As long as the hail held off, we felt comfortable going for at as the trees provided plenty of protection from the thunder (we hadn’t seen any lightning).
We made quick and muddy work back to camp and reached our tents in the dry but muggy heat of midday at 1:45 PM, 5:48 minutes after we began that morning. Not too shabby when you consider it took us 5:35 last time WITHOUT an impromptu hideout under a tree.
We slowly broke down camp and packed our bags to camp out. We wanted to be faster but that just wasn’t happening. After an hour at the camp site, we left camp and worked our way back up Half Moon Pass.
We pretty much mirrored our pace from the day before and made good time to the summit of Halfmoon Pass. The initial climb is incredibly steep as you switchback your way through the first 1200 meters but it eventually grades out and you’re greeted with awe inspiring views of Holy Cross behind you as reach the summit.
The descent would be quick and painless if not for it being the end of a 14er. Due to the it being such, one experiences that sensation of an every retreating parking lot where you can never actually reach that moment of rest and relaxation. Today was no different, but at least we had beautiful trailside company.
We reached the trailhead at 4:45 and immediately unloaded our gear. We got driving down Tigiwon road as fast as we could since Caitlin was feeling the elevation. Thankfully, we made great time, kept my car in one piece AND sold Christine’s car, all in one trip.
The beauty and remoteness of Holy Cross is uncompromised. It was a blessing to share it with my sister.
Mt. Holy Cross Stats
Mileage: 11.5 miles
Time: 9;.5 hours
Elevation: 5600 feet of elev. gain.