Labor Day weekend offered the opportunity for me to tackle Mount of the Holy Cross, located near Minturn. Joining me for this trip was my friend Hieu Nguyen, who was attempting his first 14er.
Let me give you the specs on this climb for those that are interested. It is about a 12-mile roundtrip with a stout 5,500′ of ascent. Most of the route is Class 2 with some Class 3 on the final summit push. On my “14er difficulty scale”, I would give this a 6.
We set off from the trailhead around 6:00 am. Elk archery season had opened up and hunters were getting ready to enter the field for the day. The weather was overcast and rain squalls came and went over the course of the next 1.5 miles, a reasonable 1,000′ climb up Halfmoon Pass. Sunrise was gorgeous and contrasted vividly with the intermittent rain. Over the next mile, the trail dropped abruptly down to East Creek and continued its march to the west. We were offered amazing “Wow!” views of the mountain. It is this drop that makes this hike a moderate challenge, i.e., what lies ahead is over 3,500′ of ascent compressed in the remaining 2.5 miles to the summit.
The trail went straight up the northern ridge of the mountain, through the deciduous forest, before cresting the ridge. Here, we made a hard left turn and started up the ridge, quickly exiting the trees and hiking across a grass plain. By now, the weather had cleared a bit and the sunny was poking out. Zigzagging up the switch backs, we encountered more and more rocks and talus as the ascent became steeper. Our pace was slow, but steady.
The make-it or break-it point of the hike is the final push. After working around a massive bowl to gain an access point to the summit, you are faced with a steep 600′ climb over a boulder field, with patches of snow, to reach the goal. By now, Hieu was fighting through some painful cramps but with the summit so close and in sight, he made the decision to dig deep and push through it. I was real proud of him for not quitting. At the top, we snapped some pictures and refueled with food and water. The wind was howling and the temperature was in the 30s. I was keeping a weary eye on some clouds building to the south; we did not stay up there for long.
On the way down, we took our time so as not to get lost. My guidebook had warned this happens on ocassion among climbers so I was armed with my satellite tracker and had my Gaia GPS tracking our every move. Little bits of mountain rain hit us from time to time. Unfortunately, what goes down, must come up, at least in mountaineering parlance 🙂 Specifically, we had the 1,000′ climb back up Halfmoon Pass waiting for us. In fairness, it is spread out over 1.5 miles but it comes at a point in the hike where you want the day to be done. There is no other way out on this standard route. Surprisingly, we both felt, whether due to adrenaline or the desire to get more food and water back at the car, that this final stress test was not so bad. Then, it was smooth sailing all the way down to the car.
By the way, autumn is coming. I have noticed some aspen already changing to yellow, in addition to the snowfall up in the summits. In a few more weeks, autumn will be upon us. Congratulations to Hieu on his first 14er!