Mount of the Holy Cross
September 24, 2022
Colorado, USA

The Mount of the Holy Cross is one of fifteen 14,000 foot peaks in the Sawatch Range of Colorado.  

The Sawatch Range spans nearly 100 miles through central Colorado and forms a part of the Continental Divide. In total the hike is about 11.5 miles, 5,400ft, and took me 8.5 hours.

This was definitely the most difficult Colorado 14er I had attempted to date. It is rated as a class 2 climb so nothing too technical or exposed the entire way to the summit, but it’s a long one. I departed Silverthorne the afternoon before the hike from a hostel called The Pad. Highly recommend this spot, super cool vibe and a great coworking space.

ABOVE: The vista looking southeast from the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross

After driving through Minturn, CO on Highway 24 you turn off onto Notch Mountain Road for a fairly bumpy drive up to the trailhead.

While you could probably do it in a sedan I wouldn't want to, there were a few pretty bumpy spots and I was grateful for the Subaru. After passing the Tigiwon Community House (where a wedding was taking place) there are numerous campsite pull-outs marked with fire pits that are free and first come first serve. The Half Moon Campsite at the trailhead is $15 a night but I managed to sneak in the last free dispersed site about ¼ mile back from the trailhead where I car camped for the night. Would definitely recommend this as it made for a super easy morning getting to the trailhead.

ABOVE: Long morning shadows on the climb to the summit and the beautiful vistas looking north from the summit

After a quick breakfast I hit the trail around 4:50am. It was a clear cold night and I was happy I packed my gloves, buff, and heavy fleece (even though I knew I’d be sweating later).

I opted for the more popular North Ridge Route over the Halo Ridge Route (I found this article super helpful). The first few miles flew by as I hiked in a zombie/sleep state up and over the first ridge. I only saw a couple other climbers the first few hours of the morning. As I began the first descent over the first ridge I was looking at the mountains to my right trying to figure out which one was the summit I’d be climbing later in the day. As I came around the bend I saw the prominent peak of Mount Holy Cross and had an “oh shit” moment as there was no mistaking it. It’s a fairly intimidating peak and at first glance looked like something you’d need ropes and rock climbing skill for (you don’t).

I descended down into the valley and knew I had about 3,500ft ahead of me as the rocky ridge-line slowly came into view. A lot of people camp at East Cross Creek and knock out the first few miles up and over the first ridge the day before, but I would prefer the earlier start with a better night sleep and lighter pack whenever possible.

The trail was incredibly well maintained and marked the entire way up the mountain so kudos to the trail crew. As I made it up above the tree line the ridge-line up to the Mount of the Holy Cross came into view. The cairns made for really easy navigation over the big slabs of rock. It’s a good climb up but the path flattens out a bit just before the last 500ft of the final ascent up and around the back of the peak. This final ascent is steep and rocky but not nearly as bad as it looks on the approach. Climbing over these big piles of gray rock really reminded me of Mt Adams in New Hampshire.


ABOVE: The steep front face of Mount of the Holy Cross, the vista looking south from the summit, and the view from the ridge-line hiking up to the summit.

I summited just after 10am (about 5 hours up) and enjoyed a good thirty minutes at the top. The peak’s central location provides an amazing view of the Elk mountains, the other peaks of the Sawatch range, and Grays/Torreys to the east.

This was the most amazing 360 degree view in CO to date and well worth the work. There were great vibes at the top among all the climbers and the summit wasn’t too crowded. Really no comparison to the crowded summits on the Decalibron hike a few weeks prior. I’m sure that its greater distance from Denver and higher difficulty keep the big crowds at bay. My Mom and Aunt are alumni of College of the Holy Cross in MA so I was sure to take a pic of the marker, and I even met some other MA folks that were Holy Cross alumni at the top as well. Small world.

As I climbed down I saw a lot of groups on their way up. The sun was baking at this point and I was ready to get back under tree cover. I got back to the valley and the 1,000ft climb up and over the first ridge-line was tough just as advertised. I made it back to the car by mid-afternoon and enjoyed the beautiful Aspens changing color on the drive down Notch Mountain Road. I stopped at Rocky Mountain Tacos in Minturn (highly recommend) on the way out before making my way west to Moab. 

© Sean Packard 2022