Some peaks you climb once and want to be done with them. Others call you back again and again. Mount of the Holy Cross is one such mountain. Located deep in the Holy Cross Wilderness, this majestic peak was once a national monument, with snow that would linger in two gullies all summer in the shape of a cross. It even inspired a Longfellow poem, “The Cross of Snow.” Erosion has claimed the cross, but the mountain remains, elusive, secluded, waiting to be climbed by those willing to make a long day of it. Even if you’ve never been in this wilderness, you may have seen this peak from the Vail ski area, dominating the view to the southwest.
“In 2006, after reaching the summit even though it was socked in by clouds, I discovered what climbers have dubbed, “The Oops Trail.” Ascending, it’s easy to stay focused on your goal, for the summit is looming right in front of you. But downhill is when most climbers run into trouble. Led on by what appears to be an obvious route back to treeline, some hikers descend too early instead of staying on the ridge. I made that mistake and it cost me an hour of unnecessary scrambling to regain the ridge. I was lucky. Others have become hopelessly lost. Moral of the story: Getting to the top of the mountain is only part of the challenge. Getting home in one piece is sometimes the greater challenge.”
- The standard route is 12 miles, with 5,600 feet of climbing. That includes having to gain and lose 1,000 feet as you struggle up and fly down Halfmoon Pass. That’s a long day for legs. Break it up by setting up a campsite near East Cross Creek. You’ll be glad you spent some extra time in this wilderness.
- Be careful on the hike down to timberline. Though the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has improved the trail to make it more obvious, you can still become lost and drop too soon if not paying attention.
- Tigiwon Road, the dirt track leading to the trailhead, is closed from late November to June 21.
Recommended season(s): Mid-summer to early fall
—R. Scott Rappold