With an elevation profile that looks like an electrocardiogram and a 5,600-foot total elevation gain over the 12-mile hike, climbing the 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross is not for the faint of heart.
After traveling a little over 8 miles on Notch Mountain Road, the North Ridge route begins at the Half Moon Trailhead. A 1.5-mile climb to tree line takes hikers over Half Moon Pass, where a 1,000-foot descent down to East Cross Creek awaits. This is where hikers get their first look at Mount of the Holy Cross.
Mount of the Holy Cross gets its name from a massive cross-shaped snow field on the northeast face that is not visible via the North Ridge Route. Prospectors in the 1860s sought out the hidden peak’s cross, but it wasn’t until 1873, after several failed expeditions, pioneer photographer William H. Jackson captured the first images of the cross from the top of neighboring 13,237-foot Notch Mountain.
Backpackers can choose a more relaxed pace over two days by spending the night at one of several campsites nestled among aspens and pines along East Cross Creek.
The climb begins in earnest after the creek crossing, where the trail gets progressively rougher as it moves above tree line and through a mostly defined trail that leads to a false summit. While traversing the ridge, the gradient offers a bit of respite before the steep final pitch toward the summit. At around 13,700 feet Angelica Couloir drops off the ridge to the left before before the scramble to the top.
The Class II scramble to the summit finishes at 14,005 feet, where several 13ers and the runs of Ski Cooper can be seen from the top. Fellow 14ers Grays Peak (14,270’) and Torreys Peak (14,267’) lie about 50 miles to the east.
Route finding on the scramble back down is fairly intuitive, although rock cairns help guide hikers down the ridge, back into the trees, and over East Cross Creek before tackling the 1,000-foot ascent back to Half Moon Pass. After over 8 miles of hiking, the climb might feel twice as long as it was on the way out, but it’s a 1.5-mile downhill stroll through fields of wildflowers back to the trailhead from the crest.
As with any of Colorado’s 14ers, it is essential to get an early start to minimize the danger of afternoon thunderstorms. Mount of the Holy Cross carries an even higher risk because the return climb over the pass leaves hikers exposed above tree line later in the day. If hiked safely, the reward is well worth the effort that this mountain requires.