Mt of the Holy Cross Standard Route

Not many Colorado 14ers are known for their spiritual legacy (despite many tribes noting such a connection), but Mt of the Holy Cross is one of several major exceptions. Famous for the snow-filled gullies on its face that form a cross, its been a site of pilgrimage for Christians for over 100 years. Many climb to Notch Mountain to view the cross from across the valley. The Standard Route to climb the peak takes the North Ridge, avoiding these views, but providing the chance to camp near Holy Cross Creek as part of a two-day ascent. Plan your trip with my Mt of the Holy Cross Standard Route Guide.

PLANNING A WINTER CLIMB? READ MY BLOG ON CLIMBING 14ERS IN WINTER CONDITIONS

Mt of the Holy Cross Fast Facts

  • Standard Route: North Ridge
  • Trailhead: Half Moon
  • Elevation Gain: 5,600 feet
  • Round-Trip Distance: 12 Miles
  • Difficulty Level: Class 2 Scramble
  • Range: Sawatch Range

Mt of the Holy Cross Standard Route Guide

Head out from the trail (ensure you’re on the correct trail, and not heading to Notch Mountain & Halo Ridge). The well-maintained trail will quickly begin to rise to climb up Half Moon Pass – be warned, you’ll have to re-climb this pass and its 600 feet on your way out. 

Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide

Once you’ve reached the crest, begin a quicker descent down to the valley floor. There are several steep sections here of switchbacks but the trail is solid and easy to follow.

Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide

As you near the creek you’ll reach an area that has a sign with marked campsites. Due to the large amount of traffic this area receives, you must camp in one of these designated campsites instead of camping out on your own. This helps limit the impact on the Creek area. If you are doing a two day trip, find an open site and setup camp. 

Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide

When you’re ready to summit, cross Holy Cross Creek. It’s a good opportunity to refill your water bottles as you won’t come across any water again without melting snow. The creek is a bit more difficult to cross in the spring months.

Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide

As you reach tree line, the route ahead becomes more obvious. Continue following the trail up the North Ridge of Mt of the Holy Cross. 

Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide

Near 12,200 feet, the trail becomes more rocky. Cairns, small rock piles, may help mark the path if you have problems following it. Watch for others ahead of you to find your way back. 

Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide

Near 13,350 feet, pass the top of a large gully that holds snow late into the summer. Traverse across its top and turn left for the final crux. This is a good place to stop and check the weather before you continue.

Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide

The final 600 feet crux lies before you – a scramble on a loosely defined trail up to the summit. Up here, the oxygen is thin and takes its toll. Take your time so you don’t trip and make your way up to the summit.

Mt of the Holy Cross Route Guide

Once you make it to the top, enjoy your accomplishment! Take that summit photo and enjoy amazing views in all directions, especially the Gore Range to the East. Make sure you head back with plenty of time to reach tree line before afternoon thunderstorms become a hazard. If you think I missed something, leave a comment here on the Mt of the Holy Cross Standard Route Guide below.

Mt of the Holy Cross Standard Route Guide

Hiking & climbing 14ers is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.

  1. Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
  2. Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
  3. Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
  4. Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
  5. Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.

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About the Author: Alex Derr

Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.