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Mt. of the Holy Cross

Difficult
 4.8 (26) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

Mt. of the Holy Cross is one of the most rigorous Sawatch 14ers and also one of the most scenic.


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Map Key

10.4

Miles

16.8

KM

Out and Back

13,968' 4,257 m

High

10,391' 3,167 m

Low

5,312' 1,619 m

Up

5,311' 1,619 m

Down

19%

Avg Grade (11°)

61%

Max Grade (31°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife

The Tigiwon Road is closed 8 miles below the trailhead for much of the year. For this reason, it is seldom climbed outside of summer.

The land manager requests dogs be leashed.

Overview

Although a Sawatch 14er, Holy Cross has a lot of character. After a long drive up Tigiwon Road, hike over Half Moon Pass and drop back down toward a stream. Camp here for the night or continue up. Reach boulder steps at around 12,000 ft and follow them up to a ridge along 13,600 ft. From here it's just a short class 2 scramble to the summit, which offers incredible views of the Sawatch, Gore, and Elk Ranges. This is truly one of the most scenic summits in the Sawatch Range.

This hike exclusively uses the USFS Half Moon Trail.

Need to Know

While a Sawatch peak with Sawatch terrain, this hike requires more vertical gain than many similar mountains and is also much steeper. Be prepared for a physical day.

As always, bring plenty of food, water, clothing, and sun protection, and be wary of bad weather above tree line.

Fast hikers can expect a roundtrip time of 5-6 hours although most folks will take 8-10 hours.

Description

From the small town of Minturn, just outside of Vail, drive toward Leadville on Tennessee Pass (US 24). Just before the first switchback and about 2 miles outside of town, turn right onto Tigiwon Road (clearly marked). This is a bumpy dirt road, but just about any vehicle can make it to the top. Drive up a steep mountainside for 8 miles, gaining over 2,000 ft. Come to the Half Moon Trailhead and park.

The remaining description is the standard north ridge route up Holy Cross. Hike about 1.5 miles up a moderate dirt trail with some roots to reach Half Moon Pass at about 11,600 ft. 13er Notch Mountain is up and to your left; Holy Cross will come into view shortly after you start down the pass. Drop down the clear trail on the other side of Half Moon Pass, losing pretty much all of the elevation you just gained, and coming to a stream at about 2.5 miles. You may camp here, although Holy Cross is an excellent day hike. But remember, you'll have to hike back up the elevation you lost on the pass!

Continue along some flat, rocky terrain for a bit before the grade cranks up, taking you up a rocky path switchbacking through the trees. The trees begin to thin out, and, by 12,000 ft, you'll be hiking up a rocky path devoid of life. CFI has maintained this trail very well, and there are even rock steps built into much of the path. This area is steep and draining, but massive cairns make getting lost next to impossible, and the ridge is not that far away.

At about 4.5 miles in, the ridge begins to flatten out. Follow the trail up and to the left to reach the summit. You only have about 400 more feet to go. The path fades out fairly quickly, and it's more fun to simply scramble up the class 2+ terrain just below the summit than to waste time looking for the exact path. Reach the top and enjoy 360 degrees of world-class views!

Flora & Fauna

This peak boasts stunning wildflowers down low, and very noisy pika up high.

History & Background

Holy Cross was first climbed in 1873 by William Henry Jackson, a then famous explorer of the American West. He named the mountain after its unique northeastern couloirs, which, when filled with snow, form a cross in the side of the mountain.

Contacts

Shared By:

Tyler Prince

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 26 votes

#249

Overall
  4.8 from 26 votes
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4 Star
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Recommended Route Rankings

#58

in Colorado

#249

Overall
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Photos

From the summit of Holy Cross, looking southwest I believe
Jul 28, 2017 near Minturn, CO
From the summit of Holy Cross, looking down to the Bowl of Tears
Jul 28, 2017 near Minturn, CO
Coming down Half Moon Pass heading towards Holy Cross
Jul 28, 2017 near Minturn, CO
Holy Cross comes into view after you make your way around Notch mountain.
Jul 31, 2019 near Minturn, CO
Looking up the ridge at Holy Cross
Jul 28, 2017 near Minturn, CO
Views from the 14,009 ft summit
Jul 31, 2019 near Minturn, CO

Weather


Current Trail Conditions

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All Clear 1 day ago See History
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Check-Ins

Jul 11, 2020
Rooster Miester
Camped at Cross Creek, site 3 is great, close to the creek and roomy. Tough by great climb. Was also our dog's 1st summit. FYI, cross not visible. 12mi — 24h 00m
Sep 7, 2019
Ramesh R
Jul 28, 2019
Daylene York
12mi
Jul 20, 2019
Joshua O’Connor
Jul 16, 2019
Reed Harrington
Jul 15, 2019
Mckall Mattis
AWESOME hike! Couple snow fields, brought microspikes but didn't need them. River crossing was a little dicey. Weather was perfect, summit was 10.4mi
Jul 14, 2019
Theresa Saenz
10.4mi — 10h 30m
Sep 3, 2018
Vee Naru
Camped overnight along the way. It was cold on the campsite during the night. Snowed while coming down during the afternoon. 10.5mi — 32h 00m