Mount of the Holy Cross (14,005′) Attempt | CO Rank: 51/53
Sawatch Range | Holy Cross Wilderness | Minturn, CO
07/03/20-07/04/20 | 11.16 miles | 4,420′ gain | Class 1 & 2
Another weekend without a summit…it was at this point that I started to feel that something was wrong with me. Why can I summit countless 13ers but can never seem to reach the summit of any 14ers? As discouraged as I felt, it was important for me to remember that I still got out and backpacked, hiked, and saw beautiful scenery I’d never experienced before.
My friend Allie invited Kyle and I on a backpacking trip to summit 14er Mount of the Holy Cross (so named for its cross-shaped couloir). We were already planning on doing something for the 3-day holiday weekend and this seemed as good an idea as any. We met Allie and her parents at the trailhead around 11am and sent Kyle (the fastest hiker) on ahead to snag a campsite. They are first come first serve and if the amount of cars at the trailhead was any indication, the camping area would be overrun.
I set out next to try to catch up to Kyle, followed by Allie and her parents hiking together. Surprisingly, I ran into very few people. The Holy Cross trail climbs steadily to Half Moon Pass before dropping nearly 1,000′ to East Cross Creek and the area’s only legal campsites. I had both my fingers and toes crossed hoping that Kyle was able to find an open site big enough for all six of us.
Half Moon Pass is just above treeline so I was able to see some of the surrounding peaks. Soon after I began my descent on the other side of the pass, I caught my first glimpse of Mount of the Holy Cross.
Unfortunately from our route we wouldn’t be able to catch a glimpse of the infamous Cross Couloir, but it was still a magnificent view. I eventually tore my eyes away and descended to East Cross Creek where I found Kyle at one of the ten campsites. Only two others were occupied. Allie and her parents met up with us soon after it began to drizzle, and we took our time setting up camp. Since it was sprinkling on and off, we all just crammed into one of the tents and played cards until it was time for bed.
We woke up early to be on the trail by 5:30. The forecast called for storms starting at noon and we needed to be back down by then. The trail started steep from the campsites and kept climbing up and up, connecting with and then following the north ridge.
We were making good time until I hit a wall. I hadn’t been feeling great all morning but I began to really slow down around 12,000′. I tried to keep up with everyone but I just couldn’t. I sat down to rest and immediately fell asleep sitting up. When I jerked awake, I realized something was very wrong. I was having a really hard time focusing and could barely put one foot in front of the other. I decided to head back to the tent to lay down, allowing everyone else to get their summit.
It was disappointing to have to turn around on yet another 14er, but I knew it was for the best. It took me forever to get back to the tent and I kept having to stop and sit down. There was no way I would have safely summited before the thunderstorms, if at all.
Everyone else successfully summited but they did experience some scary electricity. Thankfully no one was hurt and they all made it safely back to the campsite where I’d been napping. We originally planned on staying a second night but everyone was ready to go since it was only around 1:30. I was feeling much better and was finally able to keep food and water down, so it was an okay choice for me as well. We got camp packed up before it started raining, but it rained for most of our hike out. We climbed back up and over Half Moon Pass and made it back to a now fairly empty trailhead in just a couple hours, with plenty of time to stop and eat dinner together on our way home.
As disappointing and honestly infuriating it is for me to get bouts of altitude sickness at the worst times (like when I’m trying to summit) I know that I’ll keep trying and when I eventually do reach the summit, it’ll be all the sweeter.