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Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross

Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross | 14er Route Info, Map & Advice

Of all the fourteeners, Mount of the Holy Cross has one of the strongest spiritual connections. Famous for the snow-filled gullies on its face that form a cross, it’s been a site of pilgrimage for Christians for over 100 years. Many climb to Notch Mountain to view the cross from across the valley, while others opt for hiking Mount of the Holy Cross itself. The Standard Route to climb the peak takes the North Ridge, avoiding the famous view of the cross, but providing the chance to camp near Holy Cross Creek as part of a two-day ascent. Plan your trip with my route guide and resources below.

Route Details:

TAKE CARE & STAY SAFE!

You are responsible for your own safety in the backcountry.

These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear. 

Hiking Mount of the Holy Cross: North Ridge Route

Prepare for your hike by reviewing my route description and map. You should also check out the weather forecast and current conditions on Mount of the Holy Cross using the links below. There are directions for reaching the trailhead, safety and leave no trace tips, information about the mountain, and some USFS guidelines and permit details. If you are travelling, you might enjoy my camping and motel recommendations in the area too. Safe travels on the trails!

Route Description

Start your adventure at the parking area by filling out a Wilderness Registration Card. Begin your hike on the Half Moon Trail, which takes you to Half Moon Pass after 1.5 miles. As you ascend, you’ll see the 13er Notch Mountain on your left. Once you reach Half Moon Pass, follow the trail as it gradually descends west. At around 11,300 feet, you’ll get your first view of Mount of the Holy Cross and much of the north ridge route to the southwest.

Continue over the northwest shoulder of Notch Mountain and descend toward East Cross Creek, dropping approximately 1,000 feet from Half Moon Pass. You’ll enter a forest near East Cross Creek at about 10,700 feet. If you plan to camp in the area, check the information sign for designated camping spots.

Cross East Cross Creek and head west on the trail. Navigate through several rocky areas and continue south through the forest to reach the tree line near 11,700 feet. The trail then leads you south and southeast to the crest of the ridge at around 12,100 feet. From here, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) has constructed an excellent trail up to 13,400 feet. This well-defined and cairned path weaves through talus fields, easing near 13,100 feet before continuing south along the ridge.

At approximately 13,400 feet, turn left on a less-defined trail as the terrain becomes more challenging. Near 13,700 feet, you’ll reach a notch at the top of the Angelica Couloir. From here, scramble east up the final, rugged 300 feet to reach the summit.

Remember, on your return trip, you must regain nearly 1,000 feet of elevation to get back to Half Moon Pass.

Route Maps

Route Map

Use this topographic route map to plan your climb. I recommend saving a copy on your phone and also printing out or bringing along a paper backup copy in case it runs out of batteries or dies while in the backcountry.

Elevation Profile

This graph shows the elevation change along the North Ridge Route on Mount of the Holy Cross. There is also data on the slope, aspect, tree and land cover along the route, useful information for planning your ascent.

Elevation Profile Mount of the Holy Cross

Route Photos

These photos show the North Ridge Route on Mount Holy the Holy Cross and can help you get a feel for the trail before you go.

Current Conditions

Looking for information on current conditions, like stream water levels or the amount of snow and ice on the North Ridge route? Check out the resources and links below to read condition and trip reports from other hikers and climbers.
If you cannot find recent peak condition updates using the links above, consider asking for an update in one of these online forums.

Weather Forecast

Weather conditions change rapidly in the mountains. Always check the forecast before you go so you can prepare accordingly. Below is the current National Weather Service forecast for Mount of the Holy Cross.

Half Moon Pass Trailhead

The North Ridge route begins at the Half Moon Pass Trailhead at the end of Tigiwon Road, north of Leadville, Colorado.

ACCESSIBILITY:

The trailhead is not maintained during winter and is typically open between June 21 and late November. The dirt road leading to the trailhead is accessible to most 2WD vehicles.

AMENITIES:

There is a small campground at the trailhead, the Halfmoon Campground, with seven sites available first-come, first-serve. There is also a small vault toilet at the trailhead.

NOTE: There is no drinking water and no trash service at the trailhead. Bring your own water and pack out all trash to dispose of at home.

Getting There

From Interstate 70, take Exit 171 and follow U.S. 24. Drive almost 5 miles and turn right onto the Tigiwon road. The turn is just before U.S. 24 crosses the Eagle River and starts to switchback up the hillside. The Tigiwon road is dirt and cars can usually make it to the trailhead. Drive just over 8 miles to the trailhead.

14er Gear List

Climbing any of Colorado’s 14ers requires careful preparation and the right gear to ensure safety and enjoyment. Here’s a comprehensive gear list for hiking Mount of the Holy Cross:

Essentials:
Optional Gear:
Winter Gear:
Clothing:
Footwear:
Communication:

Where To Stay Nearby

Spending a night before your climb near the trailhead is a great way to acclimatize and get an early start for your hike. There are options near Mount of the Holy Cross for camping and lodging.

Nearby Camping

There are great camping opportunities near Mount of the Holy Cross to spend the night before your climb. Here are some of the closest campgrounds and dispersed camping areas to stay at.

 

You can also hike into the Holy Cross Wilderness along the trail and pitch your tent anywhere within the protected area for free (follow Leave No Trace practices!).

Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Nearby Lodging

If you prefer staying at a hotel or motel, you’re in luck! Here are four of the best places to stay near Mount of the Holy Cross in Leadville, Colorado.

 

There are also a lot of Airbnbs and other short term rentals available to reserve in Leadville and Buena Vista, Colorado to consider.

Leave No Trace

When setting out to hike Mount of the Holy Cross, integrating Leave No Trace (LNT) principles is crucial for preserving the delicate alpine environment of this Colorado 14er.

The following section offers guidance on how to minimize your impact while enjoying the great outdoors:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Understand the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Check the weather forecast, and be aware of the terrain challenges you might face on Mount of the Holy Cross.
  • Preparation reduces the likelihood of resource damage and contributes to your safety.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Stay on established trails and avoid cutting switchbacks, which can lead to erosion.
  • In the alpine tundra, plants take years to grow and mere seconds to be destroyed by trampling.
  • If camping is part of your trip, use designated campsites at lower elevations to minimize impact.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack out all your trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • It’s essential to carry a bag for collecting waste.
  • For human waste, dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, trails, and camp. Cover and disguise it when finished.
  • Pack out all toilet paper and hygiene products.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past; examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species by cleaning gear and boots before and after your hike.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts in the alpine environment.
  • Use a lightweight stove for cooking and a lantern for light.
  • If fires are permitted, use established fire rings, keep fires small, and burn all wood to ash.
  • Put out fires completely and scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed them. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Control pets on a leash at all times, or leave them at home.

Be Courteous to Others Outdoors

  • Respect other trail users and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Use headphones, not bluetooth speakers, and keep your noise down.
  • Give uphill hikers the right of way.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • If stopping, move off the trail to allow others to pass.

Incorporating these LNT principles into your 14er adventure is a commitment to conserving the mountain for future generations to experience and enjoy. By acting as stewards of the land, we can all contribute to the sustainability of the natural beauty that draws us to these heights.

Learn more by reviewing our complete Leave No Trace Guide for 14ers.

Safety Tips

Like any fourteener, Mount of the Holy Cross has numerous hazards that may be unfamiliar to those new to the mountains. Prioritize your safety with these essential tips:

  • Acclimate to Altitude: Spend a day or two at a lower elevation near Mount of the Holy Cross to get your body used to the altitude. Altitude sickness can be a serious concern and can strike regardless of fitness level.

  • Check the Weather: Mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable. Before you set out, check the local weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes. Start early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms common in the Rockies.

  • Stay Hydrated: At high altitudes, your body dehydrates faster. Carry plenty of water — a minimum of 2 to 3 liters per person — and drink regularly throughout your hike.

  • Research Your Route: Take time to review trip reports, route descriptions, maps, and photos to help you navigate in the field and know if you are on the right track.

  • Dress Appropriately: Layer your clothing to adapt to the variable conditions. Include a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating layer, and a waterproof and windproof outer layer. Don’t forget a hat and gloves, even in summer.

  • Stay on the Trail: For your safety and the environment’s protection, stick to designated trails. Shortcuts can lead to erosion and habitat destruction and can also put you at risk of getting lost or injured.

  • Know Your Limits: Mount of the Holy Cross’s terrain can be challenging, with loose rocks and steep sections. If you’re not an experienced hiker or if you’re feeling unsure, consider hiring a guide or joining a group.

  • Emergency Plan: Have a plan in case of an emergency. Inform someone of your route and expected return time. Carry a whistle, a mirror, and a small first aid kit. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon (PLB) is advised for remote areas where cell service is not reliable.

  • Bring a Buddy: Never hike alone. Use the buddy system to ensure safety. If one person gets injured or sick, the other can go for help.

  • Share Your Itinerary: Tell someone dependable back home that you are climbing Mount of the Holy cross and share as much of your plans and itinerary as possible. Tell them you when you will check-in with them, and who to call if you fail to do so.

Respecting these safety guidelines will help ensure that your climb up Mount of the Holy Cross is memorable for all the right reasons. Stay alert, stay safe, and enjoy the grandeur of the Rockies. 

Learn more by reviewing our complete mountain safety guide.

Permits, Regulations & Guidelines

There are no permits or fees required to climb Mount of the Holy Cross at this time. However, as the peak gets busier and the impact grows, the risk of closures and permits rises.

Please follow LNT and safety best practices to preserve free and open access to this amazing 14er.

Wilderness Area Guidelines

Most of the north ridge route crosses through the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which has special guidelines and regulations to protect the pristine character of the region. Please keep these in mind during your climb.

  • Camping is allowed in designated areas only and must be at least 100 feet away from any water source. This is to protect the water from contamination and to preserve the natural habitats of the local wildlife. Make sure to pack out everything you bring in and leave no trace of your campsite.
  • Group size is limited to 15 people or less. This regulation helps to minimize the impact on the environment and ensure everyone can enjoy the wilderness experience. If you plan to hike with a larger group, consider splitting into smaller groups.
  • Dogs must be leashed at all times to protect wildlife and the experience of other visitors. Not everyone is comfortable around dogs, and loose dogs can disrupt wildlife and damage sensitive habitats. Always clean up after your pet and dispose of waste properly.
  • Always respect the wilderness. The Holy Cross Wilderness Area is a special place, and it’s important to preserve it for future generations. Follow all regulations, stay on the trail, and respect the plants, animals, and other people you encounter during your hike.

 

By following these guidelines, you’re not just protecting the wilderness, but also enhancing your own experience and that of other hikers.

About Mount of the Holy Cross

Mount of the Holy Cross, named for the distinctive cross-shaped gully on its northeastern face, stands at 14,005 feet. It is located in the Sawatch Range of Colorado and is one of the 53 fourteeners (mountains exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation) in the state.

The mountain offers various routes for hikers and climbers, with the North Ridge route being the most popular. The mountain’s stunning beauty and the physical challenge it presents make it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

HISTORY:

Mount of the Holy Cross has a rich and intriguing history. Its name comes from the distinctive cross-shaped gully on its northeastern face, which is often filled with snow and visible from a distance. This natural feature captured the imagination of early settlers and explorers, leading to the mountain’s christening.

The peak was first ascended by an official survey team in 1873, led by the famous western photographer William Henry Jackson. The mountain’s beauty and the allure of its symbolic cross made it a popular destination for pilgrims in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

GEOLOGY:

The geology of Mount of the Holy Cross is indicative of the rugged nature of the Sawatch Range. It is primarily composed of granite and gneiss, which are both hard, durable rocks that can withstand the harsh alpine weather conditions.

The mountain’s famous cross feature is a gully carved out by millennia of glacial and water erosion, which becomes filled with snow during the winter months. The surrounding terrain also features talus slopes and exposed ridges, presenting a challenging and varied landscape for climbers.

FLORA & FAUNA:

The area surrounding Mount of the Holy Cross is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species. Alpine wildflowers such as alpine forget-me-nots, sky pilot, and moss campion bloom in the summer months, while marmots, pikas, and bighorn sheep can often be spotted in the rocky, high-altitude terrain. Birds such as the white-tailed ptarmigan and Clark’s nutcracker are also frequently seen in the area.

Photos

Here are some photos of Mount of the Holy Cross, including its famous cross-shaped snowfield on the East Face of the mountain.

You can also find additional pictures in our route description above.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some common questions related to Mount of the Holy Cross. If we have no addressed your question yet, leave a comment and we will get back to you with more information and an answer.

A: Typically, it takes a full day to hike Mount of the Holy Cross. For an average hiker, the round trip can take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours, depending on fitness levels and weather conditions.

A: Yes, Mount of the Holy Cross is considered a challenging hike. The trail involves steep climbs, high altitude, and some rough terrain. It requires a good level of physical fitness and proper acclimatization to high altitudes.

A: The standard North Ridge route on Mount of the Holy Cross is considered a Class 2 hike. This means it involves off-trail hiking and slight scrambling, but no technical climbing skills are required.

A: It’s named for the distinctive cross-shaped snowfield on the northeast face of the mountain. This snow formation, visible from a distance, looks like a giant cross and inspired the mountain’s name.

A: No, you can’t drive to the summit. The mountain is located in a wilderness area, and the closest you can get by car is the trailhead. From there, it’s a strenuous hike to the summit.

A: The elevation gain for the standard North Ridge route is approximately 5,600 feet from the trailhead to the summit.

A: Absolutely! Despite the challenging hike, the stunning views, unique cross-shaped snowfield, and the sense of achievement make it a worthwhile endeavor for many hikers.

A: Mount of the Holy Cross stands at 14,005 feet, or 4,268 meters, making it one of the 100 highest peaks in Colorado.

A: The best way to see Mount of the Holy Cross is to hike the Halo Ridge route. This provides fantastic views of the mountain and its famous cross-shaped snowfield from the top of Notch Mountain. However, you can also see the mountain from various viewpoints along the Tigiwon Road.

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Notice: The material presented in this route guide may not be comprehensive or precise and should not be solely relied upon when planning your climb. Inadequate experience, physical fitness, supplies, or equipment may result in injury or fatality.

The Next Summit and the author(s) of this hiking guide offer no guarantees, neither explicit nor implied, regarding the accuracy or dependability of the information provided.

By utilizing the information herein, you agree to indemnify and absolve The Next Summit and the hiking guide author(s) from any claims and demands against them, including any legal fees and expenses. 

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Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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