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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Solo night hike up Holy Cross

Date:   August 4, 2012
Mission:  Climb Mt. of the Holy Cross (elevation 14,005 ft.)
Who:  Solo
Length:  12.5 miles
Elevation gain:  5650 ft.

As I arrived around 8:30pm to a trail-head parking lot that was packed full of dozens of cars, with many vehicles lining the dirt road, I actually thought about turning around and going home.  I love hiking but the idea of hiking in a crowd always annoys me.  Thus the reason I have yet to do Long's Peak.  

My plan was to sleep in the truck at the trail-head, and wake around 3am and start hiking.  My plans quickly changed.  I took a parking spot 1/4 mile down the road from the trail-head.  I tried to go to sleep about 9:30pm, and many things kept me awake.  People arriving at the trail-head, moron drivers taking 20 minutes to squeeze into a small parking spot, people with headlamps shining in my vehicle, dogs barking and running around my truck, rain, and lastly, the straw that broke the camels back.  Music from two cars behind me, the base loud enough to hear over my headphones that I had on trying to block the noise.  So, that's it... packed up... headlamp on... on the trail at 11pm.

I decided to tell the people two cars behind that they were being rude with the music, they said "have a nice hike!" to which my reply was "go fuck yourself!"

Taken somewhere along Half Moon pass.
I started up the trail at 11:00pm now determined to see a sunrise from the summit.  It immediately became apparent to me that this was a great decision.  I was out here in the Holy Cross Wilderness, alone, at night, with not a soul in sight.  This is one of the many reasons I hike.  


The first portion of the night passed quickly as I made my way from 10,300' to 11,500' and the top of Half Moon pass.  By here, all my troubles of the day with I-70 traffic, rude people at the trail-head, etc. were gone lost in a nighttime view of the full moon with silhouettes of tall pines against a backdrop of barely visible mountain ridge-lines.

From the top of Half Moon pass, I dropped the 1000 ft. in elevation from there down to Cross Creek.  This was a relatively steep drop in a short distance and my knees knew it.

I moved quickly and silently by a few camp-sites along Cross Creek.  As I rose away from the creek, that's when it hit me like a ton of bricks. I needed sleep.  I had woken on Friday morning at 6:45am, and it was now Saturday at 1:15am and I was around 11,100' on the side of Holy Cross having already gained 1700 ft or so.  I stopped for a rest.  

I set my backpack down, lay down on my back and stared at the moon.  I closed my eyes and fell asleep for a bit.  The next thing I know, my back is cold... so I roll over onto my side...back to sleep.  No sleeping bag, just me a rock and a R1 Hoody and an Under Armor base layer.  Fast asleep, for another 20 minutes or so.  

I finally got up because I was getting cold.  It was 2:15am.  An hour of sleep and I was now ready for the summit push even though I had yet to make it to the tree line.

The lump the size of a computer mouse on my shin.
I plod along in the darkness just focusing on the silence.  I finally break out of the trees and it's highly motivating.  Here, route finding became a small challenge.  I lost the trail a few times, only to find it seconds later.  Somewhere around 12,200' I was standing on a large rock looking in both directions for the trail when the rock beneath my right foot gives way.  I sort of surf the rock down a couple feet, and CRACK!  

There was a boulder, easily 100 lbs or more, that was half on top of and half above the one I was standing on.  Anyway when the rock I was standing on gave way, this 100+ lb. boulder was also dislodged in this event, and it slides right into my right shin.  

Here comes the sun!
I scream several curse words into the silent night only to have a marmot somewhere about a hundred yards away reply with "squeak".   I push this boulder aside with a bit of a struggle.  I test my leg, and I am sure it's not broken, although it's very tender, so I pop two Advil, and onward I go in pain. 

I now hit the part of the trail that CFI has been working on.  Here the trail is now a sustainable trail resembling steps almost.  I actually think someone from has labeled this section "The Stairway to Heaven".  

I plod thru this section with the sky beginning to lighten behind me.  I realize that I am going to have to kick it into high gear to make the summit by sunrise.
Behind a wind block awaiting the sunrise.

I start pushing myself faster and the wind has now picked up to about 15 mph, just enough to make me cold.  I am cold and I need more layers.  I make it to the top of a gully where I stop to get more layers, and hydrate.  

I think it'd be almost better to watch the sunrise from here than from the summit.  Plus it's really cold now and even with gloves, my fingers in my right hand are starting to go numb.  I did not have my warm Mercury mitts with me.  I put some hand warmers in my gloves and duck behind a rock to get out of the wind.  

I decide that I'll just sit here for the next 10-15 minutes around 13,500' and watch this sunrise.

The views from here are phenomenal.  

As the sun comes up, the leg pain, my lack of sleep, the cold, all fades.

Almost here...


Beautiful alpine glow!

The sunrise fills me with energy and the last 400 - 500 ft of class 2+ scrambling is a piece of cake.  I hit the summit of my 22nd 14er at about 6:45am.

Me holding the "22" on the summit of Holy Cross

Summit views are always worth the pain & suffering

Looking east from the summit
I am the only person for miles.  I love being alone on a summit.  It's unexplainable.

I stayed on the summit for about 15-20 minutes and then began my descent.  I was hoping to descend quickly to successfully avoid all the crowds and the heat of the late afternoon.

The first climber I had seen all day.
Climbing down the ridge, I see in the distance the first human I have seen in hours.  The climb down the ridge would eventually be like passing a conga line of hikers.  There was at least 100 people climbing Holy Cross this Saturday, but only 1 had climbed it at night.

I praised the CFI volunteers who were out working on the trail on my way down.  Before long I was at the tree line and descending to Cross Creek again.  

The hike back up Half Moon pass is not difficult hiking, but it is slow going and mentally challenging.  My body was completely spent by this point, and the mere thought of gaining 1000 ft. to the top of Half Moon pass again was not pleasant at all.

But, it's the only way out, and it does at least offer some good views of the mountain you just climbed.
The summit of Holy Cross

View east from the top of Half Moon pass.
The descent from Half Moon pass all I could think of was food, and sleep.  I did destroy a Subway sandwich on the way home, and as with most of my climbs, my drive home in traffic was probably the most dangerous part of my adventure. 



  1. That is awesome. Amazing how rude and selfish people are though. I would have been pissed too trying to rest up before a long hike and those morons blasting music.

    What do you take with you when you hike a 14er? I see a walking stick and you're obviously layered. Well and I guess water.

    1. Different 14ers require different gear, but in general, I carry lots of water, the "10 essentials" (compass, map, fire, toilet paper, knife, etc.), food, warm clothing, rain jacket, extra wool socks, gloves, warm hat, sunscreen, trekking poles, first aid kit, a cell phone, a SPOT, and many misc. things like some para-cord, duct tape, Advil (for headaches which are common at altitude), in winter I add more warm clothing, stove (for melting snow), avalanche gear, goggles, snow shoes, ice ax, and crampons if the route requires. Lastly, route dependent, I will take a bivy, sleeping bag, and a helmet if I'm on a route with rockfall potential.