Friday, January 13, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Mt. of the Holy Cross

With the week o' sickness we're having here at Casa Schafer (flu for me, pinkeye for my son, and now my husband's throat is sore...), it's nice to think of healthier, happier times tromping the mountains.  So for this Thursday's adventure, I offer up Mt. of the Holy Cross:
Mt. of the Holy Cross (Sawatch Range, Colorado)
One of Colorado's 54 peaks above 14,000 feet, Holy Cross is in the Sawatch range of central Colorado, not too far away from the town of Vail.  I climbed it a few years back via the Halo Ridge route, which circles the Bowl of Tears basin beneath the peak and gives an excellent view of the Cross Couloir that gives the peak its name.  (The standard route up Holy Cross approaches from a different side and so you never get to see the couloir.)  Halo Ridge isn't technically difficult - it's just a lot of class 2 talus walking - but it's a hefty day trip, since you climb over three different unnamed 13K peaks along the way, and there's no easy retreat in the event of a summer thunderstorm. If you ascend via Halo Ridge and descend via the standard route as we did, the hike is 15 miles with 5,400 feet of elevation gain along the way.

Me on the summit of Holy Cross
Beautiful as the hike was, I also cringe a little when I recall it, since my Holy Cross trip also included my Most Embarassing Trailhead Moment.  Knowing the length of the route and the inevitability of afternoon thunderstorms in Colorado, my hiking partner and I wanted to start right at dawn.  Not wanting to get up at 3am to do the drive, we drove down the night before and slept at the trailhead. The Holy Cross trailhead doesn't have much in the way of official camping, so I slept in the back of my Subaru Outback, and my friend climbed the steep, forested slope above the road and found a spot for his bivy sack.  Now, we were far from the only people snoozing at the trailhead.  Hiking 14ers is a hugely popular activity in Colorado, so there were about 30 other Subarus and SUVs parked along the road with mine, all with folks sleeping in them.

Having spent my formative years in cities like D.C. and L.A., I dutifully locked my car doors before settling down inside to sleep.  At about 2am, I woke up, drowsily thinking I'd like to crack a window and get more fresh air in the car.  Since the Subaru has power windows, that meant turning on the car.  Too bad I forgot that locking the doors arms the car's security system.  The moment I stuck my key in the ignition, the car alarm went off: blaring siren, flashing lights, and all.  And the shock left me so discombobulated I couldn't remember how to turn the damn thing off.  I think I actually dug out the manual from the glove compartment; meanwhile, I could see annoyed, shadowed figures sitting bolt upright in all the other cars.

Finally, I got the alarm shut off.  Sadly, my hiking partner and I had agreed to meet at the car at first light, which meant I couldn't creep away so early none of the other trailhead campers would see me.  When I slunk out of the car at 5am, my friend stomped out of the forest and announced, "God, I hate trailhead camping.  Did you hear that racket last night?  Some utter moron set off their car alarm!"  I cringed deeper into my goretex and muttered, "Yeah...what a loser," and prayed none of the other car-campers stuffing gear into their packs would point and give me away.

Thankfully, nobody did.  And embarassment soon faded in the beauty of the day and the determination needed to scramble over acres of ass-kicking talus.  But I confess I've never slept in my car at a trailhead again (I find nearby spots where a tent can be pitched, instead).


  1. Halo Ridge isn't technically difficult - it's just a lot of class 2 talus walking

    So, Dev could do it in his sleep :)

    And only Colorado has "unnamed 13,000 foot peaks" :)

    Glad you weren't outed as the car alarmist, though!

  2. Yeah, Dev would've turned up his nose at Halo Ridge and gone right for the Cross Couloir Direct route (mixed rock/snow climb): :)

    Haha, yes, Colorado has a pretty crazy number of 13K peaks (see (But Alaska likely has way, way more!)