• Jessica Stough

Mount of the Holy Cross Hike - Colorado Fourteener (CO14er) Number Twelve

Does anyone else remember when I mentioned I wouldn’t let the blog get away from me? Well, I still haven’t, but I may have taken a bit of a hiatus. Over the past few weeks, we have been again readjusting to having a new little one in the house. Going from no children (unless one counts the dogs as such) to one at an age that craves attention all the time has been an adjustment for sure.


We have been working to better balance our time to continue to do the things that we love while also giving our new kiddo the attention she needs. For me, that unfortunately meant that blogging took a bit of a wayside as I worked through what my “groove” looks like as a mom. I must say, though, that I have accomplished creating a very successful chore chart – and the kiddo not only loves it, but is enjoying marking off the completion of chores!


With that, I know that people aren’t reading this to hear about our adventures in the home – they are reading this to hear about our adventures away from home! As promised, it is time that I complete my in-depth recap of our Mount of the Holy Cross hike.

 

The Night Before and Preparation


As discussed in my overall recap of the trip, we stayed the night at Halfmoon Campground prior to our trek. We got our tent set up just in time for it to start pouring down rain on us, so it was easy for us to go to bed fairly early that night to rest up for the big hike the following morning. We always make a point to stay as close to the trailhead as possible, especially for these bigger hikes. It is so, so important to make sure to get an early start for hikes above treeline – so the closer we camp to the trailhead, the longer we can sleep in while still getting an early start.


If someone is reading this and wondering, now, why is she saying it is important to get an early start for hikes above treeline? I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it is so important I’m going to share it again – Colorado mountains are notorious for having afternoon thunderstorms every single day during the hiking months. If someone is still above treeline when lightning and thunder roll in, they will have no coverage and be very likely to get struck by lightning. Go early, and get back down early, always.


With that, one of the next most important things for a long hike is, of course, fuel and hydration. According to this post from Healthline, a 120-pound hiker can burn over 400 calories in one hour of hiking at an incline of over 6%. For this particular hike, we were out hiking for over seven hours, so making sure to get proper nutrition while hiking is very important.


We pack our bags with as much water as our hydration packs will hold, along with 1-2 20 ounce water bottles (we also need to be sure Buzz is hydrated)! In addition to our water, we have a few go-to hiking snacks, some new and some tried-and-true favorites:



One thing we quickly learned when hiking was that we aren’t always in the mood for certain foods, but we know that we need to be eating. I found that it is much easier to carry a few extra pounds of food than to not have any hiking snacks that sound appealing. We also, obviously, pack treats and even a small thing of food for Buzz. We always sit at the top of the mountain to eat our lunch before trekking back down, so Buzz gets his own lunch while at the summit as well.


This year, Buzz’s hiking snacks and lunch consisted of:


I always just mix treats (Merrick and Zuke’s, along with whatever else we have) with some of Buzz’s normal dry dog food. That way, he is getting some treats but also some proper, whole nutrition while on his hike. Then, he absolutely devours the wet food (this year, it was his Wholesome Bowls) for his meal at the summit.


Once we had our bags packed and our outfits chosen for the hike the night before, we made one last weather check for the following day, then headed off to bed to try to get a good night’s sleep.


The Hike


The morning of the hike, our neighbor campers’ alarm went off at 3:30 AM. Technically, I might as well say that is when I woke up because I know I wasn’t able to fall back asleep before our 4:00 AM alarm went off a half hour later.


For those of you reading this, what you may not know is that I am very much a morning person – and Zac is very much not a morning person. I always think about that GIF of those two dogs when comparing how we both act in the mornings:

That being said, I am always bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on our ridiculous hiking choices at 4:00 AM. Zac typically is not, and takes a while to wake up. Even so, he somehow manages every time to rush around and get ready to head to the trailhead within 30 minutes or less. For our Mount of the Holy Cross hike, we had taken our pre-hike Excedrin (this is the only way I've found to avoid altitude headaches!), and suited up. We were headed to the trail by 4:30.


Starting so early means that we both have to be prepared with our headlamps – and Buzz has to be prepared with his night gear too. For this hike, we absolutely could not find Zac’s headlamp, so he made do with the light from mine, Buzz’s night gear, and a flashlight until daylight came (we did find the headlamp later, after the hike, for those interested).


We hiked for just under a few hours in the dark before the sun started to creep up behind the mountains around us. There is something so magical about a sunrise coming up behind and between surrounding mountains while out on a hike.

This hike was unique in that we not only had to hike up, up, up to the top then back down, down, down – but we actually had to hike down into a valley, back up, then down, and back up from the valley. Our hike’s elevation gain and loss looked like this:

We had reached the top of the valley by the time the sunrise greeted us, then started our trek back down into the valley. As we made our way to the bottom of the valley, we heard the slight babblings of a brook. We eventually greeted the brook, only to have to cross it over two single logs to continue on the trail.

Past the brook, there is actually a dispersed camping area for those who would like to split the hike up into two days. There are 10 designated first-come, first-serve spots right along the trail. More about those can be found here. We continued on our way past those camping areas, and were immediately met with the start of our main ascent.


There are a few different ways to get through the ascent toward the summit – either by blazing through it, thinking, “The faster I get to the top, the faster I get to start the descent” or by taking it easy. Buzz and I are both probably the blazing type, while Zac prefers to take his time – so we typically end up somewhere in the middle. I know, deep down, that it is better to take it easy too. With the dramatic elevation gain and the high-intensity hiking, it is safer to hike more slowly to help avoid altitude sickness.


We continued on our way, eating snacks and stopping for water breaks here and there, eventually making it up past the treeline for the final rocky ascent. Once above treeline, I always make sure to reapply sunscreen (those that know me know). As we made our way to the summit, we had a conversation that we have every time we hike a fourteener:


Me: Do you think that’s the real summit, or a false summit?

Zac: *barely looks, because he must’ve already been thinking the same thing* Definitely a false summit.

We continued hiking, and finally made it far enough through that we could very easily tell that what we had been looking at and evaluating was absolutely a false summit. The real summit had been hiding (as they do – those sneaky summits) behind that false summit, and was still a long ways away!


We trekked on and on (once above treeline, it feels like we are barely moving). It was during this rocky climb that I started looking more at my Garmin. I would walk for five minutes, in a direction that could only be described as straight up into the sky. Then, I would check my Garmin – only to find that it said I had not moved at all from 5 minutes before. I continued doing this repeatedly, finding that only about every other time would it even say that I moved at all.


That being said, we have no idea the accuracy of the Garmin data for the length of our hike. After the hike, we also found that it showed we had not even reached 13,000 elevation, so I know that the elevation was definitely off. Either way, we didn’t do the hike to share the Garmin data, but I shared this for another reason. When up that high above treeline, where everything looks the same and all that a person has their eyes set on is the summit ahead, it can really feel like all the hiking isn’t getting them anywhere at all. Just know that there is movement happening and, although it doesn’t look or feel like it, the summit is getting closer.

Finally, we made it to the summit, which meant it was time to soak in all of the amazing views. From the top, we could see two lakes below, multiple mountains on all sides, and sky for miles and miles.

There is something about being at the top of the highest peak around that makes a person feel like they are absolutely on top of the world. We ate our “lunch,” even though it was well before lunch time while we sat on the summit to revel in what we had just accomplished. Buzz chomped down on his wet food for his own fuel, and then he bounced around to greet a few other hikers as they started to reach the summit as well.

Now, one thing I will note for anyone planning to attempt this hike in the future is that there are three very obvious trail markers ahead, showing the way to rock scramble up to the summit. Do not follow all three – follow the first one straight to the third one. We followed from the first to the second to the third on the way up, but then took our own way back down from the summit.


Once we started heading back down from the summit, the way back down was so much easier with so much less scrambling. We just followed what looked like more of a defined, used trail and it was a lot simpler. Now, we think the second marker was for people coming from the other direction, since there is another longer hiking route from another way.


On the way back down, we didn’t need as many breaks, but continued to snack and drink water to make sure to stay hydrated and fueled. We saw a lot of hikers making their way up as we were heading back down. As per usual, Buzz greeted people and asked for pets and attention. Some shared their surprise at such a small dog doing such a big hike.


We chatted with people as we headed back down. One couple had camped in the valley, and shared that they were struggling to acclimate so they were taking it really easy. Another couple had a few kids with them, so we shared our "notes" about avoiding the second trail marker at the top to (hopefully) make their hikes easier.


Once we reached the babbling brook again, it was time to start climbing back up through the valley. We met another couple who was sitting at the top of the valley, taking in the scenery while they grabbed a snack. They pointed to a few marmots across the trail. I scooped Buzz up into my arms just in time for one of the marmots to start squeaking at him, seemingly asking him to “Bring it.

It's nearly impossible to see, but there were marmots everywhere on the mound in this picture. There was one super close to us too, but I only got video of him – no pictures.


Once we had gotten back to the top of the valley, though, we were really feeling the exhaustion of the up, then down, then up and back down again. We started to slow down a bit. It was during this time, as we were hiking back through trail that we had only seen in the dark before, that we started asking each other, How much further do you think we have? Do you remember that tree? I think I remember that tree; we’ve got to be close. This bend looks familiar … I bet we are right around the corner …”


The joke was on us, though, because I think somehow the trail was lengthened on the way back for us. I don’t know who had the time to play that joke, but they got us good – we kept going around those bends only to find more bends. When we had about a half mile left to go, I noticed Buzz had started limping on one of his legs. I immediately picked him up to carry him the rest of the way.


It was then, when I had started to carry Buzz, that little hail started to rain down on us. I kept Buzz as protected in my jacket with me as possible – and thank goodness it was small – but the hail continued for just a while before easing up and ending. All I could think, though, was about those people still up at the summit while it was hailing on them.


Finally, we saw cars through the trees – we had made it back to the trailhead! We got back to camp, grabbed some fresh, cold drinks, then packed up before making our way into town for some well-deserved food for lunch.


A final note: Please, please be sure if you’re planning to hike above treeline, especially in the Colorado mountains, to make sure to give yourself plenty of time to descend back down before afternoon thunderstorms – and always watch the weather while on the mountain. No summit is worth getting caught in a thunderstorm with nowhere to go.

 

Now, we have been back from vacation for about a month, and are adjusting to our life with a kid. I am constantly tired, have let some of my workouts slip these past few weeks, have not been hitting my step goals, and have had macaroni and cheese more times than I care to admit. However, we are getting there – and I'm told this is absolutely normal for parents! We are falling into our new routine and I know that we will get a good routine together as we continue on this journey – I’ve just got to be patient.


Until then, I think I’m going to try to sneak in a nap!


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