Back in August, my husband and I planned a long weekend trip to Colorado to watch our dear friend run the Leadville 100. We had a few extra days to explore the beauty that is the Mountain West and thought why not check off hiking a 14er off our bucket list. Another couple of friends of ours did thorough research, and they deemed Mount of the Holy Cross would be the perfect hike.
The peak sits right at 14,009 feet, is considered a moderate, class 2 hike, there is camping the bottom. Plus the views (according to google) are incredible!
Keep in mind, I have never done a 14er, I merely dabble in hiking and the outdoors, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I trusted that my friends and husband wouldn’t ask me to do something that 1. They didn’t think I was capable of and 2. That would put me in danger.
And while I am here to say I survived the hike up Mount of the Holy Cross, I do wish I had known a thing or two before putting myself through 11 hours of hard and incredibly gorgeous hiking.
Mount of the Holy Cross: 9 Tips for Hiking a 14er
1. Hiking a 14er is hard, but it’s worth it.
Because my husband is a beast of a human and runs 50-mile races, I should have known him telling me that hiking a 14er is “easy,” really isn’t right for the rest of humankind. Before we left for our trip, I asked him for the 20th time, “Are you sure I can do this??”
Of course, he encouraged me and told me he had no doubt I could hike a 14er without acclimating to the elevation and barely sleeping the night before. He was right, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredibly difficult.
I wish he and the rest of my friends would have told me, “Monet, this is going to be hard, you’re going to be tired, it’s going to difficult to breathe, but damn that view at the top is worth it.” Because everyone kept telling me what a big deal it was not, I don’t think I truly realized what I was about to do.
So, for those of you that have never hiked a 14er, know that it’s no walk in the park. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to go into something thinking it’s going to be super challenging and come out saying, “Okay, that wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
2. Spend a few days acclimating to the elevation
We arrived on a Thursday around lunchtime and drove straight to the base of Mount of the Holy Cross.
We had a quick dinner with friends, and then set-up our campsite and prepped for our hike. If you don’t want to camp the night before your hike, the closest area is Minturn, about 14km from the trailhead or Beaver Creek about 15km. Your best bet in Minturn is to stay at Minturn Inn or Minturn Rentals. In Beaver Creek, it’s Village Walk 170 or Village Walk 102.
While places like Boulder or Denver are more popular spots to visit in Colorado, they’re way too far away to stay the night before your hike.
Either way, we had 18 hours max to acclimate before hiking up a mountain. That is not enough time. Yes, you can still hike a 14er, but your body is not going to be happy with you.
Thankfully, my friends were better prepared than me. My sweet pal Katie brought Nuun Hydration Tablets, to help with the altitude and made sure I stayed hydrated. Luckily, we had lots of water the entire hike, so never ran out, but make sure you drink lots before the hike and during!
And if you can, try to plan your hike after you’ve adjusted to the altitude for a few days – your lungs will thank you.
3. Camp at the base of the mountain
Luckily we decided to do this last minute, and it made our next morning much more manageable. All we had to do was roll out of bed, put on our head lamps, and do the climb. We did opt for a quick breakfast of hot oatmeal and a cup of joe, which I also highly recommend. Get an aeropress to make making coffee a lot easier!
I can’t imagine having to get up even earlier to get in the car and make the drive up to Mount of the Holy Cross. If you camp out at the base, it saves you time and allows you to get some extra sleep. Just make sure you buy a proper tent and not just something cheap.
4. Start early (very early)
Supposedly this is common knowledge, but your girl had no idea. It’s common for there to be lighting storms at the top of the mountains that can roll in extremely fast. Not to scare you, but just last year, multiple people died on hikes because they were struck by lighting. With all that being said, get up early and start the hike as soon as possible.
Mount of the Holy Cross took us 11+ hours to hike, and we were going pretty fast (so I thought). If this is your first 14er, start as early as possible so you can make it down the mountain before 1 p.m., and keep an eye on the sky to make sure a storm doesn’t roll in unexpectedly.
5. Bring layers and pack smart
Although it was the middle of August and pretty warm for Colorado, the higher you go, the colder it gets. I knew the temperatures would drop, but I didn’t take into account how much would change between my body warming up from working so hard, then the wind making my hot body cold.
I think we stopped a dozen times to change out or clothes, take layers off and then put them right back on.
Make sure you pack lots of layers. I wore the following:
- Sports Bra or Tank Top in one
- Wool Long Sleeve Shirt
- Fleece Jacket
- Wool Socks
I was super thankful to have so many layers because my body would go from super hot to cold in a matter of minutes. It’s nice to have layers that are easy to throw in your bag and that are lightweight as well.
You’re also going to want some of these things to make your hike a little easier:
- Head Lamp
- A Good Hiking Backpack
6. Don’t be afraid to slow down or take a break
Pride sometimes gets the best of me. Anyone else relates? Although I could barely breath and my legs were getting heavy, I often wouldn’t stop because I didn’t want my husband and friends to think I wasn’t in shape enough. I know it’s silly, but my pride was getting the most of me.
On top of that, when I would finally stop, I would be so upset with myself that I was slowing everyone down that I didn’t even enjoy the rest. Even more silly, I know. Looking back, I wish I would have slowed down when I needed, took a breather, and just stopped and enjoyed the views more.
7. Bring your dog – or someone else’s
To this day, we talk about how much fun our dog, Frankie, would have had on this hike. Plus, his stoke and happiness would have been so contagious to the rest of us. Luckily we saw a super cute pup at the top, and it was one of the highlights of the hike. He also alerted us when a mountain goat was trying to steal our food.
If you don’t have a pup, bring a friend’s dog with you. It’ll keep you motivated to keep going, and their energy will rub off on you!
8. You don’t need hiking boots for Mount of the Holy Cross
I hiked in a pair of trail running shoes I’ve had since high school, and my feet were totally fine. If you have weak ankles or need the support then, by all means, buy hiking shoes.
But don’t feel like you need to go out and buy all this gear for your first hike up a 14,000-foot mountain. Mount of the Holy Cross isn’t too intense of a hike, so you don’t need boots.
9. Bring poles
Although you don’t need hiking boots, I do recommend a pair of poles. My friend Nick was lucky enough to share one of his poles with me and I was very thankful for that. My husband didn’t use any poles the entire hike, so I think you could go either way. For me, I enjoyed the poles, and I think they helped me and my knees!
Have you thought of hiking a 14er like Mount of the Holy Cross? What did you think?
Check out some of Monet’s other posts
- 4 Reasons to Visit the Amalfi Coast in the Off-Season
- Sailing the Greek Islands on a Yacht: Paros to Ios
- Top 10 Travel Tips for Visiting Marrakech