Distance: 12.5 km
Elevation gain: 1265 m View map Download GPS track
It's been 4 weeks since we last hiked in the Rockies (we spent some time on vacation in Nova Scotia) and we were very eager to get out today. So eager, in fact, that we got up at 4:50 am and were out of the house by 5:40, heading for the Highwood Junction area for a scramble up Holy Cross Mountain. The mountain derives its name from a snow patch in the shape of a cross that lingers long after the rest of the snow has melted from the mountain. The best ascent time is in the spring when the vertical part of the cross can make for a fun and fast way to descend over 500 m from the summit, which was exactly what I was hoping would happen today.
Holy Cross is approached via either the Grass Pass trail or Gunnery Creek. Gunnery Creek is the shorter of the two approaches and is the one we chose. There are also two common routes to the summit: The northeast ridge and the east scree bowl. Most scramblers ascend via the ridge and descend via the scree, but a few sections along the ridge looked a bit too difficult for Sandra and so we chose to ascend and descend via the scree bowl.
We started our hike up Gunnery Creek just after 7:00 am. I was pleasantly surprised that an excellent trail existed the entire way up the valley and our early start had us hiking in the cool shade until just before Gunnery Pass. On the north side of the pass we descended on trail through old growth forest for a short way, then left the main trail and followed bits of animal and people trail, contouring to the west around the southeast ridge of Holy Cross Mountain. Even when not on trail the going was very easy in the open forest. We reached the base of the mountain at 9:00 am, 2 hours from the car at nothing more than a moderate pace. We then crossed the drainage and ascended to its right, initially on grass and through trees, before emerging onto the scree slope. A few very minor cliff bands along the way were very easy to climb through or around and with care I was able to avoid most of the treadmill scree. Just 90 minutes from the base of the mountain I was standing on the summit! This was a bit surprising as trip reports on the web listed far greater distances and times than what we'd done. Instead of the reported 8-9 km to the summit, my GPS showed we'd traveled just over 6 km in just 3.5 hours, far less than the 4-5+ hours many report.
We stayed on the summit for an hour, lounging in the most perfect weather we've had in a very long time on a summit, then descended the same way we'd ascended. Unfortunately I didn't get to slide (glissade) down the snow as I'd hoped. The snow chute was much smaller than normal and was soft and broken in many areas, meltwater was running under it, and it was terribly unsupportive. Coupled with my inexperience on snow slopes I decided to forgo what just a few weeks earlier might have been an extremely fun descent!
The remainder of the descent was uneventful, although the wildflowers were in full bloom and necessitated many photography stops. Overall a wonderful re-introduction to the mountains after our hiatus in Nova Scotia!