By Steve Lappin
Rising Sun started up the Holy Cross Trail at 9 AM on Saturday morning. Only 5 vehicles were ahead of us on the trail. We had three rigs in our group; Rob Meredith in his FJ-40, Lee (Guest from Hotchkiss) and Mary (from Vail) in a FJ-40, and Steve and Tim (Guests from Broomfield) in an 85 Four Runner. Rob's 1960 FJ-25 runs 33's, ARB's and a granny 4 speed. Lee was running 35's in his FJ with apparently similar modifications. I run 32's, ARB's and dual t-case on my Four Runner.
The lower section of the trail has become more difficult since my last trip in 97, but real obstacles don't begin until beyond the upper trailhead. A couple of tough off-camber steps have to be negotiated prior to the first real obstacle; a large point of rock in the middle of a side hill where most rigs high center. Next is the French Creek crossing; the first major obstacle and bottle neck. There is only one way to cross the creek so vehicles heading back down from the top must wait until the long line of late risers has passed. Going up we watched 4 rigs cross before us in good order except for a broken Birfield on a FJ. Our group got across OK, but we didn't realize how cleanly until later. After watching a jeep yank itís driveshaft apart and block the crossing we decided to head on up. There were about 20 vehicles lined up to cross by this time. Between the creek and Holy Cross City are a few minor side hills and the famous bog. The bog is no longer an obstacle thanks to 4x4 clubs who maintain the trail. Without the effort of these groups the road would probably have been closed by the USFS years ago. The Big Horn Jeep Club has adopted the trail and was setting winch anchors this weekend.
After a stop at Holy Cross City we continued up to the hardest section of the trail. Two of the final obstacles stand out; another VW sized rock on a side hill where my Four Runner always high centers (extremely tippy), and then a final granite slab/cliff to ascend. A brief shower made these final obstacles much more difficult. Trail end was an easy 100 yards above at the Wilderness boundary so we decided to head down as a major traffic jam was fast approaching. This last section of the trail is ideal for videos or photos or just plain rubber necking. The 200 yard stretch has 4 or 5 major obstacles with few turnouts. Iím sure there was a horrendous mob and plenty of action in this section later in the afternoon.
Suggestion for next year: Head up on Saturday morning before 9 AM, pitch camp below French Creek, watch the French Creek action, then hike the final mile up to Holy Cross City and to the upper section for more action. Later, when the mob has passed back below the French Creek crossing we would have the upper trail to ourselves.
We arrived back at the French Creek crossing to find about 20 vehicles still coming up so we settled in to enjoy the show. After an hour or so of substantial carnage we continued on down at about 3 PM, feeling pretty happy about our morning crossing. Note that we were the first group heading down while the last group was still heading up and they were heading for a major traffic jam above. This is where an early start really pays off. Life is sweet when "early" is 9 AM.
The French Creek crossing, while not the worst obstacle on the trail, is the first real crowd pleaser. There is only one rational line over the obstacles, except to custom rigs built only for extreme trails (the trailered, trick suspension, 40' crowd) none of which were on the trail that day. A few drivers tried the difficult line but all finally took the "easy" route on the left side, as we had done earlier.
After the last vehicle crossed we continued down the hill. We were the first group to the top and the first group out. We were down across the last major obstacle at about 3:30. At 3:45 Rob heard an emergency call on his CB about a hiker with medical problems. Rob headed towards civilization to contact Search and Rescue. Details later.