Backpacking in the Holy Cross Wilderness, Part I
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an amazing deal for a 2-night stay at an awesome hotel in Vail, Colorado. I instantly decided to bribe my brother with a free hotel room if he successfully planned a decent backpacking excursion prior to semi-relaxing in Vail. Seeing that he is experienced in mountain things, I figured dragging him along would either greatly increase my chances of survival or greatly increase my chances of spastically falling backwards off a mountain to probable death. However, to his credit, he did keep repeating, “Now is a very bad time to fall. Mom would kill me.”
Anyway, he picked out a hike in the Holy Cross Wilderness, near Vail and Minturn. The first day consisted of hiking up to “base camp” via the Missouri Lakes Trail. I’ll deal with that portion of our backpack in this post.
The drive to the trailhead was not very convenient. It consisted of gravel roads, followed by sloppy, mud roads. While my car is AWD, I was not willing to subject it to the swamp pit-part of the drive. Instead, we parked on the side of the road and added a mile to our hike. New shoes vs. new car through the mud; it was a tough call. However, I think the road conditions made the trail even less busy.
The trailhead sits at an elevation of 10,000 feet. The first half-mile or so gradually winds up a gravel road, before becoming steeper and passing by the first waterfall.
After this, the hike becomes more intense (I only wanted to vomit once, but that may have been partially due to my backpack crushing my organs), with occasional respites through lush, green, FLAT meadows.
The trail often follows the Missouri Creek, which was quite active due to major snowmelt. There are quite a few well-constructed bridges, but also, a few crossings that only consist of a downed tree. Attempting these feats of balance with a heavy backpack is…ummm, exciting?
The hike to Lower Missouri Lake is approximately 3-4 miles (my sources vary) and ends at an elevation of 11,400 feet. We set up camp in an area between the lower and upper lake. More to come on that later…
I highly recommend this hike for backpackers or day-hikers. It was absolutely beautiful. It was also fairly secluded; we crossed paths with 2 people on the way up.
Directions to the Trailhead:
From I-70, pass Vail and take exit 271/Highway 24 toward Minturn. Drive 12.8 miles, and turn right on Homestake Road (it’s gravel). Drive 8 miles, and turn right on County Road 704 (there’s a sign for Missouri Lakes Trail). Continue for 2.2 miles to the trailhead.
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