Holy Cross

Sunday was the big day: the day dad and I would take my XJ on Holy Cross with some of the guys from Jeep-L. The plan was for the Jeep-L guys to meet at Camp Hale at 9:30am for breakfast, then hit the trail. Dad and I pulled into Camp about 9:20am and were directed to the V.I.J. (Very Important Jeep) parking area right beside the main entrance. V.I.J parking is a special section for special rigs, and sunday happened to be Cherokee and Grand Cherokee day. So, happily, I got to park right up in front and show off my rig, too bad I was only parked there for an hour…

After breakfast we caught up with Tom Zehrbach and headed to the turn-off for Holy Cross to meet up with the other guys. There were nine guys and six rigs in our group:

Tom Zehrbach (Denver, Colorado) ’95 ZJ, 4″ Tomken lift, PowerLoc front, open rear., Tomken front and rear bumpers, Tomken Rocker Skids, worn 31″ Goodyear AT/S tires.
Steve Dziuban & son Eric (Colorado Springs, Colorado) – ’97 ZJ, 5.5″ ORGS lift, D44 front w/ARB, D60 rear w/ARB, ARB front bumper w/ winch, Tomken rear bumper w/tire carrier, ORGS SuperNerfs, 33″ BFG MT’s.
Jason West & father Leon (Fayetteville, Arkansas) ’95 XJ, 5″ Rubicon Express/Tera Flex lift, Trac Loc rear, Custom 4×4 front bumper, Custom 4×4 rear bumper w/tire carrier, SmittyBilt nerfs, 31″ BFG AT’s.
Terry Howe (Colorado Springs, Colorado) ’83 CJ7, D44 rear w/ Detriot Locker, D44 front w/Detroit Locker, 4 inch custom lift, 33″ BFG MT’s.
Christo Slee and Fred Anderson (Denver, Colorado) ’86 CJ7, LockRight rear, 33″ BFG AT’s
Steve Smith (Denver Colorado) ’86 CJ7, 3″ SuperLift lift, EZLocker rear, 32″ BFG MT’s.

About 11am we pulled off the main highway onto the dirt road that leads to the trail head. At that point Steve Smith had the rear axle of his CJ pulled apart and he was repacking a bearing (apparently a 4x shop had goofed up working on a seal). Worried about being able to get home, Steve decided to park his rig at a campground and ride with Terry. So now there were only five rigs in our group. We headed off down the very bumpy and very dusty road to the trail head (with Christo in the lead since he was the only open top rig at the time) where Tom took the lead position up the trail. Holy Cross is a relatively hard trail full of boulders, holes, and off-camber fun that leads up to the abandoned mining town of…Holy Cross. It’s a one-way trail, so once you get to the top (or decide you’ve had enough) you have to turn around and go back down the way you came. For the most part I didn’t think Holy Cross was all that hard (atleast the lower portion), but when it was hard, it was really hard. I think it would be easy to take a less capable rig up there and get into some real trouble. You really need atleast 3″ of lift (4″ if you’re in an XJ/ZJ), atleast 31’s, a TAD or two of some sort, and good rocker protection and skid plates, oh, and a winch would be helpful too.

The first major obstacle before you get to Holy Cross City is French Creek. At French Creek you make a long, shallow stream crossing, then, with wet tires, you have to negotiate a section of large boulders and tire-eating holes. Some good spotting and a few well placed rocks had us all through without too much trouble.

Once we got to Holy Cross City we decided to keep going the last bit of the way to the top of the trail. Once you get past the ghost town the real fun begins…this 3/4 or so of a mile is by far the hardest section of the trail. On a particularly steep rock climb Christo’s CJ had some carb troubles and after some valiant efforts he had to resort to being winched up the rocks. This was the first time we had been forced to use a winch, but it wouldn’t be the last…

Near the end/top of the trail I managed to get my rig turned sideways on the edge of a three foot rock ledge, and to top things off, I’d high-centered the front end on the differential and a nerfbar mount. As Tom aptly put it, I’d gotten myself “into quite a pickle.” The winches came out a second time, and it took two winches (one hooked to my front by way of a tree, the other to my rear) and about half an hour to get my rig pointed the right direction and back down the ledge. At that point I decided (much to my dad’s relief) it was time to park the XJ and ride with someone else, but it was starting to get late and we still had to get back down the mountain (and we were all getting tired), so everyone decided we’d just turn around right there and head back down.

On the way back down the mountain we met a group of Camp Jeepers at French Creek that had a TJ with a broken axle, I guess and ARB, Dana 35, big tires, and rocks don’t make a good combo…the group was also winching a little white TJ over some rocks just past the creek, so we had to stop and wait for them. After some talking and winching the Camp Jeep group decided to pull over and let us pass. Since it was starting to get late, two of the rigs from the Camp Jeep group decided to tag along with our group and head back down the trail.

The trip back down was relatively uneventful except for when I turned into an off-camber obstacle a little early and caught a big tree in-between the crossbars of my Yakima rack. Tom hopped on my nerfs and gave me just enough room to clear the tree. Some of the guys from our group decided to take the upper exit route off Holy Cross and skip the last mile or so of the trail, but since we’d driven over 900 miles to run this trail, dad and I decided to stay on and finish the trail. Tom decided to follow us the rest of the way down also.

After we finished up the trail we met up with the other guys at the campground where Steve had left his CJ. We talked Jeeps, aired up our tires (I finally got to use a mighty York compressor, thanks Steve), and took a group photo. Finally it was time to call it a day, so we said our good-byes and headed off into the sunset on our way back to Vail. Holy Cross was definitely and awesome trail, and I can’t think of a better group of guys to have run it with, and, I can’t think of a better way to have ended Camp Jeep…

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