on Holt Trail

18 days ago

You ever read stuff like the reviews on this trail here and go, "I'm not sure how capable these hikers are; their experiences are relative, so I'll give it a go?"

Heed the warning.

I am about 140 lbs and 5'7. I'm in the military. I have a scrawnier (ectomorph) build. I don't work out a lot but I am comfortable with hikes. I wear military-style boots. I carried my dSLR camera with just one lens, my knock-off GoPro, some water, an MRE, and a 100-weight fleece (which I was very glad I did, later). All this and some miscellaneous crap in a 5.11 Rush 72 Hour pack.

When I drove down to Mt. Cardigan, I found myself on the opposite side of the mountain. Decided to do a loop to get to it instead, so I hiked up the West Ridge Trail, then to the South Ridge Trail, then to the Skyland Trail, then went down on the Vistamont Trail. I took my left too early and went up the Clark/Holt cutoff trail, realized it really wasn't that difficult and figured that I didn't actually take the Holt Trail, so being just 0.2 mi from the summit at the start of the Hurricane Gap trail, I turned and went back down to meet Holt.

I knew I was on the right track after I saw the infamous sign. I proceeded.

The trail itself has many moments where you don't think it's a trail anymore. You start off the first half through an overgrown path and cross mossy rocks over a stream, holding onto a downed tree. You keep going and think, this isn't bad. And then you get to your first rock face with a simple yellow UP arrow with just a crevice to shove your boot into and hold onto.

And that's the easiest part of the rapid ascent.

You go up a lot of these rock faces that have grades of 50-60% with little to hold onto, and then some easier rock scrambles in between. It is very tiring (especially after having hiked all day) and I highly-recommend you take breaks. You will get to a point where you can't safely descend (if you wanted to, anyway). TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS. You can run UP the rock face in some parts, but there are a lot of others where the grade is more like 70%.

Also, the trail markers turn from yellow to white. Did anyone mention that? (I later realized that they did this to tell hikers what side of the mountain they were on, but I thought also that both colors are horrible choices for trail markings.)

You may lose the trail multiple times, because it is not marked very well between a few stints. I know I did... twice. I erroneously climbed a few spots where I had to carefully descend back... and scared as heck considering I had a backpack with my gear in it, treacherously pulling me back. (If you fall backward at all, there's nothing to stop you, save a few brush spots.) I honestly thought I was done for at one point, where I lost the trail and tried to climb upward with barely anything to grab... you will need a lot of upper-body and leg strength to pull and push yourself up. I had to rest a few times just hugging the rock face and pulled muscles in both legs... it was scary.

And each time you get past a stint like that, it eases up... and then you're presented with another rock face. Repeat this, again and again. TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS.

Like someone else said, it's like rock climbing, but without the gear. Which makes it, at times, terrifying.

I finally made it up but it was dusk at this point, so I don't have great photos. It is also very, very windy up there. The fire tower is a welcome site when you're on your last dregs.

There are cairns up there as well which help you guide yourself down to the West Ridge Trail. THIS trail is easy to follow down... I didn't even use a light for a while to preserve my night vision and just followed the developed trail.

I highly-recommend that you bring plenty of water in a SMALL pack and as minimal gear as you can. I do NOT recommend a large backpack as I did, and definitely do not recommend hiking Holt AFTER already having hiked most of the day. Have boots or good hiking shoes. I would not recommend gloves unless they are "sticky" with a good grip... you need to have finger strength to help pull yourself up. I would highly suggest you DON'T do this after rainy weather... the rocks can become very slippery, I'd imagine.

In hindsight, now that I'm over being an insignificant speck to nature, I do recommend the challenge, but be ready for it.