Peaks: Mt.Zirkel (12,180) and Big Agnes Mountain (12,059)
Resources: Summitpost, Trails Illustrated (Hahn’s Peak/Steamboat Lake), Phil Endicott Topo Map App (Mt. Zirkel Quad)
2016 ended up being a busy year. Wedding and condo sale took up the majority of the summer, but I did manage to tick off a bunch of 12ers I had alienated over the years. Zirkels had been on said list for a while. I admittedly have never visited Steamboat in any month other than the middle of winter. I figured with all the snow it gets, it would be pretty green. I was correct in that assumption. Other than getting stuck behind the usual jackasses that drive slow on CO-40 and a random delay over Rabbit Ears, it was a very enjoyable stroll up north. After grabbing a quick breakfast, I made way for Slovenia Trailhead north of town. If you follow ScottP’s directions on Summitpost, you’ll have no problem getting there. To make it a little more visual, take CO-40, drive through town, find the Moe’s BBQ on your right and take a right at the next light (CO-129/Elk River Rd),drive around 20 miles passing towns of Clark and Glen Eden and just as you see Glen Eden in the rearview, take a right on to CO-64/Seedhouse Rd and basically drive that to the end where you’ll find the surprisingly ridiculously popular Slovenia TH.
Lucky for me I took a day off of work since it seems that’s the only way to avoid all the weekend shitshows in this state these days. I nabbed a spot next to the trail, loaded my new Osprey Atmos 50 pack (since my old pride and joy Osprey Aether pack was stolen out of my garage) and was on my way. Very soon in to the trail you’ll come to a junction. Left to Gilpin Lake, right to Gold Creek/Red Dirt Pass. If you are here for a weekend and plan to climb a bunch of peaks in the area, it seems like Gilpin Lake is the way to go. If you want to hit Flattop and Zirkel in a day, take Red Dirt Pass via the Gold Creek trail.
You’ll pass Mica Lake junction not too much further down the trail (best way to hit Big or Little Agnes Mountain in a day). Remain on the main Gilpin Lake trail till you get to creek crossing around 9700-9800 feet. “Nelson’s” description and advice on where to camp on SP is sound beta. I ended up finding a spot just under 10,000 ft almost directly west of Pt.12,006. I dropped most of my stuff, set up shop and made a day pack to hit Zirkel.
I picked a very straightforward slope to ascend immediately south of Pt.12,006. It provides the most efficient access to the mellow plateau between Red Dirt Pass and Mount Zirkel. Once on the plateau, the terrain looks something like this:
It’s more or less a quick jaunt over to the summit, where you have a pretty sweet view of the Zirkel Wilderness to the West. Being a flat range by nature, the Zirkel Wilderness is a pretty jagged sub group more reminiscent of the Gores or HCW. And don’t let the crowds at the trailhead scare you, I’m pretty sure 95% of those fish at Mica Lake or daytrip Gilpin Lake. The backcountry sites were empty as were the summits.
Given I had nothing to really do at camp and the nice weather, I decided to make a long loop back to camp via Red Dirt Pass to Gold Creek, join up with the Gilpin Lake trail immediately south of the lake. This ended up taking longer than I thought, but the views of Gilpin Lake from the pass above the lake to the south were worth it I guess.
From the lake, I tried to make a beeline along the approximate contour of my camp waypoint, which kind of worked. I thought I stumbled upon a big cat den, but it ended up being a resting deer, which was anti-climatic. But returning home to some cold ones was certainly not….
Dinner was Buitoni 3-cheese Tortolini with parmesan cheese, genoa slices and tobasco with a side of Salt N Vengar Stacks, Brookside chocolate covered acai berry and a bunch of Countrytime lemonade. After the Superfan and Melvin’s, I was zonked and didn’t find any problem hitting the sack pretty hard.
Next day’s objective was Big to Little Agnes traverse. Loaded up the pack and headed further northwest up Gilpin Creek towards the eastern approach to Big Agnes. The valley up there is pretty incredible, it was filled with stuff like this….
I found an unnamed lake south of Big Agnes after following alongside Gilpin Creek up the basin, where I took a break before gaining the South ridge to Big Agnes. For some reason I took a route up the slope to a point along the ridge south of Pt.11,777. This put me a decent ways south of where I needed to be and added some moderately complex exposed traversing around the tower. Even in the right spot along the ridge, its around 400-500 feet of slogging to the summit of Big Agnes.
The summit of Big Agnes was surprisingly more exposed than I thought it would be. I had plans to traverse to Little Agnes, but upon peering down straight off the summit of Big Agnes, I realized this wasn’t happening. Drop offs on pretty much all sides and with a full weekend pack, I was rapidly losing motivation to drop a lot of vert to continue bagging peaks on this day. But I did find a sweet traverse from the internet of the nearby area, involving those jagged peaks from a few peaks before:
Instead I just dropped vert and made my way towards Mica Lake. You basically descend the South Ridge, locate Mica down valley, and find the path of least resistance heading West. I arrived at the lake soon after, took a few shots and followed the trail back to the car.
On the hike out I was finally able to appreciate how lush this area really was. The locals, or basically anyone I passed, were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met along a trail. They all seemed to have a deep appreciation and affinity to the Park Range, speaking about it with such enthusiasm. When I arrived back at the trailhead though, the 10 cars that were there 48 hours prior turned in to no less than 150 cars. At the risk of ending this TR on a sour note, I’ll save the choice words I had for the F-350 that flat out blocked the road (causing me to do a little off roading to get out of there). This was no Stevens Gulch though and I didn’t see any feces smeared on the windshield, instead a couple notes.
Moe’s BBQ fit the post-climb bill and since I wasn’t quite ready to return to civilization, I decided to take Poudre Canyon home with another calzone from DP Dough in the Fort, along with an IPA flight at Odell. Nokhu Crags at sunset provided a fitting end to a fun intro to the Mt.Zirkel Wilderness.
Thanks for reading.