Mount Zirkel: Routt County High Point

After a busy week of moving, Sprocket and I were ready for some adventure. I had new teacher orientation last Thursday and when I got home, I did a quick workout and then we hit the road. Friday, I needed to take a final exam for a class so we spent the day exploring Steamboat Springs (and doing a little bit of studying). I treated myself to a fantastic dinner at Mahogany Ridge Brewery ($1 tapas! And a filet mignon!) before heading north to the trailhead for Mt. Zirkel.

First thing in the morning, the weather was looking a little bit dreary but I decided it didn’t look particularly threatening and I had several miles to hike before we’d start to climb out of the trees anyway. We headed up the Gilpin Creek trail which climbed very gently up into the basin.


When we reached the creek crossing where I was supposed to leave the trail, I waded through the very wet brush and eventually ran back into a trail. Turned out, it was the Gilpin trail. I didn’t really figure that out until I got to the sign that proclaimed “No camping within 1/4 mile of Gilpin Lake.” We’d not gone exactly the right way but it just meant traversing across and up to Pt 12006′ instead of straight up to it.

The clouds were still blowing in and out but I hadn’t heard any thunder or felt any rain so we continued climbing.

Eventually, we reached the saddle right below Point 12006:

A quick scramble took me to the summit of 12006 where I got my first view of Mount Zirkel. The ridge from Point 12006 was a quick and easy scramble and soon we were walking along easy tundra towards Zirkel.

Looking back at Point 12006:

I don’t know what it is about the alpine tundra but it seems to make Sprocketย so happy:

It didn’t take long to climb the last bit to Zirkel’s summit. The clouds parted just enough to give us some pretty good views:

Looking northwest to Big Agnes:

Zirkel’s southern tundra covered ridge:

Sprocket really does hate summit selfies. He even appears to be scowling here:

Since I wasn’t entirely sure if the weather was going to hold out, we didn’t linger too long on the summit (besides it was pretty windy). We rambled south to Red Dirt Pass Trail. The route out via Red Dirt Pass Trail and Gold Creek Lake Trail was longer by a little bit but made our hike a nice loop.

The descent on the Gold Creek side was also really gradual and through some nice open forest.

By the time we were approaching Gold Creek Lake at about mile 13 (according to my vivofit…which has proved fairly accurate), I was definitely feeling it. My legs had been a little sore to start the day but had held up pretty well. Sprocket took aย quick swim break at this very pretty little lake while I shoved an Epic bar in my mouth and we headed back down the last couple of miles to the car.

I really really enjoyed this hike. It was just challenging enough to be rewarding and was absolutely gorgeous. I’m so glad I got to explore this new area but like all the best hikes, it added to my list of mountains to climb: I can’t wait to come back for Big Agnes Mountain.

6 Replies to “Mount Zirkel: Routt County High Point”

  1. I know that most of your hiking is at high altitude but was wondering if you have every ran into bears while hiking at lower elevations that start your trip to the summit?

    1. I haven’t! (And I have *never* seen a bear out hiking, a couple of times in the jeep while in Montana, one along the highway in Maine, and in Smoky Mountain National Park but that’s IT.)

      I was actually thinking about that on this hike since the Gilpin Trail was pretty deserted and seemed like excellent bear habitat to me. I wonder if Sprocket might have something to do with that? Maybe they smell us coming and take off before we see them? I’m not sure this is actually the case because we surprise deer a bunch and I would think that they’d be at least as sensitive as a bear but who knows.

      I honestly don’t worry about it too much. I feel very comfortable with Sprocket and wildlife (he’s totally an observer not a chaser) and I’m way more scared of mountain lions than bears. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Love the photos in your blog. I hike with my 2 border collies on the east coast. We love adventures ๐Ÿ™‚

    We are heading out to Colorado for the first time next week. I’ve been wanting to go for a long time! The whole afternoon thunderstorm/hiking above treeline stresses me out a bit ๐Ÿ™‚ Our mountains are so much smaller here! And we’re lucky when we get views on a summit – because we’re always hiking in forests. I want to know what people who hike all of the time in Colorado do. Are people always waking up at 4-5 am to hike so they get off mountains by 11-12?

    1. Hey!

      Great question! And like the answer to most great questions, it’s yes. And no.

      I think I’ve started hiking before 5am twice this year and should have done it once where I got weathered off a mountain.

      I’m able to get away with a little extra sleep sometimes because Sprocket and I move fairly quickly. If approaches are long, however, that only goes so far. We also are fairly acclimated to the altitude so that helps as well. (As does sleeping at trailheads ready to wake and hike within about 5 minutes…)

      The other thing that I hesitate a bit to mention is that by about this time of year the monsoon pattern STARTS to breakdown. Next week won’t be as great as mid-September but generally August (especially the end of the month) is an improvement over July. BUT, like I said, I hesitate to say this because of course, you’ll listen to me and have a storm roll in at 10am!

      The best thing to do is to start early, be aware of the weather changing around you, and to not get summit fever. If thing start to change for the sketchier… Head. Down. There can always be more Colorado trips so don’t be stupid!

  3. Thanks for your comment. We are flying to Colorado tomorrow ๐Ÿ™‚

    Don’t worry – I won’t have a problem with summit fever when there are thunderstorms. In NY when there are thunderstorms, we just don’t hike that day – even though we are always below treeline. I’m assuming people DO hike below treeline during thunderstorms in Colorado? That still freaks me out ๐Ÿ™‚

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