OverviewCirque Mountain is a 13er in the Sneffels range of San Juan Mountains. It is a non-technical peak, about class 2 scramble with a few class 3 moves near its top. It ranks as the 147 highest mountain in Colorado and the 221st highest mountain in the United States.
The nearest peaks are Teakettle, Mount Sneffels, Mount Ridgeway, Stony Mountain, Potosi Peak, and Gilpin Peak.
Cirque Mountain is 1.2 miles east of Mount Sneffels on the continuing range crest. It has gentle west ridge, but a rougher summit. The prominent cliffs when viewed from the north Blaine Basin, give obvious significance to the mountain’s name. It is best approached from Dyke Cole and the ridge.
Dyke Col is 13,040 foot pass between Kismet and Cirque Mountain. Though steep on the north side, it is a route between Yankee Boy Basin and Blaine Basin. It is named for the prominent rhyolite dyke on the Blaine Basin side. Dyke Col is also popular with back country skiers in May/June when the road to Yankee Boy opens, and is usually plowed to the "toilet trailhead".
From the town of Ouray, head south on US. 550, and turn right onto the Camp Bird Mine road. Cross the upper bridge over the Box Canyon at continue on the dirt road up Canyon Creek to a junction at 4.9 mile. Take the right fork (marked for Yankee Boy Basin), and head up Sneffels Creek to a parking area after 8.3 miles, at 11,350 feet. Note the road becomes progressively rougher as you proceed, and to drive to the parking area mentioned requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. There is a composting outhouse at the parking (= toilet trailhead). You can either park here, or continue further up the road if you have high clearance 4WD vehicle. Higher you go, rougher the road gets. You can opt to park at any chance you get per your comfort level of this road. I have driven all the way to the end, and if you want to make your outing as short as possible, continue until you get above the Wright's lake. Look for any pull out space and park.
I would like to mention that the road is very popular with jeeps and 4WD vehicles in the summer, and many companies based in Ouray operate trips into Yankee Boy Basin. Weekends can be pretty busy with traffic (and loud too). I prefer exploring this area off season or in the middle of the week. Also, the road is narrow at the higher sections and passing other vehicles is nearly impossible, so be prepared that you can get stuck in a traffic on summer weekends.
Red TapeThere are no fees to drive into Yankee Boy Basin. Parking is free, as well as climbing and hiking.
When To ClimbThe easiest time to climb Cirque Mountain is July, August, and September. The mountain should be free of snow, but as I mentioned Dyke Col (the col between Kismet and Cirque is popular with back country skiers), and the most skiers tend to come there in May and early June - the road gets usually cleared off snow up to the "toilet trailhead" at 8.3 miles from Ouray. The road is kept open during the winter up to Senator Gulch about 4.0 miles from Ouray. So, the mountain can be climbed any time of the year, it just depends how much effort you want to put into your approach.
RouteThe easiest route - Southwest Ridge - starts in Yankee Boy Basin and leads up to Dyke Col, 13,040 foot high. There are some grassy slopes on this first section of your hike, which are much easier to negotiate compared to scree slopes waiting for you higher up. The photo below shows the overview of the higher section of your hike. There is a faint trail and some scattered cairns. The trail continues on the north side of a small 13,000+ sub peak. From there, it is obvious where to go - just follow along the ridge to the main summit of Cirque Mountain. There are some short 3rd class moves on this section of your hike and a few switchbacks below the summit. The views from the summit are amazing! Enjoy it.
There is a sign in log on the top of the mountain, and a large cairn.
Watch for the weather. A long section of your hike is above 13,000 feet.
The approach from Blaine Basin is longer, but if you are into backpacking, and more rugged approach avoiding Camp Bird Road traffic, this could be your route. There is a faint steep trail leading to Dyke Col and then the trail joins with Yankee Boy trail.
The ridge between Teakettle and Cirque is very loose and steep, dangerous to negotiate. Protection for 5th class climbing is nearly impossible.
Camping is not officially allowed in Yankee Boy Basin, but I have spend a few nights in my car parked along the road, and even at the high parking lot at the end of the Camp Bird Road. I have camped in Governor Basin - below Yankee Boy basin in winter (had to snow shoe in since the roads were closed).
There are two official campgrounds in the lower section of Camp Bird road:
Angel Creek Campground
And remember, the town of Ouray offers plenty of different style of accommodations, including soaks in hot springs.