Mount Cirrus as seen from the slopes of Lead Mountain
Like many of the other peaks in this range, this mountain doesn't see as much traffic as many of its neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park summits. The approach is long and its slopes are lined with tiresome scree. Both of those aspects are enough to dissuade most of your typical day hikers.
For those that do choose to make the trip deep into the Never Summer's, they are in for a treat. This is a unique mountain that is much darker in color than most of its neighbors. It is at the head of a wonderful basin, Hitchens Gulch, and is flanked on its North & East by high and rugged ridges. If one approaches Cirrus directly, they will pass a beautiful high alpine lake, Lake of the Clouds. And to top it all off, you get to enjoy your surrounding views from a great summit.
This is a mountain that Rocky lovers, Never Summer enthusiasts, and any other peak bagger will thoroughly enjoy!
The Cloud Mountains
Mount Cirrus, as well as Mounts Cumulus and Nimbus, were named by James Grafton Rogers of the Colorado Geographic Board in 1914. Roger Toll, superintendent of RMNP added Mount Stratus in 1921.
In the midst of these is Howard Mountain, also named by Rogers. What is it doing there? Luke Howard was an English meteorologist, was the first man to classify cloud forms. In 1803 he identified the four forms whose names now adorn those peaks. It would be nice to think that this was the Howard for who the mountain was named. However, according to Rogers, Sour Howard was a prospector living on Cinder Creek, the location of which is lost to memory.
Source: High Country Names by Aarps and Kingery.
Thanks to Nelson for adding the info about the naming of these great mountains!
To climb this mountain by its most direct route, you will want to begin from the Colorado River Trailhead off of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. This trailhead is on the western side of the park about an hour from either east side entrance, and about 15 minutes from the Grand Lake entrance.
Follow the Colorado River Trail for one half of a mile to the Red Mountain Trail junction. Follow the Red Mountain Trail for another 2.8 miles until you reach the Grand Ditch (a large canal that diverts water from the west to the east side of the Continental Divide.). You will walk North (take a right) along the road beside the Grand Ditch for about 1.75 miles until you reach Big Dutch Creek and the trail into Hitchens Gulch.
Follow this trail up through Hitchens Gulch toward Lake of the Clouds. If the trail fades, just follow Big Dutch Creek (Lake of the Cloud's outlet stream), picking the best line through the terrain, until you reach Lake of the Clouds at 11,430 feet. From here, choose the "best" route up to the saddle between Cirrus and Howard.
(I did not approach the mountain this way, so if any of this information differs from reality, please let me know!! With that said, the approach via Lake of the Clouds looked direct and self explanatory).
The only permit required is a pass to get into the National Park. You can buy a week pass for $20, or an annual pass for $35.
Fees for admission.
When To Climb
This mountain is typically climbed from late June through mid/late September. A winter climb would be much more ambitious due to the harder approach. An axe and crampons would be desired. Be aware of avalanche danger in this area.
There are a few backcountry sites in the area.
Call the Backcountry Office, 970-586-1242, for specific details.
Routt National Forest
If you wish to camp on the wester slopes of the Never Summer Range, you should contact Routt National Forest.
USDA Forest Service
Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests
2468 Jackson Street
Laramie, WY 82070
To get the most accurate conditions on this mountain, it would be best to call Rocky Mountain National Park directly. 970-586-1206.
Note that the Never Summer Range get tons of snow and it can last well into the spring/summer. When other surrounding areas are relatively snow free, the Never Summer's can still be holding a considerable amount.