Where's Waldo?: Into the Mists on Zirkel

Where's Waldo?: Into the Mists on Zirkel

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 8, 2006
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer


Mt Zirkel (12180')- CO Rank 1206
Routt county, CO highpoint
Flattop Mtn B (12118')- CO Rank 1245
July 8, 2006
Park Range
19 miles RT, 5100' gain
via Slavonia TH (8360')
Participants: Ron Tagliapietra and Kevin Baker


Sorry, no imbedded pics on this report because none of them were worth submitting to summitpost on such a dreary day!

Fellow county highpointer Ron Tagliapietra from Chicago was in the state to knock off some county highpointers, so I hooked up with him on the remote Routt county highpoint, Mt Zirkel. Zirkel has quite a few accolades for such a low peak as it is the highpoint of the Park Range and is #14 on the CO prominence list. It also sits along the Continental Divide with its' gentle neighbor Flattop Mtn B. The one way distance to the summit via the Slavonia TH is a long 8.5 miles, but I thought we could easily dayhike it with favorable weather as the trail is fairly gentle.

The drive from Co. Springs to the Hinman campground north of Steamboat took about 5 hrs, and I met Ron there at around 9pm. He already had his spacious 4 man tent setup for us, so we it didn't take long to settle down for the night. With the recent onslaught of monsoon storms, I thought it would be best to shoot for a 5am start. We awoke at 4am, ate a quick breakfast, and headed for the trailhead.

Zirkel Climb

We were off at 5:12am as we only needed our headlamps for a few minutes. The long approach follows fast flowing Gold Creek, which had a couple tricky crossings to navigate. The clouds from the storm the night before never left, but it looked like they weren't of the electric variety yet. We made good time up the trail which climbs gently to Gold Creek Lake at 9500'. We took a break here and then continued on. At around 9800' the trail heads north and then traverses above the basin. The key junction is to turn left at the Frying Pan Basin trail junction. This trail climbs all the way to Red Dirt Pass at 11540'.

There were a few remnant snowfields to cross, but they were well consolidated and easy to cross. The only steep part of the climb is the 800' grunt to the pass from the top of the basin, but the switchbacks on the trail were nice. Ron was beginning to feel the effects of altitude at this point, but he did very well for coming from Chicago. As I waited on him at the pass, the wind really picked up and the clouds began to envelope us. For the next few hours, our visibility would be limited to 200' or so.

I figured we could easily make the summit before 10am, but the clouds would wreak havoc on our sense of direction. From the saddle, we headed northwest up a moderate slope to the broad, high plateau below the summit. I thought the plateau would easily funnel us onto the summit ridge, but we ended up way too far to the left. I got to within .3 miles of the summit and I cliffed out. I kept on going too far to the west and couldn't follow the direct line my GPS suggested to take. We finally figured out that we had gone too far left and picked out a faint ridge in the clouds which eventually led us to the summit. I topped out at 10:20am with a visibility of about 50'. It looks like there were big drops on three sides of Zirkel, so it was too bad we were up here on such a dreary day. After some lunch and a few summit shots, we headed down at 11am.

I visited the 2 false summits and noticed a glass jar wedged in the rocks on the lowest one, but I couldn't extract it. The lowest one is quite exposed on the highest rock. We didn't have any problems on the descent to the saddle, as I paid attention to the GPS more. At the saddle we met a hiker who had camped high in the basin and was going over the pass. He got out his map so I could confirm that there was indeed a trail on the other side of nearby 12er Flattop. Ron decided to call it a day and I felt the tstorms would hold off long enough for a safe climb of Flattop

Flattop Climb

The only steep part of the climb is the first 300' from the pass. From there, it is an easy stroll across the relatively flat plateau to the summit on the southern end. I didn't wander around too much on the plateau as the visibility had improved and I topped out at 12:53. The rain was beginning to pick up, so I only hung around for 5 minutes. I found the benchmark, so I was pretty confident I was in the right place.

The descent down the south ridge was a little more time consuming than expected as at one point I started going too far to the left. I quickly realized my error and climbed back up to the ridge proper. I finally made it down to Ute Pass and luckily found the trail as the rain was now coming down hard. Luckily I only heard some distant thunder and there was no hail. The descent down the muddy trail was uneventful until the stream crossing in the basin, which I just decided to ford as there were no other options.

The trail petered out on the other side, so I had to bushwack up the muddy grassy slopes to the trail at 10200'. I met Ron about 15 minutes later as I told him to head back up the trail at 2pm if he didn't see me. The rest of the way out went quickly as we both wanted to get out of the rain. We arrived back at the trailhead at 4:15 It was nice to salvage a couple summits on this dreary day, but it would have been nice to enjoy this remote area on a better day!


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