The Zirkel Circle
August 12 – 19
During my second week in Steamboat Springs, the weather turns rainy, so it’s a laid back week. Monday I spend a few hours at the public library. I need to update Windows on the laptop and iOS/apps on iPhone and iPad. It takes a while to complete everything.
On Wednesday, I drive north to the town of Clark. One of the most popular hikes in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness is here – the Zirkel Circle. When I learned of this hike, I wanted to do it not only because of the great scenery, but I love the catchy name! The hike begins at the Slavonia Trailhead at the end of Seedhouse Road, at an elevation of 8,394ft. It is a loop hike using the Gilpin Lake and Gold Creek Lake trails.
Based on what I had read about the hike, I decide to go counter-clockwise around the loop. I head out on the Gold Creek Trail at 9:15am. It is evident that these mountains receive a good amount of precipitation. Ferns and moss are in abundance.
Also, there are a lot of blowdowns along the mountainsides from an event known as the Routt Divide Blowdown which occurred in 1997. According to a High Country News article, 120 mph winds blowing from the east crested the Continental Divide and blew down a swath of trees 25 miles long, covering 20,000 acres. An aerial survey conducted by the USFS estimated 6 million trees had been downed. Per the USFS, this is the largest known blowdown to occur in the Rocky Mountain Region. In 2002, wildfires burned about two-thirds of the blowdown.
The trail winds up the Gold Creek drainage, passing some nice waterfalls.
There are a few creek crossings. At this time of year, the water level is down. They are easy rock hops, with this one foot log bridge at 1.93 miles.
From the foot log, it is about 1 mile to Gold Creek Lake.
There is a lot of smoke/haze today, but it is still pretty. It is always enjoyable to hike to a nice destination like Gold Creek Lake.
From the lake, the trail continues up the creek to the basin.
Then turns north to the junction with Gilpin Lake Trail.
At this point the climb up the ridge begins, with many switch backs!
The trail flattens out at what I think is the basin for Gilpin Creek.
About a quarter mile or so across this flat, I see there is one more ridge to climb. The trail switchbacks up this steep, rocky ridge. The top of this ridge is the high point of the hike and is at about 10,750ft.
When you pop over this ridge an amazing view of a cobalt blue Gilpin Lake and the surrounding mountains greets you. On the right edge of the lake is 12,180ft Mt. Zirkel and the Continental Divide. On the left edge is 12,059ft Big Agnes (the namesake of Big Agnes Gear). Most people choose to do this hike counter-clockwise because of this view of the lake. The approach from the other direction isn’t nearly as dramatic.
I stop a few minutes at the ridge top to take in the view. From here the trail switchbacks down to the lake, with continuous views! If hiked in the opposite direction, ones back would be to the lake climbing up this section. I definitely prefer this way.
At one point, the trail traverses along this wall which is a greenish color rock.
I stop a while at the lakeshore to rest and have a snack. Very peaceful.
The trail continues along the north side of Gilpin Lake and then begins the descent along Gilpin Creek. The trail is exposed to full sun for much of the way due to the large number of downed trees. The afternoon sun is hot.
This also allows more wildflowers to grow.
I arrive back at the trailhead around 3pm, tired but happy 🙂 According to my MotionX GPS app, the hike is 10.26 miles with 2,701ft total ascent. A nice workout!
Thursday, I stay home. Take a walk about a mile up FS296 where I am camped. There are a couple nice meadows near the top and several established campsites. The road is too rutted and rough for an RV. But okay for a truck or SUV.
Thursday night rain starts and continues for most of the day on Friday and Saturday. So I am inside most of the time. Hopefully the rain helps with the nearby Silver Creek Fire. On Sunday I’ll be leaving this camp to head towards Grand Junction. I have had a great time exploring a new area of Colorado.