Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mount Zirkel Backpacking Trip

Brendon and I decided to celebrate his birthday with week of backpacking. We had a hard time deciding where to go because there are so many great options close by. We finally settled on two destinations. First stop, Mount Zirkel Wilderness area, second stop, Rocky Mountain National Park. Here are the highlight of the first few days in the Mount Zirkel area. Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area is located directly west of Walden, Co and north of Steamboat Springs, Co. Our original plan was to head out Monday and hike in from the East Boundary. We were about 5 minutes from the trailhead when I (DeNae) realize that I had left my hiking shoes at home. The trip we were planning would be pretty rough in my sidewalk surfers so we headed to Steamboat Springs to see if we could find a new pair. Brendon considered this mistake a real birthday present. He said "Now I have a free pass for when I make my next big mistake."

We were able to head into Steamboat Springs and find a pair that hopefully would work and then we altered our travel plans a bit and decided to hike in from the West side instead. We started hiking around 7pm (a late start) and thought we would see how far we could get before dark. Before we settled down for the night I pulled out a cupcake I had packed in and made the birthday official with a song and a candle. We decided to wait and eat cupcakes for breakfast, which was delicious.

Day two: We got up and started our hike up to Gilpin lake. We hope to spend time here around lunch,  and to try our luck at fishing. Our goal for the trip was to enjoy ourselves and find some time to relax. Sometimes we are known to pack in too much, and need a vacation from our vacation. It was a bit of a climb but we couldn't have asked for better weather. The lake was beautiful and a great place to stop for a couple hours. The first thing Brendon did was strip down and jump in. I did get some video, but will spare you from it. Luckily for the hikers behind us he was back in clothing as they rounded the corner. Brendon caught a fish on his first cast and was so excited that he literally yanked the little guy right out of the water...

We enjoyed our time at Gilpin Lake and then decided it was time to climb the pass and make our way up to the  abandoned Slovenian Mines to camp for the night. As you can see I am a little more excited for the challenge. I was feeling the new shoes, luckily I packed enough moleskin and tape to handle any situation.

Our camp for the night was in a beautiful area surrounded by tall peaks. For whatever reason it created the perfect wind-tunnel. We couldn't hardly believe the amount of wind. We quickly decided to get dinner and get in the tent. For convience I was talked into buying a few freeze dried meals to eat. (I usually like to cook our meals) That night's dinner was beef stew (which I don't recommend) After I poured the water into the pouch I though I would put the pouch into my fleece front pocket to help keep me warm. I though it was a great idea, while the meal re-hydrates it can double as a heater. It worked out fantastic until the zip-lock melted and beef stew started leaking all over my jacket. That was a low point for the day for me. I though for sure a bear would attack me in the middle of the night due to pungent beef stew odor I was sending off. We finally did get some sleep though. Here are a few photos we took in the morning. You may notice the chairs are sitting in. They were a great Christmas gift from our friend Blu. Since we carried them we really tried to enjoy them.

Day 3 Breakfast shots

 Our plan for the day was to hike up to Mount Zirkel, the tallest peak in the area with an elevation of 12,180 ft. We could see the trail switchbacks and we thought we could see the peak from where we were so we decided that we would skip the trail and just head straight up the hill. That worked okay until we got to the top and realized that Mount Zirkel wasn't visible from where we were and we still a bit more hiking to do. Even though it was a steeper route the views were incredible ...and so was the wind.

Can you see Brendon? 

This is the top of the first mountain we climbed. You can see Mt Zirkel in the distance.

Lake Gilpin in the distance.

DeNae on the way to the summit.

At the top.

We even had a bit of cell service.

It was totally worth the effort to get on top. We enjoyed the view, ate some fancy cheese and crackers and started to make our way back down. On the way down we spotted about 7 bighorn sheep. I doubt you can see them in the photo, but it was really awesome to watch them for awhile. When we got back to "camp wind-tunnel" we decided that we had better get a move on. We discovered a great place to camp and there was even enough break from the wind to have a small fire.

The Sheep are camouflaged right in the center of the photo.

We decided to enjoy the last day in Zirkels (Day 4 of the trip) with some reading and fishing before hiking out. We had a little water treatment test to see which method took longer and which water tasted better. I had my doubts about the MSR miox pen. I had my bets that we would be happier with the old reliable MSR sweetwater pump. Turns out the the pump won, Brendon even dumped his chlorinated water out and refilled with the sweetwater pump. The technology in camping gear is pretty awesome and we certainly enjoy carrying lighter packs with more luxuries. We obviously need to work on our angler skills, but we managed to catch a few small fish.

 The hike out was a nice way to end part one of the birthday week vacation. We both feel really blessed to have enjoyed our time together in the Zirkel Wilderness. We can't wait to explore more of the area again soon.