Peak(s):  Mt.Zirkel - 12,180 feet
Orno Peak - 12,133 feet
NW Orno - 12,027 feet
Post Date:  07/09/2013
Date Climbed:   07/05/2013
Posted By:  Matt
Additional Members:   12ersRule

 Scenes From Below the Seduction Line   

For the past few years, my Independence Day weekend has included either Big Peaks (Rainier) or 13er bagging trips to the San Juans. This year, things spun out a little differently, and long-neglected county highpoints (like those recently featured here in the TR section, thank you Brian Thomas) came to the forefront.

What the peaks featured here share is spectacular scenery off the beaten path trodden by the 'elevation snobs' among us (you know who you are).
I was fortunate to recruit Dave to come along. In fact, he suggested Mt. Zirkel, and I jumped at the chance.
The routes to the Ornos and to Zirkel are well-documented, so I will mostly let pictures tell the story here.

July 4th: NW Orno and Orno Peak

NW Orno: 12,027'
The (unranked) highpoint of Rio Blanco County
Orno Peak: 12,133' with 753' of prominence.
16 miles and approximately 3000' gain.

After being delayed at work on Wednesday, I dodged the evil mess of gaperdom that was I-70 between Evergreen and Floyd Hill, taking Clear Creek Canyon instead. Things only got better from there, and I met Dave at the TH around 9:30 p.m. We decided to start hiking around 0600, and morning came much more quickly than I'd have liked.
Still, having been to the Flat Tops before, I knew we had a gorgeous hike ahead, so I got moving and we hit the trail.

We started here, with Flat Top Mountain looking on

Our next goal, Mandall Pass, awaits at the center of this photo

Looking back toward Flat Top Mountain

Atop the pass, little flowers and big views abound

Nearing the "summit," which boasts a genuine county highpointer coffee can register

Orno Peak seen in the distance

Looking back at "NW Orno"

Dave heads for the summit of Orno Peak

A little class 2 fun leads to the summit


Colvill and Mitchler's Hiking Colorado's Summits trip reports for Rio Blanco County
LoJ Devil's Causeway and Orno Peak quads
Summitpost Orno Peak page

July 5th: Mt. Zirkel

Mt. Zirkel: 12,180' with 3,470' of prominence (CO Rank #14)
Routt County and Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Highpoint
17.5 miles and approximately 4000' gain

Most people do this one as a backpack, and that was our plan, at least initially. Having heard stories of how amazing this place is, I did not want to rush things. However, we underestimated the length of the Orno combo, and found ourselves in Steamboat Springs realizing that after getting our packs ready, hiking in, and hurrying to do so, we'd expend less overall energy and get more sleep if we just day hiked it. So, we did!
We arose at the ungodly hour of 0430, and were hiking by 0515. I had some trepidation about the length of the hike, given our efforts of the previous day, but this was Mt. Zirkel! I'd been waiting for this one for years.


Waterfall 1.5 miles in

First of several creek crossings

Gold Creek Lake (good camping spot at 2.8 miles in)

We were glad to have microspikes for parts of this

Looking back at our route

Red Dirt Pass

We ascended this grassy slope toward Zirkel

First look at Zirkel

"Peggy Peak"

Dave heads toward the summit ridge

Big Agnes Peak, one I hope to return for

Summit ridge rock

Looking back toward Red Dirt Pass

Old mining cabin

Chilly crossing of Gold Creek

The looong hike out went more quickly than expected, and cold beers at the TH rewarded us with hoppy goodness.
Thanks, Dave, for making a great weekend arise from the ashes of another plan.

Colvill and Mitchler's Hiking Colorado's Summits
LoJ Mt. Zirkel Quad
Summitpost Mt. Zirkel page trip reports for Routt County trip reports by kmaley and climbroutt

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

Supercharged summit     07/09/2013 13:32
Congrats to both of you - I've joined the burgeoning jealous, looky-loo tribe - been wanting to explore the Zirkel wilderness for awhile.
Great TR and pics!! The bait has become irresistible!
Plenty of seduction to be had below 13K.
Sometimes Plan B is just right.

Glad the electricity missed you.


Flew over that area once in a Cessna     07/09/2013 13:40
It looks as beautiful on the ground as I imagined from the sky. Lots of green tundra. Great photos!


Sweet     07/09/2013 14:19
Zirkel has been on my list for sure. Nice to see a report on this gem.


Thanks for writing this up     07/29/2013 18:29
Good times! Also thanks for the intro to GKnight. I picked up a 4pack on Saturday. I like!

Think that Zirkel is one of those must see places in Colorado. For me, it compared to some of the best on the 14er standard tour: Snowmass lake, the Bells, Willow Creek, Chicago Basin.

Good hiking with you. Lets do it again sometime!


Ye Olde Coffee Can Register ...     07/09/2013 16:37
What beautiful photos, Matt! And, nice of you to bring ”Dave” along. This one's for you ”Dave” ...

We did do that backpacking/camping thing for Zirkel (in fact, the climb ended up being a loop ... ended up climbing one route and descending another encircling the whole mountain). I really love the wildflower shots. You picked a couple areas that are seldom visited ... my type of trip. Thanks for posting. Happy trails, my friend!

Brian Thomas

Prominence Peaks Rule     07/09/2013 17:56
Zirkel and Big Agnes are on my short list, THANK YOU for writing this up.

I bet that felt really good checking that Zirkel box on your Lists of John checklist.


Incredible Photos     07/09/2013 21:36
Did you take a class over the winter?

Thanks for posting this Matt. I know you've been wanting this one for a while now. This looks like something that I need to share with a few of the young ladies in my life.

I was actually thinking of hitting Orno later this summer as a Dad-Daughter trip. Awesome timing!


Nice report     07/09/2013 21:41
with some great pictures. I loved Zirkel as well, and I guess I'll have to add Orno to the to-do list.


Oh dang!     07/09/2013 21:53
Yup, as usual Matt, you have awesome taste in peaks. More that are ”on the list” for me.


Mmmmm     07/09/2013 23:41
Some mighty fine photos there, sir. My wife and I are considering hitting the Flat Tops for the first time this weekend. Looks pretty seductive to me!


Comments     07/10/2013 01:30
James, I will admit to hitting the ”Enhance” button in iPhoto, but that's really it. I think good photos come from the person, camera, and being in the right place at the right time.
Sayre, it looks like you had a pretty memorable weekend yourself. Congrats!
Sunny, will this persuade you to end your elevation snobbery?
Anna, thanks. You two have pretty good taste in peaks, yourselves. Sorry I couldn't join in the IPW a couple weeks back. Maybe we can do something later this year?
Rick, Kest, thank you!
Scot, no class, just a new camera. We need to try and plan our Fall car camping extravaganza sooner than later this year, eh?
Dan, thanks. I think you will dig the Flat Tops. Just take bug spray. Let's try and get out this summer.
Presto Why does it not surprise me that you and ”the man” made a loop out of this? Let's do another WoB happy hour with cheap Mexican food some Tuesday soon.
Brian, I am sure you'll be as jazzed as I was to check that box when you get there. Thank you for your participation.
SuperPolok, thanks for the compliment. Coming from you, it means a lot!
Cameron, if you like the photos, then I am truly proud. I can only hope to follow in your footsteps.
Dave, thanks for making this happen. I look forward to our next outing!


Photos     07/10/2013 12:49
Wow, seriously, wow.

You always find some amazing places to walk around in, looking forward to hanging out in a ”Matt place” soon.


The road less traveled     07/10/2013 14:30
Gotta say, this is right up our alley, as we've been working on plans to get up there for the Zirkel wilderness experience. As Anna mentioned, we almost made it this past weekend, but the weather forecast took a dive. Long drive to get washed out. Now I wish we had, as it would have been good and appropriate to run into you out there. Jack Brauer has taken some great pics of the Sawtooth Range, Scott P has written good things about the area in the past, and now your TR confirms it: we need to get up there. We should put something together for later this year, maybe with Scot and crew, or for Big Agnes or some other off-the-beaten-path wilderness high point.

Nice pics btw!


Looks Great Matt     07/10/2013 16:53
Big Agnes is one cool lookin' peak. Nice photos and thanks for taking the time to share these unique areas with us!


Matt - no class     07/10/2013 17:05
Seems about right. E-mail forthcoming on car camp.


Soul searching, done.     07/10/2013 18:28
Elevation snobbery has a tenacious hold.
I'm gonna need an intervention

(Dave's already tried...)

Ridge runner

Zirkel     07/10/2013 19:41
I made a couple attempts to get up to the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness but was forced to bail on the hikes due to thunderstorms. I spent both times just driving the roads and scoping for good camping spots for ”next time.” Until then I'll have to live vicariously through your trip report. Congrats on getting up to a beautiful area.


Great Pictures     07/10/2013 22:05
Great pictures Matt. These mountains remind me of the Scottish Highlands. Beautiful area!


Awesome     07/11/2013 13:23
Great report and pictures, Matt. Let's catch over some hoppy beer soon.


Matt - Those are not 14ers!     07/11/2013 14:56
Why don't you take your anti-elevationism sentiments to another web site, huh!? In all seriousness, it looks like you guys had a fun time in a beautiful area.


Nice!     07/11/2013 20:35
Have to ask Dave.... what were the albums of choice?


Thanks for comments     07/18/2013 04:27
Darrin, you'll have to stop repeating 14ers to find a ”Matt Place,”
Kimo, thanks. The six photos on Brauer's website are enough to make someone want to head up there. I'd be game to go back for Big Agnes.
Scot: this is for you I was thinking of it as soon as I read your comment.
Blyth, we've been saying catch up soon for too long.
Richard: What are you doing these days?
Sunny, I will await reports of these low peaks...
, how's 4 Corners life? I hope you're making the most of it.
Hardtack: It's funny you mention Scotland. I watched one of the Highlander movies the night before I wrote this up.
Jeff, thanks for making July 4th weekend 2012 one for the record books. We did things right.


Wow!     07/12/2013 14:32
I was ”turned on” to the Mt. Zirkel area recently, and your TR makes me want to go even more. Great write-up. That's (at least) two awesome Fourth of July trips in a row for you. Keep the tradition going!


Pretty Noose     07/29/2013 18:29
by Soundgarden was on repeat loop all day for me, Mindy. Had some good tunes on the way to the TH though, lots of Streetlight Manifesto.


Missed this one     07/23/2013 15:20
Fantastic pics and report! I've been meaning to check the area out. The Big Agnes > Zirkel scramble doesn't look half bad.


Wow     04/10/2014 14:44
Just saw this, great trip report. Thanks for posting. I was thinking about a similar trip.

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