Peak(s):  Big Agnes - 12,060 feet
Mt. Zirkel - 12,180 feet
Date Posted:  09/13/2011
Date Climbed:   09/04/2011
Author:  kmaley
 Big Agnes and Mt. Zirkel from Gilpin Creek  

They may not be 14ers or even 13ers, but these peaks in the heart of the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness area provide a great wilderness experience. Mt. Zirkel is the high point of Routt County and of the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area. Big Agnes not only has a cool name that was adopted by an outdoor equipment company, it is a wilder and more rugged summit than its neighbor Mt. Zirkel.

I have never done a trip report before, but I'm submitting this one because we climbed both Big Agnes and Mt Zirkel from a camp in the Gilpin Creek drainage and I have not found much information about climbing either peak from Gilpin Creek.

Big Agnes (off trail)--- 4.4 mi RT from camp, 2260' gain
Mt. Zirkel (off trail)--- 4.8 mi RT from camp, 2380' gain
Backpack Approach to camp (on trail) 6.2 mi RT from car, 1400' gain
(distances by TOPO!)

A lot of people on this site could/would do the above in a single day. We made it easy on ourselves by backpacking in and climbing the two summits on successive days.


Noticing a near-ideal weather forecast (0% to 10% chance precip.) for the Zirkel Wilderness over Labor Day, we packed up and resurrected a trip idea I'd come up with a couple of years ago (Agnes-Zirkel combo). We drove from Boulder to Steamboat Springs on Saturday, Sept. 3, making our way north to Glen Eden, CO on CR129 (Elk River Road), and then east on CR64 (Seedhouse Road) to the USFS Slavonia trailhead. Despite a very late-afternoon start, we were able to hike 3+ miles before making camp in the impending darkness. We camped among some glacial knobs about a half-mile northwest of Gilpin Lake. A couple hundred yards south of our camp, the Gilpin Lake Trail crosses Gilpin Creek. We probably would have gone farther up if daylight permitted, but the camp proved to be a decent location for accessing both Big Agnes and Zirkel. Despite the big Labor Day holiday, we only saw two other people from the time we made camp on Sat. evening to the time we broke camp on Tue. Morning. These were two backpackers pitching a tent at the tarn (11,040') on our Big Agnes descent (and what an awesome campsite that would be!)

Our camp:

On Sunday morning, we set out to climb Big Agnes Mountain by first ascending the high ground north of our camp (see topo). This put us on a shelf-like area above Gilpin Creek, which proved not only to be good walking, but also kept us out of the more vegetated creek bottom area. About 2/3 mile north from camp, we began ascending west-northwest to a beautiful unnamed tarn (11,040') where Gilpin Creek originates.


After pumping some fresh drinking water from the tarn lake (above) , we proceeded around the northeastern shore and hiked up into the basin to the north.


Our next task was to climb the ridge to the north of us, which separated us from Big Agnes. After reviewing our options of exactly where to climb the ridge, we chose to climb the saddle shown below.


Here's a view back toward the tarn. Some of the Flattops can be seen in the background on the right.


Upon gaining the ridge, we had our first view of the summit of Big Agnes and our last 400' of climbing.


Climbing the summit ridge:


And here's Dave on the summit:


Below: That's me on the summit. According to the 7.5' Mt Zirkel quad, that point above the horizon (behind me) is just slightly lower, but it looks about the same when you're there. It's identifiable on the map because it connects directly to the ridge north of Mica Lake, whereas the real summit (where we are) is not connected to any ridge trending to the west.


We looked down on this icy lake, just northeast of Big Agnes.


View of Mt Zirkel from Big Agnes:


The following day, we climbed Mt Zirkel. Beginning at our campsite, we walked up Gilpin Creek for a short distance until we came to an avalanche chute entering on the east side of the creek. During the previous day's hike, we identified this chute as a landmark for beginning our climb. We hiked uphill a couple hundred feet and began traversing steeply up and to the north.

Here's the base of the chute (~9900'), where we began climbing to Zirkel.


Soon we arrived at this meadow (~10,500'). From here our next objective was to climb Pt. 12,006', which can be seen at the left:


Here's a photo of Big Agnes taken en route to Zirkel. It's the only photo I have for the ascent route to the tarn at 11,040'.


From Pt. 12,006' to the summit of Zirkel is about a mile of mostly easy walking. The photo below shows the final eighth of a mile or so.


Sorry, no photo from the top of Zirkel! I fiddled with my camera up there and I seemed like something was wrong with it so I just put it away. Anyway, we made it to the top.

Our great weather ran out that night and the following morning we packed up a wet camp and hiked back to the car in the rain. The beers I had stashed on ice in a cooler behind the seat sure were delicious. What a great holiday weekend!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

So Jealous
09/14/2011 04:09
One of these days I have to head up that way. I've been meaning to for a while now. Thanks for posting.


I'm jealous, too
09/14/2011 15:37
Just when I'd written off Zirkel until next year...
There aren't too many TRs on these peaks.
Thanks for your contribution.


Thanks alot..
09/14/2011 19:58
For adding yet ANOTHER place I need to visit to my list.

Great trip report and pictures.

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