This adventure was a backpacking trip with long-time friend Jon Bassett. Our route formed a circle in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area, so he dubbed our trip the Zirkel Zircle.
We woke up early in the morning to the sound of Boy Scouts yelling, screaming, and throwing rocks off of cliffs. Keep it classy, BSA.
The mosquitoes continued their onslaught as we left the tents and packed up. Our hike started with a steep climb up to the Continental Divide, aided by an animal trail for the final pitches.
Having reached the top, our route took us gently along the ridge to the pass. We were traveling cross-country, but the terrain was open enough that the lack of a trail was not a problem.
From the pass, we made a steep ascent up to an unnamed peak (11,810’). The mountaintop provided wonderful views and a great lunch spot.
As we continued, the ridge got nasty. The spine narrowed and steepened, large slabs of unstable rock with drop-offs on either side.
In retrospect, the best policy was probably to stay the course, but my fear of heights went into overdrive, and I convinced Jon to try the right-hand side. This quickly turned into a steep slope filled with loose scree, just barely below the angle of repose. We traversed on this as long as we could, before retreating back to the ridge top. We then tried the other side, which was a mess of loose rock, big slabs, cliffs, and gnarled trees.
Progress was slow, but Jon did an admirable job of navigating a route through. We were finally able to traverse forward to where the ridge top was safe, and we descended down to the Ute Pass trail.
The descent from Ute Pass was long and steep, and we were both out of water. We stopped at our first stream crossing where I immediately guzzled a cold liter. The second stream crossing was deep and cold. We waded across in our sandals, before dropping the packs to immerse ourselves in the icy brook.
The day wasn’t over yet, and our next challenge was picking up the packs and beginning a climb towards Red Dirt Pass. There were a collection of small ponds near the Panonia Mine area and we tried to camp there.
The terrain was mostly swampy, with tents around every corner. I was spent, so I let Jon climb up to a higher ridge and wave back to me when he found a spot. We camped in a nice meadow, with 360-degree views and a breeze to keep away the mosquitoes.
It had been a hard day. Almost 10 miles with a heavy pack, with at least the first six miles being trailless. We relaxed and enjoyed the truly wonderful camp, photographing into the evening and resting up for the final day to follow.