On the morning of 8-16-15, Day 8 of Lupe’s great Summer of 2015 Dingo Vacation, SPHP originally planned on climbing Bears Ears Peaks (10,577 ft.) with Lupe. Bears Ears Peaks is only 6 or 7 miles E of Black Mountain, which Lupe had climbed the day before. It was a good plan and SPHP should have stuck with it. Instead, SPHP started thinking about going to Mount Zirkel (12,180 ft.).
So Lupe’s day started with a long ride in the G6, much of it on dusty, gravel roads. Lupe headed back N to Hwy 70. There she went E, got to tour a 3 mile dead end road near the Little Snake River, and finally left Hwy 70 for the final time to go SE on route No. 710/129. No. 710/129 started out paved, but soon turned to gravel. The road followed the Little Snake River. Along the way, Lupe passed by multi-millionaire David Pratt’s impressive Three Forks Ranch.
Lupe also got to see a rather impressive looking mountain that may be Hahn’s Peak.
At Columbine, SPHP was glad to reach paved roads again. Shortly before reaching Clark, SPHP found Seed House Road No. 64, which soon becomes No. 400. This road goes 12 miles ENE to the Slovenia Trailhead where Lupe would start for Mount Zirkel. Seed House Road was paved for 6 miles, and then became 6 miles of dusty and very washboardy gravel.
When Lupe arrived at the Slovenia Trailhead it was packed. Cars were parked alongside the road for quite a distance even prior to reaching the trailhead. This was just a scouting trip anyway. It was already too late in the day for Lupe to start for Mount Zirkel. There was another consideration, too. A large dark thunderstorm out of the NW had been following Lupe and SPHP for several hours. It was now getting close to Mount Zirkel.
The rest of the 16th was spent basically just resting up for Mount Zirkel the next day. The dark storm thundered twice, then left the area still heading SE without doing anything. Lupe got to cool off in the Middle Fork of the Elk River. SPHP chatted with the campground host at the Seed House campground, who was very pleasant, but knew nothing about the trail to Mount Zirkel. Lupe filled up on Filet Mingon flavored Alpo and snoozed.
Early the next morning, there were two big white dogs outside the G6. Lupe went to sniff with them. They were much bigger and outnumbered her, so after a minute she growled a low Dingo growl, just to let them know not to mess with her. Lupe tends to be friendlier to smaller dogs.
The two white dogs had wandered through looking kind of lost the evening before. SPHP was rather concerned about them. They had collars, but no tags. They seemed like older dogs and were kind of shy. SPHP gave each of them a Cheesy Barkin’ Beggin’ Strip, half a can of Alpo, and some Taste of the Wild. Both dogs seemed to enjoy the little feast and hopeful for even more, although they didn’t act like they were famished.
Lupe and SPHP went to the Seed House campground. SPHP talked to the campground host again and told him about the two white dogs. He had seen them the evening before, too. However, he didn’t know what to do about it. SPHP decided to wait to see if the dogs were still around after Lupe climbed Mount Zirkel to do anything further about them.
When Lupe arrived at the Slovenia trailhead, there was a poster showing a picture of a big white dog exactly like the ones Lupe and SPHP had seen. The poster said they were Livestock Protection Dogs trained to herd sheep. They should not be reported lost or stray, and should not be taken to town. That settled that, except it still seemed odd to SPHP that the two dogs hadn’t been anywhere near any sheep or sheepherder. Maybe they’d made a career change, figuring they could make a better living panhandling from dumb tourists.
In any case, at 7:55 AM (8-17-15, Day 9, 46°F, clear and calm) Lupe set off on Gold Creek Lake Trail No. 1150 for Mount Zirkel. The trail headed E through the forest along Gold Creek, which rushed down to the W with very good flow. Lupe soon crossed the creek on a good wooden bridge. Later there was a place where there was no bridge, just a big log across the creek. Lupe just trotted across, and even SPHP managed not to take a plunge. The highlight of the trail on the way to Gold Creek Lake was a lovely waterfall.
The trail continued ENE past the N shore of Gold Creek Lake. Soon after leaving the lake, Lupe passed a junction with the Wyoming Trail No. 1101. Shortly after that, the trail crossed Gold Creek again. This time there wasn’t any bridge, not even a log. Gold Creek was already quite a bit smaller than it was a couple of miles downstream. Lupe and SPHP easily just forded it. In the springtime or early summer, this might be a treacherous or impossible crossing.
After the ford, Gold Creek passed through a narrow gap in the canyon perhaps a mile from Gold Creek Lake. The trail went through the same gap on the N side of the creek, but now well above it. On the E side of the gap, there was a huge valley which gradually curved towards the N. Gold Creek Lake Trail started climbing the N side of the valley. Pretty soon it reached a junction with the Gilpin Trail No. 1161.
Beyond the junction with the Gilpin Trail, the Gold Creek Lake Trail went NE without much change in elevation for about 0.70 mile until it reached Red Dirt Pass Trail No. 1142. At this junction, the Gold Creek Lake Trail turned SE to cross the huge valley and climb up to Ute Pass. Lupe, however, needed to take the Red Dirt Pass Trail to reach Mt. Zirkel.
The Red Dirt Pass Trail headed N for a couple of miles to reach Red Dirt Pass at the upper end of the huge valley. The forest gradually thinned out and then disappeared along the way. The E side of the valley was the impressive steep W side of Flattop Mountain. During the last part of the climb to Red Dirt Pass, the trail climbed steeply up long switchbacks. Although the air had been calm down in the forest, it was very windy when Lupe arrived up at Red Dirt Pass.
There is no trail from Red Dirt Pass the rest of the way to Mt. Zirkel. Fortunately, it was easy to climb up to the NW from the pass to the high ground leading to Mt. Zirkel. The way up wasn’t too steep. It was a mix of boulders and heather. Lupe was glad to leave windy Red Dirt Pass. Above and away from the narrow pass, the wind died down to just a light breeze.
Once up on the high ground NW of Red Dirt Pass, Mt. Zirkel was finally in view. A long, broad ridge of heather and boulders swept around to the W and turned N to reach the summit. The summit itself had four separate prongs to it. Three of them appeared to be very nearly the same height. SPHP was glad the fourth prong was definitely lower. It was way too rugged for Lupe and SPHP to climb.
The way to Mt. Zirkel was obvious – just follow the big ridge and stay away from the cliffs. Lupe loved it up here and ran around exploring with great enthusiasm and energy. SPHP was very enthusiastic, too. There were fantastic views all around.
While Lupe was approaching the summit of Mt. Zirkel, SPHP was looking at the three prong summit trying to decide which prong was highest. From various angles, different prongs looked slightly higher than the others. At first, SPHP thought the middle prong was the highest. Later the left prong looked higher. In the end, they were all of such similar height, it hardly mattered which prong Lupe climbed.
A guy from Steamboat Springs passed SPHP on the way. SPHP watched to see which prong he climbed. He climbed the pointy one at the far left. He returned to report that it was an easy scramble with amazing views. When asked, he said the other prongs looked a bit higher from the top, but not enough to make much difference.
SPHP had already learned from Lupe’s trip up Browns Peak (11,722 ft.) that whichever high point Lupe climbed, the others would inevitably look higher. SPHP decided Lupe would climb the pointy left prong, too, and call it good.
Lupe and SPHP reached the top of the left prong of Mt. Zirkel. For Lupe, it was a new record! Mt. Zirkel at 12,180 feet was now the highest mountain she had ever climbed, surpassing Medicine Bow Peak (12,013 ft.), which she had climbed only a week before. The views were stunning.
There wasn’t room to do anything at the pointy top of the left prong. It wasn’t even possible to get up on top of the highest rock without exposure to some tremendous cliffs. After a few minutes up there, Lupe and SPHP retreated down about 30 feet of elevation to where there was a place with a little cave-like area and room to move around a bit while enjoying the views. Lupe and SPHP took a break and hung out here for a while.
SPHP had two options in mind for Lupe on the way back. The first, and preferred option, was for Lupe to climb the other side of Red Dirt Pass to get up on Flattop Mountain. The second option was for Lupe to go back down to the Gilpin Trail and take it to Gilpin Lake. SPHP pondered the merits of each choice. Meanwhile, Lupe happily romped around the heather as she again traversed the broad ridge leading back to Red Dirt Pass.
Time was getting to be a factor, but the main issue to decide whether or not Lupe would climb Flattop Mountain was how steep the other side of Red Dirt Pass looked.
The ridge heading up to Flattop Mountain was much narrower and somewhat steeper than the one Lupe had climbed to reach Mt. Zirkel. It looked especially steep near the top where it was narrowest. There was no doubt Lupe could do it, but SPHP might have a hard time. SPHP chickened out. Lupe would just have to tell everyone she would have climbed Flattop Mountain, if SPHP hadn’t been tagging along.
Lupe and SPHP took the Red Dirt Pass Trail back down into the huge valley. Going down it was easier to see and appreciate the beautiful scenery along the way.
Once down past the switchbacks, Lupe and SPHP wandered exploring some of the valley to the W of Red Dirt Pass Trail. Eventually Lupe returned to the trail and followed it back to the Gold Creek Lake Trail. When she reached the Gilpin Trail, she took it. By taking the Gilpin Trail, Lupe would make a loop on the rest of the way back to the Slovenia Trailhead and get to see new sights.
The Gilpin Trail climbed pretty steeply up to a pass that Lupe had to go over to see Gilpin Lake. On the way up the switchbacks on the Gilpin Trail, a strange thing happened. SPHP heard a tree growl. It was a rather low and threatening growl. SPHP turned to look at Lupe. Lupe looked up at SPHP. The tree growled again. It definitely wasn’t Lupe growling.
The tree was about 15 feet from the trail. Lupe and SPHP were already a bit past it. Slowly SPHP backed on up the trail a little farther beyond the tree. Lupe followed. The tree didn’t growl again. Instead there were cracking and tearing noises. Odd behavior for a tree, to say the least. Yet Lupe seemed calm and SPHP could see nothing else. Cracking, tearing and popping sounds went on for a couple of minutes. SPHP decided the best thing to do was let it remain a mystery. Lupe continued on up to the pass.
Once over the pass, Gilpin Lake came into view. Gilpin Lake was considerably larger than Gold Creek Lake had been. The surrounding scenery was even more rugged and beautiful, too. Lupe followed the trail down to Gilpin Lake.
It was still several miles from Gilpin Lake back to the Slovenia Trailhead. With the sun starting to get low, it was soon time for Lupe to continue on down the trail. Although there had been people along the trails earlier in the day, Lupe and SPHP had seen no one since meeting the guy from Steamboat Springs shortly before Lupe reached Mt. Zirkel.
A cloud to the S threatened to rain, but only sprinkled a bit. The sun went down and twilight came on. The rushing waters of Gilpin Creek were the only sound. The scenery faded into darkness. Only the solitude and an American Dingo remained with SPHP in the beautiful valley.