I try to get out for a big backpacking adventure every year or so. Big is probably an understatement, at least for this weekend’s hike through the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area near Steamboat Springs. This hike tested my limits. The alpine meadows full of flowers alone was worth the death-defying trek across massive boulder fields, under, over and around miles of blow-down, across rushing creeks and over high mountain passes.
This yellow mountain rose looks very similar to the pink mountain rose I saw in Beaver Creek last weekend. There were thousands of them along the trail.
I call this a Rocky Mountain daisy, but my plant app gives the highest confidence to a type of arnica. I think daisy’s might have more flower pedals. These were everywhere.
I saw of lot of these lupine in Beaver Creek last weekend too. These were usually mixed in with the arnica on the trails near Steamboat.
My goal this outing was to hike from the Seedhouse trailhead to the Wyoming border and back. Rather than out and back, we returned on a set of other trails that looped around Mount Zirkel. For my buddy Rob, this would complete his journey across the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in Colorado. I’ve hiked much of it with him. Rob has also completed much of the CDT in Northern New Mexico. Wyoming might be next.
Within the first two hours hiking these sixty miles around Mount Zirkel, I slipped off a rock into a creek, fell backwards off a log because I mis-judged the balance of my pack, and there was something else where I somehow avoided death that I just can’t recall right now. I spent the first couple of hours gaining my trail legs. Each fall damaged my shins to the point of not being certain I didn’t need medical attention. I still have part of a tree branch stuck under my skin on the left shin that you can’t see in this photo.
The falls took their toll on my confidence. I wondered if I was too old at sixty to be attempting such physically challenging endeavors. In time, I gained my trail legs and I knew I belonged out there.
The joy of hiking through miles of alpine meadows like above makes it worthwhile to reach these remote high country ecosystems. Normally hikers would avoid trampling on such delicate plants, but in many cases in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, there was no trail.
The photo above is from our campsite after hiking across an eight mile stretch, mostly above tree line with no trail. I would not have had the skills to do this without Rob. We had to just work ourselves south toward this pass. I stared at this pass all night because I wasn’t confident my legs could endure the trek. You can’t see the boulder field in the middle of this basin, but traversing those rocks was challenging without any strength left in my legs. We worked our way up through the trees on the left, crossed some snow fields, and hiked up over the pass in between the two patches of snow on the top, far left of the photo. It took much of the morning, again with no trail. We saw no other hikers for the previous two days, until we crossed that pass.
There were so many times during this sixty-mile, four-days of backpacking that I wasn’t sure I could complete the trip. Of course, halfway into the loop, I was as far in as I was out, and I knew how difficult the trail behind me was, so there was no turning around. My scariest moment was crossing a creek on a log raised a good ten feet over the water. Not an easy feat with a thirty-pound pack. Half way across, my legs started to shake. I have a condition, mostly in my hands and forearms, called an essential tremor. When I’m fatigued enough, the shaking hits my legs too. I knew I was going to fall into the fast-running water if I didn’t get off that log, so I started to run to the far end, about fifteen feet to the shore. It was a death-defying act for sure and I probably shouldn’t be here to tell the story, but it gets better. Sitting on the far side was the ranger, older than me by a good ten years, who’d recently built the log bridge. He said, “This one was high enough that it shouldn’t get washed away.”