Cirque Mountain – 13,686 & Gilpin Peak – 13,699


RT Length: 11.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 4382’


I’m kind of liking this ‘work from home’ thing that’s been going on for the past few months. Today I had a zoom meeting I attended at a Starbucks and then I was off to the Yankee Boy Basin (which I considered an appropriate place to spend the 4th of July weekend). The road to Yankee Boy Basin is easier than I remember. It’s only 4WD for the last mile or so. There’s a little bit of exposure but the road is plenty wide enough to pretend it’s not there.


I arrived at the trailhead and backed into a spot near the bathrooms (P.S. bring your own TP).


I got out and took a look around at the route I intended to take while it was still daylight. I was pretty sure I wanted to hit Cirque Mountain first, and then cross over to Gilpin Peak. Everything is different in the dark and a good visual in the daylight is helpful.

While I was looking around I heard a couple talking about Mt Sneffles. I went over to ask if they’d seen any snow on Cirque Mountain/Gilpin Peak while hiking. They were staying the night at the trailhead too, climbing Teakettle in the morning. We struck up a conversation and ended up exchanging beers and candy and 14er stories and caps full of whiskey. About an hour later two more of their friends showed up and we huddled around my truck as it rained a bit. When the rain stopped, they went over their gear and practiced some rappelling. They allowed me to tag along. I ended up calling it a night really early (I get up at 3am to work and get tired early in the evening). I’m sure I forgot to say it, so I’ll say it now: It was really nice getting to meet you all! Also, I will never be able to hear the word ‘traverse’ again and not say it twice @climbingcue, @dwoodward13, @hikesingeologictime, & @tallgrass!


I woke up at 3:30am, hit snooze once because I was really warm in the bed of my truck. I was ready to go a little before 4am. Tallgrass came to say goodbye and good luck. I was still groggy (I don’t wake up until about an hour into a hike). Thanks for the beer Tallgrass! I started by following the 4WD road northwest.


After hiking for almost half a mile I turned right and followed the small ridge up to the saddle of Kismet and Cirque.



The trail eventually narrowed and I went up a low flowing waterfall type gully


And then followed the scree filled gully to the saddle. All snow was avoidable.




At the saddle I turned right (east) and followed the ridge. Note, the point on the right isn’t a ranked peak. It’s easily bypassed by a trail to the left. I climbed it on my way back just to get in some added elevation and for the views.


I picked up my pace here because it looked like I could make it to the summit for the sunrise. Wow, that part of the hike hadn’t taken as long as I’d anticipated.



There was some choss and a chimney to climb. I put on my helmet and worked my way up.



There was some route finding for the last little bit as well as some easy scrambling


I summited Cirque Mountain at 5:45am


Cirque Mountain:

I made it a few minutes before sunrise and decided to stay to enjoy the show. It didn’t disappoint.


I also had some great views of Teakettle and Potosi to the southeast


I headed back the way I’d come, and decided to summit the small point and then head back down the gully




I didn’t go all the way down the gully. Instead when I hit tundra I turned right and headed west until I reached a small pond.


At the pond I hooked up with the Wrights Lake Spur trail and followed it until the first switchback.


Right about now it started to rain. I looked back on Teakettle and thought about my new friends hiking up there. I hoped they were staying dry.


The trail was an easy to follow, class 1 trail. At the first switchback I left the trail to continue heading west towards the saddle. There was a little bit of snow to contend with here so I put on my microspikes and walked across.



At this point I could see there was a gully I’d have to ascend that was still holding a little bit of snow at the top


Once on the saddle I followed it south. On the ascent I made the wrong choice and tried to ascend directly up the gully. This got me onto very loose, chossy terrain and took me longer than necessary to figure out. The rocks were the size of toasters and none of them were stable. Large sections would move below me at a time, taking me with them. On my way down I found a better route, so I’ll describe that route here.

From the ridge, dip down to the left to go around this first obstacle


Next, hug the area where the snow meets the rock. I’m pretty sure there’s an actual trail here under the snow


From here I’d wanted to ascend directly up the gully. DON’T DO THAT. Instead, try to make it as close to the ridge as you can



At the small saddle there was snow to contend with (a lot more snow than the pictures suggest). Glad to have brought my ice axe and crampons (something I do on every hike I don’t have beta on) and got to work kicking in steps and climbing over the snow. There was probably 30 feet worth of work to do over the snow at its narrowest point.


At the saddle I sat down to take off my crampons. From here it was a short trek to the summit, after first going over a false summit. This was all class 2, but I kept my helmet on.




I made it to the summit of Gilpin Peak at 9:30am. It was lightly snowing.



Gilpin Peak:

Here’s a look at the route I took out the basin from the summit


I turned and headed back over the false summit and headed back to the saddle


Because I’d already kicked in steps I made the decision to put on microspikes instead of crampons to go down the snow. This was a bad idea, but I didn’t realize it until I was already too committed. I made it down the snow safely, but I was shaking as I did so: crampons provide much more stability than microspikes (duh) and I wasn’t very stable on the downclimb. I relied a lot on my ice axe.

Here’s looking at the ridge back down



I re-crossed the snow below, this time without traction: I boot-slid my way across much of the snow.


I made it back to the trail and there was a family standing there, waiting for me. There was a mom and dad and grandparents with 6 kids who all had to be under 10 years old. They’d been watching my descent, and the father asked if I would show the kids my gear (crampons, helmet, ice axe). The kids were fascinated with the equipment, and proudly told me they were hiking to the lakes. I wished them luck and was on my way.

After making it to the pond I followed the class 1 trail above Sneffles Creek until I made it to a road, and followed the road back down to my truck.


Just before making it to the road I passed what I thought was a trail register. I opened it and found one of the most confusing maps ever! Not only did it not correspond with the visual direction of the peaks, north was at the bottom. This map is going to get a lot of people lost.


I passed a jeep that had gotten stuck. Everyone pitched in to get her un-stuck.


It was easy to follow the 4WD road back to where I’d parked my truck


I made it back to my truck at 11:15am, making this an 11.1 mile hike with 4382’ of elevation gain in 6 hours, 15 minutes.


I still had plenty of time left in the day, so I decided to drive to the next trailhead and attempt another mountain.

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Cirque Mountain – 13,686 & Gilpin Peak – 13,699”

  1. What a beautiful sunrise.It’s nice to know that their are others who share You likes not only in climbing ,also in a cold beer and some sipping whiskey.That is exactually what I am doing now as I read ofYour postings. Thank Laura.


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