Archive for the ‘Mount Zirkel’ Category

Trip Report 17

  • Points:  2
  • Trip Dates:  August, 1996
  • Wilderness Area:  Mount Zirkel
  • Wilderness Size:  159,935 acres
  • Location:  Northern Colorado
  • Destination:  West Fork Lake and both Encampment River Forks
  • Total Miles:  16
  • Duration:  2 nights

West Fork Lake Mount Zirkel Wilderness


“What the heck was that?” I thought nervously as I lay in my sleeping bag.  Something had smacked the side of the tent.  A few moments later… WHACK!! Again, something hit the tent, like someone threw a stick or something.

Then I heard a THUMP on the ground just outside the tent, and then another, and another!  Then another WHACK on the side of the tent.

“Oh crap, hail!” I realized.  I then heard a rumble on the ground from across the valley like a distant stampede.  It got closer and louder until suddeny my tent was being battered like crazy and the rumble became a dull roar.  I placed my arms over my head thinking that the tent would be ripped to shreds at any moment. 

Then, not five minutes later, the hail stopped and only a hard rain continued.  Occaisional lightning was followed by that especially deep mountain thunder. 

I opened a little hole in the tent entrance and looked outside.  The ground was covered in golfballs.   Then I remembered that I had taken a tarp with me because I knew my old cheapy pup tent leaked in the rain.  That extra tarp over the top probably prevented those hailstones from piercing through the tent and giving me a good pummeling.

 This was my second night in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness and I had already sensed by this time why this wild area was one of Colorado’s five original wilderness areas designated in 1964.

My hike was the Encampment River Loop, which starts at a trailhead only one mile south of the Wyoming state line.  Here the north-flowing Encampment River breaks into two forks, West and East.  At the head of the drainage is the West Fork Lake.

I chose to go clockwise up the East Fork and I lost the trail after a couple of miles.  No mind, I new the trail followed the East Fork for several miles, so I just happily continued up the stream on relatively open ground.  At dusk I still had not regained the trail, so I pitched my tent on the flat top of a grassy knoll a hundred feet or so away from the river.

Next morning I continued cross-country up the stream and before long stumbled upon the main trail.  From there the trail continued up the beautiful clear stream.  I stopped mid-day for some fishing and caught and released some brookies.

After about 8 or 9 miles I reached West Fork Lake where there were a few other people.  Not especially spectacular, the lake has that certain wilderness character shrouded in forest and serene quietness.

I spent some time at the lake, then proceeded down the beautiful West Fork valley.  The valley of the West Fork was a little broader and more open than the East, and I found an area a couple hundred yards off trail with so many perfect spots for a campsite that I had difficulty deciding.  Finally, I settled on a spot amongst a grove of small trees growing amidst some rock outcroppings.

I did some more fishing and caught a nice brown from the stream.  After a pleasant dinner I hit the sack as the hailstorm that would hit about an hour later approached from the west.

On the third day, I hiked the remaining five miles down-valley back to the trailhead and the long, beautiful drive home.

The photo above was found on the internet.


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