I took a little extra time over the Labor Day weekend and spent four days in the Mt. Z wilderness. It’s a place I always enjoy, straddling the continental divide, between Steamboat Springs and the Wyoming border. I like to get out over Labor Day, but it coincides with the beginning of bow-hunting season, and some wilderness areas can be overrun with huge outfitter camps and camouflaged Texans struggling with the altitude. Last year I made the mistake of going to the South San Juans, and it was truly a miserable experience, so this year I wanted to minimize my risk. People do hunt in Mt. Z, but it’s not an especially popular place for it, and I have never seen large groups with pack-stock. It was a good decision, as the wilderness was really not crowded at all.

I parked along a road with a few trailheads that would allow me to return by a different route and proceeded up through the forest to Ute Pass on the Continental Divide, a gradual 2,000 feet of climbing. Before going over the pass, I snapped this photo looking back down to the east.

Passing over Ute Pass, I looked out over the next valley, with Mt. Zirkel and Red Dirt Pass at the northern end. I have often seen a large herd of bighorn sheep in this valley, but unfortunately did not get to see them this time.

As I was heading towards my favorite camping area in this valley I passed an old mine and the ruins of an old miner’s cabin. Then set up camp near timberline in a stand of trees near a small pond with views of Red Dirt Pass.

I sometimes use this campsite as a base to climb Mt Zirkel, but I had different plans on this trip, so in the morning I just packed up and headed back down the valley, entering into a section of the trail that is part of the popular Zirkel Circle loop, where I ran into several groups of day-hikers. Continuing past that section, I climbed up to to meet the CDT (known as the Wyoming Trail here), which rolls for miles over high tundra through ribbon forest.

Descending off-trail into Wolverine Basin, I set up camp near a creek in an area that mostly burned about a decade ago. Fortunately, I found a nice spot near a pleasant creek with some surviving trees and a nice big rock to sit on.

In the morning I climbed out of the basin to the south, and looked back down over the basin at Pristine Lake, then looped back to the north along the CDT over Lost Ranger Peak.

From Lost Ranger Peak, one has expansive views to the north of the distinctive features of the CDT in this wilderness, including ribbon forest and krummholz.

Along this section, I actually met a couple of CDT through-hikers heading south, and even more surprisingly we ran into my friend Jackie with her hiking companion and her black Lab, Mokie. Small world.

It rained off and on the rest of the day so I didn’t take many photos, but after heading back north on the CDT, I went down a different valley and took an off-trail shortcut to a campsite on Bighorn Lake, where we got a nice break in the rain to make dinner. We had the lake to ourselves. In the morning, we hiked out of the wilderness and we had only about a mile of dirt road walking to my vehicle. This was a nice tour of the central Zirkels, and we enjoyed a lot of solitude on a usually busy long weekend.