Luke’s Pennsylvania Housing Presentation: Breathe Easy — March 13th, 2019

Next week I’ll be presenting at the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center’s annual conference. Feel free to come learn about fresh air!

My session is from 1:15 – 2:45 PM. I will be outlining different ventilation requirements, technologies, and how they make our home’s healthier.

This conference will focus on different High Performance building techniques. I’m very excited to share my knowledge about ventilation, but more excited to hear other presenters talk about blower door tests, high performance windows, and Net-Zero energy!

There is a lot to be learned and this is the place to do it. I would highly recommend this event to anyone nearby State College, PA.

Call me an Energy Nerd….I don’t mind 🙂

PHRC Agenda 2019.PNG

Here is a LINK to the conference website:

Written By:

Luke Langhals





Shipping Container: Windows and Doors

We began putting the windows and doors into the shipping container. The holes were cut with a plasma cutter and windows were inserted similar to any standard construction.

There will be 3 windows total and two sets of double doors. The windows are triple pane to increase comfort and air-tightness; we are trying to eliminate thermal breaks and keep the entire container under 2 ACH (Air Changes per Hour). Unfortunately the doors are only double pane for affordability but they have a decent U-Value for being low cost and off the shelf.

Interior framing is underway. A full wrap of 4 mil plastic for our vapor/air barrier and then 3″ of continuous Poly Iso on the floor, walls, and ceiling. No thermal bridging for us 🙂 Having a continuous blanket of insulation makes the shipping container a lot like a very large Yeti Cooler. The goal is to be able to heat/cool the entire 320 sq ft interior with low amounts of energy.

Door Install Feb 2019
Sub flooring is installed directly over the rigid Poly Iso floor insulation
Jason Cutting inside 2019
Jason – Cutting the window penetrations

Shipping containers come with a set of double doors for loading/unloading contents. We decided to make this end of our container the Master Bedroom and provide it with the secondary entrance and sliding glass door. This should let plenty of natural light into the sleeping area.

Further, the original steel shipping doors can be closed over the new bedroom door. I think this will be a cool feature for security, transport, and privacy.

Container Bedroom Exterior door Feb 2019
Sliding glass door framed and installed off the planned Master Bedroom – February 2019

Another update coming soon! This project is developing quickly 🙂

Shipping Container Arrives!

Our 40′ high cube shipping container has arrived at the build site in Athens, OH. We had the seller paint it ahead of time and we will begin cutting openings for windows and doors ASAP.

We transferred the container from the delivery truck to our own trailer. This will allow the entire project to be mobile as required.

The interior is going to offer about 300 sq ft off living space. This will be after the walls are framed and insulated.

Trailer Transfer: January 2019
On our Trailer and ready to be turned into a sustainable home!
jan 2019 jasons floor plan
Current Floor Plan: By Jason Morosko — January 2019

Enjoy the pictures and be ready for an update when we start the construction process!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Passive House grows in the United States

Passive House construction is my personal favorite form of green building. The reasoning is simple — it offers maximum energy savings with the lowest upfront premium. Building or renovating to the Passive House standard is well proven throughout the world and it has developed a solid framework in the United States.

Through my work with UltimateAir, I have had the honor to work on many Passive projects. These include multi-family developments, University Dormitories, residential homes, and commercial buildings. I have personally witnessed these buildings obtain a 60%-80% reduction in their energy use. While also offering residents healthier interior air, comfortable living environments, and superior building longevity.

The idea behind Passive House is actually quite simple. Heavily insulate the walls, foundation, and roof. Air seal the home to decrease energy loss and improve comfort. Eliminate “thermal bridging” by incorporating a non-breaking blanket of insulation. Minimize the size of the heating/cooling system for maximum efficiency. Incorporate an energy recovery ventilator to continuously flush the home with fresh air.

Athens, OH Passive Inspired duplex 2018
Newly completed Passive Inspired duplex located in Athens, OH. Photo Credit: Sustainable Path — Jason & Jeremy Morosko

Most people I talk to about Passive, automatically jump to the conclusion that Passive House is not affordable. They assume that the cost of a low energy, healthy, and comfortable home is just far out of reach. In my experience this is not the case at all!

When designing the project upfront with Passive House aspects in mind….the added cost over standard construction tends to fall between 1%-8% over a standard “code” construction project. When you factor in an electric bill that is possibly 70% lower — this upfront premium is usually profitable or at a minimum…break even.

The key to designing a high performance home for little extra cost is to accept the Passive House standard as a design principle from the beginning. Do not design a house and THEN try to add Passive House features. Rather, design a Passive House from the beginning and within the constraints of your budget.


Customer 1: “I need a 4 bedroom house, with an open concept living/dining/kitchen, lots of natural light, and beautiful kitchen countertops. My budget is $180,000.”

This can be done!

Customer 1: I need a 4 bedroom house, with an open concept living/dining/kitchen, lots of natural light, and beautiful kitchen countertops. It also needs to be built to the Passive House standard. My budget is $180,000.”

This can be done!

It’s all about accepting high performance into your design criteria and moving forward accordingly. Just like any other aspect of building a home within a budget…

Working with Passive House builders and architects for the last 6 years has allowed me to see how the market is changing and growing. In 2018, we saw the largest amount of growth coming from New York.

The City of new York created a goal of reaching an 80% carbon reduction from 2005 levels by 2050. Buildings account for 75% of the energy used in NYC and therefore efficient buildings will be key to meeting this goal. NYC Mayor De Blasio has even pointed to the Passive House standard as one of the few energy standards capable of delivering the needed results.

As the NYC construction market continues to adopt Passive House into its future, they will require a roadmap for tradespeople education, product suppliers, architect education, and building operation. New York can look to the success of Brussels, Belgium to help understand how to make the shift. Brussels began by awarding $36 million to a hundreds of energy efficient projects and by 2010 they created a version of the PH standard for all public works projects. By 2015, all new or heavily renovated project must meet Brussel’s passive criteria.

List of my favorite New York organizations who are leading the charge!

  • NYSERDA (Trade Organization)
    • The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has always pushed for energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. They are a fantastic resource for advancing the innovative solutions needed to improve the New York building culture, economy, and environment.
  • New York Passive House (Trade Organization)
    • NYPH is the go-to resource for connecting Passive House resources with professionals. This is the group responsible for educating, assisting, and growing the NY Passive House movement.
  • Curtis + Ginsberg Architects LLP (Architect)
    • Designing a Multi-Family Passive House project can be difficult at times. Especially when you are one of the first firms to try it! C+GA is a great firm who now has real experience building a large Passive House project. Check out their Morris II Passive House apartment building.
  • The Bluestone Organization (Developer)
    • Their name has always been a staple in the New York housing sector; however, now the Bluestone Organization has been helping to lead the way with their recent Beach Green project in Roackaway, NY. They are a third generation family business that was founded in 1927.
  • King + King Architects (Architect)
    • These guys have quite an operation located in Syracuse, NY. They have been making headway into the Passive House market and offer a truly one of a kind experience for people wishing to build sustainably. I would recommend talking with Tom King, who is a certified Passive House Architect and experienced practitioner.
  • Levy Partnership (Developer)
    • They provide assistance for building design, research, project management etc. The team at Levy has jumped onto the Passive House bandwagon in New York is has a great staff of experiences PH Advocates. They have worked on everything from Habitat for Humanity projects to large scale affordable multi-family construction — all while staying true to the Passive methodology.
  • Steven Winters Associates (Consultant)
    • If you’ve worked on a Passive House in New York — you’ve probably heard of SWA. This team of consultants/architects is setting the standard for how projects can achieve high energy performance in the commercial, multifamily, and residential sectors.
  • Threshold Builders (Modular Builder)
    • Focused on creating Passive House and Net-Zero homes that are practical, beautiful, healthy, and within budget. They do great work in the Hudson Valley.
  • ERASE40 (Education & Advocacy)
    • A newer outfit with tons of industry experience. These guys are working to establish, evidence-based process to speed up the adoption of zero/low emission builders. Their program is based around behavioral science and has attracted the participation of key industry advocates (including me!).
  • 475 High Performance Building Supply (Product Supply)
    • Over the past decade there have been few suppliers who could/would offer some of the unique and specific products that are required for meeting the Passive House standard. Ken Levenson and the team at 475 have always been on the cutting edge or high performance building technology.


Shipping Container Tiny House: Design Phase


I’ve officially partnered with several fellow Eco-warriors to build a shipping container tiny house project. We will be receiving our 40′ high cube this week and begin work immediately. I will be outlining our progress on here as much as possible.

My initial design drawings are below. We are planning for a rooftop deck, solar system with battery backup, composting toilet, and propane hot water. Details on Insulation, finishing, electrical, window/door etc will all follow soon.

Possible Exterior Design
Possible Interior Design

Overall, we are all looking forward to this project. I’ll try to keep everyone updated on our failures and success along the way.

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Penny Kitchen Countertops: An experimental idea

Continuing down the rabbit hole of my Kitchen renovation — the next step was to complete a countertop and backsplash makeover. I went through a variety of options and settled upon something that was DIY friendly, unique, and relatively inexpensive.

I chose to remake my countertops out of pennies. That is correct….I said pennies.

To make things interesting, I’ve included a “before” picture below. This was with me beginning to clean out the kitchen and prepare for the new countertops.

Countertops Before 2018
Starting the process!

Summary of steps:

  1. Clean the laminate countertops and backsplash with a grease remover.
  2. Rough the laminate up with sandpaper.
  3. Paint & Primer the countertops black for a good backdrop behind the pennies.
  4. Layout main section of pennies in the style/pattern of your choosing.
  5. Cut edge pennies to have them “end” at the edge of the countertop
  6. Pour 3 layers of Epoxy over the countertops to seal everything in place
  7. Install finishing touches as desired; edge trim and backsplash

Summary of Countertop Costs:

  1. $95.00 = Pennies
  2. $135.00 = Epoxy
  3. $15.00 = Paint
  4. $15.00 = Glue & Tape & Caulk
  5. $35.00 = Misc Items
  6. $20.00 = Edge trim board

Total Project = $315.00

To begin, I started cleaning off years of grime and cooking grease that inherently builds up on countertops. Household cleaners work great to start and then wipe the laminate down with a mixture of ammonia and water.

Next, I took a rough sand paper and sanded the laminate countertops to give it texture. You should be able to feel the texture by hand after wiping away the sanding dust. After another round of cleaning (to remove all sanding particles), I began painting the countertops using a black paint + primer.

Countertops Painted 2018
Paint + Primer brushed onto countertops

After removing the sink, it was time to start laying some pennies. This is a relatively time staking process and involves placing each penny independently by hand. Insure the edges touch the neighboring pennies and that you place you coins with the side up of your choosing. Personally, I chose all pennies with tails up.

One trick I used was to brush on some fresh paint before laying a section of pennies. Rather than gluing each individual penny; the paint served as a temporary holder until my epoxy sealed everything in place. The only places I used glue was on the edge pennies.

Countertops Penny laying 2018
Using wet paint to get pennies to stay in place

Next, I got out my handy Tin Snips and began cutting pennies in half. I found there is no way to do this besides a few hours of “sit and snip.” It makes for a sore hand, and I recommend a variety of sizes to help fill all gaps around the edges and up to the lip of the countertop. After collecting a large number of half pennies and quarter pennies, I glued these securely to the back and front edges of the countertops. If you have perfectly straight countertops — this might not be required on both the back and front edges.

Countertops Before Tape and Epoxy 2018
Pennies on, sink removed, and edges snipped: Right before Epoxy

Before finishing the pennies, I had to remove my sink to make a clear countertop space. I also snipped half pennies to reach all the way underneath where the new sink would overlap. Using a drop in sink vs a under mount sink makes this much easier. I’m not sure how I could’ve used an under mount sink in this particular scenario.

After all my penny edges were done, It was time to epoxy over my new penny covered surface. Use foil tape (in the HVAC section of your hardware store) to make edges to hold in the epoxy. The epoxy is self leveling and will run off the countertops if you don’t put up an edge barrier to hold it all in. Also, don’t forget to make a tape edge around the sink cut out. Put the tape about 1/2 inch above the countertop surface to prevent any epoxy from overflowing. You do not want epoxy dripping on your cabinets or floor. Be liberal with drop cloths and plastic to protect everything just in case.

Countertops With Tape No Epoxy 2018

Finally, its time to do the only “difficult” part of this project. You need to prepare for covering your penny surface with several layers of self leveling epoxy. I purchased mine from Amazon and chose the “Pro Marine Supplies: Crystal Clear Bar Top: 2 Gallon Kit.” Using Epoxy involves exact reading of the manufacturers directions and precise timing. I had one batch come out a milky hazy tone, and pitched it rather than trying to see if cleared up after the pour.

The 2 gallon kit covered my 24 sq ft of countertop. It included 1 gallon of Epoxy and 1 gallon of Hardener. I purchased 10 measurement containers from the hardware store; I would highly recommend 24 oz buckets for this project. You need to have the parts mixed exactly for the Epoxy to turn out correctly. My containers were 24 oz each and included measurement lines at both 12 oz and 24 oz.

We poured two containers as a seal coat. Waited 6 hours. Poured another 2 containers. Waited 12 hours. Poured a single third container.

**If I did this again — I would’ve insured we had enough epoxy to do a full two containers on the last/third pour; we ran out and I’ll talk about how we messed that up later in this blog.

  1. Pour Epoxy (A) into measurement container up to 12 oz line. Pour Epoxy Hardener (B) into the same container until level reaches 24 oz line. Try to be very exact with this.
  2. Use a wooden stir stick and began mixing the two semi-liquid compounds together for exactly 5 minutes. Changing the rotation of your stir every 30 seconds. STIR BY HAND.
  3. Now pour the mixed epoxy into a second container, scraping the sides of the first mixing container to get everything out as much as possible. Throw away the first container.
  4. Continue mixing in the new container for 5 minutes.
  5. Have your partner start the next batch while you are stirring the second container.
  6. After you finish the mixing process you should have a clear bucket of glue thickness Epoxy liquid. There will be some small bubbles inside the epoxy, don’t worry about these. Begin to slowly pour the epoxy in large sections on the countertop. I poured it in sections about the size of a dining plate.
  7. Use a foam brush to help spread the epoxy and meet the pours together. Do not spread the material too thin, you should see it roll over the edges of your pennies and drop into the area in between. Try not to pull any pennies up while brushing….we only had that problem in one section and I quickly pushed it back into place. POUR SLOWLY and BRUSH GENTLY!
  8. Take the now stirred second container from your partner and repeat the pouring process in the next area of countertop. Each container covered about 12 sq ft of countertop for us.
  9. The self leveling nature of Epoxy will “settle” slightly over the next 15 minutes and epoxy will drift towards the edges and fill in many of the gaps.
  10. After 15 minutes of leveling; to remove small air bubbles, use a propane torch and hold the flame about 2 inches above the bubble for less than a second. You will see the bubbles disappear instantly from the heat.
Countertops Epoxy Buckets 2018
Cover EVERYTHING in plastic while mixing epoxy!

Your goal for the first pour is not to get a perfect glass sheet over the pennies. You want to get everything sealed into place and have the gaps between your pennies filled. I waited 6 hours and the Epoxy was semi hard. My first pour got everything covered, but you could still see some of the pennies sticking through the epoxy glaze. The second pour fully covered everything in an even sheet, with the exception of a few spots and corners.

Countertops Epoxy Edge Tape 2018
Second Layer of Epoxy poured

After waiting overnight, I had enough epoxy left for 1 single 24 oz epoxy pour. I went around and poured small sections where the previous layers hadn’t full covered. I should have gotten more and done a complete final layer. Without enough epoxy to spread over the entire surface, I ended up with some lines and edges in certain places — essentially you can see where I filled in the gaps because there wasn’t enough to cover the entire surface. Spreading too thin left streaks in my final coat, so don’t try that either. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone would notice these imperfections besides myself…but it is something to watch out for. Only pour enough epoxy if you can cover the entire area.

After the epoxy had fully cured for 48 hours; I removed the foil tape, and sanded the epoxy edges where it met the tape border. I then purchased a 10 ft length of floor trim. This was flexible enough to make the curve in my countertop. My plan is to wrap this edge piece in solid copper, but that will be in a couple months. Before installing the edge trim; I spray painted the edging with Copper color paint and put 2 layers of polyurethane on. I them drilled it directly into the countertop edges and clear caulked between the countertop and the edge trim.


Countertops Finished 1 2018
Finished countertops with sink installed

Written By:

Luke Langhals

More Pictures:

Countertop Before & After Edited 2 2018
Before and After picture

Finding and Restoring: Original Hardwood

When I first purchased my home, i was praying that original hardwood was hiding underneath the massive amounts of carpet that blanketed the house. Luckily, I was able to pull up the carpet and found beautiful 100 year old hardwood available for refinishing! After refinishing the floors in the rest of the house 2 years ago, I decided it was finally time to find out what was happening underneath the layers of linoleum in the kitchen.

Job Summary:

1. Refinishing hardwood can be a sustainable way to keep an old home’s character and restore the vibrancy of beautiful wood.

2. Perform demo by removing Linoleum, Tacking Nails, Underlayment, felt/tar paper, and glue.

3. Prep the floors, repair damaged sections, sand the floors, polyurethane!

Job Cost = $900.00 (demo by myself; refinishing by professional)

When pulling up glued linoleum, I always start at a floor grate. Remove the grate and begin chipping underneath the flooring with a flat head screw driver. Below you can see the beginning of this process taking place. Getting down two layers of linoleum to reach the underlayment wood (praying there would be hardwood underneath the sheets of underlayment).

Kitchen Floor Begin Demo 2018
Starting to remove the top layer of flooring

A crowbar is very useful for removing linoleum tiles. After getting down to the wood underlayment sheets, you can start at a doorway and get your crowbar underneath the wooden underlayment that was put down below the linoleum. These sheets are generally 1/4″ thick and are tacked down to the floor below. Using a crow bar as leverage, force the wooden sheets to pop up and try to avoid splitting them as much as possible. They should be roughly 4′ by 8′ sheets and they splinter easily.

Kitchen Floor Demo 2 2018
Getting down to the original hardwood

After removing all the underlayment materials, I found 2 more layers of linoleum glued to felt paper that was glued directly to the wood floor. These layers had hundreds of tacks through them from the multiple layers of flooring that were installed over the years. The best way to remove these tacks is a simple lineman plier. use the wire cutting section to get under the nail-head and leverage the nail out of the floor. This is the longest part of any wood floor reveal. Removing carpet tacking is the exact same process. I’ve seen people run a pry bar along the floor to rip up all these tacks….but personally I find using pliers on each individual nail does a better job and protects the floor from damage.

Kitchen Floor tack remove 2018
Pliers removing nail

We are getting close to hardwood and beginning to see the wood lines underneath all of this mess!

However, I discovered that my floors had some form of felt paper glued on top of the hardwood planks — probably about 60 years ago. This felt material was extremely durable and probably helped protect the floors from glue and moisture. However, it was also impossible to remove with a sander or scraper. It just would not budge off the wood and I knew even a commercial sander would just become immediately gummed up trying to cut through this.

I tried laying down wet towels to saturate the felt paper, I tried mineral spirits to break up the old glue, I tried scraping by hand….nothing worked to get this sticky mess off my floor.

Finally, I came across another blog that mentioned using a wall paper steamer to dislodge the stuck paper. After filling my steamer up with water, I let the steamer square sit on the felt paper for about 20 seconds. I then moved it to the next section and scraped the now wet/hot tar paper with a standard 2.5″ putty knife — it came off sooo easily now!

I worked in sections, moving the steamer square another foot and scraping the previous part of floor that was just steamed. The picture below shows my progress. I would estimate the entire kitchen took about 4 hours of this process of steam then scrape. Use kneepads to save yourself some pain.

Kitchen Floor Steamer 2018
Removing old tar paper with steamer

After steaming and scraping you can see the now uncovered original hardwood floors. They are ready to be refinished.

Kitchen Floor Finsih Demo 2018
After steamer and before sanding

I’ve tried to refinish floors myself in the past….and despite a valiant effort, I do not have the skill required. Sanding, finishing, and poly is an art form. I always recommend hiring a professional for your personal home. On rental properties, I have no problem sanding and putting on some polyurethane — However, I like my house to have a more specialized touch.

After performing all the demo and exposing the wood, I called my wood floor guy and scheduled the finishing work. He used his 240V sander to expose fresh hardwood, countersunk all remaining nail heads that were too deep to remove, and then putty’d the entire floor to cover cracks and holes. This putty is a special material used specifically to flex with wood flooring. It isn’t used on new wood floors but it is very useful on 100 year old floors with some splitting and hole issues. My floor guy did one level of sanding, troweled on the putty, and returned the next day for a final sand.

kitchen floor paste 2018
Floors with wood putty troweled on to remove imperfections and fill holes

After the final sanding, the only remaining steps are to apply the first coat of polyurethane — wait a few hours — apply a second coat of polyurethane — wait 24 more hours.

Kitchen Floor Poly on 2018
Floors after first coat of poly. BEAUTIFUL!

The Kitchen Floors are finished and it’s time to continue with the rest of the Kitchen remodel. Let’s get to cutting and replacing the floor trim!

Written By:
Luke Langhals


Painting and Updating: Wood Paneling

At some point in my home’s history — the owner thought wood paneling would be a nice update. Over the years, many old houses have had their plaster walls covered with inexpensive wood paneling. The reasoning is simple…it is inexpensive!

However, wood paneling has become a bit outdated and often makes rooms feel a little cheap/gloomy.

One option is to cheaply paint the wood paneling and give it a nice updated feel. I’ve done this several times in houses and feel confident in the quality of my work. Paneling generally has a shiny coat and requires close attention to detail in order for paint too adhere.

Paneling Paint 2018
Before Picture

First: Clean the wood paneling using warm water and vinegar. This removes the buildup of oil, grease, and dust.

Second: Prep the wood by sanding; use a semi-fine grit sand paper and make sure you rough up all areas. I recommend sanding up and down in the direction of the panels. Circle sanding might show through your finished paint. You do not need to sand all the way through the finish — just insure it is rough to the touch after sanding. Wipe off sanding dust with damp paper towels.

Third: Brush a quality interior primer on the wood paneling. Allow this to dry completely for 24 hours to increase adherence. I always use the KILZ Hide-All primer which costs under $15 a gallon.

Fourth: Choose your paint color and buy a quality paint + primer in one. I prefer the look of Satin finishes for interior work. Semi-Gloss often ends up too shiny for living spaces. I brush the first layer on to insure I get all the nooks within the paneling. After this I roll on another coat of paint for a smooth finish.

Paneling Painted 2018
After paint: Light Gray with slight purple hue

This is an easy project that can be done in 1-2 days. The most time consuming step is lightly sanding the glossy finish off of your wood paneling.

Let me know if you have questions.


Colorado: 2 Day Backpacking Trip 2018

This September 2018, me and my father wanted a nice 2 day backpacking trip while I was visiting Colorado. I wanted to get my boots on the famous CDT as well as see some amazing viewpoints.

Trip Summary: Our chosen route involved traveling 6 miles up the North Lake Trail until it meets the Wyoming Trail and Continental Divide. Next we hiked north along the Wyoming trail and camped on the ridge line. Finally, the second day we completed the Gilpin Trail section of the popular Zirkel Circle hike. Luckily we had a driver for this trip and therefore our loop did not begin and end at the same location. The total hike was about 19 miles.

Colorado Backpack Loop 2018.PNG
Hike route overview

To begin, you must find the trail head at the end of forest road 443. This road is a mix of gravel, dirt, and large rocks. High clearance vehicles are highly recommended. We actually left our ride a mile before the trail head due to rough driving conditions. The Subaru did great, but I would recommend you have a spare tire and drive slowly!

Colorado North Lake Parking 2018.jpg
North Lake Trail parking area

The trail head is marked with a CDT badge. This is where through hikers get down off the official continental divide. There is also a log book for checking in/off the trail. The North Lake trail is well marked and hard to miss.

Colorado North Lake trail head CDT 2018
My first time on the CDT

We began by gaining elevation quickly. This section of trail is heavily covered in trees and offers some great natural environments. Be ready for switchbacks and elevation gain. After climbing for 4 miles you will reach a very interesting section of trail. There is a dead expanse of trees that is eerily beautiful and slightly foreboding. I have never before witnessed a burned area with this many standing trees left intact. The wind literally whistles between the trunks and adds something special to the North Lake trail.

Colorado North Lake trail 2018
Standing section of dead trees

The trail levels out for the next mile but is still heading upwards at a slower pace. We trudged onward until reaching this trails namesake — North Lake.

Colorado North Lake 2018
North Lake: A perfect place for wildlife views and lunch

After leaving North Lake, you do not have far to travel before reaching the ridge line and continental divide. Again the junction is well marked and the Wyoming Trail leads you either North or South. For our purposes, we headed North (left) towards Zirkel Circle.

Colorado Wyoming Trail Head 2018
North Lake Trail meets Wyoming Trail

After reaching the Wyoming Trail, you will officially be out of the forest an on top of the ridge line. Be ready for high winds and expansive 360 degree views. The ground is covered with long grass and it makes the trail difficult to see. Keep your eyes open for the wooden pylons that will keep you on the trail.

Colorado Hank Backpacking 2018
My Dad making backpacking look too easy

We hiked along this section for 2 miles while looking for a camping destination. My dad knew of a spring he had utilized in the past and eventually we did find a trickle of water coming from some rocks. In September, the spring was not flowing much, but it did allow us enough moving water to fill our bottles and camp nearby. The views are quite amazing in this section and the swaying grass is peaceful. However, beware that conditions were VERY windy for us and that made sleeping a tad difficult on the ridge line. Most experienced backpackers would have foregone this section, as ridge camping is never recommended 🙂

Our campsite was after passing the Three Island Trail junction and before reaching the Long Pine Trail junction. I suggest you use a mapping service like HikingProject to determine your GPS location and help follow the journey.

Colorado Wyoming Camping 2018
My camping spot for the night. Windy but beautiful

If you trek off-trail to the east for about 1/4 mile, you will find the viewpoint overlooking Bighorn lake. Try to keep your bearings when hiking off trail. The view from this location is well worth the added effort.

Colorado Bighorn lake 2018
Bighorn Lake ridge viewpoint

In September the continental divide dropped in temperature dramatically after sunset. I was fully insulated with base layers and using a 20F rated sleeping bag. This seemed like a comfortable sleeping combination but expect a cold morning whenever backpacking at elevation.

After awakening to a cold morning, we spotted a huge Coyote staring at us from the tall grass. It quickly loped away after noticing we had spotted it watching, but it did provide some needed distraction from the frozen air. Next, some coffee and breakfast, then we broke camp quickly. Hiking is the only way to alleviate your bones and muscles on a freezing cold morning. Again, this section of trail is tricky to follow and involves keeping an eye on the wooden pylons for guidance. You will pass the junction of Long Pine Trail and begin dropping in elevation towards the Gold Creek Lake Trail.

Colorado Morning Hike 2018
Morning hike to warm up

After traveling about 1.5 miles and quickly dropping into the valley below; there are several nice camping spots near running water. The view might not be as nice, but the wind conditions were almost assuredly better. If you choose to follow our hike here, I would recommend camping in this location. This is almost immediately before encountering the Cold Creek Lake Trail (AKA Zirkel Circle).

After reaching the trail junction, you could choose to quickly exit the hike by heading west on the Cold Creek Lake Trail for 3 miles to the Slavonia Trail Head. However, we wanted to see the beautiful Gilpin Lake and therefore headed Northeast on this loop and took the roughly 8 mile route around the Zirkel Circle.

There is a river crossing on the trail that might require some tactful maneuvering. It was easy during September, but my Father said it generally has high water during summer months.

The next major obstacle is a series of switchbacks to get up and over the rocky ridge and into Gilpin lake.

Colorado Back Before Gilpen 2018
Looking backwards after the switchbacks

Next, we capped the rocky peak and stood in amazement — the viewpoint is fantastic. One second I was huffing and puffing….next second I was staring at a bowl of stone, filled with magic.

Colorado Cresting Gilpen 2018
First look upon Gilpin Lake.

After cresting the ridge and enjoying this moment of glory; It is time to head down into the valley, circle the lake, and head home.

Throughout the duration of this hike we had yet to encounter another soul.  I knew that North Lake trail and Wyoming trail were infrequently traveled this time of year, but I never expected to have a completely deserted hike.

Reaching the Zirkel Circle meant also reaching popular Colorado hiking trails. While circling the lake, we passed an amazing sheer rock climbing wall. I had a little fun myself by scaling up to a safe level (without a harness).

Colorado Rock Climb 2018
Scaling some rock

We continued circling the lake and enjoying the surrounding mountains. Hikers were numerous but the conversations were good. It was fun running into fellow trekkers after a full day of seclusion.

Eventually we reached the opposite side of the lake. From here you can look backwards and view the ridge crossing that originally dropped you into the Valley.

Colorado other side of Gilpen 2018
View from the opposite side of Gilpin Lake

Finally, we exited the Gilpin area and hiked the final few miles towards Slavonia trail-head and our waiting car. My Stepmom Beth was nice enough to provide transportation for this semi-loop hike. Or else we would have had to get creative to enter and exit this two day backpacking trip.

Colorado after Gilpen 2018
Nearing the end of Zirkel Circle

We were lucky enough to visit while the Aspen trees were turning a miraculous yellow/orange. This natural colorful landscape made the final section enjoyable and it was also nice to be hiking downhill for a change!

Overall, this backpacking loop took us two full days. It totaled about 19 miles of hiking and will go down as one of my favorite treks in the United States.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Written By:

Luke Langhals



6 Quotes for Environmental Motivation

Anyone who knows me, knows that I enjoy a good quote. Much like a perfect song — a quote can seem like it is meant to be said at a certain place and a certain time.

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“If you violate nature’s laws you are your own prosecuting attorney, judge, jury, and hangman.” – Luther Burbank

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“We cannot live without the Earth or apart from it, and something is shrivelled in a man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.” – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

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“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” —John James Audubon

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“Unless we keep this planet healthy, everything else is for naught.” – Victoria Principal

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“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” —Theodore Roosevelt

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“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” – Henry David Thoreau