With all the snow that has fallen, access to the high country will be a challenge for a significant part of the summer. If you have useful updates to road, trail or peak access, please post on our Facebook page. "Like" our FB page to receive email notices of new updates posted. Be prepared & be safe out there!
From I-70, take Exit 176 for Vail. Take your first right thru the roundabout on to North Frontage Road (you will now be traveling on the north side of the interstate and driving west.) At Red Sandstone Road turn right, and follow the paved road about 0.7 miles, past two switchbacks. Just before the sharp curve to the right (3rd switchback) the dirt road you need to take will be a left turn on the curve here. There should be a large green Forest Service sign indicating this is Red Sandstone Road #700 (Reset your odometer here). As you head generally north on this road, it will have frequent sharp curves and changes in direction as it crosses several drainages.
Continue for about 2.7 miles to a fork in the road at Lost Lake Road (#786). Keep left here to stay on Red Sandstone Road.
Around mile 6.5 you will pass Red and White Mtn Road/FSR 734 which forks to the left - Stay straight. At mile 6.7 you will pass another fork to the left for Muddy Pass/Moniger Road. Stay straight. Immediately after, the road begins to drop on two switchbacks down a forested side of the mountain to the Piney River.
When you are just over two miles from the ranch, you will cross a small bridge over Piney River. Follow the road as it curves to the right, where you will see a sign for Piney Lake two miles ahead.
You will reach a Forest Service parking lot on the right at mile 10.65 before the entrance to Piney River Ranch. If you are only hiking, and not a ranch guest, park in this lot. The trailhead is on the north side of the parking lot (left side of the parking lot as one faces the Piney River Ranch entrance). Allow up to 45 minutes to make this drive.
At the crossing of Piney River and along the two mile stretch of road after that crossing that leads up to the ranch, there are numerous primitive site opportunities. However, we offer the following warning. On one of our two visits here on a Friday evening, we found most every possible site taken and there were boisterous campers who kept us up much of the night with loud music, partying and even shooting off pistols in the middle of the night. On our second visit and overnight camp (which was on a Thursday evening this time) we were awakened at 1:00 AM in the morning by two very drunk men attempting to paddle a canoe down the Piney River in the dark. For 20 minutes or longer, we listened to their loud voices as they would get out of the canoe to get around some obstacle, splash around in the water, stumble, and then get back in the canoe. Eventually they were out of earshot, but our impression of this place is that it's the "in" spot for partiers.
If you want some peace and quiet, you may want to search for a primitive site somewhere along the Red Sandstone Road before coming to the Piney River crossing. There are some spots visible on Google Earth and on the two FS roads mentioned above that turn off to the left just before the descent down the mountainside to cross Piney River. Just be careful to not end up on private property.
When we first climbed Mt. Powell by using this approach in 1994, the Piney River Trail (#1885) stayed low in the valley past the lake and then gradually gained above the valley bottom, passing through marshes, until it took you to the turn in the valley to the south. This is what the 1970 USGS map shows. But the trail has since been revised so that now, the trail from the near the resort begins to gain elevation shortly after the lake. You probably gain a minimum of 400 feet with several switchbacks, before the trail then drops you back down nearly 200 feet toward the Piney River, where it crosses some rocky outcrops that form some nice cascades for the river below. Do not accidentally get misled onto Trail #1889 that takes off to the left not too far past Piney Lake. That trail goes to the Soda Lakes.
From where the trail has dropped down closer to the Piney River, hike on upstream a little more until you locate a large cairn marking a trail that turns off on the left and leads up to the basin below Mt. Powell and Peak C. This trail intersection is in a nice forested area and even without the cairn, the trail is quite visible. (On our visit here, someone deliberately knocked down the cairn while we were camped up above.) It was approximately 3.2 miles from the parking area The only thing confusing about it is the initial direction it takes, first heading north and switchbacking west before turning abruptly east to climb steeply into the aforementioned basin. This particular trail starts out easy enough to follow, but after a few hundred feet of gain in the forest, it crosses into some highly vegetated areas where it becomes easily lost in the abundant corn lilies, willows, Queen Anne’s Lace, and assorted other flowers. It is very steep through here and a struggle with full packs.
After a somewhat swampy section, the trail becomes more visible again as it makes a very steep gain up an open bench. At the top of this, it finally relents in the steep gain and you may pass an early, but small campsite in some open trees to the right. We wanted to get closer to our two peaks we would climb from here though, so we continued on, sweating freely in the morning sun as we crossed through more open meadows and made one more gain to the west end of the upper basin. This basin that lies at about 11,225 ft., is bordered on the south by the steep slope of a great, rock glacier. It is a relatively flat area of a few acres, with a pleasant stream flowing through, abundant flowers, and surrounded by dramatic peaks, Peak C taking center stage because of its towering appearance above. We arrived here in about 3.5 hours from the trailhead and immediately set up tents as we were greeted by first three, and then a small herd of mountain goats. We had to keep an eye on them as we set things up and were concerned they might take off with some of our gear, but they were mostly just interested in our urine. This campsite makes a very good location to launch off for Mt. Powell, Eagle's Nest and Peak C, all of which can be climbed in just a few hours from this location, with Eagle's Nest taking the longest.
For a Peak G approach, return to the trail junction near the Piney River. From that junction, stay on the Piney River Trail as it turns to the SE. This trail was fairly easy to follow for the next 1.5 mile but then does not receive much use so it begins to fade out. The USGS map shows it abruptly terminating in an open meadow at about 10,260 ft. Trails Illustrated shows it as an unmaintained trail. Some recent reports we have seen indicate to us that the FS may be attempting to close this section of trail. Those reports indicate is may be blocked and difficult to spot now. In 2006, we began to lose the trail where the USGS map shows it to terminate, however, the Trails Illustrated map shows it continuing all the way to Upper Piney Lake. That map shows the trail staying on the north side of the river for much of the upper distance. For Peak G, you may want to pack up to near some coordinates provided below for a possible campsite to climb Peak G from. Or you could ditch backpacks back at the earlier trail junction and complete Peak G as a "day hike" from that junction. The coordinates we're providing are in an open meadow area that is close to where you would begin the ascent of Peak G. If you decide to try and backpack up the river, in 2006 we found one nice campsite, pretty much in the middle of the trail, just a few minutes beyond where the trail takes the turn to the south. About 3/4 mile farther, and up a steep section of trail followed by a bench, was another campsite that could accommodate multiple tents. The site we used was another 25 minutes past there.
The ascent route for Eagle's Nest begins at the suggested campsite at 11,225 ft. near the foot of Mt. Powell. Consult the Piney River Trailhead and Approach for details in how to reach that campsite location.
From the proposed campsite head NNW up a valley of mostly tundra with rock outcrops mixed in and some talus to a pass located between Mt. Powell to the east and the impressive UN12,626 to the west. We called this Grappel Pass. Not sure where that name came from. Another source called it "Game Pass" because the mountain goats have established a trail to it. Head north on over the pass and begin losing elevation, but instead of dropping hard to the left into the principle drainage, if you veer a little right, you can pick up a bench-like slope that parallels the Powell-Eagle's Nest ridge and gradually loses elevation to the north. This bench runs fairly straight and keeps you below the cliffs and talus rubble of the ridge above to your right. It is quite visible on Google Earth. Along the way, it passes by rocky outcrops, and there may be some willow-bashing but it at least keeps you out of the even more willowy drainage below. Walk nearly a mile north along this bench.
The only information we had at the time suggested traversing north below the Powell/Eagle's Nest ridge and all the cliffs and rubble until you were directly below the low point of that connecting ridge, then to ascend up to the low point and scramble north along the ridge crest to Eagle's Nest. The problem is, from a vantage point well below that ridge, but still so close, it's impossible to tell where the "low point" is.
Though we never could find the low point on the ridge, what we could see ahead of us were two prominent ridge-lines descending off the west flank of the ridge/peak, both of which seemed to offer some inviting tundra hiking for much of the way up toward the south ridge of the peak. So we headed toward the first green ridge and began hiking up. For a long time, we hiked up the steep ridge-line. It was never very difficult, but certainly steep. Most of it was covered in grass and tundra as we expected. After probably at least 800 feet of gain, we crossed to the north side of this grassy ridge and dropped into another fairly wide gully that was a combination of tundra and some loose rock. We followed this gully all the way to its head, which was probably not too far below the south ridge of the peak, but at the head, we were confronted by a sheer cliff directly ahead, or a stiff climb and perhaps technical on rock towards the ridge. Fortunately and almost miraculously, as we arrived at the base of the sheer cliff, a narrow, almost slot-canyon-like little couloir appeared to our left that gained about 100 vertical feet and led us to another ridge descending west off the main south ridge. The couloir was easy to negotiate and once out of it we almost immediately dropped over into another fairly wide gully that allowed further progress toward the south ridge. This gully was mostly broken rock, but footing was fairly secure. Toward the head of it, we veered right and scrambled up some nice rocks to the south ridge.
Once you gain the south ridge, you may want to mark that point for your return trip. Headed north now, on up the south ridge. As our information said, the ridge was entertaining, but never intimidating. It still required quite a bit of time to make it to the summit. You may still need to gain 400 – 500 feet and cover more than a third of a mile to reach the summit. The ridge provides a number of interesting problems. There are slabs of rock to scamper up, outcrops to avoid or contour around, a minor cliff band, and plenty of broken stuff to hike over, but at the most, this ridge section is upper 2nd class work. The USGS map shows three possible summits for Eagle's Nest. The middle is the highest. When you arrive, you will enjoy impressive views of this more northern section of the Gores. For the return trip, we suggest going back as you came. More ambitious climbers may want to consider an ascent of three twelvers west of the "Grappel Pass" on the way back. Also, Dave Cooper lists the Eagle's Nest to Mt. Powell ridge connect as one of his "scramble routes." That traverse is lengthy and offers 3rd and 4th class work to reach Powell. There are also useful reports on 14ers.com and SummitPost.