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 trailhead parking area begins immediately to gain some elevation and continues to remain above the lake and a lower lake trail until after the lake. The trail continues up valley, with a few switchbacks to help gain elevation and remains well above the valley bottom and the Piney River until you approach the falls that most day hikers want to see. A little before the falls, the trail loses some elevation. 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 for viewing the falls & cascades, hike on upstream a little more (about 5 minutes) until you locate a large, vertically stacked cairn marking a trail that turns off on the left and leads up to the basin below Mt. Powell and Peak C. There are two possible turnoffs and this is the first. A fallen tree somewhat obscures where the trail takes off. Coordinates are: N 39° 44' 13.0" W 106° 21' 38.2". A few more minutes of hiking on the main trail continuing east brings you to an older turnoff. This trail intersection is in a nice forested area of conifers and a few medium-sized boulders to sit on, and even without a cairn, the trail is quite visible. It was approximately 3.2 miles from the parking area. Coordinates for this second turnoff are: N 39° 44' 15.8" W 106° 21' 32.9". 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 and Upper Piney Lake from where you can climb The Spider (UN 12,692), West Partner Peak, Peaks P & J & H, continue on the main Upper Piney River Trail as it turns SE. Shortly, you will cross a major tributary on fallen logs that drains the basin below Peak C & Mt. Powell. This trail is fairly easy to follow for the next 1.5 mile but then does not receive much use so it begins to fade out and become more difficult to follow. About 15 minutes past the turnoffs for the Peaks C/Mt. Powell, the trail passes by a very nice campsite. A signed carved into a tree there calls this location the "Horse Collar Camp" and indicates it was established in 1923. It's in a grove of conifers and has plenty of level spots for tents, a fire ring and logs to sit on and is close to the river. Coordinates are: N 39° 44' 08.4" W 106° 21' 01.3". Continuing on from there, the "Vail East" USGS map shows the trail terminating abruptly in an open meadow at about 10,260 ft., having crossed to the west side of the creek and more than a mile past the aforementioned campsite. This is not accurate.
Trails Illustrated # 108 shows the trail as an unmaintained trail. This is accurate, but it still misleads one into thinking it will cross the river and then recross a little later. This also is no longer accurate. The trail now remains on the east side of the Piney River all the way to Upper Piney Lake. Beyond the unnamed, small lake at 11,560 ft., the trail becomes even more difficult to follow, but it at least leads directly to this unnamed lake. The last mile before that unnamed little lake, it does a lot of weaving around obstacles and there are at least two times that there appear to be alternate trails. There are many fallen trees to cross. For Peak G, having revisited this area in 2020, we would suggest setting up a campsite at the Horse Collar Camp mentioned previously and doing an out and back day hike to Peak G from there. Above the Horse Collar Camp, we did not see any good campsites until you arrive at the unnamed lake, which could also serve as a camp to reach Peaks G, F, and H. We should also mention that along the way to the unnamed lake, the trail comes very close to the Piney River on two occasions. The first time is fairly brief. The second time, it follows closely along the creek for some time. At one point, there's a small cairn that indicates a place to head up the embankment on the left and leave following the creek, or you can continue for a few more hundred yards until the trail abruptly turns left and climbs steeply up the embankment for about 20 feet before leveling out some. At the unnamed lake, there is good camping in the open meadow or up on a rock outcrop that overlooks that meadow. You will see a minor trail turning off for that outcrop shortly before arriving at the meadow.
Another item to correct, Trails Illustrated shows the trail going around the east side of the unnamed lake at 11,560 ft. This too is inaccurate. When the trail enters the open meadow on the west side of the lake, head over to the right, cross the small stream that serves as the lake outlet and head over to a rocky outcrop with trees still on the west shore of the lake. You'll pick the trail up thee. It does some more ascending after this point to reach the elevation of the Upper Piney Lake and levels out well before the lake, crossing marshy, vegetated areas and rock outcrops. It tends to be quite marshy along the eastern shore of the lake. The setting is beautiful and outstanding. Well worth the effort. Classic Colorado!
Our preferred campsite is in the small basin described above. See the coordinates provided, however you may find others camped here as well. There are no trees close by.