"Climbers Gathering" to be held Friday, Feb. 23 at Camp George West, Bldg. 48 in Golden from 5:30 - 10:00 PM. This informal event is open to the public and intended mostly for Colorado peakbaggers, whether it be 14ers, 13ers or other summits. Please RSVP to: [email protected]. Bring your own food and beverage.
Peak G is on the southern end of what has become known as "The Ripsaw Ridge," which starts to the north at Peak C. Some climbers looking for sustained, high altitude adventure may want to consider doing that entire ridge section and reports can be found online. Much of it runs at Class 3 to Class 4. There is some controversy concerning the correct summit elevation for Peak G. The USGS map shows a twin summit with the southern one showing a contour line indicating a minimum elevation of 13,240 ft. The northern summit only shows a minimum elevation of 13,200 ft. In reality, the northern summit is clearly higher than the southern, leading to the conclusion that the USGS map should have added an additional 40 foot contour line to the northern summit. Because of this apparent error, Gerry Roach, Theron Welch & John Kirk have both listed the elevation for Peak G as an interpolated 13,260 ft. for the northern summit. To add some more fuel to this discussion however, on Google Earth, the highest elevation we can obtain for the south summit is 13,235 ft. For the north summit, we can only get 13,165 ft. Yet, as said before, the north summit is visually & clearly the higher. The solution of course, is to tag both. And now, per Lidar evaluation, The Peak G north summit has been measured as 13,306 ft.
Peak G by the route we describe is a Class 4 scramble with a trailhead at the Piney River Ranch out of Vail. It can be done as a long day hike or part of a backpack trip that could also net other 13ers in the area including Peak C, Mount Powell, and Eagle's Nest. The trailhead is accessible to most passenger vehicles.
From I-70, take Exit 176 for Vail. Take your first right thru the roundabout onto North Frontage Road (you will now be traveling on the north side of the interstate and driving west.) Go .9 mile and turn right onto Red Sandstone Road 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 a short distance where you will see a sign for Piney Lake two miles ahead. Turn right at the sign for Piney Lake. To the left at this turn is a trailhead parking area.
The dirt road, now #701, becomes a little rougher, but still passable. Along the right hand side of this road is a split rail fence in somewhat poor condition that is apparently intended to prevent camping in just any location. There are a few openings in this fence that allow access to a campsite. We only counted three or four - all of this a change from previous years. 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 there is a large, open area and just after crossing the river, there's a trailhead parking area that could serve for car-camping. Along the two mile stretch of road after that crossing that leads up to the ranch, there are now a limited number of 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. A spot we used in 2020 was located perhaps less than a half mile from the Piney River crossing. See coordinates below.
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!
For the Peak G approach, read the "Approach" tab and especially the section that deals with continuing up the trail from the Mount Powell trail junction to Upper Piney Lake. Our description provides some campsite hints if you want to backpack into here and the following description begins at the "Horse Collar" campsite about .7 mile SE of the Mt. Powell trail turnoff. From the trailhead parking at Piney Lake it's 4.15 miles to the campsite, then 3.2 miles to Peak G summit. From that campsite, we continued on the unmaintained trail which stayed on the east side of the valley and meandered southeast through forest and meadows. The best directions we had for climbing Peak G had us continue up valley to close to a minor creek and drainage that descends southwest from the saddle between Peaks F and G. It was a little difficult to locate the small creek draining from the basin below Peaks F & G as described. We had to stop several times and orient ourselves using avalanche chutes across the valley as our main bearing. But we did locate the creek and began our main ascent just to the north of it. To get here, the trail we followed was along the edge of a large meadow in the center of the valley. The mile or so stroll through here got our boots and pants thoroughly wet again. At times, the trail would branch to avoid some of the marshier areas. Some of these other branches we followed on the way back out. At times, the choices become a little confusing, but for the most part, they all come back together. These coordinates should get you to an open meadow at the foot of that drainage: N 39° 43' 14.50" W 106° 19' 53.66"
The main ascent is insanely steep. In just a fraction over a horizontal mile, you gain about 2,600 feet. You do the math! Upon leaving the main trail, you must first do some serious bushwhacking through a lot of fallen logs, etc. After a short distance of that, things improve as you hike steeply up through forest, following faint game trails. These trails will lead up past a cliff system and then back over to the creek where you can hike on the north side all the way up into the tundra and rock basin below the peak. After an exhausting hour of this hiking, you will reach the last group of trees in the basin and can continue a little beyond that to a point where according to the contours, the steepness relents just a little at around 12,000 ft. Take a break on some large boulders, which is about the only place you can find with any secure footing. From here on, almost all of the remaining ascent will be on broken rock. While taking a break, study the mountain above and possible routes. The large couloir that leads to the saddle between F and G is quite obvious, but it looks unrelentingly steep and rocky and not very inviting. However, that is a route that some choose to take and correctly done goes at no more than Class 4. Well to the right of that saddle, there is another couloir, that lower down certainly appears rocky and difficult, but up towards its head, appears to lessen in difficulty and even offer a tundra covered slope that leads to the summit ridge. It was our estimation and hope that this couloir would lead us to a point on the summit ridge, just south of the higher, north summit. It turns out, we were wrong in our estimation of where it would come out. A little more careful study of the map would have led to the conclusion that this couloir would bring us out just south of the southern summit and just north of the 13,129 “Black” benchmark.
Head on up this couloir with a difficult middle section but becoming easier higher up. We found a number of conditions, all the way from large, broken, unstable rocks to sand and gravel higher up where we had to use ice axes to plunge into the sand to help stabilize our footing. After another hour of climbing, reach that smoother looking tundra area at the head of the couloir and “stroll” to the main ridge. Make a left turn to reach the Peak G south summit, which appears to be only a hundred yards or less away and less than 200 feet in gain. It's an easy stroll to that summit, and probably the easiest thing you will do on this ascent. The higher north summit lies along a rugged looking ridge. Looking along the ridge, you will see is a jumble of broken rock, great, fractured blocks and a tedious traverse that will require considerable time even though the actual distance is probably less than a quarter mile.
As you initially start out, you will quickly reach a place where some 4-point scrambling up a short wall will be required. When you reach what you may expect to be the summit you will see that there is still farther to go. The ridge itself is kind of entertaining. There were some times we remained on the crest and other times we dropped on one side or the other and then regained it. Exactly what we did would be impossible to describe, but there were a few cairns along the way to help guide us. In all, it took almost a half hour to achieve the true summit which was a rocky, uncomfortable place with a large cairn built to a sharp point. You may want to take a number of pictures, especially of Peak C to the north and of the “Ripsaw” connecting ridge.
For the descent, some may wish to continue north along the ridge to the saddle between F and G, but a careful study of this section of ridge will reveal further difficulties. We knew from one account it was not wise to drop immediately down from here and the steep couloirs certainly offered no temptation. So our final decision was to proceed back along the ridge and descend the way we had come up. This meant another 20 – 30 minutes of ridge work, trying the best we could to retrace our route. We succeeded fairly well in accomplishing that and overall, the ridge is mostly stable and an entertaining scramble.
Back at the south summit, walk easily down to the saddle above the couloir you came up and then begin the arduous, knee-bashing descent in sand, gravel, rock, scree, and sporadic tundra. Near the bottom of the descent swing a little more north to intersect the trail in an easier fashion. This helps avoid some of the more difficult bushwhacking of the morning. Another 20 – 25 minutes of walking along the multiple trails brought us back to the campsite we had used.
For an alternative way up, continue hiking up Piney River on the fading trail all the way to the unnamed lake at 10,560 ft. From the lake, you can take a less steep ascent up to the same basin south of Peak G and west of 13,129 Black Pt. This will also involve some serious bushwhacking until out of timber and there are rock outcrops and cliffs to avoid.