Peak G is one 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 of13,240 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.
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 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.
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 a campsite we utilized about 1.5 mile SE of the Mt. Powell trail turnoff. From our 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 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 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.