Distance: Approximate 3 miles one way to the cabin
Cabin Elevation: 9100'
Difficulty Level: Blue
Usage Rate: Low
Trail Open To: Skiers, Snowmachines
Date Skied: 19-21 Jan 2013
Overview: The Piney Guard Station is a small, rustic, one-room cabin that was once used as a work station for Forest Service crews. It is located at 9,100 feet and provides views of the Gore Range. The gentle ascent makes this a good ski getaway, appropriate for overnight trips using light touring skis and pulks. We stayed two nights which was the perfect amount of time to travel in leisure and explore the area.
The Drive: Driving along I-70, no snow. Turn onto Highway 113 heading North, no snow. Turning Right into Muddy Pass Road, no snow. One mile later, some snow. Then more snow. Then will-we-make-it-to-the-parking-lot amount of snow. Then where are the goggles because I'm going snowblind amount of snow. The "parking lot" is where Muddy Pass Road #700 intersects with #744. The plows have cleared an area and there are impenetrable berms all around. The area is rich in snowmachines so there is a "groomed" route all the way to the cabin.
The Ski: The route is not steep and would be perfect for lightweight touring skis. The temps were cold, cooler and more humid than other trips I had been on so be prepared! I wore my beefier telemark equipment and while my feet stayed warm, I got hot spots on my ankles from my heavy boots.
The main snowmachine route stayed on FR #700 heading toward Vail. While obviously there were tracks to the cabin, we encountered no snowmachines nor heard any traffic on this MLK weekend.
Regarding pulks: This was our first overnight trip with pulks. We made them ourselves using rope, garden poles and cheap sleds. We have since improved the design over the years as the various prototypes have failed in different and spectacular ways. I pulled mine with a rope, and ropes aren't an easy way to pull pulks. The sleds secured by ropes overtake a person on descents and nip at your heels. Also with ropes there is a constant pushing and pulling motion as the sleds don't match the glide of the skier. Chad used rigid garden poles that he had glued eye bolts into each end. The glue failed in the cold temperatures. It would have been better if he left the eye bolts out and ran a rope through the hollow tube. The trip to the cabin was slow going as we fiddled with our gear for more comfort.
The route is a gentle, rolling ascent through a forest filled with aspens. This would be a spectacular trip with the autumn colors! The log book inside the cabin said that fall visitors heard the eerie bugling of an elk herd just outside the door.
The briefest of downhills marks the route to the cabin. Initially we were confused and could not find the cabin because we had become reliant on the snowmachine tracks. When you arrive at a large and open clearing, look to your right and there is the cabin.
The cabin is tucked into the trees on the right of the meadow.
The snowmachine tracks stop at the fence before the cabin, and FS Rangers and visitors have shoveled pathways to the outhouse, the wood stack, and the front door.
It's difficult to describe just how rustic this cabin is. I don't believe that the FS website does it justice. It's incredibly small. Imagine a bedroom with enough room for a picnic table, a wood burning stove and a bunk bed. While there were cots to accommodate two extra people I don't know how that would work in winter. You'd have to get creative - Tetris style. It really is a fun getaway from the busy world.
The cabin is situated in the trees and while there was still plenty of daylight and sunshine outside, Piney Guard was already in the shadows and cold as a tomb.
Like most cabins in Colorado, there is no drinking water available. Luckily there is plenty of clean snow for our morning coffee.
There is a small wood burning stove and a propane burner for cooking. Bring your own propane! Some dishes and utensils round out the kitchen. Melting snow for water was our evening activity.
We went for a short evening walk to watch the stars and the temperatures slipped into the single digits. The moon was bright and illuminating the trees and my mind turned to Sasquatch - time to get inside.
There was a serious issue with the roof and leaking water covered most of the walls and windows, creating an ice shell. It was really quite astonishing how much water was seeping inside the cabin. Luckily we had hung most of our gear on pegs on the walls due to limited floor space. If our bags had been on the floor they would have been covered in ice. I noticed that after we stayed, the cabin was closed for the remainder of the '13 season which leads me to believe that the rangers recognized the issue and it has since been addressed.
The Piney Guard Station is one of the coldest cabins that I've ever stayed at. The leaking roof and wet walls certainly didn't help! This was one step above winter camping in a tent, similar to a snow shelter. Bring layers!
There is plenty to do at Piney Guard Station. We took in the views, explored the area making use of the snowmachine tracks, and did the ever present cabin work of chopping and restocking wood and shoveling pathways.
It was nice not to have to break trail!
Our pulk sleds come in handy for hauling firewood to the chopping block and the cabin.
Enticing, isn't it? But make sure you use the outhouse because you need the snow clean for drinking water.
Monday MLK morning. The cabin is cleaned and we're packed and ready to go. We had to clear the ice to close the window shutters.
The gradual ski ascent to the cabin made a quick return. The 3+ miles went by in a flash!
There are more trails to explore in and around the parking area as well if you have free time.