Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pikeview Quartet:
Popes Bluffs (6,730 ft.)
The Mesa (6,550 ft.)
Austin Bluffs (6,730 ft.)
Pulpit Rock B (6,610 ft.)

24 November, 2007: Climbers often give the rough location of mountains by referring to the “quad”—the USGS topo map 7.5° quadrangle—on which it is found. Every quad is named for some prominent feature on it, usually a mountain or a town. There are some twenty quads that cover El Paso County, but most of the peaks are on a half dozen of them. The one designated Pikeview (for the old railroad stop along Nevada Avenue, near the dog track) contains exactly four named summits, all of them unranked. Since they’re all short, easy climbs, I decided that bagging all four of them would make a nice outing for a sunny but chilly Saturday.
Part One: Popes Bluffs
Popes (Pope’s) Bluffs is the name for a long, curving ridge which runs from Monument Creek just north of Garden of the Gods Road, first west and then northwest to near the present-day intersection of Centennial Blvd. and Vindicator Dr. The land rises gradually from the north to the ridge crest, which is marked by a series of rocky points, and falls more steeply on the south, or southwest side. This is what you see on your right if you drive west on Garden of the Gods Rd. and turn north at Centennial. Nowadays, most of the ridge crest is dotted with expensive homes, except for the northwest extremity. This, fortunately, is where the actual high point is.
Many years ago, when I lived just across the highway from this structure, I rode my bicycle west past the very few homes which then occupied the easternmost part of the ridge top to an isolated outcrop. Then, I had no idea where the true high point was. Today, that high point has been incorporated into the city’s Ute Valley Park. A trail starts at a parking lot on Vindicator Dr., east of the summit, but I chose to climb the steeper west side from a residential curb just off Centennial Blvd.
There is no trail here, so I just bushwhacked my way through a small stretch of brush, and then scrambled up the sandstone boulders and gullies to the ridge. I’d rate it as no worse than Class 2+, although you have to watch the loose sand that tends to cover the constantly eroding rock. I don’t think it took me more than fifteen or twenty minutes to reach the summit. I was pretty sure that the next ridge point I could see to the south was lower, but I decided to run the ridge, which comes supplied with sections of obvious trail, just to make sure. I was right, but I was glad I made the excursion, as the rocks of the southern point were actually more challenging to climb than the true summit. Also, along the way, I finally found a vantage point from which I could get a reasonably interesting shot of the summit. Then it was back to the car and off to the second summit.
Part Two: The Mesa
Anyone who has lived in or near Colorado Springs for any time is familiar with “The” Mesa: It’s a huge flat area that stretches from Uintah St. on the south nearly to Garden of the Gods Rd. on the north, and fills most of the area between the interstate and 30th St. It sports thousands of homes (mostly expensive), a reservoir, and a major street called, ingeniously enough “Mesa Road,” running along most of its northwest-to-southeast length. But, of course, it isn’t exactly flat, and there has to be a high point somewhere. That happens to be, also, way out at the northwest end, just a stone’s throw from Garden of the Gods Rd., and from 30th St.
Modern topo maps show the high point sitting squarely within something called Blair Bridge Park, named after the Blair Bridge, which is an old stone structure over a small drainage just a few yards east of 20th St., and directly west of Glen Eyrie. That, in turn, was named for its builder, one John Blair, who built it for good old General Palmer as part of the pathway that became Mesa Road: the horse path from Glen Eyrie down into downtown Colorado Springs. The bridge is still there, but the road doesn’t come that way anymore.
I started at the small parking area on 30th St. where a metal plaque informs visitors of this little piece of local history, and took off up the hill. There are some wisps of trail, but none of them seemed to lead where I knew I wanted to go, so I eventually just headed straight up a south-facing slope through the grass and cactus. Near the top, I encountered a barbed wire fence with “No Trespassing” signs. I decided to take my chances.
Sure enough, when I came upon another clear trail traversing up into a draw to the top, the fence had been disarranged to allow easy passage. I took it.
Just a few more yards brought me over the lip and onto the big, flat area. It had obviously been rendered even flatter than it was naturally by earth-moving equipment. But a hundred yards away, over to the northeast, a mound of dirt had been pushed up which was obviously, now at least, the highest point. I ran up to it, and confirmed with the GPS that it was in the right location and at the right elevation to be the true high point. It is definitely not very photogenic, so I gave up on taking any picture, and just headed back down, getting back to the car without incident. No technical challenge, but I could now add my name to a very short list of folks who could check high point off their list.
Part Three: Back to Austin Bluffs
The high point of Austin Bluffs looms over the local campus of the University of Colorado. I had actually climbed this peak before: on New Year’s Eve 1974/75. I had simply walked out my back door and turned east. Sleepy Mallow Road was the only street I had to cross, and there were no campus buildings on that side of the bluff. But that was a long time ago, and I wanted to include it in my Pikeview slam, as well as seeing what new obstacles were now in the way of the would-be climber. Of the four unranked peaks in this report, Austin Bluffs has the greatest rise: 260 ft., nearly enough to make it a ranked peak.
“Austin Bluffs” is actually the name for a huge ridge which stretches east from this point way out onto the plains. It is actually a continuation of Popes Bluffs, but Monument Creek has cut a very big channel in between the two parts, causing them to be given different names. And, fortunately for me, the high point is at the west end, and not somewhere miles out to the east.
I turned north off Austin Bluffs Parkway, onto the re-configured Stanton Rd., which now serves as access to a cluster of dormitories on the north side of the hill. After some driving around, I finally came back almost to Stanton to find a legal place to park. I had no choice but to head up between the university buildings to get into the trees above. But when I did, I found that a walkway has been constructed linking the north and south sides. Beyond this, however, the land is still undeveloped and essentially wild. I even was a doe grazing calmly as I made my way up.
The route is a gully which makes a good trail up the west side to within a hundred vertical feet or so of the top. There, a faint use trail takes off to the south, and spirals gently to the summit. Some exercise bars on wooden posts now decorate the top, but other than that, it is unchanged. Once again, I saw no one above the parking lots at the bottom. I took a few minutes to take some pictures and enjoy the clear sunshine. Three down, one to go!
Part Four: I can see it, but how do you get there?
Everybody has seen Pulpit Rock (B), too. You can’t miss it driving by on Nevada Avenue where it merges with I-25. I’ve looked at it for decades, but never knew how to climb it. As a matter of fact, I believe it was on private property when I first came to the Springs. But somewhere in the interim, the city bought the land and created “Pulpit Rock Park” (catchy name, huh?) The problem was, though, that you still couldn’t get to it from Nevada!
So after studying all the maps I could find online, I drove around the south side of Austin Bluffs, and headed north on Union Blvd., then west on Montebello Dr., looking for an access point. It took some doing, but I finally found one. As far as I can tell, it’s the only one. You have to take Rockhurst Blvd. first north, then west, to where it ends, and drive around a couple more corners onto a tiny cul-de-sac called Butler Drive. There, unheralded and shoehorned in between two houses, is the beginning of a clear trail, with a sign beside it announcing the “park regulations.” This is it.
The surprising wide, and obviously maintained, trail winds to the west along a broad ridge top to a high point east and a little south of Pulpit Rock. It’s actually higher than Pulpit Rock, but it doesn’t have a name, because it has absolutely no visual punch. From there, the trail is sketchier, but there’s still an obvious path down onto a saddle, and then gently up to my objective.
That whole ridge section is dotted with interesting sandstone formations (see photos). There’s a cluster of towers east of the summit which, fortunately, are actually a little lower, as they would be more difficult to climb: their flat tops overhand on all sides! I tested one of them on the way back though, and satisfied myself that I could crawl out onto the top if I really had to. I might have had to jump down, though...
A little interesting, but less difficult, scrambling was required to clamber up onto the actual high point, but it felt good to stand there, finally, after looking at it for all those years!
All this encompassed no great technical feats of mountaineering, but the chance to put four more notches on my El Paso County list with minimal effort on a gorgeous late fall day was just too good to pass up.
Photos are at:

Long life and many peaks!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mt. Arthur

(10,807 ft.)

18 November, 2007: This unranked peak (a sub-peak of Mt. Garfield) had eluded me for some time, so I was determined to go back and, finally claim it. Rather, I should say re-claim it. That’s because I actually did climb it once before--in 1976, IIRC. But that was so long ago that I don’t even remember what route I took!
Last year, when I did my similar re-climb of Garfield, I had originally intended to include Arthur in the trip. However, when I got to the summit of Garfield, I discovered two things. 1) I couldn’t see Arthur because of the dense timber, meaning it would entail more blind navigating. 2) I was behind my projected schedule, and I didn’t want it to turn into an all-day trip, as I had only provisioned myself (mainly water) for a half-day. So I had put Arthur off for another day.
Topozone link:

I got myself up a bit after 6 am, after having spent part of the night on the roof attempting to take in some of the Leonid meteor shower. That venture was not a success, as, contrary to the forecast, clouds soon blanketed the sky. But that’s another story...I got minimal gear together, and was at the Gold Camp Road trailhead about 7:15, hitting the trail at 7:18.
Once again, I was planning on only a half-day climb, but I would have started earlier if I could have roused myself earlier. Suzanne had expressed a great deal of doubt about my estimated time of 5½ - 6 hours, especially after my long day a week earlier. All the same, I had confidence in my estimate, but I wanted to do everything possible to ensure that I got back home fairly early in the day.
The route for this one was, once again, north up the gully from the parking lot to the trail which runs west along the long east ridge of Kineo Mtn., then down into the Bear Creek drainage, and west up the creek for a short distance. There, I knew from previous experience, a faint trail leads north up into the shallow (and unnamed) drainage between Tenney Crags on the east and Mt. Arthur on the west. When Cameron and I climbed Tenney Crags in December of 2005, we had totally missed this trail on the way up, only discovering it only on our descent. Other trips during the intervening time had showed me, however, that the trail junction at Bear Creek is actually cairned! The problem is that it’s quite hard to see if you are coming west up the creek, because a turn of more than 90 degrees is required, the trail starts out going very steeply up, and the cairn is not right at the junction, but high above the Bear Creek trail. It’s actually not hard to spot if you happen to be coming down the trail, but that didn’t do me much good.
So, despite foreknowledge, I actually missed the turn-off, again, and had to backtrack a few dozen yards. My photo album includes shots of this junction from both directions, to illustrate what I’m talking about here.
Once headed up this trail, however, it was easy going for a while. The trail is actually pretty clear and easy to stay with, and there are plenty of cairns, although they’re all small. I followed it as it wandered back and forth across the watercourse (Yes, there was actually a fair amount of water flowing in November, although everything looked mostly dry as a bone!), up to about 9,600 ft. There, the trail heads distinctly off to the east, toward Tenney Crags. I left the trail and angled northwest toward the saddle, which is at just above 9,800 ft.
This entailed a bit of clambering over rocks, as well as some more blind bushwhacking. I actually found a path marked with orange tape tied to trees, leading basically straight up the drainage, at one point, and hoped I could find it from above on the way down.
In ten minutes of so, I did find the saddle (where I had been with the dogs earlier in the month), and contemplated how best to make the final climb to Arthur.
The straight path up to the summit would pass to the north of a series of rock outcroppings which mark the ridge coming down to the east-southeast. Because the timber was so dense, especially on the north-facing slopes, I opted to take a more southerly route, even though this involved some bouldering. The boulders are rather large, but getting out of the trees looked good, as it allowed me to get at least a partial view of where the heck I was going!
I still had to contend with timber and brush, some standing and some downed, and I ended up topping out on a false summit at about 10,440 ft. along the way. This turned out to be a benefit, however, as it afforded me one of the best views, both east and west, along the way. From here, I was able to get good photos of both Tenney Crags to the east (an unusual view; see album), and my objective to the west.
As there was only minimal drop from this minor summit, I was soon climbing again. Although the timber continued to be a significant obstacle in places, and the sizes of the rocks increased, I reached the true summit in less than ten minutes, summitting two hours and fifty-eight minutes after leaving the trailhead. This was more-or-less exactly what I had predicted for an ascent time, so I felt good about that.
I found the view from the summit seriously screened by trees, so I took only a few pictures on the summit. But I could see enough of my surroundings that I decided to try a more direct route back down to the saddle, bypassing the minor summit on the north side. This route did, indeed, involve some dense timber, with lots of aspens, but going down it wasn’t bad. What’s more, the actual terrain was gently sloped and mostly free of large rocks, so I made good time. I had jettisoned the tentative plan to re-summit Garfield, in search of the register reported to be there, so as to keep the day short.
Sure enough, although I got back to the saddle fairly efficiently, I could not pick up the trail down anywhere near where I had left it. I finally stumbled on it probably 200 feet lower, after simply bushwhacking my way through some varied terrain along the watercourse. I’d love to see the top part of this trail supplied with a clear route west to the saddle.
Once on the trial, though, I was able to make good time the whole way back. I had deliberately refrained from pushing myself too hard on the way up, so as not to end up worn out at this stage of the hike, and it worked. Back on the Bear Creek trail, I even encountered a couple running along in my same direction. We leap-frogged each other, owing to stops to get rid of clothing in the increasing temperature, most of the way back.
When I got back to the start, it was not quite 12:30, putting me well under my estimated time! The batteries in my GPS had, moreover, managed to hold out for the entire trip, so I had reliable statistics. The round trip was about 8.7 miles. With the various ups and downs, I estimated about 3,500 feet vertical for the whole trip. By the time I got back, I was down to just summer running gear: t-shirt and running shorts. Pretty nice for mid-November!
Photos are at:

Long life and many peaks!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mary Had a Little Sheep

Marys Mtn. (9,960 ft.) and
Sheep Mtn. W (9,920 ft.)

11 November, 2007: What better way to celebrate an amazingly warm Veteran’s Day than by knocking two more ranked peaks off my El Paso County list, and making myself a veteran of one of the longest round trips I ever failed to anticipate? I couldn’t think of anything better, especially since Trisha and Suzanne were still off in Florida, and the kids were both keeping themselves occupied the whole day being teenagers!
Mistake #1: I decided I could get by without a sunrise start. So I let myself sleep in until 6 am, and didn’t start hiking until 7:20. This was yet another trip starting from the Gold Camp Road trailhead, going up the Seven Bridges Trail. After that, the plan was to extend the route I had taken to climb Tuckaway Mtn. (in May) and Cameron Cone (in July) by continuing west on the trail south of Tuckaway, until it intersected a Water Department road which the topo map showed as running north, right to the base of Marys Mtn. I made it to the vicinity of Tuckaway in just barely two hours, and then continued on past where I had been previously. But I had seriously underestimated how much time it would take from there to reach my two objectives.
The map showed the trail continuing to the west and running right into the road. Before I reached the road, however, I found the trail blocked by a fence and a gate with a big “No Trespassing” sign. This was not entirely a surprise. I had wondered whether my projected route would include some “trespassing” in the city utilities department’s bailiwick, and that was one reason why I figured a Sunday morning was the best time to give it a try!
Undeterred, I turned right (north) and followed alongside the fence, where a fairly clear track led down the slope. I figured that eventually the fence would turn away to the west, or simply end, allowing me to access the road farther north. This turned out to be right. After dropping a short distance, the fence, and the faint trail, started up again. This was, in fact, the west ridge of Tuckaway Mtn. When I topped out at a rock outcropping, the chain link portion of the fence did indeed come to an end, after which there were only a few derelict strands of barbed wire, mostly trodden into the ground. I stopped here to check my position.
I got a good fix on my location with the GPS, and I could see that, by simply continuing north (where the wire continued on in a beeline), I would indeed intersect the road. I also discovered that I was at about 10,300 ft, fully 400 feet higher than the peaks I had set out to climb! This was the first time I had ever had to climb _down_ to my peaks.
When I hit the road, it was, as I had hoped, deserted. I followed it down the drainage (the upper part of Ruxton Creek), as it wound its way just past Horsetooth Reservoir and right to the base of the south face of Marys Mtn.
I’m sorry I couldn’t get a decent picture of that south face: it is the rough and cliffy side of the mountain. But only glimpses could be had through the trees. I left the road and started up, having decided to angle to my left (west) to work around the cliffs, and approach the summit from the west or north. This turned out to be the best decision. Fairly easy climbing through light timber eventually gave way to just a couple of hundred feet of scrambling up larger boulders on the west face.
I finally arrived at a small saddle between what looked like two high points of roughly elevation. Unable to tell, from this vantage, which was the true summit, I realized that I would simply have to climb one and have a look at the other to answer the question. So I had a fifty-fifty chance of having to climb both. I chose the south point, mostly because it looked easier; the face the north point presented to me was nearly vertical.
The south point was indeed the true summit, with a small pole to mark it. The other point was now obviously a few feet lower. Also, I could see that I could have climbed it had I had to, by spiraling around counter-clockwise to its east side.
BTW, I don’t know for whom Marys Mtn. is named. I’m going to try to dig up that fact, but it’s likely to take a while.
The weather was gorgeous and almost (but not quite) warm enough to convince me to shed my long sleeves. I had fantastic, clear views in all directions, some of which I managed to capture in pictures. I was also able, finally, to get my bearings with respect to surrounding peaks and other landmarks. The bad news was that it was already well after 11: It had taken me longer to get here from the base of Tuckaway Mtn. than it had taken me to get there from the trailhead! Plus, I still had another summit to climb. Although I could now see it clearly to the northeast, and could see most of the route to it, I could also see that I would have to drop quite a bit to the saddle in between the two peaks.
I toyed fleetingly--very fleetingly-- with the idea of abandoning Sheep because of this. But I knew that if I did that, I would just have to make the entire journey over again on some future date. So, after 15 minutes or so on the summit of Marys, I set off down the north side, looking for the best place to cross the creek running out of the reservoir and begin the climb of Sheep Mtn’s. west ridge.
The north side is steeper than the south side, so I didn’t make really great time going down. And, once I started up again, I was back to navigating blind in the trees. As I began to encounter more and more rocky sections going up the ridge, I did quite a bit of wandering back and forth to avoid the more difficult stuff, so I wasn’t exactly setting any speed records on that leg either. I finally came up to the summit, basically from the north, almost an hour after I had left the summit of Marys.
The weather was still holding warm, calm and clear, but I knew the sun would be sinking before I could get back to the trailhead. When I headed back down, just over five hours (!) had elapsed since I started. The only saving grace was that I didn’t have to go back over Marys. Instead, I climbed only slightly from the creek, over a low ridge, to get back on the road at a point farther north than where I had originally left it.
From there, I began paying the price for the strange topography of my route: I had over a thousand feet to re-gain on the way “down” before I could start back down the trail on the southwest side of Tuckaway. It was a slow and weary slog.
Fortunately there was, once again, no traffic on the road. So if I was indeed breaking the rules by making an incursion into the city’s private playground, it went unnoticed. As I trudged up the road, and then along the fence, and also down the trail, I kept wondering why this trip was so slow and tiring. It would not be until the next day, when I sat down with the map and actually added up some figures, that I would realize the true reason. In addition to the estimated 16 miles this route encompassed, I had had to gain just over 6,000 feet of elevation in total!
Still, I don’t know of any easier way to reach these summits. Even worse private property access issues bedevil the would-be climber from the east side, and access from the Barr Trail to the north requires crossing huge, heavily-timbered drainages which sport no trails at all. No doubt this is a major reason why these peaks are so rarely climbed!

I got a few pictures, and they are at:

Long life and many peaks!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

3 times 10 and 2 times 9

4 Nov., 2007: With the weather holding amazingly mild, and only one day completely off from work this week, I was determined to make the most of it. I decided to try a brace of 10ers and 9ers accessible off of Gold Camp Road southwest of town.
My first objective was just west of the El Paso/Teller County line: a peak, unnamed on the USGS quad, at 10,490 ft., with the unofficial name of "Knights Peak." I started from the road where it makes a big southern loop just east of Rosemount Reservoir. My intention was to hike south up a drainage (where the map showed a faint trail) to the saddle between Knights and McKinley Pk. I ended up, instead, going mainly up the north slopes of Knights, navigating totally blind through the timber to the summit.
When I got to the rocky outcrop of the summit, I found an official CMC register bolted to the highest boulder. It had been placed in the summer of 2004, and bore only about 120 names, many of them repeats. (See photo.) Most significant were Mike Garratt, from November of 2005, and my buddy Kevin Baker, from March of this year. (His comment was "postholing test.") This was my highest point for the day.
After about 20 minutes on the summit, I headed down and east to the saddle, on my way to McKinley Peak. At that point, this was the highest ranked summit I had left in El Paso County, at 10,460 ft.
Following the ridge down and then up, it didn't take long to climb McKinley. But I was seriously in doubt as to which point was the true summit. The eastern point was clearly a little higher--in fact, considerably higher than the altitude noted on the topo map for McKinley--but the western point matched the accepted longitude and latitude for the summit more closely. Needless to say, I climbed both, so I can reliably say that I have scaled this peak! I took pictures, and left a register, on the western peak.
After that, I descended back to the saddle, and dropped off on the north side to get back to the road. I never did find the trail shown on the map, so I came out on the road an eighth of a mile or so east of my car, and had to hike back to it on the road.
I then set off to the east for my third 10er of the day. This was 10,100D, the line parent of Cheyenne Mountain. I found the "trailhead," a Forest Service cabin just west of the shooting range, and parked at a wide spot in the road just to the west of it. There is a clear trail that leads north up a shallow drainage to a broad saddle east of the peak. From there, I headed east up to a false summit, from which I could get a decent view of the remaining climb. The final approach is, again, just a bushwhack through the trees, up the south side of the summit. Views to the east are pretty good, but those to the west are largely blocked by trees. It was interesting to look down on St. Peters Dome; from here, both the actual summit and the more challenging eastern point can be seen. It was still before 2pm when I got to the summit, and I quickly headed down to pursue my two 9ers.
I backtracked west on the road for a fraction of a mile, and quickly found the large rock cairn which marks the start of the trail to Devils Slide (9,900 ft.). The well-marked trail leads north and then north east up to the ridge in back of this summit. From there, it's just a short hike to the south to the base of the impressive rock wall leading to the summit. This would prove to be the most challenging climbing I did all day. In fact, from a distance, it looks almost unclimbable. But from closer up, it becomes clear that a broad gully splits the wall and, while it is steep, it is a fairly easy Class 3 scramble. Fifty feet or so of this nifty climbing leads to the surprising large and flat summit area, which offers great views all around. I took some pictures, and quickly returned to the trailhead, and set off east for my final peak of the day.
This was Sugarloaf Mtn. E (9,663 ft.) just east of Bear Trap Ranch. The trail begins just inside the entrance to the ranch, on the access road on the south side of Gold Camp Rd. A clear trail switchbacks up the north face of the mountain, and I made the climb in just 13 minutes. I found a large windbreak, built of available wood, protecting the flat spot just east of the summit rocks; clearly, it had been used as a campsite many times. From the summit, a good view can be had to the west.
Five and a quarter hours after I first started hiking, I got back to the car and headed home, with five new summits bagged on an amazingly warm November day.
Photos are at:

Long life and many peaks!