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!


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