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Category Archives: Shelf Road

Julienne Salad Days

By Mark Anderson

My family and I are heading to France (with a few days in Italy) at the end of the month for spring break. I spend the vast majority of my outdoor climbing days working redpoint projects, but on this trip I expect to focus on climbing routes first go, so I’ve spent the past few weeks tuning up my fitness accordingly and practicing on-sighting. All the crags on our itinerary are limestone, so we made a point to visit Shelf Road to climb on similar stone (albeit of much, much lower quality–or so I hope).

Earlier in the winter I bolted 4 routes (and a linkup) on a nice cream-colored panel of rock in the “Tropical Wall” sector of Shelf’s North Gym, which offered the perfect objective. Granted, these would not technically be on-sight attempts since I had rapped all the routes while bolting them. However, I don’t really possess the capacity to remember the details of four random lines I bolted a few months ago, since all my memory banks are filled to the brim with song lyrics and movie quotes. So I expected it to provide good practice nonetheless.

The main feature on the wall is a 3-feet-deep roof about halfway up. Four of the five lines involve this obstacle in some way. The first line I tried (“Booty Sweat”) follows a fairly continuous crack system that skirts the left side of the roof with powerful underclings (for the grade). While basically a crack climb, there are a lot of nice pockets sprinkled around to spice things up.

Shaking out below the undercling roof exit on Booty Sweat, 5.11b. Photo Amelie A.

The most intimidating line on the wall climbs out the center of the roof. Thanks to a few sinker pockets I climbed fairly easily up to a good shake at jugs below the ceiling. Just as I arrived, Amelie announced she needed to pee and she couldn’t hold it. Fortunately there was a bolt right at my waist, so I clipped a loose sling straight in to the bolt so Kate could help Amelie. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate the imposing obstacle above. Once I was properly on belay again, I charged up to the lip and groped my right hand over to a shallow 4-finger dish. I couldn’t see an elegant way to get established over the lip, so I coiled and hucked my left hand for what appeared likely to be a big jug. It was, and I stuck it, but it was incredibly prickly. My feet swung out wildly as I stuck the jug, and Kate shouted up “that was sick!”, which is incredibly rare—usually she is completely and justifiably unimpressed by my climbing antics (having seen the sausage being made, so to speak). I replied with, “what’s sick is what happened to the skin on my hand.” My palm was torn up and bleeding in a few places, but it turned out to be nothing serious, just enough to warrant the name “More Shredded Than A Julienne Salad.”

Working up the headwall after surmounting the big roof on …Julienne Salad (5.12b?) Photo Amelie A.

Perhaps the best line turned out to be the 5.11- linkup that joins the bottom half of Booty Sweat to the top-half of More Shredded…, climbing through the left side of the big roof via a bubbly pancake flake. It’s a classic jughaul with no hard moves to speak of. I’m generally not a fan of linkups, and I had no intention of bolting this line when scoping the wall from the ground, but once I rapped the wall and saw the line of jugs I couldn’t resist.

Scoping holds on The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, 5.12a. Photo Logan A.

The other two lines on the wall, Be Australian and The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, involve sustained pocket and edge climbing on great stone. They’re both worthwhile. I hiked past this wall probably 20 or 30 times while developing the rest of the North Gym in 2011, and I always intended to bolt it, but I never got around to it for whatever reason. I assumed somebody else would claim it during my 5-year exile to Clear Creek, so I was surprised and stoked to find it still untouched last November. In retrospect I’m really glad I had the opportunity to put these routes in. I’m sure some day in the future, once every route at Cactus Cliff is polished to glass and has a queue 10-ropebags deep, these routes will be well-appreciated by adventurous loners like me.

Fine edging on Be Australian, 5.12a.

New Routes at Shelf Road

By Mark Anderson

With the winter weather finally arriving in Colorado, I headed south to Shelf Road to wrap up a few projects I had bolted several years ago but (almost) forgotten about. Shelf is a really important crag to me. While I had done the odd First Ascent before I started climbing regularly at Shelf, that is where I really fell in love with vertical exploration and route development.

Between dynos on Treble Huck, one of my new 5.13s at Shelf Road.

Between dynos on Treble Huck, one of my new 5.13s at Shelf Road.

Returning to the North Gym after a five year hiatus was nostalgic. I bolted 20-some routes there in 2011, including establishing Shelf Road’s first 5.14, Apogee Pending. Most of my new routes are in pretty obscure locations, so I often wonder if anyone besides me will ever climb them. The North Gym is among the more obscure crags at Shelf, so when I looked through the comments on Mountain Project, I was encouraged to read of other peoples’ adventures on my creations. I was also stoked to see that some other people had started adding their own routes to the ample undeveloped rock in the area.

Apogee Pending.

Apogee Pending.

On this trip I sent three new routes, all of which turned out quite a bit better than I expected. One of the great things about climbing primarily in Clear Creek Canyon is that when you go anywhere else the rock seems phenomenal by comparison. By the end of my infatuation with Shelf it seemed like I was running out of worthwhile options, and these three routes were bolted last because they seemed the most dubious. Five years later, with my new frame of reference, I can’t fathom my previous reservations.

I never really had any doubts about the first route, Alpha Chino’s Chinos, but it’s isolated enough from the other walls that I feared it would be ignored. The rock is impeccable cream stone littered with pockets and edges. The movement is excellent, with a dynamic, sequential crux passing a 2-finger pocket on the gently overhanging panel at mid-height. I reckon it’s one of the two best 5.12s at The North Gym (along with Who Left the Fridge Open?).

Clearing the final little bulge of Alpha Chino’s Chinos, 5.12b.

Clearing the final little bulge of Alpha Chino’s Chinos, 5.12b.

The second route was squeezed in between two previously existing routes at The Tropical Wall. After climbing the adjacent lines for a photoshoot, I lowered down, imagined a potential sequence, and returned to bolt it soon after. It climbs a slightly overhanging bulge with a few diagonaling crimps that lead to a series of very thin sidepull slots. The rock is phenomenal in the crux—easily some of the best limestone at Shelf—though unfortunately the crux is rather short-lived. The rest of the line still offers excellent climbing on great stone, but it’s not hard enough to keep the outcome in doubt to the end (which is a hallmark of every truly classic route).

Enjoying brilliant limestone in the crux of Satan’s Alley.

Enjoying brilliant limestone in the crux of Satan’s Alley.

At the time I bolted it I wasn’t sure if the line would go. My first time up I was stumped, straining to move between distant gastons. Eventually I figured out a big throw from an undercling that got me through the bulge, then it was just a matter of crimping and locking off like a maniac until I reached easier ground above. At 5.13c, Satan’s Alley is one of the harder lines at Shelf, though admittedly it lacks the imposing stature of the area’s other test-pieces.

Near the end of my Shelf development spree I started noticing that many crags had really high capping roofs that offered the type of steep terrain that typically yields hard routes (but is rare at Shelf). The rock in this cap-layer is also quite a bit different (and in my opinion better quality) than the rest of Shelf’s limestone. It’s less fractured but also more featured, generally with lots of pockets. My third and final project for the trip was reminiscent of the rounded bulges and jutting roofs common to Wild Iris. It’s incredibly photogenic (and if I ever get a proper camera I might be able to back up that statement with some evidence), perched high above Four Mile Canyon with the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance.

I was eager to find out if the quality of the climbing matched the phenomenal setting. I was not disappointed. The climbing is everything the typical Shelf route is not. It shoots out a dramatically overhanging prow with toe cams, heel hooks and a series of big dynos. I’ve climbed just under half the routes at Shelf (the better half, for the most part), and I have to say the climbing on Treble Huck is arguably the most pure fun in the area. It’s gymnastic, wild, and dynamic. If you’re tired of standing on tiny footholds and tearing up your skin on half-pad crimps, this is the route for you. I think Shelf still has a lot of potential for routes of this kind, and I hope this route can help inspire some more exploration of the upper bands of limestone and the dramatic features they present.

If only my legs were as skinny as they appear in this photo.

If only my legs were as skinny as they appear in this photo.

Slide Show Oct 31 at Shelf Road

by Mark Anderson

High on the First Ascent of Shelf Road's hardest climb, Flight of the Phoenix, 5.14a/b.

High on the First Ascent of Shelf Road’s hardest climb, Flight of the Phoenix, 5.14a/b.

The American Alpine Club’s Craggin Classic series will be descending on Shelf Road this weekend.  The festivities will include clinics on Saturday and Sunday, food and beverages, a costume contest and slideshows Friday and Saturday night.

Friend of the Show Jonathan Siegrist will be presenting Friday night and I will be presenting a slideshow Saturday with help from Shelf Road pioneer and all-around legend Bob D’Antonio.  The Saturday night show is scheduled to begin ~8pm, followed by a Halloween costume contest.  Bob is expected to talk about the early days at Shelf, and it’s seminal role in establishing the nascent discipline of sport climbing in America.  My show will center on my recent efforts to raise the upper limits of difficulty at Shelf into the 5.14-range, including video footage of Shelf’s best hard lines.

I believe the festivities will be centered around the Horse Trailer Parking area, which is located at the bottom of the hill, where the road to The Bank splits off from Shelf Road.

I will also be teaching a clinic on Saturday that will have something to do with training and climbing.  I anticipate I will present a top-level overview of the Rock Prodigy method, and then discuss methods for maximizing performance on the rock.  Unfortunately the clinic is full, but if you’re out at Shelf for the weekend, please come by and say high and enjoy the slideshow.

Shelf Anchor Replacement Wrap Up

The inaugural Shelf Road Anchor Replacement Weekend was a big hit.  We had a lot of volunteers and a lot of fun.  We replaced tons of mank hardware at The Bank and Cactus Cliff, and built a fence at the Bank Campground for the BLM. Anything we can do to maintain positive relations with landmanagers like the BLM is time well spent, but the main objective was hardware replacement. 

Much of the hardware at Shelf is getting to be 30 years old, so I think its really important that we take a pro-active approach to upgrading hardware whenever we can.  Fortunately there are guys like Bob D’Antonio and the American Safe Climbing Association working to make that happen.  In addition to Bob, Bruno Hanche and Derek Lawrence were instrumental in pulling off the event, providing hardware, and upgrading anchors.  Bruno in particular has spent several consecutive weekends at Shelf with Bob, working their way around the area, replacing hardware.

A fraction of the hardware replaced on Saturday

A fraction of the hardware replaced on Saturday

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present a slideshow on Saturday night.  “Untapped: The New Wave of Shelf Road Free Climbing” detailed my efforts over the last few years to push the upper end of difficulty at Shelf Road.  It was an interesting logistical challenge, since the show was at the Bank Campground, where there is no power and basically no facilities of any kind.  Trango lent me their projector, which I was able to run using a beefy Black and Decker 500 Watt inverter hot-wired directly to my car battery.  I built a movie screen by stapling a white bedsheet from Goodwill to a rectangle constructed from four 2×4′s.  It gets really windy at Shelf, so I was worried about the screen.  I brought a pile of rope and stakes to rig up the screen, but we found we could mount it quite nicely with a few screws to the new fence we constructed that morning :)

Once we got all the construction completed the show went off without a hitch. There was a great crowd, and I got a lot of good questions and compliments after.  Unfortunately I was too distracted to get any pictures of the show.  If anyone has any, please let me know!

Kate and Logan giving back at the 2150 Wall.

Kate and Logan giving back at the 2150 Wall.

The next morning the heads of state were already planning next year’s event.  I’d love to see this turn into an annual affair, and considering the massive number of routes at Shelf, it will realistically take many years to completely upgrade all the sketchy hardware.

Flight of the Phoenix

In late 2009, my friend Ben Schmitt bolted a typical-looking Shelf Road face climb at Cactus Cliff.  The line climbs a beautiful white wall of limestone, featuring a brutally hard 5-or-so-move crux right in the middle of the wall.  When Ben put the hardware in, I was just finishing off the last of Shelf’s (existing) hardest routes.  I wasn’t really much into establishing routes at that time, and besides that, I didn’t really see any potential.  About a year earlier there was a thread on Mountain Project titled “No Hard Climbing at Shelf Road”, and (ironically) I actually defended that position, noting that (at that time) there were only 9 routes at Shelf harder than 5.13a.  The truth was, the visionaries who kept Shelf relevant through the 80′s and early 90′s had all moved on to greener pastures, and with the discovery of Rifle, few arrived to take their place, so development stalled for 15 years or so, until Ben arrived.

Carnage, my first Shelf Road First Ascent.

Carnage, my first Shelf Road First Ascent.

Ben is probably the most magnanimous and genuine climber I’ve ever met.  He showed me that the question of new-route-potential was simply a matter of perception.  I had to learn to look at these cliffs a little differently.  The following spring I worked and sent what was to become “Carnage”, at the time Shelf’s hardest free route, and the next route right of Ben’s line.  We spent a lot of time hanging out during this process, and he taught me to see Shelf in a new light. 

Ben’s route is a bit of an outlier for hard Shelf lines, in that its not tweaky, thin, or sharp, and doesn’t require especially skilled footwork.  This thing is burly and in your face.  Its something you would expect to find at Rifle’s Winchester Cave, not at Cactus Cliff.  

Ben put in a valiant effort to send the line, but eventually became burnt out by the low-percentage crux, and graciously encouraged me to try it.  I first tried it in 2010 with Ben, but I had other things on my plate, so I didn’t give it a serious effort.  I tried it again at the end of 2011 with my friend Sheldon, but I decided it was too late in the season for such a powerful climb, so I decided to come back early the following season.   In 2012, fresh off 3 weeks of good campusing, I spent three days on it, and made really good progress.  On the third day I tweaked my left ring A2 pulley while warming up on a nearby climb (never crimp a 2-finger pocket!).  The injury didn’t seem like much at the time, and I climbed through it that day, and for another few weeks before I realized I had a major problem on my hands (pun intended!).  I spent the rest of the Spring season, and the entire summer season, rehabbing this injury.

IMG_5389_lo

The line begins up the obvious crack, but then moves slightly right before heading straight up the bulge along the subtle, slightly right-angling seam.

With winter (and therefore, crisp temps at Shelf) rolling around once again, I decided in November to plan my following season around a few leftover projects at Shelf.  Eventually I got back to Cactus in late January.  Honestly, I was quite hesitant to try it, because I was never really sure which route was the primary cause of my finger injury, and I didn’t want to aggravate it.  But its hard for me to resist facing a climb that has shut me down.  All the climbs I’ve failed to master keep me up at night.  I knew I wouldn’t ever be satisfied until I proved to myself that I could climb this route.

The crux bulge is about 15 feet above a sit-down ledge, so there is no pump element to deal with.  The business boils down to executing a huge dyno after completing a succession of committing moves (at least, that’s how my sequence went).  Just by itself, the final dyno is a very low percentage move, but with just enough fatigue to get my hips sagging and sap what little contact strength I have, the move was downright frustrating.  After a few days of work I got to a point where I could hit the dyno 75% of the time off the dog, but climbing into it was another story.  The target hold is actually pretty good; a 2″ deep flat ledge.  But the holds setting up for the dyno are terrible and the feet are basically non-existant.  A quarter inch horizontal foothold anywhere on the wall would make the move trivial, but your feet are right in the bulge where everything is sloping down and into the wall, making it very difficult to generate any momentum from the legs.  Ultimately its a balancing act; trying to push just hard enough with the feet (and in the right direction–into the wall) that they don’t pop off before they’ve generated sufficient velocity.  I probably fell on this move alone a good 40 times off the dog and on redpoint.

Friday was forecast to be 42degF and mostly sunny in Canon City.  Pretty much ideal in my book, as long as we could get there through the snow in Denver.  Perhaps the best part of this process was re-visiting many of the great 5.11 and .12 lines at Cactus.  I got to polish off a number of awesome face climbs I had missed out on the first few times around, especially 14 Carats at The Vault, which climbs an amazing wall with continuous cruxy moves.  With the chilly morning temps, we headed to the far east end of Cactus to warmup and I did a rad little 11a on flawless stone, then Cro-Magnum, a brilliant prow of sinker pockets with a stopper dyno near the top.

Mid-flight on the crux dyno.

Mid-flight on the crux dyno.

Honestly I felt kinda flat, but I’ve noticed through the years that there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between the way I “feel” during the warmup and how I perform on my project.  Many times I’ve felt awful or bumbled sequences only to end up sending a long-term project.  For example, the day I sent Scarface I fell on (Lower) Heinous Cling, a 5.12a that I had competely dialed and had sent probably 15 times before (Palo knows what I’m talking about; he was belaying IIRC).  My point being, you should always try, because you never know what might happen.  If you don’t try, you will definitely not succeed.

But I wasn’t very optimistic.  I climbed easily up to the crux, but fell on the second dyno, a short slap to a slippery, sloping sidepull.  Not real inspiring.  I hadn’t fallen that low on the route in my last 8 or so attempts.  For various reasons, this season had stretched out longer than I wanted, and it was starting to seem like my improving familiarity with the route was barely keeping pace with my fading fitness.  After a brief moment of self-pity, I pulled back on and sent through the crux.  Aha!  That was the most linkage I had ever had through the crux boulder problem.  Now I had something I could really believe in.  I brushed the key holds and lowered.  The burn only took about 10 minutes, so I just popped the heels off my shoes and maintained my concentration.  After a relatively short 10 minutes, I headed back up.

Sometimes when you send, everything just flows, and the route suddenly feels easy.  I knew that wouldn’t be the case on this route, ever.  This would be a struggle, no matter how many times I tried it.  The difference would have to be effort and perseverence despite the struggle.  Nothing felt different this time around.  The only difference was that when I arrived below the pivotal move I really believed for the first time that it was possible to stick on redpoint.  Rather than a split-second thought of “prepare to fall”, my mind said “this is possible”.  I wasn’t any less pumped, but when I hit the ledge I refused to let go.  The move is almost a double dyno; the trailing hand is on a miserable sloper, so you have to match very quickly to control the swing.  As I threw my low hand up to match, my right foot popped off, but I was able to get my right hand up before I came off. 

Sticking the crux dyno.

Sticking the crux dyno.

There is one more really iffy move just above the ledge, so I didn’t do any celebrating.  I had never had a chance to really climb into this, so I expected it would feel much harder with a pump.  Surprisingly, I wasn’t pumped at all, so after a brief shake I rocked up onto the ledge a breathed a huge sigh of relief.  20-more feet of relatively trivial face climbing brought me to the chains and the first free ascent of Flight of the Phoenix.  Flight for the big dyno (and my countless wingers there), and Phoenix for my recovery from injury.  Sending this route is like coming full-circle.  The finger is now stronger than it was before the injury, and there is one less route out there to interrupt my sleep!

Now to everyone’s favorite topic: the grade.  This is hands-down the hardest route at Shelf for me, but I really suck at this type of climbing, so I don’t have much confidence in my ability to grade such a route.  Compared to other short 5.14ish climbs I’ve done (like Busload of Faith, Come Home Curly, or Smoke Shapes, all at Sinks), this is much harder.  But those climbs all suit my physical strengths, length notwithstanding (and I think they’re all on the easy side of ‘a).  I’ve heard others suggest the crux of Flight might be V11, but again, I’m really not qualified to grade a boulder problem of this style.  With that in mind, I prefer to be conservative.  I’m certainly open to the opinions of past and future suitors.  It would be awesome to have a harder-than-14a route at Shelf to attract some of Boulder’s superstars down to our humble little limestone cliffs, but I’m certain that will happen eventually regardless.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ben for bolting and invisioning the route, and for showing me what Shelf still has left to offer.  I also want to give a shout out to the various partners that have held the other end of the rope at one time or another on this campaign: Ben, Sheldon, Wes, Logan, Nate and of course Kate, who put up with 30-degree temps and intermittent snow flurries over the last few weeks.  Thanks to all of you!

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