Chasing the Shade: Climbing Shelf Road in July (Part 2)

July 4, 2009 at 8:04 pm

If you haven’t read Liz’s recap of the weekend (Part 1 and Part 2), you should go do that. I’ll wait here.

Ok, we’re back together now?

Saturday morning, July 4th, at Shelf Road in the desert of Southern Colorado. It’s hot. The gnats have started to come swarming back. Our newly purchased bug spray (various amounts of DEET in various kinds of spray canisters) seems to be completely worthless in these swarms. The best thing we found was an old Buzz-Away Extreme(!) wipe in Liz’s backpack. The combination of citronella, tea-tree, and geranium oils was far more potent than anything sold at Wallyworld. If you run across these products this summer, I recommend them. BUY!

We cooked breakfast and talked about our plans for the day. Somehow, Mark managed to drop his french press full of hot coffee all over his foot. The nearly-boiling water filled his tennis-shoe and blistered the top of his foot within minutes. It wasn’t pretty.

Mark's hacked together footwear after pouring hot coffee all over his foot

We decided to head to the Dark Side. We walked all along the base of the cliff, only to discover the whole wall was bathed in oppressive sunlight, and didn’t look to be heading into shade any time soon. In fact, at 10:30a on a July morning, Cactus Cliffs, that wonderful outpost of warm, sun-filled winter climbing, was in deep shade. The dark, sunless walls of Cactus Cliffs beckoned us from across the wide valley, so we turned around, back-tracked about half a mile, and then walked another mile for the shade.

We all managed to get in ascents of Beach Ball (5.8), and we decided that it is a sandbag. The overhanging fist crack at the top felt harder than the 5.10 from the previous day. A heck of a warm-up. Mark felt antsy about the building clouds to our west, so he hopped on a lead of Third Stage (5.10b/c) around the corner. This long, thin, beautiful black slab is one of my favorite routes at Shelf, but it is tricky, painful, and a scary lead. Especially with thunder rolling in and dark clouds blotting out the desert sun.

By the time Mark finished the lead, the sky was dark, and rain was imminent. He cleaned the climb, and we all packed up. It was disappointing, to say the least, to have a day so full of bad luck. Burned feet, hot cliffs, long approaches, sand bagged routes, and then walking out in a storm at 2pm. We didn’t want to give up, though. And when we got down to the old Cactus Cliffs trailhead, we saw the best option for salvaging the day.

Yep, the new pit toilette that sits between Cactus Cliffs and the Vault turned out the be the perfect shelter from the incoming storm. We relaxed on the concrete floor, as cool wind and rain sprinkled down, and lighting flashed overhead. We watched the few hearty souls out climbing with us walk past our shelter in the rain, complaining about the bugs and the weather, and throwing in the towel for the weekend.

It didn’t take long for the storm to pass by, and the high clouds lingered, covering the sun and cooling the cliffs around us. After Mark’s two hard leads on a burnt foot, I declared him done leading for the day, and that it was time for us to enjoy more easy “clippy-clippy” sport climbs.

We found Crynoid Corner (5.7) was in it’s own little pocket of shade by this time. This is one of our favorite warm-ups, and while I have pink-pointed the climb before (led on other people’s gear), I’ve never red-pointed it. So, I grabbed our rack of quickdraws, tied on a rope and headed up!

The lead felt surprisingly good. Mark and Liz followed and enjoyed the climb, and I was so jazzed that I wanted another serving. There is a little, out-of-the-way climb along the hike back to the Bank that I have never found any information on. I’ve been enjoying it for years now, nick-naming it “Kate’s Favorite Lead,” and it’s probably a 5.7 as well. Shorter than Crynoid Corner by half, the route follows a black slap up the right side of a little alcove about 200ft right of the 2150 Wall.

I led it happily. Liz led it beautifully. Mark cleaned it without any complaint. It was a great cherry to place on top of a great weekend, and left us feeling that the day was actually a very good one!

Cooking dinner Saturday night.  Check out the sweet tarp set up, for shade and rain protection!

Dinner was suggested by @lstefurak on Twitter Thursday, when I asked for ideas for new camp food as I wandered lost through the grocery store. Luke said:

Take onions & caramelize w/ brown sugar. Next add beer (Honey Brown), add sausage + heat and serve on toasted hoagies. 1 pot meal!

I thought that sounded good, but I had no idea how good it was really going to be. It was SO TASTY! Luke’s camp dinner wins! I wish I had a prize I could give out, because it was fantastic. To thank him for his help, all I have is gushing words, and perhaps a link to his very awesome blog. Thanks Luke!!

That night, the campground was deserted. We heard a few fireworks in the far distance, but mostly we enjoyed the still quiet night and having Shelf Road entirely to ourselves. The next morning, we packed up in the eerie quiet of the hot, summer desert and headed home to the Fort.

It was a nice trip, and we learned a lot. We learned that Citronella works better than DEET on gnats. We learned that Kate and Liz are both strong, capable leaders. We learned that awesome camp dinners can be had with one pot and 140 characters. And we learned that Shelf Road is totally climb-able in the summer, especially if you chase the shade.