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

July 3, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Over the long 4th of July weekend, we were lucky enough to get Liz to come out and play with us. We discussed different options for the trip, and eventually decided on Shelf Road.

There’s a few nice photos from the weekend in the gallery.

Mark climbing at Shelf Road

The lovely, vertical, limestone walls of the Shelf Road canyon have drawn our attention many times before. The area sits high in the desert of southern Colorado, and provides beautiful warmth on sunny walls, even in the depths of winter. In the summer, however, the canyon becomes a pink limestone oven, with heat radiating from all walls. We didn’t care. We wanted clippy-clippy sport climbs and starry desert nights.

We left Thursday, after work, and found a nice campsite at the Bank campground that night. Friday, we decided to head over to the Vault. This is a cliff-line where we tried to climb in March last year, but it was too shady and cold at the time. In July, the shady, north-east facing walls of the Vault would be welcome.

To start the morning, though, I wanted to do a fun easy lead. Liz and I both led up Awethu (5.6), a very easy climb up a shallow dihedral. We had fun on the simple, very overly protected, route. We moved right one after this fun warm-up, and climbed Forty Two and no Rinkhals (5.9+). This shallow dihedral was tricky, steep, thin and a lot of fun.

Mark clips the bolt

By this time, the bugs were really starting to swarm. When we’re at Shelf in the spring and fall, the wasps and bees can be scary, but in a rainy July, the gnats are king of the Shelf Road bugs. They swarmed around our heads, dive-bombing our eyes and ears. Liz and I found a new use for our Buffs: covering ears and face to keep the swarming gnats off.

We moved into deeper shade and all took a trip up Chip Off the Block (5.9). I really love this airy route up a blocky arrete. We finished up the day with Fire It Up (5.10a/b). This route climbs a fairly wide, pretty dirty, hand crack, and then traverses left in a thin and kind of nerve-wrecking move around the corner to the left. The route finishes on a steep thin-hands crack up bone-hard black limestone that would have been a really beautiful if I hadn’t been so exhausted.

Liz on Fire It Up (5.10a/b)

We hiked back to camp in the late afternoon, with clouds gathering on the horizon. We took a quick (relatively) trip back to Wallyworld in CaƱon City for bug spray and paper towels. We waited out the rain sprinkling over camp when we got back. An amazing rainbow graced our desert valley after the storm moved off to the east, and I took about a bajillion pictures of it.

The End of the Rainbow

We made tasty fajitas for dinner, and finished off a great day with a big campfire. As darkness fell over the desert, we watched cliff swallows hurdle through the trees chasing bugs, and bats swarming out of limestone caves looking for dinner.

Rainbow Over Shelf Road