Spring Trip to Shelf Road, Part 1

March 29, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Mark and I counted when we got home, and this was our 8th trip to Shelf Road in 4 years. For a pair of climbers that consider ourselves traddies, we do spend a lot of time sport climbing! This time, Doug passed on the invitation to his friend Adam, who brought his girlfriend Jackie along. There are pictures from the weekend up in the gallery.

We have the New Gym all to ourselves

On Saturday, we hoped to find some nice moderates that we had not yet climbed. Adam and Jackie stopped off at Alexi’s Climb for their morning warm up, and to teach Jackie how to clean a sport route. Mark and I hiked off down the cliff-line, past Spiney Ridge and around to the east-facing Gym. We were the first ones there!

Our goal for the day was to climb 5 routes – a high number for us, especially this early in the season. Throughout the day, clouds came and went. The sun would come out and warm everything up, and then dissapear with a chilly wind. I think I chaffed the back of my arms from taking off and putting on layers all day long. But it was plenty warm enough for a pleasant day of climbing.

Time to go down

Black Mamba Arete (5.8) – Immediately after Mark left the ground to lead this one, I remembered climbing it before. No matter, it was a fun warm up, with big flakes and little feet. Just my kind of climb!

Ga-stoned Again (5.9) – This climb was definitely on the to-do list. The book and MP.com both give it tons of stars, so we waited in line to experience the sporty goodness. Mark climbed it quietly, and came down saying “Yeah, it was fun.” I climbed it, and was un-impressed. It was a fun stemming, jamming, laybacking 5.9. But it was, in the end, a bolted crack. There wasn’t anything particularly special about it. A good workout, yes. The best 5.9 at Shelf? Doubtful. Seriously doubtful.

New Rule (5.9) – This climb looked awful. The rock at the bottom looked crumbly, there were plants filling cracks to either side, the bottom three bolts had homemade hangers, and there was no dirt (only grass and cacti) at the base. Vegetation at the base of a climb is a bad sign at Shelf. But, it was a 5.9, and in the sun, and Adam and Jackie were working on Black Mamba, so we decided to try it out.

Old flowers and new fruit on this cholla cactus

This little gem turned out to be the best route of the weekend. All of the rock on the climb (despite appearances) was utterly solid. The bottom section was as prickly as the nearby cacti, so the salvation of fingertip skin demanded careful footwork. There were hidden pockets, prickly shelves, and every other weird formation you could imagine in the most thin, but solid, black limestone we have seen at Shelf so far. The top two thirds of the route were thin (THIN) slab climbing. We worked balanced and technical moves between well spaced and huge pockets. The climb was bolted in a more traditional manner that left Mark to run out the last 15 feet to the anchors – a task he enjoyed the thrill of. I loved every minute of the slab, and came down happy to have found such a wonderful climb in a sea of mild disappointments.

We took a break for lunch, and then Adam climbed and cleaned New Rule. By the time he was done, we had been in the shade for a while, the wind was picking up, and I wanted sun. We hiked together over to Spiny Ridge, where Mark and I realized that we had climbed everything below a 10c here. Wanting something new, we wandered further back, and eventually found ourselves at the base of a wild looking 10 on Cactus Cliffs.

Mark and Liv relax before another climb

Relampago (5.10b/c) – The guidebook says the name means “lightening” in Spanish, and I guess it comes from the shape of this narrow fin of rock, which unexpectedly emerges from an otherwise normal looking corner. The bolts climb a buttress lower down, then protect the left side of the fin, and finally cross over to the right side about 20 ft below where the climb finishes. Mark made the bottom hard by jamming his way up a pair of overhanging flakes/cracks. The thin face in the middle required strong body tension to keep from loosing balance and swinging right off the flake. In the top third, Mark actually did a few full body stems (hands on one wall feet on the other), as he worked up to the anchors.

Adam and Jackie were done for the day, so I climbed and cleaned the route. I took the easy way up the lower buttress, and then took a look at the fin. Mark had cleaned the draws on his way down, so I could choose whatever route I wanted up this climb. I decided to start and end on the same side, and tackle the right-side chimney the whole way up. The lowest part of the chimney was a little loose and dirty, but plenty of fun. The upper part was just as wide as Mark found it, and I opted to climb the thin holds on the flake alone to the anchors. Definitely another good workout for the day.

Hanging out around the fire

The group decided it was time to head back for the day after this last adventure. We hiked back to camp, and had tasty cold beer and bratwurst for dinner. Mark and I went looking for deadwood to help feed the fire after dinner, and found another site had left 6-8 large pieces of log cuttings next to their fire ring. These were long boards: the edges from logs that are squared for timber at a mill. Mark and I dragged them back to our site, and Adam and Mark worked late into the night splitting wood, burning huge logs, and trying not to loose limbs or set themselves on fire in the process. It was a great night.