This year, I was invited to the 3rd Annual Shelf Road Gathering. This is a climbing party organized by Angela Benefiel, for her friends, and friends of her friends. Marissa invited me for this year’s gathering, and with every invite to Shelf I feel compelled to go – as Shelf is one of my favorite places to climb.
The limestone walls at Shelf are super rough, sharp and griptastic! Sometimes on certain walls I feel like I could almost just slap my palm against a spiky wall and pull down – it can be that spiky. And with the temperatures dropping, it’s my go to place when I need a winter climbing fix.
It’s November in Colorado, and the nights drop temperature into the 30s with daytime temps in the upper 60s. Against the south-facing walls of the Menses Prow, or the Bank it can get 10-20 degrees warmer, feeling like mid-Summer.
On Friday, only about 10 of the 21 total people arrived (out of 49 invited), the remainder arrived on Saturday. Sitting at the campfire on Friday night I talked to Megan and we discussed how just 2 years ago Shelf was fairly empty on a Saturday. Nowadays, the popular areas such as Cactus Cliff, the Bank, and Menses Prow can get overrun with climbers. We debated on whether the area was just discovered, or whether it was just because of the density of climbers invading Colorado. Probably the latter. Because of the hordes number of climbers there’s even a GoFundMe to pay for more pit toilets at Shelf.
But Shelf is quite large, with over 1,000 routes, from what I’ve been told, so if you don’t like the crowds, either climb 5.11 and above, or easier – go to one of the less visited crags. The area is also being actively bolted, with new routes going in every day. If folks would spread out, then there would be plenty of space to climb.
The night before was windy, and was a “3-dog-night,” an australian saying that it was so cold that you would need “..three dogs to keep warm.” I used 2 sleeping bags, my down one inserted into my cotton one. But Saturday was sunny and warm.
The hike is forested, and while steep at times, had many areas for photo opps.
Trails are well marked, with signage pointing the way to different crags. Once we arrived at Menses Prow, we found a large group of climbers taking up many of the routes. We were able to squeeze in on The Baroque Period. A nice 5.8 warm up. It felt longer than its 80 feet, with a dihedral crack to start, flakes and edges and long reaches to get to the top.
I remember getting about 3/4s of the way and thinking I was at the top – then looked up and saw 20 more feet to go!
But after that, we looked to swap with the party to our left.
‘We have one other person, then I’ll clean it, and then you can have the route,’ the guy who led that route called Prima Nocta, replied. What this translated to was ‘Well, we have 10 other people in my group gangbanging the side of the mountain, and at least 4 of them want a crack at this before we let you have it.’
We tried to be patient, saying things like, ‘It’s just nice being outside!’ all the while glancing over to see a new person roping up. Dana hinted that we could jump on the short 5.9 two routes over called Period Epic if those a-holes other climbers were still on Prima Nocta.
That’s the thing, huge groups of 10 or more climbers come and take over crags, forcing others to wait, or move on to farther crags. While our group was quite large, we all separated into smaller 3-4 person groups to different crags.The same was true when the group expanded to 21 people. We didn’t all converge onto one crag, not allowing others a crack at a particular climb. It was a little infuriating.
‘Though, it would be nice to have 4 routes setup, and then you could go from one route to another,’ I mused, but swiftly disabused myself of that thought.
I don’t want to be part of the problem.
So, we moved on over to Period Epic, a nice 5.9 with a high first bolt.
‘Dang, I forgot my stick clip back at camp!’ I said. Despite what some hardmen say, some routes were actually meant to be stick clipped. The first bolt is high not to scare the bejesus out of some newbie (although sometimes I think it is), it’s so that it has sufficient height to actually save someone from decking. With rope stretch the first bolt has to be high, sometimes 15-20 feet in order to be of any practical use.
But getting there can be sweat inducing.
Whatever, I gut up and nutup and went for it. The first clip wasn’t that bad, actually, the leading holds were solid.
I liked Period Epic – a brief 60 footer, but various climbing, from crimpy face, to a flaked edge. Side pulls and long clips.
By the time our group was done with that route, Period Nocta finally cleared out.
I’m glad we waited, it was another nice long climb with varied climbing, starting on a left flake. It wanders a bit – first left, then right, and then back left and up to the chains.
That night, by campfire…
Saturday night, the rest of the gang arrived, 21 people in all, playing music and drinking it up. Angela, the organizer, was a brewer at Coors/Miller in Golden, and she brought a few cases of beer with her. Despite all the beer, booze and spliffs being passed around, it was a chill, cheerful group. The fire ring was piled as high as we could get it with burning logs, a fire proof glove lending a hand to turn logs and retrieve fallen foil-wrapped foods.
The next day, we decided to go check out the Mural Wall. The previous day I looked over and didn’t see a soul over there, so I thought it might work out better for us.
We did come upon a large group, but they were more accommodating, moving off routes to allow us to climb.
We started on DeMartini, a nice 5.7 warmup. It had a couple crack systems to practice all my mad crack climbing skillz.
From DeMartini, I eyed the 10b to the right, called Soldier Without Faith. I knew that I needed to start consistently doing 5.10s, but I knew a 5.10b would be a stretch, but should be well within my wheelhouse. The climb was airy at points, exposed on a face at the upper half, with a blind reach around the arete with a high reach to gain the jug that was just below the chains.
I felt pretty good after leading that one. We then moved on to the 5.9- Protect the King, which had a bonafide crack up the first half, where again I could utilize my mad crack climbing skills I learned at the Steph Davis Crack Clinic I just took. I inserted my hands wrist deep, compressed my hands till they filled the crack, and dropped my elbows down to cam them in – and rose up, camming my feet as I went.
It almost felt natural.
The route then switched left to crimpy face climbing, vertical and exposed. I just kept sinking my fingers and tips of my toes as I progressed upwards. It was a nice finish.
It was nearing 3pm, and with a 3.5 hour drive back, it was time to end this and start hiking back. It’s always nice to find another crag to climb, and the Mural Wall is another area I want to explore.
Until next time!