How to Get There/PreparationGetting to Shelf Road is not too hard. From Colorado Springs, take CO-115 towards Canon City. At a junction 45 miles south of CO-115, take US Highway 50 to Canon City. Once in Canon City, take Field Avenue. This raod eventually turns into Fremont County Road and then Shelf Road.
As far as a rack is concerned, all you will need is a lot of quickdraws and the usual climbing gear. A 60 meter rope will do you just fine for all the climbs in the area. It might be nice to have a gri-gri if working on projects or if you are belaying for a long time.
I had some time off from school, and thoughts immediately turned to climbing rock. I had been the previous two days around the Front Range getting in a few routes here and there, a heinous off-width at Turkey Rock and a classic crack in the Garden of the Gods called ‘Anaconda’. I really wanted to get a full day of climbing in though and had talked with some of my friends, Matt and Larissa. They too were itching to get on some rock. We decided to go to Shelf Road, a sport climbing limestone Mecca near Canon City, Colorado. As always, I had to wake the two and get them into action so that we could leave. Both Matt and Larissa are nocturnal beings, having most of their energy late in the day, I was the opposite. After loading up our gear in Matt’s car, we took off from the Springs listening to the unique music of Frank Zappa. Larissa soon fell asleep and I began to day dream of what the day would bring. After a short while we made it to Shelf and met some other Colorado College students, (Jess, Jesse, and Wiley). We had four ropes and six people, and planned to set up as many routes as possible to maximize our mileage on the stone.
The MorningShelf Road is truly a great area. The multitude and quality of routes is like no other area. I had been there only once before and was so impressed that I could not stop thinking about other lines that I wanted to ascend. As we hiked to the Cactus Cliff area, the lethargic Larissa became more and more excited, or at least her facial expressions hinted at this. I had spent the previous evening scoping out uber-classic lines that I wanted to lead in a guide book. I have become more comfortable leading harder grades and was pushing my limits and wanted to test myself on two particular routes, a 10b called ‘Dihedrus’ and a 10b/c called ‘Black Man’s Burden’. Matt, Jess, and Jesse took off around the corner to warm up on a route on the Gym Wall. I stopped with Larissa and Wiley at a classic climb called ‘La Cholla Jackson’ to warm up on. This is a well protected line with straightforward movements that seems to go on forever.
I hopped on and began climbing away. I have led the route before and knew the movements well, so well that I was not thinking about the rock at all. At the fourth or fifth bolt I noticed a brachiopod shell in the rock and excitedly told the others below of my discovery. Being an avid paleontologist, I could tell I was much more excited than they were and continued on my way. It was not soon that I got to the top and was lowered. Larissa did a run and was equally as quick. Before she got on, she still seemed fairly asleep, but by the time she came off I could tell that the feel of the rock had awkened her passion for Shelf and that she wanted more. Wiley also wanted to lead the route, so we pulled the rope and off he went. I was quite impressed by his climbing. I knew that he was afraid of heights, perhaps more so than the average person, and that he had not led for very long. Despite these things, he made his way slowly, shakily at times, up the line and successfully sent ‘La Cholla’. It was what climbers called a send-fest.
I was now thirsty for more. I had felt the rock, and its quality had reaffirmed my love for the limestone. I wanted to climb hard, so the three of us went over to ‘Dihedrus’. The route is named for a mythical god of dihedrals. I wanted to defeat the god. I asked Larissa to belay me. Even though she is much smaller and weighs less than I do, I feel very comfortable with her on the other end of the rope. I know nothing will go wrong. She had belayed me on many of my first leads and climbs and I guess you could say that it was a habit or good luck charm to have her belay me. After I tied in I spent some time rubbing chalk into the intricacies of my fingers. I sat down and looked into the canyon and felt the wind in my hair and tried to calm my nerves. I needed to be completely right in the head, I wanted to be focused on the here and now and not think about what could go wrong. This was my spiritual connection to climbing and I was gearing up to go to Sabbath on the rock. It seems like every time I write about climbing, in particular getting ready for a lead, I describe it in a very semi-religious and hippie-esque way. I don’t identify myself with either of those feelings normally, but for some reason climbing brings an unusual mixture of calm and anxiety that I identify with religious thoughts. Just to clarify, I was not on any drugs, I was getting high by being there and was soaking up the minor details of the surroundings that otherwise go unnoticed.
The Sendfest ContinuesI got on the rock and began the movements. I moved slowly and surely up the face, making sure that my feet were good and that my hands moved clear and strong. After the third clip I was no longer worried about falling or anything going wrong. The rock felt amazing, and I stemmed up the open book higher and higher. Each hold felt bomber. Near the top I became a little pumped. I was so close to the end. I reached for what looked like a jug, but it turned out to be a greasy sloper. I reached up from this and clipped the chains. A rush came over me. I screamed out, my voice flowing down the canyon. It was my victory cry, a symbol that I had beaten the mythical god and that I had onsighted my first 5.10b. I usually don’t put emphasis on the grade of the climb, it matters very little to anyone other than the climber. That combination of three numbers, a period, and a letter represented to me all of the hard work and training that I had done to be able to climb that hard. It is not a comparison, it could have very well been a 5.7, it was the fact that I was improving and that my hard work was paying off. I felt as if I had reached a plateau and wanted to go higher.
Both Larissa and Willey congratulated me and this only made me feel better. Matt had come over now too and had told me how impressed he was with the progress that I had made since the last time we climbed together. I felt near invincible. Even knowing that Matt and Larissa could climb and lead much harder lines, I felt equal. I was not worried about grades so much, but knowing that I could choose a climb that I wanted and send it was an unbelievable feeling.
I moved over down the cliff and ran into Jess and Jesse. They were coming to get Larissa to help finish a climb they started. They thought that they were on another route but soon found out that they were in fact on an 11c and could not get past the crux. I decided I wanted to have a go at it as it was and see how far I could get. Surprisingly I cruised up the lower section and reached the highest point that they had. After some severe hang-dogging I made it a little higher and was able to clip one more bolt. Unfortunately I could not get any higher, but I was still in good spirits. I had been debating if I wanted to try and lead another classic on the Cactus Cliff called ‘Black Man’s Burden’. It was rated a 5.10b/c and would be near the limit of my leading capabilities. After my run on the 11c, which I got ¾ of the way up, I had convinced myself that I could do ‘Black Man’s’
After resting a little and climbing some more fun routes such as 'Ga-stoned Again', I asked Larissa if she would be kind enough to belay me on another lead. She of course said yes, and after a little confusion with the guide book, we arrived at ‘Black Man’s Burden’. Matt had gone to the area earlier and climbed a route next to my chosen line and rigged himself to take photos and video clips from up top. The route was definitely more intimidating than the earlier 10 I did in the day and there were several portions that required some traversing to a runout bolt. I did not want to fall and swing on this climb.
Black Man's BurdenAfter my ritual of chalk rubbing and going through the climb in my mind, I tied on and began climbing. Once again I felt solid. Nice smooth movements led me higher on the face. I clipped the first bolt, then the second, pulled over a tiny roof using a flake and clipped the third. This felt awesome. I had support from Larissa and Wiley who had also come by. ‘You got this’ ‘Nice Dan’ ‘Common Man’. This felt great. Many people always comment or complain about people repeating these seemingly mundane and basic pump-up phrases, but I tend to enjoy them and try to harness their energy, not in a literal sense of course, but in a way that will keep me going.
I came to the crux, I was nearing Matt now and he also encouraged me. I traversed on a tiny ledge and moved upwards. Tiny sideways crimps filled my field of view and feet became sparse. I smeared one foot and toed in hard on a tiny ledge with the other. My hands were quite outstretched and I locked my crimps in an attempt to regain some stability. For the life of me I could not find good feet. I was getting pumped and had to do something. I was not afraid to fall, the bolt was only three or so feet below me, but I did not want to lose the onsight attempt and have to rework the last section that took so much energy out of me. I struggled and began to lose focus. I wanted so bad to find a ledge for my foot or a jug for my hand. I eventually ran out of energy and pealed off of the wall. Before I was even caught I had cursed out loud, not intentionally. I was angry at me, and at the rock. Damn you rock, I thought I had you figured out. Larissa yelled to me ‘That was awesome, good job’ and I reacted negatively by saying that it was not good at all. Matt wanted me to get higher and take a fatter whipper for his video. I ignored this and hang-dogged a little.
I sat there for a while and gave it a few more attempts. Each time with less energy and more frustration as the crux became harder and harder. I finally yelled to let me down. I came down disappointed, I knew I could do this, but was unable to do so. Larissa gave me a high-five and I grouchily told her she had to finish it up. She tied in and made quick work of what had taken me so long to do. I was glad she was there.
Slowly I began to feel better and listen to what the others told me. I realized that I had done a lot and could not whine about not being able to do the line. It was there and would always be there for me to do. I had climbed hard, but more importantly had fun and enjoyed the day.
So I guess this is the point where I reflect on what has happened. I realize that this story is not epic in any way; it is just a story of what happened and what was going through my mind. It was just a great day of climbing and being out with friends. I read many trip reports on Summitpost that describe a much more involved struggle. Ones that usually entail something going wrong, or making the person stronger by solving the issue. I love these tales and they give me energy to go out and try new things. This is a fairly normal story of day cragging where everything is safe and goes as planned. It might not be very interesting, but is just as epic to me. Every trip out climbing is a struggle in ones mind, a sort of mini-battle between you and the rock. I had done something that I thought I was unable to do, and only want more.