Friday, June 15, 2012

climbing colorado - shelf road recreation area

After a dismal attempt at climbing in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, we geared up and headed south into the high desert for an intense experience. The target area was Shelf Road Recreation Area, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owned public area that boasts over 1,000 world-class sport routes on bomb-proof limestone. The BLM is highly supportive of climbing and cooperative with the climbing community, and the excellent access and camping sites make it shine.

shelf road looking towards the cactus cliff crag on the right - photo by dylan jones
Everything about the area was imposing: Massive cliffs. Deep gorges. Weird desert plant life and spiny cacti. Endless bugs. Rattlesnakes. High wind gusts that would blow climbing gear out of your hands. 100 + degree temperatures. The driest air either of us have experienced. Climbing at 7,100 feet elevation. Pure solitude and deafening silence. When you combine all of these stimuli, it's hard to climb. Not to mention that we have only been on the grippy, incut sandstone that comprises the New River and Red River gorges back East. Despite all the environmental factors telling us to stay away, we climbed.

We climbed early in the morning, during the afternoon heat stroke, and in the evening when the air cooled down. Eric boasted a perfect record, onsighting every route he touched. To do this in a new area, at altitude, on virgin rock, is quite boss. I experienced major improvements as well, with clean sends of the 5.9 grade (on back to back routes) for the first time. The same evening, we mountain biked down to a crag and I stepped it up even futher with a clean send on a 5.10+ route. The route ended on a big roof pull, and as pumped as my muscles were, slapping the anchors released a huge rush of endorphins.

blm signage detailing the climbing areas - photo by dylan jones

As I sit writing this at a coffee shop in Canyon City, I can't help but feel like we were there for weeks. That's the beauty of the wilderness experience. A few days turns into an eternity. Now it's time to move on southwest to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, a wilderness of several-hundred foot high sand dunes pushed up against the 14,000 foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Stay tuned dirtbags!

view of the gorge, shelf road and the surrounding mountains from cactus cliff - photo by dylan jones

eric leading a classic 5.7 crack / chimney route - photo by dylan jones
dylan cleaning the 5.7 route during high winds - photo by dylan jones
eric soaking up the experience while rapping down a 5.10a at cactus cliff - photo by dylan jones
the van at our campsite framed by an epic desert sunset - photo by dylan jones

flowering cactus against the high desert environment - photo by dylan jones
the single pitch sport routes of cactus cliff framed by some unknown big walls in the surrounding mountains - photo by dylan jones

dylan's super awesome bike (better than eric's) on the way to the piggy bank crag - photo by dylan jones

our next stop - the sangre de cristo mountains, the barrier between us and the great sand dunes national park - photo by dylan jones


  1. Lookin' good. Leah and I are going zip-lining this afternoon and will be thinking of you.

  2. Thanks, Ray! We're trying to keep up with all that's going on, there's so much to do out here. Enjoy the zippin'