Heading into Labor Day Weekend the plan was to head to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas. My friend Zack of Climb DFW was joining my roommate and I after a long climbing hiatus and was jonesing to check out the sandstone cliffs, but the forecast was calling for a 60% chance of rain. With my experience in Arkansas if it says it’s going to rain, it’s going to rain! So we opted to head up to Shelf Road in Colorado. Shelf Road provides miles of limestone cliffs with a plethora of bolted climbs for your sending enjoyment.
This was going to be just my second time in the past year to spot climb. I have spent the better part of the past couple years trad climbing. I was really excited to get back onto the sharp end while projecting harder routes. All three of us were for the most part “rusty” but were all able to push our limits.
We arrived at Shelf Road early Friday evening after a long drive from Texas. After setting up camp we booked it to Cactus Cliff and got in an easy 5.7 climb before dinner called Crynoid Corner, a beautiful dihedral at the edge of a cliff line. All three of us were excited to be on the rock, enjoying the smell of the pines and light rain in the lovely state of Colorado.
The next morning we headed over to Cactus Cliff and started off on another easy 5.7 climb called Ian’s Route. After all three of us lead Ian’s Route (as I photographed from the top anchors) we took a shot at Red Eclipse (5.10c/d) on top-rope. After we all completed that climb we moved over a few routes and took turns leading a fun slabby 5.9 climb called Ol’ 47. After finishing those routes we decided to break for lunch; we found ourselves sitting under the route Christmas Tree, a 5.10 b/c. Another climber came up and climbed it while we were eating. I watched her gracefully climb up the route and convinced myself I was capable of leading it as well.
After finishing up our lunch and waiting for the other climbers to clear out I geared up and took my shot at the route. It ended up being harder than I expected, but made it up about ¾ of the route before having to bail. Thankfully Zack was able to finish the lead for me so we didn’t have to leave any gear. I was able to finish the climb on top rope though. Despite not finishing the route on lead it felt good to be pushing my limits.
After that we decided to chase the shade and head over to another cliff, but not without a long break chilling on a picnic table under some pine trees at the base of Cactus Cliff. Once we aroused from our slumber we headed over to The Dark Sided in search of a 5.8 crack climb. Once we got there we found a French couple from Denver struggling up the route. While waiting I began eying a 5.10d just two routes to the left. As my roommate chatted with the couple in French he discovered the guy on route thought the .10d I was eying was easier than the crack, so rather than waiting for the route to open up I decided to take a shot on the 5.10d.
After what seemed like 30 minutes later I managed to finish the route. I wanted to come down at one point, but thankfully my friends wouldn’t let me down and insisted I finish the route. After several more attempts I was able to finish the route, and soon after that both Phillip and Zack completed the route on top rope. At this point another group was climbing the crack climb so we decided to pack up and call it a day.
The next morning we headed over to an area called Menses Prow in The Gallery area. We started our day on one of my all-time favorite climbs – First Blood, a 5.9 crack climb. I lead first and set up an anchor to photograph Phillip and Zack. Once we finished up on First Blood we headed around the corner to knock out three more climbs that were right next to each other.
Here we climbed Boss Method (5.8), a tricky slab route, then Smart Server 5.10a, a fun climb mixed with face, a crux finger crack and a beautiful arête. Once we all had our go at Smart Server we finished up on Dumb Waiter (5.10a), which started out around 5.8, built up to some balancey 5.9 moves and ended with a tricky, “find the pockets” 5.10a move over a bulge, ending with a fun mantle to the anchors.
Almost immediately after Phillip finished his climb on top rope it started to rain, thankfully we had already run the rope through the anchors just in case the rain started. So, we quickly packed up and started to head back, but ended up taking shelter under an overhang and waited for the rain to stop. While waiting for the rain to subside we could see the dirt road we had come in on and it was quickly becoming mud – you could see the ruts in the path filling with water. Lucky for us, I had Subirizzle, her AWD ended up getting us out safely, but not without flinging around lots of mud and taking a nose dive into the ruts. The drive out was one of the funnest parts of the trip for me!
But, before leaving we got in one last pitch on a fun 5.9-5.10a, Period Epic! Seeing how it was the end of the day I opted for the 5.9 route, plus the start of the 5.10 variation was pretty wet from the rain. Although we still had plenty of daylight left and the rain had moved on we decided to call it a day early and head back to camp and rest up for our 4 a.m. departure.
Even though the trip was short, it was worth the drive from Texas to enjoy the cooler weather in Colorado. I would actually like to start making more short trips like this, I just hope I can continue to find partners to go up here with me. If I am lucky (or rather blessed) I will eventually find myself living here. That is my hope anyway, but until then I will settle for weeklong and weekend adventures!