Shelf Road, Labor Day Weekend 2016

Shelf Road is considered a “Winter crag,” although I’ve even climbed it on a mid-summer weekend in the heat of early August.

Shelf Road

While I’ve heard some say that Rifle Mountain Park

…offers the best limestone sport climbing in North America…

I would answer — hold that thought, have you ever been to Shelf?

Shelf was my first and best experience on climbing on limestone I’ve ever had. And since I’ve climbed at both Rifle and Shelf, <jest>I am a bonafide expert on limestone climbing</jest>.

Rough Surface

While I liked climbing at Rifle, I love climbing at Shelf. Shelf trades in the flat planes and knee-bar angles of Rifle for bullet hard, sharp, pocketed climbing . Climbing on one feature rich route I said, ‘It’s like I’m climbing on coral!’ And since much of land limestone was once ancient coral beds, it makes sense. It can be so sharp and featured, but alternatively I’ve encountered smooth face climbing, with double and mono pockets, thin crimps — practically any surface you can think of can be found on a route at Shelf.

Photo: Rod SIngson

Shelf is comprised of limestone walls that line an arroyo (at least, I’ve never seen a creek running…) There are several climbing walls in the area with 935 routes covered in Mountain Project — which doesn’t even account for the new routes on new crags being set every year.

While I’ve explored Cactus Cliff and the Sand Gulcharea, I find myself returning to the Bank area of Shelf Road. Frankly, because of the large number of routes I find that I like to concentrate on a single area to get a feel for it before moving on to a new one. And at 175 routes, the Bank offers plenty for the 2–3 times I go per year.

This time I was meeting my friend Emily Loewer Zampedri, who sent me the following text on July 7th:

I’m legitimately sad I can’t rock climb for several more weeks. All I want right now is to hit shelf road…You down to plan a weekend in September to go down there?

She had broken her collarbone in a mountain bike jumping accident gone wrong, which sidelined her climbing.

Over 2 months away. Labor Day. The cooling temps of September. Grippy limestone — hellyeah!

My brother Rod and I came early on a Thursday, to nab a campsite prior to the Labor Day climbing hordes (that never came). In fact we were hard pressed to find another group of climbers within sight of the routes we were climbing.

We warmed up on Ma Barker, a route I renamed “Gunning for Bonsai,” because of the lone bonsai-esque pine at the top of the route:

Gunning for Bonsai

It’s a 5.7 if you go to the left of the face to the featured side, but it is possible on the 2nd half to stay on the face for a 5.10ish crimpfest.

Emily on Ma Barker/Gunning for Bonsai (Photo: Caleb Zampedri)

Caleb gunning for the bonsai

Emily’s collarbone test is a…GO!

Rod gunning for the bonsai

Rod contemplates the ephemerality of life as represented by the fragile existence of the wild bonsai…

We basically made our way right, starting with a 5.7, going to the 5.8+ Jesse James, and the 5.9+ Baby Face Nelson.

Piggy Bank sign

Unfortunately, we saw some graffiti at the bottom of the route. At least it was written in chalk, but recorded here to hopefully publicly shame these asshats. I didn’t have anything to remove these marks without damaging the rock, so this may have to wait before removal.

Translation: Asshats were here

heartless asshats


After an afternoon rest, we went back that evening to do night time climb. I picked out what looked to me as an easier climb: Pretty Boy Floyd, 5.7:


Now, I’ve heard it said to take grades with a grain of salt, and often, when people ask me the difficulty of a route I tell them “It was five dot fun!”

But, you kind of like to have some consistency to ratings — after all, why have them at all? And I understand that people have different strengths, body types, heights and ape-index (arm length to heght ratio), but after fighting/struggling/thrutching my way up this, I think Pretty Boy Floyd should come with a warning label: May be tough for the grade.

Night climbing fun

Let me put it this way: this route put the “plus” in the 5.7+. I didn’t find a plethora of mad jugs, and the crack was unforgiving.

But hey, maybe I just did it wrong! Or suck…or whatever. Shelf is one of those places, like Eldo, that has some areas bolted in ye olden days, when the ratings only went as high as 5.10, so you will encounter lower-graded routes you might want to grade a couple steps (or more) higher.

See the climber? (in green)

Caleb Zampedri contemplates the route

All-in-all, it’s hard to beat climbing for a long weekend at Shelf. Grippy, featured rock, over 900 sport routes, blue skies and nice camp sites within walking distance of the crags — what’s not to like?

Shelf calls to me, and I keep coming back…

Call it a day (Photo: Rod Singson)


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Originally published at on September 7, 2016.