Summer at Shelf Road – mid-January 2013 and my first 5.13

Half asleep I’m looking out of the window with a fragrant cup of coffee in my hands. Saturday morning, 9 am. The sun rises just above the mountain, into a very blue sky. I take a look at my iPhone weather app and notice that it’s still a little bit chilly outside. That will change within a couple of hours though. This mid-January week it’s summer in Colorado with temperatures of 14 to 19 degrees Celsius!

                I usually don’t wake up this early, but today is Shelf Road Day!! I’m extremely psyched to climb outside. I’ve been climbing in the gym for two weeks since my (way too long) rest period. Past two weeks were pretty strange because I felt super strong, but taking the grades into account it turned out I wasn’t climbing as I did before. Pascal assured me that I would get my climbing skills back within two weeks and probably would be climbing stronger than before. I just had to be patient. Last Thursday I was climbing harder grades in the gym again which helped to regain some confidence. Even though my finger is still bothering me, It’s great to be back climbing again!
                To get outside on this sunny day gives me an incredible happy feeling. While I’m excited to leave, Pascal is enjoying his (slooow) morning ritual. I cannot wait and start packing the car.

Driving to Shelf Road is great. The landscape is different, as always. This time there’s still a little bit snow from last week. I’m wondering how it will be at the crags. Before we moved to the USA, everybody told us that it’s possible to climb in t-shirts during the winter months in Shelf. Today I’ll finally experience this privilege.
                Around 11 am we arrive together with Mike at Shelf Road. We meet up with some friends at The Gallery, Menses. There’s lots of sun and I hurry to get my harness and shoes on. “Whose starting?” I ask Mike and Pascal. “You”, they answer at the same time. “Because you are the most excited”.  They are awesome J

Saturday: The Gallery 
I had never been to this sector before. It’s sharp and the routes are not very sustained. Almost every route I did consisted of easy climbing, crux moves, easy climbing. The movements were fun now and then, but I guess I can say it’s not my favorite area in Shelf Road.
                At one route, my lead falling practice with Mike the other day in the gym became useful. ‘Lunch at the Y’ (5.11b/c) is a beautiful line in the middle of a blank wall. The wall was in the shade and although it felt like 20 degrees Celsius in the sun, my fingers got frozen on this route. A very thin crux section on miniscule crimps became pretty exciting because I no longer felt my fingers. I was looking down to my quick draw, saw Mike attentively belaying and thought by myself: Ah, just go on. It doesn’t matter if you fall, it’s the same as in the gym. So I did, it worked. Pretty fun but I rather don’t climb in the shade again during Winter J.

               At 4 pm the sun disappeared behind the hills and it got very cold again. While I had actually planned to camp in our car at the parking, a nice warm shower and a good cold beer with all the others sounded amazing at that point. So it was time to drive back to Colorado Springs.



Sunday: Cactus Cliff
For a while I have been motivated to try some harder routes at Shelf Road. Up to Sunday I had tried one hard route last summer, The Example, which wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Two finger pockets on overhanging wall. Ouch…
                This day I had set my mind on a 5.13a called ‘Cure for the Common Crimp’. After two quick warm-ups, awesome routes by the way (Muscle Beach 5.11 and Wadsworth Boulevard 5.10c), I went for it.
                The first part was a very bouldery sequence, mantling up after a small roof to get to the second clip. Freaking scary. Followed by easier climbing to a big ledge. I took my rest and decided that I really wanted to go for an on-sight, because it wasn’t an attractive idea to do that scary start again. I climbed to the crux: a bulge with small sidepulls, crimps and underclings following into a dynamic move to a big sloper. I tried to find reasonable holds to pull myself higher, but I couldn’t find them. Got pumped and decided to climb all the way back to the big rest. 


The big rest.
Photo Credits: Mike Nalevanko

I recovered completely, went up again and made the decision to go dynamic to a chalked part far out left, but it turned out to be almost nothing and I fell. Bummer, after such a long rest… Lost time. I figured out the sequence, and climbed the rest of the route. Beautiful features, like I had never seen before in Shelf Road. Close to the top there is a pinch which is more like a tufa. It’s just awesome.
                A couple of friends went on the route using the top-rope before I went for my 2ndgo. I got pretty nervous, because I knew that I could do the route. I only had to stick the crux moves and hold on to the end. At the crux I knew I didn’t step up my left foot to the small foothold I had used while working it out. I hesitated and decided not to wait any longer and made a big move. Of course, wrong choice. That left foot was crucial. I had to do it again. Lowered and stepped in it directly again. This third time I climbed passed the crux, got to the big sloper and reached out to the left. Hmm, that hold is worse than it was the first time, I thought. I struggled and I fell again. It turned out that I just missed the good hold…. 2 inches. Frustrating. I decided to take some rest and to make some pictures. Fourth go I blew the crux again. I was done with the route. Felt tired and bummed. Pascal thought I had to climb the route once more. It would be a shame not to go again for it now I had the whole sequence in my body. Phoenix also motivated that it’s always the moment that you are tired and you don’t have expectations anymore that everything will come together. I admitted, even though I thought I was too tired to get to the second bolt.

                I took another rest while Cliff went on the route in the toprope again and made some nice progress at the crux. He brushed the bad holds and when it started to get colder I went for it again. Mike belayed me, it was nice and quiet. Most people already left the crag. I climbed better than in my fourth go. I didn’t take a long rest at the ledge as I had done before. Climbed to the crux. The holds felt much better. Probably due the brushing and the cold air (just like in the morning when I first tried the route). Climbed through the crux, hitting the sloper. This time I reached a little further left, there it was. The hold I was aiming for before. Climbed further to a short rest. Then I knew it. I’m going to finish the route. Super excited, because this would be my first 5.13a. There it was, I clipped the anchors. Pascal and Phoenix were right. 


Photo credits: Mike Nalevanko

Thanks Mike!!! It’s an awesome souvenir!!      

I was super happy that all my attempts finally paid off. It felt like a birthday gift. I’ve had a couple of projects before (in the gym). I always felt disappointed when I finally topped those routes… It’s hard to explain why, but at that moment I don’t have the joy anymore of working towards the goal. Achieving the goal always felt less satisfying than I had hoped for. With this route it is different. I’ve climbed it yesterday and I’m still euphoric about it. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’ve plateaued for the last year and I finally broke into a new grade. It took longer to reach this level than the other levels before. Even though everybody was telling me I was totally capable of doing it, I still I had to do it. Hopefully this is the first 5.13 of many more. It gave me confidence and the next time I’m outside I’ll definitely try some other hard routes!! 

The Sunday Crew
Line of Cure for the Common Crimp
After I came home I checked the route on Mountain Project and I got really confused.
I saw the following comment that Ben Schmitt posted:


The new guidebook gives misdirection as to what Cure is supposed to do. The right route via the fixed draws is an open 5.14 project I bolted and have been working on for a while, whereas Cure goes left from the ledge. How’d the project feel? The draws were intended to get potential suitors on the route, as hanging them mid crux is extremely difficult. They are not perma draws (or abandoned booty), just to be used until the route is finished then I will take them down.” 

This made me wondering if I could claim the 5.13a grade because I don’t know how the real start of ‘Cure for the Common Crimp’ goes. I decided to send Ben an e-mail to ask his opinion.
This was his reaction, which made me pretty happy.


“I would say you definitely earned your 13 points by doing it that way.  The start of the project I estimated to be about 12 a or b, and the “Cure” start I thought to be about 11c or d.  The new guide is very misleading, and had been the cause of a number of people starting into the project crux (which is worlds different from the Cure crux).  Great job on the linkup you did (maybe an FA?), and if your looking for something harder please feel free to climb the project, it makes me happy to see the bolts I sank being used!”

Probably I’ll go back to try the real version as well, just… because it’s fun!   



Mike climbing Fantasia 5.11c

Pascal climbing Illegal Smile 5.11b
Photo credits: Mike Nalevanko

Een gedachte over “Summer at Shelf Road – mid-January 2013 and my first 5.13

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