Going to college and “growing up” during that time in Lincoln, Nebraska is not an ideal location to learn how to rock climb. It’s flat, covered in corn, and you get really good at holding your breath while driving past the numerous cattle pens along I-80. While the people are the nicest and most caring people you will ever run across, the state does not provide for the mountain adventures soul. During college (early 2000’s) a devout group of flatland gym climbers sought out real rock anywhere they could find it but needed the right avenue to do so. Jon Cannon and Brian Wandzilak had been climbing at the unknown area of Shelf Road and suggested that it would be the perfect place to teach new climbers, camp, and share a common passion.
Jon and Brian were the experienced climbers of the group and all of us newbies had stars in our eyes when they would talk about their adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park, Shelf Road, and Garden of the Gods. I felt like I had finally found like minded people to share my deep rooted desire to be outside. These godfathers of the Nebraska climbing scene organized the first annual Shelf Road Climbing Trip, scheduled for April 2002. Myself, Jon, Brian, and a handful of other still close friends made our way to Shelf and 14 years later the tradition continues. Every April, no matter the weather, we converge on The Bank group site and make stories. Stories of the trek from Nebraska, broken bones, love connections, blizzards, and feats of strength.
This year is no different. With a modest turnout of 35 people here are the best stories from this year.
Are we in Cripple Creek AGAIN!?
A crew of 5 impossibly stuffed into a Subaru sized vehicle with gear piled up to their noses arrived a day later than expected but none the less excited to have finally arrived after a long night of uncertainty. Here is their story written by Elsa Parr:
Five of my friends and I, all gym climbers but none experienced outdoor climbers, decided to head out to Shelf Road for a weekend of climbing with other climbers from the UNL area and their friends. We started our journey in the parking lot of the north Walmart of Lincoln, NE, which Google Maps says is about nine hours away from Shelf.
Though six people and all their stuff in one car is pretty cramped, the first eight or so hours of the trip was pretty painless. Taking I-80 across Nebraska is possibly one of the most boring drives one can take, but it’s fast and easy. We had hit Denver around 11pm and were feeling pretty good.
Things took a turn for the worse, however, in Colorado Springs. I’m not sure if we missed our exit or the Samsung navigator has a personal vendetta against us, but we ended up in the small casino town of Cripple Creek. If you looked at a physical map of Colorado, you’d see that Cripple Creek is in no way a necessary stop on the way to Shelf, but we still held out trust in our phone’s navigation. When it took us to the even tinier town of Victor, though, we were sure something was wrong.
It was at this point we decided we needed directions from a real human being. We decided to turn around and head back to Cripple Creek in hopes that someone there would know where we were going. Around 1am, we pulled up to a casino and a few other girls and I went in. Inside, we found a nice older man that with a vest and a name tag that read “Lonnie”. I explained to him that we were very lost and very tired and desperately in need of directions to Shelf Road. Lonnie was a bit long winded but very sweet and gave us quite complicated directions to get to Canon city, which he assured us was the best route to Shelf. As he talked, I frantically typed the directions as a note into my phone.
We thanked Lonnie profusely and then headed back on the road, following his informal directions such as “go south for a while” and “turn left at the gas station.” By some miracle, we ended up in Canon city about an hour later. At this point, it was past 2am and we had not taken a bathroom break in quite some time. One of my friends really had to pee, so at a stop sign, she crawled out and walked into the grass. Just as she was about to pull down her pants, though, we saw flashing blue and red lights in the mirror. A cop came up to the window.
Apparently it’s not cool to pee on the side of the street in a neighborhood, no matter how late it is or how desperate you were to go. The cop let us off with a warning, though, and gave us new, more specific directions on how to complete the last leg of our journey. My poor friend crawled back in the car with a full bladder and we continued down the road.
Although there were no people out and about on the highway, there were deer, and plenty of them. The deer and their big luminous eyes lined the street, like a strange welcome committee. Every mile or so, we had to stop to let a wandering group cross. I saw more deer in that ten mile stretch than I ever had in my life, and am still shocked we didn’t hit any. (It should also be noted that it was on this road that my friend finally got to pee.)
Eventually, we came up to a dirt road we were fairly sure was the famous Shelf Road. We approached a small wooden sign we assumed to be the sign to our campsite. However, it read “Cripple Creek, 14 miles”. This was when we really started freaking out. We had just driven nearly two hours from Cripple Creek. Were we driving in circles? Were we in a horror movie? Did we die on I-80 and this was hell? Anything was possible at this point. However, we continued onto the narrow, winding dirt road, which clung to the side of the mountain, sure that our campsite, The Bank, was soon. Forty-five minutes of white-knuckle driving later, though, there was still no campsite. It was nearly 4am Lincoln time by now and we agreed it simply wasn’t safe to keep going. Out of options, we pitched a tent on the side of the road and decided to continue in the morning.
Sleep did not come. We were high enough in altitude at this point that the temperature was well below freezing, and none of us had much more than a sweatshirt and thin sleeping bags. Soon enough, though, light crept over the mountain and we heard the rumble of a car. My friend, crawled out of the tent and waved the car down to ask for directions.
It turns out our campsite was 10 miles back down the road we came from. Driving back that morning, which, by the way, was beautiful and significantly less terrifying in daylight, we eventually saw the sign to our campsite. It was hammered onto the same pole as the infamous “Cripple Creek, 14 miles” sign. In our panic and disbelief the night before, we had failed to read the sign underneath that pointed us to The Bank. We at last arrived around 7:30 am, a good 16 hours after we left Lincoln. As we set up camp, two of the guys from our car found a real map. Turns out, the place we camped on the side of the road was a mere two miles from Cripple Creek. If only we had known.
Years back Tyler Scheer was on his first outdoor lead climb and ended up with metal plates and screws in his ankle. His story can be read here. In proud Shelf tradition, Emily Huckabee has been added to the list of people how have put fear aside and went for it.
Myself and others were climbing a few crags away from Alexi’s Route when Jon rolls up and asks if Doug, our own medical professional, if he could come and give a once over to Emily who had just taken a bad whipper. At this point we are all concerned about the situation. We head over to the Alexi’s route area and Emily is sitting by the trail with her ankle tightly wrapped and dried blood still on her forehead. the story goes that as she was nervously climbing her first outdoor lead climb, she feel with her foot behind the rope causing her to flip upside down smack her head on the wall and severely sprained her ankle. When we caught up with her she was coherent but unable to walk without help. I was quite impressed by her positive attitude and good spirits in the face of possible cast time. The next day she spent in camp relaxing and taking in the beautiful Shelf Road view.
Are there Bears here?
Not much of a story here, just the possibility of a new Shelf mascot.
Stories from the Past: Gear Mule
Being new to climbing outdoors we were all enthusiastic about getting on the wall and helping out in any way that we could in order to learn as much as we could. Jon Cannon, being the defacto leader, dutifully and slyly took advantage of the situation and went to work.
“Hey Jon, is there anything I can help carry?” I said
“Sure, can you carry the draws? My pack is a bit heavy.” said Jon.
“Need any help carrying the ropes?” Joe said ready to get on the trail.
“If you would like, yes. Here is it.” said Jon with a smirk.
“I have some extra room in my pack, do you need any help with anything?” Eli asked in his kind way.
“I have some nalgenes that don’t quite fit in my pack with all the other stuff. Would you mind carrying those?” Jon asked.
“Sure.” said Eli has he was handed 3 full nalgenes.
“Who wants to carry the rack of cams?” Jon said barely being able to contain himself. Three unsuspecting victim jump at the chance. Needless to say, Jon knew exactly what he was doing.
The gear had been divided and we were on our way with Jon at the back of the pack, our destination was the east end of Spiney Ridge. The trail in those days was not as long as it is today, you could drive to the upper parking lot. Nonetheless, the trail was made difficult by the extra gear and not being acclimated to the altitude. As we get to the cliff we glance back at Jon, gleefully skipping down the trail while the rest of grumble under the weight of our packs. Jon had successfully passed off every bit of gear, carrying only his harness, shoes, chalk bag, an extra shirt, and some snacks all stuffed into a small daypack. We all stop to look at his grinning face having the same thought “WTF??”. He just smiles and says “I would have gotten someone to carry my harness but no one asked….” Lesson learned: never ask Jon Cannon if he needs help carrying anything.
Stories from the Past: Is it Loud in Here?
Shelf is all about teaching new climbers how to climb on real rock as well as creating a community. One year, this sense of community brought together an unusually large number of people, approximately 75. We took over The Bank group site and all but a few of the remaining individual sites. New climbers, old climbers, people who have moved across the country, and friends of friends were among those who made the journey. After a short day of climbing because of low temps and snow, we converged around the campfire and keg to catch up with old friends and share stories of the years gone by. As one might expect, things got increasingly more “fun” as the night progressed and the Sparks (caffeinated malt liquor mixed with beer) made an appearance. About midnight, 2 or three unknown individuals appeared in the group site and found Jon Cannon, the person who seemed to be the ring leader of the craziness.
“Can you guys please keep it down a bit? We are trying to get some sleep and you are making a lot of noise.” asked the unknown climbers.
With a furled brow and inquisitive look about him, Jon asks “When are you camping?! I know just about everyone in all the campsites.”
By this point the party had simmered and quieted in order to verify if we were in trouble.
“We are camped down in Sand Gulch.” he said. With this everyone exploded in cheers and congratulatory high fives at the impressive cacophony we had created! Sand gulch is over a mile away and our party was keeping the neighborhood awake. We invited them to join us but they declined our invitation.
And o yeah! There is climbing.