SOP Climbers take an alternative vacation

Joshua Alvarez

Staff Writer

While many of their classmates were enjoying warm Florida beaches or spending time at home, a small group of Sewanee students travelled halfway across the country with the Sewanee Outing Program to camp at Shelf Road, a climbing area in central Colorado.

With no running water, a single outhouse, and nothing resembling a bar of soap in miles, it seemed an unlikely vacation destination. Instead of five-star restaurants and seedy beachside bars, they spent the break eating oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly tortilla wraps, and whatever Assistant Director Seth Burns decided to mix together in a pot. They quickly learned that Cholula brand hot sauce easily corrects any culinary shortcomings.

Fortunately for the travelers, none of this mattered. If anything, it only added to the appeal of the trip. More than a week of world-class sport climbing promised more fun and excitement than any shower ever could.

Limestone and granite crags stretched from horizon to horizon, each one promising endless climbing potential. The climbs were often very difficult. Everyone on the trip fell, often multiple times every day, but over the course of the trip, everybody’s climbing ability improved immensely.

Cal Whaley (C’17), one of the trip’s leaders, recalled how one of his favorite parts of the trip was “helping other climbers grow their technical abilities and skill sets, in a sense passing the torch to another generation of Sewanee climbers.”

While eventually conquering a difficult route was reward enough in itself, the view from the top of the cliffs was another great motivator. From there, the climber could see across miles of desert, down into the campsite, and even clearly view the snow-capped tops of mountains in the distance.

All of these things and more created an amazing and unconventional spring break trip. Most of the participants agreed that it rivaled the famous SOP Rio Grande canoeing trip, and often dared to say it’s the better spring break option. Dan Harper (C’20) said he definitely preferred the Shelf Road trip to a normal spring break experience, commenting, “It was a different way to experience how to vacation.”