American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, New Mexico, Towers near Shiprock

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1969

Towers near Shiprock. During the spring of 1968 several of the prominent towers around the base of Shiprock were climbed for the first time. To protect the unique character of Shiprock, these towers have been given nautical names. Thus, the great spire on the north face, originally called “Tomahawk Spire,” was renamed “Outrigger” by the first-ascent party. The four towers climbed this spring have been called "Sextant,” “Sea Anchor,” “Spinnaker Tower” and “Crow.” "Sextant” is the 500-foot flake on the east side of Shiprock, a few hundred yards north of the Honeycomb Gully. Eric Bjornstad, Harvey Carter, Tim Jennings and I climbed the east edge of the flake in two days, reaching the summit on May 11. We required 32 pitons and 4 bolts in six pitches of mixed aid and free climbing, separated by excellent belay stances. The descent was made by a series of hairy rappels down the west edge and south face of the flake. “Sea Anchor,” which lies a quarter mile northeast of Shiprock, is the most spectacular black basalt column. It is 200 feet high and was climbed by Bjornstad, Carter and me on May 13. We ascended the west face to a shallow chimney about 50 feet below the top and then up the chimney to slabs just below the summit. This tower deserves special comment because of its extremely rotten rock. We spent many hours climbing over difficult bulges where we placed a large number of almost useless pitons. Carter, Mike Cohen and I climbed “Spinnaker Tower” in one long day on June 14. This is the most familiar "close-up” tower on Shiprock because the normal ascent route starts directly at its base at the bottom of the black gully. Though it has variously been called "Bollard,” "White Tower” and "Red Sentinel,” we prefer the name “Spinnaker Tower.” Our route started up the steep, water-smoothed gully north of the tower. One pitch in the gully followed by a traverse right and a rotten jam-crack brought us to the top of a flake below a 30-foot wall, which required nine bolts. The wall led into a crack, a major structural fault in places 50 feet deep, which we followed by free stemming to a point one pitch below the summit. The crack varies from 12 to 20 inches in width and demanded the utmost exertion with no reasonable protection for 150 feet. The summit pitch was a delicate F8 friction lead. We descended to the saddle joining "Spinnaker Tower" to the main basalt mass of the black gully, thence down the face to the head of the north gully with one more rappel to the start of the climb. The "Crow” is the basalt tower that borders the black gully on the normal ascent route of Shiprock and rises between that gully and Long’s Couloir to the south. It was climbed by Carter and me on June 15. We found several old pitons, including an old "rebar" near the base of its west face, but on the more technical rock higher up, no marks of any previous ascent were evident. We climbed the west ridge in five free pitches on generally sound rock; the descent was made by the east ridge.

Donald J. Liska

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