New Mexico, Shiprock. On 16 April Robert Schroeder (20), Robert Schlichting, William Heatley, and Gray Dixon were descending Shiprock after a successful ascent. William Heatley submits the following report: The weather was excellent and climbing conditions were good. The judgment of the party was weak in that we decided to continue our descent after dark even though a stay overnight on the rock was feasible. The strength of the party was good considering the lengthy route followed. The clothing of the party was suitable for the conditions present. The equipment carried by the party was excellent in all respects but one (i.e. only one head lamp was taken on the climb).
The descent was being made at night along the line of ascent, which we learned later is not the normal descent route. Short rappels, using natural anchors and no belays were being made. The other three climbers rappelled down, using diaper sling and biner-brakes. Bob was using a body rappel. He was approximately 20 feet above us and 20 feet to the side when he fell. He had stopped his rappel and swung slightly away from the rock. As he swung in, the rope was dislodged above him and he fell backwards, striking the ledge we were on headfirst. His fall then continued about 200 feet down a vertical cliff. When found, he was 15 feet from the edge of a 50 foot ledge. Though a hard hat was being worn at the time, it was never recovered. Death was believed to be caused instantaneously by a broken neck sustained when striking the first ledge. Evacuation was made principally by the Ute Alpine Club who rendered invaluable assistance at the expense of their only chance for an ascent.
Source: William Heatley.