Scared on Ship Rock

Scared on Ship Rock

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Nov 27, 2010

Trouble Before We Arrive

The trip started smoothly enough. Franky scooped me up at McCarran International and we made our way east into Arizona and stopped for the night west of Flagstaff. We were a little concerned with how cold it was (8 degrees F at 7000 feet) but knew that there was a slight warming trend predicted for Saturday before the weather went to hell again. We decided heading northeast through the Navajo Reservation would be a more interesting drive than staying on I-40 to get to New Mexico, so we turned off at Flagstaff, grabbed some groceries, and made our way onto the Reservation.

Taking the scenic route almost ended up costing us the trip. Little did we know that our first encounter with the Navajo Tribal Police would be 100 miles from Ship Rock. As Franky was coming down a hill at a rate of speed greater than or equal to the speed limit, an SUV headed in the opposite direction swung a U-turn and sped up to pull us over. Franky, ever the dirtbag, began pleading with the officer to not give him the speeding ticket he couldn’t afford. The cop had Frank step out of the vehicle and patted him down.
Ship Rock from the North

“I live in my truck, I don’t have money to pay a ticket!” Franky insisted.
Ship Rock from the East
“Then why do you have an Illinois registration and a California driver’s license?” the officer retorted.

Franky launched into an elaborate story that he was borrowing his dad’s truck to drive back to Illinois in order to look for a job. He was apparently dropping me off in Boulder. I could hear the officer behind the car reciting seemingly the entire Schedule I Controlled Substances List and asking if Franky had any of each in the car. When Franky said no, he told Franky he had smelled weed and asked to search the truck, with which Franky told him he didn’t feel comfortable.
Ship Rock from the South

I’m glad he didn’t ask me where we were going because I didn’t know Franky had created this story until after they had me get out of the car and asked me which drugs I was carrying on me. He then brought out a dog to sniff the car. I assumed he’d have a German Shepherd in the car, but he pulled out a mangy mutt that I’m pretty sure he picked up that morning from the plethora of strays roaming the Reservation. The officer explained that if the dog pointed, it would constitute probable cause to search the vehicle. He trotted the dog for one lap around the car, and the dog didn’t seem to react in the slightest. When he finally got the dog all the way around the car, he jerked the dog’s leash tightly and the dog lurched up. Apparently this was his probable cause, and I’m pretty sure we had our rights under the 4th Amendment violated.
Ship Rock

As Franky and I stood and watched the officer, then the mutt, and then another officer who pulled over to join the party rifle through the car, I asked him if he thought he had any weed in the car. “I’m not sure, maybe.” Even hearing this, I wasn’t too worried about things until I realized the contraband that I had been carrying.

“Damn it!” I said. “I left the articles we printed out about climbing Ship Rock on the seat! And they’ll see our rack in the back!” Climbing has been outlawed on Spider Rock and the Totem Pole since 1962 and the entire Navajo Reservation following an accident on Ship Rock in 1970. Many clandestine ascents have occurred over the years, but there was nothing clandestine about our efforts so far.
Ship Rock Alpenglow

Franky was sure we’d end up in Navajo-Pound-Me-In-The-Ass prison for drugs, and I was sure we’d end up there for having climbing gear and information on Ship Rock. As it turned out, we were sent along on our merry way, unscathed. We voiced our concerns about the legality of the search to an Arizona State Trooper that pulled over to join the fun, he went and talked to the Navajo officers, and they let us go before they could find the weed the first cop was 100% sure he had smelled. We left a little leery of the police presence and got to Ship Rock just before the sun went down. Our little hour plus detour to the side of the highway had cost us any chance as reconnoitering the route. We saw a fantastic sunset, cooked some dinner, and tucked into our sleeping bags in the back of the truck for a long, cold night.

Climbing Ship Rock

We awoke to very cold temperatures outside and frost all over the inside of the truck. We decided that 800 fill down was more appealing than the arctic air outside and hunkered down until the sun hit the truck. This was barely enough to convince us to get up, eat a little breakfast, and start walking. We heated up pretty quickly as we climbed the talus to the base of the route. It starts with a very bouldery move from a pile of stacked blocks to a gear placement after the tricky climbing is done (of course). Some more scrambling led us to the base of the black bowl that we figured would be an easy section of the route.
First Pitch
Topp Memorial

Plaques in memoriam of fallen climbers are not my favorite way to inspire confidence before a climb, and Bernard E. Topp’s didn’t make me feel any better about the shattered wall of black basalt that lay ahead. I got a few bad pieces of gear in, put screamers on all of them, and still wasn’t very happy about this section of the climb. Franky wasn’t happy either when I nearly domed him with a baseball sized piece of basalt.
More Franky

“Sorry, the rope knocked that off!” I said in an effort to calm him down. He said some choice things about my routefinding ability before I found a couple of fixed pins and then followed these to a bolt anchor at the top of the steep section.
Snowy Traverse

From here we unroped and scrambled through the loose stuff to a flat spot where we restacked the ropes and simulclimbed up to what we think was Sierra Col. This section was covered in snow and was slippery in rock shoes. From the col we had a nice view of what we were pretty sure was the summit, as well as Longs Couloir, which we would follow for the descent. We traversed over to what we were pretty sure was Colorado Col and Franky led up a face of kitty litter to the top of the rappel gully.

I went first off of less than inspiring bolts (at least there were three of them!) and at the end of the 60m ropes found myself above an abyss on an ice covered slab. “Damn, I wish I had stopped and rapped off the single bolt above,” I told myself, but there was an overhanging chockstone that would be a lot of trouble to go back up and try to deal with to get to that anchor. Instead, I downclimbed to a single bolt on the face, clipped it, and told Franky to make two rappels to get to me. He did, and as we pulled the ropes on the rappel we didn’t need to mention what we both knew: we were committed to finishing the route, as the only reasonable chance of escape at this point was the rap route that allegedly began from the summit.
Col Belay

Awful Anchor

The Rappel

From here we began a couple of pitches of wild traversing. I am very impressed that David Brower did this in 1939, well before the advent of sticky rubber climbing shoes. Just finding this traverse was a masterpiece of routefinding and, combined with the rappel, was the key to the route. The ancient bolts on these pitches were less than ideal, and we were once again happy to have brought so many Screamers along.
Mega-Gnar Traverse

What we found after the traversing was rather horrifying. The pitches that were supposed to be 4th and easy 5th class slab climbing were swathed in a thin coat of snow. Knowing we were committed to the route at this point, I led up the first pitch of this heinousness. It was rather low angle, but slippery as all hell and above a giant cliff. A slip here would probably send me over the abyss. I moved slowly and when I was well past the halfway mark on the rope, decided it was high time to find an anchor, as this was not the place to be simulclimbing with no gear between us. “Frank…” I said, ready to call for him to tag up the hand drill and bolt kit we had brought along. But then I saw a white sling sticking out of the snow, and, like buried treasure, found a solid two bolt anchor attached to it.
Snowy BS
Franky  bout to sh*t himself

Franky had the unfortunate pleasure of leading the next pitch. Even belaying him, I was probably as scared as I’ve ever been climbing. It felt like I was feeding out a few feet of rope every 5 minutes, and as Frank neared the end of the rope I yelled “30 feet…20 feet…10 feet…5 feet!” Once again, this was NOT simulclimbing territory. Franky yelled down and asked me if I could simul 20 feet.

“Do you have any gear in?” I asked.


“Then no!” I yelled back. I would have had to make a snow covered traverse across the steepest section of slab, and this was not a risk I was willing to take. “Drop the blue rope!” I yelled, and I tied both ropes together to belay him on one 120m half rope.

During this marathon pitch, I saw an 80s model black pickup truck hauling across the desert, kicking up a dust cloud and heading straight for us. I’m not sure if it was my pounding heartbeat, or just the truck smashing along the bumpy road, but I swear I heard the beating of a drum as it came closer.


I decided Franky had enough to worry about with what he was doing so I didn’t mention what I had seen and maybe heard. There are tales of smashed windows, slashed tires, and looted gear from past climbers of Ship Rock. At this point I didn’t care, all I wanted was to not have to catch a 700 foot slab slide off a cliff and for Franky to build an anchor and bring me up so we could finish this thing. Though this opinion was an easy one for me to take, seeing as it was Franky’s car, I’m pretty sure at this point he would have agreed with me. The shadow of Ship Rock was also creeping away from us across the desert floor 1500 feet below, a cruel reminder of the cold night that was about to befall us.

And then I heard those magical words: “Off belay!”

Franky took the rope up extra tight on me, and I was forced to climb up where I would have rather climbed down a bit to get into the lower angle section of the slab. I hoped he had a good anchor as I stepped across the slab, made a few moves, and then…


I began sliding down the snow after snapping a foothold. I went a long way on the single 120m half rope, and I briefly wondered if I had pulled Franky from his perch above as I hurtled toward the cliff below. The rope came taught with me maybe 20-30 feet further down from where I had started, my knuckles bloody, my shoes soaking wet, and me freezing cold. At least I knew I had a solid belay from above.

Apparently Franky wanted to make things more exciting for the both of us, because he missed this bomber three piece anchor less than one rope length above where he had started.
Apparently this anchor wasn t worth clipping

When I finally got up to him, he was drained, and I don’t blame him. He told me what I had already suspected: that this was the scariest pitch he’d ever climbed. Apparently I hadn’t even weighted his anchor with my fall, as he had a good stance. I can only imagine the fate we'd have met if I pulled him off his stance and down the slab.

One more 100 foot section of this heinous slab led to a short crack with probably the first solid gear placements I’d made all day. Atop this crack was the notch between the north and south summits, and I was greeted by the warm rays of the sun’s finale.
Franky Maxin  and Relaxin

Above us lay the crux of the route (in dry conditions), the Horn Pitch. A couple of bolts and a couple of pins protected crumbly face climbing with unbelievable exposure down the West Face. Once again I placed Screamers on everything, and even then I’m not sure any of these relics would have held a fall.
Horn Pitch

Franky led yet another photogenic traversing pitch and stopped just below the summit, leaving the glory pitch for me. I decided to find the rap anchors in the fading twilight before summiting, and after doing so belayed Frank to the top as the sky blazed red, the already-set sun illuminating the high clouds to the west. We had hoped to find the summit register, but it was nowhere to be found. It is allegedly elaborate and strewn with the names of quite the cast of climbers.
Traverse to Summit Block


The first four double rope rappels from the summit led to Longs Couloir. Within the first 50 feet I found a precariously perched VCR sized block, pulled up the ropes, and trundled it. Apparently Franky hadn’t heard my warning and screamed “Mike, are you OK?!?!!” from above. I told him not to worry and that I was just cleaning up the rap route for us. We touched down in the gully and made our way down, rapping every now and again and trundling whatever posed even the tiniest threat to us in the gully. At this point there was no way anyone within miles of the west side of Ship Rock wouldn’t know we were there, and with our headlamps already tipping them off, we figured a little extra noise wouldn’t increase the chances of our getting arrested. Trundling is also really fun, but everyone already knows that.

A little wandering in the desert led us to the completely intact car. Despite the late hour, we had already decided getting out of there that night was a good idea. We couldn’t be bothered to cook, so we stopped for some Burger King before heading back into Arizona.

Continually scary from start to finish, this route is poorly protected on poor rock. I don’t recommend climbing it if there is any snow in the upper bowl. There is nothing safe about climbing Ship Rock. Having said all of this, this is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had, and would wholeheartedly recommend this climb to anyone willing to take on the challenges it affords. Thanks again to Franky for climbing it with me!
Ship Rock Sunset 1/5
Ship Rock Sunset 2/5
Ship Rock Sunset 3/5
Ship Rock Sunset 4/5
Ship Rock Sunset 5/5


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 66

H2SO4 - Dec 5, 2010 7:28 am - Hasn't voted


I must say I'm rather disappointed to see the front page of summitpost glorifying the flaunting of tribal law.


CSUMarmot - Dec 5, 2010 1:03 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Disrespectful

I must agree with you on that one


m_dquist - Dec 5, 2010 1:36 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Disrespectful

You guys are TOTALLY right. I'm sorry we were speeding on the highway.


CSUMarmot - Dec 5, 2010 1:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Disrespectful

Dont worry, I posted an article a few months back that got buried by one vote before it even made it to the front page, but then about 20 people came by and voted it up...soon enough i doubt my vote will even matter
Climbing is an adventure, and go ahead and break some laws while your at it, but i will be surprised if SP will keep this on the front page much longer


distressbark - Dec 5, 2010 3:44 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Disrespectful

Wholeheartedly agree. Find another rock to climb.


SKI - Dec 5, 2010 6:48 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Disrespectful

Go pound sand and stick to walking up your tiny mountains back East. Props to these guys for climbing the crumbly masterpiece. It's terrible when people try to restrict access to a natural feature.


CheesySciFi - Dec 6, 2010 8:26 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Disrespectful

The next time I'm out West climbing your bigger, better mountains, I'm sure you won't mind if I "borrow" your car for a while without your permission. Rental car agreements don't allow me to go on unimproved roads, and paying for a car is expensive. Besides, all those laws about auto "theft" are just just so incredibly jive and oppressive because I wanna climb dammit! I wanna climb!

BTW, Some of the SPers critical of the lawbreaking involved here are from out West.


SKI - Dec 6, 2010 9:38 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Disrespectful

You should listen when the rental company asks if you would like to purchase insurance for the extent of your stay. You may also find that, outside of Utah, access roads are not the least bit rough on a vehicle. I drive a 4-banger Corolla, for example.

Also, grand theft auto (a felony- > one year in prison) is a far cry from proprietary access restrictions (misdemeanor-fine).

Finally, you should move out West, rather than fight rental agreements as our perspectives governing lifestyle etiquette are much more relaxed than those living East of the Mississippi River (West Coast Mentality). Heart attacks are the #1 killer in middle-aged adults, dontchaknow?

Plus we have actual glaciers/elevation/blue ice/approaches/snow etc...



rhyang - Dec 6, 2010 12:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Disrespectful

Well, out West we also have the following in some areas :

- raptor nesting closures
- condor nesting closures
- mandatory use of blue bags / wag bags
- mandatory wilderness permits for day use
- bolt restrictions
- various other climbing closures

I would also like to voice my self-righteous indignation, but since I've climbed with Frank and haven't exactly been an angel myself the words just aren't coming ..

Barstool - Dec 23, 2010 5:30 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Disrespectful

I Disagree. these guys are doing as little as possible to destroy what beauty there is here. Rather, they are doing all they can to enjoy it. What I can't stand are all those out there who will gun down people like this who are doing their best not to be disrespectful, but, if anything, applaud those first ascenters like in Zion and Yosemite who had the gawl to make sure a piton was placed then ripped out, taking 1/4' chunks out of some areas, every 5 feet. Protect the planet and those beauties that we all enjoy. Shun those who disrespect it.
Besides, taking the Budha head for example; a long time budhist might respect this beauty by putting it on a pedestal, but isn't the artist who makes it a centerpiece in their new work without outright vandalism? Let people respect things in their own way that doesn't ruin this chance for others (ie: Yosemite).


m_dquist - Dec 5, 2010 1:20 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: .....

We looked for 5 minutes or so, but the sun had gone down at this point. We probably just missed it. Why isn't it on the actual summit? I can say for sure it is not up there. There are plenty of rocks and even a little hole into which it could be placed. If it is down below on the bigger shelf, we didn't canvas the entire thing.


rlshattuck - Dec 5, 2010 1:00 pm - Hasn't voted

perfect adventure

evading the law, bad rock, cold . . . nice sunday morning reading!


McCannster - Dec 5, 2010 2:37 pm - Voted 10/10

Four pound cahones

I can't imagine climbing the Honeycomb Gulley covered in a think layer of snow. Great story. Prepare to get some sh*t from some people for posting this, though.


H2SO4 - Dec 5, 2010 3:36 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Disrespectful

It's not so much the speeding, as the public report of climbing on a culturally sensitive formation, where climbing is prohibited. The adventure aspect is awesome, and it's certainly front page material in all other respects.


Klenke - Dec 5, 2010 3:40 pm - Voted 10/10

Thanks and...

Thanks for posting this.
I found it humorous that, as you wrote in the first section, you were worried about the policemen finding the route description, etc. in your car (and they didn't), but then you post a trip report online that clearly shows evidence that you were climbing the peak.

As for the partypoopers commenting here, know that your concern is the authorities (Navajo Nation) and that's all. You take your chances with them, and them alone. If THEY ask you to take down the trip report, only then do you have a decision to make. Oh, and I guess SP's owners could require you to.


Vicles - Dec 5, 2010 4:02 pm - Voted 10/10

summit or jail!

No lampooning here from me! Great pics, Mike! I have to say that I'm so fucking psyched for you guys, and especially after hearing the first hand story from Frank, seeing his eyes bulge out and arms wave about in the air as he recounts terrifying runouts, snow, cold, and seated harness belays, I am jealous as hell and have caught the sometimes elusive adventure punk bug! I wanna hit the road and get rad ASAP! You guys should be proud.

One thing though...since you already are pissing people off by posting this (you surely knew it would) it seems funny that you forgot to mention all the bolts you drilled...

How's that for another log on the fire?


m_dquist - Dec 5, 2010 4:17 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: summit or jail!

No bolts on the route, just shored up a couple of rap anchors in Longs Couloir. There is a string of two bolt anchors down the couloir spaced about 50 meters apart. There is one section where the anchors were spaced 80-90 meters apart, we added an anchor in between the two after about a half an hour of searching for one to no avail. It certainly doesn't change the character of the existing rap route as there are sections you can rap without having to downclimb that are less steep than the one we added the anchor to. One of the other anchors was only one bolt, so we added one there as well.


SoCalHiker - Dec 5, 2010 5:54 pm - Voted 1/10

I personally...

... saw with disgust that a report about climbing that rock appears on the front page for all the reasons stated.

Dmitry Pruss

Dmitry Pruss - Dec 5, 2010 6:10 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: I personally...

The front page is not a community seal of approval. Rather it is a place for something unusual and controversial, and this TR fits the bill perfectly.

Extreme access restriction should be anathema to the mountaineers. Flaunting these restrictions ... well, that's where it gets complicated ... and therefore interesting! Thanks, SP.


SoCalHiker - Dec 5, 2010 10:23 pm - Voted 1/10

Re: I personally...

For most people visiting this website, the articles and photos displayed on the front page imply endorsement from the SP community at large. I just don't think it is right to post this at such an exposed spot. I personally don't want to be affiliated with "endorsing" such climb. And being "interesting" does not make it right.

Viewing: 1-20 of 66



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