Shiprock Climbing History

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Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 9, 2009 - 07:38pm PT
Few summits figure into early climbing history as prominently as Shiprock. A complex mountain in the desert, it has been closed to climbing for decades but still draws the committed.

Some background from Roper's excellent survey in Ascent 1970.











And from Summit Jan-Feb 1969.



















Reilly

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Feb 9, 2009 - 08:33pm PT
Those guys were haaard!
I so lusted after this choad pile!
Largo

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Feb 9, 2009 - 08:36pm PT
I always knew I'd never climb them all but I really regret never having summited Shiprock. I was in the area once with Richard Harrison (who went back later and bagged it - free solo I believe), but we did other stuff instead. That one just got away from me.

So many mountains . . .

JL
Lynne Leichtfuss

Social climber
valley center, ca
Feb 9, 2009 - 08:41pm PT
Again, another great Thread Steve. Yo, ever read Tony Hillerman and his takes on Joe Leaphorn and Sergeant Jim Chee ? All his books are featured in this geographic area. :)
Thorgon

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Feb 9, 2009 - 09:43pm PT
Excellent!!!!!!!!


Thor
Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
Feb 9, 2009 - 09:50pm PT


We climbed Shiprock in Mar. of 1983;....we had a blast;.......I say, live alittle;...yeah, it's illigal;...so what;.....climbing aint' the only illigal activity going down on the Indian Reservations.....I do believe there is a wee bit of drinking, and all the loveliness that accompanies the drinking. The Navajo have more pressing issues than busting some yuppie climbers sneeking in to climb the crumbly rock on the Res.......as one who lived, worked, climbed, and partied on the Res for a number of years......doing crazy ass stuff ON A ROUTINE BASIS is just something that you do out there.......legal or not, moral or not, right or wrong.......it's boring out there and isolated too.....you got to shake it up a bit, or you go crazy......climbing Shiprock is one of the more mellow and tame activities that go down on the Res........fights, booze, murders, big-time car wrecks, suicides, domestic violence,.....and lots of herb and DVD's........now we are talking some REAL fun Reservation distractions......not climbing Shiprock is something people talk about to be politically correct..(Mostly White folk who aren't familiar with what goes on in the hood...)...but in reality;....it's the wild,wild wild and wooley west out there.....and it's FAR from politically correct.....99% of the people who live, work and play out there would give you the thumbs up....and that one % who say stay off the rocks.....well;....I say catch me it you can.....I'm just trying to have some fun, keep my head on straight, and go to work on the Reservation, just like everyone else...........(Largo;......plan and execute;..you'd love it;....it's funky 5.9, and lots of climbing and one of America's best summits.....you can drive there, do the climb, and return in a long weekend.........)....
survival

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 9, 2009 - 09:54pm PT
I'm just gonna go out there and meditate by that bad mother.
Nefarius

Big Wall climber
Fresno
Feb 9, 2009 - 09:55pm PT
Damn! Todd has been everywhere!!! :)

Sorry, t*r - I romanticize and lust.
Largo

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Feb 9, 2009 - 10:10pm PT
H wrote: "It's really frustrating to hear climbers romanticize the climbing in this area."

I don't sense that anyone is romanticizing breaking the local law, which I suspect is your point. White men and Indians have been disregarding each other's "laws" for centuries. No party is altogther innocent (BTW, I'm an eighth Comanche, enough to register). Remember that not till recent times did people decide to outlaw climbing on Shiprock, and it was never truly for "spiritual" reasons, but rather from the local indians wanting hegemony over their native lands - no pale faces traisping around private land, in other words. But these are just provisional laws and they are routinely broken by better men than me. Contending that the local tribspeople are being cheated or dishonored by someone climbing Shiprock is a new mindset, not an everlasting one. But granted, private property is just what it says, most anywhere in the world.

I can understand the local's point of view, but wonder if anyone can have dominion over a rock. It's an interesting question. I don't know the answer. Perhaps to my discredit, I've never been of a mind to blindly believe that just because someone says something, it is ipso facto valid. However, if the Navajos are packing shotguns, the adventure suddenly gets serious, doesn't it.

If I was still a real active climber and was within eyeshot of Shiprock, I'm not sure that I wouldn't go for a blitz/stealth solo ascent, and take my chances with the locals (none of whom live within miles of Shiprock). I'm not sure what that would make me in my own eyes, which is what truly matters. It's a touchy one for sure, and for some, packed with emotional dynamite.

Here's an honest article on the whole business:

http://gorp.away.com/gorp/books/excerpts/ship.htm

JL

Reilly

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Feb 9, 2009 - 10:15pm PT
Well put John. As Jimmy Carter noted it is human to lust. It seems that the summit bans have been tempered by economics at times which does rather lessen one's respect.
Nefarius

Big Wall climber
Fresno
Feb 9, 2009 - 10:19pm PT
I've experienced what you speak of, not only on the rocks, John, but in my photography as well. You don't want to know how many times I've been bounced out of pow wows and such while trying to get shots for my show in Prague and Europe. I've been told a number of times "It steals our souls".
"OK. what about all those Indians over there with cameras, taking pics?" Then I'm either flat out told, or it's insinuated that if I am willing to pay them, they are willing to let me shoot.

Of course, in my business, I don't have an issue with paying people or compensating them in some way. I guess what bothers me is the hypocritical nature of it all. That it's done under the guise of some sacred/religious belief. It's funny how the rocks at Monument Valley are sacred too - unless you pay a naive guide a $1500 a day guide fee. Then the gods and ancestors smile on you.

dogtown

climber
Cheyenne,Wyoming
Feb 9, 2009 - 10:29pm PT
I can see it now in 20 years,Shiprock Casino coming soon! And a tax free cigarette store with a gondola to the top of the stone. But no climbing.
Kofi Donny Annan

climber
darkest of africa
Feb 9, 2009 - 10:51pm PT
t*r has left the room
Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
Feb 9, 2009 - 11:00pm PT
t*r.....step back and re-read;....I mean no disrespect to you or to any Native Americans, and I apologize if you thought so.....it's always a hot subject, and I always seem to piss people off. For 2 years of my life, I worked as a 5th grade teacher on the Navajo Indian Reservation.....pretty much submerged myself into a very different and wierd/wild environment, coming from upper crust San Diego background. All day, every day, I was there to make a difference in these kids lives, and all the people in my community I lived and worked with side by side. Yeah, I am not an Indian,....so what;...I'm a person, a human being.....and that people have more in common with each other than that which makes us different. I did alot of climbing while I was there, and 99% of the time, either no one saw us, or the Navajos that saw us were totally cool with us......I treated them respectfully and they treated me the same.....I didn't sneek around to climb;...I just drove around and explored and did MY thing....like everyone else who lives out there does.....why should I be treated any differently just because I'm a white dude?......I've always welcomed people into my world, and I've visited other world's and expected to be treated the same;.....and I was treated kindly and respectfully by my friends, co-workers, and strangers I met on the Navajo Reservation.....I'm sorry if you find my activities, attitude, and stories of climbing on the reservation hurtful or offensive.......but I believe if you talked to any of my Navajo homies who I had lots of big , wild, and awesome adventures with....you would feel differently.........they were some of the greatest adventures of my life with some of the coolest people imaginable..........and I don't feel any shame or regret from my time spent in one of my favorite places on earth...I stand up tall for my friendships, hardships, adventures, and insights I learned and experienced while living with the Navajo people...Respectfully, Todd Gordon Joshua Tree, Ca.
(And the drug abuse, alcoholism, paint/gas/glue sniffing, and the violence and abuse that goes on out there.....I lived it all day, everyday.....it was in my face, in my classroom, at my door, on the road, at the market, and right next door.....and I dealt with it, and visited people in hospitals, at drove children to hospitals, and carried children in my arms who were passed out, beaten up, hungry, and abused...I cried openly and often over the horrible sh#t I saw and experieced on Reservations..........watched by as my white co-workers got shot, beat up , raped, and ripped off by people who f*#ked with them because their skin was a different color........try it sometime;....it aint' that pretty at all.....)..My strong feelings and opinions about climbing on the Res come from actual experiences and some intense times of my life....times that I look back on with mixed feelings of total beauty and awesomeness, ..mixed in with nightmares of horror and unthinkables......it's sort of messed up for me....(sorry...)......no;....I didn't feel guilty climbing Shiprock......nor should anyone else......living on a reservation is bad ass....and climbing those bad ass rocks is appropriate, if not mandatory.....

Jaybro

Social climber
wuz real!
Feb 9, 2009 - 11:08pm PT
I get the Navaho chindi thing. And why they officially don't want people climbing various (but not all) formations.
My experience is is that individual Navaho climbers (there are more, than you think) don't always view it that way. It's not like everyone tie-ing in is in that much danger of leaving their Chindi, in situ, at the crags.

yetahey!

Thank you, for climbing with me on your/our land.

I have never climbed Shiprock, but I would like to, especially in the company of some climbers of the D'ineh, who hold it as sacred, as much as I do.


There is, of course some middle ground, here.
survival

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 9, 2009 - 11:50pm PT
tr seems to have departed. Too bad.
At least it was a climbing right/wrong debate and not a dem/repub one.......
apogee

climber
Feb 9, 2009 - 11:58pm PT
“yeah, it's illigal;...so what;....”

“.White men and Indians have been disregarding each other's "laws" for centuries.”

OK, this could get me run out on a rail by the ST regulars, and I have no desire to see this thread gain the notoriety of the SFHD fracas, but here goes.

I can understand the lure of a formation like Shiprock, being an objective that is aesthetic, and has a touch of ‘forbidden’ to it. And while I have climbed a few things that weren’t supposed to be climbed, no, I haven’t climbed Shiprock. (And I am white.) And I well understand the significance of Shiprock in the history of climbing.

The fact is that this piece of stone ‘belongs’ to another culture, who, at least for a very long period of time, believe(d) it to be important to their human history. And for that, their rights deserve respect, until such time that they make another choice about that piece of stone. Does anyone have dominion over a rock? I don’t know that either, but that formation has been pretty dang important to a great number of people for a long, long time, and I’m willing to respect that. I (probably) wouldn’t go buildering on a Mormon Temple (though I’d be tempted), either, but that’s a different thread.

Yes, I know that climbing this chossy dust pile in the desert greatly pales in comparison to the horrible things that go on in Reservations, many others have done it, and there is great hypocrisy in how 'laws' have been created and broken on both sides, the presence of casinos on Native American lands, and that if you are willing to pay a Native American guide, you can still climb it (I am trusting this is true, based on someone’s earlier post.) Those issues are not of my creation, I find them very sad and alarming, and I have little or no influence over them.

What I do have influence over is my own decisions and actions, and I try to do so with as much respect as I can reasonably have for others on this planet. Climbing is ultimately a pretty selfish endeavor, and there are plenty of other objectives where I can serve that selfish need without doing so in a place that has great importance to a number of other people.

Just my .02

Edit: BTW, thank you Steve for this post- another great historical piece that brings perspective to all generations of climbers.
dogtown

climber
Cheyenne,Wyoming
Feb 10, 2009 - 12:15am PT
I for one couldn't care less about that piece of stone. I have a life time of climbing in my backyard. That being said, I bet the view from that summit is something to behold.

Bruce
bob

climber
Feb 10, 2009 - 05:48am PT
Bruce, the casino is already there. Its North on 491(666) just before Cortez.
Bob J.
rick d

climber
tucson, az
Feb 10, 2009 - 06:36am PT
i'm not saying sh#t here.
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