Elevation: 7,072 ft
GPS: 36.688, -108.837 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
Page Views: 42,755 total · 307/month
Shared By: Camster (Rhymes with Hamster) on Nov 20, 2007
Admins: Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Drew Chojnowski
Access Issue: Climbing on the Navajo Nation is ILLEGAL. Details
Access Issue: Ship Rock is located on the Navajo Nation Details


Tsa-Beh-Tai (Ship Rock), the Rock with Wings, is a unique giant basaltic collapsed volcanic neck rising 1500' out of the desert in NW New Mexico, certainly the largest such formation in the world. The multiple summits and fins resemble sails of a black ship sailing the desert, but the Navajo description of a rock with the 3 winged dikes radiating from it is more succinct. Cliff Monster, a man eating dragon, is said to have once resided in the large bowl below the summit.

Reaching the summit of Ship Rock was the last great problem of North American mountaineering during the late 1930s prior to its routefinding difficulties being unlocked in 1939 by the Sierra Club team of Dave Brower, Bestor Robinson, Raffi Bedayn, and John Dyer. Bolts were placed for protection but not for upward progress during the first ascent, and this one of the first times that bolts had been placed in rock in the history of climbing in North America. The FA did use pitons for aid climbing. The story of the FA and attempts at the FA is found in Roper and Steck's "50 Classic Climbs of North America". That this climb was included in this seminal "tick-list", along with its striking summit and apparent inpenetrability, has made this peak draw more interest from climbers than other spires off-limits on the Navajo Nation. Still, this is probably the least visited of the "50 Classics" in the lower 48.

A few different rock types are found on Ship Rock, including volcanic breccia, basalt, and xenoliths (chunks of limestone and gneiss brought up during eruption). Rock quality varies from surprisingly moderately hard to loose and crumbly.

At least 10 routes have been established on Ship Rock, attacking it from most major aspects, with a few more climbs established on its subsidiary summits. Most of these are difficult aid climbs, however the approximate route of the original Sierra Club route is rated 5.9 A0 and should take 6-12 hrs for most parties.

Supposedly, fall is the best season to climb Ship Rock. 'They' say it can be climbed in any month, but in general: Summer is hot; in winter blizzards occur often; in spring, high winds are common.

See the out-of-print and hard-to-find "Desert Rock" for route descriptions and historical accounts from 20+ years ago.

For a great, brief history of the last "legal" ascent of Shiprock in January 1970, read Lee Davis's account in this forum post.

Getting There

Ship Rock is about 10 miles SW of the town of Shiprock, NM. From the town of Ship Rock, drive south on US-491 7 miles. Turn right on the Red Rock Highway, drive ~8 miles to the prominent dike. Turn north on a dirt road just east of the dike, follow this almost to the base of Ship Rock. Various tracks go to most sides of the monolith, and you should be able to get within a few minutes walk of the rock. To get to the west side of the monolith, cross over the southern dike to the south of the Rock proper. High clearance recommended.

16 Total Climbs

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Classic Climbing Routes at Ship Rock Area

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a C0
Regular Route
Trad, Aid
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b R
Moby Dike
Trad 10 pitches
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
Regular Route Ship Rock
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a C0 Trad, Aid
Moby Dike Ship Rock
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b R Trad 10 pitches
More Classic Climbs in Ship Rock Area »

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George Bell
Boulder, CO
George Bell   Boulder, CO
I think this rock should be listed under Navajolands. The only problem with this is that this puts it under Arizona, but we already have Monument Valley under Navajolands and much of this is in Utah. How about raising Navajolands to the level of a state? Apr 13, 2008
How about asking whether formations that are technically closed should be posted on the internet?

Those with the proper determination, experience, and contacts can get this beta elsewhere. The rest should probably climb somewhere else before they give us all a bad name. Apr 14, 2008
A really important discussion here, guys. Much appreciated. Mountain Projectors? Apr 15, 2008
Morrison, CO
Monomaniac   Morrison, CO  
I think its wise to mention somewhere on the page that this area has access issues. Much beyond that would border on censorship. Even if a cliff is off-limits, the history of the climbing on that formation is still interesting, potentially useful, and worth preserving.

Furthermore, if I recall Cammo's AAJ submissions correctly, he climbed Shiprock with permission from the land-owner. So is it "technicall closed"? Or, is access only available to a select few, a la Skytop at the Gunks?

I would certainly think twice about posting a pic of myself doing something that was explicitly illegal (like tresspassing), but I see no reason to believe that any such thing is happening here. Apr 15, 2008
George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
This page makes sense mainly because the New Mexico page already had a bunch of Ship Rock photos (which is why I think keeping Ship Rock in the New Mexico section is a good idea, rather than adding it to Arizona>Navajolands; most people associate this peak with New Mexico).

Here are some more links to Ship Rock climbing history:
supertopo.com/climbers-foru… Apr 15, 2008
Anthony Stout
Albuquerque, NM
Anthony Stout   Albuquerque, NM  
Admittedly, I have questioned whether routes in the Navajo area should be posed onto this site. We know that some people are going to climb in these areas regardless of legality, but I wonder if having this information so readily available will increase the numbers of people climbing in these areas? Do we want to play a part in increased visitation to areas where climbing is technically not allowed?

That said, I have resisted commenting on, deleting, or changing anything on this area because as I have seen little controversy as things were posted. Additionally, I feel that George Perkin's access note that climbing is prohibited and that the information is posted mostly for historical purposes, is sufficient. Also, of course, I have really enjoyed reading the posts on this area; it is an area that is intriguing to me. So at this point there are no plans to delete, change, or censor anything.

I do agree with George, and don't think that Shiprock should be listed within the Navajolands of Arizona. As someone who lived in Gallup for a year, just off the Navajo reservation, I never associated it with Arizona. One option is that we could create a Navajo Reservation area in New Mexico, which would be easy enough. This would be especially relevant to Cam's new postings that he is putting in the Route 666 area, which are all on the reservation. Any votes for that?

Also, if there is consensus that the "route submission guidelines" are a little much, let me know. They can be removed. The reasons they were put that, I think, are pretty obvious. We were (and still do occasionally, unfortunately) getting some poor excuses for route descriptions and it became quite time consuming to fix everyone's submissions, and/or email them to have them fix them. Apr 17, 2008
Wow! You guys are all so thoughtful about this stuff. I wish I were....my experience was pretty interesting and I wrote a piece about it many years ago that got various responses.

Here's a link to it: gorp.away.com/gorp/books/ex… Apr 18, 2008
[Cam, that's a very informative piece. I read it after I wrote the comments below, which would have been better informed had I read your words first. This page would be well served to have the relevant excerpts posted on the access section, and perhaps the whole piece down here in the comments]

I think that including questionable information 'for historical purposes' is a self-serving copout. Must everything be commemorated on the internet?

In my experience with climbing in off-limits areas- mostly in North Carolina, which has a lot of adventuresome climbing on private property- a certain amount of discretion was required. One had to know somebody to get beta, which meant that a vetting process of sorts was in effect. The beta-seeker had to be trusted not to screw things up for everyone, and the more experienced climbers might beg off, pleading ignorance, or suggest that the unworthy climb elsewhere until they were ready for that sort of thing. This is more than a little elitist, undoubtedly, but it also had the practical effect of keeping people who didn't know what they were doing from getting in over their heads and potentially angering (wealthy, litigious, and/or gun-toting) landowners or requiring a very public rescue.

So what sort of public service are we providing here by posting beta which is largely available through other, more discerning means, for 6 billion potential trespassers to read?

This question, in my mind, is more one of stewardship than censorship. Keeping this kind of stuff 'in the family' is self-serving, elitist, and far more likely to preserve even stealthy and illegal access to these formations than by blathering for all to hear about it on an utterly undiscriminating information source.

Me, I haven't climbed anything on the Navajo rez. Not out of principle or anything, just haven't wanted to badly enough. If and when I choose to do so, I will be more than happy to go through 'channels', possibly including asking permission. I believe that the continued possibility of this sort of ascent is more harmed than helped by the posting of Shiprock beta on the internet.

[edit: after reading Cammo's article]
Perhaps the single most important piece of information we could put on here, given the history of climbing on Shiprock, is the way to ask permission to climb on the formation and thereby avoid pissing off the locals-- who, it would seem, have for years watched a procession of inconsiderate folks sneak past then without so much as a 'hello' or a 'by-your-leave.' Given that it does appear possible to climb on the rez with proper permission, maybe it's okay to post away. My only practical suggestion for site admin is to post the access stuff up front, instead of making me choose to click on two different places to read it all.

I still enjoy getting all up in arms about stuff though. Flame on! Apr 21, 2008
Maybe we should redirect this page to: mountainproject.com/v/wisco… Apr 25, 2008
J. Albers
J. Albers   Colorado

Its on your tick list, huh? Did you read the posts above? Oct 15, 2010
Charles Vernon
mind & body in Colorado, he…
Charles Vernon   mind & body in Colorado, he…
J, I'm pretty sure Quentin is Navajo (I'm sure if he reads this he'll speak for himself), so he might be situated a bit differently from the rest of us. Oct 15, 2010
J. Albers
J. Albers   Colorado
Indeed that would be a perfectly reasonable explanation. My bad if that's the case. Oct 18, 2010
I'm not sure why Shiprock is posted on Mountain Project seeing that it's off limits due to its sacred status among Navajos. Giving beta on climbing it is potentially insulting to both the Navajo and the Mtn Project users who are not cultural ignoramuses (I was going to use the term "idiot rednecks," but then I realized that that would have been angry, reactionary, and insensitive to a certain category of poor unintelligent uncultured white folks). FYI, I know someone who works on the Res who got the air let out of his tires for parking near Shiprock and leaving his vehicle unattended. You may fare better by asking a local herder for "permission," but would that change the fact that some Navajos would still find the act of climbing the formation an affront to their culture? I'm disappointed in Mtn Project and the administrators for including this page. Bad one, guys. Apr 12, 2012
Thanks for the suggestion, Jeremy. I'll take it as well-meaning advice, though that's clearly not how it was intended.
You obviously missed my point. The thing I object to is publicizing something that oughtn't be publicized. Aside from my moral objection to climbing Shiprock in the first place (which I suspect a significant number of other people share, though maybe not the ones who spend most of their time lurking on climbing web sites), there's the point that sneaking or otherwise finagling one's way up a "restricted" peak should be left to individuals to work out on their own. Think of how much more satisfying it would be for someone who's interested in climbing Shiprock to look into the history for themselves (it's not too hard in this day and age of Google), scope out a route with minimal beta, and seek out some qualified person to ask for permission (subjective definition which people should work out for themselves), if that will allow them to climb it with a clear conscience.
I think this section should be removed, or perhaps edited down to a brief description of the formation along with a description of the ethical and legal controversies about climbing it. The rest should be left up to the imagination and organizational skills of those who are up to the task. At least that'll weed some of the yahoos out who will probably just make things worse for everyone. Apr 13, 2012
Would you climb the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul? How about Chartres or Notre Dame Cathedrals in France? Would you climb St. Pauls Cathedral in London? How about St Patricks Cathedral in NYC?

No? Glad to hear it. Shiprock is the same status as all of the buildings listed above, so show some respect and conquer other rocks. Feb 19, 2014
Las Vegas
amateurgypsy   Las Vegas
Why has/do Anglos feel the need, no the right to intrude on sacred Native American grounds. All y'all wankers climbing where you shouldn't ETHICALLY need to feel the wrath of the corpse taker in Shiprock. Please stop giving us ethical explorers and climbers a bad name. Respect the land! Respect the sport! Jul 12, 2014
The 21st Ascent, by the Yale Mountaineering Club, reached the summit on April 2, 1956. We spent the night in a small cave in the bowl below the "horn". Our informztion was to throw a rope over the Horn and climb the open face with a belay from above. The wind was blowing too hard, so I climbed the open face free on miniscule holds until reaching the fixed bolt at the top of the pitch. (Apparently this precedes the free climb in 1959).

Based on the quality of climbing I see being done these days I have no doubts it has now been climbed free many times

On reaching the summit, we saw a blizzard moving in from the North. We managed to just cross the friction Traverse before the snow hit

Jim Derby, with
Pete Lipman
Eric Cheney
George Ewing Sep 21, 2015
Jason Halladay
Los Alamos, NM
Jason Halladay   Los Alamos, NM  
Thanks for the comment of recollection, Jim.

James R. "Jim" Derby wrote:The 21st Ascent, by the Yale Mountaineering Club, reached the summit on April 2, 1956. We spent the night in a small cave in the bowl below the "horn". Our informztion was to throw a rope over the Horn and climb the open face with a belay from above. The wind was blowing too hard, so I climbed the open face free on miniscule holds until reaching the fixed bolt at the top of the pitch. (Apparently this precedes the free climb in 1959). Based on the quality of climbing I see being done these days I have no doubts it has now been climbed free many times On reaching the summit, we saw a blizzard moving in from the North. We managed to just cross the friction Traverse before the snow hit. Jim Derby, with Pete Lipman, Eric Cheney, George Ewing
Sep 21, 2015
Yeee. Dont you know this is sacred land? Alot of you may not understand bad juju but its real in our area. Especially connected to a sacred place, people get upset. Just read The monster slayer story from Farmington NM. In this area magic and unexplainable occurances happen daily. As a native from this area and even white people who grew up with natives know you dont mess with sacred objects or land. Just saying. Mar 22, 2017