Shiprock Attempts

Generally, the early progression of climbing in the U.S. shadowed developments in Europe—the American Alpine Club was founded in 1902, in part born out of a growing awareness of mainstream mountaineering traditions as practiced in the Alps. Thus, by 1911, John Otto’s exploits and techniques were already obsolete; Europe’s climbers were taking to the rock in less impactful ways.

European mountaineers came to the U.S. (for instance the Stettner Brothers, Albert Ellingwood, Fritz Wiessner, Fred Beckey) and imported new skills and techniques that allowed climbers to ascend (and rappel!) hazardous, steep terrain. Ellingwood mentored Colorado Springs-based Robert Ormes, who during the 1930s was emboldened to try out his mountaineering skills on an enticing, unclimbed volcanic plug in New Mexico: Shiprock.

Shiprock appears to be a mountain, yet up close its rounded, massive bulk reveals a maze of vertical cliffs intertwined every which way. During an attempt in 1937, Ormes took a leader fall, pulling one piton out of the rock, and bending a second, which caught his fall. Neither he nor the person paying out the rope (who, guessing what was about to happen, grabbed the rope and wrapped it around his arm) were attached to the cliff with anything else. Ormes never returned.