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a Sea Anchor, a volcanic tower near Shiprock, stands in the foreground. After Shiprock, there would be a significant lull in American climbing due to WWII. In the years following, climbers’ attention would turn toward these narrow, freestanding pinnacles of the southwest. Eric Bjornstad collection/AAC Library

From Shiprock to Towers

Following the ascent of Shiprock, in the midst of World War II, leading climbers of the day diverted their energies to the war effort, most notably to training hundreds of soldiers in mountaineering skills. The newly formed 10th Mountain Division would play a pivotal role, winning critical battles in the mountainous terrain of Italy.

The war ended in 1945, but it took a terrible toll. It was another decade before the American climbing and mountaineering community caught up to where they had been in 1939. But, when it did, no time was wasted in surpassing—with the help of the newfangled nylon ropes, aluminum carabiners, and hard-steel pitons—the achievements of the 1930s.