The Battleship

The Battleship 5,850’

Grand Canyon National Park

Total Time: ~5 hours

Roundtrip Distance: 9 miles

Elevation Gain: 500’ on the way in, 1400’ on the return.

Crux: Class III


battleship topo


Google Earth


I first noticed “The Battleship” during a backpack in the Grand Canyon November 2013, staring up from Indian Gardens. I had always assumed it was technical, and didn’t give it much thought after. It’s named for the broad, narrow plateau with a dramatic summit caprock on one end, looking like a ship bridge and a long deck. It also has several smaller towers, looking like smokestacks near the bridge.

The Battleship
The Battleship

Over a year later while researching possible GCNP adventures, I came across a trip report describing an improbable class III route up the NE corner, and I made a point to pay it a visit early in my move to Phoenix. I woke up on the South Rim at ~6AM, and after coffee and breakfast in Maswik Lodge, headed out. The journey began on the Bright Angel Trail, by far the most heavily traveled trail into the canyon with water stations all the way to the river. I was far from alone, with dozens of people already on the trail, getting a head start on the July heat. The Battleship was almost always in view at this point on the trek, and looked no less difficult then I remembered. The trail switches 1.5 miles through the Kaibab and Toroweap formations near the top and dramatically cuts through 1,000’ of Coconino Sandstone before hitting the first “Mile-and-a-half” rest stop, where I filled up on 4 liters of water, the last chance until this spot on the return trip. From here the trail cut hard west across the Hermit Shale towards The Battleship, and at the 2 mile mark at the first major switchback after the rest stop, I got off trail. The cross country travel here is actually quite easy to anymore familiar with off trail travel. There was almost no exposure, with the biggest danger being cutting around cacti and the various other desert plants who only exist to make you bleed.

Cutting across Hermit Shale towards the Saddle.
Cutting across Hermit Shale towards the Saddle.

I traversed more or less at the same elevation across the Hermit Shale for about 30 minutes, once and a while seeing cairns, but more or less heading directly to the saddle between The Battleship and Powell Point. At this point the temperature was rising quickly, and I took advantage of some scraggly junipers and boulders for some cover, looking up directly at the cap rock ~450’ above me.

Summit from the saddle, a few of the "smokestacks" in view.
Summit from the saddle, a few of the “smokestacks” in view.

From the saddle, there seems to be a cairn about every 5 feet, so many that none are ultimately helpful. I knew I needed to get to the northeast corner and cut up to the base of the summit too early, having to fight around some steeper boulders. I went a bit too far, then backtracked and found the thin class II ramp to the top of a ledge, about 10-15’ above the base. Here’s where the real climbing started.

The first 100′ also wound up being the crux. Once I made the first ledge, I found a ramp formed by the cap rock and enormous leaning adjacent rock, which make a very narrow passage. The ramp goes up smoothly, past a tree halfway up to the crux, about 12’ of class III climbing at the headwall of the passage. There were some nice lips on the rock to give me enough height to reach to the higher hold. It was so narrow that I could use my body to brace against the walls the entire way up, but it did feel pretty vertical. Once up this obstacle, another quick class III move got me to the top of the next layer.

Ramp up.
Ramp up.
The Class III headwall.
The Class III headwall.

From here, I had a chance to catch my breath with a flat traverse underneath a huge overhang, the weak rock beneath eroded away.

Eroded overhang.
Eroded overhang.

A few more ramps brought me to the last real obstacle, another ramp formed by the main caprock and adjacent leaning flake, although this one was much smaller and I could squeeze through almost completely to the end if I took my pack off. From there, it was an easy scramble up the remaining rock to the summit.

Last little obstacle. Get skinny.
Last little obstacle. Get skinny.

I was greeted with one of the most interesting summit cairns I’ve found, a replica of The Battleship itself! Heading out to the northern-most point gives an incredible view up-canyon as well as the chasm between “the bridge” and “the smokestack.” At the south end in the softer sandstone, there were some name carvings from old visitors, with some signatures from 1919! I sincerely hope anyone reading this would not add their own names to these, and use the summit register instead.

The Battleship cairn!
The Battleship cairn!
North "Smokestack."
North “Smokestack.”
Panorama to the North.
Panorama to the North.
Summit shot.
Summit shot.
Circa 1919.
Circa 1919.

The return journey, although hot, was fairly uneventful, although I did lose a Nalgene downclimbing the crux as it popped out and dropped into a perfect water-bottle sized hole.

Looking back.
Looking back.

I got back to the rim much earlier then I expected, and treated myself to an orange soda float from the Bright Angel Lodge while watching a pair of Big Horn Sheep just below the rim. Too hot for another climb that day, I spent the afternoon doing more touristy things around the canyon before enjoying a beer at sunset. I went to bed early, with plans for a Grand Canyon double header the following day- Escalante and Cardenas Buttes.

 

Continued….

Leave a Reply