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Ambush Peak

Renan Ozturk on the possible first ascent of Attack of the Killer Clowns (V 5.11+ R), northeast face, Ambush Peak (12,187′), Wind River Range, Wyoming. The Wind Rivers have a long history of quiet adventure; more than one party has climbed a route thinking it was new, only to find evidence of earlier ascents higher on the line. Such was the case here, where Ozturk and Wright discovered a bolt left by a member of the Banditos, the Harley-Davidson-riding climbing band from the southwest US who were active in the 1970s and 1980s. [Photo] Cedar Wright

Ambush Peak, Probable First Free Ascent and New Route. On the far right side of Ambush Peak (12,187′), two miniature figures streaked down the loose talus field with impressive speed. “I think that might be Jonny Copp and Matt Segal,” said Renan. Minutes later Jonny was telling us about the route he and Matt took up the peak (5.11+), but even when I squinted, all I could see was a blank wall of choss: no sign of a “bat roof” or any of the other features that Jonny was describing. Then again, the rock in the East Fork Valley of the Wind Rivers is not your usual splitter granite. A quartzite infusion gives it a wandering, inscrutable character, with flakes, cracks and dihedrals facing a million different directions and making lines hard to scope from below. You’ve just got to head up there and find out if it goes.

From below, Ambush’s Northeast Face (V 5.8 A4, Arsenault-Young, 1971) looked positively scary. Quartzite flakes feathered up for hundreds of feet, leading to a mysterious hole in the rock. Above appeared a series of overhangs, and then a flaky face to a final roofy headwall. We set off at dawn expecting one of the chossiest rock climbs of our lives, but were ecstatic to find a solid streak of glacier-polished rock. The first pitch offered high-quality slab climbing, with the occasional flake feature for protection, and a bit of simulclimbing to reach a ledge and a natural anchor at eighty-five meters. With a nice mix of luck and skill, Renan and I passed the route-finding test and freed the face, probably for the first time, encountering difficulties of 5.10 R/X. We recommend our line, Storming the Castle, as a quality free climb for those not afraid of runouts and marginal anchors.

After a day of bouldering, Renan and I racked up for one more adventure. We selected a steep-looking crack line on Ambush’s castle-like right flank. The cracks turned out to be steep indeed, with the addition of some extra-burly overhangs. Eight hundred feet up, I chose a runout on dicey 5.11 flakes and was shocked yet thankful to find a quarter-inch bolt with “Banditos” inscribed in it–the first sign we’d seen of passage, other than bail ‘biners down lower. Above the bolt a blank, grainy slab just didn’t go. I yarded through using a bashie placed by the Banditos and was back on free-climbable ground, frustrated to have been robbed of a free ascent by five measly feet.

Perhaps dehydration had made me crazy, but on the summit I proposed rappelling 600 feet, just to try something different. Left of the mystery Banditos route, we discovered a better variation, which yielded the crux pitch, a stout liebacking and underclinging flake to a shredder, splitter hand to fist crack, allowing us to perfect our possible new route, Attack of the Killer Clowns (V 5.11+ R). Maybe some day, someone will repeat our routes, unless of course they’ve already been climbed before.

–Cedar Wright, Tollhouse, California