AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

North America, United States, Wyoming, Big Horn Mountains, The Merlin, Superfortress

The Merlin, Superfortress. In August, Mike Lilygren, Steve Bechtel, and Bobby Model returned to the Big Horn Mountains to finish a free climbing project on the Merlin, a castle-like tower located to the southeast of Cloud Peak. In 1994, they had prepped the route and climbed to within 100 feet of the Merlin’s summit. Fierce afternoon thundershowers kept the top 100 feet soaked, thereby making it impossible to free climb. However, in 1996, beautiful weather and dry conditions allowed the team to climb the Merlin from bottom to top in a single day.

The Merlin arches up from a talus slope 100 yards east of an alpine saddle connecting the legendary Bomber Mountain and Cloud Peak. Bomber Mountain was the final resting place for a World War II bomber that crashed into a mountain now appropriately named Bomber Mountain. In fact, shattered wing parts still litter the notch where the group camped. Because of this, the route is named after the bomber’s common name: Superfortress.

The route begins near the middle of the face and follows faint dihedral systems to the 1,600-foot summit. A mathematician would describe the steepness of the Merlin as increasing at an increasing rate. The route starts as easy fifth class and gradually becomes more difficult. The top six pitches are 5.11 with four of the pitches at 5.11+, making the route one of the more continuous long routes in Wyoming. Each pitch has a combination of fixed and natural gear and ends with a bolted belay station. In total there are 11 pitches ranging from 5.4 to 5.11+. Climbing the Superfortress first try required the climbers to remember key holds from two years before. The climbing was challenging and varied, ranging from hand jams to puzzles of razor-sharp crimps. However, the top portion, which had not been climbed in 1994, was of the greatest surprise. The holds were a vast array of water-sculptured chicken heads and huecos spaced just far enough apart to make the climbing interesting.

Bobby Model, unaffiliated