American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

I Think Therefore I Ambush

North America, United States, Wyoming, Wind River Mountains, Ambush Peak,

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Chris Barlow
  • Climb Year: 2011
  • Publication Year: 2012

Nestled deep in the Wind River Range at the upper end of the East Fork Valley, Ambush’s east face is one of the largest faces in the Winds. Its 800' headwall is guarded

by a roof system, upwards of 30', across the middle of the wall. The face’s climbing history dates to 1969, when Fred Beckey first climbed it and proposed the name Ambush. Since then the east face, which actually encompasses four distinct aspects of two summits, has seen more than a dozen new routes. Few have detailed descriptions, but they have some things in common: dubious route finding, with significant traversing away from the intended line, and the notorious “evidence of previous ascents” (i.e., fixed gear) high on the route after many pitches of what seemed to be virgin terrain. It seems that most of the established routes on the main east face veered one way or the other to avoid the roofs. As far as we knew, only one line went through the roof itself: an unreported Chip Chace line carrying the formidable “A3+ R” rating.

Last July, after a horse-packer carried Madaleine Sorkin’s and my gear most of the 12 miles from Big Sandy to Pyramid Lake, we began by climbing Ambush Plaisir (III 5.9), James and Franziska Garrett’s 2006 route up the middle of the lower slabs to a rappel anchor below the largest roof. After a short reconnaissance we forged up and right through the most accessible weakness in the roof. Over a few days we traded long leads, as we aided, cleaned, and equipped a few pitches through the steepest part of the wall. After a rest day we went for the free ascent. The mosquitoes were thirsty, and we were antsy.

To give us more time on our route, we avoided the first several pitches of Plaisir by scrambling up a gully, which offered quicker access to the upper wall and a shorter feeding period for our blood-sucking friends. The first new pitch turned a tenuous roof to put us below the big roof. The next, crux, pitch led through a three-tiered roof system, protected by three bolts, followed by technical corner climbing.

From there we only had a vague idea of which corners and crack systems would lead to the top. Mad took the next pitch, a dicey lead through poorly protected 5.9 to a long, technical 5.11 splitter. After that I crimped left into a steep dihedral with spots of poorly protected 5.9. A benign-looking ramp almost thwarted us and necessitated another bolt. We found the requisite “evidence of previous ascents”—an old fixed stopper—in a crack near the top (from here up our line may have been climbed). The sun went down, as we scrambled the final ridge. We gave each other high-fives and hugs by headlamp on the summit. A long descent through most of the night (we had failed to scope the descent in daylight) took us back to our camp, where we resumed swatting mosquitoes. I Think Therefore I Ambush is IV 5.12-. For more on Ambush’s history, see the considerable discussion on MountainProject.com.

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.

Photos and Topos Click photo to view full size and see caption