Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ambush Peak

In early September I joined Justin Tatosian for a trip into the Wind Rivers. Unlike the Tetons, which rise in breathtaking heights above the valley floor, the Winds are largely hidden from the rest of the world. With foothills like ramparts, the high country of the Winds is experienced only by those willing to walk. But the solitude and immensity found among this vast high alpine sanctuary is unmatched in the lower 48.

Justin and I met up late in the day at Big Sandy Openings. A punctured gas tank added unnecessary stress and urgency to our endeavor. Just before dusk we were on our way and managed a few miles between us and the car before turning in.

Justin Packing Up the First Camp

After eating breakfast the next morning the clouds rolled in and it started to rain, hard. We crawled back in the tent and waited. After an hour the rain let up, we packed our bags, and continued walking through the recently soaked tundra.

A cool and cloudy day followed, good for finishing the 15 miles that remained between us and our objective, East Fork Lakes. 

I met Justin in Laramie after finishing high school. He was from Chicago, going to college in Laramie and he liked to kayak. We kayaked extensively over the years until Justin moved to Jackson Hole and took up climbing. These days we spend our time tackling mountains instead of rivers.

Justin Tatosian

We arrived at East Fork Lakes beneath Ambush Peak late in the afternoon. Our timing was impecable. We took refuge in the tent as a ferocious thunderstorm overtook us. Sheets of rain, and hail pummeled our little tent and afterwards the clouds hung low over the mountain peaks. 

Ambush Peak

East Fork Lakes and Raid Peak

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and we were off for our first objective, Midsummer's Dome.

Backside of Midsummer's Dome

Midsummer's dome is set in the middle of the east fork valley, a resistant piece of granite worked by glaciers during the last ice age. Its not as tall as the surrounding peaks but the rock is beautiful. It was a perfect objective for the first day.

Justin Enjoying Beautiful Granite and Sunshine

Justin Leading the Crux Layback

We found challenging sustained climbing and we were both worn out by the time we reached the summit.

Walking down backside of the dome in the sunshine above the East Fork Valley was spectacular.

Calm Evening at Camp

Back at camp we decided to tackle a much larger objective the following day, Ambush Peak. Before sunset we glassed our chosen line, the Golden Dihedral, an old Charlie Fowler route. The dihedral looked fantastic but at its top there were exposed traverses and the route through the upper wall was hidden. It was a committing and intimidating line.

The next morning we were out of camp before light and preparing to climb as the sun rose.

The Golden Dihedral Follows the Large Dihedral in the Center of the Photo - then Traverses right on ramp systems in the upper half of the wall.

The Backside of the Cirque of the Towers

Justin Establishes Us on the Wall

In the Golden Dihedral

Mt Bonneville

Climbing in the Golden Dihedral itself was challenging with moments of hand to hand combat. Small sections of chimneys and off-widths broke up longer sections of hand jams and featured face climbing. It reminded me of Vedauwoo; fun and challenging albiet dirty and awkward. Reaching the top of the dihedral we traversed ramp systems over dizzying heights. The exposure was enough the rattle the most experienced of climbers.

Justin Enjoys the View

Near the top of the ramp system we were forced to climb above a ledge with no gear to reach a higher ledge system. It was hard to tell how difficult the climbing above the ledge would be and a fall could be disastrous. I spent at least an hour trying other options - including climbing towards some old fixed gear which had obviously been placed while another party was facing the same problem. After it an hour, it was apparent that there was only one way up and protection or not we had to try it. After three pitches of traversing on the ramp system there was no easy way down. There would be no retreat.

Justin Belaying From the Ledge

The climbing proved easier than it looked from below and we continued the traverse until a short crack allowed us passage into the final pitches. Just below the summit was a 5.9+ lieback that was incredibly strenuous. With the sun sinking low in the horizon I ignored my pride, pulling on gear to reach the summit. After 15 pitches of climbing we were both spent.  

Midsummers Dome in the Late Evening Light

Justin on the Summit

Raid Peak

We reached camp after dark and the next morning we were too wasted to climb again. We slept in and enjoyed a relatively leisurely 12 mile day.

Justin Checking out the Golden Dihedral in the Morning Sun

Ambush Peak and the Golden Dihedral

Hiking Out

The Summer of Wildfires Continues

Living in Style. Justin at our Beer Stash, a mile before our Last Camp.

Last Camp

The next day we rose early, keeping our fingers crossed that the punctured gas tank would still be holding fuel. At the trailhead we patched the tank with bubble gum and duct tape and headed home, another classic Wind River trip in the bag.


  1. Great photos Oliver. Sounds like a good trip.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the route!

    I've done this route several times; once with my son. I'm glad you finished by going up the run-out face,
    which gives you a few more real good pitches.