Beowulf is listed as 670m of ice in Joe Josephson’s guide book, “Waterfall Ice- Climbs in the Canadian Rockies”, but don’t let that deter you. Outside of the first and last two pitches, the ice never exceeds WI 3. The first two pitches of Beowulf represent some of the most aesthetic ice in the North Ghost. They are two separate curtains twisted into a narrow steep canyon (photos). I combined these pitches which is easy to do with proper rope technique. Don’t count on communicating with your partner once you enter the canyon. At times the wind can roar through the steep, twisting and narrow canyon walls located in one of the more remote sections of the Ghost.
Unlike Valley of the Birds and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (GBU), Beowulf, and even more to such extent Devil’s Punchbowl, see considerably less traffic. Part of this remoteness has recently been enhanced over new rules regarding how far you can 4-wheel drive it back along the Ghost River. Due to protected trout populations, the provincial government has limited access beyond the first river crossing which makes for quite the long day including a long hike in, long climb, descent and long hike out. Beowulf is definitely more of an alpine IV adventure considering this extra trek. Bring your headlamps and start early. If you want to tack on Devil’s Punchbowl as we did, you might consider bringing a bivy.
Beowulf and Devil’s Punchbowl were in great shape in early March. The constant wind seems to keep Beowulf fairly dry except for the last short curtain which is up and out of the canyon and was seeping quite profusely in March.
Getting ThereFrom Calgary or Canmore, access 1A which parallels the TransCanada to the north. 13.4kms west of the Hwy 22 junction in Cochrane is the Forestry Trunk Road (Route 940). Turn north on the Forestry Trunk Road for 23kms to a gated gravel road on your left. There is a trail head information kiosk board here, but no obvious sign. If you find the gate closed, it is imperative that you close the gate behind you. Most climbers only take 4-wheel drive vehicles beyond this point, but depending on conditions, other vehicles can travel the road. This rough road goes for another 17kms until it reaches the “big hill”. Along the way there is one ice/water crossing. If this hill is muddy or icy or has too much snow, it can be extremely difficult to navigate. Orient Point’s “The Real Big Drip- 200m- V, M7+, WI 7” can be viewed to the southwest from atop this hill. This is a remote area and very little exists in the way of facilities or emergency help.
At the bottom of the hill, turn right and do your best to follow a sometimes vague, sometimes obvious, track along the right of the wash until it becomes essential to cross the wash heading west and navigate further north crossing a well established bridge over the river and continuing through some big rutts and/or snow drifts until you come to a river crossing. An official government ban on crossing this river is in effect currently (2007) and appears to be an issue at large. Look for signage to that effect. It is regarding trout migration. Whether on foot or vehicle, cross the river and turn left heading west following the river. At a forced second crossing (cliff) is GBU (the Good, the Bad, the Ugly), a significant ice wall leading down to the river bed on the right. Continue past GBU along the river via a road on the left side until even with the next valley running north which is
Route DescriptionHike up the shallow frozen creek as it bends back left and eventually exposes the first two aesthetic hanging pitches of Beowulf, which look much steeper than they really are from a distance. At some time, put on your crampons to assist with the approach and continue to the base of the first short step.
1st Pitch/60m- I combined what many would consider two pitches but is easily done as one. Climb the first step (WI 3) left of center and walk to the base of the real falls. This is a WI 4 30m beauty. The left side was better ice but less steeply angled than the right. The right side was more challenging, but was quite wet and chandeliery. I started right, but soon, detoured left and then back to the center towards the end of this pitch. There is a chain anchor on the right as you top out. This can be a very cold belay, so make sure to pack your down on lead. Also beware of falling rock whose fall line appears to be the left side, another reason for taking the more challenging line to the right if the ice is in better shape.
Middle Pitches- The middle ground involves quite a bit of hiking on ice. You will run into two falls worth pitching out, but could be soloed as well. Neither are above WI 3.
Last Two Pitches/60m and 25m- Eventually you come to a short waterfall step ahead and to the right as the canyon narrows (two odd bird nests in the canyon wall on your right- photos). To your left is a 60m tall waterfall of WI 4 broken up by a few steps. The steepest section is the first 20 meters or so. You more than likely will be angling back left until you reach the first break. Then approach the 2nd section head on and the final piece angles back left again, until you top out to a broad bench with trees to your left for the belay. Beware that this pitch can cause considerable ice fall on your belay below which is located in confined quarters.
The final shorter curtain can be WI 5 if you take the right side, but can also be quite wet and chandeliery. I tried to work the right until I gave up on the quality of the ice and moved back left for an easy WI 4 lead. Tops out at a tree belay.
DescentWe continued on to Devil’s Punchbowl. It takes two raps with double 60’s to get you back to the canyon floor from the last two pitches. Whether you are doing Devil’s Punchbowl or not, you will descend the canyon as you ascended with the need for at least one v-thread among fixed anchors. Double 60m ropes are a must.
Two Ice Tools, Double 60 meter Ropes, 10-12 Ice Screws with draws and/or screamers, Crampons, Helmet, Warm Clothes (lack of sun and heavy winds can make this a chilly climb), Full Shank Boots, 4W Drive (pretty much a must to travel far in the North Ghost), Shovel and Sleeping Bag, the Ghost can be full of surprises, particularly in February where the drifts have started to accumulate. Many climbers end up parking short of the Valley of the Birds and there is currently (2007) a ban on the river crossings (by vehicle) necessary to reach Beowulf valley’s entrance by vehicle. Poles and a possible 2nd pair of boots are handy for several river crossings you will have to make on foot if no access by vehicle.
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