Devil’s Punchbowl is quite remote even by North Ghost standards, thus the IV rating in Joe Josephson’s guide book, “Waterfall Ice- Climbs in the Canadian Rockies”. It would make little sense to climb Devil’s Punchbowl without completing Beowulf which is a longer and more interesting objective. The first four pitches of Beowulf are required to even get to the start of the approach for Devil’s Punchbowl. When arriving at the base of the final two pitches to Beowulf, there is a small vertical ice step to ascend and then a trudge up canyon for 20-30 minutes until it opens completely up. Take the left fork and you are 10 minutes away from Devil’s Punchbowl. Two perpendicular curtains offer easy WI 2 ice to the left and WI 4 ice to the right. These options are all single pitch. I chose a decent line center right at WI 4.
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. Devil’s Punchbowl and Beowulf are definitely more of an alpine IV adventure considering this extra trek. Bring your headlamps and start early. You might consider bringing a bivy.
Beowulf and Devil’s Punchbowl were in great shape in early March. The constant wind seems to keep them both fairly dry.
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
Hike 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.
Route Description1st 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.
Devil’s Punchbowl/40m- 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 on Beowulf’s page). To your left is a 60m tall waterfall of WI 4 broken up by a few steps. This is the finish of Beowulf. Continue beyond this ice up the short step to the right and trudge up canyon for approximately 20-30 minutes until the canyon walls give way to a broad open fork. Take the left fork and hike 10 minutes through possibly deep snow to two perpendicular ice curtains. The curtain on the left is WI 2 and the one on the right is more WI 4. I chose a decent line up the mid section of the right curtain at WI 4. It is separated by one rest and then nice and steep for the finish. Once you crest the curtain, the ice can be somewhat questionable. I proceeded up the hill to a small tree and belayed the 2nd from there.
DescentOnce the 2nd topped out, I had him traverse to his left while on belay to the top of the WI 2 curtain, cross over the top of this curtain to existing slings (2007) on a mature tree on the opposing side. Rap the WI 2 curtain and descend as you ascended. You will descend the canyon as you ascended with the need for at least one v-thread among fixed anchors. Double 60m ropes are of course recommended.
Essential GearTwo 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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