The Ghost was established in 1967 on the front range of the Canadian Rockies and consists of 15,317ha (60 square miles) of raw wilderness bordering Banff National Park to the east and north. Its mountains include Mounts Aylmer, Apparition, Oliver and Costigan. The Ghost Valley actually refers to a larger area that is more specifically located approximately 30kms north of Canmore along the eastern border of Banff National Park and east of the Palliser Mountain Range. The Ghost’s glacier carved valleys provide for steep water runoff creating some of the best waterfall ice climbing in Canada. Much of this terrain is considered less avalanche prone than most ice routes in Kananaskis and routes deeper into the national parks. Although not all the Ghost climbs are technically in The Ghost (many of the climbs are in Banff National Park), this whole area of provincial wilderness takes on that identity.
The Ghost Valley is discussed as the South Ghost and North Ghost relative to climbing. The South Ghost is divided into several different areas when discussing waterfall ice: Orient Point, Devil’s Gap, Planter’s Valley, Constellation Valley, Black Rock Mountain and Johnson Creek. The North Ghost includes all the climbs along both sides of the Ghost River. The “North Ghost” routes entail more of a 4x4 drive approach than the “South Ghost” routes.
Listing routes with no first hand experience available is not what this page is about. Rather the listing involves first hand accounts only of waterfall ice routes in the Ghost. The routes will be listed and maintained in descending order of East to West. I can assure you that this listing only scratches the surface of what is available come January through April up and down the central Canadian Rockies. I personally attempt to climb 30 WI routes per winter and still have plenty more to experience.
Route Description(s)South Ghost
Joker, III, WI 3- The Joker is one of five established routes on the east face below Orient Point in the Ghost, 60 square miles of raw wilderness bordering Banff National Park to the east and north. Due to the fact it is no doubt the earliest formed waterfall ice of the group it is the most popular as well. Even the best of ice climbers come out to get warmed up on the Joker. Although having a reputation for being thin at times, I have seen it in very full condition in late November.
Candlestick Maker, IV, WI 5- The Candlestick Maker is one of the better routes in the South Ghost. It's located high up at Orient Point, just above Hidden Dragon and to the right of The Joker/Hooker. It consists of a short technical pillar pouring over an impressively large cave, followed by a longer second pitch of steep ice.
Malignant Mushroom, II, WI 5- Malignant Mushroom is on the north side of Devil’s Gap. It is directly below the massive walls of Phantom Crag (aka Devil’s Fang) which sports some serious summer time rock climbing. It is the first waterfall ice you can see on the drive in, with Frozen Fungi and Sunshine visible further west on the same side of Devil’s Gap. The guide book instructs “Hike up through the trees to the right of the route. 30-40 minutes.” That is it. Neither my partner nor I had climbed Malignant Mushroom before and ended up ascending to the base of the Phantom Crag itself. We then traversed west and descended to the top of Malignant Mushroom. Therefore, we rapped the route before we climbed it. Our route was actually a joy as it followed a well trodden path to the base of some magnificent wall climbs on the Phantom Crag. But if efficiency is part of your game plan, you need to bypass the first trail you see on the right beyond the park boundary and continue down the dry creek bed/mud flats to a significant bend to the south (left). At this juncture, start your descent onto the slopes to your right, somewhat angling west until you hit a ravine filled with ice. Follow this up to the base of Malignant Mushroom.
Sunshine, II, WI 3- Sunshine is a simple piece of ice and one of the easier routes (worth doing) in the entire Ghost area. The main reason it is worth doing is its easy approach and proximity to Malignant Mushroom, WI 5, Aquarius, WI 4, and Recital Hall which contains the more infamous WI 6 routes of Rainbow Serpent and Fearful Symmetry. In fact it can be used as the approach ice for Aquarius and thus the entrance to Recital Hall. All of this ice makes up the north side of Devil’s Gap in the South Ghost. A good photo op for Sunshine is actually from Planter’s Valley across the gap to the south. I have added at least one photo from this perspective while climbing the Peanut Gallery, III, WI 4 and/or Weathering Heights, III, WI 4. This perspective makes Sunshine out to be a bigger challenge than it really is.
Aquarius, III, WI 4- Aquarius is the narrow drainage west of Malignant Mushroom in Devils Gap that is used as the approach ice into Recital Hall for the more infamous WI 6 routes of Rainbow Serpent and Fearful Symmetry. To date, Rainbow Serpent is the most difficult ice climbing route added to Summitpost. Many climbers climb Aquarius on its own merit, but we used it as the approach ice for Rainbow Serpent in January, 2007. Aquarius is a full 60 meter pitch (and then a little more depending on how much of a wanderer you are when putting in screws). There are chains at the top on the steep granite walls to the right. It is a relaxed climb for the grade due to several short benches below steep curtains. From Planter’s Valley it looks much sportier than it really is in my opinion. There is some easier WI 2 ice on approach and this ice, although normally soloed up, does require a rap on the way back down. Aquarius is positioned in a very cool environment with huge walls of rock rising on both sides. Recital Hall, reached at the top of Aquarius, is even more of a treat and even though you might not be there to climb the two WI 6’s within its confines, it is worth the extra effort to proceed to the center of Recital Hall to reach the full effect of the boxed in canyon.
Rainbow Serpent, III, WI 6- Rainbow Serpent is one of two WI 6 waterfalls found back in Recital Hall on the north side of Devils Gap just west of Malignant Mushroom. Rainbow Serpent is comprised of two pitches of ice for the route itself, some WI 2 to get to the base of the climb, as well as a WI 4 waterfall called Aquarius en route. There are several short pieces of solo ice to get to the base of Aquarius. Joe Josephson’s “Waterfall Ice: Climbs in the Canadian Rockies” guide book references the WI 6 portion of Rainbow Serpent at 75 meters. However, that figure is closer to 100 meters. Either way, it takes two WI 6 pitches to climb Rainbow Serpent. The approach pitch up to the base of the waterfall itself could be considered WI 2-3 and can be soloed as well. Aquarius, which must be overcome to get back into Recital Hall is 60 meters of WI 4, and I mean a full 60 to get to the bolt station at the top, on the right hand side of the wall.
Green Angel, III, WI 4
Weathering Heights, III, WI 4- Weathering Heights is comprised of two full pitches (55m each). The first pitch, from a distance, (photo) always has the look of a mixed start. However, once you ascend the steep loose gully below it, it becomes obvious that the start is much easier then it looks from afar. This is a popular south Ghost route and can be quite picked out by February most years. That is the condition we found it in February, 2007.
Peanut Gallery, III, WI 4 - The Peanut Gallery is the name given to the remaining ice in Planter’s Valley once you past Anorexia Nervosa, III, WI 4R on the left and Weathering Heights, III, WI 4 on the right. The first piece you come to is located where steep walls rise out of the canyon. This is an easy WI 3 undulating full pitch. Most divide it into two pitches, but we simul-climbed it enough to turn it into one pitch. As you continue south, within 10 minutes you will run into another pitch that is a classic WI 4 shorter pitch of a sustained vertical, but often wet, curtain. You can keep going for more WI 4 to your left or some mixed climbing to your right. Currently this is all considered part of the Peanut Galley.
Valley of the Birds
Eagle, III, WI 5-The Eagle is the 2nd to last published route (2007) you come to in Valley of the Birds. After Yellow Bird and Seagull you come to a fork in the narrow canyon. Left is the start of Albatross and a right takes you to the Eagle and the Raven. The Eagle is the most aesthetic and challenging climb in Valley of the Birds. It was in fair-good shape in early March, however slightly wet and chandeliery in places. The climb is aptly named as it truly forms the impression of an eagle with a large cone representing its tail feathers with two stretches of ice that flare out like the wings of an eagle in the middle of the climb.
Yellow Bird, III, WI 4+- Yellow Bird is the second waterfall you arrive at on the right side as you meander through the narrow and pristine canyon of Valley of the Birds. You already have your crampons on from ascending the WI 2 short pitch that gains you access to the canyon. Continue past Dead Bird (which looked quite dead in March) and Yellow Bird will be hard to miss high up on the right side of the canyon. There are a few short steps, one of which had a log across it. Once you gain this one, head straight up on your right on some WI 2 approach ice that can be rapped on descent from some trees above. Continue to the base of Yellow Bird which is quite the broad curtain, by Valley of the Birds standards.
Seagull, III, WI 4- Seagull is the third piece of ice that can be directly reached from the canyon floor in Valley of the Birds. It is located just beyond Yellow Bird on the left hand side. Proceed up canyon via a small step here and there until you come to a short curtain of WI 3 on your left. Solo this curtain and continue on sloping ice terrain to the base of Seagull. The left corner is dryer and offers a better spot from which to set up belay.
Beyond Valley of the Birds
GBU (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), II, WI 4-5+
Beowulf, III, WI 4- 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.
Devil's Punchbowl, IV, WI 4 - 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.
Red TapeThe important aspect of the Ghost regarding safety is that you are on your own. You are not always within the boundary of the National Parks and access can be difficult and long for rescue personnel. I highly advise you take a Satellite Phone (for communication with loved ones who might worry if you get stuck) and always be prepared to spend the evening (read sleeping bag, shovel, etc).
There are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Alberta’s Provincial Parks. Cougars and Grizzlies can be more common place in the Ghost than the national parks due to its location on the front range. Take bear spray during non-hibernation months. This can be avalanche terrain during the winter. Therefore it would be prudent to check recent notices posted on the Canadian Avalanche Association’s website regarding that issue. However, the ice climbs in the Ghost are considered less avalanche prone than most routes throughout the National Parks and Kananaskis. The frequent Chinooks keep snow levels typically manageable in the Ghost.
CampingThere are no official campsites in the Ghost. Random backcountry camping is allowed, but open fires are prohibited in the Ghost River Wilderness Area. However, it appears that camp fires are quite tolerated by local visitors or even allowed in the Ghost River Valley around Devil’s Gap. More camping information can be found at this site.
Mountain/Route ConditionsThe Kananaskis Provincial Park website is a very thorough park website, including trail conditions or closures, wildlife notices, weather conditions, avalanche conditions, camping permits, whitewater conditions, etc. It is an excellent source if you are going to spend any time in the Ghost or surrounding area. Outside of the parks web sites, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports are also extremely useful.