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.
The Joker’s neighbor in the next bowl south below the Orient is one of the more challenging waterfall ice routes in the world, The Real Big Drip, V, M7+, WI 7. The Joker shares the north bowl below Orient Point with The Hooker, III, WI 5, Candle Stick Maker, IV, WI 5 and Hidden Dragon, III, WI 4. There are several short pitches (photos) (depending on conditions) of WI 2 that gain you access to the bowl. Hidden Dragon is at the base of the bowl with the other three, starting with the Joker (50m) to the left, lining the center of the bowl above (photo).
As you start to descend the last steep hill on the road going into the ghost, there is a pull out to the right, kind of a logging road that shoots off to the right. If you pull over here, you can examine the Orient Point routes in one of two bowls on the east face of Orient Point. The infamous Big Drip is in the left bowl (south) and the Joker is visible in the right bowl.
Joe Josephson’s guide book, Waterfall Ice, Climbs in the Canadian Rockies- 4th edition, references turning left at the bottom of the “Big Hill” as you enter the Ghost River bottom. Present day (2006) you should turn right. Drive a short distance along the gravel bank before you come across a cairn and then descend the bank into the gravel wash. Follow as close as you can any visible tracks that circumvent the dikes as you continue south and west towards Orient Point. Access a faint road that rides up onto an east-west dike and turn left onto another faint road that continues south towards a cut line road that leads up to the base of the climbs. Whether you continue with your vehicle depends on how much ice is on this road and what kind of vehicle you have. We parked in the gravel bottom and hiked up the steep cut-line road. The road eventually dead ends into the trees where a trail continues southwest (left) circumventing a slope on its left side on a small ridge. Eventually you cross a drainage to the left side which leads up to several short pitches (130m) of WI 2 ice (photo). Follow this easy ice into the north bowl below Orient Point where you will find Hidden Dragon (low and straight ahead), The Joker (upper left), The Hooker (center) and Candle Stick Maker (right).
The first pitch of WI 2 is a solid warm up (photo). Some choose to solo it, we preferred to rope up. It was an aesthetic pitch in November, 2006. There was some modern webbing on a tree that served as our first station. Switch leads and conquer a short steep section to snow and ice above that lead to a rocky plateau where the ice routes above come into full view. Put the ropes up and ascend west towards the Joker.
We arrived at the base of the Joker on its left shoulder. There was a thin film of ice on rock that we used to cross some precarious rock bands to get onto snow and ice at the base. If not for this thin film of ice, I would advise that you climb some waterfall ice between Hidden Dragon and the Joker to access the base of the route. You definitely need 60 meter ropes. Although it appears you might be able to belay from the very left corner of the rock and ice, there isn’t much of a platform there. It is best to belay below a large roof on the right. The ice tends to fall climbers left.
From the belay, move out left and start climbing the ice to the base of the curtain. Left is easier, right is a little more difficult. We found some hollow ice right and moved left early. As you progress up the route, you end up back in the middle of the Joker enjoying the better ice. Ascend straight up angling right towards the end to reach a one bolt/one piton station in the rock to the upper right of the fall. There is a short waterfall piece further up that is not part of the route.
DescentAfter the two rope Joker rappel, return the same and set up a V-thread to rappel back to the tree station. One rope will serve for both of these short rappels back to the trail.
Essential GearTwo Ice Tools, Double 60 meter Ropes, 8-10 Ice Screws and Draws, Crampons, Helmet, Warm Clothes, Full Shank Boots, 4W Drive (Preferable), Satellite Phone and Shovel
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