A Trip Long Over Due...
Greg and the Views of The Sorcerer The Sorcerer
There was definitely apprehension from Aaron when I told him that the weekend of March 26, 2010 was the only weekend I had open for us to make the trip into the Ghost River Wilderness area. It was definitely late in the season for the trip and both the access and the climbs themselves could be at risk in the potentially warm weather. We had planned trips into the Ghost previously but were never quite able to pull things together. The first attempt was aborted due to unseasonably warm weather 2 years ago but resulted in a great rebound trip to Polar Circus
. Last year saw Aaron recovering from shoulder surgery, and although he was back pounding the hard water late in the season culminating in a successful attempt on Curtain Call
we weren't prepared enough to organize a trip south to the Ghost.
And so it was that we started planning in February for a late March trip down south to one of the World's Meccas of ice climbing. Aaron was able to head down to the Ghost for the first time 2 weeks earlier with an old climbing buddy and was able to scope things out. This proved invaluable in terms of actually getting into the area.
Some Cheer: Dabbling in Sorcery
We arrived in Cochrane late on Thursday and were quickly packed and in bed with thoughts of The Sorcerer
on our minds. Early day one, we were up and on the road by 5:30 am. The drive into the Ghost is quite an experience. The road is clearly not well maintained and although the distance is not significant, the going can be slow. The conditions were dry but I took it easy for the sake of my truck. We had crossed the Ghost River in the North Ghost area and were hiking around 7:30 am.
The first 45 minutes of hiking is fairly straight forward following an old fire road up to the first of the two Johnson Lakes. The forcast had been for +15 Celcius and sunny when last we looked. So it was with some surpise that we found ourselves trudging along in a full on snow squall. This snow would stay with us throughout the approach and into the first couple of pitches of the climb itself. Once at the first lake we dropped down and worked our way accross the other side before finding a trail that headed up and into the drainage containing the legendary climb. It was at times disconcerting as the snow was patchy and we often lost track of the trail. I should have know better when Aaron came back from his first trip to the Ghost boasting of the easy access to all the climbs. After a fair amount of vertical relief and a whole lot of bushwacking we were graced with our first views of the climb.
Aaron on Pitch One
It was a good hour and half before we started suiting up at the base of the climb. The ambience around this climb is simply spectacular. The ominous limestone walls that make up the cirque add to the mystique and awe that surrounds this impressive ice climb. I cannot think of a more aptly named ice climb.
Aaron lead the first pitch which proved to be sporty enough. A straight forward 15 metres of grade 3 ice lead to a short snow slope and another 15 metres of grade 4 ice that was a touch hollow and sketchy. Aaron cruised all of this and quickly set up the belay where the climb narrows just below the long snow slope.
I followed up to the belay and quickly started up the snow slope heading towards the right side of the base of the upper two pitches. The snow slog was getting too much for me so I started up the moderate ice just to change things up.
Greg on the snow slope between Pitch One and Three
This proved costly for Aaron who was sitting in the Asteroid Alley of belay stations. I must of pelted him with at least 3 or 4 good chunks of ice before I finally made it up to the second belay. I set up the belay and brought Aaron up. While he worked his way up a spindrift avalanche released up and to the right of the climb adding to the intense atmosphere.
Aaron on Pitch Three
The third pitch looked spicy and it was. The first 10 metres looked to be manky and steep, even overhanging in one section. With the sun starting to break through the clouds, Aaron went back on lead for this pitch and tackled it all in impecable style. This would be the only pitch of steep ice that the belayer was able to see the lead climber and I enjoyed all the action. Aaron climbed for nearly 50 metres before finding a "not-so-obvious" belay just right of the final pitch of ice. Like many before, I am sure, he was drawn to an oddly placed belay far to the right of the belay cave before seeing the better positioned and newer belay further left.
I was back on lead for the final pitch. Right out of the belay cave, I had to make a truly wild traverse out left. With a couple hundred metres of air below me it was just a crazy experience. There looked to be three possible lines and I finally opted for the centre. I took on a good 20 metres of ice before I was again forced to choose between 3 possible lines. I had committed to the right or centre line. There did look to be a bit of a rest if I went right but another traverse would be necessary and I was wary of rope drag and wasn't interested in more traversing. I finally committed to the steeper centre line which proved much less traveled than the previous line.
Greg Traversing Out Onto Pitch 4
Perhaps more opted for the travere...who knows. The climbing was very stiff and my left arm had begun to feel a lot like jello requiring a lot of shaking out in order to recover enough power to throw my tool. I finally topped out after another 25 metres and rambled up another 15 metres of moderate ice to an ice belay. After bringing up Aaron, who also found the pitch stiff, he aptly informed me he would have gone right. I guess we will never really know.
Aaron Feeling it Atop The Sorcerer
We quickly went to work on getting off the climb and 4 rappels later we were packed up and heading back down retracing our trail back to the truck. There was some beer (stolen from Aaron's wife I might add) waiting for us back at the truck. There is something about ice climbing that makes beer taste so fine.
The Loathing: Scooped-aphobia...on Hydrophobia
From the Trail Hydrophobia - Climber Near the Top
On Day Two, with a successful day on The Sorcerer behind us, Aaron and I were up and out the door a 5:00 am. This time it was the Ghost's other uber classic Hydrophobia
as the objective. On our way home the day before we did some reconnaissance on the approach into Waiparous. This could shave off 2 hours of hiking, but there could be issues getting in and out with the truck. We drove some way up catching some great views of both The Sorcerer and Hydrophobia before agreeing that we could likely get in okay in the morning, but may have issues getting out. So it was that we resigned to the 2-3 hours grunt into Hydrophobia from the North Ghost the next day. Realizing that we were now likely facing more climbers in the area given it was Saturday we could only hope that even with our long approach from the north Ghost we might still be first to the base of the climb.
We started hiking at 7:00 am. We made it to the second of the Johnson Lakes before the trail veered hard to the east. At this point we dropped down to the lake and crossed to the other side and headed into the bush on a just noticeable trail. Perhaps with more snow a more obvious trail would be evident, but we quickly realized that we would be following sporadic signs of a trail for the remainder of the hike. This is where the loathing comes in. The next hour and fifteen minutes were a full on bushwhack that followed along an impressive limestone wall. It was very difficult to guage your position with the density of trees. The guidebook suggests you follow your nose once past the Johnson Lakes and that is really what you are doing trusting that the occasional footprint and broken branch confirmed you were at least heading in the right direction.
After this mind-numbing grunt through the trees we crested the ridge that dropped down into the drainage for Hydrophobia. It was here that we were finally given the first views of the climb. The climb is simply awesome plastered against the steep limestone walls of yet another impressive cirque with Cryophobia ominously hanging to its right. It is impossible to ignore how truly awesome this area is with views like this.
Once we finally dropped into the drainage we found a well used trail and started to pick up the pace in anticipation of the climb itself. Not 5 minutes along the trail we saw the first signs of fresh tracks which were quickly followed by voices of climbers. As I again looked up at the climb I could just see the outline of a climber on the first pitch. Unreal!!!
We continued up the trail nearing the base of the climb and agreed that we were committed and we would either watch for another line or wait until the team in front of us finished the climb. This would go down as one of the ugliest approaches either of us had endured which was only made worse by the fact that we had been scooped.
More Cheer: Mother Nature's Imax
Hurry Up and Wait
The next 2 hours was like the watching World's greatest movie screen. Once we had accepted that another line would be difficult and even dangerous we kicked back and took in the action from below. The team was climbing in good style and moving faster than we were expecting which eased the frustration of being scooped.
The lead climber of the team ahead of us had a Hero camera on his helmet. His gear also looked similar to a guide, Eric Dumerac, I had seen in a video that was posted from Slipstream of this year. After listening to some of the interchange between the leader and the second it became clear that this was a guided trip. I said to Aaron "I think that is Eric Dumerac." We shared a chuckle when the second yelled out Eric's name while taking him off belay.
The team continued their steady progress up the climb while Aaron and I soaked in the views, snapped pics and lounged around the base area waiting for them to safely descend. In the end we got some great beta on the line to take, the belays and the rappels. A silver lining to being scooped I suppose. As they started on their second of three rappels Aaron and I suited up.
The Ultimate Cheer: What a Climb?
Greg Following Pitch Two Aaron Following Pitch One
Just as the team before us was making their final rappel, Aaron and I were starting up the approach ice. I got a laugh out of Eric's reaction when I proudly proclaimed he must be Eric Dumerac. After a friendly exchange I continued soloing the 30 metres of approach ice. This proved to be more challenging then both of us first thought. Given the steepness of the top 3 pitches we underestimated the approach ice which came in at about 30 metres of modest grade 3. A rope certainly would have been nice, especially given that the belay area where we roped up, just to the left of the base, was awkward.
I was on lead for the first real pitch of climbing. After a short traverse out right I started into some steep featured ice for about 20 meters. As with The Sorcerer there was a lot of pick holes, but I am not one to trust a lot of blind hooking while on lead. After this section the ice kicked back slightly for 15 metres. This was followed by another 15 metres of steep ice that took me to the first belay cave. I was hoping this would be a comfortable station but that was not to be. Being 6'4" I found the moves into the cave a little awkward and the stance even worse. Finding good ice for the belay was also a challenge. After some digging around I finally set up a belay and brought Aaron up. I found this pitch to be the most challenging of the climb.
The Rolling Ice atop Hydrophobia Aaron Nearing the Top
Unfortunately for Aaron he was forced to gear up just below the belay cave before heading up to the left. He was out of sight quickly after heading off and he made good time up to the second belay cave. He quickly had me on belay and I made an awkward couple moves out of the cave and started up the steep ice to the left. After about 5 metres the ice kicked back and I followed a grade 3 rising traverse for about 25 metres before moving toward a 20 metre groove of steeper ice heading up to the second belay. The climbing was just spectacular.
I met Aaron in the second belay cave which proved to be much more accommodating than the previous. We exchanged some gear and I started out once more. Another short traverse to the left had me back into some steep ice. The plethora of pick holes again made things somewhat easier as I worked up the first dead vertical 20 metres. After this section the ice kicked back slightly to just off vertical for another 20 metres. It is sections of ice like this that make ice climbing so addictive. I made my way through this section of ice and gathered myself below the final "Sting in the Tail". Another 15 metres of very steep ice lead to what looked like rolling ice. I committed to this last section feeling surprisingly stronger than expected. The ice was again steep and featured, but in great shape. I pulled over the top and made my way up through rolling ice to the belay station just barely reaching the Abalakov's as the rope went tight. I quickly brought Aaron up and we started on the 3 long rappels that would see us safely to the base.
There's No Tear in this Beer - Heading Home
Code in the Ghost
After the climb we fueled up for the hike out. I would be lying if I said that the hiking was any less orduous, but somehow it just had less mojo-sapping power. We arrived back at the truck with plenty of light and were again sharing some of Aaron's wife's beer as we made our way back to Cochrane.
We were up at a more reasonable time the next day and had decided to have a go at Meltout. This is a classic grade 3 and old favourite near the Columbia Icefields. We were parked and on the trail just around noon and were back at the truck 2 hours later. There was a time that that climb was an all day affair...it must be the new tools.
We arrived back in Hinton late in the afternoon ending our first trip into the Ghost. It really was an amazing experience. Reading the guidebook for the area has so much more meaning now that I have a visual on the area itself. The approaches and being scooped on day two are but distant memories to the spectacular climbing and the ambience of the area. Ice climbing is notorious for gritty approaches, uncomfortable belays, situations that challenge your head space and of course the "Screaming Pukies". But the memory of an ice climber is very short for these details when reflecting back on the climbs one's done. If it wasn't I suppose there just wouldn't be that many of us still doing it.
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