Beyond Valley of the Birds
is a somewhat obscure gem high up on the north side of the river bottom of the North Ghost
. Unforgiven is positioned directly below the infamous “Alberta Jam, 5.11c” summer rock route, representing some of the most interesting rock in the Ghost. Unforgiven is a spectacular 40m route for the grade. The reason it does not see much traffic is quite obvious however, the 500’ ascent up snow on large and loose scree, not to mention the river crossing, and all for one pitch of ice. When crossing the river, look for a shallow diagonal eddy, west to east, that crossed the entire river in January, 2008.
Moving fast across this eddy will keep your boots relatively dry. Because this route is high and south facing, it gets glaring afternoon sun, thus, I advise doing this route prior to March.
We chose to combine this route with “Indifferent” as well as a mixed route behind GBU to make for a complete day in the North Ghost.
Once across the river, ascend the scree slope to the base of the route. Scramble up the right side of the ice via ice and rock to a nice flat belay stance at the base of the first real curtain. We did not need to apply our crampons until we reached this spot. Belay under a rock roof to the right of the curtain with a screw or two in the first curtain for protection from a leader fall. I led a line just to the right of center. Unforgiven is made up of two main curtains, typical for the grade, which lead to low angled ice. Once on this low angled ice, continue on for quite a distance for a double rope rappel from a tree that is dead center above the route. We left tat on this tree in 2008. We both led the route and to reach the preferred tree is close to 60m, so bring up the 2nd versus setting up a top rope or rappel and pull the rope and do two leads. There was no evidence of any other rappel although other options exist. This route does not get climbed much. Check out the fantastic Alberta Jam (5.11c) rock route above, a magnificent configuration of cracks.
Pair of tools, crampons, 8-10 screws and draws/screamers, helmet, 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 January 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). 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.
From 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. It can be quite interesting and is currently (January, 2008) being constantly maintained by a logging company. If the “big 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 head west following the river. At a forced second crossing is GBU (the Good, the Bad, the Ugly), a significant ice wall leading down to the river bed on the right. Continue on until you are almost at the end of the road that leads to the House of Cards start. Turn right at a fork and cross a dry/frozen bed and park. Walk northeast towards the climb and cross the river at a diagonal eddy, west to east.
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