Bonanza Descent Gully
“West Phantom Crag is the premier multi-pitch limestone crag in the Ghost
if not all of Alberta,” Andy Genereux. In my opinion Andy must have just got done with a great day of climbing when he wrote this. Although I have enjoyed my climbs at West Phantom as I would most of my days in the Canadian Rockies, I don’t really compare this limestone cliff on par with the climbing faces of Yamnuska
or Ha Ling, all of which are on the Alberta side of the Canadian Rockies. That being said, the Ghost Wilderness
is always a special place to climb. The remoteness is hard to beat.
West Phantom Crag is a 1000’ high extended limestone cliff broken down into several different walls and towers. The most classic and popular route by far is Bonanza which by no coincidence is also considered one of the safer and easier routes on West Phantom Crag. The Grey Ghost Wall contains the most routes at the crag. Epitaph Wall offers the most difficult and sustain climbs. The Phantom Tower offers up the most aesthetic objective at West Phantom.
The approach to the start of these climbs is quite pleasant in comparison to most Canadian Rockies approaches. A braided river crossing followed by an aerobic hike up a well trodden trail gets you to the base of the crag at Grey Ghost Wall. Bonanza is to the left, Phantom Tower to the right.
To reach the Phantom Crag area, proceed towards Devil’s Gap by turning left at the bottom of the “Big Hill” and follow the streambed to the top of the dike and turn left following the dike for a short distance into some trees and turn right aiming for Devil’s Gap on a well driven road. More than likely you will encounter several stream crossings as you make for the Banff National Park Boundary which is well marked. You are not allowed to drive across it. Park at the sign(s) and be prepared to wade across the stream bed to the tree line below Phantom Crag. I always take sandals with me to the Ghost for this reason.
Look for a cairn marking a well trodden, but narrow and slightly hidden, trail that takes you up to the walls above to the north. Take the right fork for the Phantom Tower, otherwise, stay left at the fork and continue until just below the wall.
The Walls/Towers are Listed Left to Right as you Face West Phantom Crag
- Wild West Wall/
- The Arrowhead/ (Pillar)
- Kemp Shield Wall/
- Bonanza Area/ The Bonanza Area showcases one of the more popular 5.8 trad lines in the Canadian Rockies, Bonanza, 5.8, 7 pitches. There are no other significant developed climbs at this wall which is just to the left of the Bonanza descent gully.
- Grey Ghost Wall/ Grey Ghost Wall is to the right of the Bonanza descent gully. No doubt the most routes at Phantom Crag can be found on this wall which is directly above where the ascent trail meets up with the trail that runs below West Phantom Crag. Silver Ghost, 5.10a, 6 pitches is the most common objective on Grey Ghost Wall. I personally was not overly impressed with this route.
- Seven Pillars of Wisdom/
- Epitaph Wall/ Epitaph Wall is located to the east of the Grey Ghost Wall and runs all the way to the Phantom Tower. The Wraith, 5.10a, 8 pitches is my favorite climb (to date, 2009) at West Phantom Crag and I am not alone in my assessment, thus it is quite popular. The Wraith is probably only second in popularity to the Bonanza route. The Gods Must be Angry is another incredible route on Epitaph Wall, but is a tough gig at 5.12a.
- Spirit Pillar/
- Phantom Tower/ Phantom Tower is an imposing objective at the east end of West Phantom Crag. The South Face of Phantom Tower is a common route at 5.8. An interesting route with the same start is Angelus Vicia, 5.10a, 8 pitches. Be warned however, the notes that went up with me on this route have blood stains all over them. The rock here is sharp and route quite loose and precarious in places.This is remote country, with a reputation of severe weather outbursts that cannot be seen coming from the west. Therefore I advise climbing with double ropes. The most common shared descent is also much safer done with double ropes for various reasons. This is the Canadian Rockies, and even though West Phantom Crag is south facing, dress accordingly for potential temperature drops and wind. These routes are mainly traditional climbs with fixed gear placed on some of them to avoid long runouts. If climbing one of the less popular climbs, you should in fact carry pitons and a hammer.
Alberta’s Provincial Parks