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.
Valley of the Birds
* Dead Bird, III, WI 3/ 45m (climbers right) Not in good shape in March.
* Yellow Bird, III, WI 4+/ 45m (climbers right) Takes some WI 2 to get to the base of Yellow Bird high up on your right hand side, fairly immediate as you start navigating the narrow canyon. Yellow Bird is a fairly wide curtain and gives you different grades depending on which line you chose. We went left which is WI 4 until you get to the cave. There is fixed pro in the cave, looks like a rock line up and down underneath the falls at this point. There are several bolts, but someone rigged a long piece of cordellete to give you a piece of solid pro as you continue on weak ice out the left or hard ice out the right. Either line was WI 5 in character in March, sustained and steep.
* Seagull, III, WI 4/ 30m (climbers left) Solo a real short WI 3 step to reach the base of Seagull. The left corner is dryer and offers a better belay position. The climb is best straight up the gut however and was on the easy side of WI 4 if not a WI 3 in March. There is a rappel sling with a ring straight up to a tree, but it can be dry, loose and messy. I advise top roping Seagull for the second.
* Albatross, III, WI 3/ 100m (climbers left) Not in good shape in March.
* The Eagle, III, WI 5/ 40m (climbers right) By far the best and most challenging route in Valley of the Birds. It is aptly named as it is shaped like an eagle. It was in fair-good shape in March, slightly wet and chandeliery in places. At the dead end of the narrow canyon, take the right fork and gain several ice steps. The Eagle comes into view all at once on the right side. Start up the base cone (which represents the tail feathers) and stay center until you get to the center of the wings. Move left onto a small ledge/ice cave and continue up more solid ice on the left side to a tree rappel. Sustained and steep.
* The Raven, III, WI 4+/ 20m
* Cuckoo Falls, III, WI 2/ 40m
* Snipe Falls, III, WI 3/ 10m
* Unforgiven, III, WI 3/ 40m
* House of Sky, III, WI 3-4+/ 500m
* Phantom Falls, III, WI 4R/ 40m
* Dirty Harry, III, WI 5/ 60m
* Burning in Water, Drowning by Flame, III, WI 6+/ 30m
* Sliver, III, WI 6/ 40m
* Valley of the Sun, III, WI 3+/ 300m
* French Technique, III, WI 2/ 700m
* Going to the Sun Highway, V, WI 6/ 5.2/ 1000m
* Beowulf, III, WI 4/ 670m (north side of the river) Don’t let the 670m noted in the guide book scare you. This includes as much horizontal ice as it does vertical. As you approach the first pitch, few routes are as aesthetic as Beowulf. The first pitch is twisted into two sections tucked deeply into a steep walled canyon (photo). This and the last 2 pitches are the crux of this climb. Several short pitches in between never exceed WI 2-3.
* Devil’s Punchbowl, IV, WI 4/ 40m Bypass Beowulf’s last two pitches up the short step to the right and trudge up canyon for approximately 20-30 minutes until the canyon walls give way to a broad open fork. Take the left fork and hike 10 minutes through possibly deep snow to two perpendicular ice curtains. The curtain on the left is WI 2 and the one on the right is more WI 4.
* Wee Wolf, III, WI 2/ 30m
* Fur Face, III, WI 2/ 50m
* Sitka’s Slide, III, WI 3+/ 100m
* Kelso’s Curtain, III, WI 4/ 300m
* Tuk Taku, IV, WI 3+/ 300m
* Last Moose, IV, WI 3/ 100m
* Husky Howl, III, WI 4/ 65m
* Lupine Lunge, IV, A2, WI 3+/ 40m
* Fang and Fist, V, WI 5/ 400m
* Chikoot Passage, IV, WI 4/ 300m
* Taiga Trot, IV, WI 2/ 100m
* Werewolf Waltz, IV, WI 3/ 150m
* Idle Incisor, IV, WI 4+/ 60m
The 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.
There 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 .
The 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.
Alberta’s Provincial Parks
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. If this 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.
Browse More Classics in North Ghost
Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for North Ghost:
The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (GBU) WI4 Ice, 1 pitch, 150 feet
This House of Sky WI3 Ice, 10 pitches, 1640 feet
The Sorcerer WI5 Trad, Ice, 4 pitches, 700 feet, Grade IV
Fang & Fist WI5 Trad, Ice, 5 pitches, 800 feet, Grade V
Hydrophobia WI5+ Ice, 3 pitches, 500 feet, Grade IV
Featured Route For North Ghost
The Sorcerer WI5 International : Canada : ... : North Ghost
A beautiful, remote route in an incredible setting! The Sorcerer pours down the back of a canyon surrounded by big walls on all sides. Pitch 1: Climb moderate ice to a short, steep pillar and then follow narrowing ice up and right to the first belay (bolts).Pitch 2: A short pitch of snow and easy ice leads to a comfortable belay ledge on the right, at the base of the main column.Pitch 3: Move left from the belay and climb excellent, steep ice to the large cave on the right (bolts)Pitch 4: T...[more] Browse More Classics in International