On Christmas Eve, my climbing partner, Mike Kearns and I went into the Ghost to climb This House of Sky. This is a classic Rockies ice climb and recently made Barry Blanchard’s list of Top 10 Rockies moderates.
The temperatures improved throughout the week and we left Canmore at a balmy -3 degrees celcius. The trip into the Ghost is always exciting and seems to change every time you go there. The water was flowing a lot faster than the previous river crossings we made exactly one week ago.
We started our hike to the base of the gully at exactly 9:00 and by 11:20 we were standing at the top of the route. It’s easy to see why this is a popular ice climb. The pitches were easy Grade 2-3 ice with relatively short pitches. We took a 60M rope because we planned to climb in the amphitheater but a 50M rope would be just fine for This House of Sky. In fact we didn’t even need to pull out the rope and placed one screw the whole route on one of the top pitches. The only pitch we protected was one of the upper ones where a fall may have sent us sliding down two pitches but otherwise the steps were good and the ice was in perfect shape.
Having completed the route pretty quickly, we headed for the 30M Grade 4 pillar straight up the amphitheater. This was a tougher pitch as it hadn’t been climbed in a while and the chandelier ice made Mike work hard for good protection. From here there were four or five more pitches of fairly thin ice to the top of the amphitheater until we ran out of ice to climb.
The wind picked up and we had several near misses with fairly large rocks falling down the slot over our heads. One rock the size of an orange hit my pack and when we topped out just below the ridge we think we found the culprit – a big sheep traversing the ridge line. With more snow the avalanche risk in the amphitheater could be pretty high and it feels more like an alpine climb than an ice climb once you get up higher. There are a few slopes that I would be very cautious being on or below them with new snow.
Up in the amphitheater there were anchors at every pitch except one where we rappelled off a V thread. About 10 rappels later and a whole lot of down climbing we were back at the parking lot.
Thinking we would be home at a reasonable hour, we found a couple from Seattle stuck just below the crest of the Big Hill. The warm weather made the hill very slick and we helped them out with a tow. Fifteen minutes later they were stuck in the ditch trying to get up the first steep hill on the road out. They had a 4×4 but poor tires and a damaged front wheel hub reduced their four wheel drive to a two wheel. Two hours later we were very late and about to be in a lot of trouble at home. It would have been a long Christmas Eve for them if we hadn’t gone back to see if they made it up the hill. The Ghost is a wild place. Go in with a 4×4, chains, tow line and a sleeping bag just in case.
All in all it was a great day of ice climbing and we felt pretty good about two fellow ice climbers not having to spend Christmas stuck in the Ghost.