Canmore’s Wild West: Ice Climbing in The Ghost

Grade: WI2-5

This House of Sky is a rambly climb, mixing pitches of WI2 through WI5. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Photography.
This House of Sky is a rambly climb, mixing pitches of WI2 through WI5. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Photography.

Length: 10+ pitches, 500m (1,640 feet)

Gear: crampons (duh), ice tools (duh), ice screws, anchor building material (many of the pitches’ tops have chains, but not all), one 50m rope

Remarks: Have fun!! (And don’t fall, duh). Many climbing parties end the climb at the amphitheatre. If you’re fast enough you can get in some climbing in the amphitheatre. Also, make sure avy conditions are safe for climbing there. In the slot canyon, there’s isn’t avy concern, but avalanches can be a problem in the amphitheatre. And don’t forget it’s a roundtrip! Factor in the 10 raps + downclimbing into your time estimates.

The Climb:

I knew it was going to be an interesting day to say the least when Jason told me we would shoot to be in the vicinity of The Ghost around 9am – if the car gets stuck there will

hopefully be other people there to haul us out. Oh yeah, adventure here we come! The second indicator, a climb with 10 raps + some downclimbing. This House of Sky is a classic Canadian Rockies ice climb. It’s 500m (for those who are counting, that’s 1,640 ft of elevation gain!) of climbing (10-12 pitches up and 10 raps down), with breathtaking views. The grade ranged from WI2-5. This House of Sky weaves it’s way through a slot canyon. It’s located in The Ghost, a region that is lovingly referred to by the locals as The Wild Wests. It promises and delivers wild adventures; it’s remote, often with an unpredictable approach and is notorious for being a car-eater. As the Canadian Rockies ice climbing guide states – the Ghost is all about quality adventure. Cars frequently get stuck going in or out due to very high snow drifts and many people don’t even make it all the way in due to these difficulties. The Ghost is a beautiful place, so as long as you get in and out in one piece, enjoy the adventure.

Driving into The Ghost started off our adventure — high snow drifts forced us to dig the car out a few times. Once we turned off the main highway, the “road” was just some tracks in the snow. Jason masterfully maneuvered the SUV through snow that perpetually threatened to eat the car, around and over rocks and dirt mountains, and dodging trees. We ended up parking 2km from the climb (instead of the standard 1km) because it was too questionable as to whether or not the car could make it the last 1km. The hike to the base of the climb involved 3 river crossings. At -15 deg C, it was so cold that if any water slashed on you it instantly froze.

This House of Sky meanders for over 1,600 feet through a slot canyon, ending in a wide bowl. The grades vary widely

Navigating This House of Sky's slot canyon. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Photography.
Navigating This House of Sky’s slot canyon. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Photography.

throughout the climb, from WI2-WI5. There are plenty of good spots to pass slower teams, if it’s crowded don’t necessarily be deterred. The ice, on this particular day, ranged from bullet hard, to brittle, to slushy-like (soft, wet with water cascading down). Whether you prefer the term slushly or slurpee-esck, either way that ice is unprotectable because screws won’t reliably hold. In addition, tools and crampons can blow more easily, making it difficult to lead up. Jason used great care when leading this pitch and we safely made it up the climb. I loved that around every turn, as we wound our way through the slot canyon, it was a surprise at what we would find. This House of Sky is a very interesting climb. The views of the rugged mountains in the background were incredible.

It took us a total of 13 hours to get into The Ghost, climb and get back to civilization. The Ghost lived up to it’s name as the Wild West, delivering on adventure, fun and great climbing! I highly recommend this classic climb.

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