Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Ghost - Orient Point and Valley of the Birds

The driving access to the North Ghost opened this weekend. To celebrate, we set up camp at the bottom of the Big Hill and spent two days ice climbing. Kyle and I met Connor early Saturday morning to make our way into the Ghost with the trailer. We had to chain up for a few icy hills on the TransAlta road but made it in without any issue. We dropped the trailer then drove to Orient Point where we were able to get Kyle's truck all the way to the top of the road. The drive was an experience on its own. That was the steepest road I have every been on as a passenger! Kyle made it seem easy but it was exciting.
Orient Point ice (L to R: The Joker, Hooker, Candle in the Wind, Candlestick Maker)
 The approach from the trailhead wasn't very long and soon we were looking up at the ice climbs above. Things seem to be forming well this year. Even the Real Big Drip pillar has touched down and the two sections are connected - I have seen climbers posting about getting on the pillar over the weekend! Hiding to climbers right was Hidden Dragon which was in great shape. Connor eagerly took the lead and Kyle and I followed. Starting the season with steep WI4 may not have been the best idea as I struggled to remember what the heck ice climbing was and not fall off due to terrible technique. With a bit of coaxing and encouragement from Kyle, I found my rhythm and shook off the screaming barfies. We climbed the route in two 60 metre pitches and I was feeling way more confident by the time we arrived at the bottom of Candlestick Maker.
Hidden Dragon from the approach
Connor on Hidden Dragon
Hidden Dragon
We walked up to Candlestick Maker to check it out, but found it to be very wet. Neither Kyle or Connor were happy leading it so we ate some lunch before walking over to climb the Joker instead. The upper pitches of CSM also looked thin and would require bold climbing. Save that one for next time and better conditions!
Approaching Candlestick Maker
Candlestick Maker WI 5 - 1st pitch (big pillar)
The Joker was in great shape and we made quick work of the single pitch of WI 3. It was still early so we set up a top rope on the approach ice lower down and ran a few laps before heading back to the car. It had started to snow pretty hard and the descent down the 4x4 road back to the valley was quite exciting in the truck!
Kyle messing around
Back at camp we met up with the rest of the group. Both parties of 2 had climbed This House of Sky and found it to be in good shape and very busy! I was surprised how many people were in the Ghost this weekend, there was lots of vehicle traffic heading in and out all evening. We had a big bonfire and sat around swapping stories before bed. The next morning, we all packed up and made our way into the Valley of the Birds as 3 separate parties.
Camp at the bottom of the big hill
Driving into the North Ghost was very straightforward with minimal snow on the ground and easy river crossings. We arrived at the Valley of the Birds after 30 minutes of driving from our camp at the bottom of the Big Hill. The initial section of approach ice was in so we started up towards the climbs. We encountered a few dry steps that usually have more ice but were able to make our way up them by climbing logs with our ice tools, lumberjack style. The ice was thin over some of the pools so we took our time and walked carefully to avoid breaking through.
Valley of the Birds log climbing
Carefully avoiding pools in the Valley of the Birds
Log climbing round 2
We passed Deadbird which was in good shape. Just around the corner was another log to climb. Above that, we could see the approach ice to Yellow Bird. It looked fat but we had a very thin smear of ice separating us from the bottom of the route. The ice made horrible cracking noises as Connor attempted to cross. Then Kyle gave it a go and was successful at stepping across and onto the thin smear. Climbing lightly he made it up the short step. He put Connor on belay. Connor carefully stepped out towards the small waterfall and CRACK! he fell into the pool. Kyle caught him with the rope and he supported himself with his arms, but still went in up to his waist and didn't touch the bottom of the deep pool. He hauled himself out and was somehow mostly dry except for his feet. The waterproof pants had done their job. Kyle rappelled back to us and we deliberated about what to do. Connor felt that he was dry enough and wanted to go climb. We retreated to Deadbird and climbed that as an alternate access to Yellow Bird.
Getting Kyle down over the pool
Connor's swimming pool
Another party was on Yellow Bird so we rappelled down the approach ice to get back into the valley. Our plan was to continue our journey up the ravine towards Seagull. As we set up for the climb, we mentioned to Jeff and Paul that we didn't think they could make it up the creek the way we had tried and offered to buy them beer if they could do it. Antics ensued involving complicated pulley systems, Paul falling in the water and some log climbing. They claim they made it, but we weren't around to witness their success. I want pictures before we hand over any beer!
Paul and Jeff will do anything when there is beer on the line - bringing up the secret weapon for pool crossing
The ice got thinner as we continued up the creek. The Seagull was not climbable so we kept going until we reached an open pool below a slippery water runnel. Kyle filled the pool with rocks so he could cross and hauled himself up the runnel using some tricksy mixed moves. Fortunately I didn't have to repeat them as he threw down a rope that I used to pull myself up. Connor took the high road around the obstacle and found a good route above the cliff band that we used to get down at the end of the day. We got to Albatross which was climbable, yay!. The next small step did not look passable so this is where we stopped. We climbed a 60 m pitch up Albatross to the bolts and it was in good shape. We were able to get a visual of the Eagle which looks well formed and terrifying. By this time, it was getting late so we rappelled down and started back down the canyon. We had spent most of the day approaching and adventuring and we still had to drive out!
Rappelling the approach ice of Valley of the Birds