On December 30, we drive to the South Ghost to attempt "Weathering Heights", a 3-pitch WI4 line. When we make it to the trailhead, it is absolutely freeeeezing - the wind is howling and we can barely get out of the car. Definitely too cold to climb! Another car pulls up and we have a chat with Calgary locals. They hesitate for a while but finally state that "they're locals and they don't have to do this" (i.e. suffer the unbearable cold). Hmmm, after all, we're locals too (at least for this season) and we can come back another day when it is not as miserable. We give up and drive to the Waiparous Creek area to scope out the approach to the Waiparous climbs (Hydrophobia and others). We have a glimpse of "Hydrophobia" and "The Sorcerer" from the 4x4 road. "Hydro" looks awesome!

Over New Year, an arctic front moves in and settles for a week. After a week of yoga and coffee, we're back in the Ghost, itching to climb. We decide to try "Weathering Heights" again. After a long walk to the climb (1.5 hours - the guidebook says half way up the canyon; it's a lot further than that), we arrive at the base only to discover that it is not formed. The bottom 15 meters or so are mostly dry and there does not seem to have any rock pro options. The climb across the canyon from "Weathering Heights", "Anorexia Nervosa" is unbelievably fat (compared to photos in guidebooks). We give that a try but it's freezing cold (still) and the ice is extremely brittle. A real nightmare! After 10 meters of climbing, Eric's fingers and toes are frozen. He cuts an Abalakov and raps down.

A day of rest later, we're back in the South Ghost again, this time for a two-day trip. We have not been climbing in a while and we're getting really anxious to get on anything. This time, we get stuck in the first snow drift, going onto the dike… 20 minutes of digging, get the jeep to move back a couple of meters, only to get stuck again. More digging and another try and we're out, finally. The digging is painful but we're treated to a beautiful (Ghost-like) sunrise! We then get around the drift to the right (as we should have from the start, but we always bump the frame on that section so we thought we'd try the drift).

After all this digging, it's already quite late, so we opt for "Malignant Mushroom", a beautiful pitch with a short approach (40 minutes), just above the parking area at Devil's Gap. Fun climbing on technical mushrooms and virgin ice. The pillar is dripping badly on the left side, so Eric picks a route from right to left, in a slight diagonal. It is drier than the rest, but he still gets soaked leading it. I get soaked even worse following it after the sun starts warming the climb a bit. A great pitch. Highly recommended.

We decide to walk off instead of rapping from the bolted anchor to avoid getting even wetter. The walk off is OK but a bit longer than we thought, and the terrain is sometimes uncomfortable (steep scree with shallow snow cover) and a bit avalanche prone. Not too much snow that day though, but it's probably better to rap off. Back at the car, we set up camp. After an early dinner, we hit the sack.

The mild weather is finally here. It is really warm and to our surprise, it does not even freeze overnight. That morning, we get up before sunrise to go climb "Wicked Wanda". We knew there was a large ACC group camped at the bottom of the big hill for an ice camp, so we wanted to be sure to beat them to it. After a slow breakfast, we hike up to the climb (allow 50 minutes), which is unfortunately extremely wet. There is an actual stream of water running down the left side and the normal fixed belay in the cave is under heavy rain. The only option would be to belay on the right, below a large ice umbrella (4 to 5 ft diameter) at the top. Not sure about the stability of that thing in these temperatures though. Besides, the only sane option for the second pitch is a line of wet icicles just left of center, which don't look like they're going to offer much pro… hmmm. We decide to be reasonable and not tempt fate. We would not have climbed under hanging features in these temps in Ouray, so we should not do it here either, where help is a lot further away. Good looking climb though - we will be back.

Back at the car, we pack the tent and drive home, a bit disappointed but happy about "Malignant Mushroom", a really great climb. We help a couple of seemingly clueless climbers stuck in the monster snow drift at the top of the hill. They went into it instead of driving around following the dry track as indicated in the guidebook, have no shovels (!), and their 4x4 truck is only working as a 2x2 because of faulty hubs… we wish them good luck... Don't know how far they got that day!

Malignant Mushroom, South Ghost, AB

January 9, 2004 / WI5, 55 meters
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Panoramic views of the Ghost, taken from just south of the South Ghost junction.
 
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Horses grazing in the South Ghost.
 
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"Weathering Heights", sublimated away...
 
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"Anorexia Nervosa" in extremely fat conditions.
 
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Gorgeous sunrise (and digging) in the South Ghost.
 
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Views across the Ghost Valley from "Wicked Wanda"; "Malignant Mushroom" is visible in the center of the picture.
 
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"Malignant Mushroom" from across Devil's Gap.

 
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The same from the First Ghost Lake.
 
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Starting up Malignant Mushroom.
 
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Going up the initial curtain.
 
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In the steeps.
 
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Just a beautiful pitch.
 
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Views toward the Ghost Lakes and Banff from the walk off.
 
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Our camp near the park boundary.
 
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Aquarius and the Recital Hall, seen from near Wicked Wanda.
 
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Wicked Wanda.
(high res. images are about 300KB)