Exploring the Ghost Wilderness region of the Don Getty Wildland park is an escape into beautiful backcountry. In this trip report I describe our day scrambling Phantom Crag mountain.
Scrambling Phantom Crag Mountain In The Ghost
There is a phrase that is commonly used in the social media world when chatting about getting into the beautiful Canadian Alpine and it is “The Mountains Are Calling” which of course is a quote from the great outdoor ambassador and writer John Muir. This trip for me was no exception to that quote and the week leading up to my Sunday adventure it was all I could think about.
Through emails and texts the days prior I worked out the details of what to bring and where to meet Sunday morning with my good friends Wyatt and Andrew but they wouldn’t tell me where we were headed. You can imagine my feelings not much different than Christmas Eve waiting to tear into that present hidden under the wrapping.
Driving to the Ghost Wilderness to Reach Phantom Crag
Sunday March 8th I was up at 6am, not to pack because of course I had that all dialed in the night before, but because I was amped to hit the road to the unknown destination. I got dressed and threw my pack over my shoulder and made my morning hike down to the institution known as Timmie’s for a morning coffee and meet Wyatt. Andrew rolled in just before 7am and we were in the car headed west to the mighty Canadian Rockies. The sky was blue and the sun was starting to tease us as it rose from the east with our eyes fixed on the mountains in front of us. Andrew changed course and started heading NW off the #1 highway towards my first hint of where we were to spend our day, the Ghost Wilderness region which is the last line of the mighty peaks and overlook the prairies. Shortly after they revealed at least the region we had to stop the car dead in its tracks on the highway, the sun broke the horizon as it rose and cast a beautiful glow on the peaks in front of us with the moon still high in the sky. To me this was an omen that our day would be epic.
After taking a moment to enjoy the view we jumped back in the car and continued to roll down the highway. Shortly after the adventure hit the back roads and the cattle gate rolling into the Ghost Wilderness region. Andrew’s little car attacked the back roads with the same excitement we were feeling and navigated the route just fine. The road eventually winded along and hit the washed out flood plain of the Ghost River and bounced and rolled along the river bottom that with a large snow pack year would have been much more difficult to drive with high runoff. As time passed a large peak to our left continued to become more prominent on my sight line and at this time the boys finally let me in our destination, we would be climbing Phantom Crag or also known as Devil’s Fang.
Wyatt did all the research on this objective and although not the largest at 2233m summit, it offered a difficult climb in return with magnificent views and challenging winter conditions. Another thing we also enjoy the more off the beaten path climbs and this fit that requirement. We drove a short while longer to finally reach a point where we had to cross the river, this would not be an option with the car so it appeared we were at what would be our trailhead for the day.
We unloaded all our gear and threw our packs on as it was time to begin our climb, first challenge, how do we cross the creek. We found a bunch of dead logs nearby and made a makes shift bridge to get us across the river as nobody wants to start out on a mountain summit with wet feet. After a few minutes our bridge was built, we were across and on our way to the first main drainage gully that would be our entrance to the summit route.
Scrambling Phantom Crag Mountain
For our trip and the route we selected to scramble our beta was derived by the incredible detail that Vern Dewit puts in his website at Explor8ion . I highly reccomend checking it out for any scrambles in the Canadian rockies.
As we steadily climbed over and around the rocks and boulders of the drainage we hoped just out and walked along climbers left on stable ground to make our ascent a bit easier. After about an hour we hit a large rock face that might be fun on hot dry summer rock as a climb but wasn’t an option in winter conditions. We chose to bypass it to climbers left and make our way through the forest and have a bit of bushwhack. It wasn’t overly challenging but the steady ascent with deep snow as I post holed my way up got the cardio going.
We snaked our way upwards and then met a small rock band with some class 4 moves that required a bit of searching for weaknesses in the route. We built a nice big cairn where we found a good path and continued our way further up the forest working back to climber’s right for the large scree slope we could see beyond the tree line. After probably another hour we were out of the trees and in open rocky terrain with the first major objective up above us, the large curtain wall of rock rising skyward. We took a nice break here after 3 hours of steady moving and enjoyed what we had accomplished so far.
A small rest and the usual nourishment of a Clif Bar and we were on our way to the Curtain Wall and about 30 minutes passed before it was upon us. This fortress like rising wall was the last defending barrier that would keep most hikers from attaining a summit and at its base we soon saw why. It rose like straight up and we then knew our climb changed from a scramble to a climb. I saw a weakness at the first spot we got to so I said I would give it an attempt only managing to make it about 20 feet up the face to only be stopped by a small snow cornice that formed on the next pitch. Andrew stayed with me and Wyatt said he would traverse to climbers left to find a crack that he had read some beta on when planning our trip. Andrew guided my steps as I down climbed and soon I was back on the snow and we could hear Wyatt shouting back that our way up was found.
We traversed our way to him and rounded that last rock to see a massive crack working its way up the wall, this was our spot. I once again said I would give it a go and up I went wedging myself in the crack and working my way up to the top of the crack. This is where I was stopped, at the top a cornice blocked the crack and the only option was to the left onto a small flat spot covered in snow and ice fully exposed off the cliff.
The Crux Scrambling Phantom Crag Summit
With my pack on I couldn’t make it and felt unstable, thus a downclimb and a discussion back on the ridge to figure out a plan with the boys. This was the crux and hardest part, we knew we had to try as after this challenge it was to be only class 4 objectives above. Wyatt stepped up and figured if he dropped his pack he would have better mobility and balance to make the last move onto the ice ridge. Up he went, of course with rope in mouth as we laughed.He bravely and confidently shimmed over the edge and out of site at the top of the crack.
He hollered back down to us and he was safe into the snow above where he dropped the rope back down after securing it for us to use as a fixed climbing aid. I made my way to the top of the crack and with the other end of the rope hauled our packs up one by one into the snow above and then Wyatt pulled them the rest of the way up. Once all the packs were up I shimmied onto the ice searching for anything that felt solid and made it to the snow that then allowed me to make it up to Wyatt 30 feet further up.
Now Andrew’s turn to get past the crux, he worked his way to the top of the crack and he just rolled over onto the ridge about to work to the firmer snow when his foot slipped. Wyatt and I calmly spoke to Andrew as he sprawled out creating any friction to the ground his body could muster, our voices meant to assure and guide him as calm rules on the mountain and fear must be overcome. He slowly found confidence under his feet on some frozen rock and pushed his way up into the snow and joined us at the next wall where we secured all our packs and high fived each other, damn beating the terrain and fears is a great feeling.
The next block of the curtain wall we smiled at after doing that low 5th class move, most likely a 5.4, was behind us. We traversed left and found a nice line up the rock that had a bit of exposed class 4 climb that went up for about 30 feet and had us on the last scree slope of the saddle between the summit and false summit. The summit block stood magnificently to our left and was within reach and also hitting the saddle was the first chance we got to soak up the sun and warm up as climbing a northwest face kept us in the dark which was actually best keeping from ice forming on our climbing route. We basked in the heat and had some snacks, guzzled water, dried gear in the sun and got some beautiful views. We were about 5 hours into our climb at this point and needed to make the last push up the 75 feet up the summit block and what we had worked so hard for. The summit block was like this large rectangle plopped down on the top of a mountain standing boldly above all around it. We were ready to climb but as we looked back Wyatt was already gone attacking the summit block like a summit addict and in no time was out of sight and knew he made it from the hoots and hollers of joy echoed down to us. I immediately made my push for the block and found it to be a challenge to climb the last push but the rock created good holds and nice ledges for footing, definitely high exposure and consequence if you were to fall but the rock gripped with confidence. I made the summit!!!
The summit views were spectacular and worth all the effort, approximately 5hrs to the peak with about 850 meters elevation gain and roughly 3.5km as a crow flies. We did our tour of this massive summit which was like nothing else I had been on before, it was like a big plateau affording us the room to explore and enjoy a great 360 degree view of the region. To the west we could see magnificent Lake Minnewanka snake along and I really enjoyed seeing Mount Inglismaldie towering at the end of the lake as Wyatt and I enjoyed success on that peak the previous October.
To the east we could clearly see the artificial giants of the Calgary skyline as the expanse of the Alberta prairies unfolded from the feet of the Rockies. To the north Black Rock Mountain stood all alone and there is apparently a fire lookout hut on the summit that would make a cool overnight bivy spot. To the northwest was the fellow that caught our eye, Devils Head peak, this is penciled into out futures for sure.
I made my way to the summit cairn and moved the rocks to find the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) register and opened up the tube that protects the journal. Upon the pages I only read through 4 entries since 2008 and was such a great feeling to be only the 5th entry in 7 years, our names penciled down with pride and satisfaction. For such a beautiful place I’m surprised more people aren’t scrambling Phantom Crag Mountain.
There is also another cool feature on this summit but that is for you to find out on your own, we climb not for only the thrill and adventure but to explore the often never seen.
The Descent after Scrambling Phantom Crag
It was now time to make our way back down as the wind gusts were starting to hit some very high speeds and we had to time our descent moves down the summit block as to ensure we weren’t blown off our holds. We quickly got to our packs on the saddle, had another quick meal and loaded up for the downclimb. We made our way down the first wall and easily navigated to where we earlier had fixed the rope to climb the crux when scrambling phantom crag mountain via this route.
The previous summit party had left an anchor in place here of which Wyatt added another for a margin of safety and then strung out his 70m rope affording us 35m of fun and easy rappel back down the crack. I hooked up my belay device first and with a big smile on my face rapped backwards and downwards through the slope and off down the crack, nothing like 3 minutes of work to get down what took exponentially more to get up. We each took our turns and made it all down to the long scree slope that would take us to the drainage gully, we made very short work of this section and in no time were down to the spot where we exited the treeline.
I chatted with the guys and didn’t want to really bushwhack our way down through the forest and looking at the topography on my GPS felt we could stick with the drainage gully down further and faster. Now one note on this spot for winter, we had very little snowpack and the conditions were stable. In a typical winter this is a huge avalanche zone and the slopes all feed into this channel which could prove to be disastrous without proper awareness when scrambling phantom crag mountain.
So off we went plodding through the waist deep snow that eventually started to harden up. The kid in me of course said why can’t we slide and sure enough it turned into a laugh fest as we slid our way like a waterslide through the gully around each corner. We eventually hit the large cliff band that forced us to traverse back into the trees and navigate our way back into our path we took up the mountain.
From here is was just a matter of knocking off elevation through our original footsteps and hit the valley floor and soon after that the river. It was the end of the day so we happily just stomped right through the creek and to the car. Andrew quickly opened the trunk and awarded us with our victory beers, the taste was that of success only felt after a day like we had.
Successfully Scrambling Phantom Crag Mountain
We loaded up our our kit into the car and off we went with the darkness falling upon us with a 9hr roundtrip under our belts and about 7km total distance traveled, looking back at the dark silhouette of the summit it was now clear why it was nicknamed Devils Fang. Our route was set for a hot and big meal with more tasty beverages in Calgary where we would recount our day. Scrambling Phantom Crag mountain bonded friendships and our thankfulness of the beautiful Canadian Wilderness we are so privileged to be able to explore was mutual.
No matter what the adventure or challenge that is front of you just get outside and make tour best attempt. Nothing frees the mind and fills the soul better than time in the Canadian Outdoors. I can’t recommend scrambling Phantom Crag Mountain enough, such a fun route with amazing views.
Enjoy this Youtube video I created after Scrambling Phantom Crag Mountain