Ian's trip report - The Wraith. Classic climbing in the Ghost River Valley.
Located in the Ghost River Valley of Alberta, Canada - The Wraith is a classic route that should be on the tick list for any fan of traditional multipitch climbing. It goes at 5.10a, is 275 Meters long and takes a decent rack to 4”.
The original line was established by Chris Perry and Nigel Hellewell in June of 1977. In 1992 Trevor Jones, Joe Josephson and E. Trouillot established the alternate pitches that used 4 bolts on a 40 meter pitch to create a more direct line over cleaner and more compact rock.
As a fan of adventure climbing in the Ghost, The Wraith has been on my list for a number of years. However, even though I’ve climbed Bonanza twice, The Wraith remained undone.
Alberta experienced a drier than usual June and as a result I had a lot of days on the rock and after climbing Consolation I felt I was ready for a bigger challenge.
The stars aligned when two of my climbing partners both wanted to climb the route, the weather was clear and while my right shoulder is damaged I had tested it on some mid 10’s recently and was feeling confident the 10a pitch was achievable for me.
Climbing in threes isn’t always the greatest but if you are a photographer, and especially one with a new ultra-wide angle lens (Sony 10-18mm) to test, then climbing in threes provides the best photo opportunities.
After sorting out who was bringing what gear there were only two issues left to plan for:
- The Wraith is on a South facing cliff and the forecast was for 33 Celsius. Yes, that’s only 91 Fahrenheit, but for Canadian climbers that’s in the range we start to melt at.
- It is a classic route, is climbed frequently and there can be multiple parties vying for it on the same day. Climbing under another party in the Rockies is a great way to end up injured or killed by rock fall. So if you aren’t first then you probably won’t be climbing it at all that day.
Fortunately both problems had the same solution; get up early! That would both (hopefully) insure we were first and also set us up to finish the route before the route heated up.
We camped the night before, packed to a T, agreed on a fast breakfast and a 5:30 am wakeup (enforced by drill sergeant Adam).
Everything in the morning went to plan (Jolene even had cold coffee - talk about committed) and we were walking up the approach trail by 6:30.
The trail to the cliff base is a good one but it’s steep. After about 15 minutes of leading the charge up the hill my stomach began to complain it couldn’t digest at such a pace so I had to back off and let the younger folks lead the way.
Adam had climbed The Wraith before, so both Jolene and I figured he’d get us to the base of the route without much input from us. That was poor planning as a hung over Adam is also a forgetful one. He led us right to the route and... right on past it until the changing terrain seemed to indicate we were definitely not in the right place. After backtracking and some faffing around we were finally on the route. Adam took the first pitch and wasn’t even 15 meters off the ground before another party of climbers showed up. They were more than a little surprised to find us already on the route as they’d camped as close as you could to the route and were sure they had it in the bag.
They were friends of Jolene and she was teasing them about us scooping them. Over the years I’ve had a lot of different words exchanged at the base of a route but this was the funniest. The other party was from Quebec and the Quebecers have their own special idioms. Idioms that may not translate well into English.
The woman, who will remain nameless, put her hands on her hips, looked up at Adam, looked at her climbing partners and proclaimed “Ju know what? We got fucked in the ass!! We got fucked in the ass and now we have to climb somewhere else!!”.
The laughfest alone made the early wake-up and slog up the hill worthwhile.
Just to clear up any possible misunderstanding. That’s just the Quebecer way of stating they got screwed. Sounds hilarious if you aren’t used to hearing it but it’s not any ruder than the common English saying of “fucking the dog” as way of saying you are doing nothing.
For future reference. After you reach the cliff face look for the obvious cairn. If you miss that and reach the steep gully you have gone too far.
Here’s how the route broke down for us.
Pitch 1 - 5.9. The start is a bit indistinct. We started in a slightly manky flake system but I think it’s possible to climb directly to the ledge for easy but unprotected climbing. After the first ledge the climbing rapidly improves with good gear placements in the corner.
Pitch 2 - 5.9. Whether you do the original version or the alternate 2nd pitch you still get to experience the legendary move of the route - the arete!
Descend left from the belay and step up to the arete on good footholds and clip the bolt. Then pull a difficult and committing move up the arete then traverse left to easier ground.
This bolt was added after the first ascent so give a nod to Chris and Nigel for doing the very bold move unprotected on the first ascent.
Jolene is a strong climber and it took her a few tries to get the move, Adam also worked hard there. I thrashed around a bit and with regard for my injured shoulder I gave up and pulled the draw. Not happy about it but better that than further wrecking my shoulder and possible ruining the rest of the day. The moves up to the anchor are easy but it is fairly run out.
3rd Pitch - 5.10a. This pitch is a fun combo of bolts and gear. This was my lead and it went down clean and smooth. Felt like a small redemption after having to use aid on the previous pitch.
It is technical climbing and the moves are thin in places but despite its 10a rating it didn’t feel like the crux of the route to me.
In his guidebook, Andy Genereux states you could run pitches 2 and 3 together if using good double rope technique. Personally I wouldn’t advocate it as the chance for rope drag is high and pulling the thinner moves wouldn’t be very enjoyable with rope drag.
Pitch 4 - 5.8. The start is a bit tricky but overall it’s fairly mellow and has good gear. I seconded it in my Sportiva approach shoes.
Pitch 5 - 5.9. What an awesome pitch! To me this was the jewel of the route. It was made even better for Joleen as we chose to run the pitch 55 meters to the bolted belay that was added after the first ascent. This long sustained corner pitch eats up all sorts of gear and requires a wide range of technique to get through. If you do this then realize that leader for this pitch will also get the best climbing from the original 6th pitch.
Pitch 6 - 5.8. As we extended pitch 5, pitch 6 becomes primarily a transition pitch from the corner to the gully system that gains the top of the route. As it was my lead I lost out on some great moves, but gained a slightly easier time with the ropes by using the higher anchor station.
When you gain the gully look back down and you’ll see the famous “diving board” that is likely the most popular photo off of the climb. Due to rapidly rising temperature we chose to pass it up and continue up the cooler gully and finish the route.
Pitches 7 & 8 - 5.6. This was Adam’s lead and he was able to combine the two pitches and complete the route in one final push. This was made a bit easier as I’d built the anchor for pitch 6 quite high in the gully. I’d like to say it was good planning but I was simply trying to get out of the sun!
Topping out was simple. We drank what was left of our water, coiled the ropes, snapped a quick photo and headed to the Bonanza descent gully.
The descent was pretty much as awkward as I remembered but was a lot easier as this time I was in approach shoes and not in climbing shoes. (on the last ascent of Bonanza my climbing partner forgot my approach shoes at the base of the route)
If you have the old guidebook or an older topo the rap anchors have been upgraded. It’s an awkward down-climb (skiers left) to reach the wide ledge with the first ring bolts. There is some exposure in the down-climb so short roping less experienced climbers through the down-climb may be advised.
It’s 28M to the next rappel station, and the ledge is very small. It’s a great place to both use a prussic and have knots in the ends of your rope.
It’s about 45 meters to the ground from that station and a large portion of the rappel is free hanging. There is another rappel station but it is somewhat difficult to reach. So double ropes are highly recommended.
The trail back to valley bottom is easy to follow and takes a bit less than 30 minutes to get back to the parking area.
Great day on a great route with awesome people.
No drama, near misses or anything to report other than by pitch 4 it was getting pretty warm.
It was a hard choice in packing for the day on whether to bring enough water to stay hydrated, but move slower due to the weight, or to go light as possible in hopes of outrunning the worst of the heat. Given the strength and experience of our team I felt secure in going light. There certainly was a price to pay for that though as I drank about 5-6 litres before bedtime that night and still felt dehydrated the next day.
Another environmental factor in our favor was the near constant breeze. It kept us just cool enough to keep from breaking out into a full sweat.