Phantom Crag Difficult Scramble

By Gerry Richardson

Posted on 5/22/2018 7:00 PM

Fit parties could do this in 8 hours from the bottom of the “Big Hill” to quote Cornelius of We must be “unfit” because we took considerably longer.
There were mitigating circumstances of course, high river levels,wet ,snowy, icy conditions and the occasional navigation errors extending our day. We weren’t complaining though as the
sun shone brightly winds were light and the temperatures remained moderate all day. Rather unusual for the Victoria Day weekend which in most years serves up cooler conditions
for hardy campers eager to kick off the season.

I haven’t been in the Ghost very often. Most of my trips have been in early spring to climb ice. Being a warm long weekend I wondered how rowdy it would be. News reports from previous years
seemed to paint the area as the “Wild West” lawless and loud. Every patch of suitable camping filled to capacity; fires blazing, coolers oveflowing with beer and 4x4s swarming
over the countryside.. Maybe it was the crisp night on Friday thinned the herds or the campers were still cocooned in their sleeping bags but it was a quiet uneventful drive there in Laura’s Jeep.
The road was in reasonable shape and we saw many regular cars at campsites right to the bottom of the “Big Hill”.

Very high water in the river. We elected to wade in right away. Strong currents with water levels running knee high or slightly higher. Once across we followed the vehicle track on the cobble flats as long
as possible moving to the trees for short stretches. Didn’t have to cross the river again. The canyon approach had flowing water so boulder hopping, dry sandbar walking and one snowbridge where the
canyon chokes got us to the waterfalls. We took the left cutoff mentioned in the Spectacular Mountains report which was cairned and scrambled up the wet headwall. A little unnerving but not too
slippery. The thoughts of downclimbing weren’t appealing so I hoped we would find Vern’s easy trail on the climber’s right. Looking over that direction we could see new flagging buoying our hopes
for the descent. A very pleasant staircase followed right up to the grassy slopes and snow covered scree.

Looking up as we ate lunch I expected a long slow climb. Actually it was an illusion. It didn’t take long at all to reach our snow traverse over to the low spot on the first cliff band. The 2m deep
snow formed a nice solid ramp up the gully. It was icy towards the top but easily mangable with crampons and ice axe. Yeah we aced the first difficult bit.. It looked easiest to follow the snow patches.
Turning climber’s left and across a dry wide edge got us to another easy snow ramp and on to the crux climb on the east end of the summit block. The crux photos from other reports look scary but really
the dry rock was fine. Everyone easily climbed the short 2m high slightly overhanging lip onto a ledge followed by the vertical 5m face with good solid hand and footholds. The summit plateau was
way wider and longer than I imagined. Very comfortable to hang out on indeed..

No summit register in the cannister as the previous party reported. After the usual summit cheers and photos we headed back down. No one used the rope I setup just in case. We retraced our steps and
carefully crossed the snow postholing as we went. Not that bad as it was only a short stretch. Normally I would relish quickstepping down snow but the scree was a far better option today. Another food and
drink break at our lunch spot and we headed back down the stream bed until we arrived at the first waterfall. A wrong guess to go left into the trees hoping to find the easy path had us bushwacking looking for easier options .
After a short rap down a slabby cliff we peered over the canyon rim. No not my cup of tea. Downclimbing wet rock by backtracking to our ascent route would be less risky.
Heading back along the lower ledge I hoped we wouldn’t have to climb back up. Fortunately we came out under the first waterfall so worst case we could wander over to the cliff band skiers right and
downclimb. Luckily we spotted flagging on the trees skiers left and there it was a very well worn trail right along the base of the canyon to the bottom of the falls. The easiest way down would be
right at the first falls downclimb easy rock and swing back left across the top of the second falls to take the trail. An easier ascent route too no doubt.

The return trip along the river seemed shorter and as we arrived at the ford we were greeted by gunfire, buzzing chainsaws and gridlock as arriving campers clogged the road by the waters edge.
An instant tent city. had sprung up since we left in the morning. The news reports might be more accurate than I thought. We expected a sheriff and deputies to keep law and order but the pony express hadn’t reached the fort yet .
Our drive out was uneventful and approaching vehicles seemed to be driving decently. How would I describe our trip. It was Good Bad and Ugly. Predominately good though. And we took the stairs when we could.
Thanks to Laura for expertly driving us there and back, Andrew for assisting with the climbs and river crossing.
A great day to be out and about with very fine friendly companions.

Club trip information and links.