Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ghost Valley

Trip Dates: November 2006 to Present

The Ghost Valley is a very special place.  Not only is it basically the backyard for my workplace, but it is also a place that is filled with legends and lore that date back centuries!  The Ghost Valley is a world famous rock and ice climbing destination.  I am not a climber, but I have been fortunate enough to have spent time there both with work and without, and it's a place I hope to continue to frequent in the future.  I have written about the Ghost in previous posts (see Hoodoo Hall and Black Rock Mountain), but never in as much detail as you will find here.  

The Ghost Valley is located within the Ghost Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ), formerly known as Forest Land Use Zones (FLUZ).  The Ghost PLUZ is an area of 1,500 square kilometers and was established in the spring of 2006.  It is one of 19 PLUZs within the province of Alberta.  The Ghost PLUZ is situated beside Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park and Banff National Park, and is close to the Ghost River Wilderness Area.  

The Ghost PLUZ and surrounding parks
As mentioned above, this area of the province is rich with history.  The first recorded visit was by Sir George Simpson, the governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, but had been used for many years by various First Nation tribes before European explorers arrived.  Kootenai warriors from British Columbia used Devil's Gap, a prominent valley between the peaks of Phantom Cragg and Orient Point as an entry point to the prairies to hunt bison.  The name "Ghost" was first recorded by Dr. James Hector, a surgeon on the Palliser Expedition.  The name was in reference to a Stoney legend that talks of ghosts walking along the river collecting the skulls of defeated warriors after doing battle with the Cree.  The legend continues, saying that these ghosts took the skulls and hid them on the steep walls of nearby Devil's Head.  Other legends state that First Nations people in the area named the mountain Devil's Head out of fear and would make offerings on its ledges to appease its spirit.  Prominent flat-topped mountains that resemble large heads from a distance, such as Devil's Head, were believed to be inhabited by spirits.  Reports also exist that there are numerous Indian graves located along the banks of the Ghost River.  Sir James Hector even mentions that the woods on the top of Deadman Hill, located between the Ghost and Bow Rivers, are actually one big burial ground.

Devil's Head was also useful as a signpost.  First Nations and Europeans alike used highly visible mountains with unique features as a means of navigation.  Prior to the more southerly Bow River Valley being used as the preferred access to the Rocky Mountains, Devil's Gap and the Ghost Valley were the main channels to Lake Minnewanka and the Banff area.  As you can see, the names of rivers, mountains, and valleys in the area all pay homage to the "Ghost" name.  Today that tradition continues with local climbers.  Beowulf, Dead Bird, Phantom Falls, Silver-Tongued Devil, and Werewolf Waltz are but a short list of popular rock and ice climbs within the area that stick to the ghostly theme!

The Ghost Valley with some of the prominent features highlighted
The following pictures are a collection from the times I have spent in and around the valley.  Some of the pictures were taken while I was working and others are from personal trips with good friends.  I would highly recommend exploring the Ghost Valley and surrounding wilderness on your own sometime, if you haven't already done so.  If you haven't been there yet, I hope the pictures below will inspire you to see it in person.  

A perfect day to explore the Ghost Valley is when eerie clouds shroud the peaks, giving them a ghostly appearance
Phantom Cragg
We spotted these bear claw markings on this Poplar Tree while hiking with the students
Due to their height above the ground we concluded they were probably Black Bear markings
Devil's Gap with Phantom Cragg in the background.  We were hiking up to a popular ice climb known as Wicked Wanda.  This was in June so it would just be a waterfall today, no ice.
Getting a little wet beneath the falls
When frozen this becomes Wicked Wanda!
The Ghost River flowing through Devil's Gap
A ghostly mountain silhouette
Along the Trans-Alta Road into the Ghost Valley are a few cut-blocks.  Someone with a chainsaw and some artistic ability carved this totem pole and left it amongst the deadfall.
We found this Black Bear track in the sandy soil along a flooded Ghost River in 2012
A flooded Ghost River flows through the Ghost Valley with Phantom Cragg in the background
Orient Point
Devil's Gap with Orient Point on the left and Phantom Cragg on the right
Black Rock Mountain (background) and Sleeping Mole Mountain (foreground)
Tiger Lily
This tree has an enormous burl.  A burl is a deformity caused by some sort of stress, like an injury, virus, or fungus.
Christine, Jess, and I spent a November afternoon doing some exploring in the Ghost Valley.  We stopped and had lunch at the Black Rock campground.
Jess and Chris with the two dogs, Murphy and Rome
Chris and I in the Ghost Valley
A piece of debris likely from the upstream dam.  It probably washed down here when the river was in flood during the spring.  It looks like a set of stairs.
Phantom Cragg with a light dusting of snow
Murphy trying to escape from the back of the Jeep
In December of 2012 a group of us decided it would be a lot of fun to cut down our own Christmas Trees.  After obtaining the necessary permits, we headed to the Ghost and began tree hunting.  We had a great afternoon outside and we all hoped that it'll become a yearly tradition.  Here Murphy and Rome are fighting over a stick.
The Christmas Tree hunters including extremely thin versions of Dan and Nath!
Christine's first time using a chainsaw
Cutting down our Christmas Tree
Ryan and his tree 
Jess cutting down their tree
Ashley's turn
Ryan and Ashley
Ben and Jess 
The tree fits perfectly in our living room
I wrote a brief story for the Calgary Guardian that outlines how to harvest your own tree if you've never done it before.  The story, titled The Search for the Perfect Tree, was published on their blog in late November 2014.

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