Ghostly Adventures on Mt. Costigan | Mountain Moxie

Ghostly Adventures on Mt. Costigan

Created: 02/10/2016 - 19:47
View of Mt. Costigan

Gen Kenny tells the tale of summit searching in the Ghost River Valley.

Compared to Devilʼs Head Mountain, Mt Costiganʼs gradual slopes don't catch the eye quite as much, but it is one of the defining peaks of the Ghost River area and is 183 meters higher than its more recognizable neighbor.

Mt. Costigan is more frequently visited by ice climbers than anyone else. Some of the classic ice climbing routes that are nestled in the drainages of Mt. Costigan include This House of Skye, Rainbow Serpent, French Technique, and Going to the Sun Highway.

As a frequent winter visitor of the Ghost Wilderness Area, Ian has spent a fair bit of time, both with binoculars and on Google earth, checking out the North Face of Mt.Costigan looking for possible new ice climbing routes. Barry Blanchard, a Canadian living legend of the climbing world, established the classic route 'Going To The Sun Highway'. It is located in a feeder gully that joins the main drainage from the North Costigan face.

Ian first explored the drainage prior to it being frozen and concluded that negotiating around the water filled slot canyon was not the most fun!  Exploring later in the winter the creek was mostly frozen and was now a pleasant ice walk instead of a nasty bush whack.

View of Mt. Costigan from Devil's Head

Summer View of Mt. Costigan from Devil's Head.

The previous winter I had climbed This House Of Skye with Ian and we considered the possibility of continuing on to Mt. Costigan E3.  Last summer I scrambled to the summit of Devilʼs Head and the view of Mt. Costigan was beautiful and intriguing. Was there a scramble route up that beautiful mountain? It was a thought I kept coming back to.

in late January, Ian made his way to the bowl at the base of the north face of Mt. Costigan, lured by the possibility of new ice routes. He then suggested we go explore the possibility of a scramble route to the summit of Mt.Costigan via the North drainage. He didn't have to try hard to convince me!

We looked at photos on line, referred back to pictures I had taken from the summit of Devilʼs Head, studied topographic maps, and spun images from Google Earth every which way. We managed to convince ourselves that it was possible that a route might reveal itself. We held hope that once on the ridge, the south side would present a slightly gentler slope from which we could ascend.

Now, I must mention to anyone thinking of following in our foot steps that they must first get to the drainage outlet! The “road” to get there is only accessible in winter for the last few kilometers. In addition, several river crossings need to be made, some of which have really big, nasty ice shelves. A lifted 4 x 4 vehicle and driving expertise a must! I wouldn't even consider taking my stock 4Runner in there in those conditions!


Some of the river crossings can be rather challenging.  Yes, this is on the government approved trail and is not in fish habitat.

We set out on a Sunday morning. The weather looked promising, with partly cloudy skies and minus single digit high. We made it to the drainage outlet by just past 8 am. By 8:30, right after the sun rose, we were on our way.

The first few hundred meters up the drainage were a walk, but we soon got to the icy part, and donned our crampons. Not too long after that, the slopes on either side of us became walls, and the frozen waters wound their way up the canyon. We encountered several small frozen ice falls which we easily negotiated in ten moves or less for the most part.

From time to time, the canyon would open up, and in one instance the iced area created a slightly sloped ice rink, whispering for us to play a game of shinny.

Gen walking up the frozen stream.

The canyon continued for about 3 kilometers. One section required us to travel on the bank, high on the right side of the canyon, to avoid places where it narrowed and stronger water flow prevented a good freeze.

After about two-and-a-half hours, we had made our way up the canyon, around the moraine, and finally had the ascent line to the ridge in view. It seemed pretty easy and straight forward. There was very little snow on the slopes above, and avalanches were not a concern that day. Our route choice was easy, and after a little discussion we started up the scree slope; a 700 m high scree slog!

Scree Ascent

Scree Ascent Path.  Roughly 700 Meters of vertical between Gen and E2.5

Two cliff bands were negotiated. The first one, dark in color, was very easy. The second one, golden brown, was a bit more of a challenge, but by skirting to the left, an easy way up does present itself. If you have to do rock climbing moves, even just two, you're in the wrong spot! Make your way left until you find a way up that even a hiker could negotiate!

The scree was Rockies typical; blocky, loose, variable.

It was at about 150 m of elevation away from cresting the ridge that the East side of Mt. Costigan E2 came into full view. Expletives, several of them, escaped our lips! That ridge was imposing, rugged, jagged, bad-ass, nasty rock! Our hopes of finding a scramble ascent route took a hard hit, but we still held hope that weʼd see better terrain once we crested the ridge, so we pushed on.

We finally made the ridge at 1:30 pm. The sun was shining, the wind was light, and the views were magnificent! And the south side, on which we had placed our hopes of finding and ascent route, was vertiginous! A light spindrift was hanging in mid air along the rugged face, sparkling in the sun.

For all our efforts, we did not find a scramble route to the summit; only a beautiful awe inspiring scene. And that was more than enough.

View of Mt. Costigan E2

The stunning view of E2 and the cliffs that blocked our way to the summit ridge.

From the ridge we got a really good view of the towering E2 to one side, and the esthetic and more approachable E3 to the other, all the while standing on a small elevated position between the two that I named Costigan E2.5


Video of the view.

After eating my nuts and jelly beans and Ian inhaling his famous Black Bean energy brownies, we took one last look around before heading back down.

The way back was pleasant and the time passed quickly. Walking down the smooth frozen canyon creek walkway almost seemed like cheating! We made it back to Ian's Land Cruiser by 5:30; just as the sun set.

Although we didnʼt find a route to the summit, this exploration day was a very memorable one. Sometimes itʼs not about bagging a peak, but about stepping out of the beaten path in hopes of discovering new gems.

About Author

Gen.Kenny's picture
Genevieve Kenny
Gen is our assistant editor and one of our main gear testers; specializing in women specific gear and ultralight equipment. She is a summit seeker by any means! Good people and a well rounded skill-set acquired over the past several years have allowed her to quickly progress in her passion for mountaineering. She skis both back and front country, scrambles, ice and rock climbs as well. You can also find her exploring back roads with her 4x4 SUV on occasion. She and her cranky old black cat call Calgary home. Her playground is the Canadian Rockies.