Hot Chocolate in the Ghost – New Years 2017

Hot Chocolate in the Ghost – New Years 2017
January 8, 2017 Webmaster

The Canadian handshake starts with a firm grip; a strong push until the wheels start to slip, followed by release of pressure and throttle to allow the vehicle to roll back should get the vehicle rocking. Once the vehicle is rocking, it is only a matter of time before the vehicle breaks free. I pushed for a few more metres to make sure the vehicle was truly clear and the driver was hesitant to stop, but the blinking brake lights was thanks enough. 

I found it odd that two days into a four day Ghost trip, the first stuck car I had to push out was across the street from my house. It was also odd that I was in Calgary. Meghan and Charlie were still in the Ghost while Luc and I had headed to emerg. We had climbed the first section of This House of Sky that morning, and an errant piece of ice about the size of a dinner platter had fallen onto Luc’s shoulder, breaking both his climbing season and his clavicle (in order of importance according to Luc).

The trip was planned on the premise of simple. Charlie and I love New Year’s trips in the back-country, but booking a hut involves long-term planning and the cross country drives are often epic. We wanted to spend New Years in the back-country, with friends, without much fuss; “Hot Chocolate in the Ghost” was created. How hard can it be to make some hot chocolate?


Four climbers headed into the Ghost on Dec 29th, where we climbed Sunshine and had a very enjoyable evening in our ACC dome of protection. The next day we headed to THOS for what should have been an enjoyable ramble. Charlie and I had just finished the bottom section and were munching on snacks in the amphitheatre while I watched Meghan and Luc finish the last few pitches. Meghan was leading and didn’t have enough rope to make it to the anchor. Luc stepped in to give her enough slack where the rope knocked a lens from the top of the climb. Meghan called ice and I watched the piece of ice fall, not thinking much of it. I heard Luc make a noise that sounded like that piece of ice really hurt. I was hoping for an injury that was inconsequential if painful. That hope was dashed when Luc yelled up that he was pretty sure his clavicle was broken.

Charlie and I rapped down to Luc and Meghan. Luc has 12 years of EMT experience and Charlie is 4 months short of being a doctor, so I was free to avoid all medical stuff. Although I avoid all first aid, I was carrying a pretty good first-aid kit and a SPOT. I had a triangular bandage, naproxen and acetaminophen and we quickly had Luc drugged and buttoned down. Charlie had a pair of belay pants and then Luc was also a marsh mellow.

We then had the discussion “to push the button or not”. We had 5 hours of daylight, but a 400 m technical descent, followed by a 1 km walk followed by 5 km of brutal off-roading followed by a 1.5 hour drive to a hospital. Charlie had determined that Luc’s break was uncomplicated, and I can retrospectively say that Luc is an extremely tough guy. We decided to self-rescue because we would get cold waiting for a chopper and Luc wasn’t in a life-threatening situation. We would gauge our progress on the first section and if we were falling behind, hit the button.

Charlie and I had just taken the ACC Ice Rescue course with Sarah Hueniken, so we were set!


Five tandem rappels and six supervised lowers got us to the bottom of the climb in about 3.5 hours. The tandem rappels were slower, but worked better than lowers on steep terrain. Free-hanging lowers were very painful without direct support, but low angle stuff was just fine. We also used assisted lowers where we set-up the rappel, isolated both strands, used one end to lower Luc while Charlie would rappel a few meters behind him to guide him. Meghan would set-up and take down rappels where needed. Luc couldn’t turn his head to see where he was going and would occasionally be incapacitated due to the pain, but he would politely ask us to stop until the pain subsided and we would continue. Luc is a trooper.

As it turns out, the most painful part of the entire experience wasn’t the 11 assisted rappels, it wasn’t the 1 km walk out, it wasn’t the off-road driving where we bumped his broken arm over ice shelves and rocks for 5 km, it was the x-ray machine where the techs had to put Luc in very particular and uncomfortable position.

The doctors confirmed that today did in fact wreck Luc’s climbing season, which is a pretty big bummer to end 2016. I dropped Luc off at his home with his car before  I biked home at 1 am. I slept like a baby, which is more than I can say for Meghan, Charlie and the other 5 climbers who had driven out to the Ghost while Luc and I were doing errands in town.

While I was sleeping in my own bed, hurricane force winds had managed to uproot the dome tent and break a pole. The dome tent has poor tie down points with the most obvious option to attach guy lines directly to poles. Anyhow, all the heavy stuff around the base of the tent and the guy line didn’t prevent the tent from flipping at 3 am. The tie down point snapped the pole it was attached to. A hurried rescue effort ensued and apparently no one slept much after that, other than me. When I arrived back at camp the next morning, morale was a bit low. However, the group pulled it together, fixed the tent, moved it to a more sheltered spot and went climbing in the Valley of the Birds. The day was totally uneventful except for our next rescue.

As we were driving out near STD wall at the end of the day, a hunter had his thumb out. Apparently, they were parked about 10 km back at Margaret Lake in Waiparous, had gone far too far and couldn’t make it back to their vehicles in the impending snow storm. Their dogs were tired and bleeding and the hunters were not terribly coherent. They had seen car lights from Black Rock mountain and headed down to meet themselves some climbers. There were two people and 4 dogs. After a very long faff and the help of Al Hardy’s ACC crew, we managed to get Charlie and Meghan back to camp and fit the hunting party into my truck where I drove them out to Waiparous village. They apparently had a friend there who would then help them recover their trucks. I offered to drive them to their trucks, but after telling them the first bit of this story, they let me off the hook. The drive back into the Ghost with poor visibility was interesting, and I only got lost near camp, but I was back at the (now fixed) dome tent with plenty of time for New Year celebrations.

Apparently, the driving wasn’t that fearsome because Al Hardy and crew showed up, asking for their hot chocolate at 11:30pm. In the hunter faff, two bags got dropped and they didn’t notice until they were already out of the Ghost. After a refuel in Cochrane, they drove all the way back into the Ghost to find the bags (which they found), and since they were there anyhow, decided to stop in for New Years. They also had less trouble finding the camp site than I did. We were more than happy to share hot chocolate and champagne, which was the least we owed them for keeping us up until the real New Years.


I’m glad 2016 is over, it was a doozy. However, the problems 2016 threw at us could be handled, by climbing partners, by neighbours, by strangers. In the news, 2016 was the year that liberal society took a beating. Welcoming strangers, the responsibility to help those in need and looking out for our neighbours seemed to have become values of a bygone era. The 2016 trials in the Ghost have shown me that they have become more important than ever, and the tougher things get, the more important they get.

2017 was a new day and we (mostly) all headed to the Good, the Bad and the Ugly for what turned out to be a successful day of ice climbing (inclusive of some screaming barfies and cold). The absolute best part of the day was we had zero rescues.  

1 Comment

  1. Luc Fortin 7 years ago

    Thank you Matt, Charlie and Meghan for getting me out of there. I make a point of being in the mountains with well trained people. I sure felt thankful to be in their competent hands.

    I made a mistake. We were carrying rope coils and I should’ve dropped one or two coils. Meghan only needed 1-2 metres and I was on safe flat ground without an anchor. It was easier and faster to just move forward as she was done climbing. I never the heard the call of “ice” as it was windy. Lesson re-learned.

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