The Sorcerer, Ghost Region, Alberta

By: Eric Ponslet | Climbers: Eric Ponslet, Lucie Parietti |Trip Dates: December 23, 2003

Photo: Eric Ponslet

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The Sorcerer was one of our dream climbs. Ever since Lucie read about it in a Rock & Ice magazine the year we started ice climbing, she kept raving about it. And I have to admit, the real thing is even better... The Sorcerer is one of the best WI5 lines anywhere - a gorgeous climb, long and steep in a remarkable setting. It sits high in a cirque surrounded by golden Dolomite-like walls in the North Ghost Region.

After climbing in the Valley of the Birds, we hiked out early to set up camp near the start of the approach to The Sorcerer. We went to scope out the approach first. It followed packed tracks along an old roadbed, and looked good. We then found a nice camp spot on the river bed and set up the tent on a smooth patch of fine river gravel, some distance away from a kitchen area with a fire ring. We used the old Preying Mantis (an odd-looking tent made by Quest) - boy is this thing complicated even with color-coded poles! But it is comfy once erected. We found a stash of old 2x4 pieces nearby that we used for firewood. This was only the second time ever we have a fire while camping. This time we're burning ugly waste wood though, and our ring will be washed away by the river in the spring, so this was a near-zero-impact fire - the way they should be (or not be at all).

The night was relatively mild, but the fire felt good nonetheless. For dinner, we had three cans of beans with sausage, usually a pretty safe bet, but this one was BAD! I can't believe how much sugar they put in this crap. We rinsed it down with a bit of Tequila… it helped!

After a long night (the longest of the year) of sleep and a hearty breakfast, we left camp 30 minutes before sunrise. The approach to the climb was a pleasant and easy 90 minutes hike. Following a cut-line to the first Johnson Lake, we then contoured the lake and hiked through steep timber to reach the Sorcerer Cirque. We rested for quite a while at the base of the climb, as Eric was feeling a bit down (he would be coming down with the flu a couple of days later), then finally decided to go for it. We could always rap down if Eric did not feel up to it.

We climbed The Sorcerer in 5 pitches. The first pitch is short and pretty easy (about 30m) and leads to a belay and an ice anchor on the left. The second pitch follows a short WI4 pillar to easier terrain, passing a bolted rappel anchor where the gully narrows. From there, the standard route goes up right to a large cave halfway up the upper curtain, and then traverses left out of the cave and up the final curtain. Eric was feeling better at this point so we decided to take a more direct and nicer line up the left side. That line follows a shallow depression on vertical ice for two pitches, with a few overhanging features thrown in for added entertainment. The downside of that choice was the difficulty in finding a protected belay before the last pitch.

Lucie led a 3rd pitch (WI3) to a small cave on the left side, at the base of the steep curtain. The two 35-meter pitches of WI5 from here to the top were amazing - steep and on good ice, some of the hardest sustained climbing we've done. Eric had a hard time finding a protected belay at the end of the 4th pitch. Initially traversing to the left hoping to find good ice to establish a belay anchor, he found chandelier ice instead. He finally traversed a few meters to the right and chopped a stance below a small overhang that would offer protection from falling ice on the next pitch. Another steep WI5 pitch led to the top of the wall.

Three full 60m rappels brought us down. We found single Abalokov anchors already in place for the top two, but we added a backup to each. The third anchor was the bolted anchor located on the cleft on the left where the gully narrows. We were back down just before dark and made our way back to the jeep by headlamp. There was another party camped right at the parking area that would probably attempt the climb the next day. We went back to our camp on the river bed, dismantled the tent and took off. A long day but one of the very best climbs we've ever done!

Editor's Note: More information can be found on the authors' web site.