On a very warm Friday, May 25, 2018, I finally got to ascend a front-range peak in the Ghost Wilderness that I've had on my radar for many years already - Orient Point. Why has it been on my "to-do" list so long? Simple! I've been hearing some pretty great things about it from friends and acquaintances over the years. It started for me, when Kerry Vizbar posted a report on the old RMBooks forum back in 2009. Raf and Sonny tried to follow his route a few years later but ended up on a difficult sounding route up the most westerly south ridge instead. Since then I've followed trip reports almost every year - usually in Spring - but it simply hasn't worked out for me. In 2017, Phil and Cornelius went up a slightly different route than I'd heard of before and Phil enjoyed it so much, he offered to repeat it with me this Spring. The stars finally aligned as I got a Friday off work on a perfect day and I headed off to the Ghost Wilderness to see what all the fuss was about.
There are two different approaches to the start of the main ATV / horse trails leading towards Orient Point from the Ghost River. See the map below;
[The different driving approaches to the random campsite before the ATV / Horse trail approach. ++]
As you can see on the map above, even though it seems like the obvious preference for the driving approach would be to drive all the way to the random campsite at center bottom, it's not quite that straightforward. Firstly, the drive is quite a bit longer with that option. It's also much sketchier - especially if you're not a regular off-road driver like myself. Since Phil and Cornelius had done the more direct approach before, we decided to try the longer driving approach this time. We reasoned that at the very least it saved us a bunch of river crossings, since the Ghost River is very braided at the direct crossing and Phil remembered it being quite high at the end of the day.
Driving towards the river, down the infamous "Big Hill" at the end of the Ghost Valley Road, I was a bit nervous to see quite a bit of water in a narrower and faster river channel than I remembered from previous trips across it. I briefly consulted a guy pulling his camper out of the area next to the river (how the heck do people pull huge campers up / down that road?!) and he assured me that many stock trucks had driven across already that week and that the water levels in the river hadn't been dramatically changing over the days he was camped there. There was nothing to do but drive across at that point! I drove a bit too quickly into the current and splashed water over the hood of my Tacoma but made it through to the other side with no other issues. I resolved to go a bit slower on return - a common rookie mistake that can flood the engine is driving through water too fast. You want enough speed to carry through, but not so much that you create a huge wave that washes back over your hood.
After the river crossing we relaxed a bit and headed towards the start of our hike along a very nice road / track on the gravel flats just west of the main river. Of course, this excellent track didn't last long. As we headed back towards the river channel, the track slowly deteriorated until we were looking at a very indistinct set of tire tracks heading back into the many flowing river channels of the now-braided Ghost River. This was unexpected. We were expecting a rough 4x4 track alongside the river to the campsite, not one heading right through the river again!
[On the excellent approach track just after the river crossing with Orient Point looming above the truck. ++]
We started following the faint 4x4 track through the riverbed - this time the river was very braided and the flow was much shallower and easier to drive through than the single channel at the bottom of the big hill. At first we could easily ascertain the correct route and pick up hints of tracks here and there, but eventually we found ourselves driving right down a river channel, in the water and unable to clearly find a straightforward path. We had a decision to make. We knew we were only about 1km from the campsite with easy hiking alongside the river on its SW bank. We also knew that we could likely spend quite a bit of time picking our way slowly down the riverbed in the truck, possibly not able find a good route back up the river bank, and necessitating some sort of crossing on foot - exactly what we were trying to avoid with all this extra driving! We made the call to quit fooling around with the approach drive and simply suck up the extra 10-15 minutes walking on the dry riverbank to the start of the horse track / ATV trail.
[The driving portion ends a bit prematurely thanks to a confusing track in the many braided channels of the Ghost River at left. As you can see - walking along the SW riverbank isn't overly complex at this point anyway. But why doesn't the road just run on the dry and relatively flat and treeless river bank?!]
[As you can see in this shot near the campsite, Orient Point is far off in the distance and we are still walking away from it.]
Already from the approach drive along the riverbank and beneath the hulking NE face of Orient Point, I'd been thinking one thought that would continue to circle my brain for hours to come, "when the heck are we going to start ascending this peak?!". That may come across negative, and I guess maybe it is a bit. Orient Point has a whole lot going for it, as you'll see later, but it does have one large thing NOT going for it, IMHO, and that is the long and circuitous approach.
Phil and Cornelius really enjoyed their approach, but their route was slightly more scenic. The spring of 2018 has been pretty bad for ticks - Phil had 16 of them while exploring similar terrain to Orient's open grassy hills under its east face. Because of the potential tick issue, we decided on the longer and less engaging approach via the South Ghost River - often used for egress from the area. If you've done other peaks in the Ghost Wilderness, such as End Mountain or Association Peak, you should expect a similar approach grind for Orient Point. There is one difference with Orient Point's approach compared with other long approaches, however. Instead of the peak being far off in the distance, Orient Point is right in front (or beside) you the whole time you are "approaching" it - you're just not actually going towards it for a few hours! There were many moments on approach when I had to look back over my right shoulder to see our objective as we literally walked away from it to my left. With that bit of negativity out of the way, the rest of the day was immensely enjoyable - read on.
We started out on an obvious ATV / horse track from the backcountry random campsite at the end of the "drivable" section along the Ghost River and almost directly across the river from the more direct driving / approach that Phil and Cornelius used. The rough track followed steeply up a drainage until looping back on itself at the forks for the open hills vs. the South Ghost River approach routes. We somewhat reluctantly turned our backs on Orient Point and headed slightly downhill along the main ATV track, foregoing the open hills and their hordes of wood ticks for the cool forest and it's Calypso Orchids.
[It's already hot in the morning as we start up the drainage trail from the campsite.]
[Orient Point looks far away at this point and instead of hiking towards it at right, we'll take the ATV track at left heading towards the South Ghost River and End Mountain. The hill route goes up and over the green hills under Orient's east face. ++]
After a short while, navigating obvious trails through light forest, we exited into the very hot and surprisingly dry South Ghost River drainage. Phil remembered a pretty hefty flow a year previous, but all we could find at this point was the odd little trickle coming down the occasional hillside beside the riverbed. A strange development considering the massive amounts of snow we had this past winter and the late Spring. We continued to wrap around the ominous, brooding cliffs on SE aspect of Orient Point via the expansive river drainage until we arrived at another remote backcountry campsite and the start of our final bushwhack approach to the SE drainage that grants scramblers access to the mountain. We could have avoided the bushwhack by simply hiking a bit further up the South Ghost River to the side drainage but we saw a faint track and followed it.
[It feels like summer but it's only the third week of May.]
[Orient Point (R) isn't really much closer than the last panorama. End Mountain (L) isn't either. We will walk about 1km up the very dry South Ghost River here before finally turning to our right and approaching the mountain. ++]
[We tried following what looked to be a trail from the campsite but it quickly disappeared in some post-2013 flood debris and we bushwhacked most of the way to the SE drainage from here.]
Once we finally reached the SE drainage leading towards Orient Point, it was already 2 hours into our trip. Conditions were perfect for the Ghost Wilderness Area with very little wind and only the occasional hint of a cool breeze. Birds were singing in the forest around us and the powerful scent of the pine and spruce trees wafted through the dead air. We ascended grassy banks on the north side of the drainage to avoid the loose boulders within. Both Phil and I were starting to get slightly concerned about the complete lack of running water up to this point - we both needed to refill at some point on this hot day. I wasn't overly worried as there were visible snow patches higher up. As we finally started gaining some height, we had a decision to make. We could either ascend the most easterly "Southeast Ridge" or a different one that was directly ahead - "South Ridge" on my map. We chose the south ridge since it looked to be the most direct from our vantage. This was a great choice and soon we were sweating our way up the steep grassy slopes and exiting tree line with views towards End Mountain and South Ghost Peak across the South Ghost River.
[The south ridge is visible ahead of us here.]
[Great views back down the approach drainage to the South Ghost drainage at left. ++]
[Even the classic alpine flowers are coming out already - I believe May is quite early for these ones.]
[Phil walks past some evidence of the winds that are usually blowing here. Not today!]
Once above treeline, we joined up with Phil's previous ascent line and the interesting terrain began in ernest. As is the common theme on Orient Point, it seemed like we took the long way around to finally get onto the summit slopes - but in this case it wasn't a bad thing. Our ascent route makes a lot of good sense beside just being fun and scenic - it's also by far the most obvious of any of the other possible routes on the complex south side of the mountain. We simply ascended ridges until it made sense to traverse to the west (our left) before following more ridges. Along the way we passed by a nice rock window and the difficult route option through a tunnel hidden behind a huge chockstone. We avoided the difficulties (we were in approach shoes and there was snow / ice in the tunnel) by going around a corner in the cliffs about 100m further climber's left. A short moderate scramble brought us up to a large scree traverse towards the second moderate bit of terrain next to a patch of snow and leading to the scree / slab slopes just under the summit.
[First we'll ascend to the summit block above Phil on this ridge, then we'll traverse to the cliffs to its left before descending slightly and breaking another set of cliffs. After this we'll traverse left to ascend moderate terrain before ascending the moderate ridge to the summit at center. ++]
[An interesting arch along the first bit of ridge crest that we got onto.]
[Great views from the top of the south ridge over the South Ghost River drainage. ++]
[The rest of the route from the south ridge is obvious from this vantage. Simply traverse to the next line of cliffs and find a reasonable way through. Traverse to the next set of cliffs and find a reasonable way through... ++]
[Views back to the top of the south ridge as we continue our traverse. Saddle Peak showing up at right now.]
[The Ghost (L) and South Ghost (C) rivers parallel each other to the east.]
[Phil traverses to the first set of cliffs - the difficult crack above him here.]
[The difficult route is choked with snow and ice and we're in approach shoes so we'll go left around a corner and find a moderate route up instead.]
[Looking up at the moderate route.]
[Now another traverse awaits! We'll traverse all the way to the distant patches of snow at center before cutting up through another set of cliffs under the summit. ++]
[Getting closer to the snow patches that guide our way through another set of cliffs. We'll follow the one at center here - to the left of Phil.]
[On descent we used the snow patch but on ascent we climbed solid(ish) rock next to it.]
[Ascending a mix of slab and scree to the east summit ridge. The false summit at upper left.]
The slab / scree bowl just under the east summit ridge was far easier than it looked from afar. We trended climber's right to keep the angle reasonable before cutting left on the exciting ridge towards the summit. The views from here were absolutely stunning on this perfect day! There was hardly a breath of wind as I followed Phil along the ridge, which narrowed considerably in places. Of course the summit was further than I thought - it's never the closest high point is it? No matter, as the traverse was my favorite part of the entire day by far. We made the apex of Orient Point around 5 hours after leaving the truck and sat down for a nice lunch break to some pretty stellar views.
[Views off the east summit ridge looking north towards Phantom Crag (C) and Black Rock Mountain (R).]
[Phil ascends the last bit of elevation to the summit with our egress drainage at lower left and Mount Costigan rising at right. ++]
[Looking east (L) and south (C) over the approach / egress drainage and our circuitous route up the series of ridges and traverses from the South Ghost drainage at center. ++]
[Some of the best views were north towards Saddle, Costigan, Castle Rock, Devil's Head, Phantom Crag and Black Rock Mountain (L to R). ++]
[Saddle Peak rises to the west of Orient Point.]
[Girouard and Inglismaldie to the west.]
[Mount Aylmer rises at right with Spectral at distant center and Astley's two summits at left.]
[Devil's Head at right with Castle Rock, Davidson and Astral to its left.]
[Kink Peak and Fallen Peaks are in the Waiparous Area to the north.]
[Views past the impressive cliffs on Phantom Crag at center foreground, over the Ghost River towards Black Rock Mountain are pretty cool from Orient Point.]
[The NE aspect of Townsend with Mythic Tower to the left.]
[All four of Mount Lougheed's summits rise over Cross Peak in the foreground and Mount Fable at right.]
[End Mountain (C) and Association Peak (R) looks small from here. Moose Mountain at distant left.]
After enjoying the perfect summit weather and views for around 30 minutes or so, we decided we should start the long descent before anything cooked up in the clouds that were now forming above us. The descent ridge offered some fantastic views and photos and all too soon we were dropping into the slab / scree gully to the first set of cliffs - following our ascent route at this point. After plunge-stepping on snow through the first cliffs under the summit, we started deviating from our approach. It's impossible to describe our route in any meaningful detail other than to say that we trended to our left (skiers), breaking easily through each subsequent set of cliffs until we got into the lower drainage. If the terrain blocked us we managed to escape each time by going up and around the head of another drainage before dropping back down into it.
[Spectacular positions on the east summit ridge make up for the long approach. ++]
[Balancing along the summit ridge.]
[The loose slabby scree bowl beneath the summit ridge isn't as bad as it looks.]
[We will drop down the gully at center-left here (not the one directly below me) and then start dropping down the obvious snow gully below until we work our way left and down to the exit drainage far below, negotiating through a series of large cliff bands along the way.]
[Looking along our exit route at left with the summit at upper center. Sonny's difficult ridge is across the drainage here. We accessed the summit ridge from the upper right via obvious moderate breaks in the cliffs.]
[The descent wasn't nearly as straightforward as I thought it would be. Many times we had to navigate the head of a gully to break through cliffs that blocked easy access to lower slopes.]
[A good view of the difficulties - note the cliff bands running along the obvious drainage at center? This is why you have to trend skier's left on exit before getting into the main exit drainage after first circling all the crumbling cliffbands.]
[We descended past some interesting erosion.]
[A deep, dark cave along the way.]
[Working our way down past even more cliffs. You can see our ascent ridge running up in the distance. This is the most straightforward way to access the peak IMHO. Ascending via our descent route might seem more direct, but I believe there's a lot of potential to get off route this way.]
[This narrow gully was key in our descent - keeping things relatively easy.]
[Phil looks tiny as we finally traverse and descend far enough that we can now join the main drainage which is just out of sight at lower right at the end of this side drainage that we're in here.]
Once we were finally in the main drainage, the exit was obvious and fairly quick. The terrain was very interesting with some fantastic, classic Ghost Wilderness views that you only get in this part of the Rockies. Cascading, clear water gathered in pools and cheerfully gurgled and bubbled down the rocky drainage beside us, offering much needed refreshment and a cool head-dunk. We passed some old ice flows before finally getting onto straightforward, easy terrain for the first time in several hours. At this point the skies opened up temporarily and cooled us off a bit. All too soon we were back into hot, muggy conditions. We retraced our steps through the South Ghost drainage and enjoyed the easy hike (i.e. slog) back along obvious sets of tracks to the truck.
[Finally in the main drainage, looking up at some interesting terrain. We came in from the right here.]
[More interesting creek sections on exit.]
[The sky directly above us is getting threatening as we continue our descent.]
[Looking back up the drainage. If you approach from here the left hand ridge does look the easiest - but as Sonny and Raf found out, it's not!]
[Orient Point to the left and the South Ghost River out of sight downstream to the right. Our ascent ridge just right of center behind the foreground hill.]
[The final easy descent towards the South Ghost River.]
[Lots of this on return!]
[Orient Point is once again a distant mountain as we complete the long trek around its base.]
With the hot temperatures, it wasn't a huge surprise when we drove back to the main Ghost River crossing only to see a faster and deeper current waiting for us. Several vehicles were parked on the far side under the Big Hill, so rather than spend more time getting nervous for the crossing, I simply drove into the river and crawled through it - much slower and more controlled than on approach. When the truck started slipping sideways in the strong current I gunned it a bit and popped over the far bank. PHEW. I likely won't be crossing that river again until later in the year.
Overall I really enjoyed the scrambling on Orient Point. There are enough moderate sections and varied terrain above treeline to keep things fun and the exposed summit ridge has some ridiculous views. The hiking? Well... Obviously I'm no stranger to long approaches, and generally I find them cathartic with lots of time to think and chat and get into a different rhythm from everyday life. The approach we used wasn't quite as scenic or engaging as say the amazing Castle Rock hike. I recommend approaching Orient Point via the open hills route and returning via the South Ghost River so that you don't feel like you're walking away from your objective for the first few hours!