Summit Elevation (m): 2890
Elevation Gain (m): 1200
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 20
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 4 – you fall, you are almost dead
Difficulty Notes: A fall on the crux would severely injure or kill so take necessary precautions. Routefinding and loose terrain around the crux. Note: Bastion Ridge is traversed on our approach to Devils Head.
Technical Rating: MN8; YDS (5.1)
On Friday, September 14 I joined Wietse, Kevin and Dave for a hike / scramble / climb of Devil’s Head in the Ghost River Valley. This mountain has been on my radar for years already but I’ve never gotten around to actually climbing it for various reasons. I’ve done a lot of front-country peaks over the first 10 years of my peak bagging career so lately I’ve been more interested in peaks a bit more remote and a bit bigger.
It turns out that Devil’s Head is actually pretty remote (considering it’s front-range) and is a lot of fun despite being pretty lowly in stature. We approached the mountain via the “South Gullies” route along Bastion Ridge. We drove to marker 39 (apparently a lot of people ignore the seasonal closure of the road beyond this point) and walked about 1km upstream to the first gully (aka “Valley of the Birds”) on our right. We had to cross the river 3 times just to reach this first gully, despite conjecture from others that it would only be once. This necessitated a walk back to our river crossing gear since we dropped it after the first crossing thinking we were done. The river has re-routed against some steep terrain that results in the two extra crossings. Best to keep your river crossing gear on until reaching the correct access gully / trail.
There was flagging marking our steep route up the left (west) edge of the drainage – it was that or immediately start scaling waterfalls (again – these are known as the “Valley of the Birds” ice climbs in winter) so it was an easy decision where to start. We grunted our way up the trail – it was obvious all the way until it broke out of the trees. From here the route remained obvious – simply gain the ridge on climber’s left and follow it all the way around to the east and south cliff faces on Devil’s Head. The only issues with the route were some height gain / loss along the way but nothing too serious. It was a very pleasant fall hike all the up to the base of the cliffs. The wind gusts were quite strong at times but again, nothing serious, especially for this area.
We had lunch under the impressive cliffs of Devils Head, just out of rock fall range, and then proceeded to traverse under them towards the gullies on the south side of the west ridge that would grant us access to the upper mountain via scrambling, rather than the climbing route up the west ridge. The gully was pretty obvious (it’s the only scramble terrain you’ll come across after the traverse) and we quickly worked our way up it. It is somewhat steep and loose and a party of 4 was almost too many for this section. We had to be extremely mindful of rock fall. Several sections were pretty steep but probably not more than moderate (upper) scrambling. Near the top we traversed climbers right through the “Devil’s Horns“, another obvious landscape feature to guide you to the crux.
As we scrambled up to the climbing section – a short 5.3/5.4 move over or around a chock stone – I noticed a ladder leaning up against the chockstone! My first thought was that this would make the whole route a ‘scramble’ but upon inspection the ladder had a lot to be desired. It was obviously a light contraption and wasn’t anchored properly to the mountain. Climbing the ladder would be almost worse than climbing the rock – although the rock seems to be crumbling around and under the chock stone which is now seriously overhanging (when it falls the route may be only ‘scrambling’!). We anchored the ladder with a cam which made it just possible to clamber up it – but there was no way we were down climbing it! There’s a good rap station right above it anyway that we’d use on descent.
The rest of the route was fairly obvious with cairns etc. and probably low-difficult scrambling. It was never terribly exposed but has enough steep sections to warrant some caution. It is also predictably loose, so scrambling here with a large group may not be the wisest thing to do. The summit of Devil’s Head is a huge scree plateau. We enjoyed the views and some lunch in amazingly calm conditions and descended our ascent route with no issues. We rapped the overhanging chock stone and Wietse and I went ahead of Dave and Kev in the loose 4th class gully to avoid 4 people kicking rocks down on each other.
We met a party of sheep hunters on our way out. A bunch of campers / backpackers were making their way to the Ghost as we barreled home (Kevin found the gas pedal!) – the road was pretty darn rough. A highly recommended climb / scramble – bring a rope for the crux. Until it falls off it’s some short, steep climbing to avoid it and would be tricky to down climb IMHO.