Devils Head
Of the plethora of peaks visible on the western horizon from Calgary, Alberta, none is more striking than Devils Head which is located in the Ghost River Wilderness Area.  Keith Bott joined me for an ascent of this interesting mountain on 12 September 2009.  Following an excellent route description provided by Andrew Nugara (in his trip report, Nugara credits Bob Parr for the information), we drove up the Ghost River road to a point where the river actually washes across the road.  Rather than risk stranding my car, I decided to give my Honda CR-V a break and parked before the crossing.  Keith and I continued up the road for a few more kilometres by bicycle, and this also entailed fording the river a couple of times.  While I used hip waders, Keith braved the icy waters with only his bare feet and sandals.  We ditched our bicycles a bit prematurely and forded the river a third time before bushwhacking over a low rise to get into the described drainage.  A short easy hike to a picturesque waterfall preceded a grueling slog up the steep slope on the west side of the drainage.  When we reached the base of the cliffs guarding the upper ridge, we traversed south to where the cliffs peter out and turned north to gain the crest of the ridge.  Approaching Devils Head along this broad ridge, we bypassed several large obstacles before scrambling through a spectacular area of hoodoos and caves characterized by chalky rock.  A faint trail through scree below the immense south face led us quickly to the access gully.  The worst aspect of the gully is the abundance of loose rock funneling down the middle of it, and we tried to stick to the sides as much as possible.

Just below the col separating the west summit from the main summit of Devils Head, we turned eastward and followed some cairns and a beaten path to the crux--a three- or four-metre climb up an overhanging chockstone.  We actually ascended a little to climber's left of the chockstone, and although some of the holds were small or awkward, the rock was solid and reliable.  Keith had brought along a rope and harness and had also lent me an extra harness in case we had to rappel the crux on descent (there is a belay station just above the chockstone).  As we cleared the crux, Keith remarked that he would undoubtedly rappel it on the way down, but I was still undecided.  Further up, we enjoyed some more difficult and exposed scrambling before topping out on the broad summit plateau.  Keith and I relaxed for an hour at the summit before retracing our steps.  Just above the crux, Keith took out his rope, and we both donned our harnesses.  Though I still wanted to down-climb the crux, Keith convinced me to do so with a fireman's belay, and he also gave me a quick lesson on rappelling.  When we were both ready, Keith ran his rope through the belay station and rappelled the crux, and I followed by down-climbing the same spot while he belayed me from below.  In retrospect, I found the down-climb to be easier than expected, and even though I felt the belay to be unnecessary, I appreciated both the added security and the opportunity to learn a new mountaineering skill.

We carefully descended the access gully without incident, but just when I thought the rest of the trip was going to be smooth sailing as we worked our way back across the scree below the immense south face, I triggered a small landslide that was reminiscent of my out-of-control spill on Mount Chephren years ago.  The irony of getting road rash on one of the "easier" parts of the mountain was not lost on me as I treaded more cautiously down the remainder of the ridge.  The hike out was wearisome, and it did not help that the hot sun was blazing down on our backs for much of the way or that we inadvertently climbed up one of the last obstacles on the ridge by mistake.  My GPS came in handy when we were trying to find our way back to the base of the cliffs above the drainage.  The descent down the steep slope above the waterfall was probably the worst part of the whole trip, and we were quite happy to be walking horizontally again at the bottom.  We eventually forded the Ghost River and retrieved our bicycles for the easy ride back to my car (round-trip time of 11.5 hours).  In his trip report, Nugara ranked Devils Head as one of his "favourite scrambles of all time", and now I understand why.
Keith is an avid mountain biker and even tried riding through the river!  How insane! Keith tries to keep his feet dry while crossing Ghost River.
The mouth of the drainage is very obvious if you keep heading left in the photo. The ridges of the Ghost River Wilderness Area are typically protected by huge cliffs like these.  The access drainage is behind the trees at right.  The top of Devils Head is also visible above the ridge.
A good place to fill up water bottles or dunk your head! The route to Devils Head leaves the drainage at this waterfall.
Even if it wasn't sunny, you should be warm by this point! Keith traverses below the cliffs guarding the upper ridge.
Boy, it seemed like a lot of effort just to get to this point! Keith gets his first clear view of Devils Head from the ridge.
We climbed up this thing by mistake on the way back! The obstacle at right is easily bypassed on the left.
This was an awesome day for taking photos! Keith continues hiking toward Devils Head.
We might have been a little off-route here, but the scrambling was not too difficult. Keith works his way up some interesting rock.
The hoodoos alone are worth the price of admission. There are some interesting rock formations among the hoodoos.
And no, I didn't scramble up this thing either, Dinah, but I should have! Keith stands beside a giant knob.
Looks like it might be a good trad climb... Here is a view of the spectacular east face of Devils Head.
Note the trail in the scree coming from the west (opposite) side of the gully entrance. Pinnacles guard the entrance to the access gully which is just right of center at the bottom of the photo.  On the horizon at far left is Mount Aylmer.
Look up. Look waaaaaaaaay up! This is a foreshortened view of the immense south face.
This is where the real fun begins! Keith starts up the access gully.
Note the very steep scree at bottom right--future accident waiting to happen! Here is another perspective of the immense south face.
Helmets are essential here! The access gully narrows and gets steeper.
This is where we separate the men from the girly men! The crux is inside the dark crack at center.
It's easier than it looks...really! Keith climbs up the crux.
The route description was invaluable. Thanks Andrew and Bob! Keith consults the route description after climbing out of the crux.  The west summit of Devils Head is at right.
I really live for this stuff! Keith climbs up difficult terrain on the upper mountain.
5 hours 47 minutes from the car. Keith casually strolls up to the summit of Devils Head.
Kind of an odd pose on my part (I was trying to get the best lighting angle) which makes me look short! Keith and Sonny stand on the 2796-metre summit of Devils Head.
A much more popular ascent than Devils Head. Black Rock Mountain stands out to the east.
Might make for a good shoulder season trip. To the southeast is Phantom Crag.
See anyone up there?? Here is another look at Mount Aylmer to the west.
Probably a scramble, but the approach would be bloody long, I bet. The peak to the northwest is unofficially known as Castle Rock.
The weather was superb on this day. And no haze too! Keith begins the descent.
Having said that, the crux isn't really all that tricky! Some of the down-climbs on the upper mountain are almost as tricky if not more so than the crux.
Thanks for carrying the rope, Keith! Keith untangles his rope just above the crux.
Looks kinda like my wedding ring! ;-) Here is a look at the belay station near the crux.
Note that he is using a Prusik knot backup. Keith is all set to rappel the crux.
My mom calls them "Toohoos"! Keith hikes down to the hoodoos.  The ridge that was used for the approach is just left of center.
My wife thinks the formation on the right looks like a dinosaur's head! Here is a closer look at one of the hoodoos.
The hoodoos look more dramatic in the late afternoon. This is one last look at Devils Head from the top of the obstacle that Keith and Sonny mistakenly climbed up.