Costa Rica Part III – Ghost Canyon

The river of Fantasma Canyon (Ghost Canyon) is born on the steep and unstable slopes of the Congo Volcano.

Johan Aguilar Vargas
Costa Rica Exploration
May 2017

The river of Fantasma Canyon (Ghost Canyon) is born on the steep and unstable slopes of the Congo Volcano. The canyon is only 0.5km long but it challenged us technically because of its vertical nature, the flow of the water, its unstable walls and the challenges to communication.

This canyon is a tributary to the acidic Toro River. The rocks have a yellow to orange colour due to the chemical elements in the water of Río Agrio (pH 2.3), which feeds the Toro River. It is a beautiful river, it looks golden. However, the equipment is affected by it and it causes mild irritation to the eyes.

The main challenge was a waterfall of 156 meters of vertical fall, with absence of multipitch. It was a single line with rope joining and the water flow was significant.


The main challenge was a 156 m waterfall, which we would do without multipitch. We used a single line of joined ropes. The water flow was significant. Several factors made the descent dangerous: the height, an unstable conglomerate wall, the risk of deviating towards the strong flow of water, the large volume of water and the impossibility of communicating by whistle. The descent required a lot of logistics: materials, communication, analysis of the best line and possible rescue scenarios.

We had to find and interesting but safe line without putting the team in danger. We found a tree of 1.5m in diameter at the left side of the river. It was perfect to install our anchorage system. We had estimated that the height was about 110-115m so we started putting a 120m-long rope. The first team mate descended to examine the situation.

After descending about 10m, by using the walkie talkies he reported back to us that the wall was not solid enough, rocks could easily break loose. After a few more minutes he informed us of his decision to climb back up. There was a risk of sliding towards the jet stream of the water. It made the descent very dangerous and our lives. He also told us that he couldn’t see the end of the rope, but that he thought it didn’t reach the ground by a good deal. He finished the ascent and gave us more details.

August 02, 2016

We installed a deviation 4 or 5m below the head waters of the river to solve the problem of swinging towards the flow. We managed to throw down a perfect line. Because of the instability of the wall we decided to put down three lines in order to descend together in the event of any problems. The goal was to find a way to put a second anchorage halfway down the rappel.

The three independent lines measured 120m, 80+40m and 100+40m. With great caution the three of us started descending, being able to share our perspective from three different lines on our way down. Scott was on the 140 m rope, and therefore had the best view of the base. The landing seemed to be feasible and free of complications. The crash of the big stream didn’t seem to be a problem.

There were rainbows everywhere. At a certain point we had rainbows all around us, 360 degrees. It was beautiful, surreal, liberating and unforgettable.


We decided to join ropes as we saw the landing was within reach. To do so we had to attach Scott’s 40m-rope to my line (120m). Once Scott ascended to where Victor and I were located, he could untie the 40m-rope and then add it to my line. He told me that he felt a pain in his arm and asked me to continue the ascent and tie the 40m-rope to the 120m one. This meant we would have to switch ropes: Scott would move to my rope and vice versa.

I ascended up to the knot, untied it and then we joined the ropes (120m+40m). Scott descended first, followed by myself and Victor. When we were united again at the base, we captured the moment in our memories. A waterfall that stood almost 160m tall. It was spectacular and the weather was perfect. At 4.08 p.m. the sun was still shining and we started to take pictures.

Getting out this deep canyon was very difficult. We had to climb a few walls where we felt exposed. The sun was setting and there was little light left. After climbing and hiking through the forest for about 45 minutes, we managed to get out.

When we got to the car it was already dark. It was an unforgettable adventure.