Mt. Temple (3543 m/11621 ft)
Mt. Temple (3543 m/11621 ft)
|The Eiger of North America, Eh|
One aspect that I think we all enjoy about being in the mountains is the many ways in which they challenge us as individuals physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally. Mount Temple, at 3543 m/ 11621 ft, is an infamous peak located southwest of Lake Louise, Alberta. In 1894, Temple was the first 11er in the Canadian Rockies to receive a first ascent, the north face continues to test elite climbers and did not succumb until 1966, the east ridge is one of North America's fifty classic climbs, and in 1955 seven perished in one of Canada's worst mountaineering disasters. I first read about Temple when I had climbed all of seven 14ers, the hardest of which was Longs Peak; I at first dismissed it as too hard and scary to contemplate an ascent. This introduction to Temple occurred during planning for my first international backpacking and hiking trip. For better or for worse, this was in January 2020.
For two consecutive summers the plans for the trip were scuppered. In the meantime, my love and attachment to the mountains grew as I developed skills and met some wonderful people in Colorado's hiking and climbing community. I began rock climbing in a gym, and eventually began to rock climb outside, an ongoing learning process. Further, I began working my way into couloir climbing, winter 13ers and 14ers, and class 4 alpine scrambling. Finally, arrangements began in earnest in January 2022 for accommodation, flights, and other logistics. When I finally touched down in Calgary on July 24, Temple had become a primary objective of the trip. Though I am nowhere near ready for any of the more famous technical routes, the SW ridge- known as the "tourist route"- is a primarily class 3 scramble with a class 4 rock step and would be my planned ascent route. One final snafu, the Canadian Rockies had a great snow year and slow spring runoff; Banff Sunshine ski area opened for Canada day for the first time since 1991. This ultimately meant that my crampons and ice axe went into my pack for the trip; I was determined to not be denied by lingering snow.
The trailhead for the SW ridge route departs from the Moraine Lake trailhead. To get to the trailhead simply exit the Trans-Canada highway near Lake Louise, drive towards the lake, and turn left onto the Moraine Lake road. The road is paved all the way to the end; simple. However, Moraine Lake is known as the hardest place to find a parking spot in Canada. A quick phone call on the eve of the climb gave me an idea of when to expect Parks Canada to close the road during the morning. I departed from Canmore at 2:30 am, arriving at Moraine Lake near 3:40 to find the parking lot around 80% full; for most getting here is the crux of the climb. It is possible for those who favor waking up at more reasonable hours to book a shuttle to the lake at 6:30, which I found two other parties on the mountain did.
Starting just before 4:00 under dark skies, I could barely make out the outlines of the surrounding Valley of the Ten Peaks. Though sunrise was still far away, the beauty of this area overwhelmed me. To approach the climb simply follow signs for Sentinel Pass; a great trail leads all the way to the pass. Not seeing any headlamps on the trail or route ahead of me, it appeared that I was in pole position for the climb. I felt a bit slow as I hiked towards the pass, though I felt good as I knew it would be a long day with around 5500 ft of elevation gain and I knew that managing my pace to prevent fatigue would be critical for success. The sun began to rise as I hiked through Larch Valley; there was a 45% chance of rain at 6:00 that would decrease throughout the day. With some natural lighting I could see Temple and surrounding high peaks were socked in; things looked ominous yet I continued. I reached Sentinel Pass shortly before 6:00 and stopped to watch the sunrise and gear up for the scramble ahead.
I took a snack at the pass and snapped some photos; on the north side of the pass Paradise Valley was shrouded in looming clouds; it appeared that the precipitation I feared would indeed arrive. Though not as notorious as other high peaks like Assiniboine, Alberta, or Robson; Temple can and I would find out does create it's own weather. As I began traversing east from the pass a drizzle began and quickly turned to a steady shower; out came my rain shell and pack cover. The rain would eventually subside, then return as a brief shower of graupel.
Beyond Sentinel Pass, the route up Temple's SW ridge begins innocently enough as a beaten path along the ridge line. it quickly traverses off the ridge and into a gully bellow a yellow rock pinnacle. In this gully the path is ill-defined and very loose; by Canadian Rockies standards the rock quality is decent. Having said that, many of the scramble routes in the range are incredibly chossy and make the Elk Range feel like the granite of RMNP (this stuff almost makes me want to repeat Thunder Pyramid- almost). Combined with the early morning moisture; Temple had decided that it was not yet time to relent.
After working my way up the gully I reached the base of the pinnacle and found a beaten in path through the scree; the poor rock quality would temporarily subside. This path lead to the first major rock band; with the moisture just beginning to subside finding footing was a bit of a challenge but this area is a short, easy class 3 scramble. Beyond the first rock band the beaten in path continues to the last remaining snow patch on the route. Out came the ice axe and I quickly scampered across the short patch of snow to the base of the crux rock band around 0750.
There are several possibilities for tackling the crux; to the right are two rock steps that I ultimately used on the way up; the start from the second step is a bit tricky but once you get going it is extremely fun. To the left is a more exposed, ledgy face; each route goes at class 4. Farthest to the left is a gully that was still partially snow filled; even when dry this is not a recommended way to tackle the crux. Above the crux I would find out why; there is a 400 ft scree slope that funnels into the gully; it is essentially a beefed up version of Little Bear's hourglass. After working my way through the crux I zigzagged my way up the loose scree slope to once again emerge near the ridge crest.
A final light colored rock band presents itself here; there is a more direct class 3 route directly up the rock band, and to climber's right is a cairned, exposed traverse into a looser gully that goes at class 3; since I was here to have fun I took the more exposed and loose path to the right, and easily overcame this last rock band. At this point I had about 0.6 miles yet around 1500 ft of elevation to be gained. Did I mention how steep the mountains are here? If you decide to climb and scramble here I highly recommend you do not skip leg day. With the precipitation finished for the day, the winds picked up here and with overcast skies the temperature dropped. This mountain would still not relent.
The talus along the rest of the ridge is relatively loose but has a noticeable path beaten in that turns it into a long slog to the summit. I was in high spirits as occasional views presented themselves through the clouds and despite the cold temperatures. An inconspicuous merger with a spur ridge occurs shortly before reaching the summit; beyond this point the wind gusts really picked up; I could watch the clouds from the NW pick up speed to anticipate the increased gusts. This wouldn't be too problematic except for the extreme exposure to climber's right on the summit ridge. After some brief pauses for breaks in the wind; the summit cornice came into sight; I worked my way to the wind shelter and summited at 0935. I bundled up in the wind shelter; celebrated, signed the summit register, ate some snacks, and soaked in the views that popped in and out as the clouds broke then reemerged.
After spending around 45 minutes on the summit I decided it was time to head down. As I began the descent the clouds began to break more consistently and the views really began to open up; with the slog mostly complete the descent was going to be wonderful. It was still quite windy and the summit was shrouded in clouds, though now that I was on my way down Temple had finally chosen to relent. The main obstacle on the descent was ensuring that I didn't kick any rocks down the mountain. I was somewhat apprehensive about downclimbing the crux but having gone up it, once I got there the holds were obvious and moves were simple. I ran into three parties making an ascent on the way down and briefly chatted with each of them. After gingerly making my way down the first loose gully I reached Sentinel Pass at 12:20.
It was now a beautiful day at Sentinel Pass and plenty of tourists were taking advantage. I took off my helmet and jackets, ate more snacks, and took in the views. When I was ready I descended from the pass into Larch Valley where I had ample opportunities for more views and to take in the wonderful scenery. I eventually made my way down into the Valley of the Ten Peaks and returned to the parking lot just after 14:00, just over 10 hours car to car.
About two and a half years after first learning of Temple, this mountain had basically thrown every obstacle at me. A pandemic and associated travel restrictions were a huge logistical obstacle, not to mention the overuse and popularity of the area leading to a ridiculous parking situation that had to be overcome. Further, it took all of that time for me to really overcome my pet peeve and fear of loose rock; it is probably my least favorite part of mountain climbing as there is always a chance that something completely out of your control can ruin a climb or worse. Lastly, the finnicky weather came out today to stretch my perseverance to the limit. Meeting all of these challenges, combined with the satisfaction of achieving a long term goal and reflection on how much I've grown as a person and climber over the duration of the pursuit are ultimately what being in the mountains is all about.
Conveniently, according to Bill Corbett's guide/history book, there are 58 11ers in the Canadian Rockies. I cannot do justice to the increase in difficulty compared to the 14ers. To take a stab at some comparisons, if the chatter on this site is to be believed there are at least as many frozen 14er finishers than finishers of the 11ers. Temple is considered one of the 3 easiest 11ers in the range; comparing to what I've completed so far I would put the overall difficulty as similar to North Maroon's standard route. Lastly, I leave a quote from Alan Kane in the introduction of Corbett's book; "These mountains make the Colorado 14ers look like a walk in the park." Many of the mountains on the list seem even more impossible than Temple did in January 2020. Regardless, the culmination of this challenge has resulted in me starting a new list; this list will likely be a lifelong project, one I probably won't finish, and one that will involve much personal growth to come even close to achieving. On the other hand, it was only just over four years ago that I summited Grays and Torreys for my first 14ers; being at 1/58 seems much more refreshing than however many 14ers I have currently. Little did I know then what this casual weekend hobby would transform into; at least now I know how little I know about where it will take me in the future. Climb on!
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