Saturday July 13 - East Ridge of Mt Temple IV 5.7 3543m
Synopsis: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. A hell of a route, a hell of a day.
Brian and I agreed to meet in the Moraine Lake parking lot at 3:40 am and arrived within a couple of minutes of each other - Brian coming from Canmore and me from Nordegg. After getting organised and making our way in one car to the trail head (a few km's back towards Lake Louise), we were off at 4 am.
Funny enough, just as we were getting ready to leave the pull off another vehicle drove up so we thought we'd say hi as the odds are we would meet up on the route. It was a couple from Calgary, Dave and Michaela, and sure enough we went were in contact a good part of the route.
Thankfully, Brian had scoped the initial part of the ascent the day before so we put our heads down and quickly gained elevation through scree and scrub aiming for a pinnacle in the foreground.
After an hour, it was light enough that we could turn off the headlamps and we made our way left of the pinnacle. The climbing got more interesting with moves over blocky quartzite. By this time Dave and Michaela caught up to us and we moved from there to the big step largely together, helping each other with route finding which wasn't terribly taxing (yet).
We had Dow's beta from summit climb and it was helpful to keep from getting sucked into a rubbly gully in the yellow band. It was great to gain elevation and get some exposure, funny enough I was down to one layer and sweating profusely in the early going in spite of us pacing ourselves and fairly cool temps.
All four of us arrived at the "little step" where we found a shiny bolt just about where you would want it. It was a short step so to save time Michaela lead it and the rest of us tied in mid rope and took turns the top.
A little further up we came to a rock face that we initially mistook for the big step. Something didn't feel right so I skirted to the left on a big ledge and saw the real big step around the corner, however the ledge petered out and got sketchy (complete with a nice layer of verglas). We tried to the right, found a cairn and easy ground to the base of the big step, which we arrived at 7:30 am after an elevation gain of nearly 700 metres.
We let Michaela and Dave have first crack at the technical climbing as they were a bit faster. Brian and I didn't wait for long and I lead the first pitch after a short snack break and gearing up, yes complete with rock shoes. The first pitch is short, likely about 25 metres, with a pin and a few pieces of good medium sized pro. I gave Brian a fright when my foot skated off a hold just as I committed to a move and mantle. I managed to make the move and had a piece close by so it wasn't terribly dramatic.
The climbing was blocky and I found it a little awkward, likely more so given the pack. The pitch ended at a bolted belay, which made for a quick transition. I had a smile in the late stages of the pitch and actually placed a hex - old school!
Brian took pitch 2, a longer one at 50 metres and a little more tricky. By then I was settling down and really enjoyed the climbing. It carries on left and up, we had 8 extendable draws with us and Brian used them all and ended the pitch at bolts. We could hear the third party we saw leave the parking lot below, however it sounded like they were pitching out terrain below the big step. We didn't hear from them again and I assume they bailed.
I got pitch 3 which was a shorter one and ended with a grunt of a mantle up on to a rubbly ledge, one of many. There was a piece of tat tied into a stuck nut and I made a belay there after searching the area. The route then went left for roughly 10 metres on a ledge and then up on easy ground so we took in coils and moved together with the occasional pro.
Broken ground with a few 5th class moves lead to the chimney. We didn't have to use much in the way of route finding skills as I could see the other team half way up the chimney when scoping it earlier.
Brian lead the chimney which was definitely old school 5.7. Full value with some real grunting on my part. Brian built an anchor on top and we stayed roped up until I made it up a little further left around a block and onto easier terrain. We then had a break, changed back into our boots and ditched the rope. It was 11 am and roughly 3000 metres, the clouds that we had been watching on the horizon were starting to move in however weren't threatening and were keeping the temperatures cool.
By this time we were past the quartzite and the rock definitely got scrappier. It took a little scrambling to gain the classic spot where we could see the black towers. By this time I was fading a bit, largely due to not eating enough which in turn was largely due to making a crappy lunch that I didn't feel like eating.
It was very cool to be standing in such a classic spot. We checked the photos and directions, futzed about a bit and then got after it. In the back of our heads was the realisation that bailing from here would be long and painful.
We thought we knew the correct exit through the black towers, however I wondered about our ability to recognise it up close. The part that surprised me the most was the lack of beta on getting to the bottom of the black towers. This was likely made worse by the abundant snow.
We chose to climb up to the lower snow band and scree ledge and then traverse left. The other party headed up a gully feature early in the rock but it just didn't look right. Brian took off further and waved, he found a cairn and easier ground further along.
We climbed up towards the entrance to the towers on rock covered ledges and, preferably, snow. The snow was perfect, firm but we didn't need crampons. I was still dogging it a bit and Brian was good enough to carry the rope and did a lot of the route finding through this section.
Once we climbed up to the upper snow band we ran into Dave and Michaela's footprints and could see them ahead. We followed their footprints in the snow and, just as advertised, squeezed behind a big flake and up a small hill only to run right into a set of bolts. I get the non bolting ethic, however must admit I nearly kissed them! It was 1:40 pm and had taken us 2 1/2 hours from the top of the big step. The photo below is Brian following behind the flake and taken from the bolts.
Fortunately, the food I was forcing down started to have an effect about here and I was able to contribute a little more. Brian and I semi pitched, semi short roped the first two pitches. The first pitch I would have soloed in boots and the second in rock shoes. That would have saved time, however more importantly avoided a significant amount of rock fall that got rained on the second from the rope.
As we were getting organised at the top of pitch two in the towers, the parks helicopter actually came around the corner and had a look. We gave them the all's well sign however I was wondering what they knew that we didn't! We ended up with our photo in the mcr report see if you can spot us on the ledge, just at the bottom of the snow on the right hand side:
At that ledge I went left and climbed about 40 metres on good snow. A third of the way I passed a two pin anchor on the left but it was out of the way. I assume there are bolts somewhere in this area but were covered with snow.
After exiting the snow I found an old piton on the right, clipped it and carried on to build an anchor higher. I could see an anchor up and to the left but couldn't make it and didn't want to simulclimb as it would rain rocks on Brian. He followed and then lead the short pitch to the chains.
This whole black towers is somewhat complex terrain and the route isn't obvious. The chains obviously help, as does a smattering of tat. All in all the correct route is up and slightly left after the second anchor. I realise that everyone has different levels of comfort without the rope however later in the season without as much snow I believe I would be best with no rope and rock shoes.
From this last set of chains, Brian lead up and left. After 20 metres he found a shiny bolt and belayed me over where we ditched the rope and scrambled to the top. One of the things I like best about this climb is the way the mountain reveals itself a little at a time. We popped out on a ledge with the entire snow cap spread out before us, spectacular! By now it was 4 pm and we were at 3300 metres. The odds of us making this into a 16 hours day had slipped away but we both felt some relief given our position and weather.
By now the high cloud had moved it in earnest and there was very little sun. It was cool and the temperature was probably pretty close to 0. This obviously made for great cramponing and well supported snow bridges over the crevasses.
We quickly donned crampons, took in some coils and headed out. We could see the tracks of the other team and could see them ahead, there were also a set of tracks from an earlier ascent done during warmer times. I was happy to be in my element on the snow but had some issues with my crampons. They were a season old and set up for use with my Nepal Tops, I forgot to move them over to flexible use and they came loose a couple of times. It likely cost us 1/2 an hour of futzing and I may have soiled the trousers, Brian was amazingly patient.
I gingerly lead the way across the side hilling and then struck into a 40 metre section of fairly steep ice. With crampons giving me the gears this would have been heart stopping if it wasn't for the two screws and draws we had on hand. As it was I made my way across faced in until 3/4 of the way through and then climbed up, giving the obvious cornice a bit of a berth.
After this point things got fun again, the ground was flat enough the crampons weren't an issue and the view was fantastic! I can see the benefit of doing the route early season as the snow was very firm and the snow bridges intact. The movement from one side of the ridge to the other added a definite element.
Coming over the top onto the summit was fantastic! It was 6:15 pm so it had taken us a couple of hours to cross the snow field. My crampon issues had obviously added some time.
The summit was snow covered, cold and windy. We took a couple of photos, jettisoned the crampons, harness and rope, grabbed a snack and started the descent.
There was some snow to dodge on the descent but it was pretty painless. Very painless in fact, it took about 3 1/2 hours down including a break at the lake below Paradise col to refill water bottles and grab a snack. We arrived back at the cars, after a significant amount of yoo bear, at 10:22 pm and just made it in without headlamps. All in it was just over 18 hours and 1650 metres of elevation gain.
A great, great day on an interesting route!