There are 54 mountains over 11,000 feet in the Rockies. Having done three of them now, I thought I ought to at least climb the “easiest” one. At 11,627 feet, Mt Temple dominates the Lake Louise skyline and is one of the best looking mountains in Banff National Park.
Above: I took this picture in 2010 from Saddleback Pass looking at the imposing north face of Temple. The easier ascent line is on the south face.
Suz told me of some chatter on the internet about our friend Glenn planning a trip up Temple. As we had together done Mt Athabasca and the Canmore Triple Crown, I asked if I could join and he was glad to have me. Our other partners were three women from Banff with not as much mountain experience but all were in extremely good shape. Glenn was glad to have some extra experience along so I studied the route carefully and expected to take a leadership role. I left the house at 3:55am to give ourselves enough daylight for a long climb.
We left Moraine Lake in the dark navigating by headlamp. This area is restricted access due to heavy Grizzly activity which has always hampered my attempts to organize this trip in the past.
Above: Fiona takes in the sunrise on our ascent buttress with Pinnacle Peak looking profound in the Alpinglow. Glenn can be seen at the bottom left picking his way through the rock. Fiona is a bodybuilder who has competed at the international level so she had no trouble keeping up to the pace. Glen had climbed EEOR the day before and was feeling tired which was good for me as I got to lead the whole route. It was nice to have him there for a couple route questions (he’s climbed Temple before) which would have been time consuming to figure out by myself.
Above: Smoke from fires in Washington State start to blow in making our hard fought view a little less spectacular.
Above: A bit of 5th class climbing was managed by everyone without too much stress. A crack feature and some easy face climbing got us over the crux face. I went up first and photo-bombed everyone as they came up the tricky section.
Above: Glenn on the final summit ridge. The smoke nearly obscured the valleys which was too bad as the view from here is among the best in Banff. It was kind of interesting to have just the tallest peaks poking up through the smoke. Mt Deltaform on the left and Mt Vaux just peeks above the smoke in the background.
Above: Fiona celebrates her 36th birthday on Temple. The climb was a big birthday plan but Glenn surprised her with some Reeses peanut butter cups at the top.
We lingered for about five minutes at the top. It was pretty far below zero with a strong wind so getting down safe was top of our minds. Leah was a bit consumed with climbing down the crux cliff face so we all did our best to keep a positive mood.
When we climbed down to the crux, we had the most unfortunate experience of finding some people out of their depth, off route and struggling on an exposed cliff. It seemed like a dire situation and we were helpless to assist them beyond yelling instructions. After a 20 minute ordeal, the panicked person finally got to a safe position but for most of that time, I was pretty sure they were going to fall and suffer some life threatening injuries. They seemed intent on continuing up though they had no business being on that mountain. Three others asked if we could lead them back down and we agreed. I could hardly insist the other people follow us down but it made me angry to see how their foolishness nearly cost them dearly.
While this was going on Leah was perched above the crux cliff getting more and more nervous as she was forced to wait while the off-route victims kicked down a rain of dangerous rocks into our downclimb crack. When they cleared and it was safe to enter the crack, Glenn went first and I took everyone’s gear and dropped it down to him so everyone was unburdened and better balanced for the downclimb. Everyone climbed down safely and of course Leah was surprised to discover with some help telling her where to place her feet, it wasn’t as bad as her mind had made it out to be. A problem I suffer from tremendously in the mountains! Downclimbing is very difficult when facing into the mountain as it’s so hard to see your foot holds.
Once down the crux, it was a long, easy scramble down the mountain but the incident left a bad taste in our mouths. We managed to talk it out of our systems though and slowly the better parts of the trip were front and centre. At the valley bottom, a man asked me how long it would take to get to the top. I said it depends on who it is. He said he meant himself. I replied that I didn’t didn’t know him so I had no idea. This isn’t being flippant really. We took 9 hours and left at 4 in the morning so if anything happened, it would still give us lots of daylight to safely get down. This guy was attempting it at 2 in the afternoon which demonstrated how little experience he had. After looking at how he and his wife were dressed and equipped, I told him straight out he should turn around right now because the rock was too loose and coming down in torrents and it was too dangerous. I thought he would listen to that warning (which was mostly true) rather than trying to tell him he needed more experience. I also said it would take him 14 hours from where they stood which may not have been a stretch. Luckily they listened to me and chose not to go up. They had improper footwear, no axes, no helmets, no crampons despite the snow and ice, no extra clothing and obviously no route information, map and goodness knows what else was missing. Sitting in a coffee shop in Lake Louise and Googling “Lake Louise” is probably what inspired them to try Temple.
Above: Casie downclimbs an “easy” cliff band. You must build a very good mental map on the way up so you can safely get down without making a wrong turn and then find yourself in really dangerous terrain.
It’s the good and bad of the information age. On the one hand, people with no experience, or skill see pictures of these incredible places and think because some trip report on someone’s blog called it easy that they will give it a go. What they don’t investigate is whether that report is from some world class mountaineer whose idea of “easy” involves years of experience and skill building. Mt Temple is so close to high traffic tourist areas that it becomes a tempting prize to those long on ambition but short on experience. A grim testament to this is that Temple had the deadliest mountain accident in Canadian history when a group of 7 scouts were swept off the mountain by a summer avalanche. My experience with this mountain has inspired me to approach Parks Canada with some simple signage on the approach trail suggesting people turn around if they are not carrying certain equipment and knowledge of how to use it. A sign won’t stop everyone but may turn a few around.
On the other hand, the internet allowed me to look at the route possibilities and variations in a variety of weather and snow conditions. I got to study the most difficult parts and compare them to other routes I have done. Using some advanced weather forecasting, I followed the temperature at various elevations on the mountain for a week leading up to our ascent so I would know at what level to expect ice and what the quality of the snow would be and where. I knew the day before at what time roughly on our descent the ice would turn to slush making loose rocks unstable.
In the end it was a good day out mostly because of the people I went with of course. I may come back to this one on a clear day to see the views as they were intended without the smoke clogging the valley.