Climbing can sometimes be a very surreal experience. Take, for example, our weekend climb up Mt. Temple. On the one hand, we are on a massive, almost-mile-high north face composed mostly of loose rocks piled on top of each other, the climbing more mentally than physically taxing and retreat not really an option as the safest way of escape is to keep climbing up. And yet, sitting on a ledge, looking out at Lake Louise and the Trans-Canada Highway far, far below, I can pull out my cell phone and get near-perfect reception.
Mt. Temple is one of the more formidable peaks the Canadian Rockies have to offer. With an imposing, pyramidical summit glacier capping a massive, near-1500m-high North Face, it is a mountain that practically begs to be climbed.
One of the ‘safer’ routes is the North-East Buttress, aka the Greenwood-Jones, rated at V 5.8 A1. For those unfamiliar with alpine grading, the V is the commitment grade – “a full-day in alpine terrain with a long approach, long technical descent and objective dangers” – 5.8 is the technical rock-climbing grade – “though this is 5.8 Rockies alpine trad” – and A1 is an aid rating, according to the original rating system one that involves “occasional aid moves often done without aiders or climbed on fixed gear.”
Essentially, a full day of climbing on a big, serious face with objective dangers and a long, tough descent. Which is more of less what we encountered!
– We roped up for the initial 5.5 pitch, which went quickly and easily.
– We scrambled up and right as per the guidebook, but apparently not far enough to the right.
– The second pitch of climbing felt closer to .10a, and was rather loose.
– We solo’d and simul’d for a while after we regained the crest of the buttress.
– Once again roped up, we must have missed the original route a few times as among brilliant, solid 5.7/5.8 pitches we also encountered at least a couple of pitches of .10b, perhaps even .10c. One of these should probably get an X, or R, too, as the first piece was about 25-30 feet above the belay ledge.
– The exit pitches were confusing and the descriptions misleading. Around dusk, and with at least two pitches left, we joined up with the only other party around for an unplanned bivy.
– The next morning, we finally managed to find a way off the buttress and onto the scree slopes leading to the summit glacier. The guidebook describes this as a “hand crack” however all four of us concur there was no hand-crack but rather a full-on squeeze chimney.
– We got off the scree as soon as possible and continued to the summit on firm snow.
– The descent is probably the only straight-forward part of the route, as you follow the popular scramble route all the way down.
– We brought a full rack of cams to 3” (doubles in .5, .75, 1) full set of nuts and four pins. We used everything, and even placed two pitons.
– Cams were BD X4 .1 – .75, BD C4 .5 – 3 (or equivalent)
– Full set of DMM Wallnuts.
– We had two knifeblades, a lost arrow and an angle. We used a mid-thick knifeblade and a mid-thick LA. Obviously, bring something to pound these in with.
– Ice axe & crampons for summit ridge.
– I used my 240cm sling several times to sling horns and boulders as belay anchors – a very useful piece of kit!
– We used a 9.2mm single 60m rope. Though there was some rope drag, it seemed easier and faster to do it this way. (But committing if we had to rappel for any reason.)
– I wore my usual alpine / ice / mixed uniform: Arcteryx Gamma AR pants, Arcteryx Phase SL longsleeve baselayer, Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody, Arcteryx Gamma SL Hybrid Hoody, Icebreaker tuque.
– I also brought my ultralight water/wind proof shell, an Arcteryx Alpha FL, and the usual mid-warmth jacket, Arcteryx Atom SV, and two pairs of gloves, BD Torque for climbing in and OR Warrant for waterproof warmth.
– Other miscellaneous items are a second tuque and a synthetic buff. I also packed a second, dry, pair of socks, which turned out to be great when we ended up bivvying!
– We both wore Scarpa’s Rebel GTX Carbon, a boot that excels on both the approach and the climbing bits.
– I took along BD’s new Speed 22 pack, which while it carries and climbs great, is proving not to be very durable with at least five finger-sized holes from just this one trip. But, having a small pack made the climbing quite enjoyable!
– We didn’t take any ice gear, and I would hope that anyone attempting this route is comfortable enough with glacier and ice travel that they shouldn’t need to pitch any of the summit ridge out, however it would have been nice to have a screw or two each in case of a slip while on the summit glacier.
– We didn’t encounter any fresh water on the route other than some seeps just above the moraine, and on the descent found some meltwater from the snow about 2/3 of the way down the mountain. Hydrate well before getting on the route so you can get away with a minimal amount of extra weight once climbing.
– For food, we both brought mostly gel packets and granola bars. This proved adequate as we were moving most of the time anyway.
– I thought about it but in the end decided not to, but next time I’d also bring light-weight insulated pants (I have the Arcteryx Atom LT – barely over 300 grams but amazingly warm!)
– I had four bars of cell coverage all the way from the moraines up to the summit (I’m with Fido). Good to know in case you need to call in an emergency! However, I lost signal on the descent, and didn’t get it back until Lake Louise.
Overall, this is a fantastic route in an awe-inspiring setting. Though it is close to town, and has cell-signal coverage virtually through its whole length, it is not a route to be taken lightly. The climbing is committing and exposed, the rock is loose in many sections, route-finding can be a challenge and the weather can change quickly. All that said, however, I highly recommend an outing on this Rockies classic!
After the first pitch, and above the scrambling bit, we decided to start climbing, perhaps too soon, as this pitch felt closer to .10a than the 5.7 we should have encountered. But, as I often state, this is good training! (For what, at this point, I am unsure, as I thought all the other climbing I have been doing is the training for alpine routes!)
My camera started malfunctioning erratically in the late afternoon, so we have now skipped past the unplanned bivy, the shitty top-out onto loose scree and are now safely settled on the snowy slopes of Mt. Temple’s glaciated summit.