Mt. Temple, East Ridge

By: Doug Artman | Climbers: Doug Artman, Jeff Neri |Trip Dates: September 1, 2003

Photo: Gary Clark

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Ok, so here we are on our 'rest day', 4:30 AM heading up the open avalanche slope that leads to Mt. Temple's East Ridge. We had just come down from a successful climb of Mt. Robson the previous day. We had planned an easy day today and the conversation goes something like this:

Jeff: "It's a good thing Temple is closed, I can just see ourselves doing the East Ridge if it was open."

Doug: "Yeah, an easy day on Whyte sounds good right now, and it looks like the weather may turn worse tomorrow anyway."

Later at the Lake Louise Visitor Center the ranger systematically stripped us of all our reasons to pass on the climb. Lacking a sufficient excuse, we stumble up the slope in darkness, headlamps giving us a small circle of light to help find our way.

There are actually two parties ahead of us - a couple of Canadians and two vacationing NOLS instructors from Wyoming. We are legal; minimum group size this time of year in this area is six due to seasonal grizzly bear restrictions. Six is not the optimum group size for climbing a big route on a big mountain; it happened purely by chance, but there you have it. The Canadians are setting the pace and we all head into the first chute that leads up behind the pinnacle visible from the road. Then the rocks start raining down and an instinct for self preservation starts to open the gap between the groups. Jeff and I hang back until everyone has cleared the head of the chute. As we are climbing the second chute it's getting lighter and we are treated to a magnificent view and beautiful weather. Third-class climbing and a short fifth-class step takes us to the flat area below the Big Step, then Jeff and I relax in the bivy site waiting for our turn to tackle the step. Not exactly the solitary experience we had hoped for but it made for less cerebral route finding. It's also the last time we all bunch up.

Jeff leads off up the first pitch of the step. The rock is pretty good here and the pro seems reasonable. The second pitch goes by as well, but on the third pitch the route traverses up and right causing Jeff to deal with increasing rope drag. Finally he makes a belay but now he is out of earshot and there is so much rope drag that rope signals are not working either. Eventually I climb on faith, flaking the rope as I go up, hoping that Jeff will sense the slack and reel it in. And as in all happy endings that's exactly what happens. After about 40 feet I flick it out of a crack and he starts taking in rope. When I arrive at the belay he is rather pissed with the whole situation, blaming himself for bad rope management. I'm not overly bothered by it, but it sort of sets Jeff's mood for the day.

At the top of the step, incredibly loose rubbly ledges head out on the south side of the ridge toward the gullies that lead up into the Black Towers. We start out across the traverse and of course make the classic route-finding error of heading up into the towers too soon. We find ourselves on steep crumbling class-4 rock with no chance of pro had we wanted some. We climb this gully to the top of the ridge and find ourselves in a blind alley. Jeff had not climbed on this type of loose tile before and he is in his words "in full Jeff mode". To me it looks like it is getting serious. By now another party consisting of a French duo has caught us. Not feeling confident about down climbing the rotting mess, Jeff wants to rap down to the next gully. The leader of the French team down climbs and disappears into the next chute while Jeff sets up his rappel.

Jeff makes his rap and is fuming with the rope while I watch from above. I feel the situation needs to be calmed down so I down-climb and take over coiling the rope while telling Jeff he really needs to chill a bit. To Jeff's credit he quietly lets me take the rope then takes off after the French guys. From then on it is better, at least as far his temperament goes. The rock continues poor through the next couple pitches of mid fifth-class climbing as we traverse the Black Towers. On one lead Jeff, while belaying, can only sit there and cower behind his pack as best he can while I kick baseball-sized rocks down on him. The climbing is not terribly difficult but pro is mostly psychological or totally nonexistent.

Finally we make it out of the towers and stand on the edge of the final snow and ice leading to the summit of Temple. We can see the French team making their way up the ridge to the top. "Well, we made the classic ascent of the original party by traversing all the towers" I crack with a weak grin. We had burned about 4 hours in the towers.

Crampons on and axes in hand, we set off toward the summit on snow that is nicely firm here on the north side of the ridge. We cross a few crevasses and traverse the final knife edged snow ridge to stand on the summit in perfect weather enjoying the view. In short order the descent begins via the normal route. We are down to the parking lot at Moraine Lake in time for the NOLS guys to give one of the French guys and me a ride back to our trucks. I drive back up to the lake to get Jeff, and after a shower, we are back at bar at the Lake Louise Inn for beer and nachos; whipped, but not beaten.