September 18, 2020
Climbing Mount Temple was a dream come true. It was one of those mountains that loomed large in my mind. Too large, actually. I accidentally blew it all out of proportion. I was so freaked out to do this!
While this was my first 11,000′ mountain, it was not the first time I’d been that high. I’ve trekked through Peru twice, and have been above 18,000′. Yes, there is scrambling on this route, but I’ve done harder and more sustained scrambles.
I don’t want to downplay Temple, because this mountain definitely demands respect. I am just saying that I personally did not need to stress over it as much as I did. I had the experience and skills to really enjoy it. Now that I’ve done it, I really want to do it again!
The main reason I want to go again is due to the California wild fires. I had a very narrow window to climb this mountain. The Temple season is short – waiting for the snow to melt by the end of July/early August, and before the snow starts again in September. My husband had emergency gall bladder surgery on August 15th, and he needed time to recover. Once my daughters were able to get time off work (at the same time!), we were left with only one day – Friday, September 18th.
Unfortunately, this was the worst day for smoke, and our epic views were decidedly obscured. On the positive side, the smoke kept the crowds away and we had the mountain to ourselves for the most part. Temple was also in fantastic shape.
Proper boots are essential. We had quality, high ankle hiking boots with excellent tread. In the off chance of lingering snow at the summit, we packed gators, spikes and ice axes. The Grey band was worrisome with the long reach and the greasy holds, so we brought a short rope and a harness. We also had bear spray for Larch Valley below.
Hike to Sentinel Pass. Turn right, and make your way through the black rocks to the first Grey band, and then the second Grey band. Work your way up through the Light Brown rock, and the short rock band above. From there, it’s a long slog through constantly changing scree that is surprising steep, staying close to the ridge. Finally, the summit ridge comes into view, and it’s a lovely walk to the summit.
Park at Moraine Lake at some unholy hour. We arrived by 4:30 am to ensure we had a spot. We needn’t have worried. The smoke kept the crowds at bay, and we were one of five cars.
We started off at 4:50 am with headlamps, and made our way to Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley. For directions to Sentinel Pass, click here.
We were alone on the trail, so made lots of noise to encourage any bears to move along. Despite the early hour, it was surprisingly warm. We could easily see stars and planets while hiking up, and were momentarily hopeful that the smoke had cleared.
As we neared the top of Sentinel Pass two hours later, the sky had lightened enough to turn off the headlamps.
At Sentinel Pass, we put on our helmets and started up the scree slope at the base of Mount Temple.
This lower section is actually quite enjoyable. There are a variety of braided trails through the black rock, but we stayed left, closer to the ridge. There are several sections of rock ‘steps’ that were a nice contrast to churning scree.
We hiked up to the base of the first wall, and traversed across the bottom, on the right.
Once around the first wall, we continued up and around to the Grey band. We passed below another big wall.
As sometimes happens on big days with very early wake-ups, tempers were a bit frazzled. My daughters were arguing over something silly. As I was videoing this band, my hubby Mike decided to break the tension. It worked! Soon my daughters were laughing and joining in. No more tension for the rest of the climb.
We soon came to the first of two scramble sections on the Grey band. This was marked by bits of flagging. I found the lower sections to be pretty slick, and they required a long reach. This was okay going up, but coming down was trickier.
The second Grey band scramble quickly follows the first. It was very similar – a long, slick stretch at the base, and then easier climbing the higher we got. To ensure you are climbing the right crack, look for the painted blue and yellow stripes.
Once above the Grey band, it was another long ascent through large chunks of rock. The landscape changes colour again, from grey to light brown. This is one of the best parts about Mount Temple. I love how the mountain has these distinctive bands, and the quality of rock keeps changing as well. Always something new to enjoy.
We hiked up the massive Light Brown slope, keeping an eye on the summit ridge. We had one more small scramble section through the Light Brown band.
Once above the Light Brown scramble, the rock goes back to grey. From here, it is one long slog up through rock, and then scree, to the summit ridge.
We did have one major event that broke up the monotony – the sun came up! It was about 9:00 am when the sun finally peaked over the side of Mount Temple, and made for some great photos.
I had a terrible head cold when I was climbing Mt. Temple, so I was never sure if it was super steep, or if I was just having a tough time from all the mouth breathing. Turns out, when I looked back on the elevation profile, the section above the Light Brown band to the start of the summit ridge is pretty darn steep!
As we headed up through the scree, the trail was a bit braided. Stay as close to the right ridge as possible. The rock is more consolidated. The trails on climber’s left are descent paths, and is a churn-fest that is best avoided.
Once we hit the base of the summit ridge, the elevation gain backed way off. There is nothing nicer than a ridge walk to the summit, and Mt. Temple did not disappoint.
There was just one group of two guys ahead of us. They kindly stayed to take our pictures, finish their beer, and then descended. We joked that it was the only time they could drink beer at 10:00 am and not feel guilty.
Distance to the summit of Mount Temple is 9.2 km. The elevation gain is 1,664 m (5,491′). Elevation at the summit is 3,544 m (11,698′)! Time to the summit was 5 hours, 10 minutes.
The snow is part of the permanent glacier on the north side of Temple, which you can see from the highway and the village of Lake Louise.
Mount Temple Return
We had a good long summit lounge for almost 40 minutes. We normally do not hang out this long, but dang – it was so much fun up here, no one wanted to leave. We also had the summit to ourselves, so we didn’t feel the need to move along too quickly.
We descended the exact same way we went up. This is very important. There are several scree trails that lead directly down to Larch Valley. These look like a great time saver, but they are killers. Rock fall in this open scree area is common, and the official map shows were people have been killed. Who knows how many more have been injured.
We were worried about descending the Grey Bands, and the big reach required. To deal with this, we brought up our harnesses. Mike short-roped each of us down the bands, which was fantastic. No one actually slipped, but having the extra security of the rope was appreciated. It’s never a bad time to practice short rope skills in the mountains, especially when climbing with your kids.
On our way down, we had an accidental IG moment. We stopped to have a break, and Mike wandered out onto this platform. My daughters and I had a good laugh making Mike do various IG poses.
While this next photo might look like an intentional IG photo, it is actually Kayla demonstrating the proper way to fall on scree. So many people get injured on mountains coming back down the scree slope. She fell backwards, onto her pack and butt. Then she put her other leg out straight to arrest her fall. Perfect technique!
We returned to Sentinel Pass, and put away our helmets. At this point, we morphed into every other hiker on the trail. This was a strange sensation – like coming back into civilization after backcountry skiing for a week.
The trek back to Moraine Lake was lovely. As usual, the kids shot ahead and we found them by the car relaxing on their packs. We went immediately to the water, and soaked our tired feet. The cool water reduced the swelling and make the ride back home much more enjoyable.
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: September 18, 2020
Group: Four (Alisen, Mike, Mackenzie and Kayla)
Distance: 19.23 km
Elevation: 1819 m (6,000′)
Time: 10 hours (including 40 min lunch, and short-rope section)