Temple Crag has always been my idea of the ultimate climbers' peak. On my first roped climb 6 years ago, we met Allan Bard at his base camp above Third Lake, and he regaled us with stories of the many epics, solos, and first ascents on its imposing north side. I can clearly remember thinking that the route Dark Star, a grade V up the longest arete on the face, would be forever out of my reach. I continued to think that until last year, when a full season in Joshua Tree pushed my rock climbing over the 5.9 level. Still, the grade on this route is at my limit and I knew with the shorter August days we'd have to move fast on a Grade V. As it turned out, the climb itself turned out to be the safest part of the trip, as the drive home almost ended in disaster.
Leaving Orange County at the lovely 4am hour, we made good time to Big Pine and up to Third Lake. My plan was to lead the first, crux pitch that afternoon and fix a line to make things faster the next morning. The pitch went smoothly, about 90 feet of solid 5.9 with a 15 foot section of 5.10. BD microstoppers in the #4-#6 range were useful in protecting the crux. Rapping down from the fixed anchors, I knew we had the climb if the weather held. Huge clouds were forming around us and a half hour after I got off the pitch the downpour started.
The next morning, the weather still looked very unstable but we decided to go for it. Looking down from our perch under a giant boulder at the base of the route, we saw another party start up the hill towards Dark Star. There couldn't actually be another party on this climb, could there? Must be going to Sunribbon Arete. As it turned out, they WERE planning on climbing Dark Star but our superior camping position allowed us to get on the route 5 minutes before them. We toproped the first pitch and pulled away from the other party after the third pitch.
The second pitch of the route is really good - steep and sustained 5.8. The third pitch is even better, starting out with a 20 foot traverse ending on an exposed face move traversing into a 5.8 crack, then straight up through the cleanest 5.9+ corner I'd seen in the Sierra. Having two green Aliens helped a lot on this part, as the corner had a thin finger crack in the back.
The rest of the climb was enjoyable moderate climbing, most of it simulclimbing and never harder than 5.8. There is a great 5.8 chimney on pitch 5 or 6, in which you climb into and behind a giant flake. Ben set up an anchor on a chock stone wedged behind the flake, and sitting there belaying I had windows out the chimney to either side, one looking down to Third Lake and one over to Sunribbon Arete, where another team was just beginning to set up the Tyrolean Traverse pitch.
All the simulclimbing we did greatly reduced the pitch count, and we topped out onto the summit plateau by early afternoon, much earlier than expected. We both thought this route was definitely one of the best we've done in the Sierra, and surprisingly moderate. We were able to take the rest of the afternoon slow, enjoying the clearing weather and spending some time on the summit. It turned out that Peter Croft had soloed the route (for the third time) 3 days before we were on it. He had topped out at 10am, from the car!
Driving out that night, we thought we had it made but suddenly a giant cow loomed in our headlights. The sound and sight of the car seemed to have no effect on this beast's forward progress, and sitting in the passenger seat skidding sideways towards the cow I figured I was a goner. The front bumper clipped its front leg, and it fell onto the hood. Its head then smashed into the windshield right in front of me. If it had been a bull, I undoubtedly would have been impaled on the horns, but the cow just made a huge indentation into the smashed windshield with its head. It then got up, shook itself, and ran into the scrub. Ben and I were left sitting there, staring straight ahead, with cow drool slowly sliding down the windshield.
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