The first time I saw Temple Crag was on the long slog up to the Palisade glacier. I was mesmerized by the spectacular but intimidating aretes, ridges and buttress that ascend the North East face. I wasn't sure how hard they were, but I sure wanted to climb one!.
Over Memorial weekend this year, Chris Sproul and I chose to give the Sunribbon arete a try. It's rated grade IV 5.9 (including a tyrolean traverse) and has 18 pitches. Sounded like a big day!
A casual hike up the North fork of Big Pine took us to the outlet of third lake. Crossing the outlet turned out to be a bit of a balancing act over large but loose tree trunks bobbing in the fast flowing creek. But we made it safely, unlike the hapless character in sneakers in front of us!. Crossing a small boulder field, we found a large patch of sand close at the base of the North buttress to set up camp. We expected to have to melt snow for water, but it turned out there was a small melt water stream coming out of one of the snow banks.
That afternoon we ascended the gently sloping snow field up to the snow gully that divides the moongoddess arete and the sunribbon arete. We continued up the snow gully to take a look at the start of the climb and to leave our climbing rope and pro at the base of the climb. As an added benefit, the climb up the soft snow meant that we had a nice set of steps for the following morning, which was very useful as the snow froze pretty hard overnight and we only had one ice axe and one set of crampons between us.
We returned to our tent and took in the climb as the sun set. The notch requiring the Tyrolean traverse was easily visible and looked very exposed.
At 4:30 am the next morning, just as it was getting light, we hiked back up to the base of the climb, threw our crampons and ice axe back down the snow ramp, and headed up and right across a large ledge to the start of the first pitch. This is a very nice clean 5.7 corner, but this early in the morning at 11,000 feet it felt a tad harder!. This was followed by simulclimbing two pitches of 3rd class which brought us to the 1st gendarme and the arete proper. The 2nd gendarme 5 pitches up didn't look far, but as we found out, you totally loose perspective on this climb. We simulclimbed quite a bit up this thoroughly enjoyable exposed but moderate section but still took 3 pitches. We stopped at the 2nd gendarme for a bite to eat and to enjoy the scenery. We'd already got in 2/3's of the elevation gain, and it was only 10am. The weather was perfect, no wind or clouds, and although it's a north facing climb, the arete is exposed enough, and laid back enough that we were actually in the sun all day long. This was alpine climbing at it's best.
Now for the Tyrolean traverse (or a rap and a 5.7 face climb). I must admit it didn't quite look like what I was expecting. Secor said 15 foot to a block. Well the gap was about 15 foot, but the block was another 8 feet further back. Seemed a bit unlikely to us. Lassoing is not something I've had much practice with, but Chris convinced me I was the man for the job. So I measured out a loop of about 50 feet and threw it, then hauled it back and threw it again, etc, etc. Actually it didn't take too long to get in about a dozen throws by which time I was getting the hang of it. With encouraging cries of "ride 'em cowboy" from Chris I finally snagged the block. We tied off our ends to 2 pins, an old stopper and a ton of old webbing. The distance is short enough that prussics and the like are not needed, and it was quite easy to haul yourself across the gap to a convenient ledge 5 foot below where the rope was being supported. Chris went across first and threw back the rope so that I could run it through the webbing and throw it back to him to tie off around the block. I soon joined him on the other side and pulled the roped. Retreat would be difficult now!
A short ridge section brought us to the crux 5.9 crack/corner pitch. Secor mentioned that there is a delicate 5.8 traverse that cuts out the lower part of the crack. Spying two newish pins at the start of the traverse, and a somewhat dirty looking start to the crack I figured the traverse was the way to go. Once into the corner, the second 5.9 crux never seemed to materialize. I continued up into the next pitch until I was sure I must have past the worst and brought Chris up. A little disappointing in a way, definitely didn't get harder than 5.8 in my book. But enjoyable climbing anyway.
>From here on the arete begins to turn into a ridge and the gendarmes and other blocks begin to cause some serious rope drag. So although the climbing was quite moderate, we were limited to how far we could stretch a pitch. In some case just a couple of pieces of pro over 200 feet was enough to bring the leader to a halt. So the last 7 long pitches went quite a bit slower than we had anticipated. With hindsight, we should have coiled up about half the rope and simulclimbed much closer together. But it was still a beautiful day so it wasn't really a problem. After 9 1/2 hours of climbing we finally rounded the last gendarme and scampered up the remaining 4th class pitch to the summit ridge.
After a quick jaunt up to the summit to take in the spectacular views of the Palisades, we descended the easy scree slope down towards Contact pass. Making sure to keep a large gully off to our right we eventually came to a short cliff face directly above contact pass. A single rope rap got us down to the pass. Following a relatively short hike back around to the original snow gully for our crampons and ice axe, it was back to the tent for some well earned grub.
This is a fun and high quality alpine climb. It takes very good pro, is hard to get off route, but is exposed and long. Moving fast is relatively easy as long as you are confident at 5.7 with little pro.
We used a small Alpine rack (handful off stoppers, selection of cams from small aliens up to #2 camalot, and small tricams), and lots of longs slings (very important).
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