"The distant sound of beer cans calling to us, from far below."
Rick smiled, took a few more steps and then stopped abruptly. "Wait", he said. "There it is again!"
We did our best to hurry down the choss and talus to the short rappel above Contact Pass. Then after skidding down the dirt in the gully, we talus hopped around the corner and returned to our flat sandy home. There we could once again gaze up at the soaring aretes that define the northeast face of Temple Crag. Those large cans of beer had been cooling in the streamlet that trickled intermittently from the gully splitting the Moon Goddess and Sun Ribbon aretes; the same gully that awoke us repeatedly the night before, coughing up rocks onto the talus above us, echoing the noisy episodes of erosion on nearby Mt. Alice.
We tipped back our beers and enjoyed the evening view: a perfect way to cap a great day, a fun climb. It was about 8pm on a warm summer evening. In the fading light, the abundant lichen gave Temple Crag an odd greenish tint, as if covered in moss. A trick of the light, for unlike it's neighbor Mt. Alice, the "crag mountain", as Norman Clyde called it, is composed of clean, nearly perfect granite. Poor Alice Ober of Big Pine probably rolled over in her grave when they renamed her mountain Temple Crag and christened the ugly dirtpile to the east Mt. Alice.
Rick Booth and I had lazily headed up the North Fork the previous day, and slogged above Second Lake in the hopes of finding running water just below the route. It had been a low snow year with a hot spring and summer and everything was dry, dry, dry. Burned out snowfields and anemic glaciers convinced us to leave crampons and ice axes in the car and carry huge containers to allow us to camp away from water if necessary. But we found the stream in good condition. So we kicked back in the heat and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the arete with our eyes and counting the minutes until happy hour.
While unloading my pack, I discovered that I'd forgotten my headlamp. This was a potentially serious blunder as we weren't sure how fast we could climb the route. I began to feel like a mutual friend of ours who seems to always forget something or other, often really important items like his sleeping bag or the climbing rope. Our running joke is that he would forget his bunghole if it wasn't attached to his ass. As I sat there trying to comprehend my absent-mindedness, a trio descended from the Sun Ribbon. One of them was had a Petzl Tikka and a willingness to barter ("How about a spring loaded camming device?"). A mutally agreeable exchange was made and our oversize rack was lighter as a result.
Following a fitful night of noisy rockfall, we were off by 6am, scrambling easily up the moat to the right of the couloir. A ledge took us past one left facing corner and then ended abruptly beneath an even larger one. Rick made quick work of pitch 1 (5.7) and I took advantage of the toprope by following in my approach shoes. We then coiled the ropes and scrambled a few hundred feet to the notch behind the first gendarme.
Climbing the arete above this was both fun and moderate (some 5.7), perfect terrain for simul-climbing, but we stuck with standard belay techniques, making it to the top of the second gendarme in four pitches. It was 10am, the early morning clouds that had inflamed my worry wart had burned off, and we were happy and smiling in the sunshine, confident that we'd finish with time to spare.
From the second gendarme, the classic maneuver is to snag a small spike on the other side of a 15' gap in order to cross via Tyrolean traverse. You can also rappel down and climb back up, but why in the world would anyone actually choose to miss out on a Tyrolean traverse high in the mountains? Three quick tosses and I lassoed a different spike than I'd been aiming for. Oopsie. We yarded on the rope and it didn't look like the rock was moving, so we went with that. Feet dangling, hand over hand, it was a big kick to span that gap.
The next pitch, rated 5.5, was an exposed and not entirely well protected traverse that felt harder, at least the way we went. And there was little doubt it was the way the previous day's party had gone as well for there was an incredible path of chalk on all the major holds so far on the route. We were totally astounded at the quantity that must have been necessary to leave this sort of trail. Did the guy have three chalkbags?? He must have been dipping his hands in before every single move! Every time we questioned the route finding, we'd look and find those pasted chalk marks. Occasionally, there would be a big white handprint: "Mr. Chalk was here!"
The crux pitch loomed in front of us... somewhere. We looked over our copy of the topo from John Moynier's Book of Lies. It indicated a left facing corner, which we couldn't see anywhere. Meanwhile, there was this incredible straight-in crack right in front of our faces. If this wasn't it, we decided, it really *should* be! So I started up the crack and immediately there were the chalk marks again. This must be it!
Although two number grades harder than anything else on the route, this pitch was multi-star quality and a highlight of the climb. Forty feet of hand jamming and flat edges led up to a short airy face traverse right. Then steep jugs continued to the crest of the arete. Rick and I couldn't agree on where the crux moves were, but the 5.9 rating seemed about right. Clean, well protected, wonderful! It was just about worth lowering down to do it again. I noticed in Peter Croft's new book ("The Good, the Great, and the Awesome") that he gives this pitch a rating of 10a. I don't want to argue with him!
A few more easy pitches led to the fourth gendarme and a short rappel. The fixed rappel slings appeared looped around a bunch of blocks that Rick pointed out all moved, so we backed them up. But the base of this loose collection was actually well rooted and seemed solid enough when Rick rappelled, so I pulled the backup before I went. I'm still alive!
After another easy pitch, Rick set off on what the Book of Lies described as "5.7 on arete". Looking up, we saw a 5.10 R/X face. The alternative was to waffle around the corner and work back up towards the crest, which is what Rick did. Croft's book refers to a 5.9 fist crack, which I don't remember seeing. The remaining class 4 "pitch" on our topo turned out to actually be three more gendarme dodging, rope drag inducing, dog barking pitches. All class 4 and probably great fun if you don't have what feels like a mule on the other end of the rope. Nonetheless, by 5pm we finally put the forty-seventh gendarme behind us and landed safely on the gentle upper slopes of the mountain.
A short exposed scramble led to the summit, complete with further signs that Mr. Chalkman had been there. And then as we sat there, reveling in the early evening light, we started to hear something in the distance. We couldn't quite make it out at first, but then we realized that it was someone -- or something -- way down near the base of the route, calling to us, beckoning us to descend. Although very faint, it became louder and clearer and more compelling the further we headed down the slope...
The Sun Ribbon Arete rightly deserves the often abused term "classic". Although exceeding 15 pitches in length, the climbing is primarily moderate, with ample protection and abundant holds. You can reach up over almost any block and feel confident in finding a positive edge, often a jug. Stick your hand around a corner and it's likely that it will disappear into a perfect handcrack. Belay ledges are everywhere and the sun shines on 95% of the route all day long. The quality and ease of the climbing combined with the location and exposure make the Sun Ribbon Arete a tremendous joy.
Gear requirements are relative to the skill, speed, and willingness to accept risk for a given climber. We took a standard rack to 3" with double SLCDs in the 1" to 2" range. This turned out to be a little more than we actually needed. We used double 8.8x50 meter ropes, but a single 60 meter rope would be a good alternative. Four twenty-two ounce cans of Sapporo Draught rounded out the gear list. This turned out to be a little less than we needed.
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