3 August 2017
Mount Temple is touted as “the ultimate scramble” in Kane’s Scrambling in the Canadian Rocky Mountains guide book. At 3542 m (official elevation: 3544 m), it’s also the highest in his book of 180+ peaks, and one of the rare 11,000ers (a mountain whose summit elevation is at least 11,000 feet = 3353 m) in the Canadian Rockies that are “scramblable”, i.e. not a technical ascent. Despite having climbed all kinds of other peaks in the area for several years now, I still hadn’t done Temple. Wen was also keen to climb this most famous of Lake Louise mountains, so we decided to finally make our attempt on August long weekend when the weather looked promising.
Trying to find a parking spot at Moraine Lake was the first crux of the day. It was only 7 am on a Thursday, but the parking lot was already hopelessly overcrowded, with masses of cars, RV’s and busses jostling for space. Somehow we were lucky and got a spot as someone was leaving, while most people after us had to park on the side of the road.
Once we had walked past the crowds snapping pictures along the shores of Moraine Lake, the hike up the switchbacks through the forest felt like a silent retreat… although there were quite a few people here, too. Many were headed to Larch Valley or Sentinel Pass, some to Eiffel Peak, and a few to Mount Temple. This has got to be one of the most popular hiking areas in all of the Rockies!
Hiking through Larch Valley was just as beautiful as we remembered it from two years ago when we went up Eiffel Peak. This piece of nature is simply stunning. As you emerge from the trees, a line of majestic snow-clad peaks appears on the left with such famous names as Deltaform, Fay and Perren – the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The rich green larch forests form the perfect contrast to the black and white escarpments and the bright blue sky above. Higher up the valley the views seem to get even more impressive, with Mount Temple appearing on the right while Eiffel Peak and Pinnacle Mountain are now in centre stage. These are two absolutely beautiful mountains! It’s easy to sit down and just gaze at this theatre of peaks around you, your thoughts wandering off on the ridges in the distance… The little lake at the base of the switchbacks to Sentinel Pass, called Minnestimma Lake, is perfect for that!
We enjoyed another scenic break at the pass with a dozen other hikers before heading up the good (but less-travelled) trail towards Mount Temple. There are tons of cairns, sometimes so many that you get confused about which branch is the right one. We quickly reached the crux cliff band, which turned out to be a bit of a surprise: it was harder than I had expected, to be honest! It’s only about 3-4 metres, but steep and somewhat exposed. The rock is solid, though, and a few careful and well-placed moves did the trick.
Past the crux, we still had significant elevation to gain and our steps got slower and heavier – a result of the high altitude that weren’t used to. Although this upper section was a bit of a slog (especially the last 200 elevation metres!), it’s super scenic and the views are just so terrific that you can’t help but forget about those sore muscles and heavy breathing.
We joined three other groups of hikers at the large, snow-free summit cairn, which I’m told is a rarity given that it was such a beautiful day. One one sunny day several years ago, my friend Trevor apparently had to share the summit with at least 50 other people! It was interesting to see that only a few metres away from the summit, a large patch of snow and ice still covered the rock on the northern side, with a steep cornice on the right. This is definitely an area to avoid; there have been too many avoidable accidents involving cornice collapses in recent years.
On return we chose a slightly easier line to skier’s right of the main route at the crux, just a few metres away. This easier route was along a small gully that had some narrow, rubble-covered rock ledges on its right side. Still not easy scrambling terrain, but probably safer and with less exposure than the normal crux climb. However, because of the loose rubble, rock fall is definitely something to watch out for in this gully (needless to say that helmets are mandatory for Temple)!
I had read somewhere about an alternative route down Temple that avoids Sentinel Pass altogether and offers a faster way down. About 150 m after passing the crux again, we could see a rough trail in the scree to our left, leading into the bowl directly below us. Even though we couldn’t see where the trail would end up further down, we decided to take it – and I’m glad we did. The loose scree was a fun and fast way to lose a few hundred metres of elevation. A couple of cairns helped, but in general the way was pretty obvious. We kept following the most beaten route in the soft scree down, veering slightly to the left at a small rock band, then straight down again into a small plateau where the tracks fizzled out. We simply continued in a straight line towards the small slope that took us back to the main trail down in the valley. We must’ve saved at least an hour by taking this shortcut.
After a leisurely hike back down to Moraine Lake we were baffled to see that the mayhem in the parking lot hadn’t calmed down a single bit. On the contrary, it had gotten worse! Crux number 3 of the day was thus to try to get out of the parking lot and back down the Moraine Lake road, with hundreds of slowly moving vehicles still coming up the jammed road now that it was already 6 pm. We eventually made it back down to the highway and were just glad that we didn’t have to contend with the same hordes up on Mount Temple!
DISCLAIMER: Use at your own risk for general guidance only! Do not follow this GPX track blindly but use your own judgement in assessing terrain and choosing the safest route.