Canadian Rockies, Mt Temple - Greenwood-JonesDate:
The seed was planted two years prior. My son Glenn and I had just climbed the Beckey- Chouinard on south Howser and were taking a much needed rest in the Kain hut before the walk down to the car. Chris, a guide we had met, suggested that after that we should go try the Greenwood-Jones on the north face of Mt Temple, a 3500 metre peak near Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. Apparently the route was classic.Whatís it go at? I donít know. 10b or so.
Iíd climbed on Canadian Rockies limestone before and was familiar with the loose rock and long runouts between marginal placements.Howís the gear?
Quickly. The gearís great.
Bit of a pause. Actually, no. Thereís not really any gear. But youíll be fine.
At the time I was tired and just wanted a beer and a nap. So I didnít know it then, but the hook was set.
A year later we found ourselves on Mt Templeís east ridge, one of the fifty classics, and a long day of type 1 fun. On the corniced summit ridge, we saw two climbers coming up from the north face, and when they caught us on the descent we found they had just climbed the Greenwood-Jones. Great route. You should try it.
A year later, we did.
Because of its high north face, Mt Temple is known as the Eiger of the Canadian Rockies, although to be honest thatís a bit of a stretch. The Eiger holds mythical status among climbers, even today, as the last of the north faces in the Alps to be climbed. Eight climbers were killed before the first ascent, and many more since. Its history is immortalized in the classic book The White Spider, which had both inspired and horrified me. About his attempt the author Jon Krakauer wrote that while his partner intensely wanted to climb the Eiger, Jon only wanted to have climbed it.
The Greenwood-Jones climbs a long rib on the left side Mt Templeís north face, and is well protected from rock fall and other objective hazards. Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the only guidebook, lists the route as 5.8 A1 and has a few unintelligible sentences vaguely describing the climb. This book is referred to by many as Selected Sandbags in the Canadian Rockies, and realistically the only useful beta we had was a line drawn on a picture.
We chose our gear carefully. Fast and light. Double ropes, approach shoes and rock shoes, an alpine rack including a couple of pitons, one ice tool each, a cell phone, and a picture of the face with a line drawn on it.
Neena, my wife, dropped us off at the trailhead at 4AM. Warning signs indicated that a minimum of four people were required because of an aggressive grizzly bear in the area. With cubs apparently. The penalty for noncompliance was a large fine, but I was more concerned with being eaten. Normally Iím not afraid of the dark, but this time every little noise had me a bit jumpy. Glenn too. We made a lot of noise, hoping to ward off any bears, and reached the foot of the face without incident at around 6AM when it was just starting to get light. Holding up our picture, it was hard to make out the correct line of ascent. Glenn argued for a line on the left, and I argued even stronger for one a bit to the right. With my experience I knew I was right and tried to explain this to him, although heís almost as stubborn as I am. A few minutes later a serac collapsed on the summit glacier, obliterating my line. The decision was made to go his way.
Still the bottom of the route was indistinguishable. We roped up for a short pitch, and then put the rope away and soloed for a long ways over low angled down sloping ledges covered in rubble. It got steeper when we hit a band of quartzite, and we simul-climbed on a short rope. The climbing was fun, and I was grinning. We were climbing the north face of Mt Temple!
With Glenn in the lead, I pulled off a microwave oven sized block with just a gentle tug. It happened so fast. The block missed me, but barely, it was a sobering reminder to be careful, that the game we were playing was serious. At some point, high on the face, the climbing got steep enough and felt dangerous enough that we began to pitch it out. We climbed long pitches, to save time, but also because finding secure belays was often tough. At some point, we reached a point where the quartzite, now pretty decent in terms of quality, turned back to shattered limestone. The line on our picture showed a jog to the left, away from the rib, and so we followed a rubble strewn ledge system for half a rope length before Glenn led back to the rib and a truly horrific belay below a steep broken wall. My lead.
Every hold touched broke or threatened to break. An old piton about five metres up was the first piece of gear. The leaver biner on the piton should have been a sign. The climbing was horrifying, with difficult moves on rock that threatened to break at any time. I tried to balance my weight between several holds before moving. All the gear I placed was for show, but gave me the nerve to keep climbing. A fall, a broken hold, would mean decking on the ledge or possibly falling past it onto the marginal belay.
At thirty metres I reached a solid crack that took a good cam, and a little farther was a belay ledge. This had been a terrifying pitch, albeit very satisfying. The next two pitches were fun, steep but reasonably solid, with good protection. We were having a great time, nervous but still confident, knowing we were high on a big route and doing it in good style.
Near the top, my lead again, the crack we were climbing ended with some large overhangs. A traverse right of about five metres brought me to a piton and a point where I could climb up to bypass the overhangs. Steep climbing brought me to two more pitons, widely spaced and the only gear thus far. Long slings helped reduce the rope drag. A few metres above the last piton I made a long reach to a hold that broke as soon as I weighted it, and I was off. The upper piton pulled instantly. I remember wondering why I was still falling, and I fell to a point just below the belay when the second piton held. I was bleeding and scared, but otherwise ok. It was the biggest fall I had ever taken. Still scared, I didnít really want to climb but I didnít want to hang on the rope either because I had this fear of the remaining pitons pulling out. I climbed back to my high point. The only gear was the peg that had ripped out, so I pounded it back in and made the moves. Twenty metres later the pitch was over and Glenn led the last pitch to the top of the rib.
Despite all this we were making good time, and the descent, though long, is an easy scramble. We were confident of making it down that day. An exhausting scree slope leads to the top of the ridge, where the East Ridge route joins up. We only had to follow the summit ridge past some cornices and the difficulties would be over. The previous year, when we climbed the East Ridge, the summit ridge was all snow and the crampons we had brought werenít needed. This time we left them behind to save weight, but now found hard ice the whole way to the summit. Shit. We tried cutting steps, but it was far too precarious. One slip would mean falling the length of the north face, and it seemed as though continuing would be suicidal.
Bad decisions are the cause of a lot of mountain accidents. At this point it seemed that the best choice was to descend the East Ridge. We knew the route. There was reception on my cell phone, so I called Neena and told her our plan, and not to wait for us. Knowing that we would be spending a cold night out, but wanting to get as low as possible, we hurried. We were at the top of the Black Towers section of the East Ridge, known for its rotten rock. Finding reliable anchors was hard, but soon we were at the base of the Black Towers after four long rappels. A traverse took us back to the ridge crest at the top of the Big Step. The crux of the East Ridge, the Big Step is a 200 metre buttress that would need to be rappelled. It was now dark.
We had found a good ledge to bivouac on, and we settled in for a long and uncomfortable night. We were still at about 3000 metres, and had another scare when a thunderstorm blew in. Thankfully most of it missed us, and the rest of the night, though long and cold, was relatively uneventful. In the morning, four long rappels got us below the Big Step, and a long scramble brought us to the road. We hitch-hiked back to where Neena was waiting for us with food and cold beer (thanks). It was a pretty epic climb for us, and one Iíll remember for a long time. Gear Notes:
Expect to find a few pitons here and there, but otherwise there is little fixed gear. I would recommend double ropes and a standard rack of nuts and cams to 3 inches, as well as a few pitons. An ice axe and crampons are needed for the summit ridge. I imagine most people would want rock shoes.Approach Notes:
Hike to Lake Annette through the Paradise Valley. Contour around the right side of the lake and up towards the toe of the buttress.