Mount Temple 3544m - Solo Scramble
Canada Alberta Lake Louise
Even though the glaciated peak of this hulking giant stands at 3544m (11626 feet), it can be summitted in one long day providing the weather holds stable, the bears don't slow you down, and the depth of snow in avalanche chutes is at acceptable levels. If any of these three elements do not cooperate, a solo ascent without ropes can change quickly into a life threatening event. As a matter of fact, in 1955,
I started early morning and my first objective was to scare away possible bears. The initial tourist route to
When I reached
Soon I left the tourist trail and started to scramble up the western side of the mountain through scattered boulders and scree. An hour later things started to look up. The cumulus clouds visibly hit a stable-air layer and I could tell that the thunderstorms were not going to happen. When I reached the snow level, I put on my gaiters, helmet, and took an ice axe out of my bag. Occasionally I could hear small rocks falling here and there as well as avalanches rumbling in the distance. My route, however, looked pretty good so far even with the snow being much higher than I had remembered from two years ago. And so further up I went ...
Climbing through the first avalanche chute turned out to be more treacherous than it originally seemed. The snow wasn't as soft as I expected and so I had to make sure that I wouldn't slide down to the exposed rocks and boulders below. The idea of shredded skin and broken bones did its job and I started to fully focus on the job: "Thrust the ice axe into the hard snow and then kick the proper footholds. Repeat until the top of the chute, don't look down!"
The avalanche gully is about 30 meters long and has snow in it all year long. In good conditions, it is a fun part of the scramble which doesn't require any equipment, only a bit of common sense and caution. This time however, the hard snow extended well below the chute and made it approximately a 100-meter long slide. Tumbling down was not an option. I could see that crampons would be very handy at this stage. As I didn't have them with me, I needed to asses the risk properly and make a decision. The question was not only whether I can make it safely up the gully but will I be able to make it back down as well?
This is probably one of the most interesting aspects of scrambling. Where is the safe line between climbing with ropes and other equipment and scrambling up the slopes and rugged walls without anything? At which point a scrambler becomes under equipped for the task? Anyway, back to the job at hand: "Kick-kick and ice axe, kick-kick and ice axe, kick-kick and ice axe ..."
As it turned out, this avalanche chute was the crux of the day. On more gentle slopes, the snow was just patchy almost all the way to the top. At this point, the peak was about 500 meters up the ridge, and I started to feel fairly certain that I would claim the victory. The weather was impeccable: visibility over 100 miles, beautiful puffy clouds, virtually no winds, and the temperature above freezing. A person could not ask for a better day in the mountains. Interestingly, the ceiling of the broken cloud was sharply defined and very close above me. It felt like I could literally reach and touch the clouds! Pretty cool! As they say, the sky was the limit for me this fine afternoon...
And there I was, at last! For the second time in my life I was standing on top of
Not this day though! The crunching snow and ice below my feet together with the fact that there was nobody else on the whole mountain made my adventure totally different, memorable, and complete. I felt bigger than life and happier than ever.
My return back to the parking lot was uneventful and fairly quick. A deliberate and carefully executed descent through the avalanche chute paid off though. At one point my feet slid and I remained hanging on the ice axe, which in many ways is as safe as standing on a ladder.