Often climbing a peak once is not enough. We like to know the mountain well, its different facets and routes, especially if it’s one of the keystone peaks in our home range! Temple Crag is a beautiful monstrous peak with the biggest technical routes in the Sierra, all lined up one next to the other. There are too many good routes, and it beckoned to run laps on it.
This was a weekend my partner Vitaliy and I couldn’t wait to get underway. Dark Star, grade V and Sun Ribbon Arete, grade IV. 50+ pitches in two days; more than 5000′ of climbing for sure. Probably a lot more. And all at altitude in a superb Palisades setting.
Others have linked up multiple routes, lapping Temple Crag in a day. But for my partner Vitaliy and I, the routes we wanted to do were challenging enough for us in a push apiece. Back-to-back days would be a sufficient lap challenge.
First up was Dark Star. This route had been near the top of my list for a while. First off, it’s Dark Star. The longest technical route in the Sierra, and one of Peter Croft’s Big Four Sierra routes. And not least of all, its named after the most legendary Grateful Dead song. It’s the kind of stuff dreams are made of. At least my dreams.
Dark Star lived up to the hype for me, 4 stars out of 4. The two crux pitches (10b/c and 10a, or a bit softer) are stellar. I got the leads, and flashed ‘em. Though it wasn’t cruiser as my chalkless hands were sweating a lot in the cool early morning on that delicate dihedral move at the crux. I agree with any accolade heaped upon this route. It’s so big and beautiful and I found the rock quality excellent on the lower buttress.
Of course after the lower buttress, you are still only a quarter of the way done. We couldn’t find the right line on the upper buttress (this is way common, it turns out, as you read TRs). So instead of the reputed perfect rock for 2 pitches there we climbed some heinous choss. Wasted time, but not too much that the thought of bivying was tempting us.
Supposedly the route is 31 pitches if you pitch it all out-which of course no one does. We soloed a bit but mostly simul-climbed the rest of the route. Vitaliy had a great attitude the whole way about the seemingly endless climbing. This is the most important thing in a climbing partner, willingness and good attitude. That, and will to climb on and avoid an unplanned bivy! The entire topo was marked with bivy locations and encouraging notes to skip them and keep going. We definitely kept on keepin’ on, and as fast as we could!
Other than the start of the upper buttress, the only other thing not fun was the couple of rappels late in the route. My opinion on the rock quality on the upper buttress and beyond is that it’s indeed bad in some places–though probably not as bad as the hype. It’s a mountain after all, it’s gonna be a bit chossy. Don’t let this deter you from an otherwise perfect route.
The summit is a short way (maybe 10 or so min of mostly class 2) after the end of the route but many parties skip it and descend. Sure we were tired by then but to me, half of the beauty of Sierra routes is that they are good technical climbing on huge peaks so going to the summit is mandatory–I consider it part of the route. We stepped on the 12,999′ summit around 6pm, 11:30 after we started. Gorgeous views of the Palisades are the external reward for going all the way. Temple Crag is like the fortress gate to these great mountains.
The descent was filled with tons of snow so after the rappel to the pass, it was quick and easy to plunge step and glissade. Lap 1 complete! After very few calories all day (we were constantly moving and not stopping to eat) we enjoyed double mac and cheese and Ramen for dinner at camp by 3rd lake…then slept well.
The crux of the trip was waking up the second day. I didn’t feel Dark Star was overly hard overall, but it was long and going for another 20+ pitches on Sun Ribbon Arete the next day with aching muscles was harder than I expected. But that’s what made the challenge, and what we were there for. If it were easy I would have been disappointed.
We slept in a bit–we needed it. Once we got moving around camp, we started feeling a lot better. I was still mentally really good, very excited about yet another classic route. Many people feel Sun Ribbon Arete is their favorite route on Temple Crag. Maybe they haven’t climbed Dark Star? Even so, Sun Ribbon is indeed a great line. 3 stars/4.
The sleep and the longer approach (needs snow gear) meant we didn’t get on Sun Ribbon Arete until 8:30. Luckily it is an obvious climb with easy routefinding so even though we were tired and moving kind of slow, we did fine on daylight. We simulclimbed much of it, pitching out only a handful of times. There are some really nice pitches on this route, especially the near the top of the third geandarme.
I was nervous about eating up time on the tyrolean traverse halfway through because I hadn’t set one up before, and I was willing to just downclimb then re-climb to get over the gap instead. But it was easy to set up, and soon we were over and arriving at the crux.
I liked the crux pitch: fist crack to face moves traverse. It’s notably harder than anything else on the climb– which occasionally checks in at soft, though sometimes physical 5.8–but is usually much easier. I think mostly I was getting tired, as the crux is near the end, and Vitaliy and I were both pretty fatigued. Still, got it clean, though it did take me a while to work out.
After the crux pitch we sped up a bit, and made very fast time on the rest of the route. Summiting at 7pm (not a fast time on the route but we enjoyed it), I was a little worried about finding our crampons and axes on the descent due to the coming darkness. We had used them for the approach but had thrown them down the snowfield once we got to the rock. But there was just enough light to find the gear in the last light by the time we got there. Lap 2 complete!
Temple Crag has 4 famous routes, and we only climbed 2. The mountain still calls to us to get to know her! Hopefully I’ll go for another weekend at the Temple sometime. The next time I’m definitely gonna go for the Temple-Gayley-Sill traverse after one of the routes… Until then, the memory of 50+ pitches in a weekend, quintessential Sierra climbing all day for 2 days in perfect weather, is satisfying enough.