Mt. Fay and the Fay Glacier from Temple's Summit

Mt. Fay and the Fay Glacier from Temple's Summit

The Valley of Ten Peaks

The Valley of Ten Peaks

Hungabee Mountain, Horseshoe Glacier and Glacier Peak

Hungabee Mountain, Horseshoe Glacier and Glacier Peak

LANDSCAPES THAT INSPIRE

Mount Temple

August-18-2012

In a region blessed with ridiculous amounts of natural beauty, Mt. Temple stands alone as the tallest mountain in the Lake Louise Group, and visible from almost every other peak within a 50km radius. The name of the mountain is most appropriate; the first time I saw Temple, it was from across the valley at the Lake Louise Ski Resort on a brilliant, sunny, winter day. The base of the mountain was shrouded in clouds, while the rest of Temple's massive form soared impossibly above the rest of the landscape.

Unsurprisingly, Mt. Temple is one of the tallest mountains in Alberta (ranked #6). However, what may surprise many, especially those viewing Temple's intimidating east and north faces, is that the mountain is also the tallest mountain in Alberta that can be scrambled.

Well perhaps even that's not that surprising as, unfortunately, the mountain is a bit of a tourist magnet. In fact, the “hike” up Mt. Temple is so popular with tourists and the otherwise unprepared, that Parks Canada felt it necessary to publish an ascent guide for Temple in an effort to reduce the number of rescues they need to perform.

Yes, rescues.

I don't mention that to discourage those who, like me, are drawn to this peak by its solitary beauty and the absolutely breathtaking views it affords of the region; but this is classified as a moderately difficult scramble, that can present a number of significant hazards, and needs to be approached with a suitable level of respect. This isn't another hike in the Lake Louise area; this is an ascent of an 11,627 ft. peak. Prepare accordingly.

Trip Information

The scramble route for Mt. Temple begins from the Moraine Lake parking area. To get there, follow Lake Louise Drive west from the Village for 2km and then turn left onto the Moraine Lake Road. It’s important to note that this parking area is notorious for filling quickly, and it’s not uncommon to see vehicles parked along the approach road for a kilometre or more. You’ll want to make an early start for Temple (probably no later than about 9:30 on a summer day with a good forecast), not only to ensure a parking spot, but also because the trip will take at least 8-10 hours to complete.

From the parking area you’ll want to find the trailhead for Larch Valley, which is quickly reached by walking around the left (or lake) side of the day lodge and past the docks where visitors can rent canoes. Depending on the time of your visit, there will most likely be a group-size restriction in place for the use of the trail (see “Considerations” below for details).

Because the Parks Canada guide provides an excellent outline of the climb, I’m merely going to elaborate on a couple points.

The first involves Step 5, which is the crux area of Temple. The prescribed route leads up to two surprisingly vertical 3m steps that have marginally positioned holds (as seen here). This is borderline difficult scrambling, and Ryan and I had to exercise a lot of care during the downclimb. I can’t believe that this is the recommended route; although I find it funny that the brochure suggests setting up a rope and a belay here. What you want to do is scramble up (and then later, down) a much easier route to the immediate (climber's) right of “Gully 2” (as pictured here). Note that the rockfall danger warning for Gully 2 is *completely legitimate*, as even careful steps around its top will send a lot of material down the mountain. Do not attempt to ascend that gully, and be sure to spend as little time as possible near its path.

If you’re a scrambler of reasonable experience, you’ll definitely want to descend via the two scree paths identified in the main photo below Step 4. You can plunge step quite easily down this slope, likely saving yourself 30-45 minutes in the process. However, there are two things to note about this route. First, the debris path from Gully 2 continues through this area; it’s easy to identify, and should be avoided by staying to the skier’s left of it. Second, once you’re about halfway down you’ll be presented with a choice of routes: you can downclimb a dry (at least for us) waterfall section directly ahead of you, or continue through some rougher scree to the skier’s left. The scree route is faster, but the waterfall route (seen here) is quite fun; offering great scrambling on rock that’s smooth, yet paradoxically grippy. Either way, you’ll soon be back on the trail headed for Larch Valley.

Considerations

Due to both its altitude and geographic location, Temple has a limited scrambling season that usually spans from mid-July through September. Attempting to ascend the scrambling route outside of this period increases the chances of encountering significant snow and ice conditions towards the summit, along with cornices which may be difficult to see while on route; all of which would elevate the difficulty of this climb into mountaineering territory. Note that even in August, Ryan and I had our ice axes with us as a precaution.

Every year, Parks Canada enacts a minimum group-size restriction of four people for trails in the Moraine Lake area to protect people from — and to reduce the impact upon — the local bear population, and it usually begins right around the start of Temple’s scrambling season. As it can be quite difficult to assemble a team for a scramble at the best of times, a useful tactic is to join hikers headed towards the Sentinel Pass area, ascend Mt. Temple, and then look to join another group after your descent. Can you get away with fewer people? Probably, but you could face an expensive fine should you happen to cross paths with a Warden.

On a busy day, it’s very likely that you’ll see people (and perhaps many) headed for the summit with nothing more than tennis shoes, a pair of shorts, and a t-shirt... no water, no food, no extra layers, no head protection, no sunscreen, and sometimes, not even a camera! Please don’t be this abjectly stupid. The scree here will happily destroy casual shoes. The temperature between Moraine Lake and Temple’s summit can vary by over 20°C, even before considering windchill. Many injuries on Temple are the result of rockfall, which can be a real hazard when there are dozens of people on the mountain — wear a helmet if you have one. Sudden afternoon thunderstorms can be quite common in June and July. Quality water sources are non-existent along the route (only a few stagnant tarns and the occasional snow patch), so make sure that you have at least two litres with you. Lastly, you’re likely to develop a significant hunger during 10 hours of continuous physical exertion, so bring a lunch and some energy-giving snacks.

Further Reading

The ascent of Mt. Temple is also described in Alan Kane's Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies (pg.235). It's worth noting that the Parks Canada route is almost an exact match to that described by Kane.

i ROUTE MAP

8 PHOTO GALLERY

  • r
    Although this route was recorded with a GPS unit, this data should only be used as a SECONDARY navigation tool.

  • Passing through Larch Valley

    1

    Sentinel Pass

    2

    Pinnacle Mountain

    3

    Eiffel Peak and the Valley

    4

    Paradise Valley

    5

    Making Our Ascent

    6

    Mt. Allen, Mt. Tuzo and Deltaform

    7

    Mt. Hungabee and Mt. Lefroy

    8

    Mt. Fay and the Fay Glacier

    9

    Continuing the Ascent

    10

    The Valley of Ten Peaks

    11

    An Avalanche on Lefroy

    12

    Eiffel Peak and Pinnacle Mountain

    13

    Ryan Crests the Summit Ridge

    14

    Me with the Fay Glacier

    15

    Mt. Temple's Summit

    16

    The View South

    17

    From Deltaform to Hungabee

    18

    Gazing Towards Mt. Hector

    19

    Mt. Hector

    20

    Paradise Valley from the Summit

    21

    Mt. Lefroy and Mt. Victoria

    22

    Mountaineering Ascent of the Northweast Ridge

    23

    Looking Back Along the Summit Ridge

    24

    Panorama Ridge and the Consolation Lakes

    25

    Idiots on a Cornice

    26

    Ryan Poses at the Summit

    27

    Moraine Lake, Nearly 1.7km Below

    28

    Southwesterly Panoramic

    29

    The Consolation Lakes

    30

    The Valley of Ten Peaks from the Summit

    31

    The Descent

    32

    Deltaform, Eiffel Peak and Pinnacle

    33

    Paradise Valley Below

    34

    Further Down

    35

    Mt. Temple's Crux

    36

    The Suggested Bypass

    37

    The Scree Descent Route

    38

    Downclimbing a Dry Waterfall

    39

    A Tarn with Mt. Babel in the Background

    40

    The Tower of Babel (Centre)

    41

    Mt. Fay (between Mt. Babel and Mt. Bowlen)

    42

    Eiffel Peak from Larch Valley

    43

    Mt. Fay

    44

    Moraine Lake and the Tower of Babel

    45

Be sure to read this important disclaimer before attempting this trip or others profiled by this website.