"A day on the trail, or a scramble over the glacier, or even with a quiet day in camp to get things in order for tomorrow's conquests? Somehow when once this wild spirit enters the blood...I can hardly wait to be off again."
-- Mary Vaux
After reading the above quote in a tiny Banff bookstore, I immediately felt that the words embodied my feelings following our trip to Banff over the past weekend. Over the past two years, I've developed an enormous passion for the great outdoors over the course of thirty-one hikes within the North Shore, the Fraser Valley region, Squamish, Howe Sound, L.A., Victoria, and, now, Banff National Park. Other than fostering a deep appreciation of nature and enhancing my physical endurance, I have found that hiking has cultivated several important virtues: patience, humility, and perseverance. All of those qualities would be greatly tested on our first, intensely epic hike in Banff.
When my dear friend Tia suggested excitedly that we attempt the Mount Temple hike and scramble, I didn't think it was a big deal. Perhaps the fact that we needed helmets for the 4-km-long scramble should have been an indicator of Mount Temple's hazards. After driving 9+ hours to Banff National Park, we picked up helmets from an outdoors equipment store and were warned of the dangers by the friendly employees who had climbed Temple several times. Since the trail becomes increasingly dangerous when there are more hikers on the scramble (due to loose scree, rockfall dislodged by hikers above you can be a real danger), we were advised to arrive at the hike extremely early.
According to several online sources, more mountaineering accidents have occurred on Mt. Temple than any other mountain in Banff National Park (most likely because it is the most popular scramble in the area). Mount Temple rises up to 11, 627 ft. (3544 m) and challenges hikers with a staggering elevation gain of 1690 m. The high altitude and thin air have been commonly known to cause nausea and severe symptoms of altitude sickness (which unfortunately were experienced by one member of our group).
On Friday morning, our alarms disrupted our all-too-short sleep at the ungodly hour of 5 am, which was actually 4 am in B.C. time. Like zombies, we stumbled around our room in order to ready our packs and dress for our hike. After watching the sun rise over the mountains on our forty minute drive over to Moraine Lake, we arrived at the trailhead and began our adventure at around 7:16 am.
The first portion of our hike, known as the Larch Valley trail, was comprised of easy and relatively uneventful switchbacks for about 2.5 km. Luckily, we often were treated to stunning views of mountains that were visible almost the entire way. After reaching the Larch Valley meadow, we stopped to snack, take photos, and take in the spectacular views. The second portion leading to Sentinel Pass was surprisingly easy and probably could be accomplished in 15-20 minutes by fit, experienced hikers. Unfortunately, one member of our group almost immediately felt the detrimental effects of altitude sickness from the very beginning of the hike; normally a very strong and fit individual, my poor companion couldn't take a full breath and experienced feelings of weakness. Honestly, I have the deepest admiration for this extremely tough cookie; most people would have great difficulty ascending the summit of Mt. Temple in normal circumstances, let alone not being able to breathe properly through hurting lungs.
The sights from Sentinel Pass-- the switchbacks leading up the this viewpoint are slightly visible to the far left of the above photo.
When we reached the Sentinel Pass, we knew that we had to continue up to Mount Temple since the hike was far too short and the weather was too divine. We began the quite gentle, at least in comparison to later, scramble up to the 'first grey rockband' (each stage of the hike was clearly labelled in the pamphlet given out at the Banff Visitor Info Centre in order to prevent tourists from getting severely lost along the way). However, after we completed the steeper ascent up loose rocks and scree leading up to the 'second grey rockband,' we began to comprehend the true difficulty of what we were getting ourselves into.
After scrambling on our hands and knees up past the 'second great rockband' to the 'light brown rock step,' we stopped to chat with other hikers about how much further we would have to endure. Since we had been hiking for several hours already, hearing that we had at least 2 more hours to go was quite discouraging. Nevertheless, we were buoyed by comments that the view and weather were fantastic and well worth the effort.
It was past the 'light brown rock step' section that we encountered the most technically difficult portion of the scramble: the crux. Strangely enough, we did not find climbing up the crux to be terribly hard as we found an enclosed area of rock that we pulled ourselves up through. However, the exposed rockface is very difficult and scary to descend as you have to no clue as to where to put your feet. We were fortunate to have been helped by some friendly hikers (who were also very fond of weed and beer) who were patient enough to guide us down the crux.
The last scramble to the summit. This portion of the scramble was actually the most difficult because we were that point very physically and mentally tired. Every time we seemed to make progress, it seemed like the summit was still far, far away. If you can spot the specks in the right hand corner of the above photo, you'll see the hikers ahead of us who were nearing the top.
After finishing reaching the summit. I only wish you could truly experience the 360 degree, breathtaking panoramic view from the top-- 11, 627 ft. in the air! While we were already entranced by the mountains that we had been seeing all afternoon, more spectacular mountain ranges became visible in the distance as we climbed higher and higher.
While the windchill made the summit feel incredibly cold at times, we were mostly treated to the most divine weather of warm sunshine. As a result, we were able to enjoy our stay at the top by taking photos to our hearts' content and chatting with the many friendly hikers who had also made the climb.
When we began our descent down the Temple, we faced the most nerve-wracking part of the journey. If you've hiked difficult trails before, you probably know that the most dangerous part of the hike is the descent. You're mentally and physically tired, your legs and feet are sore, and the distance seems so much longer going down than going up.
I'm happy to say that no one was injured whilst going down the mountain. In fact, going down was much faster than going up-- the trip up took about 7 hours (with extended breaks for photos and food) while the climb down took a mere 4-ish hours. At that point, our trekking poles were an invaluable investment. Not only did they support our aching joints, they allowed us to almost 'ski' or slide down the loose scree just below the summit.
On the way down, we were joined by another hiker, Dennis, was kind enough to accompany us back for a good portion of the hike down. Not only did he regale us with fun stories of past adventures, he shared some much-needed candy with us to keep our spirits up. Also, he recommended a great hike that we would complete the next day: Mt. Fairview over Lake Louise. Thank you!
After finally returning to the parking lot, we said our goodbyes to Dennis and drove back to the town of Banff. Since it was already past 9 pm, we were ready to eat and pass out. Following much indecision due to our tired states, we ended up buying tons of McDonalds (I got a McDouble, Quarter Pounder, and large fries) and happily munching our food in our hotel room. Heaven was removing my aching feet from my hiking boots...
Even now, we can hardly believe that we managed to accomplish a feat like Mt. Temple without any real training in scrambles. We believe that having a healthy amount of respect for this hike kept us safe from reckless behaviour and unnecessary injuries. This hike and scramble was most definitely the hardest physical act that I've accomplished in my life thus far; I feel so blessed that I was able to do it with good health, good weather, and amazing company. In fact, we've become hooked to the notion of mountaineering and climbing even higher peaks in the future (hello Mt. Denali in Alaska!).