When I got back from Italy in July, I started running in the mountains like I’d forgotten all about the saga of injuries I’d been dealing with most of the year, and pretty much made the same mistakes I made back in May. I ran the Cory-Edith loop with friends, then tagged Edith a couple days later, then biked and hiked to Egypt Lake a few days after that. I stopped doing physio exercises partway through my trip to Europe — the dorm at Rifugio Lagazuoi was the last time I used a resistance band — so it was little wonder when my tib-post/plantar issues flared up after getting back from Egypt Lake.
Soon it was the end of July — the finest months for peak bagging squandered — as I laid on the couch describing my state of inactivity over the phone to my girlfriend: “How are you dealing with that emotionally?” she asked, knowing I was probably clawing at the walls.
One perspective, I answered, was that the situation was frustrating, that I was deeply unhappy, that my life lacked meaning and I was facing identity issues. But that wasn’t the perspective I walked around with day-to-day. Instead, I tried to stay patiently optimistic and furiously did physio exercises like there was no tomorrow.
One upside to my inability to run has been embracing the bike more wholeheartedly. Last fall I completed an “Aylmer Duathlon“, riding from Banff to Lake Minnewanka, tagging the 3163m summit of Mt. Aylmer, then riding back to town. When I was forced this past spring to look to the bike as my only means of getting around and maintaining my sanity, it took a few weeks to come around to it. What began with bitter and aimless rides evolved one day into a concerted mission to ride to the Continental Divide on Highway 93 and back. After that outing, I started seeing the bike as a tool that can be used to tick objectives that lend the same sort of warm, fuzzy ego-stroking feelings of fulfillment I get from bagging summits.
Luckily, this summer wasn’t solely restricted to riding my bike, and by mid-August my foot was healthy enough to fathom the prospect of trotting up and down eleveners and stuff:
Partway through August, my buddy Glenn put the idea to scramble up 3491m Mount Athabasca in my ear. Though my foot was still iffy, I agreed to go, if only to resolve a simmering vendetta between us and the mountain — though Athabasca is by all appearances a glacier-clad behemoth, last summer Glenn and I reached a snowy arete spitting distance of the summit and were turned back by my idiotic decision to leave the ice tools and crampons in the car.
Joined by our friend Tyler, we hit the road at 4AM, driving for two hours through the Rockies, arriving at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier at dawn. The morning was chilly. Seracs crashed down from Snowdome. After eating and gearing up in the parking lot, we marched up the road intended for glacier buses, then scampered through the sea of moraine into the AA valley.
Ten years ago the AA glacier probably spanned the whole valley but its shrinkage (and that of other glaciers in the area) now allows intrepid scramblers to sneak up beside the icefall and sidehill in tedious scree to the summit, no glacier travel required.
Jokes about “uphill swimming” were aplenty as our shoes sifted through the fossils beds and we looked for any trilobytes. Eventually we reached the ascent gullies that lead to Atha’s summit ridge: steep, hard-packed, and littered with choss. The scrambling isn’t difficult but managing rockfall is the real hazard. As we all stayed out of each other’s way and were keen to call out falling rocks, we made it to the ridge in no time.
The grind up the ridge to Silverhorn was less technical than the gullies, but dark clouds were hovering, making me uneasy, and I could sense the altitude was starting to tucker out Glenn.
We made it to Silverhorn, Athabasca’s snowy sub-summit, and prepared for the moment of truth: would snow conditions allow us to climb to the summit? This year we were prepared, packing Microspikes, and I had an ice axe, refusing to let any snow climbing stop me. The west side of the ridge leading to the summit was completely bare of snow, allowing us to tread solely on scree. The only detour of any technicality was the need to cross an icy gully by leaping between two rotten, chossy ledges.
At last we were on top. An elevener bagged. The vendetta was resolved; Athabasca and I were on good terms. I kicked steps up the huge fin of snow that sits atop the summit, gazed out at the sea of mountains, and drove the shaft of my ice axe into the snow triumphantly. Only problem was that the jagged pick of the ice axe was embedded in my leg. Still working on this alpinism thing, I guess.We hung around for a half-hour soaking up the epicness that surrounded us. The Columbia Icefield is a crazy place, giving the impression of a different epoch in Earth’s history. Though the outlet glaciers have dwindled, it is easy to imagine these immense mountains as humble nunataks protruding from the icecap many eons ago.
The idea to do a Temple Duathlon came about rather organicly. After riding to the Continental Divide, the next step was to ride to Lake Louise and back, or so I reasoned. Throw a peak in there for good measure — Mount Temple being the ideal, the veritable monarch of Lake Louise with a third-class route up its backside. It would be an audacious undertaking, one I filed in the back of mind under “crazy ideas”.
The primary red tape when it comes to climbing Temple is seasonal restrictions that require hiking in groups of four, carrying bear spray, etc. to minimize encounters between hikers and grizzlies. This year, the bears were still feasting on berries down in the valley below, so the typical rules hadn’t been put in place. The opportunity allowed Adam Campbell and Andy Reed to blast up and down Temple in 2h42m, crushing both my 2013 Temple time and a slightly faster one that had been put up a week previous.
The lack of trail restrictions at Moraine Lake was the last impetus I needed to try my hand at a Temple Duathlon, reasoning I might never have another crack to ascend my favourite mountain solo.
My alarm went off at 2:30am. I proceeded to make espresso and whip up a couple of fully loaded breakfast wraps. I poured two more espresso shots into 1.25oz GooToobs and stuffed them in my pack. In my Ultimate Direction PB vest I had a pair of Kahoola Microspikes, an Arcteryx Gore-tex shell, a pair of running shorts, bear spray and all of the food I would need to fuel my effort throughout the day. It was my intention to carry all my supplies and not rely on anybody else, so that this effort would be truly solo and unsupported.
I left the house at 3:41am and started spinning. The ride went by mostly in the dark which was my wont; not a single car passed me on the 1A until I got to Lake Louise. When I saw the silhouette of Mount Temple, so huge and still so far away, I shuddered and doubts started to creep into my consciousness.
I refilled my water bottles at Lake Louise village then pedaled off to tackle the most sustained climb I would face on the bike all day: nearly 400m of ascent over 10km from Lake Louise village until the viewpoint that delivers one’s first view of the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
By the time I reached Moraine, my quads were completely pooched and my right foot (the shitty one) was completely numb and felt like a big chunk of ice. I wasn’t sure if Temple was in the cards but the subtle shift in modality from cycling to hiking seemed to infuse a little pep to my legs. I started marching towards Temple anyway. If I didn’t have enough gusto to take on Temple, I could always tag something else like Eiffel Peak instead.
By the time I reached the turn-off for Eiffel, my foot was all thawed out, so I kept on trekking towards Sentinel Pass. I pounded back a package of Honey Stinger chews on the way up to the pass so I would be all fuelled up to tackle the ascent of the mountain proper.
I spent no time at Sentinel Pass and immediately started slogging towards the first of Temple’s three rockbands. I felt uncharacteristically weak and devoid of power; tipsy, toppling over, and completely lacking core stability. Maybe it was the little hiking I did this summer, or maybe it was the 70km ride in my legs, but I questioned whether I would actually make it to the top.
I picked my way through the chossy slabs comprising the first rockband. I wasted no time and immediately started climbing the short pitch of difficult scrambling that leads to the top of the second rockband. And within minutes of topping out, I was charging up the scree and scrambling up the gullies of the third, final cream-colored rockband.
Past Temple’s technical and routefinding challenges, the only thing left to do was slog straight upward through a jumble of rocks and increasingly sparser oxygen. I was surprised and a little appalled at my need to stop and catch my breath while charging up the mountainside above 3000m, evidence of my lack of conditioning and relatively a weak VO2max.
I tagged the top of Temple in 3h20m from Moraine Lake, 7h56m since the start of the day — not my fastest time on this mountain but definitely faster than most. Though the path up the mountain was a highway of hikers and mountaineers, the summit was host to only four other people. After exchanging the favor of taking summit pictures for each other, the group headed down, leaving me alone to bask in the tranquility and power that permeates the alpine zone at 11,000 feet.
I didn’t stick around long, only spending six or seven minutes lingering at a place I practically consider a holy site. For three years I’d been yearning to stand once again on this cold, blustery, barren summit. A big bank of clouds started rolling in and the views weren’t about to improve any. But as usual, Temple didn’t disappoint, truly lending the feeling that one is soaring over the entire Canadian Rockies (save for ten other mountains, that is).
The descent proceeded fairly smoothly, even through the rockbands. The feeling of weakness was gone and I was actually looking forward to the ride home. I reached Sentinel Pass and jogged all the way back to Moraine Lake, the most concerted amount of running I’d done since Cortina Skyrace in June. And before that, May.
I got back to my bike at Moraine Lake and scarfed down one of the pizza slices I’d been carrying in my bag, then saddled up on my bike for the exhilarating ride down to Lake Louise village.
I stopped at the village to refill water, eat my last slice of pizza and knock back a couple shots of espresso I brought with me from home. The last time I rode to Lake Louise, the two double espressos I got from Summit Cafe essentially powered my ride home. This time, intent on carrying all my own food and gear, I brought the espresso myself. The first shot was like a dream. The second shot was mixed with a good amount of unrinsed dishsoap, I realized, after it was already down the hatch. It felt like I was burping up soap suds all the way to Castle Junction.
Aside from the dish soap ordeal, the ride home was bomber. The weather was great, my cycling felt competent and I was clicking off kilometres at a decent pace. My legs were toast, but in a good way. I’ve spent way too much of this year sitting on the couch, so the burning pain of three vertical kilometers in my muscles and a sunburn on my face felt absolutely sublime.
I hammered it most of the way back to town, elatedly pulling up to my apartment 13h56m after leaving. In the same way my “Aylmer Duathlon” intended to express my love for that mountain through a wholly human-powered ascent, my trip to Temple meant to express the same and more.
Temple is the “ultimate scramble”, as per Kane, that the Canadian Rockies hosts. My first season bagging peaks, Temple was my own ultimate scramble, and it proves to be many others’ as well. The following year, Temple became the object of my greatest efforts as a mountain runner. Now at the close of my fifth summer in Banff, it became only appropriate to tag this magnificent mountain entirely under my own power.
01h36m Castle Junction
03h01m Lake Louise Village
04h36m Moraine Lake (T1)
05h59m Sentinel Pass
07h52m Mt. Temple summit
09h31m Sentinel Pass
10h14m Moraine Lake (T2)
10h57m Lake Louise Village
12h27m Castle Junction