Summit Elevation (m): 2600
Trip Date: April 21 2014
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 6.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 20
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Some avy risk above Lake Annette and objective hazards from the Mount Temple north glacier seracs.
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
On Monday, April 21 2014 I joined Steven Song for an alpine ski tour up Little Temple in Lake Louise, Banff National Park. Ever since hearing about the trip from Bill Kerr, I had decided to ski it one day and was saving it for a time when other, bigger and more remote options were out of shape or not feasible. I think the word “little” in its name fooled me into thinking that this was going to be a very easy and short day trip. Well, it IS technically pretty easy and timewise pretty “short” but at over 1100 meters of height gain and around 20km distance, it’s not really THAT short or easy! 😉
I’ve been into Paradise Valley a few times, including the Sheol scramble and another ski tour with Bill and Wietse in January of 2012. Even though this was my third time on the approach, I forgot how bloody long it is. It’s a 2 hour, 8km slog to get anywhere near Annette Lake. From the lake it’s still 800 meters of elevation gain to the summit of “little” Temple. The day dawned beautiful, which made the first couple of hours go pretty quickly. The birds were chirping and the smell of pine hung in the cool morning air as we started to ski up the Moraine Lake road. Instead of following the hiking trail, we followed tracks (left by Raff, Andrea, Fab, Josee and Charles the day before) along Paradise Creek which was open and flowing beneath giant pillows of snow. After numerous crossings of the creek on good snow, we finally started up the steep trail in trees to Lake Annette. The trail was a bit tricky to negotiate close to the lake due to an icy track with very little for our ski skins to grab onto.
Once at the lake I noticed a few things. First of all, I noticed that the trees on the uphill side of the lake, on a small ridge, were affected somehow by avalanches. Then I noticed that the huge north face of Mount Temple sheds enough snow and chunks of ice to actually have an avalanche effect on the shoreline of Lake Annette every once in a while! The third thing I noticed was the set of ski tracks ascending beneath those massive hanging seracs on the north glacier of Temple. Before you think I’m exaggerating about the objective hazards of that ascent line, check out this video of a serac fall from this glacier – the ski route goes up the lateral moraine that’s in bright sunshine and directly in the path of the ice avalanche.
Being a north glacier, large ice avalanches aren’t an everyday occurrence on Temple, but springtime solar heating can certainly kick one off and we didn’t stick around any longer than necessary to find out! The most tiring part of the day followed as we kept a steady pace traversing steeply up under the seracs until we were finally out of their direct line of fire. Honestly, I think there’s more objective danger on this slope than traversing under the Snow Dome seracs on the Athabasca Glacier approach. At least for the Snow Dome traverse you’re pretty much on flat ground so you can ski beneath them really fast! Also, the Little Temple traverse is at least 2x longer than the Snow Dome one. It’s not a huge deal, but be aware if you get a late start or if the serac’s on Temple’s north glacier are active. After our steep grunt under the seracs we took a breather before yet another steep grunt, this time up a steep avy slope into the alpine. I used to think Little Temple could be done in heightened avalanche conditions but this slope changed my mind. It’s certainly steep enough to warrant good avy conditions and a bit of extra care while ascending. There is a route on climber’s left through trees but it didn’t look pleasant for skiers.
I was feeling a bit bagged by the time Aemmer Couloir and the summit of Little Temple finally came into view! I can’t imagine kicking steps all the way up that couloir after ascending almost 900 meters vertical just to get to the bottom of it. Then you still have to have the energy to ski all the way back down. Some day maybe I’ll give it a go but not this day. The rest of the route to the summit was easy, but also getting very windy. We kicked steps for the last 50 vertical meters rather than risk gouging the bottom of our skis on the rocks just beneath the snow surface. After some quick summit photos we hastened back to our skis – the clouds were moving in and the wind gusts were strong enough that I worried about my skis blowing off their perch on the ridge!
The ski down was excellent for the first 500 vertical meters. After that the sun crust through some wrinkles into our style (!) but it was still fast and fun. The slog back to the car was under a warm sun and very pleasant. I really enjoyed this trip – just don’t underestimate it and pick a day with some stability and views and you’ll enjoy it too.