Summit Elevation (m): 2600
Trip Date: March 31 2023
Elevation Gain (m): 1000
Round Trip Time (hr): 6
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
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
YouTube: Click Here
On Monday, April 21 2014 I joined Steven Song for an alpine ski tour up Little Temple in Lake Louise, Banff National Park. On Friday March 31, 2023 I repeated the trip with Wietse Bylsma under very similar conditions – cool and cloudy with questionable ski conditions. I’ve been into Paradise Valley a few times, including a scramble up Sheol Mountain way back in 2009 and an ascent of Mount Aberdeen and Haddo with Ben and Steven in early March of 2015. I’m not gonna sugar coat this past fall and winter as far as our skiing has been. This is the first two consecutive quarters in my memory where I didn’t strap on the snow sticks even once! There are multiple reasons for this including horrible avalanche conditions, bad snow in the AB Rockies and just bad timing when things finally did improve. Finally as spring rolled around my family and I enjoyed a few surprisingly good ski days at Sunshine which gave me my “ski mojo” back. Wietse hadn’t done Little Temple before so we settled on that for a day which promised sun, clouds, wind and still some potential elevated avalanche concerns but nothing too concerning.
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. We took the “Fairview” cross country ski track to the backcountry trail leading into Paradise Valley. There was a good track and the air temperature was higher than expected as we crossed the first bridge over Paradise Creek and continued up a good ski track criss crossing the creek over snow bridges.
Once at the lake I noticed a few things which were the same things I’d noted on my 2014 trip. Firstly, I noticed that the trees on the uphill side of the lake, on a small ridge, were affected by avalanches. I then noticed that the huge north face of Mount Temple sheds enough snow and chunks of ice to have an avalanche effect on the shoreline of Lake Annette – quite a distance away. I also remembered that the ski route for both Little Temple and the Aemmer Couloir ascends directly beneath massive hanging seracs high on the north glacier of Mount Temple. In case 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. After a 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.) Incidentally this is also the only real “ski” slope on the entire tour so there’s that…
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 800 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. 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 sucked for a few hundred meters but was excellent for the next 200 or so. After the lake there really isn’t much downhill skiing left. This is a very short “ski” tour. The rest of the way back to the car was quick and easy. I really enjoyed my 2nd go of this trip but was a bit surprised just how short it is and how little actual skiing there was in low snow conditions.