Temple Crag Two'fer & the Labor Day Partay - MGA + VBA & friends on VBA, MGA & SRA

September 2-5, 2011


The 3 classic arete climbs on Temple Crag. Dark Star, which ascends the large buttress on the right, is in a league of its own. (Note: I labeled "False VBA" & "False MGA" based on others' routefinding problems.)

Over Labor Day weekend I climbed Moon Goddess Arete (MGA) & Venusian Blind Arete (VBA) over two days with Chris Terry. The second day was "Labor Day Weekend" rush hour on Temple Crag, with 3 teams on VBA, 1 on MGA, & 3 teams on Sun Ribbon Arete (SRA). Since we could all see and hear each other between the aretes (in fact even better than we could see our rope mate on the ridge!), it was quite a social outing up these long alpine climbs.

I was supposed to do a different long climbing weekend with my friend Mario, but the weekend before he took a fall on a 5.9R at Tuolumne Meadows, and the resulting stitches left him out of action for the weekend. Fortunately my friend Brian was re-planning his group trip at the last minute and invited me along to Temple Crag. With some last-minute hectic e-mailing, plans were made where Chris & I would head up early to get permits Friday and climb MGA Saturday while the others hiked in, then she & I would climb VBA Sunday while Brian & Peter climbed MBA and Howard & Dominique climbed VGA. Bryan and I planned on climbing SRA together for my third day out. By chance my friends Chris DeWitt & Bryan Bell were also in the area to climb SRA on Sunday.

Moon Goddess Arete (IV, 5.8, 14-15ish pitches)

Friday Night Approach

Temple Crag from our bivy above 2nd Lake

Chris and I hiked in Friday night and bivvied on some rock slabs a short ways off the trail above 2nd Lake. The only downside to this spot is the inaccessibility to water, but it was comfy for lounging & you couldn't beat the views!

Despite getting in late and the impending alpine start the next day, I stayed up to take some night photos. I took these from my bivy sack, and slept during the longer exposures.

30 min exposure of Temple Crag. The coloration of the sky is from the streaking of the Milky Way


Sun Ribbon Arete - The white mark, approach ledge & P1 in the corner. The First Tower is jutting out and the high point is where the Tyrolean is done.

Since my headlamp ran out of its freshly recharged batteries early the previous night (doh!), we waited until first light to head out from camp, and tried the approach from 3rd Lake. We made it to the base of the route just before 7am, but it took us a half hour to navigate the short snowfield, as it was too hard packed & icy to kick steps in with my boots, we both lacked crampons, and between us we only had one tool. I trailed a rope as I climbed the precarious snow slope, yarding up on the tool and resetting it carefully as I stood on thinly kicked in edges in the snow. Once at the top I set up a belay behind a boulder and slid the tool back down to Chris on the line, then belayed her up.

The beginning of the approach ledges was a pile of crud, but the rock quickly got better. After rounding a corner a short and exposed section of class 4 up and right soon gave way to milder class 3 ledges.

Temple Crag Aretes from the ledges. Climbers often get lost here. Take a close look at the routes from a distance before you get here! Or reference this photo.

Much of the lower terrain on MGA was pretty easy & clean, so we simul-climbed the first 6 pitches, starting at the ledges at about 7:30 and reaching the First Tower by 9:30.

Nearing the First Tower (left) on the simul-climb. Ibrium Tower looms above.
Ibrium Tower seen from just before our first belay at the exposed 5.7 traverse around the First Tower.

The First Tower

The exposed 5.7 traverse around the First Tower. Ibrium Tower is next!

Once at the first tower I set up the first belay for the exposed 5.7 traverse pitch around the tower. It required some thinking to plan out the route, but once started it fell together naturally and was over quickly.

Looking back at Chris near the end of the exposed 5.7 traverse around the First Tower. From here things stay pretty exposed for the rest of the route.

Since I was climbing on 70m doubles, I went ahead and linked pitches 6 & 7 despite the potential rope drag problems of rounding the corner on the traverse, climbing high, and climbing into and out of the notch between the towers. This worked all right. The notch had a bit of loose rock but nothing too bad by alpine standards.

Downclimbing into the exposed notch. Watch the loose blocks!
Chris following on the 5.7 traverse of the First Tower.
Chris finishing the 5.7 traverse of the First Tower.


Soloist just past the First Tower on Sun Ribbon Arete.

It was about this time that we saw a soloist climbing Sun Ribbon Arete. During the time it took Chris to climb over to me and for us to start the next pitch, the soloist had climbed past us on the next arete.

Soloist catching up to our elevation on Sun Ribbon Arete. 3rd Lake is behind.
Soloist nearing the Tyrolean notch on Sun Ribbon Arete.

Ibrium Tower

Ibrium Tower from the notch. Numbers correspond to belays in the SuperTopo topo. I linked these 2 pitches w/ a 70m rope so I'm not as certain where Belay 7 is.

With 70m ropes I linked Pitches 8 & 9 together into one long 230 ft pitch up the Ibrium Tower. The 5.7 'chimney' was more like a corner, and though the rock was a little loose and required a bit of care, it wasn't too bad.

Once at the 5.8 section I came across 4 fixed pieces, so I only needed to place one piece here. The crux was a fun wide off-hands corner that narrowed down to fists at the end.

Upper Ibrium Tower at the first white band.

I had originally toyed with the idea of trying the 5.9 direct variation over the Ibrium Tower, as although one report said it had dangerously loose blocks, some other sources claimed that if you climbed a finger crack on the right of the tower, it was clean, fun & perhaps the best climbing on the route. I'm still intimidated by 5.9 in the backcountry, though, and was uncertain exactly where it went, so I stayed on the normal line, which seemed to cut over at the second major white band.

Upper Ibrium Tower from the 2nd white band where you traverse right. I think the clean & good 5.9 variation continues up the cracks from here?
Looking down the 230 ft linked pitch I did up Ibrium Tower. Can you see Chris belaying a the notch? First Tower is below.

As I rounded the corner and set up a belay, we heard some other climbers reach the First Tower. Though Chris & I couldn't see or hear each other, I had line of sight to the First Tower and could easily talk with them. The first thing they shouted was:

"What route is this?!"

"This is Moon Goddess Arete!" I replied. I figured they were either so badass that they just picked a line to climb and were just asking as we were there (this has happened to me before), or they meant to be on Venusian Blind. Chris figured the former, and as we never saw them again, we assumed they did the 5.9 over the Ibrium and passed us while we got bogged down in loose rock hell on pitches 10 & 11.

Climbers traversing around the First Tower, seen from Belay 9 (our 3rd belay anchor).

It turns out they had meant to be on VBA but got confused on the ledges and took the wrong line. They rapped from the notch and found a series of rap stations that took them all the way down to the ledges to retreat. They had thought that what I titled "False Moon Goddess" in the route photo was actually MGA and that the next rib over was VBA.

Crappy Loose Traverse & Chute

Crappy Ibrium traverse pitch. 'Only' class 3!

The traverse from here looked pretty improbable for cl. 3, but I could see bail slings above us and some easier ledges a bit lower, which matched the route description.

Looking back on the crappy loose downclimb & traverse before I started heading up into the crappy loose chute. Doubles were helpful for rope drag here.

The next pitch began with a 20 ft 5th class downclimb to reach the ledges, followed by more cl. 3 downclimbing and traversing. The rock back here was cruddy so I had to climb carefully.

Looking back at Chris beyond the crappy loose Ibrium traverse pitch, where I dropped down a ways, traversed a ways, and climbed back up about 30-40'.

I ran out a full 230 ft again, climbing partway up the 5.6 wide gully on P11. Looking at the topo, it looked like I could link pitches 11 & 12 as their length was 180 ft in total, I was partway up pitch 11, and I had a 230 ft range.

It turns out this wasn't the case. Maybe it was because I did a lot of wandering back & forth to avoid knocking down loose rocks onto myself or Chris belaying in the chute (beware where your belay for this pitch is set up!), but I ran out of rope at the ledge just below the "steep and sustained 5.7" in the topo. I didn't knock off any rocks myself, but apparently despite my efforts, my rope still dislodged some rocks towards Chris, but fortunately they sailed clear.

Jenga Challenge

Near the end of the pitch I had a good scare and perhaps quintessential Temple Crag experience. I was pulling up into a groove when I hit my head on a Frisbee-sized rock, knocking it off. I pinched it against the cliffside as it landed on my leg (ouch!).

As I struggled to get in a better jam to steady myself to deal with my latest catch, I almost pulled on a triangular flake the size of a microwave that was detached and leaning against the cliff ready to tip off on my head. I thrust my hand deeper in the corner crack and in the process knocked out a CD-sized rock, caught it in mid-air in my free lower hand, then thrust it back in the crack. It rolled into a deeper section and right back out a lower opening like stubborn quarters in a vending machine, bringing another CD-sized rock with it. This happened several times before I tried other stacking strategies. I piled these in my hand and realized that I was now holding 3 rocks from plummeting onto Chris while in a tenuous stance on a single jam, and my last piece of pro was perhaps 20 ft below.

After an unknown amount of strenuous time I finally got in a piece of pro at my stance, jammed the CD-sized rocks back into the hole from whence they came, and reinserted the largest Jenga piece back into the Temple Crag Puzzle as securely as I could. It still stuck out like a lever & wobbled, but at least I could let go.

Once the rope ran out, I belayed just below a very steep wall with a splitter crack and belayed Chris up. I warned her of the sketchy section and she managed to avoid the loose rock as she came up. Fortunately from here the rock got much better and the steep splitter crack turned out to be fairly easy, as the last two pitches had left me pretty tired :-)

Upper Ridge

Upper section of MGA, seen from VBA the following day. Brian is on P13 according to the SuperTopo topo.

The upper ridge had mostly solid rock and a lot of exposed class 4 moves along a knife-edge.

Along this section we saw a team of 3 climbing on VBA, but far below the crest. As far as I could tell, they must have taken what I labeled "False VBA" in the route drawing, as this looked liked a good candidate from the cl. 3 ledges, they were just above where this sub-arete peters out and they seemed to be aiming for the VBA crest.

A big, exposed step across. Stretch!
Cl. 4 ridge traversing. The rocks were mostly solid, and natural running pro was plentiful.
A nice cl. 4 step on P13 of Moon Goddess Arete (our P6)
P13 & P14. Or was it P14 & P15? Whatever. (P6 & P7 for us)There are 2 pitches from the notch to the end of the route, which can be linked w/ a 70m rope (P7 for us).
Looking back at the annoying 15' rappel. It took longer than I had liked, but the downclimb here was a bit steep & difficult here (5.8?)
The 2nd to last pitch on the route (5.7), or our last pitch! See from the rappel.

Chris has wanted to share leads earlier in the climb but had changed her mind as we reached the loose rock sections. However the final 2 pitches appeared to have better rock, so she led out, linking them into one long final pitch.

Chris leading the final 5.7 pitch. Watch for loose blocks that are tempting to pull & stand on. Good hollow flakes too.
5.6 section of the final pitch of Moon Goddess Arete.

Summit Plateau Views

Tomorrow's objective - Venusian Blind Arete - seen from the end of Moon Goddess Arete.

Unfortunately the loose pitches and a mistake as to which gear of mine was fixed or not on Pitch 8-9 had slowed us up enough that it was near sunset as we topped out. The summit would have to wait for tomorrow!

The Palisade Crest (proper) at sunset from the topout of Moon Goddess Arete. The traverse is awesome and I'd love to go back to finish it!
Middle Palisade, Norman Clyde Pk, & Mt Williams at sunset (left to right). Firebird Ridge looks sweet in sunlit profile.

Chris and I finished the rappel into Contact Pass just before dark, and made it back down to our stashed gear by 9:30pm. By the time we found the other 4, ate, and were ready to sleep, it was near midnight and we were exhausted.


Continued: Venusian Blind Arete (IV, 5.7, 13-14ish pitches)

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