Temple Crag is a huge formation out of Big Pine, CA. It hosts several amazingly long climbs from the 13 pitch Venusian Blind (5.7) to the 16 pitch Dark Star (5.10c) in the 1,500-2,000 ft long range. I made a failed attempt on Moon Goddess Arete (18 pitch, 5.8) back in 2018, but only found bad rock instead of the traverse to second tower. This time I teamed up with my friend Kevin to climb Sun Ribbon Arete (2000 ft, 22 pitches, 5.10a) car-car. I’ve never done a single day push before (most people camp at the upper lakes the night before) and was pretty intimidated but it went really well in a 17 hours continuous movement day.
Temple Crag is a big objective with 2,000 ft of climbing and tons of exposure, nonetheless doing it in a day. I thought about backing out a dozen times before finally being reassured by several friends I could do it. We camped Sunday night at Big Pine Creek Campground and started our day at 4:20am hitting the trail with headlamps and relatively heavy day-packs full of rock and snow gear. My nutrition plan for the day was 10 bars, three with caffeine for some bumps in moral.
The trail was straight forward to Lake 2 where we went off trail and then gained the scree and talus fields to the base of the climb.
We reached where we thought the base was around and started climbing up the 3rd class, contemplating if we were in the right place until we continued further and found the obvious corner start of the route. I was huffing and puffing a lot and considered bailing right there, worried about how I would do at 12,000+ feet doing an activity like rock climbing if I was out of breath at 11,000 ft.
Racked up at 8am, I started the first pitch up 5.7 cracks with decent gear and brought Kevin up. We simluclimbed the 3rd class and I placed a few pieces in the 4th class section.
I asked Kevin lead the next three pitches of 5.7 face climbing on the arete because I get pretty nervous face climbing on trad gear that is around but not as abundant as a crack climb.
Next brought us to the tyrollean (basically a horizontal rappel or zip line-esk thing) that we decided to skip due to time. Rappelling into the notch we found a crack on the left starting behind a hollow flake then transitioning into a good crack. This did not seem 5.7 and (intimidated) I pulled on gear to reach the top. It took about as long as the tyrollean would have taken in the end.
On the other side of the gap, it was 12:30pm and Pitch 6/18 in Super Topo. We reassured ourselves we had a lot of light given we were okay on time. From there I lead the simul-climb of four pitches (5.5-5.6) to a rappel into the notch.
From the notch, directly right was the first piton protecting the 5.10a traverse. I was really nervous about doing an airy 5.10a traverse because I often get overwhelmed by exposure but I was doing really well that day. I informed Kevin I may fall but I followed really well and it was easier than other parts of the climb mentally. It felt easier than some of the 5.7 on follow.
Through the crux pitch we simul-climbed (me up front) and setup anchors when the rope drag around corners was too much or we reached a rappel.
We were making incredible time when we reached an unexpected rappel just before the final tower. The topos we had were a pretty unclear where to rappel to and we lost a lot of time rappelling too low, looking for the route, re-climbing into the notch and then eventually pitching out an airy, high exposure ascent of the last tower followed by a down climb to the base of the final chunk of rock.
Rock quality was a little worse than I expected (I had thought it would be pretty good) but there were always some hold that was not hollow or loose to use. Also, most holds were often a mega-jug. It wasn’t like I had to climb up hollow flakes. However, the last push to the end of the route was very loose with lots of rocks sitting on ledges waiting to be pulled off. However, we simul-climbed this section carefully and made it to the top by 5pm with lots of light left for the descent.
Skipping the ‘true summit’ (I don’t really care about summits, just rock routes) we started our descent after some celebration on top.
We were ahead of schedule and made it down 2-3rd class rock to the final rappel.
There were multiple rappels set up, I guess because people didn’t like the look of the lowest one, but we opted for the lowest one off a solid rock and kept in place by a pinch. Our 60m rope just made it down to the bottom.
Finally we started down the pass which has a bad reputation for being hazardous, but was covered by snow. I tested the snow out with a glissade and even in the shade, using our shoes as breaks in addition to our ice axes we were able to slow down enough to remain in control. Next was a slog down loose scree and talus back to Lake 2. Headlamps went back on at 8:30pm and we were back at camp at 9:30pm. A huge success at 17 hrs day car-car, faster than some parties do it from camping at Lake 2!
I was really proud of myself for this climb. I normally have a bunch of trouble with exposure but I stayed focused and was able to navigate it well. While I didn’t lead any of the technical pitches, I still got out in front simul-climbing and route finding our way through a variety of terrain. I didn’t wimp out and stay off route to the side of the climb and was on ridge proper more than not. Mentally it was a success, physically it was a success to do 17 hours of continuous movement.
A brief overview of time:
- 4:20am – left camp
- 8am – start climb
- 12:30am – other side of Tyrollean
- 5:15pm – top of climb
- 9:30pm – Back at camp
Which means we approached in four hours to the base, climbed for nine hours and descended from the top in four hours. I had planned on a 20 hour day and we beat that with 17 hours. The snow glissade I’m sure helped a bunch avoiding the often mentioned as ‘heinous’ Convict Pass descent due to the large amount of loose talus you have to navigate, slowly. A note: for speed, we often used two piece anchors without equalization or slug blocks for anchors.