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First Winter Ascent on the “Eiger of the Rockies”

The buttress of the Greenwood-Jones (IV/V 5.9 in summer and now M6 in winter, 1300m) on the north face of Mt. Temple (3543m), Alberta, Canadian Rockies. Raphael Slawinski, Ian Welsted and Eamonn Walsh made the first winter ascent of the line from March 8-10. The route stays close to the crest of the buttress all the way to the top of the rock. Not seen from this perspective is the summit glacier (only the summit seracs are visible). [Photo] Raphael Slawinski

The north face of Mt. Temple, looming above Laggan’s Bakery in Lake Louise, has been called the Eiger of the Rockies. Ian Welsted, fresh from an ascent of the actual Eiger, did not disagree. Even more attractive for weekend warriors like Eamonn Walsh and me, Temple, like its more famous cousin, has a great climbing-to-approaching ratio: three hours of skiing puts one at the base of nearly a vertical mile of nordwand.

From March 8-10 this year the three of us camped our way up the Greenwood-Jones (IV/V 5.9 in summer, 1300m) on Temple’s north face. Mostly we were just out to have an adventure, though the fact that the Greenwood-Jones was the last major line on the north face without a winter ascent added motivation. Not that there was much–if any–competition for a winter ascent. Few people see much appeal in climbing what is essentially a rock route when it is cold and snowy. Fortunately the absurdity of what we were doing did not bother us.

We drytooled up to M6 here, stemmed over there, and grabbed the rock with gloved hands a few times. The first night we pitched our small tent on a large rubbly ledge. The following morning Ian started the stove promptly when the alarm went off–a good idea, as we were still hanging at the belay below the last hard pitch, pins shifting under our combined weight, when the sun went down. However, the thought of spending a night at a hanging belay was more than sufficient motivation to propel me up the last ropelength by headlamp. Eamonn and Ian had the dubious pleasure of Tiblocing their way up skinny ropes with more than a vertical kilometer of darkness below. This was the only pitch where we resorted to ascending; the rest of the route we all drytooled.

Walsh and Slawinski on the final section of the East Ridge (of 50 Classics fame). The Greenwood-Jones joins up with the East Ridge near the top of that route. [Photo] Ian Welsted

The wind whipped across the darkened summit slopes, but we managed to scratch a sheltered spot out of the frozen scree to pitch the tent for our second night on the mountain. The following morning we slept in, then walked up the corniced summit ridge, made interesting by high winds and whiteout. Around noon we stepped onto the summit, where we lingered for all of five minutes before heading down the wind-blasted southwest slopes. A slog around the mountain back to our skis, a thigh-burning snowplow down to the valley bottom, and a pleasant glide out Paradise Creek saw us back to the trailhead by late afternoon.

As always after such adventures, it was hard to believe that only a few hours earlier we had been up in those churning clouds. The cold fingers, the ichiban breakfasts and dinners, the fun of the last three days were done with, for now, so we said our goodbyes for the next few months, looking forward to the next adventure.

Successful on the summit of Mt. Temple, from left to right: Eamonn Walsh, Raphael Slawinski, Ian Welsted. [Photo] Raphael Slawinski