Temple Crag: Classic High Sierra Alpine Climbing
When the weather is nice in the High Sierra alpine, there's no better place to climb than Temple Crag. With huge alpine rock routes spanning over 1,500', Temple crag boasts some of the longest continuous climbing in the High Sierra. The 4 major routes on the north face of Temple Crag, known as the Celestial Aretes, range in difficulty and length.
Celestial Aretes of Temple Crag, West to East: Venusian Blind (Red), Moon Goddess (Green), Sun Ribbon (Orange), Dark Star (Blue). Photo/Overlay: Zeb Blais.
From West to East the Celestial Aretes increase in length and difficulty. Venusian Blind, at 5.7 and about 12 pitches, is the shortest and easiest, but offers incredible movement and rock quality. The next arete is Moon Goddess, which goes at 5.8 and offers roughly 18 pitches of climbing, and has a bit more loose rock according to many climbers. Stepping up once from there is the Sun Ribbon Arete, which has one pitch with a 5.9+/5.10a sequence and is a bit longer, clocking in at around 23 pitches. Sun Ribbon Arete also has a longer snow/ice field to contend with to get to the start of the rock pitches and includes a Tyrolean traverse high on the route! The longest route by far is Dark Star, a mega alpine endeavor that goes at 5.10c and ascends 2,200' of rock.
Blue skies, no wind and mild temperatures made for a perfect alpine climbing experience last weekend. With short days we chose the Peter-Croft-"Awesome"-rated Venusian Blind. We could not have been more pleased.
Andrew standing above 2nd Lake on the approach to Temple Crag. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Current conditions at Temple Crag and in the High Sierra Alpine are splendid. With a weak winter, a warm summer, and no late summer snow, the approach and route were clear of snow, with the exception of the perennial ice patch between the bases of Venusian Blind/Moon Goddess and Sun Ribbon Arete. This patch was hard, deep blue ice! It would be fairly attention grabbing to get to the start of Sun Ribbon even with a set of aluminum crampons on approach shoes even with a light axe.
Climbing high on Venusian Blind on Temple Crag. Photo: Zeb Blais.
We avoided the short blue ice patch at the base of Venusian Blind by climbing through the rock band to the climber's left. This band is steeper and less featured than it looks from below, so the chimney option shown in many guidebooks is recommended.
Once we gained the first step, the third and 4th class terrain to get to the base of the climbing went quickly. For Sierra alpine rock, the features are very unique, and the rock is highly featured. Knobs, dikes and cracks abound, and the climbing is really fun, with steep and sometimes powerful moves above exciting exposure. The vast majority of moves are on positive holds and there is relatively minimal crack climbing required on Venusian Blind, considering that it is a blocky, granite route.
After climbing around a dozen pitches with wild exposure and incredible movement, we had made the plateau of Temple Crag. From there it was a a talus hike and a short section of very exposed 4th class climbing to the true summit, where we were rewarded with incredible views of Mount Sill, Middle Palisade, Norman Clyde Peak and the entire Palisades Traverse.
Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak from the summit of Temple Crag. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Zeb Blais is an IFMGA Mountain Guide certified by the AMGA. He owns and directs Blackbird Mountain Guides and loves guiding rock in the High Sierra Alpine.