Banff National Park’s Mount Temple is a taxing, terrific trek

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Yamnuska Mountain Adventures guide Richard Howes ropes up Rosanne Drescher on the most technical part of Mount Temple's ascent on Sept. 7, 2018. Most of the hike can be done on two legs, but guides know the safest route to the top of the 3,543-metre peak in Banff National Park near Lake Louise, Alta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Donna Spencer

Rocks that can tumble at the touch of a boot make climbers grateful for mandatory helmets. The leading cause of accidents on Temple is human-generated rockfall, according to Parks Canada

LAKE LOUISE, Alta. : The summit of Mount Temple _ the 3,543-metre peak in Banff National Park near Lake Louise, Alta. _ can be bagged in a day using mostly two legs and not a lot of technical gear.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Mount Temple is a scramble _ you will use your hands as well as your legs during the 1,690-metre ascent and descent. Many climbers are far more comfortable getting roped up and belayed down a four-metre cliff section by Yamnuska Mountain Adventures guides than attempting to scale that wall with hands and feet.

“Nose over your toes’’ is the mantra from the guides, a tip helpful for keeping balance, along with reminders to keep your boots on solid rock and to stay off loose pea gravel that could send you skidding down the slope.

Rocks that can tumble at the touch of a boot make climbers grateful for mandatory helmets. The leading cause of accidents on Temple is human-generated rockfall, according to Parks Canada.

The Temple has a false summit, and then a ridge that climbs to the peak. Snowfall at higher elevations can make for a winter wonderland at the top no matter the season, with 360-degree views of surrounding mountains and lakes.

If you are lucky enough to be atop Temple on a bluebird day, you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of the world.

Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, based in Canmore, Alta., has provided mountaineering, ice and rock climbing, back country skiing and trekking experiences for 41 years.

Yamnuska offers 10 public Temple departures in 2019, according to marketing manager Sylvia Watson, and staffs one guide per six guests to a maximum of 12 guests.

“We offer this trip from late June through to about the end of September,’’ Watson said. “Of course, the Canadian Rockies, and mountain regions in general, are susceptible to snow storms or extreme weather at any time of the year, so the summit is never a guarantee.’’

Our group of a dozen last season was overseen by two guides. Each member carried an ice axe and wore a harness supplied by the company. Whether you make it to the summit or not is dependent upon your fitness and your comfort on exposed, vertiginous and potentially snowy slopes.

A few in our group opted to remain at the false summit instead of continuing to the peak. “Come prepared for a full day out in the mountains with lots of snacks, a lunch, and appropriate clothing and footwear,’’ Watson said.

“Because of its proximity to the hamlet of Lake Louise, people often underestimate the weather and temperature change while climbing Mount Temple.

“This is a big mountain that is capped with a glacier. In the summer, this area is prone to snow and thunderstorms. Your boots should be able to fit crampons should we encounter snow and ice.’’

Our 16-kilometre round trip starting from the Moraine Lake parking lot took 12 hours, with a few short rest stops en route.

Temple can be really knackering. “While guests do not need to have any previous mountaineering experience, good hiking fitness is required,’’ Watson said.

“There is a significant amount of elevation gain, so guests should train with lots of up and down or stair climbing. Mount Temple is not the best choice for a first-time scramble ascent.’’

A warmup hike that provides a taste of Temple and doesn’t require guiding is Sentinel Pass. It follows the same trail for 5.8 kilometres, climbing 725 metres to a saddle offering lovely views of Paradise Valley.

Temple’s trail continues up the right side of the saddle. Some people climb Temple unguided, but if you lack scrambling experience there could be trouble with a capital ‘T.’ Even when you’re descending, you still need to be careful. A moment’s inattention can have you slipping on gravel and barrelling into other hikers like a human bowling ball. The memories of Temple are more enduring than the bruises, however. It is truly an unforgettable trek.

If you go: Parks Canada’s digital booklet “A Scrambler’s Guide to Mount Temple’’ can be found on publications.gc.ca.

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