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Striving for the Moon--Solo

Its November, 2015 and I’m sitting at university in Kelowna. I’ve been here for two years and am quickly becoming the expert long distance driver every aspiring Okanagan alpinist must be. My phone vibrates on the table in front of me, pulling me out of my lecture-induced slumber.

“Striving looks in, and the snowpack is bomber dude! You’ve got to get out here!” Chris has my attention immediately. “Let’s do it!” I reply, without a clue what this ‘Striving’ route is.

A quick google search fills me in on its history. First climbed by Barry Blanchard and Ward Robinson in the 1992/1993 season, ‘Striving for the Moon’ follows ribbons of ice that connect steep snow bowls in the southern-most gully on the east face of Mount Temple. After rising up the east face for 1000m, the route joins the east ridge for another 500 vertical meters to the summit. From there you plunge west into larch valley and eventually moraine lake, only to have to stumble around the base of the entire mountain back to your skis. Needless to say It’s quite the loop! Its second ascent was done by Scott Semple, Greg Thaczuk, and Eamonn Walsh. They climbed the route in an impressive 36 hour push in 2004.

The lower half of Striving For the Moon. Striving climbs the ice in the central gully. Photo: Quentin Roberts

The lower half of Striving For the Moon. Striving climbs the ice in the central gully. Photo: Quentin Roberts

I dash out of class early and hurriedly throw my things into the back of my battered chevy astro. Soon, I’m dodging semis and running out of windshield washer fluid on my way to Chris’ place in Golden. Chris has recruited Frank Cox to join - since he doesn’t yet have 100% faith in my own proficiency.

“It’ll be a great way for you to learn how to ice climb!” he says with a cheeky grin. “I know how to ice climb!” I respond defensively. “Anyone can climb baby blue water ice Q, you’ve got to figure out the real stuff. The cold-forged frozen spindrift!”

Chris thinks it’s appropriate to attempt the line at night, under the luminescence of the full moon. The plan is to use the warmth of the morning sun to bivouac on the East Ridge, and then continue on to the summit and over on the second night. I romantically imagine the full moon setting the mountains ablaze as Barry and Ward stride like spartan warriors to the summit on their first ascent, and I dream of doing the same.

We meet Frank in the parking lot at 7pm and start towards the route. I’m already not entirely comfortable. Its dark and the spindrift is heavy, but it’s one boot in front of the other and before long we’re setting up a belay at the base of the crux. Chris gets his gear together and takes the lead.

I look through a hole in the ice curtain that forms our belay cave, sheltering us from the spindrift outside. Chris’ face appears in the beam of my headlamp amidst the blinding snow. He is focused, and brimming with determination. Beside me Frank awakens to pay out more rope, and I turn my discomfort toward the flickering stove. The ice curtain shudders as Chris moves confidently upwards, and then quiet settles in. My bewildered eyes connect with Frank’s. Both of us are in wonder at the madness above.

The rope finally comes tight. Frank and I stretch our numb limbs and prepare to climb. By now the sky has brightened, and we peer out of the cave to see arcing loops of rope anchored to the overhanging wall. Two stubbies and a purple cam are all that connect the rope to the ice spattered amphitheater. We climb side-by-side, connecting steep blobs of ice as the warm morning sun reveals the east face above us. As Frank and I climb the last few meters to the belay, the sun hits us in full force and we cant help but pause to take in the brilliance of our position. But we’re far too low on the face for the sun to be rising. After climbing for a few hundred more meters we decide to go down, quickly realizing that our plan to bivy in the sun on the east ridge wont work. We know we’ll be late getting there, and without gear to sit out the -20 degree night, the choice is obvious. We go down, but I vow to return.

Frank Cox nears the belay on the crux pitch during the 2015 attempt. Photo: Quentin Roberts

Frank Cox nears the belay on the crux pitch during the 2015 attempt. Photo: Quentin Roberts

Three years later I find my self approaching Temple’s east face once again. This time I choose to go alone. The hoarfrost twinkles as I watch my skis slide back and forth underneath me. I resist the urge to stride faster, wanting to conserve energy for what I know will be a long day. Full of excitement, I leave my skis at the road and start towards the route. My legs don’t stop moving as I paw through memories from this same place three years before. So much has happened in that time.

I climb up to to the crux pitch. There is no ice cave, no curtain, no blobs, just steep alpine ice to the top of the amphitheater. I remember that impressionable moment from before, and then let time freeze still as I navigate the complex ice onto the next snowfield. I don’t stop moving.

Staying left at the fork, I climb the next pillar and continue up the face. But I soon realize that the best system was actually the right-hand one, and that I have climbed myself into a much drier drainage. I spend an hour laboriously wallowing around a buttress trying to join the better ice, but It cliffs out. I didn’t bring a rope so I can’t rappel, and I don’t feel like down climbing the steep pillars just to climb back up again, so I continue on the drier side. Fortunately It ends up climbing more easily than it looks. A few good torques, hand jams, and gentle tool taps later I’m back to better ice, and entering the giant bowl that drains the route.

It is here that my progress finally slows. Chest deep wallowing makes for exhausting progress. Alik Berg has soloed a new route on the right side of the same face a few days earlier and I’m relieved to find his tracks after I gain the East ridge. Alik is a great friend and I feel as though he’s helping me out from afar. It would have been a lonelier experience without those footprints. I reach the summit ridge in fading light, and the weather turns for the worse. The glacial ice slopes are enshrouded in fog and it starts to snow. I trample across as darkness sets in, navigating by memory in the blinding conditions. By now I’m feeling much less energetic than earlier in the day and my feet ache, but I know there’s still so much ground to cover.

Aliks footprints appear again in Larch Valley, and they guide me through the forest. Its nearly too cold to stop and brew water, so the balance between hydration, warmth and progress is tricky. I continue to put one foot in front of the other as eternity unfolds in front of me. My skis eventually appear, so I step into them and keep on. Oh the glory of sliding downward! I’m too tired to hold the skis straight on the tracked road, but I don’t care and let them do their dance. Finally back at the car twenty-one hours after leaving, I fire up the engine and brew a cup of java. The coffee and ‘The Clash’ keep me company as I swerve my way home to Canmore, hell-bent on bed.

Quentin Roberts happy to have reached the ridge during his solo of Striving fo rthe Moon. Photo: Quentin Roberts

Summary: Striving for the Moon (V WI6, 1200m), east face, Mt. Temple, Lake Louise Group, Canadian Rockies. FSA: Quentin Roberts, December 9, 2018.

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