Type: Trad, Alpine, 2000 ft, 22 pitches, Grade IV
FA: Don Jensen & John Fischer - Sept 1969
Page Views: 34,423 total · 218/month
Shared By: ttriche on Apr 2, 2006
Admins: Chris Owen, Lurker, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

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This is a classic long-day alpine route on good rock with some unique features, not least of which is a Tyrolean traverse. Most people start from an obvious crack in a left-facing dihedral (as seen in Mike Morley's picture here near a big grey scar, some distance (300'? 500'?) from the base of the snowfield and the start of Dark Star. The main drawback is the descent through Contact Pass, though you could bypass that by traversing to Gayley and Sill...

This route has many variations and it's wise to take a topo unless you've climbed a lot on Temple. A good topo can be found in Croft's book or the High Sierra Supertopo book (the latter has some errors). However, Bruce Bindner (R.I.P.) posted a better topo right here; it's the best I've seen and you will appreciate it once on the route.

The rock on the route is overall pretty solid, but there are plenty of loose blocks that could kill you if you got careless. It would be a good idea to start early (regardless of whether you plan the ascent car-to-car or from a camp site) because Temple is plenty exposed to electrical storms. When Scott and I climbed the route, a storm blew in after we had passed the crux, my hair stood up, and the rope started making crackling noises... luckily for us the storm changed directions and did not get any nastier. Check the weather beforehand!


The first pitch of the route can be seen in Mike Morley's picture among the 'Beta photos'. It is near a large grey scar and a says uphill from the toe of the Dark Star buttress. It's a good idea to start early and go fast, because the descent requires some attention; Contact Pass is unpleasant no matter how you approach it. A single-rope rappel from the rightmost rappel station should plop you down onto the scree, and from there it's mostly slogging back to the snowfield and your campsite (or the trail and your car).

If you're camping, a good idea is to pitch your tent at Second Lake, and then walk over in the afternoon to kick steps in the soft snow leading up to the base of the route. In the morning the steps will have hardened. Going car-to-car, a set of lightweight aluminum crampons will be helpful in early season.


Alpine rack -- some nuts, a few cams, many slings.


We always camp as close to the base as possible, it is a bit of a hike from 2nd (and even 3rd) Lake.

Water is usually not an issue with glacial melt. You can often crawl behind the glacier to approach this route on loose/sandy rock. This obliviates the need for axes/crampons.

Contact Pass can get messy quick, after you dropped down from the buttress proper (scary 4th or a rappel) I recommend that you "stay high and right"--don't get drawn into the large talus.

Alternately, if there is enough snow you can glissade large portions of Contact nearer to the buttress. Mar 6, 2007
M. Morley
Sacramento, CA
M. Morley   Sacramento, CA  
Fantastic route!

We camped at Third Lake and that worked well for us, but also works. From Third Lake, it is a mere 45-minute hike up a talus slope to the base of the . Getting up the snowfield might be the crux of the route, depending on the conditions. With only approach shoes (no crampons or boots) and one ice axe each, we were able to kick/chop steps, but it cost us over an hour to reach the rope-up ledge. From there, you can toss your axe and hope it reaches the base of the snowfield to retrieve on your descent.

The route: after ascending the snowfield for a few hundred feet, gain a rock band and scramble up to a large ledge. Walk to the far right edge of the ledge and rope up at the base of a . Ascend this (5.6). The next 2-3 pitches are 3rd/easy 4th class scrambling. Another 3 full pitches brings you to the top of the Second Gendarme, where you will need to set up a tyrolean traverse to cross! This is the most fun and memorable part of the route. Toss a loop of rope across the gap, aiming for a horn of rock about 20' on the other side. Once you have successfully looped it, secure both ends of the rope on your side, and . Re-rig for the second to retrieve your rope. From here, more scrambling and a couple of short rappels brings you to the route's crux - a steep 5.9 hand and fist crack on the left side of the arete. Climb this, then traverse right at a slung block (crux). This section is rated 5.10a in the Croft guidebook. Continue up crack system to easier ground. Several more easy pitches (mostly 5.5ish) from here along the sometimes knife-edge ridge lead to 4th class and eventually 3rd class to the summit.

Descent involves one single-rope rap to Contact Pass. Jun 13, 2007
Grand Rapids, MI
ttriche   Grand Rapids, MI
After Bruce posted his topo, I could hardly be excused for failing to update the route description, and so I've revised it to include all of the detailed information everyone here has contributed.

It's a great route and I certainly enjoyed it (although the electrical storm that paid us a visit scared the shit out of me). Jul 24, 2007
Oakland, CA
Sirius   Oakland, CA
Hard-pressed to think of a route I've enjoyed more. Absolutely stellar.

One tip: bring about 5 or 6 feet of untied webbing if you plan to do the left (5.9 crack to face traverse) version of the crux. You'll be glad you did when you find the tied sling currently in place.

Know also that there are many errors in the ST topo - Croft is a much better source for this climb.

We simuled every pitch except the crux, and still did the descent in the dark. This is a (gloriously) long route.

426's advice to stay high and right in Contact is gold, and crucial, especially if you descend in the dark. Sep 23, 2008
M. Morley
Sacramento, CA
M. Morley   Sacramento, CA  
FA: Don Jensen & John Fischer - Sept 1969 Jan 30, 2009
Topo added. Hope it helps. Feedback appreciated.

Brutus May 4, 2009
Oakland CA
caughtinside   Oakland CA
Fun route, very long, should keep you going for a while! I know it's the Sierra, but this one just had too much loose rock for me to give it 4 stars. Having done Venusian with the same partner the previous summer, we both agreed that Venusian is a much more solid route. Much more tick tacking around the loose crap on Sun Ribbon. Jul 20, 2009
Cory Harelson
Boise, ID
Cory Harelson   Boise, ID
So much fun! The coolest climb I've ever done! From the start of pitch one to the summit took about 8.5 hours. We were able to simulclimb almost all of the route, I think we only pitched out 4 of the 20 pitches (pitch 1, pitch between tyrolean and crux, crux, and one other).

We mostly followed the topo on this site, which is very good. Passing the third gendarme we went to the right, and found the 5.7 traverse moves to be somewhat tricky (my partner thought it was more difficult than the 5.10a "crux" on the following pitch).

For the crux pitch, the supertopo shows two options, both of which are supposed to go at 5.10a. The option to the left (which is what the topo on this page shows) follows a crack on the left side of the arete to a 5.10a exit move, and the option on the right has a 5.10a face traverse protected by two pitons to a 5.9 crack. Both looked fun. We chose the option on the right and found the climbing very fun and exposed, if a bit soft for 5.10a. The traverse is a little thin, but it's only one or two moves and then you gain the excellent crack. If I ever repeat this climb I think I'll try the other option. After the end of the 5.9 crack I ran the 60m rope all the way to to the end up steep fun climbing on positive holds. That was an awesome pitch!

Unfortunately I didn't get to experience the "unpleasant" scree of Contact Pass that I've heard so much about, since we were able to glissade almost all of it! What a great way to cap off an excellent day! Jun 28, 2010
Mike Flanagan
Redlands, CA
Mike Flanagan   Redlands, CA
So much longer than expected. The topo had us thinking that we would be mostly done after the 30' rappel into the notch, but this was definitely not the case, as there was quite a bit of climbing left. After the notch rappel I headed right and climbed a pretty sketchy pitch of bad rock that seemed more difficult than the 5.4 I expected..I was down and right of the " 3" crack" described in the topo. After that we climbed back up to the arete proper and stayed on it almost to its end, where we downclimbed a bit and then scrambled mostly 4th class to the top. Jul 19, 2011
leeds, ut
fossana   leeds, ut
We brought a 30m and roped up only for the crux section; this will get you to the 5.6 terrain. I suck at 3.5" cracks but was fine leading with only a 3" cam. All of the towers are downclimbable at 5.7 or less. Em and Bruce's topo was extremely helpful. The Tyrolean is optional. Jul 25, 2011
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Kodye   South Lake Tahoe, CA
I just climbed Sun Ribbon a couple of days ago. We simul-climbed all the way to the Tyrollean traverse. The Tyrollean went pretty quickly. Then we did a mixture of pitching and simul-climbing. It gets a little loose the higher you go but definitely manageable. The route finding wasn't a big issue, it is a ridge climb so no matter which specific line you take gets you to the same place at roughly the same difficulty. We brought 8 shoulder length slings, a set of BD Camelots one each to a #3, one set of stoppers, and eight quickdraws. The gear we brought seemed to do the trick just fine. As for the descent, once we rapped down into contact pass there was still enough snow pack that you can glissade for most of the descent. It was a great climb but I do regret not bringing bug spray (I hike up here all the time and I knew better but I would rather forget the bug spray than my harness)! Jul 27, 2011
Justin Tomlinson
Monrovia, CA
Justin Tomlinson   Monrovia, CA
An historical perspective, this route was rated IV, 5.8 in Steve Roper's "Climber's Guide to the High Sierra" in 1976.

He writes, "This is an exposed, committing, and difficult route." Of the crux he writes, "Enter the obvious, left-facing crack above either directly from its base (5.9) or via a delicate traverse (5.8) from the left. Steep and difficult climbing leads upward...." Jan 28, 2012
Truckee, CA
Nick_Cov   Truckee, CA
Don't skip the tyrolean, tons of fun. Definitely top out and try to get to the rap before dark. My headlamp broke in my pack so descending at night was terrible. We only brought 1 #3 but were wishing we had another for the 5.9 section on the crux pitch. Route finding is straightforward, look for cairns for the descent. Oct 20, 2012
Mojave, CA
ACassebeer   Mojave, CA
Approach: avoid the snow and scramble up the broken ledges on the right hand side. I don't know why anyone would risk going up that snowfield with the other option available.

I highly recommend using a 30m rope. The 30m will keep the drag low, get you through the crux pitch, set you up for an easy belay, and allow you to rap to a nice ledge on the descent with 20' of 5.0 downclimbing to Contact Pass. A rope any longer will just give you more trouble than it's worth. Jun 30, 2014
Connor Newman
Denver, CO
Connor Newman   Denver, CO
This is a great climb, gets a bit wandery at the top but still excellent. Most of the climbing is less than 5.5 it seemed like, so my partner and I found it nice to just place gear sparingly on most pitches (4-5 pieces per pitch keeps rope drag low) and stretch the rope. Doing it this way we did 10 pitches, plus simul-climbing both at the bottom and top. This seemed way easier and faster than doing it in the 20-22 pitches listed on most topos. Aug 4, 2014
A typical climber's descent from the summit (or its SE or E side where Sun Ribbon + Venusian reach) is ESE down talus 1200 vertical feet to Contact Pass (perhaps only 700-900 feet if skip going to the summit), then N and NNW down more talus (with some scree and sand) toward Third Lake or Second Lake. The steepest section has a rappel not more than 26 meters just above Contact Pass. We had a 50 meter rope, so I did not have to try the other options ...

I've heard that as a climb the difficulty of this rappel line is around 5.6. I've heard of people doing the rappel with a rope less than 50 meters and down-climbing the lowest section. The topo photo on this page says there's a class 4 way nearby. An older guidebooks says there is a 5.2 line nearby, and two class 3 ways which reach the talus about 300 feet or more south of the top of Contact Pass.

The rappel anchor (or other options) might not be easy to find in the dark. Aug 20, 2015
This a real alpine climb.
The class 5 sections on the route are straightforward and rather run and interesting, on mostly sound rock (loose stuff was mostly rocks sitting on horizontal ledges - obvious). The crux seemed like a fairly normal Sierra granite move.
But ...
  • getting from the top of the (long) approach talus up to the sound class 5 rock could be tricky. Now that much of the permanent snowfield is gone, conditions vary widely early versus late season, or how much single-season snow fell in the previous winter, how good a re-freeze during the night. The rock surface that was formerly covered by permanent snow could be very loose and sandy and difficult. Not obvious that climbing around right side of snowfield is best. Early season after big-snow winter likely have more of the looseness covered by snow -- if the snow is firm and stable.
  • more downward sections in the upper half than I expected.
  • descent is not trivial - (I surely would not want to still be above Contact Pass in the dark).

We climbed in 7 hours from the bottom of Pitch 1 to the summit ridge.
  • without combining any of the class 5 pitches.
  • without any simul-climbing on any class 5 pitches.
  • with a lunch break just before the crux pitch.

I think that much more important than saving minutes on the class 5 climbing was managing the downward and "gap" sections of the ridge. Seemed like the Tyrolean took almost as much time as some of the class 5 climbing pitches (but the point is that we methodically got through it). And then my partner was very experienced with alpine situations, so we got through each down-up gap without any loss of time from equipment snag on the down or finding the next up. And his experience kept me from getting just discouraged by "not yet another gap we need to cross".

It was also important that we were both very comfortable moving quickly together through the exposed class 3+4 sections. For me that was from doing lots of soloing on alpine ridges, and from practicing lots of down-climbing on Top-Rope.

How to get my partner's competence at managing the down-up gaps on ridges and overall alpine navigation -- seems harder and longer.

Ken Aug 20, 2015
statistics ...
. . (noticing how the word "bivy" appears twice in the topo photo, perhaps it will help
. . . to have some parameters for estimating times).

  • trail approach: about 2400 vertical feet of uphill over distance 4.5 miles (+725 vertical meters over 7.3 km). Trail is well-maintained, mostly sandy nor rocky, and carefully designed to avoid steep sections.
  • cross-country approach: 1000-1250 vertical feet of uphill over distance 0.75-0.9 mile (320-380 meters uphill over 1.2-1.5 km). Much on difficulty talus. One creek-crossing with no bridge. Significant section (more than 100 vertical feet?) of snow+ice and/or loose rock between top of talus and bottom of continuous sound rock.
  • climbing: about 1150-1500 vertical feet (350-450 meters). Depends on how you measure (class 3 versus class 5) and measuring is tricky anyway. Looking at paper and digital maps, I greatly doubt the top of the highest class 5 pitch is more than +1500 feet above the bottom of the pitch 1 dihedral. (And I doubt there's more than +1200 vertical feet total of only the class 5 pitches).
  • 11-12 pitches of class 5.
  • about 18 pitches total including class 3+4 - (more if count the Tyrolean as a pitch).
  • 3 5o 5 significant down-up gaps with likely rope-work (rappel or lower or Tyrolean) - though all the rope-work is theoretically avoidable.
  • true summit: 300-500 of additional scrambling up above top of climbing route, then back down again.
  • descent to Contact Pass: 700-900 vertical feet down on talus, then (avoidable) single rappel.
  • descent from Contact Pass to hiking trail: downward 1450-1700 vertical feet over 1.1-1.3 miles distance. Mostly talus, some sand and scree.

Aug 20, 2015
Was there last week. Bailed off before actually making it to the first pitch. The 3rd/4th on the approach just below the start of the climb but above the "snowfield" was really sandy, and after being pretty tired from climbing Sill a day or two before we got a bit sketched. Our rope also took a core shot from rockfall on our bail. Wasn't the day for us.

To whomever climbed after 8/12/15, happy booty'ing. Returns are cool, but booty is booty, or pay it forward. Thus is life/climbing. We wouldn't be climbers if we didn't have to bail every once in a while.

To be climbed another day!!! Aug 21, 2015
Goran Lynch
Oakland, CA
Goran Lynch   Oakland, CA
My partner and I enjoyed this route a couple of weeks ago, especially the pitches leading to the Tyrolean. There are lots of rope hijinks after that, which diminish the flow of the climbing quite a bit, though the crux pitch is pretty great (we did the left variation).

One note is that the supertopo shows a 3", 5.8 crack near the top of the route, and Croft shows the same crack as 4" and 5.9. Neither of these match up exactly with my memory of the climb and the topo picture here on MP does not contain this move at all, but I did climb a wide (mostly wider than fists, and I have pretty big mitts), steep crack in a right-facing corner. It protected with a fixed wire high and left (could not inspect this at all) which I was able to back up with a yellow X4 and a less-than-inspiring #3 Camalot in the narrowest part of the crack. A few moves through this section were full-on 5.9+ thrutching, made especially exhilarating by the mediocre gear.

I would be hesitant to climb up into that maw again without a #4 Camalot to protect it, and I don't think I'd bring a cam that big all the way to Temple Crag for those few moves. Scrambling around the side is casual, and sure seems like the lower-stress option. Sep 3, 2015
Colin Szehner
Oakland, Ca
Colin Szehner   Oakland, Ca
Agree with Goran, climbing is great up to and across the tyrolean. The pitches afterwards are very time consuming so make sure you have plenty of time. Lots of exposed traversing, very fun, but keep your head screwed on tight as there is still LOTS of loose rock ready to be pulled off. Thought the last pitch of down-climbing was excellent, tricky and rewarding to finally get off the arete! Jul 5, 2016
Dave Millar
Boulder, CO
Dave Millar   Boulder, CO
Climbed it on September 7, 2016. No crampons needed when climbing up and to the right of the snow field at this time of the year. Started climbing at 7:30 AM and finished at about 4:30 PM. We pitched most of the climb with a 70 meter rope, which helped cut down on the pitch count. Personally, I would not recommend simul-climbing given the loose rock risk. On the flip side, rope drag gets pretty annoying after the crux pitch.

Tyrolean is fun and safe when rigged properly. Took quite a few tries to lasso the block. We were successful by just throwing the loop across on the right side and then flipping one of the strands over the block. We used a grigri plus a prussik z-pully to tension the rope and then tied off the rope behind the grigri so no chance of pulling through.

Took the right crux variation, which is very soft for a 10a. Thought the wide 5.8 crack was harder. It's wide, hard to protect (we only brought 1 #3), and you're tired by that point. Supertopo says bring 2 sets of nuts, which we regretted. One set is plenty.

Descent is hazardous so be careful. We made the mistake of hiking down the left side of the boulder field after the initial soft steep trail from contact pass. This ends up in another nasty steep scree field where you will knock off many rocks and potentially rock avalanches. Do as the book says and stay high and right. We were happy to have started early to do the descent in daylight.

Overall, a great adventure with some enjoyable climbing and fantastic setting.

Sep 9, 2016
Ronald B
Los Angeles, CA
Ronald B   Los Angeles, CA
Just climbed this last August. I agree with daveisclimbing that the 5.8/5.9 crack felt harder than the "10a" section. The 10a section is a little crimpy and delicate but it's all right there, whereas the crack that preceded it was more pumpy and athletic. Oct 21, 2016
Dan Freeman
Los Angeles
  5.9 R
Dan Freeman   Los Angeles
  5.9 R
Climbed this route on July 2, 2017, for my first true alpine long route experience. It was an epic for my team of 2, taking 22 hours camp-to-camp (at Third Lake). Type 2 fun for sure. Rack was two sets of nuts (one would suffice, small sizes useful), doubles of BD cams thin to 3", about 10-12 slings/alpine draws, and 3-4 standard draws.

We stashed our rack and 60m rope at the base of the climb the day before, which also gave us the opportunity to find the best approach through the snow fields (which ended up different than the SuperTopo suggested) and stomp out steps in the soft afternoon snow, which will harden overnight. Ice axes were required, crampons not necessary. From the rock field in the middle of the snowpack, instead of diagonaling up left, then traversing right as the topo suggests, we beelined it straight up to the base of the formation where the route starts, then wandered around the left side on 4th class choss to get to the start. This was faster, and probably safer, as the traverse mentioned in the topo was across a massive disconnected snow slab that could easily avalanche.

We left camp at 5am, got to the base of the 4th class pitches at 6-ish, and got to the tyrolean just after 12pm (took me two tries to lasso). Practice setting up a tyrolean in advance to help cut down the rigging time (it took us like 45 minutes). If you are much later than this, strongly consider a bivvy or a retreat if the weather looks dicey. The rest of the route is slow going, with lots of route finding and careful avoidance of lots and lots of killer loose rocks along the arete, and basically no other good bivvy spots. The topos also get pretty vague after the crux pitch, so you need to explore a bit to figure it out (you will). As darkness fell around 8pm, we still had 3-4 pitches of traversing terrifying 5th class to do by headlamp before the summit scramble (thankfully easy unroped). We reached the summit at 11:30pm.

I found the vertical climbing generally easy and enjoyable - lots of huge jugs, easy protection, great exposure, and not an insurmountable amount of loose rock (but you should check EVERY hold). The vast majority is no harder than 5.7. I chose the 5.9 variation of the crux pitch - the first section protects well with 2" and 3" BD cams (I had two of each and back cleaned a bit to keep it from getting too run out), then the traverse moves can be protected with a 0.2" BD cam and/or a small nut. You can also skip the 5.8 pitch later in the climb by sticking around to the right (I think the topo mentions two 5.4 pitches, one of which is dirty). We chose to rappel any gendarme we came to that had slings/webbing on it, and we added a few bits here and there - webbing and a quicklink at the Tyrolean, and a couple of non-locking biners at one of the last raps. Please bring extra cord or long webbing to reinforce any rap stations that look manky! We simul-climbed very little of the route (maybe 3 pitches) and many parties will want to pitch it out.

From the summit, descend the talus field for 90 minutes or so, keeping within a hundred yards or less of the ridge (should be on your left). Eventually you'll start seeing cairns (not super closely spaced), and then bits of a dirt footpath. It fades in and out so just stay the course if you think you lost it. This leads down switch-backs to the eventual rappel into the pass (60m rope is fine). We got to to the rap station at 1:30am (it has a black cord and a white sling in good condition, IIRC), and were back to camp by 3am. Thankfully, we had beautiful clear weather, no wind, and manageable temps. You will want to strictly ration your water intake as this route WILL take longer than you think/hope. I would strongly recommend avoiding this route if there's a party ahead of you as the amount of rock that will come flying down is simply terrifying (even if they/you are careful). Bring a helmet! Jul 11, 2017
sean burke
Concord, Ca
sean burke   Concord, Ca
My wife and I climbed this car to car with two hours of sleep from the Bay Area in 2014. It was a long 20 hr day, but worth the effort. We started the death march at 330am and got to the base of the climb at first light. We quested off enjoying every bit of the route,. The tyrolean is rad and easy to set up, and yes we experienced some loose blocks on a traverse pitch a few hundred feet from the top, which would have been bad to find unknowingly. The summit is spectacular, and the descent from contact pass down is big loose and harrowing. We simuled the entire climb and it was absolutely awesome. Our last Stinger Waffle saved the day a mile from the car, that’s for sure. Dec 30, 2017