Temple Crag - too loose? (accident list)


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Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 28, 2009 - 08:46pm PT
Is Temple Crag a pile of loose junk?
Apparently worse than the Pinnacles (National Monument), where I climb but many people avoid.

I like mountaineering, but some years back I decided to restrict it to good granite and some gneiss.
No Temple Crag for me.

Here's a list of recent accidents there, that I know of:

 Eric Hengesbaugh [Surgicle - East Face, 2015]
pulled loose block, 35-40' fall to ledge, broken back (L2), broken tib-fib
 Brenton Wright [probably Venusian Blind, 2014]
 Jesse [Venusian Blind, 2009]
hit on leg by block pulled off by leader, broken leg, lots of bleeding
 Beth "Fluoride" [Sun Ribbon Arete, 2009]
hit on helmet by brick sized rock pulled off by leader 50' above, concussion
 Joe Cackler [Venusian Blind, 2004]
took 45' leader fall on p4 when he grabbed a shoebox sized loose rock, little pro in due to loose rock, one nut pulled, tooth puncture through lip
 Ren Buckley [Moon Goddess Arete, 2003]
pinned at base by a 300 pound loose block which leader pulled off from 10' up the first pitch, onto her hips/ribs - very tricky rescue involving setting up a hauling system to lift the block off her body. Much of the rope was also trapped under the block, so they needed a knife to cut enough rope free to make the hauling system. Knee injury, temporary nerve damage.
 Linnea Erickson [Venusian Blind, 2003]
free solo fall, fatality
 doctor from Mammoth [Moon Goddess Arete, 1999]
fell midway up near the 4th class section above pitch 8, fatality

and some near misses
 Mark Thomas [Moon Goddess Arete, 2011]
see Jenga Challenge section
 Melissa [MG/Venusian side, 2009]
tethered to belay anchor, loose rock dislodged by the rope, missed her
 more near misses, blocks pulled off, in this thread

I'm sure there have been many more past accidents there - anybody want to add to the list?

Trad climber
Vacaville Ca,
Jul 28, 2009 - 08:52pm PT
It's been referred to as "Temple Crap" by everyone I know for a reason, myself included.

Jul 28, 2009 - 08:57pm PT
Most alpine routes have lots of loose rock. These are popular . . .

Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
Jul 28, 2009 - 09:07pm PT
Instead of adding to the list (I don't know of any other hits or near misses), let me add a comment. Temple Crag does have loose rock. But so does almost every High Sierra rock climb I've done (I've done around 80 multi-pitch, fifth class routes in the High Sierra, including the three celestial aretes and Dark Star on Temple). I think it's more a function of the type of climbing, not just the place or even the type of rock. Most of the climbs here are on mountains, not crags or cliffs. Much of the High Sierra was above most of the glaciers that scoured lower rocks clean (a relative phrase, to be sure).

There are exceptions; some of the most heavily traveled "trade" climbs don't have as much loose stuff, but some do. And there are worse areas than Temple too. I've never seen such looseness as in the Minarets (excluding the South Face of Clyde because, I suppose, it gets so much traffic). But almost every roped route (and certainly every unroped route) I've done in the Sierra has at least parts with loose blocks and loose, just, rubble.

There's a certain skill one develops moving over this kind of stuff, and, honestly an element of luck too.

Grey Matter
Jul 28, 2009 - 09:11pm PT
I've done Sun ribbon and Venusian Blind. Neither seemed too bad.
I've heard Moon goddess is looser and have avoided it so far.

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Jul 28, 2009 - 09:11pm PT
The higher number of incidents is probably due to the fact that it's a very popular place. More people means a higher pobability of more incidents.

It has it's loose sections, but I don't recall it being any better or worse than other alpine climbs in the Sierra. In fact, once you're out on the aretes, it's pretty solid and safe.

I think you're missing out on some great climbing by avoiding Temple Crag. Sections of it aren't the most solid rock in the range, but those aretes are just plain fun.

Berkeley, CA
Jul 28, 2009 - 09:39pm PT
Here is an obit for the 2003 solo accident on VB thought to be caused by loose rock:


Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 28, 2009 - 09:45pm PT
The looseness is why I have done almost nothing in the high Sierra (Whitney East Face and Mt. Humphries East Arete are the only ones I've done).

Instead I go up to Washington State / Canada where I used to climb with my dad:

 Prusik Peak
 Mt. Stuart
 Liberty Bell / Washington Pass

We did Bonanza Peak, because it was high, but there was so much loose scree on the ledges that we couldn't rope up - the rope would have knocked so much stuff onto us. So we had to solo the whole thing up and down. That was when we decided to narrow it down to good rock.

Trad climber
berkeley, ca
Jul 28, 2009 - 09:53pm PT
Clint, I hear you, but don't agree that Temple Crag is any more loose than any other alpine realm.

Methinks that many of these accidents --and they are unfortunate-- have to do with folks not being familiar with the context, and pulling and stepping without requisite care. Akin to skiing on a day with moderate (or considerable) avalanche hazard, one's picking the right path, and treading very lightly, have considerable bearing on one's safety.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 28, 2009 - 10:05pm PT
Here's a photo of Venusian Blind from slobmonster's 2009 trip report
which makes me think it looks looser than the alpine (light?) realms I like to visit:
big stacked flakes on ridges, large talus cones...

And here are some from his 2008 trip report

I agree there is a partial "rookie effect" in some of these accidents, but if J is knocking rocks on Melissa, that's no rookie effect.
[Edit:] OK, Melissa says it was in fact a rookie effect - I was wrong about that one. Good thing they learn fast!

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Jul 28, 2009 - 10:57pm PT
Part of the game but worth consideration none the less.

Social climber
mammoth lakes
Jul 28, 2009 - 11:06pm PT
its no coincidance that most of the injuries noted involved the leader pulling on loose blocks.
alpine climbing requires an alpine aproach.

Social climber
So Cal
Jul 28, 2009 - 11:14pm PT
its no coincidance that most of the injuries noted involved the leader pulling on loose blocks.
alpine climbing requires an alpine aproach.

We had a close call when we did it, but if Temple is dangerously loose they should just put the yellow tape all the way around Split and call it off limits.

Alpine climbing requires a "Danger UXB" attitude.

Inappropriate yanking and cranking will get someone killed. There have even been some incidents at Tahquitz due to the gym climb "all the holds are attached with 3/8" bolts" attitude.

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Jul 28, 2009 - 11:28pm PT
VB Arete: Damn, I thought I had sufficiently cleaned that route
in 2000! While leading I pulled four good size flakes off, one about 100 lbs I was lucky enough to throw off into the abyss, before it took me for a ride! After returning to Bishop I said to Lauria and King, "hey it's really loose up there", they just shrugged it off and said, "that's Temple Crag"!!! Clearly I was a tourist in their playground!

So, beware and make sure you yell, ROCK!!! Cardinal Pinnacle was much more solid once you hiked through 1,000,000 boulders in the scree field!


Clint: I just climbed North Early Winter Spire, I must concure, very solid granite up on the Liberty Bell group!

Social climber
The internet
Jul 28, 2009 - 11:31pm PT
Temple Crag is WAY over rated. If those routes were given the 0 or 1 star they deserve, this thread wouldn't exist.

I've done all the routes in Rossiter's 1991 Teton Classics, most of the IV and longer routes in Croft's Sierra guide, except the traverses, most of Kelsey's recommended route list in the Wind River and tons of routes on all major climbing formations in RMNP. I say as far as the "popular and well known" alpine rock climbs out there - you'll have to travel to Canada to find a bigger pile of rubble than Temple. If you claim the poor rock on Temple is "part of the game" and "typical", I feel sorry for you and your pitiful failure to find something better to climb. Temple is an outlier - not even on the curve. Just say no - for christ sake - you're in the friggen Sierra! How about the Hulk, Third Pillar, Charlotte... ?

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Jul 28, 2009 - 11:52pm PT
By saying it's "too" loose, I'm not sure what you mean. Too loose for what?

He'll probably be embarrassed to have it be part of this thread, but the truth is he rock that came near me was knocked off by leader error (flicking the rope around a pile on a ledge), and my belay position was very poorly planned. We were on the snow-avoidance start variation and weren't even to the routes yet. He hadn't even shoed up yet. Although we have lots of experience climbing loose rock, It was our first back country climb, so I guess it we were being rookies by not being really serious about protecting the belays from the word 'go'. When we went back the next day on another route, we did things very differently. If I had gotten hurt there, it would have been all about us making bad choices.

I never had to do a single move on either route that we did that felt like it was on dicey rock. Handling the rock with care and testing holds was part of the game, and I thought it made the climbing more interesting. I loved it there and am looking forward to returning.
mark miller

Social climber
Jul 29, 2009 - 12:24am PT
We are a little soft in the to loose area compared to The Euro's. If your are Mountain Climbing Knott every pitch is gonna be yosemite granite, Get Real.....Anybody want to climb Mt. Morrison out of Convict lake with me?... Neither the leader or the second should fall........

Trad climber
berkeley, ca
Jul 29, 2009 - 12:24am PT
now, this crag might be considered too loose, but I mean, "duh."

mark miller

Social climber
Jul 29, 2009 - 12:27am PT
That looks pretty damn clean.... Why Knott post a picture of Fairview with all the real crud removed....

Trad climber
berkeley, ca
Jul 29, 2009 - 12:35am PT
chief, that was the implication. no need to be ornery about it though. I grew up back there and worked on those cliffs for most of my twenties. best season on cannon: the depth of winter, when that crap is all frozen together.
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