Sun Ribbon Arete 5.10a

  • Currently 5.0/5

Temple Crag

High Sierra, California USA

Trip Report
TR Pics Vid - Sun Ribbon Arete 2008-09-21
Tuesday October 28, 2008 5:17am
From the base of the rappel at the highest point of Contact Pass, follow the climbers' trail north down sandy switchbacks into talus. Here it is crucial to stay right (away from Temple Crag) or you will either a) end up in a dangerous snow gully or b) end up on a loose and dangerous sandy slope."
    Pg. 74, ST High Sierra.

With a start like that, you can guess how the nutjob trip report ends. But I get ahead of myself.

My buzzing Blackberry alarm jolts me awake at the splitter crack of dawn. Well, it was 6:40am. Uhh... that was actually a missed call. From Bryce. Whom I was supposed to meet at 6am on this fine Saturday morn. Leapin' lizards and fvck a duck batman, not a good start for the big trip! At least I packed the car the night before, I'm out the door in 5 minutes, and at his place within 15.

Now Bryce and I have been on some adventures that would grow hair on a Calvin Klein model's chest (boy or girl, I can never tell which they are anyways), and I can tell you he was spun from the same cloth as a Tibetan monk: peaceful to the core. Nary a word of angst or a spit of vitriol. But he has suffered the Nutjob Way™ long and mightily in silence. He has shivered at the Pleasanton BART station on a cold dark night waiting for me on several occasions. And on this day it would end. My chronic tardiness coaxed and teased his inner Manson. Actually it wasn't that bad, but the few choice words he had, no need to curse, hit me right between the eyes. Well, he did try to eat a child at the Tuolumne Backcountry permit station when we stopped there. I tried to patch the kid up afterward. After his venom was spent, he redeemed himself by picking up trash. With Karma cleaned (well his at least, I was still sportin' some skid marks), we got over the irony that we didn't need to stop in Tuolumne... and after swinging through Bishop for our overnight permits and a breeze through Big Pine, we chased the sun into the deep and beautiful Eastern Sierra skyline.

In the dwindling rays we hiked past a smiling and weathered couple emerging from the trail, radiant, as if Moses brought Zephora along to help carry the 10 Commandments down the mountain. I will consider my life successfully lived if I follow in their footsteps with my soul mate in 40-50 years. The trail is surprisingly mild for the elevation gain; I call it a gentle consistent rise, but at other points in my life I might have called it relentless. We lament the moon's absence, and follow the trail in near-black monotony for a timeless span. When the time seems right, we diverge from the trail and trend down a steep forested slope toward what we hope is the gap between Second and Third Lake. After padding across a field of squishy brown marshmallows, we set camp in a slightly elevated dry spot. But while attempting to fill our water bottles, we have second thoughts. The place we've chosen is a natural animal trail, and visions of bears licking our faces has us packing our bags again. So we backtrack, and set camp somewhere on the forested slope in a relatively flat spot. And those damn visions of bears licking us gets us up again to hang our food in a tree. I opted to leave the bear canister behind, so we craftily rigged up a rope high between two trees, and suspended the foodbag from the center of the rope. And finally to bed for real this time, and the moon joins the party just in time to burn through our eyelids and challenge our sleep.

We had no alarm, and woke up at 8:30am or so: alpine lunchtime.

Of course the views are incredible. Alpine blue lakes, jaggedy crags, deeply shadows of doom on the object of our desire: Temple Crag, Sun Ribbon Arete.

Pictures are nice, but if you've been anywhere in the mountains you know the pictures just can't capture it all. The approach from the north shore of the lakes is longer than it seems like it should be. Massive rock formations have a way of making everything in front of them look small. And to think Temple Crag was just a "boulder" en route to the real mountains behind it - The Pallisades! So by 10:30am, we're skirting the edges of a 60 degree ice field, and I'm figuring out how to cheat past a couple foot section of clear water ice in my trusty SierraLite boots.

I figure out that if I stick a dirty rock in little ice divots, I can scamper up faster than I slide down. And after some chossy 4th-classing and letting loose pickup truck loads of gravel, we make it to the base. Phew! We're already relatively high up the right side of a gulley, several pitches up compared to the dudes on Dark Star over on the next arete. I'm on the sharp end to get things started, and I make a 5.6 chimney look like Generator Crack before I figure out where to stick my feet.

Next comes some cruiser 3rd-class stuff, almost a pain to be roped but less painful than undoing the knots and coiling. Best to just run it out.

Our rope strategy was a single 8mm (half of a double-rope 60m setup) doubled over. I don't remember all the details after that, but I do remember endless 5.6 - 5.7 climbing and not much pro. I made the "technical alpine rack" last until pitch 5 or 6 before we had to stop for gear change-over. Unless you move like Pheidippides after the battle at Marathon, you better be satisfied with a couple of pieces of pro per pitch or you'll get benighted. I think we saw a few pitons, but bolts weren't really a fixture of this climb. Mostly this wasn't a good stretch for pictures because we were far from each other most of the time:
I think my shirt designers got a view of this lichen during an acid trip:

And then we hit this point... sling what?

I wish I could say it was easy. But we were very nearly foobar'd at this point of the route. On his first throw, Bryce has a solid showing that almost pulled the Hole in One. We cajoled it to fall into place, but it just barely slid off the edge. And deeply into the crack where it was HOPELESSLY STUCK! We tugged, we caressed, we were surprisingly cool. Or fatalistic. By some divine intervention, we got it loose, and then I got it stuck again! This time, it was just below a rock that we could dislodge with enough yanking.

OK, let's git 'er done!


Dude, I shoulda been in rodeos.

I'll bet my life on that.

But I'm a gentleman... ladies first. Ahem... Bryce? Gee is that a becoming shade of puce in your cover-up foundation, or does the setup concern you?

And the whole grisly event is captured on video (oh the humanity):
(check the high quality link in the lower right corner of the vid)

And this is his reward for being first across, to see this with his own eyes:

Then it was time for my moment of truth:

We could have used a little more tension...

And then some more run-out climbing:

Bryce got the money pitch, a beautiful 5.9 crack to akward sloping ledge traverse. It looked like a sidewalk from below, but Bryce was floundering up there like an elephant seal in heat, so I knew there must be something more to it. He made it through the actual traverse and then on up without too much fanfare. When I followed with benefit of a toprope, I mantled on the ledge easier than he did. But I paused a bit more at the traverse, a couple of 5.10a face moves, and I was glad I didn't lead the little bit right above the end of the traverse.

It all becomes blurry for me after that... a bunch more run-out climbing on pretty easy terrain; plenty of places where falling is not on the menu.

At last we reach the final ridgeline to the summit, as purple velvet and orange fiery skies give stark relief to the blackest silhouettes of the Palisades behind us. We claim a daylight ascent by a margin thinner than Dubya's 2000 election. I think the hanging chad is the only thing that kept our headlights off til the descent.

Did I mention it was getting cold? I seem to recall continually wiping a stream of snot off my numb nose... and my insulated Camelback froze within 5 minutes of taking it off.

As these stories usually go, getting up is only half the battle. We stumbled down a massive talus field on the backside, our headlights off for a while; in the gradual darkening, our eyes had time to adjust. But the time came for headlamps, and I remembered a supertopo thread as we followed occasional obscure cairns. We would have been fairly screwed without them. But we were fairly screwed even with them, so it was hard to tell. Finding the rap station that gets us to the top of Contact Pass was like a needle in a haystack. Well, the cairns steered us homeward, and after several seeming dead-ends we found the rap and were on terra firma of Contact Pass.

But the night is yet young!

From the base of the rappel at the highest point of Contact Pass, follow the climbers' trail north down sandy switchbacks into talus. Here it is crucial to stay right (away from Temple Crag) or you will either a) end up in a dangerous snow gully or b) end up on a loose and dangerous sandy slope."

At first we follow an obvious climbers trail, but little by little 'tis lost to the sands of time. At this point, we go down and left fairly close to Temple Crag. It gets steep. Real steep. And sandy. Real sandy. It was pretty comical pouring a gallon of sand out of my shoes every few minutes. But it wasn't comical how that steep sand held washing-machine to car-sized boulders strewn all over the place, perched on the brink of destruction. Every step in the sand brought a few extra feet of sliding, and I was riding a mini-avalanche with my feet going like a deep powder descent in snowshoes. The trick was to not step on the lower side of the boulders, where the sliding sand would cut them lose. It only took a couple of tumblers that echoed through the valley before I figured this out. And based on the rumbles coming somewhere nearby but out of sight by Bryce, he was learning the same lesson.

Now I had been lagging badly behind Bryce, my aforementioned cardio conditioning not up to par. But Bryce managed to get himself into some hairy shite a little right of me, and ended up back-tracking and following my path. As it turns out, he had been riding the crest of a wave of rocks, ready to cut loose in a ridiculous torrent of granite destruction. Going down over there just plain wasn't an option. It wasn't all rosy on this side, but that's where the darkness helped us. With the little LED glow around my head to shield me from the ugliness all around, I could wander and stumble in stupid bliss down toward our camp far below. If it had been daylight, I might have crapped my pants looking up at what hung above us. But then again, in daylight we might have gone a different way...

Finally at the base... and the night is no longer young. Nor is it over. To get back to our camp, we have to cross a sea of boulders akin to the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua Tree. It's been a month since the episode, but I've already forgotten the gruesome details. Let's just say I was worked. I do recall lots of moments lying on my back looking at the stars. At one point I looked down at a gap between boulders that looked like a toilet seat. Soon I was racing the brown loggerhead turtle, moving in a panic to unclip the strap that held my leg loops to my swami. There was no time to search for leaves, sticks, or small rocks. That would have to come later. I was barely able to drop my drawers before unleashing armageddon on the denizens of the crack below. And after some moments, catching my breath and enjoying the feeling of emptiness, I found the will to keep moving. It went on like that for a while, until we reached our gear stash on the north shore of Second Lake not far from the logjam.


The morning after shot of where we came down... hard to judge the scale in this pic, but the steepest part of the rubble pile took us an hour to descend. And this angle doesn't capture how steep the crest of those perched rocks really is:

One of the things I realized after this climb, my first real simul-climb (South Crack and Great White Book notwithstanding), is this: when you do a really big day on a normal climb, you're actually sitting on your arse or hanging in slings half the time. Which gives plenty of time to recuperate, and I guess that's how I can be in relatively lame cardio shape and still pull out some long days every once in a while. But damn we were continuously moving ALL DAY for this climb, with a brief rest while futzing with the tyrolean traverse rig. So when all was said and done, I was "knackered" as my colorful Kiwi friends would say. It must be an effort overall similar to Snake Dike when you count the approach hikes and climbing... except the climbing on Sun Ribbon Arete is noticeably more difficult than Snake Dike (but pro spacing was not too much different!). And you feel a lot more "out there", like there ain't no walkie talkies and YOSAR to come get you when you stub your toe. Of course help in the worst case would only be a day a way if your buddy was healthy enough to go get it. But still, it's a little sobering introduction to what it must be like in the bigger and more remote places of the world. And reading from the history of this route... doing it in the winter with verglas and snow, in a push from the car with heavy gear all the way to the tyrolean? Topout the next day in sub-freezing temps? I'm not worthy. And I don't want to be.

And I leave you with some parting pictures:

Transition from riparian sub-alpine forest to desert:

Looking back on the approach:

  Trip Report Views: 2,864
About the Author
nutjob is a climber from Berkeley, CA.


Trad climber
Cheyenne, Wyoming and Marshall Islands atoll.
  Oct 28, 2008 - 05:42am PT
Very nice TR Nut. Very nice. thanks

Trad climber
Tunneling out of prison
  Oct 28, 2008 - 10:09am PT
Ahh, a fine tale in the nutjob style. What better way to start the morning! :)
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
  Oct 28, 2008 - 10:24am PT
outstanding TR nutjob and excellent adventure - thanks

  Oct 28, 2008 - 10:26am PT
Nice nutjob,
Way to do it. I'd love to climb one of those routes.

Gym climber
Small Town with a Big Back Yard
  Oct 28, 2008 - 10:29am PT
Great TR, Nut. Man, that tyrolean looks skeeetchy!

Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Oct 28, 2008 - 12:06pm PT
Great photos!

I added a link to this trip report here:

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Oct 28, 2008 - 12:18pm PT
Hot! Excellent writing. Might wanna run that one through the spell-checker though.

I still can't figure out why anyone would do that tyrolean. Guess I'll have to go up there sometime and find out.

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
Author's Reply  Oct 28, 2008 - 12:29pm PT
Thanks folks, and thanks Rhodo for the motivation to clean up the typos and brain farts from a midnight stream-of-consciousness :)

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Oct 28, 2008 - 12:33pm PT
Another cool one I have yet to get on.

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Oct 28, 2008 - 12:34pm PT
They're not all worth it, but that one is.

A pile of dirt.
  Oct 28, 2008 - 12:40pm PT
Nice TR! Great shirt too!


  Oct 28, 2008 - 12:48pm PT
Nice report!

Way to get it done.

Sport climber
Portland, Oregon
  Oct 28, 2008 - 01:15pm PT
Nice report and very nice photos!

Trad climber
novato ca
  Oct 28, 2008 - 02:21pm PT
very cool

Trad climber
Sac, CA
  Oct 28, 2008 - 03:51pm PT

Social climber
  Oct 28, 2008 - 11:22pm PT
We did the Sun Ribbon in 1984 without a camera. I've never seen that many pictures of the traverse. We hooked it on our 26th toss. Brings back great memories, nice treat.
David Nelson

San Francisco
  Oct 28, 2008 - 11:46pm PT
Great report,TR's and beta are the stre gths of this site,and your writing was excellent. No spray ,just funny understatement.

Trad climber
West Los Angeles, CA/Joshua Tree
  Oct 29, 2008 - 12:31am PT
Way to get it done. Loved that video you posted of the Tyrolean. Damn it sounded windy as hell up there.

Not just a great climbing TR but MAJOR bonus fashion points. Now THAT is a stylin' climbing shirt!!

  Oct 29, 2008 - 01:12pm PT
Would someone please bump this one every time an OT post goes to the top?

Awesome TR. Loved the video, but it's hard to beat the shirt. Good writing, too. Thanks for sharing this one--

Trad climber
Oakland Park Florida
  Oct 29, 2008 - 02:36pm PT
Your description of decending from Contact Pass in the dark brought me back to the toture of that decent. You nailed the feeling of decending through that upper boulderfield and sand. It makes the MR decent off Mt Whitney seem tame.

Trad climber
  Oct 29, 2008 - 02:38pm PT
very nice.

Social climber
  Oct 29, 2008 - 02:50pm PT
word up!
Lynne Leichtfuss

Trad climber
Will know soon
  Oct 29, 2008 - 02:53pm PT
Rocks, Rodeo and covered it all, funny, cool Thread. lrl

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Oct 29, 2008 - 05:18pm PT
The Sun Ribbon is on my must do list but that thing scares me for some reason. Good on ya. Thanks for the report. Epics rule!

Gym climber
Wild Omar, CA
  Oct 29, 2008 - 05:49pm PT
Great TR! I did SR back in 2000 with one of my old climbing partners, Spencer Matthews. Had a great time. After making our way up the snowfield, we tossed our ice-axes and simulclimbed much of the route. I remember the crux was a bit after the tyrolian. I think we did it in about 12 pitches before we topped out (still had to hike about 30 minutes to the true summit).

Thanks for the memories and the pictures we didn't take!

Trad climber
  Oct 29, 2008 - 06:28pm PT
Awesome TR. Cannot WAIT to do that route. 2 down, 2 to go!

right here, right now
  Oct 29, 2008 - 08:53pm PT
A most needed & very delicious service you've provided for all us geezers here on the flip side!

Trad climber
Carson City, NV
  Oct 29, 2008 - 08:59pm PT
love the shirt, thanks for the great tr

Social climber
Portland, Oregon
  Oct 29, 2008 - 09:41pm PT
Sweet trip report - really conveyed the flavor of the day. Thanks.


Random Nobody
  Oct 29, 2008 - 11:45pm PT
Dude!!! Bad Azz Trip Report!!!

A couple of those shots actually got me dizzy. You were way out there..

Nice Hawaiian! Nice rodeo fling!

Lynne Leichtfuss

Trad climber
Will know soon
  Oct 30, 2008 - 12:05am PT
micronut, sounds just a tad craz to me also...

So no way to do it faster and come down in lite or spend the night up top ? Just a real newbie asking a dumb question. But likin' an answer.

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
Author's Reply  Oct 30, 2008 - 12:27am PT
There are plenty of people who have done it in much less time than we did... but can they can do it faster with gear every 8-10 feet? I dunno. Some can probably, but not me.

The main reason for us not placing as much gear is to extend the length of simul-climbing before having to stop and give more pro to the leader. Think about 15 pitches with 10 minutes for setting a natural anchor and doing a gear change-over at each one... that's 2.5 hours of sitting still. If it got dark 2.5 hours before we hit the summit, it would have taken us another 5 hours probably instead of 2.5 to get to the summit. Then from the summit we would be moving even slower from being more tired, make more route-finding errors, etc... so it all adds up quickly.

Doing it mid-summer, and starting pre-dawn from the campsite would be the way to give yourself the best margin for error in terms of time and daylight. Or just be in better shape than us and be a fast mofo. Anyone doing this car-to-car should take a bow and acknowledge they are bad@ss.
seth kovar

Reno, NV
  Feb 4, 2009 - 11:58am PT
bump- nice tr

Social climber
State of decay
  Feb 4, 2009 - 01:02pm PT
Very cool TR . Thanks.. Brings back some memories of when Tony Yinger and I raced a thunder storm to the top of the Sun Ribbon Arete. We never tagged the top, too scared of getting fried.
We didn't do the tyrol as well. Not for the lack of trying though. I would have never made it as a cowboy. We gave up on the lasso and climbed down into the notch and back up the other side. It is one of the Great Sierra routes and a must do for any serious Sierra student.I touched the top of Temple Crag after doing the Moon Goddess a bit later. Another great route, a notch less serious, but great climbing. On the MG, do the Ibirum tower direct via a fine 5.9ish finger/hand crack that goes right up the face of the tower. A much better variation than the dank traverse to end run the tower.
Thanks again for the memory jog.

Oakland, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 05:19pm PT
(Testing how to link a photo from Picasa)

Edit: Is that showing up for anybody out there?

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
Author's Reply  May 19, 2009 - 05:48pm PT
Yo Bryce, top of Dark Star coming through loud and clear.
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
  Nov 12, 2014 - 09:03am PT
bump for hysterical no no historical effort
Temple Crag - Sun Ribbon Arete 5.10a - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The route as seen from Second Lake.
Photo: SP Parker
Other Routes on Temple Crag
Temple Crag - Venusian Blind 5.7 - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
Venusian Blind, 5.7
Temple Crag
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The route as seen from Second Lake.
Temple Crag - Moon Goddess Arete 5.8 - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
Moon Goddess Arete, 5.8
Temple Crag
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The route as seen from Second Lake.
Temple Crag - Dark Star 5.10b - High Sierra, California USA. Click for details.
Dark Star, 5.10b
Temple Crag
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The route as seen from Second Lake.