Temple-Gayley-Sill Traverse

On the ridge between Tample and Gayley.  Photo by Dale Apgar.

On the ridge between Tample and Gayley.  Photo by Dale Apgar.

In August of 2011, Dale and I climbed the Sun Ribbon Arete on Temple Crag.  We intended to continue along the ridge and complete the Temple-Gayley-Sill traverse that day, but we hit the summit of Temple way too late to entertain the traverse.

Two years later, we decided to try again, this time starting the route with the easier and faster Venusian Blind.  We hit the start of the route at about 7am and topped out much earlier, soloing and simul-climbing the entire route.  Venusian was fun and involved quite a bit of 3rd and 4th class climbing in a gully that brought us to the ridge and fun climbing on good rock.  The traverse to Gayley didn't look too tough, but we quickly discovered that navigating the dips and rises along the ridge line was more time-consuming than we'd planned.  At one point, we hit the summit of an intermediate rise and decided that we needed to down-climb and traverse underneath to climber's left.  We eventually made it to the base of Gayley proper and found a way to the summit with only a little bit of simul-climbing.

While we'd been ahead of schedule at the summit of Temple, we were definitely behind our planned schedule by the time we hit Gayley.  We'd even discussed descending from the ridge before Gayley and picking our way down the scree to the South.  Our main reason for having turnaround times was that our descent from Sill would involve crossing a glacier, which we were worried would be hard and slippery after dark—we had not brought crampons and had one ice axe between us to keep things light.

We descended Gayley to Glacier Notch and were both headed for the descent (even looking for the best way down) when we were both thinking the same thing and stopped to stare each other down.  Sill stood just above us.  We were so close.  We still had 2+ hours of daylight.  It was decided pretty quickly that we should do it, but that it was going to hurt.  My altitude headache was pretty strong at this point, having come from sea level two days before. This also meant that we'd be descending in the dark and risking a skating rink on the glacier.

Enjoying the last rays of sunshine before heading down the glacier

Enjoying the last rays of sunshine before heading down the glacier

We headed briskly for the Swiss Arete, traversing 3rd class, then ascending 4th class territory to get to the route.  I paced myself, knowing that going too hard would result in nausea from the AMS, but we still moved quickly.  We simul-climbed the route and had some awesome moments on perfect granite with a colorful sky despite cold hands.  We topped out, quickly high-fived and signed the summit register, then descended the L-shaped couloir, which was mostly devoid of snow, but still had a few treacherous patches in places.

From Glacier Notch, we headed down to the glacier, which was not quite as treacherous as we thought it might be, but was still challenging.  Darkness fell just as we navigated past the last few crevasses and jumped onto exceptionally loose scree on our way to Gayley Camp.  It was pitch black and the scree included enough large boulders that we would often lose sight of each other despite only being 30 feet apart and having headlamps on.  Reaching Gayley Camp was the moment when we could relax, knowing that the hike out was long, but without true objective hazards.

My altitude headache and nausea had been bad enough since Gayley that I hadn't tried to eat anything since then, so I was hurting at this point.  Dale broke out the whiskey, which we've learned can help make a descent float by.  I unfortunately had to turn it down.

The hike out felt exceptionally long, but went without incident.  We finished up about 22 hours after we'd started and were back in Mammoth by about 3am.  Without an alarm, I slept until 3pm the next day.  This had been my biggest car-to-car day yet.