Mount Temple 3,544 meters (11,627 feet) rises above the mountains on the southern shore of Lake Louise in Canada’s famous Banff National Park in Alberta. This massive peak is one of the most prominent peaks in the Bow Range and the East ridge is listed as one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America. As our visions states, “We will keep climbing 4 kidney cancer until we reach the summit and there are no more kidney cancer patients to climb 4.” This time we’re climbing for Susan Schwebach, Patrick McMahon, Todd Feldman, Brian Mitsch, and Bill Loppnow.
Unfortunately, despite our efforts since 2013 to highlight the relationship between wellness (i.e. eating well and exercising, not smoking and keeping a good blood pressure) and kidney cancer prevention, the rates of kidney cancer in the US and worldwide keep rising. In fact, kidney cancer is the fastest rising cancer among American adults (ages 25-49).
We were in Banff for an international oncology meeting where we were presenting research results funded by Climb 4 Kidney Cancer donors! Though it was early October, the Banff area had been hit by two big snowstorms. It made for beautiful mountains, but it also makes the climbing colder and harder.
We started early in the dark and the temperatures were well below freezing -18 degrees C. When preparing for the mountains you have to be ready for all kinds of weather and temperatures. We rose up on the Northern side of Moraine Lake, the most photographed location in Canada and you can see why.
We made it up into the Larch Valley. This valley is filled with evergreens and larch trees. Larch trees appear to be evergreens, but they don’t stay green. In the fall, the needles turn a brilliant yellow and fall off! The sun was just starting to come up as we entered this valley and lit small little yellow fires under a flocking of snow. It was spectacular.
The trail to this point had been previously trampled down by hikers trying to get a view of the Larch trees. But no one had attempted to climb Mt. Temple since the snow. Therefore as we moved on toward Sentinel Pass, we began to break new trail. The snow looked smooth, but underneath was very uneven. Most of the time the snow was just below knee deep, but then you’d catch a rock and it would only be ankle deep, then the next step could be hip deep.
Our pace slowed considerably at this point as we literally had to swim through the snow at times. Fortunately, the sun was up, so we stayed plenty warm. In fact, with our 30 lb packs and the tremendous energy we were expending to trudge uphill through deep snow, we got pretty hot and at some points despite the temperature being well below freezing, we took off our coats and gloves and only had on long sleeve shirts at one point! But if we ever stopped for a drink of water or bite of food, within minutes, we either had to put more layers back on or get moving to stay warm.
Once we got to the top of Sentinel Pass, we had an incredible view into the nearby valley. In fact, at this point we witnessed one of what became several avalanches from the fresh fallen snow on the Mitre rising above the Paradise Valley.
We continued up a steep couloir. The deep, but soft snow made ascent exceedingly difficult. This snow was in the full sun so it constantly gave under our weight. Each step would sink some as you stepped forward, but when our full weight came onto the step, we would sink another 3-6 inches. Then our crampons would catch an unseen rock and threaten to throw us off balance. Our ice axes always at the ready to stop a fall down the steep rocky pitch. It was all we could do to put one foot in front of another.
We reached the feature known as the grey rock band and decided to stop for lunch. At this point, we’d been going nearly non-stop for 6 hours. We still were about 2-3 hours from the top, depending on the snow conditions on the summit ridge. We had committed to a hard turn around time of 2 pm and realized we would be no where near the top by that time. We knew that Mount Temple would always be there, but if we didn’t make it back down safely, we might not live to climb it another day.
We pulled out the pictures of those we were climbing for Patrick, Susan, Todd, Brain, and Bill. We’d climbed over 4000 feet and only had 400 meters left to climb. But sometimes in mountain climbing, just like sometimes in fighting kidney cancer, you don’t always make it to the top. We thought of Todd and Bill’s valiant fight against this terrible disease. Though we had not reached the top, the journey had been incredible. We had been surrounded by beauty, and our struggle up the cold, snowy Mount Temple had given us a perspective we wouldn’t have had if we’d stayed warm inside the hotel.