Miette Pass Peaks

February 15-17, 2015

2362m

Jasper, AB/BC

Over the past year or two Ben has been trying to convince me to join him on an exploratory trip to Miette Pass, a remote and seldom-visited, but truly beautiful area on the Continental Divide between Jasper and Robson Parks. I wasn’t fully convinced until this past Family Day long weekend. The weather was good but a special avalanche warning was issued making tricky trip planning. There weren’t many multi-day options but the peaks immediately to the south and north of Miette Pass should be gentle enough to ascend, so I eventually got convinced.

The most logistic way to access this area is by the decommissioned Miette Pass Trail which follows Miette River for more than 20 km. However, this would be too much of a gamble as it’s very likely the trail being very overgrown and hard to distinguish already, making tedious bushwhacking for days. We had to thank the local ski legends (Reiner Thoni, Dana Ruddy and Sean Elliot) for discovering a new route into this area by a highline traverse starting from Yellowhead Mountain Trail. They did it as the start of a 5-day traverse from Yellowhead to Robson. We both agreed to follow their footsteps, avoiding “unknowns” for as much as possible. This route is by no mean easy though. Getting to the planned bivy by South Miette Pass we had to cover more than 20 km distance while overcoming more than 1800 m cumulative elevation gain on “semi-exploratory” terrain. I felt it’s too much of a commitment on skis so decided to stick with snowshoes – something I felt much more comfortable with. Ben, on the other hand, was determined to ski, so that’s it – another trip mixing skiing with snowshoeing. We’d see how well our paces gonna match.

Miette Pass Peaks ski ascent route

Miette Pass Peaks ski ascent route

The huge bulk of elevation gain (900 m) would be knocked off right at the first 7 km up the Yellowhead Mountain Trail. The first 1.5 km or so was very rough as there wasn’t enough snow to cover the ground making some interesting grass skiing/snowshoeing… Things improved dramatically once hitting continuous snow and we soon picked up a set of ski tracks! This trail eventually dumped us right at the shoulder of Tete Roche (a sub-peak of Yellowhead Mountain) and it was here that we got caught by a group of skiers from behind. Apparently they were moving very fast and after some quick chatting we realized they were Sean Elliot and Dana Ruddy! It was very nice to meet these guys and I have to make some advertisement here for their project. They are considering building a non-profitable ski cabin by Rink Lake just behind Yellowhead Mountain and I think it’s a great idea. It’s outside the “cariboo closure zone” and this area gets a lot of snow granting some really nice skiing opportunity.

Ben "enjoying" the grass skiing...

Ben “enjoying” the grass skiing…

Mt. Fitzwilliam from the lookout at just 1.5 km into the trip

Mt. Fitzwilliam from the lookout at just 1.5 km into the trip

Not the greatest condition at the lower elevation...

Not the greatest condition at the lower elevation…

From an opening area we got a nice view of the Yellowhead Mountain

From an opening area we got a nice view of the Yellowhead Mountain

Dana and Sean's group caught us up from behind

Dana and Sean’s group caught us up from behind

A massive slide on Tete Roche

A massive slide on Tete Roche

Up and over the shoulder of Tete Roche we dropped about 130 m height to Rink Creek. Form here on the route basically contours around treeline, up and over 3 to 4 different treed ribs with some huge elevation losses in between. This treeline traverse would eventually dump us at a tributary of Miette River and following this river up we’d eventually hit South Miette Pass which was our final destination of the first day. Overall it was a very tedious process. The unstable weather didn’t help neither as we got flurried pretty much the entire day from here on. At sections we had to deal with steep treed terrain and other parts required some careful GPS navigation. Even that we still had to cross an avalanche slope but it could have been avoided by staying lower. I was just glad the trail-breaking wasn’t that terrible and we were able to maintain a steady pace. Towards the end of this highline traverse we lost about 250 m elevation to the tributary of Miette River and that was quite frustrating considering we’d gain all of them back.

Down to Rink Creek now, looking back towards Tete Roche

Down to Rink Creek now, looking back towards Tete Roche

Open trees skiing into the "unknown". Up and over the next rib we'd traverse along a long flat bench.

Open trees skiing into the “unknown”. Up and over the next rib we’d traverse along a long flat bench.

Here's the second section of massive elevation loss...

Here’s the second section of massive elevation loss…

At least the snow condition was quite good.

At least the snow condition was quite good.

Around the last rib we'd soon drop another 250 m height...

Around the last rib we’d soon drop another 250 m height…

The tributary of Miette River was pretty much all frozen over so the travelling was easy, but oh man there was still a long ways to go… At this point we were both very tired but we managed to keep marching up. There’s little to describe about this section of the slog other than knowing the return would be super fast for Ben on skis.. Near the pass we ascended a bit more towards climber’s right to avoid a massive hanging cornice on the left side. Up and over the Divide we dropped to the BC side and found a nice little camp spot at treeline. Setting up camp and melting snow also took forever. Ben still had some energy to kill so he did most of the work. I was basically exhausted but on the upside the weather did improve overnight and we could see millions of stars in the sky.

Skiing upwards along the tributary of Miette River. Terrain starts to open up again.

Skiing upwards along the tributary of Miette River. Terrain starts to open up again.

A brief weather window allowed us to catch a view of Caledonia Mountain

A brief weather window allowed us to catch a view of Caledonia Mountain

Ben leading towards the distant South Miette Pass

Ben leading towards the distant South Miette Pass

Getting closer to the pass, looking back.

Getting closer to the pass, looking back.

The next morning we woke up early to ascend the nearby “south pass peak”, hoping for a super alpenglow. And we were right, the views were simply amazing. We also did an amazing job predicting the better view from a lower sub-summit rather than the true one. If we went directly to the true summit we’d lose the alpenglow on Mt. Robson.. The ascent of the true summit was as easy as one could expect.

Morning colours on the horizon. Ahead is the summit of the "south pass peak".

Morning colours on the horizon. Ahead is the summit of the “south pass peak”.

Ben slogging up the typical slopes

Ben slogging up the typical slopes

Mt. McNaughton and Mt. Machray at just before alpenglow

Mt. McNaughton and Mt. Machray at just before alpenglow

Panorama at just before alpenglow. Click to view large size.

Panorama at just before alpenglow. Click to view large size.

Ben skiing towards a sub-summit

Ben skiing towards a sub-summit

Panorama of alpenglow. Click to view large size.

Panorama of alpenglow. Click to view large size.

Glow on the distant giant - Mt. Robson.

Glow on the distant giant – Mt. Robson.

Salient Mountain

Salient Mountain

Razorback Mountain

Razorback Mountain

Mt. McNaughton on alpenglow

Mt. McNaughton on alpenglow

The huge bulk of Salient Mountain

The huge bulk of Salient Mountain

Caledonia Mountain on alpenglow

Caledonia Mountain on alpenglow

Caledonia Mountain again, with slightly more lighting

Caledonia Mountain again, with slightly more lighting

A panorama of Caledonia Mountain, Razorback Mountain and the unnamed peaks along the Divide. Click to view large size.

A panorama of Caledonia Mountain, Razorback Mountain and the unnamed peaks along the Divide. Click to view large size.

Zooming-in towards Mt. Fitzwilliam and Mt. Geikie

Zooming-in towards Mt. Fitzwilliam and Mt. Geikie

The Colonel is in the middle of nowhere

The Colonel is in the middle of nowhere

Mt. Machray

Mt. Machray

The unofficially named "Derr Peak" or "Mt. Overlord"...

The unofficially named “Derr Peak” or “Mt. Overlord”…

Another picture from the summit of south peak

Another picture from the summit of south peak

Me on the summit of the south peak.

Me on the summit of the south peak.

After taking hundreds of pictures we leisurely went back to camp. We spent the next 2 hours or so melting snow and cooking breakfast. It was surprisingly very time consuming but knowing this day wouldn’t be nearly as long as the previous day it was still okay. Our next destination would be the “north pass peak”. Getting there would require losing about 250 m height to traverse to the central Miette Pass. We didn’t picked the best line on the way there so lost some extra elevation but managed to pick a better line on the way back. The views from the central Miette Pass was also mind-blowing with Mt. McNaughton and Salient Mountain stealing the show.

Another view of Mt. McNaughton

Another view of Mt. McNaughton

Ben enjoying the fast return. Awesome terrain around!

Ben enjoying the fast return. Awesome terrain around!

Back to camp, time to cook for breakfast!

Back to camp, time to cook for breakfast!

Nice and open terrain

Nice and open terrain

We had to drop another 250 m or so to get around to central Miette Pass

We had to drop another 250 m or so to get around to central Miette Pass

Almost at the central Miette Pass. The "north peak" in front

Almost at the central Miette Pass. The “north peak” in front

Ben on Miette Pass

Ben on Miette Pass

Looking over the pass we could see Mt. Moren, Derr Peak and Mt. Bridgeland

Looking over the pass we could see Mt. Moren, Derr Peak and Mt. Bridgeland

Mt. Bridgeland looks awfully like Mt. Bryce from this angle..

Mt. Bridgeland looks awfully like Mt. Bryce from this angle..

Ben slogging into the alpine. Mt. McCord in front

Ben slogging into the alpine. Mt. McCord in front

The super-sexy Salient Mountain

The super-sexy Salient Mountain

The west slopes of the “north pass peak” appeared to be loaded, but since we were there already we had to give it a try. It definitely felt steeper and “bigger terrain” than we expected and certainly pushed the limit of what we would do given the “considerable” avalanche condition. But nonetheless we made to the summit with no incidence and got some superb views again. Looking north some really remote peaks showed up and I bet not many people have seen those mountains.

A view from the foreshortened slope on the north peak

A view from the foreshortened slope on the north peak

Panorama from the summit of the "north peak". Click to view large size.

Panorama from the summit of the “north peak”. Click to view large size.

Mt. Mahood

Mt. Mahood

Mt. Mowat

Mt. Mowat

These peaks further north are probably rarely seen..

These peaks further north are probably rarely seen..

The summit of Salient Mountain

The summit of Salient Mountain

Mt. Beaupre looks fairly easy

Mt. Beaupre looks fairly easy

Me on the summit taking in the views. Photo by Ben

Me on the summit taking in the views. Photo by Ben

The ski down from the “north pass peak” back to Miette Pass was fast and fun. I was very jealous but at least snowshoeing downhill on nice and soft power was effortless so I wouldn’t complain much. On the way back to camp we decided to use a different line that we spotted earlier to shave off some unnecessary elevation loss and regain as well as bushwhacking. The new line worked perfectly as we managed to traverse around the corner of the long ridge extending down from the “south pass peak” at just below its big slopes and managed to stay high. The rest of the ski/snowshoe back to our camp was relaxing with some million-dollar views all around the place.

Ben skiing down from the summit of the north peak

Ben skiing down from the summit of the north peak

Can you spot me snowshoeing down the slope? Photo by Ben

Can you spot me snowshoeing down the slope? Photo by Ben

Nice and open forest

Nice and open forest

Around the corner, more neat terrain ahead

Around the corner, more neat terrain ahead

Heaven!

Heaven!

Excellent camping spot to stay two nights!

Excellent camping spot to stay two nights!

A bit of evening colours on Salient Mountain

A bit of evening colours on Salient Mountain

We still had about 1 hour of sunshine but apparently that wasn’t enough to completely dry off our boots, but that’s okay. The night was again, peaceful but a bit cold. The task for the 3rd day was simply returning to the parking lot. We knew it’s going to be another long day but it turned out faster than expected. Without trail-breaking and route-finding we managed to maintain a fast and yet steady pace throughout the depproach. The long section of down-hill from South Miette Pass downwards along Miette River was obviously in favour of skis. The middle section along the highline traverse until the second-to-last treed rib was relatively “equal” for us. The last section from the steep descent to Rink Creek, up and over Tete Roche’s shoulder to the parking lot was in favour of snowshoes due to the steep bush and icy condition. So even though we constantly waited for each other we still managed to finish the entire depproach in 7.5 hours so that was pretty nice.

Clouds were moving in on the 3rd day, but we still got some morning colours

Clouds were moving in on the 3rd day, but we still got some morning colours

Mt. Fitzwilliam in black-and-white

Mt. Fitzwilliam in black-and-white

A view from South Miette Pass

A view from South Miette Pass

Ben skiing down the tributary of Miette River

Ben skiing down the tributary of Miette River

Back onto the highline traverse

Back onto the highline traverse

Mt. Bridgeland

Mt. Bridgeland

Mt. Moren

Mt. Moren

Some tricky and tight spots for skiing

Some tricky and tight spots for skiing

A frozen lake on the traverse

A frozen lake on the traverse

Descending the Yellowhead Mountain trail.

Descending the Yellowhead Mountain trail.

Me on the lookout. Photo by Ben

Me on the lookout. Photo by Ben

We had to carry our skis/snowshoes for the last 2 km or so.

We had to carry our skis/snowshoes for the last 2 km or so.

Can't believe this is in February in BC....

Can’t believe this is in February in BC….

The final train track crossing. Glad we didn't have to wait for half an hour like on Elysium Mountain trip...

The final train track crossing. Glad we didn’t have to wait for half an hour like on Elysium Mountain trip…

Overall I’m very glad Ben eventually managed to convince me on this superb trip into an amazing area. The official summits in this area are so inviting that we’ll for sure come back for some real peak-bagging in the summer conditions. Speaking the route we took, it should be a classic for ski touring. There were a few tight spots on the approach but nothing major challenge, and the terrain around Miette Pass was just pure classic for skiing. We managed to finish this trip in 3 days but totally exhausted towards the end. I’d recommend 4 or even 5 days for skiers wishing to explore Miette Pass area.

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