February 17, 2012
Roche Miette is one of the more popular scrambles in Jasper and well documented in Alan Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. The north face appears like a formidable buttress and boasts several technical alpine climbs, while its standard route via the NE slopes is only a “moderate scramble”. I also ascended the NE slopes but made a few route-finding mistakes and ended up upgrading it to one of my most serious ascents to date. A few weeks ago I met Morgan Peacock in Atmosphere and we quickly found that we shared the same passion about the mountains, and we wanted to schedule a trip together. And here came the “reading week break”. We skipped Friday because the weather forecast looked gorgeous on that day. Morgan failed Roche Miette last year and he was keen to get it finished.
After a cold night car-camping somewhere along Highway 16 we drove to the parking lot. The parking lot was not signed and was basically just a small pull-out but Morgan knew exactly where it was. We quickly geared up and after walking down a cut block for about 15 minutes we came to a place where some deadfalls were blocking the cut block ahead. This was an obvious sign that we shouldn’t keep walking along the cut block and instead we looked towards our right side, and there it was, we found the trail. Based on other scramblers’ reports, it seemed like most people got on a wrong trail. There are indeed several junctions on the trail but the wrong one usually has a deadfall on it. Anything like that indicates you shouldn’t go that way. As we gradually approaching the treeline the route started to become more and more obvious and we had no trouble reaching the saddle.
I assumed Morgan knew exactly where to turn and which gully to ascend since he attempted it last year. However, we counted too much on each other, and we were both not quite sure which gully to ascend…… I seriously didn’t even study the route description in details. At the saddle looking towards the summit, the proper gully is on the climber’s left of the big snow gully. But none of us was aware of that and it looked to me the climber’s right gully was the driest. Ooops, the game began here. What we couldn’t see was some of the cliff bands’ slabs were down-slopping, and combining with the snow and ice, this really made some “alpine climb” feelings. A few spots even required some strenuous moves, but not super exposed. They didn’t impose too much of a problem to me, but for Morgan, it definitely exceeded his comfort level. He was very nervous about if we could make out of the gully and if not, we had to down climb all the way. I was faster so I decided to go by myself to see whether or not the gully would go (based on my observation from the saddle it’s quite doable, but you never know). If it’d work, then Morgan would continue. I didn’t encounter any major rock band that’s being impossible, nor any super sketchy exposed section but definitely a wee bit harder than the lower part. I wasn’t confident to down-climb what I just did. It took Morgan a long while (I forget how long) to get through this gully and we were both topping out on the plateau…
After this gully part, it was only a leisurely walk to the summit cairn. We checked the register, and the last ascent was in October, 2011, so we made the first ascent in 2012. The next two highpoints along the ridge/plateau are both higher than the one we stood on, but judging my the register and Alan Kane’s description we could safely say that we had reached the official summit of Roche Miette. There are a few highpoints further along the ridge but nothing is named until Capitol Mountain.
We were late on schedule so had to go down fast. Thank god we found a big cairn marking the correct scramble route which was way on the skier’s right side. This side was still quite loose and steep but fairly tame comparing to what we just ascended. It felt like a “difficult scramble” to us but that’s probably because of the snow and ice. It did feel very tedious though as we still had to pay extra attention to every step. We also had to be careful not to kick down rocks to each other. The lower section was a fun glissade down the major snow gully. After finishing all the scrambling parts, we had to watch sunset on the mountain…
Now we just realized that none of us had brought head-lamps nor flash lights and we again, counted too much on each other.. But Morgan did have his cell phone and we did have our foot prints on the snow so one way or the other we would have get down.. We speeded up, ran down the trail and barely made back before it’s too dark to see. And overall this was quite an interesting adventure and there’s quite a few lessons to learn. Morgan was both physically and mentally exhausted and decided to not push any further for the rest of this trip. We decided on the lowly Morro Peak as it’s supposed to be one of the easiest out there. Really? I think we got lost again…