I can only think of one other route I have ever posted beta on that I actually did not finish and it was ironically enough the West Face of the Watch Tower in Yoho National Park. Roche Miette’s west face (Jasper National Park) and Watch Tower’s involved serious leader falls via my attempts due to run out and hard, if not impossible to protect, loose rock. Both falls resulted from 5.10+ holds breaking. Both routes are quite remote and rarely if ever climbed.
The 1000’+ West Face of Roche Miette was nowhere close on my climbing tick list and for good reason, the rock quality did not have a good reputation. Although a popular Jasper scramble up the east ridge, Roche Miette offers little in terms of solid rock for climbing routes. That being said, we were stuck in a huge rain system during the summer of 2009 that only Jasper was escaping this particular August day. So we hopped in the truck and headed up the night before. The trip started out with a bear routing us from our campsite by the road! So we moved on to Pocahontas Camp Ground. The next morning we got a decent start and chewed up the 3500’+/- elevation gain to the westerly saddle at the base of the west face. Costea and Wallator established the west face route on Roche Miette in 1989 and Wallator returned with Christakos to free the route in 1991. The “crux is bold” is the reference in the guide book (Selected Alpine Climbs of the Canadian Rockies aka “Book of Lies”). We found those words quite the understatement since the crux occurs directly over a massive ledge with little to no pro.
On our ascent of the west face of Roche Miette, we combined the first four pitches into three, full rope (60m), 5.10 pitches. The “Book of Lies” mentions a 5.8 A1 2nd pitch, which I combined with the first pitch and did not see the need for aid anywhere. It was a tad run out however. The 2nd and 3rd full 60m 5.10 pitches were fairly spectacular climbing by Jasper standards. The first was on looser rock, but the 2nd of these long dihedral pitches leads all the way to a large ledge more than half way up the tower’s west face in a great corner on mostly good rock. The official 5th pitch was what derailed us. I led the 1st and 3rd pitches and my partner the 2nd and thus this crux pitch (pitch 4 on our count). He is a fairly bold climber and neither of us were overly concerned about getting through the crux even though we had brushed aside the advice to bring a hammer and pitons. Once below the pitch it did look a little more daunting then we had anticipated. It took bold climbing just to get the first (.75”) and second piece (1”) of pro in, but then the real RX started after that, with nothing but bad pro, all of which failed on his eventual fall, leaving the 1” and a closely monitored belay to stop him just short of crashing the ledge below.
Park on the south side of the Yellowhead Highway (16) at a locked gate some 3kms west of the Pocahontas Campground. This gate protects some sort of water system. Hike west past the well (site of our bear encounter), cross over the next rise and into the 2nd drainage and walk up the drainage as it makes a turn due south and heads for the saddle/shoulder below the west face of Roche Miette. From the road, you are looking at the north face. The drainage gets pretty interesting in places; canyon-like slabs jut into the ground and up the other side creating solid rock ribs to hike in on. There are several left forks that will take you to the saddle. My choice would be the first major left you come to, maybe 20 minutes or so. Hike up this drainage on medium to large scree into fine black powder scree and continue up the drainage until you can obtain a crest of hard ground on the right side. There is no evidence of a human trail, but a few sheep trails do cross this scree field horizontally. We saw goats and sheep on the approach as well as a golden eagle on the climb itself.
Once to the saddle, scramble up the ledges to the east until at the very western corner of Roche Miette, where the broad north and southern walls meet. The West Face route follows an obvious corner system about 50m right of the north face. There was a project in 2009 (rope hung) about 50 meters to the right of the start of the West Face route.
1000’+, 8 Pitches, 5.10bRX
1st-2nd Pitches- 50m- 5.9R/ Confusing pitch via the “book of lies”. Sean mentions a 5.9 first pitch and then a 5.8 A1 second pitch (or is he describing the 2nd half of the 1st pitch?). In any regard, I supposedly combined these pitches as he described them with no need for aid. Perhaps he was referring to placing aid on the final run out section which did feel like stout 5.8. Start up the obvious corner just 50m to the right of the north face. Easy climbing gets you to several overhangs, both of which can be surpassed on the left via vertical fun moves over somewhat precarious blocks of limestone. There are plenty of pro opportunities to get you above these two overhangs. Then traverse right and up on edges to access a closed corner to the right. Stay out of the corner utilizing 5.8 type holds to climb run out ground that reaches a small ledge at the top of the corner with a bolted belay/rappel.
3rd Pitch- 60m- 5.10/ The next two pitches, as we led them, are full on 60m in length. By structuring the route this way, you reach the ledge, which divides the route up nicely, into three pitches versus four. This 2nd pitch is my least favorite of the two that follow the steep dihedral. It is comprised of looser rock in general. Climb the corner bypassing a roof above by exiting out left on quite loose ground. This is a dangerous pitch in that your belayer is truly exposed to any rock fall. Tread lightly. You will start to see the various pitons here and there, some good, some not so hot. The rock above the roof improves. Set up a gear belay when you reach the end of your rope. We observed no fixed station between the first belay and the ledge.
4th Pitch- 60m- 5.10/ By far my favorite pitch up to the ledge. Continue in the sustained corner pulling a small overhang to the right with finger jams. Great pro the whole way up this pitch supplemented with some fixed gear. Eventually you reach the broad ledge that is more than half way up the face, but splits the roped climbing fairly down the middle. Continue left to a bolted belay, again, a full 60m, if not 61m depending on how you strung your ropes and how far you made it on the 2nd pitch.
5th Pitch- 30m- 5.10RX/ A local in Jasper had advised we take a hammer and pins up the West Face route. His advice should be well heeded. However, we had left ours back in Canmore and thus went without. That said, my partner, who aid climbs a considerable amount in Zion, and pulled this pitch on lead, claims that a hammer and pins would not have assisted him in protecting this pitch. Therefore, minus a bolt kit, we are giving this pitch a RX rating. An R rating is rather obvious, but even more obvious is the X rating. This pitch starts at the center of the huge ledge on the west face of Roche Miette. From the ground, it is slab like climbing before you can finally get a .75” or .5” in a varnished cleft about 10m off the ground. From there, one more 1” piece can be secured about a meter further up, then nothing that could hold a fall for the rest of the 25m it takes to reach the upper ledge. My partner had placed a 2” and a nut, but both failed when he took a fall right below the final move to mantel up to the higher ledge. The resulting whipper was caught by the 1” and very close belay management, as he barely bounced off the ledge and injured his hand. Since he thought his hand was broken, we had to descend the route at that point.
6th- 8th Pitches- 140m- 5.7-9/ Continue on for three much easier pitches to the summit from what we could see and according to the “book of lies” and the local Jasper Guide book.
DescentThe great attraction of this route for me was the walk off descent on the opposite side (east ridge) of Roche Miette, the route known for the scramble ascent. As it turned out, we had to bail the route and that meant leaving gear as there was no fixed station between the ledge and the first bolted belay/rappel. Double 60m ropes would be essential on this route.
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