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Roche Bonhomme
Jasper National Park, Alberta
August 2, 2008

Dinah and I wanted to return to Jasper even though we had done all the Kane scrambles. After researching on the net, Dinah came up with a couple of possibilities, Roche Bonhomme and Opal Peak. We allotted ourselves two days to climb the two peaks, but only the second day presented fair weather. On our first day it rained all night and morning. At one point the clouds extended down the base of the mountains, obscuring all views. There was little we could do except play tourist and watch Dark Knight at the tiny Jasper movie theatre.

The second day appeared more promising: a 60% chance of showers. Opal Peak was closed because of bear activity, so we did Roche Bonhomme. From our research we knew it looks like the profile of a man's face. It is also referred to as “Old Man Mountain.”

The best information for the route up Roche Bonhomme came from Parks Canada. The description was sketchy and – we later learned – not entirely correct, but once on the trail it was impossible to get lost. The trail was well-developed below the treeline, while numerous cairns mark the way up rock slopes. But looking at the map, I was concerned that we would end up too far from the summit. It turns out the map was wrong: it showed Roche Bonhomme more than a kilometre east.

Our trip began at the Maligne Canyon parking lot. We started walking up the highway and immediately passed a hostel and the winter gates. Just pass the gates – 150 m from the entrance of the parking lot – we noticed a trail on our left and took it. When we didn't come to a drainage right away, I knew we weren't on the right trail. But soon we reached the junction for the Roche Bonhomme trail which follows a drainage on the left side. A large cairn marked the beginning.

(The Roche Bonhomme trail, we discovered later, starts on the road 350 m from the parking lot entrance, just after a brown and yellow sign saying, “Maligne Lake Tour.” But I think that the shortcut we took is the best option, especially since it takes one off the road sooner. Indeed, a few steps into the shortcut we saw a coyote watching us from a distance.)

The trail up Roche Bonhomme is steep. The grade seldom eases and there are no switchbacks. In the first two hours we gained nearly a thousand metres of elevation. Even when the trail passed the treeline and continued up scree, the grade holds steep and straight. It's the longest, steepest trail I've done. On the scree slopes below cliff bands, the trail is braided. We went right and hit a moderate scrambling section, but the trails on the left are easier. But all the trails ended up at the same spot: left of the cliff band on the ridge crest. We followed the ridge easily to the summit, making it in under four hours.

The summit of Roche Bonhomme is the “forehead” of the old man's face while an equally high point east is the “nose.” After spending 45 minutes exploring the top, we returned the same way. I thought we would have trouble going down on the steep trail, but the dry trail held our boots; the descent was extremely fast.

Paradoxically, the Roche Bonhomme scramble appears to be both popular and relatively unknown. We liked the steep climb since it got us to the summit ridge quickly and the views and interesting ridge crest were worth the effort.

KLM Track

MOVIE (posted on YouTube)

Roche Bonhomme seen from Jasper Townsite (mouse over for a close-up)

Starting up the trail

The trail ran alongside a canyon at times

White germanium

Finally see the ridge ahead

This is one of the few breaks in the trees before the treeline

The trail headed to the ridge above me

Pyramid Mountain

Above the treeline the trail continued its steep climb

We crossed some scree-covered slabs but an easier trail lay west

The trail continues along the ridge

On the ridge. The summit is on the left (mouse over to look back)

Grisette Mountain (left) partially hides snow-covered Mount Dromore. Strangely, the highest peak seen here (right) is unnamed.

At the base of the hump

At the top of the hump

Almost at the "nose" summit, looking back at the "forehead" summit

Looking northeast

From the nose summit we continued to the east end

I watched Dinah from a cave as she makes her way to the east end

Looking back from the east end to the nose summit. Below Dinah is the small cave.

Checking out colourful rock formations below the ridge

A closer look at the rocks

On the way back, we came off the ridge

Looking south towards the Skyline Trail: Excelsior and Centre Mountains and Mount Tekarra.

83 C/13 Medicine Lake

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