A “premiere” hike in “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies”, Wilcox pass / Wilcox peak, located at the very northern edge of Banff National Park, have expansive views of the Athabasca glacier and mountains beyond.
Wilcox pass is an incredibly popular hike on the border of Jasper and Banff National Parks, and thus has a very well-trodden trail. Switchbacks are plentiful and the grade is gentle up to the pass that provides you with expansive glacier views. The Canadian Rockies guidebooks warn that this path is often a zoo, but David and I have found that if you arrive at the trailhead before 9am, you will at least be ascending alone (or nearly alone). People around here don’t like to wake up early!
After you climb ~1000 feet to reach the pass, there is the option to climb an additional few hundred feet to Wilcox ridge, which provides an even more in-your-face view of the Athabasca glacier. Since we were climbing Wilcox peak anyway, we thought we were following the trail by climbing up Wilcox ridge. It turns out that the path to the base of Wilcox peak actually breaks away from the Wilcox ridge trail before it ends, but we added negligible distance by completing the Wilcox ridge trail and then swinging right to head up to the base of the peak. We also saw a ton of bighorn sheep lazing about on our traverse of the rocky/grassy knolls up to the base of Wilcox. Score!
Alan Kane rates Wilcox peak as a “moderate” scramble in “Scrambles of the Canadian Rockies”, but I stopped trusting Kane after David and I bailed on Mt. Tyrwhitt a few days before, another “moderate” peak with the steepest, most awful scree slope I’ve ever gone up. After feeling like I was going to tumble down the mountain several times, and after David kicked down some sizable rocks that narrowly missed my face, we retreated and decided to leave Mt. Tyrwhitt to the locals (bring a helmet, y’all!). At any rate, it was with some trepidation that I proceeded up Wilcox!!!
It turns out that Wilcox is a very reasonable, walkable, ascent until the last ~800 feet or so. We slowly ascended just below and to the right of the ridge. Kane says: when in doubt, stay to the right, and it quickly becomes apparent why. To the left is a steep drop-off! As we hiked, the wind picked up and whipped around our faces, adding a certain je ne sais quoi to the general ambiance.
Rather suddenly, the easy plod up the mountain evolves into a moderate scramble and the wind whipping around my face became more cause for concern. David also scrambled to the left up a short but steep rock wall which really spooked me when I followed, on account of the potential for immediate loss of life with one misstep. KANE SAID STAY TO THE RIGHT, DAVID!
After our accidental jaunt to the left, I was not a terribly happy camper, and very gingerly made my way up the peak with a lot more trepidation than was necessary. About 250 feet from the summit there was a slightly tricky section with some exposure, but since I was already unhappy I decided that I was done for the day. I parked it and waited the ~20 minutes it took David to tag the summit and scramble back down. Apparently, a lot of that time was spent sharing scotch with another group on the summit. Thanks, David.
Upon his return, David said the scramble to the summit was easier than what I’d already done. Woops. These here mountains have taught me that I don’t have as much chutzpah as I thought I did! At any rate, the views were pretty ballin’ and on our way down we saw a momma and baby mountain goat! And more bighorn sheep! And then lots and lots and lots of people, as we rejoined the Wilcox pass trail.
That just about wraps up this exciting edition of “Hiking Banff”. Until next time, y’all.