Elevation: 2375 m
Elevation Gain: 310 m
Wilcox Pass was officially named for Walter Wilcox in 1935. Along with Robert L. Barrett, Tom Lusk and Fred Stephens, Wilcox was a member of an 1896 expedition searching for a pass by which the Athabasca River could be reached. During this expedition, these men became the first Europeans to see the Athabasca Glacier. Today, highway 93 leads over Sunwapta Pass to the Athabasca River. In 1896, however, this route was blocked by the (then) larger Athabasca Glacier and a canyon. Undeterred, the party was able to continue using a higher nearby pass (now known as Wilcox Pass).
August 12 2016.
GPS Track: Wilcox Pass
In my opinion, the Columbia Icefields are amongst the prettiest places on Earth and I feel blessed that they’re a short 3 hour and 45 minute drive away. I would spend every weekend somewhere along the Icefields Parkway if my wife would allow it. While Brianne agrees that the icefields are pretty, she doesn’t agree with my characterization of a nearly 4 hour drive as “short” (especially with a baby along for the car ride)! Any suggestion that I make involving a family daytrip to the icefields has, therefore, been shot down in flames. Successful marriages are built on compromise, however, so Brianne suggested that while family day trips would be foolhardy, a family camping trip might offer me a new hope. She reasoned that a camping trip would allow us to spread the 8 hour (round trip) drive over multiple days. I reasoned that “multiple days” meant “multiple hikes”! Shortly thereafter, we were all packed up and ready to camp!
After a very short 4 hour drive, we managed to claim the last camping site available at the Wilcox Creek campground near the Columbia Icefields Visitor Center. Once we’d managed to pitch our tent (a challenging feat when there’s a 10 month old baby trying to crawl off into the woods), we decided to take advantage of the remaining daylight, stretch our legs and explore our surroundings!
Luckily for us, our campground was located a short walk from one of the most spectacular hikes in the Rockies: Wilcox Pass. This was especially lucky since parking at this popular trailhead can be hard to come by!
Brianne and Mera enjoy a brief stroll through the forest before entering the more open alpine environs of Wilcox Pass.
One of the best things about the Wilcox Pass trail is how quickly it vaults you into spectacular alpine scenery. It’s less than 10 minutes into the hike and we’re already nearing the tree line!
Mera was sad to leave the trees behind as trees are, apparently, the MOST AMAZING AND COMPREHENSIVELY INTERESTING THINGS IN THE WORLD.
The first of the hike’s many spectacular viewpoints: glaciated Snowdome (center) and Mount Kitchener (right) tower above Sunwapta Pass and the Columbia Icefields Visitor Center (ie: the Brewster’s ticket stand).
Brianne and Mera enjoy the view across the valley towards Mount Athabasca.
Brianne points out 11,000ers for Mera from the Parks Canada red chairs (#sharethechair). Click to see larger.
Loving the view of the Athabasca Glacier (while it’s still there).
Hobbs’ in high places.
After enjoying the red chair lookout for a few minutes, we continued upwards towards the high point of the pass.
Crux provides Brianne/Mera with a free tow up.
Impressive views towards Nigel Peak (the eastern buttress of Wilcox Pass).
In places, the trail is steep. Fortunately, that gives you an excuse to pause to enjoy the panorama! From left to right: Hilda Peak, Boundary Peak, Mount Athabasca, Mount Andromeda, the Athabasca Glacier, Snowdome and Mount Kitchener. Click to see larger.
The trail continues on alongside a small draw as Wilcox Peak (the pass’ western buttress) comes into view.
Brianne nears the high point of the pass. One can continue on for miles from here but Mera’s supper time (and Brianne’s beer time) were drawing close so we opted to enjoy the view from here before returning to camp.
Mount Athabasca is an icon of the Canadian Rockies and one of my favorite scrambles to date.
Despite climate change, the Athabasca Glacier and its heavily crevassed icefalls remain impressive. Still, it would have been something to see it extending all the way to Wilcox Peak like Walter Wilcox did in 1896! If you look closely, you can see the ice road used by Brewster’s monsterbus “Ice Explorers.” While the bus tour is a worthy pursuit for tourists and first-time visitors, it seems that you can no longer purchase separate tickets for it and the obscene “Glacier Skywalk.” A real pity since I’d consider another bus tour someday but wouldn’t pay for the Skywalk view (which is underwhelming and used to be free from a highway pullout)!
Brianne, Mera and Crux start back down from the pass while I sate myself with some final views towards diminutive Parker Ridge and the more distant Wilson Icefield. After soaking in the scenery, I caught up to my family and enjoyed the brisk walk back to camp.
It’s only night 1 of our camping trip and already Mera can’t wait to get back out for another hike. Luckily, she won’t have to wait long…