Distance: 13 km
Elevation gain: 950 m (includes detours) View map Download GPS track
Mount Wilcox is a shapely peak rising above spectacular Wilcox Pass. Alan Kane calls its summit views the best in the Rockies for the effort, and having previously visited the pass in both the summer and winter
we were inclined to agree with his assessment before we even set out. Despite this we actually didn't want to hike today, having hiked 2650 vertical meters in the previous two days, but the weather was the best it had been our entire trip and we couldn't bring ourselves to sit around camp! I figured if it turned out we just didn't have the energy/motivation to go up the peak we could always wander around the vast pass instead, the trail to the pass being dead easy and incredibly scenic.
Arriving at the trailhead mid-morning we quickly made our way up to the pass, then headed towards the south end of Mount Wilcox, wandering over several small intervening hills and startling a herd of bighorn rams on the way. A trail through the scree on the peak was visible from below and we managed to pick this up near the base and followed it easily to a broad plateau a bit less than 200 m below the summit.
Anticipating (correctly) that the remainder of the ascent would be too much for her, Sandra relaxed here while I continued up. Things went well initially, but I soon encountered significant difficulty at a series of rocky ribs. Cairns and small bits of trail marked several ways though, but after probing a few and getting myself into a few precarious positions I realized I'd have a lot of difficulty getting back down if I continued. As I retreated, however, I saw a trail much lower down that seemed like it would go below the troublesome rock ribs and I ended up following it for quite a distance before it terminated at yet another steep chimney/gully with water flowing down it.
As I headed back down defeated, however, I noticed a steep pile of loose scree and rubble that seemed like it might take me back to the summit ridge beyond the area that had turned me back initially, and decided to make one last attempt. It was loose and annoying to ascend, but it was easier for me than the routes over solid rock higher up and I soon found myself back on the obvious main route heading along the summit ridge.
At this point I knew only one difficulty should remain: A short traverse over a crazy exposed section separating a false summit from the true summit. The footing was excellent here and by focusing on my feet instead of the cars nearly 1000 m below I was finally able to make it to the summit, having taken over an hour since I'd left Sandra. I radioed her to let her know I'd made it, rested a bit to regain my wits, and then retraced my way back down. With the exception of the narrow exposed section my return was easy and uneventful.
While I have done other moderate scrambles this was certainly the most difficult, but I was quite happy to have found a route up that worked for me and that I'd had the sense to turn around on each of my previous four routes when I wasn't sure I'd be able to get back down. Also, it's definitely worth noting that the view from the broad plateau where Sandra waited is spectacular and only marginally less complete than that from the summit. If you've hiked to Wilcox Pass and have some gas left in the tank, definitely consider hiking up to it.