Distance: 11.5 km
Elevation gain: 750 m View map Download GPS track
Wilcox Pass is the alpine pass just to the east of the Columbia Icefields Center on the Icefields Parkway. It's an incredibly popular summer hike and was one of the first hikes
we ever did in the Rockies. A few years ago I realized it would also make a spectacular and relatively safe snowshoe trip, but as it is nearly 4 hours from our house in Calgary we needed perfect conditions - avalanche and weather - to make the journey worthwhile.
Today those conditions aligned and after a very bumpy ride along the Icefields Parkway we started snowshoeing just before 10 am. It was -16 C in the parking lot, but 15 minutes into the climb we realized the temperature was near zero and even hotter in the sun. The snowshoeing was easy as a trail was broken through the forest to the red chairs
overlooking Athabasca Glacier, but beyond that the snow was broken only by animal tracks. Thankfully it was windblown and mostly supportive, but it was still moderately difficult to break trail into the pass.
After 90 minutes of snowshoeing - much of it spent taking pictures - we arrived at a highpoint east of the pass. The views here were simply mind-blowing and photos just don't do it justice! The pass stretches for several kilometers, all of which were covered by pillowy snow and surrounded by mountains and glaciers. After a short stay we decided to head for the windblown slopes of Mount Wilcox and ascend as far as we easily could for a better view. While it had been hot (zero degrees) on our highpoint, it hovered near -10 C in the lower reaches of the pass and we had to move quickly to stay warm. As we climbed perhaps 20 m above the pass on the other side it warmed again and we were able to have lunch without freezing.
As we ascended the southern shoulder of Mount Wilcox this warming trend continued, and before long we were sweating buckets. A short way up the slope we traded snowshoes for microspikes and continued until we reached a level area just below a big snowpatch that would have been risky for us to cross today. At this point we were more than 300 m above the pass and the view was spectacular! After a short stay we headed back down and started a wandering hunt for ptarmigan. The pass was covered in their tracks, but despite searching a vast area for at least 30 minutes we couldn't find a single one. Instead we leisurely snowshoed back to the car, happy to have started the new year off on such a great trip!