Distance: 9 km
Elevation gain: 1150 m Download GPS track
There are a lot of reasons I hike and scramble in the Rockies. I like the peace and solitude. Even with one or two others, it’s incredibly peaceful. I like thinking, identifying flowers, peaks, animals, and finding routes through the terrain. It gives me time to ponder life too. I enjoy experiencing the wild of the mountains. I like that it keeps me in excellent physical shape, refreshes my brain, and keeps me mentally healthy. And, of course, I love the spectacular sights that exist along each journey. In light of these reasons, I’m not entirely sure why I chose todays scramble...
Nigel Peak first came to my attention many years ago, presumably from reading Alan Kane’s scrambling guide
. It’s sat on my to-do list ever since, and so when Sandra and I decided to head up the Icefields Parkway for a camping trip and I noticed that Alison hadn’t yet scrambled the peak, it seemed like a pretty good idea for the three of us to tackle it together. While it was rated as a moderate scramble and the final summit block looked quite intimidating, I was under the impression that even if we couldn’t reach the summit that the other 95% of the journey would still be nice.
Our day started with a brisk hike along the lower part of the Wilcox Pass trail. Views along the trail were as spectacular as always and before long we came across a side trail heading in the general direction of the route up Nigel Peak. The Kane route was obvious from below, but as it appeared to involve a ton of scrambling on waterworn slab we instead chose to ascend a slope of mostly rubble a bit further south. A very obvious trail in the rubble was visible from afar.
The rubble on this route – and the other route, from what I’ve heard – is some of the worst in the Rockies. It wasn’t scree, but rather rounded and jagged rocks that rolled en masse whenever we took a step. For every 3 meters we ascended we probably slipped back 2. I’ve dealt with that over short distances before, but this was several hundred meters of the stuff. It was frustrating and incredibly taxing.
Eventually we reached downsloping rubble-covered slabs where essentially every potential route sucked as much as the other. We continued stubbornly upwards though, soon encountering more horrible treadmill rubble before finding ourselves on a decent trail through actual nice scree just below the ridge crest.
We took a necessary food and rest break on the ridge, then contoured around the north bowl on a trail that for the most part was obvious. When we reached the final ridge to the summit, Sandra hung back while Alison and I continued towards the summit. A short section of moderate scrambling brought us to a small plateau just below where a glacier abuts the ridge. Alison led the way up the rock, but about a quarter of the way up I decided that it was too risky for me. Alison continued to the summit while I retreated to the little plateau and chatted with a few readers of my blog who’d recognized me. She’s detailed her experience on her blog
if you’re interested in what it was like above where I stopped (spoiler alert: It got worse!).
Once Alison returned we made our way back to Sandra, then retraced our route down the mountain. On the way we passed several groups coming up totaling perhaps 20 people, timing our descent to keep us away from rockfall danger potentially caused by them.
Going down the awful rubble and slabs was faster than going up, of course, but it beat our knees and bodies to pieces, covered us in a thick layer of dust, and on multiple occasions enveloped our lower legs in minor rock slides we had little control over. When we finally reached the bottom of the rubble fan we collapsed in the grass and rested before forging our own way back to the trailhead through the forest.
So what did Nigel Peak have going for it? The view. That’s it. There wasn’t one nice bit to the ascent, it was crowded, and instead of the pleasant reflecting I look for in the mountains, the only thoughts this ascent inspired were of not falling, dying, and trying to decide if awful route A was better than awful route B when in fact they were equally terrible. (Actually, that’s not entirely true. I also dreamed up the idea of a YouTube Channel called “Honest Scrambles”, similar to “Honest Trailers
”, where I’d give a candid evaluation of those that I’ve done. I also confirmed that moderate scrambles are not for me, a suspicion I’ve had for a long time). There weren’t even any wildflowers, marmots, or pikas to look at on the bloody mountain. And the real kicker? The view – the only thing this peak has going for it – is nearly identical to that from nearby and infinitely more pleasant Wilcox Lake Peak
, which we’d been on a couple days ago.
So if you find yourself in the vicinity of the Columbia Icefields and want a spectacular summit view of the area, what should you do? Scramble up Sunwapta Peak
, Tangle Ridge
, Boundary Peak
, Wilcox Lake Peak
, or Mount Wilcox
. They all have similar and excellent views and the journey up each is far more pleasant than that up Nigel Peak.