Zenfolio | Matthew Clay | Wilcox Lake Peak, July 25, 2018
Visitors 24
86 photos

Distance: 23 km
Elevation gain: 1325 m
Download GPS track

A few years ago from the summit of Mount Wilcox I noticed a large peak to the east of the pass. Like many other peaks invisible from the road in this area it was unnamed, but it looked like an easy and fun ascent that would grant some pretty spectacular views of the pass and the isolated valleys and peaks to the east. Today we set out to see if my suspicions were correct.

In the cool of the morning we started hiking along the Wilcox Pass trail, reaching the pass at a leisurely pace about an hour after starting out, then continued north along the trail into the vast alpine meadows. About a kilometer from the signed highpoint of the pass we turned off trail and aimed for the peak, contouring around swampy areas and eventually aiming for an obvious trail rising over the northwest ridge of Nigel Peak. The trail over the ridge was in excellent shape and numerous cairns on the other side identified it as the trail scramblers use to return to Wilcox Pass should they take the alternate north cirque descent from Nigel Peak.

Once over the ridge we made our way towards Wilcox Lake at the head of the valley, still hidden from view, travelling over multiple rocky ribs and small valley meadows. Travel was very easy, but picking the “best” route was next to impossible as the undulating terrain blocked the view of what lay ahead.

We soon reached the lake at the head of the valley, then contoured around it on its northern side. As we neared the other end of the lake we started gaining elevation on the rubble and sparsely-vegetated slopes rising above it, soon reaching a bit of a bench. From the bench we tried to ascend directly to the ridge, but large and dangerously loose rubble prevented such an approach. Instead we retreated back to the bench and continued further towards the head of the valley, gaining elevation over much easier and stable terrain until we reached a col to the north of Nigel Peak. Cairns led the way to this col, surprisingly enough, but were completely unnecessary in such an open environment.

From the col we turned to the northwest and hiked along the broad ridge. A highpoint approximately halfway to the summit sported a large cairn and was home to a dozen ptarmigan today, travel remained very easy, and the view into the remote valley to the west was spectacular.

After losing about 125 m of elevation from the intermediate highpoint we easily ascended to the southern end of the summit ridge. A point further north was clearly higher, however, so after a quick break we headed for it. Travel got a bit tricky at this point as several cliffs blocked our way along the ridge, but easy detours to the right existed in each case.

The view from the summit – all along the ridge, actually – was amazing in every direction. The glaciated giants to the west, the isolated valley and several tarns to the east, massive Nigel Peak, and Wilcox Lake were some of the many highlights. Despite a 3000 m contour line on the map my GPS registered an elevation of just 2986 m, only very slightly lower than popular Tangle Ridge to the north.

<aside> A few days later we attempted to ascend Nigel Peak. Everything about that ascent was horrible, and while we stopped just short of the summit, the views from that peak are extremely similar to those from Wilcox Lake Peak. If you prefer solitude, easy hiking, alpine lakeshores, and meadows instead of crowds, slogging up endless loose rubble, and a sketchy scramble, Wilcox Lake Peak is a vastly superior trip to Nigel Peak. It’s not an officially-named peak, of course, but I certainly don’t need the government to tell me what is worthy of being climbed! </aside>

After a lengthy and enjoyable summit lunch we started back down, descending directly from the summit to a small valley between it and the highpoint we’d hiked over earlier. We could’ve taken any number of routes from here, but chose to descend directly to the lake. This was a bit of a mistake as the rubble on the slope was very loose, but it remained within the realm of easy (but annoying) scrambling.

Once back at the lake we wandered north through the beautiful meadows and rocky ribs, slowly making our way back to Wilcox Pass. It would’ve been much shorter and faster to just retrace our path from that morning, but the territory was so wonderful I really just felt like exploring. Our solitude ended at the pass, but the hike out was quick. It was an excellent exploratory trip to a wonderful summit panorama!

Categories & Keywords
Category:Lifestyle and Recreation
Subcategory:Outdoors
Subcategory Detail:Hiking
Keywords:Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Wilcox Lake, Wilcox Lake Peak, Wilcox Pass, hiking, scrambling