Friday 11 June 2010

Hiking Trails - Wilcox Pass

The hiking trail over Wilcox Pass was used frequently before the Icefields Parkway opened in 1940. It is best in late June through to mid-August, although snow can remain in Wilcox Pass until late July. Wilcox Pass is in Jasper National Park, Alberta and accessed just off the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93).

[1- Indian Paintbrush near the Icefields Parkway - click to enlarge]

The trailhead begins at the Wilcox Creek Campground with the distance to Wilcox pass is 4.0 km (2.5mi) one way. To take the full hike one-way from the Wilcox Creek Campground to Tangle Falls is 11.2km (7.0mi).

Half day to day trip
Allow 1.5 to 2 hours to Wilcox Pass
Elevation gain: 335m (1,100ft)
Maximum elevation: 2375m (7800ft)

To reach the trailhead take the Icefields Parkway Hwy 93 to the Wilcox Creek Campground on the east side of the highway 2.8km (1.7mi) south of the Icefields Centre or 1.9km (1.2mi) north of the Banff-Jasper boundary at Sunwapta Pass.

This hike is considered one of the best day hikes in Jasper National Park.

[2- Golden Mantle Ground squirrel aka Chipmunks - click to enlarge]

These little guys seem to populate the wood piles near campgrounds wherever one travels in the mountains.

The Wilcox Campground road is at an elevation of 2040m with a steep climb through alpine forest.

At approximately the 1.7km mark the trail emerges above the treeline gaining 120m in less than a kilometre.

In another 2.5km there is a steep climb to flat alpine meadows and the viewpoint for the Athabasca Glacier.

[3- Viewpoint of Columbia Icefield, Mt. Athabasca to left with Mt. Andromeda behind, the Athabasca Glacier in the middle and Mt. Kitchener and the Snow Dome on the right - from the Wilcox Pass Trail - click to enlarge]

Only a small portion of the Columbia Icefield is visible from the Icefield Parkway. The Athabasca Glacier is the most accessible and visible of the glaciers which flow from the Icefield, but there are numerous others. Over three hundred square kilometres in area, the depth of the icefield varies from 100 to 365 metres. The average annual snowfall on the upper reaches is seven metres.

From the viewpoint the trail moderates, opening out onto a ridge overlooking the Icefields Parkway and the Athabasca Glacier. The hiker can feast his/her eyes upon the massive ice-covered Mount Athabasca (3491m) (11454ft), Mount Andromeda (3450m) (11,319ft), the Snow Dome (3460m) (11,399ft) and Mount Kitchener (3511m) (11,500ft).

Mt Kitchener was named in 1916 after Horatio Herbert Kitchener (Viscount Kitchener), a British Field Marshall who organized the British armies at the beginning of WWI. He was lost when HMS Hampshire struck a mine in 1916.

[4 - Snow Dome and Mt. Kitchener from the Wilcox Pass trail - click to enlarge]

Norman Collie and Hermann Woolley completed the first ascent of Mount Athabasca on August 18, 1898. Collie described a vast icefield that stretched westward and surrounded by unknown peaks.

[5 - Snow Dome Glacier above Mt. Kitchener - click to enlarge]

The Snow Dome was named in 1898 by J. Norman Collie . This dome-shaped mountain is covered by the Columbia Icefield. The water produced from this mountain flows into three oceans through the Saskatchewan and Nelson rivers to the Atlantic, though the Columbia to the Pacific, and through the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers to the Arctic.

[6 - View from Wilcox Pass trail toward Mt. Andromeda, the Athabasca Glacier and Mt. Kitchener on right - click to enlarge]

Past the viewpoint the trail climbs along the edge of a creek, then levels out across alpine tundra and heads northwest into the long U-shaped pass between Wilcox and Nigel peaks.

[7 - Looking back to Mt. Athabasca and Mt. Andromeda from the Wilcox Pass Trail - click to enlarge]

Here the wildflowers grow close to the ground.

[8 - Wilcox Pass trail - click to enlarge - Mt. Wilcox is above horizon of hill on left side]

At 4.0km is the summit of Wilcox Pass (2374m). Wilcox Pass and peak are named after Walter Wilcox, whose party first crossed the pass in 1896 on horseback. The pass became the usual route north as it avoided the Sunwapta Gorge and the Athabasca Glacier, which nearly blocked the valley below.

[9 - on Wilcox Pass trail - click to enlarge]

It is here and at the other end of the pass that the hiker will find Bighorn Sheep.

[10 - Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep at Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]

[11 - Wilcox Pass trail with Rocky Mountain Sheep - click to enlarge]

Here the hiker can often find small herds of Rocky Mountain Sheep grazing.

[12 - Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]

[13 - NW on Wilcox Pass trail with Mt. Wilcox in background - click to enlarge]

[14 - Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]

[15 - Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]

To continue on to Tangle Falls the route continues north across the pass to trail makers or cairns at the 7.1km mark, where there is a steep descent into the forest. Stick to the left side below Mount Wilcox. At about 8.6km, the trail crosses to the left of the creek where it becomes more defined. Here the slope goes from moderate to steep on the descent south of Tangle Creek.

At 11.2km is the Tangle Creek trailhead (1860m) with the Icefields Parkway 200m south of Tangle Falls and 10km north of the Wilcox Creek trailhead.

Otherwise, at the rock cairn the hiker can begin to backtrack the way they came to return to the Wilcox Creek Campground.

[16 - Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]

[17 - Coming down from Wilcox Pass - click to enlarge]

[18 - Mt. Athabasca with glacier - click to enlarge]

[19 - On Wilcox Pass Trail looking toward the Athabasca Glacier]

[20 -Mt. Kitchener beneath the Snow Dome]

Photo Credits: [1]-jdww CC=nc-nd-flickr, [2]-karenwithak CC=nc-nd-flickr, [3][16]-richd777 CC=nc-sa-flickr, [4][6][7]-A tea but no e CC=flickr, [5][9][13]-Alaskan Dude CC=flickr,[8][19]-BinoCanada CC=nc-sa-flickr, [10][11][12][14][17]-Feffef CC=nc-sa-flickr, [15]-canoe too CC=nc-nd-flickr, [18]-gordmckenna CC=nc-nd-flickr, [20]-DavidQuick CC=nc-nd-flickr,


Leah J. Utas said...

What a wonderful trail.

Lauren said...

I love the little squirrel. It's so cute!

Reader Wil said...

Ah to live in a country with mountains! That's What I call a previlege! I love mountains, so thank you for your photos!

Charles Gramlich said...

With all the pics that Lana would have to take, that day hike would be at least a 2 dayer.

67 Not Out (Mike Perry) said...

What a great post, just wish it was a bit nearer! I'm in England, but that's the sort of hike I would love. All looks very special. I'll no doubt get to Canada one day.

Barbara Martin said...

Leah, this is a trail that isn't complicated, just steep in places. Though one does have to watch out for bears due to the bighorn sheep in the pass.

Lauren, these squirrels become very climatized to humans quickly just for that reason of being so 'cute'.

Wil, what's lovely is there are the Rocky Mountains on the western end of the country and the Laurentians in the east.

Barbara Martin said...

Charles, a big draw would be all the different kinds of wildflowers that grow quickly in July. Everywhere one turns there is a fantastic view waiting to be photographed.

Mike Perry, welcome and stay awhile. There are many posts on different trails here to choose from. Sometimes virtual touring is the best way to get a taste of what might lay in wait on such a hike.

Teresa said...

The snow-covered mountains were spectacular, and the chipmunk was just adorable.

Anonymous said...

Stunning photos Barbara. What a beautiful and majestic part of the world.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Barbara,
It is the immense size of the country there that always makes me gasp. I love this tramp for the gradual( and no doubt grueling) climb from the lower forest to the high country and the stunning change of views and plant life. Now how can you not enjoy that?
Kia kaha.

Barbara Martin said...

Teresa, mountains and cute squirrels are one of my specialities.

Pam, just trying to lure you up here.

Robb, this is a well hiked trail that ParksCanada is trying to keep people on the paths to avoid damaging the plant life.

I never thought the area in Jasper and Banff was large in comparison to the rest of Canada, but you are quite correct to say this. Upon checking national park sizes: Jasper National Park is 4200 sq. miles, Banff National Park is 4402 sq. miles, and for comparison, Glacier National Park in Montana is 1600 sq. miles.

The Icefield Parkway is 230 km (143 miles) long: an excellent experience to drive upon to see the more rugged area of the Canadian Rockies.

One of these days you must come to have a tramp, even if it is of short duration.

Richard Levangie said...

I've spent so very little time in my life near mountains. Looking at these photos this morning, that fact makes me so sad!

Barrie said...

the glacier pictures are incredible!

Rick said...

I'm with Lauren on this- all the pictures are great, but I love that little squirrel!

Barbara Martin said...

Richard, mountains seem to speak to me more loudly than do the prairies or the rugged coast in parts of Nova Scotia and Quebec.

The photos of the mist evaporating in mid-morning remind me of those chilly mornings when camping as a child with parents, and wondering who took the mountains away.

Perhaps you can take a trip and go to see them close at hand, or you can always visit here. I yearn for mountains, and find the photos and posts calm that ache for a time.

Barbara Martin said...

Barrie, snow and ice on mountains are a great draw, and provide a nice chill to the air when the wind blows over them.

Rick, squirrels are rather cute and appealing.

Bernita said...

Such a vast landscape.The photos display well the immensity of it all.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful landscape in the summer! I've been in the winter with my Yaktrax before, but it's amazing how much different the location looks with some sun!