Mount Wilson is located off of the Columbia Icefield Parkway just north of the Saskatchewan River crossing in Banff National Park, one of four connecting national parks making up the central Canadian Rockies. Mount Wilson was officially named in 1898 by Norman Collie after Tom Wilson, an early explorer in the Canadian Rockies. Mount Wilson was first ascended by Outram and Kaufmann in 1902, the final of eight first ascents put up by Outram that summer. Mount Wilson is directly across from the Lyell Icefield which affords you some incredible views of this remote section of the park. Mount Wilson has its own icefield aptly named the Wilson Icefield that can be seen in its entirety from the David Thompson Highway 6 miles east of the Columbia Icefields Parkway.
In my personal experience on Wilson Major, with avalanches coming down to my left (photo) and right, crossing early bear tracks (photo) and the incredible large leaning quartzite towers (photo) make this one of the most wild and scenic amphitheaters I have ice climbed in. Avalanches coming off of a very large leaning quartzite tower were blowing snow onto us as we set up to climb the left side of Wilson Major. I have included a very interesting photo sequence of one of these events (before I picked up my tools and got to work).
Mount Wilson is best known for the ice routes fed by the Wilson Icefield on its northwest flank that include the following, some of which are serious climbs. Of course there are many other hanging daggers, etc. that form up and down the approaches at various times of the year. These routes are inherently dangerous of course, three veteran Cascade climbers died on Midnight Rambler in 2004, the easiest route listed below. An avalanche swept over Lady Wilson’s Right Tit (photo) as we were climbing Wilson Major.
Mount Wilson is not featured in the Selected Alpine or Alpine Ski Tour book. However, summer and winter ascents are attempted on occasion.
Wilson Major 50 m III, WI 3-6 (wide curtain)
Lady Wilson’s Right Tit 60 m III, WI 4
Lady Wilson’s Cleavage 300 m III, WI 3
Totem Pole 200 m IV, WI 5
Midnight Rambler 240 m III, WI 3
Suntori 1900m VI, M6 A2 WI 6
Skinny Puppy 50 m II, WI 5
Living in Paradise 160 m VI, WI 6+
Phil Spectre’s Nightmare 80 m V, WI 6
The Trans-Canada Highway runs from Calgary through Banff and Yoho National Parks on its way to Vancouver. As you pass through Lake Louise heading westbound, you want to exit onto the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) towards Jasper. Pull off at a drainage area 8.9kms past the David Thompson Highway. This is a several hour drive from Canmore. This drainage is known as Lady Wilson’s Cleavage when it is frozen and gives access to several ice routes.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Banff National Park coming from the east on the Trans-Canada. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in Banff or Yoho National Parks, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the conventional campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. The huts are managed by the Alpine Club of Canada versus the Parks. The Alpine Club of Canada headquarters is located in Canmore, AB, the Banff National Park headquarters is located in Banff, AB and Yoho National Park headquarters is located in Field, BC. You will drive through the manned national park kiosks as you enter Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada. You will drive through a kiosk area again as you gain the Icefield Parkway. However, it is normally not manned in the winter.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person during the non-hibernation periods. I advise checking with Parks Canada for any area and/or trail closures.
When To Climb
I climbed ice on Mount Wilson in May. You can obviously climb all winter, but avalanche danger is real on Mount Wilson. Several experienced climbers have died on its routes in recent years as a result of ignoring high avalanche conditions.