Wiwaxy Peak was named in 1894 by Samuel Allen after a Stoney Indian word meaning “windy”. I experienced nothing substantial in terms of wind on my ascent despite a system moving in on us. The naming had more to do with Allen’s position in a hanging valley closer to the Watch Tower to the north when he pondered the name for Wiwaxy. Wiwaxy Peak is located in Yoho National Park which is one of four connecting national parks (Banff, Kootenay and Jasper) that make up the central Canadian Rockies.
Wiwaxy was first ascended in 1951 by Pullin, Roubenheimer and Whalley. At 9000’, it is not a substantial peak and only received my attention when I noticed it from the summit of nearby Mount Huber. Wiwaxy Peak is one of several “easier” alpine objectives that can be accomplished from a base camp in Lake O’Hara. I live in the area, so simply took the 9:AM bus in and was out on the 4:PM ride. Normally Wiwaxy is combined with other alpine objectives back in Lake O’Hara. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, Lake O’Hara’s 11km gravel road is commandeered for “cash paying tourists”. A trail has been decommissioned that used to parallel the road to the west. You will be fined (arrested and villainized) if you bike the road. This limits your options to either forking out $15 (2007) to ride the bus or hike the gravel road as the bus dust storm roars by, which of course is quite uneventful.
During the winter when the road is closed, it is actually quite pleasant to cross country ski in on. The backcountry ski objectives back into Lake O’Hara are quite worthwhile as well and of course the summer tourists and bus traffic is non-existent. The lodge at Lake O’Hara is actually fortified by snowmobile in the winter, but of course no other snowmobilers are allowed on the road.
Wiwaxy is due south from the infamous Watch Tower, site of my 140’ whipper in 2006. It consists of two, almost identical in height, quartzite towers. You can scramble the east tower or climb the prominent (and popular by Canadian Rockies standards) south ridge of the west tower, known as Grassi Ridge, II, 5.7. Grassi Ridge can be climbed via anywhere from 7 to 12 pitches featuring a walk off descent (although rap stations down to the col exist for the timid).
Two European climbers were rescued off of the Grassi Ridge Route in 1994. Grassi Ridge is one of the easiest and shortest alpine climbs in the Canadian Rockies. After reading the accident report, it occurs to me once again, that what we consider a cake walk in the Canadian Rockies and what climbers are used to in other parts of the world, mean two completely different things.
Getting ThereThe Trans-Canada Highway runs from Calgary through Banff and Yoho National Parks on its way to Vancouver. Pass through Lake Louise heading westbound and continue on the Trans-Canada on its way to Field, BC. As you pass the Yoho National Park welcoming sign and Mount Bosworth on your right, look for the Lake O’Hara parking lot turnoff on your left. Drive across the railroad tracks and park at the bottom of the road.
Red TapeYou 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 ski in Yoho National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. Yoho National Park headquarters are located in Field, BC and you will drive through the manned national park kiosks as you enter Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada.
Camping/LodgingThere are actually two cabins that make up the Elizabeth Parker Hut, both with wood burning stoves. There is a sleeper cabin and the main cabin which in total sleep up to 24 in the winter (not 20 as mentioned on the ACC website). The main cabin is equipped with a propane system which provides the cooking and lighting. It even has a full-on modern stove/oven. The hut also sports the modern covered sleeping pads. There is a separate double outhouse.
The closest camp site would be the Lake O’Hara campground which is before the lake on the right side of the road. Its cook hut is the first building you come to on the ski in. It is a bomber cook hut and makes this one of the more lush winter camping arrangements in the Canadian Rockies. In addition there is luxury accommodation at the Lake O’Hara Lodge, fully serviced meals, etc. This is not a grand lodge by Canadian Rockies standard, but rather comprised of small cabins and rooms. The price however is at the same level if not higher than the resort hotels.
You can go on line at Yoho National Park to pick a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan on camping at a backcountry site. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas.