Mount Vaux is a striking icy clad unknown giant in Yoho National Park, British Columbia. Mount Vaux reigns over the impressive Hanbury Glacier and the northern end of the Ottertail Range. The summit reaches a notable 3319m (10,889 ft.) and is near the 3353 metre mark, but not quite high enough to make the mark of the highly sought Canadian Rockies 11,000’ers list. Since the summit is 34 metres (111.5 ft.) short of the list, it sees few ascents. Mount Vaux and Mount Biddle are tied for seventh highest summit in Yoho National Park, sixth highest if consider Mount Goodsir as one summit. Mount Vaux is the third highest summit in the Ottertail Range, the immense double towers of Mount Goodsir are two highest points in the range.
Mount Vaux was named by Palliser Expedition member James Hector in 1858. William Sandys Wright Vaux, a friend of James Hector, was a resident antiquarian at the British Museum for 29 years (1841 to 1870). In 1861 he became the department head for coins and medals, a post which, owing to ill-health, he resigned in October 1870. He helped secure funds to support the Palliser Expedition's principals while they completed their report.
The Palliser Expedition (officially titled the British North American Exploring Expedition) explored and surveyed the open prairies and rugged wilderness of western Canada from 1857 to 1860. The purpose was to explore possible routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway and discover new species of plants. The expedition was led by John Palliser. Mount Vaux was first ascended in July of 1901 by Charles E. Fay, James Outram and J.H. Scattergood, guided by Christian Hasler Sr. via the North Ridge. There is no record of a winter ascent. This family name of Vaux is not related to Mary Vaux (1860-1940) or the mountain named in her honour, Mount Mary Vaux, in Jasper National Park.
Located in the Kicking Horse River Valley, Mount Vaux is usually approached from the Trans-Canada Highway (highway #1) in southern Yoho National Park. Approaching the standard route (South West Face) or the North Ridge route, the parking area is located in the same general area of the park.
Mt. Vaux from Yukeness Mtn.
For the South West Face route parking is recommended along Highway 1, approximately 22 km south of the town of Field in a small pull out on the east side of the highway, directly below the drainage emanating from the huge basin beneath the South West Face. Approximate pullout coordinates at UTM 294758 (lat. 51.233291, long. -116.578463). If driving from Calgary or Canmore, drive west along the Trans-Canada Highway (highway #1) to Field, British Columbia; 210 km from Calgary, or 106 km from Canmore. Then continue south to the pull out. This pull out is approximately 33 km from Golden, British Columbia.
For the North Ridge route parking is along Highway 1, approximately 8.3 km south of the town of Field at the Ottertail River parking lot on the east side of the highway.
Because of the length, complexity and sheer nastiness of the Ice River Valley approach, the South (Hanbury) Glacier route is not recommended. Access to the Ice River is from outside Yoho National Park via a complex network of logging roads which seem to be deteriorating each year. Parking for this approach is the same was the access for Mount Goodsir.
If driving from Calgary or Canmore, drive west along the Trans-Canada Highway (highway #1) to Beaverfoot River logging road, just south of the boundary of Yoho National Park; 238 km from Calgary, 135 km from Canmore. From Golden, drive east about 27 km. Signage for Beaverfoot Lodge will help direct you to the proper road. In 2010 this Forest Service Road was well marked with kilometre signs. Past the Beaverfoot Lodge around the 13 km marker, continue on, between km 19 and 20 km markers turn left onto the old Ice River Road. Once on this road, drive 3.4 km then turn left into a logged clearing. Park here, the top summits of the Goodsirs are visible. Hike north about 1 km on old roads, trails to the Ice River. A good trail starts on the right (east) of the Ice River.
Red Tape / Camping and Bivouacs
All national parks in Canada require an entrance fee. No permit or fee is required to climb in Yoho National Park. A voluntary safety registration system is available for climbers in the Rocky Mountain National parks. It is necessary to register in person at the park information centres or warden offices during business hours. On completion of the excursion, the party must notify the park by telephone or by returning the registration form.
Up to date information about climbing and mountaineering in the Rocky Mountain National parks available at: Rocky Mountain National parks | Climbing and Mountaineering
During the ski season, up to date avalanche bulletins for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks available at: Avalanche Bulletin - Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks
Yoho National Park has some of the most regulated backcountry areas within Canada. The Ottertail and Kicking Horse River Valley’s are not as regulated as other areas in Yoho and follow standard National Park backcountry requirements. Climbers are permitted to bivouac on long routes or otherwise where necessary to safely complete a climb. Some restrictions apply; mostly prohibiting the most popular peaks. A backcountry use permit is required for any overnight stay; contact any Yoho National Park visitor centre, where you may obtain the permit. The standard South West Face route can be completed in a day with an ascent and descent from the parking area. Likely the North Ridge route would require a bivy, the South Glacier would be a multiple day outing.
Mount Vaux area topo map
South West Face Approach
Most straightforward and most used approach to Mount Vaux. From the pullout head up the small drainage that originates from the huge basin below the South West Face; keep heading up.
North Ridge Approach
From the trail head follow the old road, now big trail, approximately 5 km to junction of Haskins Creek and the Ottertrail River. River crossing is likely very tough, then bushwach, no trail, for about 6 km to tree line in upper Haskins Creek; access Hurd Pass from the south.
South Glacier Approach
By far the least used approach and really not worth the suffering. From the parking area a reasonable trail will provide access to the Upper Ice River Warden cabin in Yoho National Park, about 5 km. North of the cabin the trail soon becomes indistinguishable and turns into a boggy swamp along the river. Head north to the base of the low angle cliffs that guard the southern edge of the Hanbury Glacier, approximately 9 km north, all without a trail.
When to Climb
Typical Canadian Rockies situation; best conditions for a high elevation alpine rock route is July to early September. The upper South West Face does get full summer sun and is often dry by early July.
The only published information is in the now out of print guide, “The Rocky Mountains of Canada South”, Boles, G.W., Kruszyna R. & Putnam W.L. (1979).
Upper SW Face |
- South West Face / Traverse, Alpine II, (5.4 Variation)
First ascent of this route in 1933 by G. Engelhard, guided by E. Feuz Jr. On the first ascent the party ascended the South West Face to the summit, traversed the Hanbury Glacier southward and descended into the Hoodoo Creek drainage.
From highway 1 head straight up a drainage, which soon becomes a broad scree gully. Eventually the broad gully steepens and is intersected by loose and steepening rock bands, much of this section is Class 3, with the odd loose Class 4 step. Approximately 100 metres below the summit, the uppermost South West Face raises in a near vertical wall. A hard to find Class 4 scramble route frames the right hand side (south) edge of the wall. The 4th Class scramble gains the summit ridge approximately 50 metres below the summit.
Low down in drainage |
Slogging scree |
Nearing upper face
The left hand edge of the upper South West Face provides about 70 metre of easy 5th Class rock, with reasonable rock protection from nuts and cams (and even ice screws). The middle section of this line is the crux, with climbing approximately at 5.3 or 5.4. Two short pitches exit almost directly on the summit; exit to summit very loose and hard to protect, but easy grade (5.0).
Steep face below summit |
OSWB on first pitch |
Typically parties will descend the South West Face. Descent down the aesthetic Hanbury Glacier provides moderate glacier terrain with excellent views and fun snow climbing. Descend south along the broad ridge, with the glacier getting steeper on descent. Exit glacier near a high alpine tarn. From the tarn likely several descent lines exist. Our descent required three short rappels (30 metres each) on steep water worn cliffs. Once off the glacier polished cliffs, easy hiking to the scenic Hoodoos and large trail to the Hoodoo Creek campground.
Descending from summit |
Steeper glacier |
First rappel |
Upper Hoodoo Creek |
North Ridge |
- North Ridge / Traverse, Alpine II
First ascent of the mountain by this route in July 1901 by Charles E. Fay, James Outram and J.H. Scattergood, guided by Christian Hasler Sr. From Ottertail River camp at source of Haskins Creek east of Mt. Hurd party ascended over easy rock and steep snow slopes to Hurd Pass. South along broken ridge, one hour to col at base of snow slopes below the final peak. Steep slopes are ascended for 550 metres to the snow dome at 3120 metres. Cross glacier neve sweeping to south east and circle large crevasses to reach narrow summit ridge. On descent, the party headed southward across the Hanbury Glacier to the cliff above the head of Ice River. Steeper slopes and rocky ledges are descended to the valley floor.
- South (Hanbury) Glacier, Alpine I
First ascent of route by a large group from the 1939 Alpine Club of Canada mountaineering camp. Camp site at junction of Ice River and Martins Creek Valley, ascent to glacier from south slopes below Hanbury Glacier. West across Hanbury Glacier to summit. Returned the same way.
ReferenceBoles, G.W., Kruszyna R. & Putnam W.L. (1979). The Rocky Mountains of Canada South. 7 th edition. New York: American Alpine Club, Alpine Club of Canada. Out of print
Online information for scrambling the South West Face.
Local author and scrambling legend Alan Kane has good information on his webpage.
Vern Dewit's trip report
Sonny Bou's trip report