Mount Willingdon is located in the wild eastern section of Banff National Park, the last expansive area of true wilderness within the park. This mountain is more about scenic views, wild animal encounters, or hopefully only viewing, and long approaches then quality climbing or classic mountaineering. Having just said that, the North-East Face of the Willingdon Massif presents an extensive glacier and a beautiful snow/ice route, likely unrepeated since the original 1977 ascent. If interested in this remote route, climb it soon (or in a big snow year like the summer of 2011), since the upper ice section is melting out fast.
Mount Willingdon is low on the list of Canadian Rockies 11,000 footers, depending on your perspective, either the 39th or 44th highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies; 44 th on the generally accepted list of 54 summits. The summit is just over the magic 11,000 ft. mark at 3373 metres (11,067 ft.).
The Willingdon Massif (main summit and southern outliers) does provide interesting and worthwhile climbing by extending the climb south-east from the main summit. Ascend the standard West Ridge to the summit of Mt. Willingdon, moderate snow climbing south-east reaches the impressive outlier, unofficially named Crown (3337 m), and unofficially named Willingdon 3 (3325 m).
South Side with outliers labelled
NE Faces with outliers labelled
Named in 1927 after the Governor General of Canada, Freeman Freeman-Thomas, the Marquis of Willingdon. Mr. Freeman-Thomas was GGC from 1926 to 1931. First ascent by a topography survey team of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1919.
Banff National Park is Canada's first national park and the world's third. Banff National Park is the second largest of Canada's Rocky Mountain Parks and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This spectacular park protects 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles) of broad valleys, rugged mountains, glaciers, forests and alpine environments. There are more than 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) of hiking trails within Banff and 22 of the 54 11,000’ers.
Banff National Park is located in the province of Alberta in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It is situated 128 km (80 miles) west of Calgary, Alberta. Vehicle access is by Trans Canada Highway (Highway #1) from Calgary.
The standard approach for Mount Willingdon is from the Mosquito Creek trail head. Follow the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 North) 24 km north of the Lake Louise Junction (or 183 km south of the town of Jasper) to Mosquito Creek Campground, park in the lot beside the Mosquito Creek Hostel. Trail starts immediately north of the highway bridge, on the right hand (north) side of highway. Follow this trail along Mosquito Creek for 4 km, then angle left on game trails along the creek’s north fork, traversing through open forest and grassy slopes. Where creek bends west (about NTS UTM grid reference 477255) head north up steep grassy slopes.
Ultimately the goal is to reach Quartzite Col (about NTS UTM grid reference 476283), but it is tricky to spot from below. To reach Quartzite Col tend north through the boulder fields and keep an eye on your GPS.
From Quartzite Col, drop down steep snow and scree slopes to the Siffleur River. Once in the valley, easy terrain leads towards Clearwater Pass, where a well worn trail leads to Devon Lakes. Devon Lakes are an excellent bivy base camp and about 6 hours and 35 km from the highway. From the lakes, head to the South Ridge of an outlier west of Mt. Willingdon, which will lead to the West Ridge proper of Willingdon.
Looking south to Devon Lake
A permit or fee is not required to climb in Banff 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:
CNP Mountain Safety
Camping and Bivouacs
Climbers are permitted to bivouac on long routes or otherwise where necessary to safely complete a climb. Some restrictions apply. A backcountry use permit is required, contact any Banff National Park visitor centre, where you may obtain the permit.
Expansive views, fabulous scenery and the wilderness atmosphere at Devon Lakes are themselves worth the long hike. Devon Lakes are in the random camping area of Banff National Park, so there are no facilities or designated camp sites. Be aware of wildlife and practice “Leave No Trace” ethics.
When to Climb
Typical Canadian Rockies situation with July and August providing the best conditions for high elevation climbing. Often September and October have stable and dry weather, but conditions can change dramatically. Fall climbing does provide colder temperatures for snow climbing, but with less snow for climbing and bridging of crevasses.
West Ridge of Mt. Willingdon
Two climbing routes have been documented on Mount Willingdon. The West Ridge is essentially a scramble with one challenging cliff band guarding the summit slopes. A more interesting route has been climbed on the North-East Face. Documented routes include:
- West Ridge (Normal Route), Alpine I
Line of the first ascent by a topography survey team of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1919. From the Devon Lakes bivy head north to gain the obvious South Ridge of an outlier west of Mt. Willingdon.
At the outlier/Willingdon col, an interesting crown shaped pinnacle blocks access, but is only moderate scrambling up and over. The West Ridge proper of Willingdon is a simple scree hike until the summit block is reached. Here a 5 metre cliff, down-sloping and usually wet or icy, prevents easy access to the summit.
The wall is loose on the bottom, but has more solid consistency as you climb up. The wall is more solid, but steep, to climber’s left (north end). A very sketchy piece of old 6mm cord was in place in 2010, but wouldn’t trust it, at the north end.
Ascend wall (difficult scramble, 4 class climbing) to summit scree slope. Slog to top. A few rappel anchors are present above the summit cliff band, rappel is recommended. Return same route to camp.
Broad Summit Scree Field
- North-East Face, Alpine III
First ascent of route by Judy Cook and Scipio Merler in 1977. Has been described as the best snow/ice route in the Dry Ranges, but unlikely unrepeated since the first ascent. Approach via Martin Creek and Lakes from north-east. Gain glacier north of Mt. Willingdon, gain access to face route via glacier ramp below Mt. Willingdon, traverse south to face.
Steep snow/ice face leads to col south of summit of Mt. Willingdon. Climb South-West Ridge of Willingdon to summit. Descent by West Ridge would be more straightforward; but long walk back to Martin Creek.
An excellent photo of the North-East Face of the Willingdon Massif from the summit of Mt. Harris is available at Paul Zizka Photography
Large photo – East Face of the Willingdon Massif
Bill Corbett’s book, The 11,000ers of the Canadian Rockies, provides a comprehensive climber’s guide and history to the 54 11,000-foot peaks in the Canadian Rockies.
11,000ers of the Canadian Rockies