Note: While almost unanimously referred to as Mount Wilcox, the Geographic Board of Canada and the Canadian Geographic Names Database officially give this mountain the name of Wilcox Peak. Despite being originally named Wilcox Peak in 1924, the name was changed to Mount Wilcox between 1928 and 1956, when the Geographic Board of Canada changed it back to Wilcox Peak. Confusion regarding the name has existed since. Even Place Names of Alberta Volume 1, published by the Alberta Government, refers to the mountain as Mount Wilcox. And the mountain's inclusion in Scrambles of the Canadian Rockies as Mount Wilcox pretty much ensures that it is most commonly referred by this unofficial name. I have chosen to refer to it as such in my text as well, but may change that in the future.
Although Mount Wilcox is a modest peak in terms of elevation compared to many of the peaks that surround it, its location and summit views make it a true gem of a scramble. In Scrambles of the Canadian Rockies, Alan Kane gives Mount Wilcox the enticing endorsement of offering “possibly the best view in the entire Rockies for the energy expended.” From Mount Wilcox, one can see Mount Athabasca, Mount Andromeda, Mount Kitchener, Nigel Peak, and the ever-famous Athabasca Glacier.
Mount Wilcox is located in the Sunwapta River Valley and is accessed by the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) near the southern border of Jasper National Park - where Jasper connects with Banff National Park. Jasper is part of an interconnected seven mountain park system (along with Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks), which has the designation of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mount Wilcox is named after Walter Wilcox, who along with Robert Barrett and guides Tom Lusk and Fred Stephens, were the first explorers to reach Sunwapta Pass in 1896. They were on a sixty day expedition in search of a pass through which the Athabasca River could be accessed. In 1896, the Athabasca Glacier actually extended to the steep western slopes of Mount Wilcox and although the party was able to navigate between the toe of the glacier and Mount Wilcox, they were eventually thwarted by a large canyon barring their way. They then proceeded over the high grassy pass east of Mount Wilcox, which now bears the name of Wilcox Pass. The Yellowhead Museum in Jasper credits the first acsent of Mount Wilcox to Robert Barrett and Walter Wilcox while they were on this expedition (1896).
Summiting Mount Wilcox requires a short scramble up its southeast ridge which will take between 3 ½ to 6 hours round trip, depending on whether you start from the Icefields Centre or the Wilcox Campground. The elevation gain is 900 meters or approximately 2950 feet. It’s common for climbers of Mount Wilcox to be treated to an abundant array of wildflowers along Wilcox Pass and sightings of bighorn sheep are quite common in the area.
Mount Wilcox is situated directly behind the Icefields Centre on the Icefields Parkway. For those wishing to start their climb from the Icefields Centre, you simply have to park in the large parking lot of the Icefields Centre and go to the faint approach trails directly behind the Centre.
If you are coming from the south, the turnoff for the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) lies about 2 kilometers west of Lake Louise on the Number 1 (a.k.a. Trans-Canada) Highway. Alternatively, the turnoff is approximately 60 km west of the town of Banff or 185 km west of Calgary. Do not get confused and take the Highway 93 turnoff south into Kootenay National Park! Continue west for some time to get to the turnoff north. Once you are on the Icefields Parkway, the Icefields Centre is 127 km north on the right side of the road. It would be nearly impossible to miss.
Services are few on the Icefields Parkway. Ensure that you have an adequate amount of gas before venturing on to the Parkway. The few service stations that exist often charge a considerably higher amount for gas than those stations on less remote highways.
If you are coming from Jasper, the Icefields Centre is 103 km south on highway 93 on the left hand side.
For those intending to start their approach to Mount Wilcox on the more scenic Wilcox Pass hiking trail, the trailhead begins at the Wilcox Campground, which is situated 2.7 km south of the Icefields Centre. The majority of people climbing Mount Wilcox begin their outing from the Wilcox Campground. This is the same trailhead for those planning on climbing Nigel Peak.
The beauty of the Icefields Parkway is recognized worldwide and, for many, it is a destination to itself. Because of its beauty, the Icefields Parkway has become a popular destination for those wishing to do bicycle tours. Four HI hostels are dotted along the Parkway, making this a very enjoyable and realistic bicycle touring destination. Don’t overlook this possibility of traveling the Icefields Parkway!
SE Ridge of Mount Wilcox
A national park pass is required to enter the four Canadian Rocky Mountain national parks of Jasper, Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay (unless your purpose is simply driving through without stopping). Daily passes are available, however, if you plan on multiple visits to national parks within Canada in a year, or if your visit is for multiple days, an annual pass may become an economical alternative. Annual passes allow access into 27 of Canada’s 39 national parks. Anyone planning an overnight outing into the backcountry is required to buy a backcountry pass. Click here for a full list of daily and annual fees, camping fees, and backcountry pass fees.
The main season for climbing Mount Wilcox is from July to Mid-September. Climbing earlier than July should be done with great caution as winter conditions and spring avalanches can extend into the month of June. Indeed, snow and storms may occur in the summer months and weather should always be carefully considered and monitored when climbing in the area.
Winter ascents of Mount Wilcox are rare due to the extreme weather, snow, and avalanche conditions in the area. Even under favourable winter conditions, the exposure on the east slopes of Mount Wilcox is considerable as you near the summit; attempting to summit Mount Wilcox with snow on the mountain should only be considered by those who are fully knowledgeable of and properly equipped for winter climbing.
There is no shortage of accommodations in the area of the Icefields Parkway. For those wishing to camp, there are the options of the Wilcox Campground (2.7 km south of the Icefields Centre) or the Columbia Icefields Campground (approx. 1 km north of the Icefields Centre). The Wilcox Campground is a natural option as this is also the location of the trailhead for the approach to Mount Wilcox via the Wilcox Pass Trail. However, the Columbia Icefields Campground is also a desirable location with its enclosed cooking shelters complete with wood stoves and picnic tables. Both campgrounds require self-registration and run in the $18-$20 range.
For those preferring the option of hostelling, there are many hostels in the area. Four hostels are situated on the Icefields Parkway with the closest being the HI – Beauty Creek Hostel, located 17 km north of the Icefields Centre on the west side of the highway. Other hostels are in the vicinity, including those in Lake Louise and Jasper. See the Hostelling International link below for a map showing all locations of hostels in the area.
Another interesting alternative is to stay at the Alpine Club of Canada Clubhouse in Canmore or the Canadian Alpine Centre in Lake Louise. Both are joint ventures of the Alpine Club of Canada and Hostelling International – Canada.
Yet another unique option while staying in the Jasper area is to stay in one of the many private home accommodations in the town of Jasper. Numerous homes in Jasper are equipped with self-contained suites to accommodate guests. This can be an enjoyable and economical alterative to a hotel stay in the area.
Lastly, for those choosing a hotel or motel stay, the alternatives are endless in the Canmore, Banff, and Jasper areas. Expect to pay substantial prices during the summer season. If your budget is in the $200+ range, you can stay at the Icefields Chalet in the Icefields Centre.
The best source of information for hiking/climbing conditions in Jasper National Park is the Parks Canada Trail Office Line in Jasper (780-852-6177).
For information regarding Mount Wilcox specifically, the Parks Canada Desk in the Icefields Centre can be contacted at 780-852-6288 from 9:00AM to 6:00PM (June-September) or, if you are in the area, visit the Icefields Centre and talk to the Parks Canada staff working there. They will be happy to give you any information you need.
Click on the Parks Canada link in the Links section below for Jasper National Park important bulletins, weather forecasts, trail conditions, road conditions, and avalanche bulletins.
Environment Canada 5-Day Weather Forecast
The Weather Channel 10-Day Forecast
Parks Canada - Jasper
Weather conditions, road conditions, campground reservations, etc.
Hostelling International - Alberta
Reservations, directions, and general information for all Icefields Parkway Hostels (Mosquito Creek, Rampart Creek, Beauty Creek, Athabasca Falls)
The Alpine Club of Canada
Jasper Home Accommodation Association
Short biography on Walter D. Wilcox