SOUTHEAST RIDGE, Mt. Wilcox
Southeast Ridge - Approach

The generally-used trailhead is at Wilcox Campground on Highway 93, the Icefield Parkway, on the geographical eastern edge of the Columbia Icefield. To get to the Campground, drive south from Jasper approximately 103 km, where you will pass the Icefield Centre. Keep on going for another 2.7 km, and turn left into the Wilcox Campground. You must self-register to park in the Campground, but limited parking is available on the short approach road. When approaching from Banff, drive north on Highway 93 for approximately 186 km and pull in to your right at Wilcox Campground. Mt. Athabasca will be in plain view, directly on your left as you exit the highway.

Start up the slopes of Wilcox Pass, heading through the trees until you reach the crest of the Pass. Although still a couple of miles away, Mt. Wilcox is easy to see from this point, and you simply follow the crest of Wilcox Pass, along one of several easy trails, through undulating hills with a myriad of colorful flowers, mosses and other various flora of typical high mountain terrain. The scenery even at the lowest part of Wilcox Pass is astounding, and will leave you often motionless as you take photographs of the great vistas and the imposing giants of the Continental Divide, or simply stop and stare at the beauty and solitude of the area.

As you make your way up, the slopes of Wilcox Pass gently become the lower slopes of the Southeast Ridge of Mt. Wilcox. It is advisable at this point to keep well back of the crest of the ridge with its loose scree, precariously-balanced boulders and rocks, and the mildly-exposed West Face of the mountain.
                The approach:  Wilcox Pass at lower elevation (left) and at the foot of Mt. Wilcox (right)
Southeast Ridge - Route Description

There is a good path that makes its way up the crest of the ridge. There are a few slippery sections of thin scree over smooth slabs, and a few sections that require a little hands-on scrambling, but for the most part, the route is a straightforward uphill hike.

Towards the top you will find the route becomes steeper, and you'll encounter a very exposed corner, on your left, with an awful lot of exposure up into a third or fourth class chimney about thirty feet high. You are generally considered to be off route while climbing this section, which gives you a straight look down the face to the highway far below. Alan Kane suggests you climb around to the right to avoid this section in his guide book Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. I took the left exposed side and had no real difficulty with holds, but every hold must be tested as the rock is very brittle on this ridge. A fall while cornering this little section would result in an eight foot drop to a very small and brittle-looking ledge below it; and if it failed to stop you, which it likely would, a long fall down the rugged West Face would be inevitable, likely resulting in severe injuries or a fatality.

But, to bypass this airy, mildly scary section, simply head up slightly to the right on pebbly slabs and mild scree slopes, punctuated with large rocks and boulders. Keep heading right from any exposed areas, and stay off of the remnants of snow on the slopes, which will be very slippery. An accidental slide down one of these snow patches could possibly lead you into a long, rough slide down the loose slabs and scree of the East Face.

You will reach a high point which seems like the summit, but closer inspection will reveal the true summit, with its summit cairn, about a hundred and fifty feet further along the ridge. The true summit is about six feet higher, and the ridge walk between them is airy and slightly exposed to a slip down the West Face. Stay focused and be careful at this last little stretch, and you will soon find yourself at the main summit with its view that includes major Rocky Mountain peaks such as Mt. Athabasca, Mt. Andromeda, Mt. Bryce, Snow Dome, Mt. Kitchener, North Twin, Twins Tower, Nigel Peak, Mt. Wooley, Diadem Peak and the Columbia Icefield.

Once you've marvelled at the fantastic view this little two hour scramble has brought you, return the same way you came up, taking care not to cross the drainage of the creek at the lower end of Wilcox Pass. Doing so will lead you further down the pass than you need to go, and will result in a much longer hike back to the trailhead.
          The mossy, lichen-covered lower slopes of Mt. Wilcox's Southeast Ridge, seen from Wilcox Pass
Essential Gear

A good pair of sturdy hiking boots should be worn; hiking runners will do, but fail to protect the ankles from sprains as well as heavier boots might, in case of a slip or fall. A helmet would be a good idea, and hiking poles are an excellent idea to reduce the strain on your legs and lower back during steep uphill hikes.

A good weatherproof shell of goretex or a similar waterproof material is recommended to protect from sudden rain showers or high winds which may be encountered. If you don't mind carrying the weight, a pair of good binoculars would lend an even more glorious view of the surrounding Columbia Icefield and the Great Divide of the Rocky Mountains.

Photos by Eric Klazsus
        Scenery from an ascent of the Southeast Ridge of Mt. Wilcox, in late spring/early summer condition
Disclaimer - Hazard Warning

There are many exposed areas where a slip could mean a long fall resulting in injuries or death. Other natural hazards exist here, including but not limited to: rockfall, avalanche, wild animal attacks, frostbite, heat stroke, and other conditions generally associated with this sport. Wear a helmet at all times, and do not exceed your abilities while on this mountain.

Unroped climbing and scrambling is dangerous. Climb at your own risk.
    Mt. Wilcox from Wilcox Pass in the spring, with the Southeast Ridge in view on the left and center skyline
     Seen here are some typical views from Mt. Wilcox and Wilcox Pass, looking towards the Columbia Icefield  
Southeast Ridge - Miscellaneous Information

It is advisable to descend and return to the trailhead by the same route you came up, as a longer hike down Wilcox Pass will leave you hiking down steeper, difficult, unpleasant scree-covered slabs or dirt surrounding the basin of the creek which flows downhill into Wilcox Campground. There is approximately 3000 feet of vertical gain from the trailhead to the summit of this peak..

One last bit of information............You are in bear country here, so act appropriately with respect to the indigenous grizzly and black bears, and even the odd mountain lion you may happen to bump into at the trailhead or up along the approach and especially at Wilcox Pass, where grizzlies have been spotted in the past. There is an abundance of other wildlife in the area as well. Wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, marmots and deer are all indigenous to this mountainous area. Caution and common sense should be considered, and do not attempt to approach or feed wild animals.

Photo by Unknown
  Panorama view from the summit of Mt. Wilcox, overlooking the entire Columbia Icefield to the south and west
   There are a lot of critters indigent to this area - and many will give you a bad reception, like this bull elk did
Southeast Ridge - Acknowledgements and Photo Credits

The information contained on the Southeast Ridge route page has been compiled by Henry Timmer, a Canadian citizen, mountaineer and adventurer currently residing in Sacramento, California, USA. To make comments, corrections, additions or inquiries, contact me at climbwild@hotmail.com

Thanks to Eric Klazsus for the generous use of his Mt. Wilcox photos. All uncredited photos are the property of Henry Timmer