Summit Elevation (m): 3211
Elevation Gain (m): 1800
Trip Time (hr): 9.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 19
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: Some travel next to a glacier on Nigel, but if dry the route is only moderate scrambling. Note that this is a two peak day involving both Nigel and Wilcox and a lot of height gain and distance.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
My brother, Rod, decided that he needed some exercise this fall so he flew down from Winnipeg for some peak bagging fun on Thursday September 13 2007. After looking at the weather forecast I decided that we should try something with a fabulous view. We settled on Nigel Peak with an option of also doing Mount Wilcox if we had the energy. Early Friday found us bombing down the highway, with a clear sky beckoning. On our way past Mount Temple I was very pleasantly surprised by the lack of snow on the scramble route. I commented to Rod that he may want to conserve some of his energy because tomorrow was likely going to be another big day.
After a pleasant drive down the ice fields parkway we arrived at the Wilcox campground and proceeded up the well used Wilcox Pass trail. After about 5 minutes we cut off trail onto some very steep, grassy slopes. Once at the top of this steep slope we could clearly see our objective and headed towards it. You can clearly see the scree trail to the left of a deep channel in the slope. To the right of the trail and left of the channel is the best route up. This will involve bits of slabby terrain mixed with bits of scree bashing. The good part is that the scrambling is quite solid as long as you stick to the slabs. The bad part is that as soon as you wander off the slabs you will hate life.
Without rushing, but maintaining a good pace we topped out at the col after about 2 hours from the car. The views were amazing in all directions and we were still 400 vertical meters from the summit! A trail could be seen clearly going up the north bowl towards the northeast ridge which we would follow to the summit. There was no snow in the bowl so we proceeded easily across and up the well defined trail.
Once on the northeast ridge things got a little bit more interesting. For the sake of saving weight in my pack (because we were planning on two peaks) I left my crampons in the car and only had my ax. This was OK except for a few places on the final ridge where crampons would have felt more secure. The fresh snow was hiding where the glacier started so I carefully probed with my trekking pole before each step. The only problem areas were a steep snow slope just to climber’s left of the ridge crest and right at the very top under the summit cap. Both areas weren’t too bad but a slip and slide would have you plummeting down the east glacier and potentially over some nasty drop offs. The snow was soft enough that I think we would have stopped in time to avoid any really serious falls but you never know.
Once on the summit we were treated to some of the best views I’ve ever had in the Rockies! My summit panoramas show at least 22 peaks over 11,000 feet including, Cline, Forbes, Rudolph, Edward, Ernest, Alexandra, Athabasca, Andromeda, Snow Dome, Columbia, Kitchener, North Twin, Twin’s Tower, Stutfield, Stutfield NE, Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Fryatt, Edith Cavell, Warren and Brazeau.
Once we got to the lower scree slope on Nigel we began traversing towards Mount Wilcox to try our second peak of the day.
After scrambling up Nigel Peak we headed for Mount Wilcox. The hike across the Wilcox Pass meadows was extremely pleasant with the fall colors in full force and the spectacular views towards the Columbia Icefields combined with a very warm, windless day. We spotted some massive mountain sheep along the way.
I had calculated that we had roughly another 600 meters of height gain to get back up Mount Wilcox after descending Nigel Peak all the way back to the meadows. Rod concluded quite quickly that 1800 meters of height gain the day before doing Mount Temple was probably not a good idea for him personally but that I should feel free to “go ahead”! So, leaving Rod to a nice snooze in the meadow I made my way slowly up towards Mount Wilcox.
I was surprised, and a wee bit disappointed, by the massive trail snaking its way to the top of Mount Wilcox. It did make my life a bit easier, as I was feeling my legs by the time I got near the summit but it also made it seem a bit ‘touristy’. I did meet a couple people on the way up and down but not too many on this fabulous day (probably because it wasn’t the weekend). If you follow the trail and the cairns you will end up traversing most of the mountain on climbers right, until you get to the summit ridge where you will go over a few exposed moves – the only moderate scrambling you’ll experience – before finding yourself on the summit with a killer view. A nice switch from Nigel Peak was that I could clearly see Mount Bryce from this angle, where I couldn’t see it from Nigel, and therefore ‘only’ counted 22 11,000ers instead of 23. Bummer.
The funny part about Wilcox is that the views are actually a bit better from the lower, south summit area, and even from about half way up than they are from the apex. Once you’re on the summit, part of the mountain itself blocks your view towards the lower ice fields near the tongue of the Athabasca Glacier. Of course the views of North Twin, Twins Tower, Woolley, Diadem and Alberta are awesome from the summit.
On my way down the mountain I ran into Rod on his way up. He got bored and started hiking to meet me, lucky for him he was at one of the best view points (about half way up the ridge) when I met him so he didn’t have to go any further. After some photos and a moderately long break we headed back down through the gorgeous Wilcox Pass meadows and back to the parking lot.
Our round trip time including all breaks and both summits was around 9.5 hours. I would highly recommend saving yourself 6 hours of driving to bag a ‘small’ peak like Mount Wilcox and combine it with Nigel Peak, providing you are up to a day of 1800 meters in elevation gain and probably 18 km of distance.