Summit Elevations (m): 3020
Trip Date: August 5 2023
Elevation Gain (m): 1750
Round Trip Time (hr): 9.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 26
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you might break something
Difficulty Notes: Only difficulties are up from Beauty Creek to the NW ridge of Skye and to the summit, otherwise easy scrambling throughout. Most people will ascend and descend from Wilcox Lake.
Technical Rating: SC6; RE4
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Wietse Bijlsma first noticed Andover Peak on Bivouac after I started throwing around possible ascents of nearby “Skye Peak“. It is named on bivouac after the Isle of Skye, where Rockies explorer J. Norman Collie did many pioneering climbs before coming to the Canadian Rockies. It sounds better than “GR863–906” so I’ll take it. (Note that others have named it “Wilcox Lake Peak” which also makes sense given its location.) I was first planning an ascent of Skye from Wilcox Lake and was originally hoping to combine it with Screed Peak to make the 4 hour drive from Calgary more worth it. When I ascended Screed conditions were so smoky and cloudy that I decided to save Skye for another day. We were hoping to do Skye along with Struan, Wurzburg and Andover the day before, but alas, we ran out of daylight before we could make that happen. Without permits for the very restricted Beauty Creek / Lakes area we were forced to come back on day 2 to see if an ascent from the Beauty Creek valley was possible from near the Andover col. It could be argued that we should have simply ascended and returned from Wilcox Lake but we wanted to explore so that’s what we did.
We marched easily into the Beauty Creek valley and continued up to the Andover / Skye col on rubble and scree slopes. I was pretty sure I could find a direct line up the east ridge from the col but when we got closer I realized that this route was almost certainly more than scrambling. A steep rock band part way up threatened to complicate things. We decided to traverse a lovely looking upper rubble bench and try a steep scree access we’d scouted the day before.
Despite looking “lovely”, the upper rubble bench above Beauty Creek wasn’t quite as nice as it first appeared. Consisting of rubble and large scree it was tough to simply walk across it easily. Traversing all the way to the scree slopes took a lot longer than we expected.
Another landscape that was much more difficult than first expected was the steep “scree” slope leading up to the NW ridge above. Instead of scree, we were disappointed to encounter very steep and hard dirt slopes with scree sitting on top. This is the worst terrain IMHO. The hardpan slopes offer very little footing and any slips result in a terrifying runout that would result in bad injury or worse. We struggled across this slope but managed to find a route through. This was the most difficult terrain we navigated all weekend is most assuredly NOT recommended!
Despite finding a route onto the NW ridge of Skye from the Beauty Creek valley, I would highly recommend simply access the ridge from Tangle Pass rather than the valley below. Unless you combine this peak with Andover there is no reason to dip into the valley and go all the way to the col. (We were hoping to ascend directly to the summit from the col or we never would have bothered with this route.) Once on the NW ridge we still weren’t home free. The terrain ahead looked slabby with low cliff bands and tilted slabs.
We worked our way up the ridge slowly, sticking right to the crest wherever possible and deviating climber’s right to avoid any difficulties before ascending back to the ridge top. Slowly we inched our way over a few false summits before finally ascending to the real one.
I have to admit that this day was feeling pretty “sloggy” by the time we finally ascended the last bit of rubble and cliffs under the summit and popped out to more incredible views in all directions. The views to the Columbia Icefields and south to Nigel Peak with its dramatic NE glaciated face were very respectable in morning lighting. It wasn’t surprising to find a summit register from Jasper local and prolific peakbagger Liam Harrap in the cairn. The name they assigned the peak was a combination of last names of the ascent party – “Mount Koo-Rap”. I’ll stick with “Skye Peak” on this one…
We couldn’t actually see Wilcox Lake from the summit but as we descended south slopes it came into dramatic view with Nigel Peak rising impressively above. I never realized before how hard it is to hike to this lake from Wilcox Pass but there’s a huge ridge running from Nigel Peak to the NW blocking direct routes.
With our views over Wilcox Lake and Pass we didn’t rush the descent. Wilcox Pass was looking very far away and the rubble slopes we were on felt a little endless. Despite this trip being almost entirely bushwhack free (especially compared to Siffleur the weekend previous), it still felt long. Our route on Skye proved to be a lot more effort than we originally thought and planned. At least the views continued to distract.
We originally wanted to hike to the shores of Wilcox Lake but as we descended we abandoned that option and started hiking across the vast Wilcox meadows to the distant trail still many kilometers away. On the map everything looks very simple but in reality there are many dips and gains and little landscape obstacles in the way.
Hiking across the alpine meadows was cathartic compared to the stumble and bumble we’d been engaged in for many hours previous on endless rubble slopes on Skye Peak. As I stated already, most folks should approach and ascend Skye from this direction – it is much easier and very scenic. It seemed to take a while but finally we found the Wilcox Pass trail (complete with a morning trail runner) and started our exit to Tangle Creek. From the end of the alpine valley we dropped into Tangle Creek on a good trail.
A whopping 9.5 hours later we finally reached hwy #93 and hiked the last 500 meters to an extremely busy Tangle Falls parking lot. There is no way it should take this long for us but we were obviously tired after a massive effort the day before and ended up choosing a pretty silly route. Skye Peak itself is well worth a trip, but learn from our experience and simply ascend south slopes directly from Wilcox Lake or traverse the NW ridge from Tangle Pass if you’d rather do a loop. The views from the summit and south ridge are unique with the hidden Sinkhole Lake and Wilcox Lake visible. This area would make for a stunning fall hike IMHO.