The Wilcox Pass Trailhead is clearly marked with signage from the Icefields Parkway. There is a parking lot and an outhouse adjacent. While the hike is rated as moderate, do not be fooled. There is a very long steady uphill climb (4 km) and the weather in this area is very changeable.
Be prepared with:
- sturdy waterproof hikers
- hiking poles (for that extra push up the hill and for stability)
- dress in layers
- a day pack to hold supplies and layers as you strip off
- sufficient water (more on hot sunny days)
- bear spray
- bug spray, depending on the season
- sun screen – you are at high altitude here and the sun can burn even on a cloudy day
Be aware there is little to no cell phone reception in the area. You may be able to get a signal from the Icefields Center from time to time, but do not count on it.
Interesting fact: Mount Snowdome across the valley from this hike is the Hydrological Apex of North America. Located on the Continental Divide, water from this point flows to the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
We had hiked this path 3 times before, once up to the meadows (4 km) with L & A and twice more to the Red Chairs (2.4 km.) with out of country guests. We were determined to get past the Red Chairs on this hike.
The first section is through an old growth forest. It did not take us long to realize we would have to hike through snow along the trail, but for the most part, it was not muddy.
Back on the trail after the initial steep climb, the grade becomes more gradual, but is still uphill and the snow piles increased in frequency. We met some hikers who were stopped short by the snow depth. They admitted that perhaps they needed different footwear. These two were the only ones we saw on our entire hike.
The landscape is not totally devoid of colour. Although the colours on this pine are likely not healthy, they provided a bright pop, as did the lichen on this rock.
We continued uphill, losing the trail under snow, then in snow up to our knees, hearing running water beneath the snow and finally reaching the top of the knoll to look down into the valley meadow below. It was a chore, but so worth it for the view.
Summit gained, we turned around to marvel at the views, before retracing our steps to find a place out of the wind for lunch. The first few pix are of us taking the other’s photo. In our lunch photo, it looks like we can walk to the Columbia Icefields, but it would have been a long walk.
Lunch over, we took a few moments to soak in the view, before heading back down to the Red Chairs. In one photo, you will see Patty pointing to where we were at our highest point. Shortly after that, she stepped into soft snow up to her knees and I went back to rescue her.
The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful, but we paused to take in the view as the snow squalls and sun beams spread across the mountains before us. Before we knew it, we were back to the forest.
Finally, we had a break from the wind. The trail was now a bit wetter and muddier, due to the massive temperature increase to +3 C. We paused from time to time to clean our hiking boots in the snow that remained in the shadows. One last mountain view and we were back at the car.
While it was tough to gauge due to the snowy paths and all the zigging and zagging we had to do, we estimate that we hiked about 8 km (5 miles) total (4 km each way) and that the altitude gain was about 295 meters (967 feet). Given that we were at 2023 m (6,637 feet) at the trailhead, we topped out at 2318 m (7,604 feet) ASL. Not too bad for a couple of seniors, I guess.