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.
[First full view of our ascent slopes and peak above Wilcox Meadow.]
[There is going to be a LOT of photographs in this trip report - thanks to incredible views like this smacking us in the face every direction we looked! This is looking back at Athabasca with Boundary Peak in front. ;)]
[Rod grunts upwards with a nice warm sun rising over the pass.]
[Looking back across Wilcox Pass towards Athabasca (L) and Snow Dome (R) with the Athabasca Glacier in between.]
[Some hands on scrambling to avoid scree.]
[Incredible fall panorama looking west and down hwy 93 at left includes Saskatchewan, Hilda, Athabasca, Boundary and Andromeda. ++]
[Rod works up the scree slope to the col.]
[Not even close yet...]
[At the col, looking ahead to the traverse left before ascending along the left hand skyline ridge to the summit above.]
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.
[Gorgeous Wilcox Lake to the NW of the col. Tangle Ridge and Sunwapta in the distance.]
[Rod comes up to the col.]
[Incredible views towards the Columbia Icefields from the col. Little did I know that only 8 years later I would have climbed all the peaks on this icefield except for Andromeda! ++]
[View to the south down hwy 93 with Mount Saskatchewan stealing the show above and a brilliant tarn stealing the show below.]
[The only snow we encountered near the traverse was right above the col.]
[Looking carefully you can spot the trail across the scree bowl above, rising left to the left hand skyline ridge.]
[Brilliant fall colors keep distracting me!]
[Rod is barely visible at left, starting the traverse to the NW ridge.]
[Looking over Wilcox Pass towards Engelhard, Alberta, Woolley, Diadem and Mushroom Peak.]
[Rod completes the traverse - the trail in the scree clearly visible at left.]
[Looking up the NW ridge from the bottom. Depending whether you choose to gain the rock quickly or not, you could end up close to the Nigel Glacier on the left. We did go up on climbers left of the ridge alongside the glacier before gaining the ridge proper higher up.]
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 axe. 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...
[Rod gains the NW ridge behind me (lower right) while the views just keep getting better and better. ++]
[The NW ridge.]
[Looking down a steepish section of the NW ridge at Rod and my tracks, which are either on or just beside Nigel Glacier.]
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.
[Incredible view over hwy 93 and the Columbia Icefield Center towards the Columbia Icefield itself. Peaks include (L to R), Athabasca with Boundary in front, Andromeda, Snow Dome with Columbia just peaking out above, Kitchener, North Twin, Twins Tower and Stutfield. ++]
[Looking SE towards Cirrus Mountain with Mount Stewart and the White Goat Wilderness at left and Mount Forbes and Saskatchewan to the right.]
[Another incredible summit panorama west and north includes Brazeau, Warren, Sunwapta and Tangle Ridge (R to L) on the right and many of the Columbia Icefield and surrounding large peaks to the left, including Alexandra, Athabasca, Andromeda, Snow Dome, Columbia, Kitchener, North Twin, Twin's Tower, Stutfield, Stutfield East, Alberta, Woolley, Diadem, Fryatt and Edith Cavell (L to R)! ++]
[Another panorama showing the summits south and west including Cirrus, Wilson, Chephren, White Pyramid, Amery, Forbes, Saskatchewan, Arctomys, Rudolph, Edward, Ernest (Lyells), Farbus, Oppy, Alexandra, Hilda, Athabasca, Boundary, Andromeda, Snow Dome and Columbia. ++]
[Looking over the Icefields Center and Sunwapta Lake at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier.]
[Incredible colors and soaring peaks.]
[Looking over the lovely Wilcox Pass towards the Woolley / Diadem area.]
[The White Goat Wilderness Area lies to the SE and includes few named summits. The big summit at left is Mount Stewart. Even Mount Cline is visible in the far distance at right!]
[Warren, Henry Macleod and Brazeau to the north.]
[Sunwapta is a huge mountain and very colorful.]
[Poboktan Mountain isn't ascended often and is a beautiful peak to the north.]
[Mount Fryatt just right of center is still one of my favorite 11,000ers. Mount Smythe is the striking peak at left.]
[It's still hard to believe I climbed the scary looking south ridge of Twin's Tower!]
[Snow Dome with Mount Columbia just showing above it.]
[The Athabasca Glacier looks extremely broken this late in the season. The ramp route is obvious running up to the neve but is still full of massive holes and the Snow Dome seracs at right are threatening the ski approach line as usual.]
[Three of the Lyells, Rudolph, Edward and Ernest (L to R) and the rarely ascended Farbus on the right. There is a ski route which is part of the South Rockies Ski Traverse up the very broken Alexandra Glacier between Ernest and Farbus that gains 2,000 meters from the valley floor to the Ernest / Edward col before descending down the Lyell Glacier on the other side!]
[Forbes (L) peeks out over the shoulder of Saskatchewan (R).]
[An incredible view of the highest peak in Banff National Park - Mount Forbes, with the Monchy Icefield running in front of it and Hooge Peak on the right end of that ice field - Eric and I made the second ascent of that peak in 2012.]
[Distant panorama down hwy #93 includes Hector, Bow, Chephren, White Pyramid and Sarbach (L to R). ++]
[Mount Stewart is the highest peak in the White Goat Wilderness at 10,882 feet - just shy of the magical 11,000!]
[Wilcox Lake would be a lovely spot to whittle away a warm afternoon.]
[The colors to the north are truly amazing.]
[This view is probably a top 10 for me, especially for a scramble this close to a major highway with such easy access! ++]
[Panorama to the north, east and south over rarely ascended summits, many of which are unnamed. ++]
The trip back down to the meadows was largely uneventful and easy on loose scree. Rod slipped coming off the summit block but the snow was soft enough that he could plant his feet and stop from sliding out of control.
[Skirting along the Nigel Glacier on descent.]
[Rod comes off the glacier traverse.]
[Looking back at the glacier / ridge to the summit. People have completely avoided the glacier by ascending climber's right onto the rocky ridge as soon as possible. We had verglass and no crampons so this wasn't a good option for us.]
[Incredible views over Wilcox Pass towards the Alberta, Woolley, Diadem group.]
[Rod exits the giant scree bowl towards the descent slopes to the first shoulder.]
[People have descended to Wilcox Lake from here, I wish I would have thought of that! As it is, we descended back to the Wilcox Pass trail before continuing up towards Mount Wilcox.]
Once we got to the lower scree slope on Nigel we began traversing towards Mount Wilcox to try our second peak of the day...