I am fairly certain that this hike had ruined the rest of the year for me…
Well not the hike itself per say, but having a severe reaction to multiple, unknown arthropod (I am thinking it was from horseflies) bites sure did! (Please wear your bug spray friends!) Because just a few days later, the back of my leg just above my knee was swollen and I had the worst hives I’ve ever had and the rash was spreading day by day. I could barely bend my knee to walk up the stairs. Countless visits to multiple doctors, a middle of the night emergency room trip, emergency blood testing, emergency dermatologist visit and an emergency skin biopsy (OUCH!) and many pharmacy visits. A whole bunch of medication (at one point I was taking 18 or 19 pills a day!), creams, leg dressings (and changing the leg dressings multiple times per day). Cross-reactions that made my face swell, something about Type IV Hypersensitivity, a Lyme disease scare (it wasn’t. Whew!), not being able to go on my road trip that I was planning for a year, three months of medication that made me sick to my stomach and gain weight (that I thankfully already lost), some discolouration on my skin, the scar from the biopsy and four months later… I can cautiously say that my leg is finally healed from the reaction. (Maybe I should start wearing kevlar pants for bug bite protection? Just kidding, that might be a bit overkill.)
Aside from all the shenanigans that had happened afterward the hike (and a couple mountainside shenanigans that I will get into further into this story), this hike was hands down my most favourite that I have ever been on! It was my first mountain hike, and while we didn’t summit (more on that later too), I still feel pretty damn accomplished!
Miraculously Josh and I both had our wedding Anniversary off (which in the last nine years has rarely ever happened) I am not the “fancy date” kind of person. Hell, I even despise the word “date”… and I DID NOT want to just chill at home doing nothing, so just a few days before our anniversary I suggested that we head out to the mountains for an epic hike. Perhaps this is the start of a new wedding anniversary tradition? (We actually didn’t have one before) I spent that day looking up hikes on my list of adventures to see what we can do in a day (plus the approximate eight hours driving time there and back – I HATE living so far away from my playground!) and decided that Wilcox Pass would be the one. Over the next two days, I picked up any gear that we needed and got the rest together for a (late) 5:30 AM depart to the mountains that Wednesday morning. (Hey, I needed my coffee. Starbucks particularly. And the earliest opening is 5:30 AM and there wasn’t going to be any on our route. Priorities, right?!)
We took a different route to the Icefields Parkway than usual because we wanted to stop at Abraham Lake as we have never been before and the moment the mountains came into sight I actually got a little bit emotional. Not just the goosebumps of overwhelming excitement, but actual tears of joy! (It had unfortunately been nearly a year since I was in the mountains.) I cleared my eyes and got my focus back (as I was the one driving). We spent a little bit of time exploring Abraham lake and headed back on the road to get to the mountain.
There was only one tiny parking spot left at the trail-head when we arrived. It took a bit of maneuvering to squeeze my Jeep in, but we managed. Forgetting that it was #Canada150 and parks are free this year, I was surprised at how busy it was for a Wednesday, I couldn’t imagine how busy it would be on a weekend. Not being able to contain our excitement that we are hiking our first mountain, we got our hiking boots on, our gear ready and headed up the dusty trail. (And boy was it ever dusty! That adjective wasn’t just added in for embellishment. We were COVERED in dust by the time we got back to the Jeep. I was hoping it was a tan instead… Ha!)
This day was HOT! (I mean, it was the second week of August so of course it was going to be hot) It was +29 Celsius in the parking lot, and at one point mountainside when I remembered to check, our thermometer read +35 Celsius. With the temperature as high as it was, I had to be extra careful and monitor my hydration and electrolytes as best I could (I dehydrate and lose electrolyte balance fairly easily, but if in check – I am okay), I DID NOT want to get sick (a migraine) with something that could easily be prevented. I was drinking plenty of water on the drive there, had dissolved a Nuun tablet into my water and had that before we started our hike, and brought close to 6 liters of water for the two of us (which was completely bone dry before we got back to the trail-head). Thankfully we had a surplus of water in the Jeep waiting for us. (I think we had brought about 20 liters in total – you can never be too prepared! We had plenty for us, and if someone was in need, enough to spare.)
The trail is a well-beaten path that starts off in an old forest of pine and fir which escalates in elevation rather quickly, taking you over visible tree roots and slippery glacier rock as you make your way up the side of Mount Wilcox. The elevation change and obstacles can make it a little tough right from the start. It made me question my decision in choice of hike with the level of experience that I have (or lack thereof) and I thought about giving up a couple times. You need to start somewhere, and in the end, it really isn’t all THAT difficult. Once you push through that challenging section, you will be rewarded with stunning views of Mt Athabasca, Mt Andromeda, and Mt Kitchener all in their beautiful, mountainous glory, as well as the Columbia Icefields at lookout points along the way. (If this isn’t your first mountain hike, your endurance is excellent, you deal well with elevation changes, or it isn’t 30 some odd degrees – I don’t think it would be that difficult.)
Weird side note: Along the trail, there were a few spots that smelled so potent of sweetness. Almost like a very sugary blue raspberry scent. I stopped to smell around to find where this smell was coming from, but I could not figure out what it was. (So if you know, please let me know. I’m curious.)
Once you get out from the treeline, it is pure magic and the views are absolutely incredible! You can see for miles, feel the cool wind blow off the snow and ice capped mountains, breathe in the crisp air, and head across the alpine meadow towards the summit. The hike is much easier at this point, just avoid the few gopher holes along the trail (unlike Josh, who told me to watch out for one, then took a spill himself.) The higher we got, the horseflies and wasps got worse. I had opened up a bag of dried fruit to snack on and it was like these vicious insects have never eaten in their lives! I quickly closed that bag up tight, shoved it back in my pack, kept moving and did not pull that out again mountainside. Thankfully, I did not get stung by any wasps, those suckers hurt! But I did get pretty chewed up by the horseflies when I stopped at the stream to take some photos.
Unfortunately, I got a minor case of Altitude Mountain Sickness while on the mountain. I am one of the lucky ones that get it at lower altitudes than others. My symptoms were light-headedness (this was the scary part as I felt like I blacked out for a split second), headache, bit of nausea, swelling hands and face. (Please note that there are more symptoms and can change person to person. This article has more information.) At the time I did not know it was that (or even knew AMS existed until further research) and thought that it was due to dehydration even though I was keeping hydrated, and exertion (as this was probably the hardest thing I’ve done physically.). I went as far as my body could allow me to go, but at one point I (thankfully) knew better than to push on and continue and to turn back and head down instead. (I was so bummed!) I got off the mountain, replenished my electrolytes and still did not feel well. Let me tell you, the drive home was horrible! I got home and went straight to bed and stayed there for the whole next day as my headache was brutal.
On my next mountain hike, I will definitely be camping (or sleeping in my Jeep) overnight before my trek up to see if my body can acclimatize to changes in altitude better with spending a few hours at a higher altitude before making my way up. (And I will have more time during the day to hike the mountain as I will be saving four hours of travel), and bringing a canister of oxygen. I absolutely love hiking mountains and do not want AMS to affect my ability to.
Aside from ALL the shenanigans, I had THE MOST amazing time hiking Wilcox Pass with Josh! This was the perfect wedding anniversary celebration! I can’t wait to see what we come up with for our TEN YEAR anniversary in 2018! (The only thing lacking on this trip was some champagne, which in hindsight was probably a good idea that we didn’t have. Higher altitudes and alcohol aren’t exactly the best match…)
More information about the Wilcox Pass hike can be found on TrailPeak.
*Please leave no trace when enjoying the outdoors!
*When photographing wildlife, please keep your distance. (Parks Canada recommends 30 meters from large animals and 100 meters from bears.) Never bait, call, crowd, chase, or capture an animal to get a photo.