I got out of the car and the snow started. Heavy flurries. I was on my own. I was not sure how far I would make it.
Wilcox Pass lies roughly halfway between Lake Louise and Jasper. It is just south of Athbasca Glacier and Columbia Icefields. On the way north, I had stopped at the glacier. As I climbed now, I was looking down on the place I had stood a couple days before. The juxtaposition of the solitude here and the density of tourists in the Icefields visitor center was striking.
The trail rises steeply through a forest and then empties out into a meadow. Meadow seems like a strong word. The tree line stops, and then there are rocks and small ground cover plants. The path continues a slow rise to the pass itself.
There had not been measurable snow on the ascent, but as I got to the pass, there were a couple of inches everywhere. The flurries had ebbed for the moment. It was September.
Eventually, there was a signpost indicating that I had arrived at the pass. The trail continued, wrapping around another several kilometers. Another sign indicated that a wilderness pass was straight ahead. It was not maintained, and there was no trail..
What was coming from that direction was the wind. It came from between the mountains and was steady and beautiful and brutal. It was not gale force, about 10 to 15 miles an hour, I’d guess, although I’m not a really good judge. The brutality came from its persistence, not immediately agonizing, but a slow pounding that wears you down.
Rocks jutted up through the snow, the sky was thick with clouds, and that landscape probably continued for miles. No footprints dotted the snow along that way.
There were so many red flags and yet I heard this tiny voice said “Go.” It was ludicrous of course, but the draw came from the thought of the vastness that lied off the trail.
I stood there, between the ridges, looking into the wind as long as I could. When I was finally too cold, I turned and started back down.