|Photo: Looking north from Wilcox Pass (courtesy Robert Boyko)
In 1896 Walter Wilcox, Robert L. Barrett and guides Tom Lusk and Fred Stephens travelled north over Bow Pass, up the Saskatchewan River and became the first to reach Sunwapta Pass. They were on a sixty day expedition and searching for a pass through which to reach the Athabasca River. Impressed by, “the tremendous grandeur of mountain scenery,” the group explored the area, Barrett even attempting to climb, “a beautiful, glacier-hung peak” which must have been Mount Athabasca.
In order to determine if the party could continue over the newly discovered pass, Fred Stephens was able to pass between the toe of the Athabasca Glacier and the steep slopes of Mount Wilcox, but found that, “the route which first appeared most promising was blocked by a canyon.” The party then proceeded over a high grassy pass to the east of what is now known as Mount Wilcox descending into the Sunwapta Valley beyond Tangle Falls and the steep canyon to continue their explorations. The pass was later named in honour of Walter Wilcox.