The Great Trail Highpoint

Did you know that the highest point on The Great Trail (Trans-Canada Trail) is Cox Hill in Kananaskis Country? At about 2217 m (7274′), Cox Hill is a superlative viewpoint. Nearby is the imposing bulk of Moose Mountain and it’s impressive north ridge. To the west you are treated to an extensive panorama of the main range of the Canadian Rockies, and on a clear day you can even see Calgary almost due east.

Cox Hill from the north.

Cox Hill from the north. Snow can linger near the top of the ridge until early July some years.

The hill was named “Cockscomb Hill” after its fringe of summit rocks by surveyor A.O. Wheeler who climbed it in 1895. It was subsequently marked as Cockscomb on maps such as the 1913 Commission of Conservation Canada map of the Bow River Basin. But somehow in the next few years the name got abbreviated, and by 1927 the hill was simply known as Cox. The Stonys have their own name for it: Zotha Odabi Baha, or “Many marmots hill.” Wheeler climbed it again on November 8th, 1896 with “young Sibbald”, whose name appears on the map below.

Old map

A portion of the above-mentioned map. The modern topo map shows the elevation to be about 105 feet higher than shown here.

The North Ridge route starts from Dawson trailhead on Powderface Road 3 km south of Hwy. 68 (See map). The trailhead sign incorrectly says Jumping Pound Ridge & Tom Snow. About 250 m along the trail you cross Jumpingpound Creek on an impressive post-flood bridge, and in another 300 m arrive at a T-junction where the Tom Snow section of the Trans Canada Trail comes in from the left.

North ridge of Cox Hill

A forested section of the north ridge route from Dawson trailhead.

Turn right onto Coxhill Ridge trail, which winds fairly steeply for another 5.7 km through mature forest with alder understory followed by open zig-zags up a north-facing slope to the summit ridge, with a total height gain of about 700 m. In early winter and spring snow lies heavy on the north slope and can be a problem into early July some years.

The final zigzags on north ridge of Cox Hill

The final zigzags. Looking west beyond the Hunchback Hills to the mountains about the Bow Valley.

Approaching the summit of Cox Hill

Approaching the summit along the north ridge.

On the summit of Cox Hill

On the summit of Cox Hill, looking east to Moose Mountain.

In spring it is better to start from Lusk Creek trailhead after Powderface Road opens May 15th. From Lusk Pass trailhead parking, cross the road to the start of Jumpingpound Ridge trail. Straightaway after crossing the bridge over Jumpingpound Creek, you’re into long, sweeping zigs up a forested ridge. The trail straightens, flattens briefly, then resumes a steeper, tighter, twisting climb to the southern terminus of Coxhill Ridge trail at treeline (4.1 km). 

cockscombe of rocks at summit

Part of the “cockscombe” of rocks at the summit in early summer.

Turn left and follow the southern portion of Coxhill Ridge trail up to the summit. To start with it descends about 120 m to a col followed by a stiff pull up of 240 m to the top. The total distance is 7.1 km with a height gain of 680 m. In our opinion, this is much more enjoyable than the regular forest route up the north ridge.

Looking down the south ridge from the summit

Looking down the south ridge from the summit to Powderface Ridge in the centre of the picture, peaks along the Great Divide in the background.

If you are thru-hiking The Great Trail, the distance between Dawson and Lusk trailheads is 13.3 km with about 120 m less height gain heading north.

Most of the material above is taken from Gillean Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide Volume 2.

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2 comments… add one
  • RyderDA Apr 19, 2017, 10:21 pm

    I have only tried to climb Cox once, from the Dawson trailhead in 2004 (route #70). I must have been a wimp then. I climbed over 400 m in just over 2 km (which I found gruntingly steep) in a boring, tiring unpleasant disenchanted forest with no views for over 90 min on a trail that was in miserable shape — rooted and rutted and damaged by mountain bikes even then. My note say “Such an unpleasant slog we didn’t make it to the top”. I recall locating myself on a topo map and concluding it would be another hour or more before we broke out of the dense forest. I hated it and promised I would never go back to that particular trail. If I ever wanted to make Cox, I would use #69.

    Jumpingpound Summit I’m thinking is just as nice and far easier. I can make that summit in under 90 min using #67. I have been tempted to do the ridgewalk from Jumpingpound Summit to Cox and back, though.

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