ApproachThis is a 3800’+/- ascent day. My altimeter recorded 3950’ total. Take the Black Prince Cirque Interpretive Trail 2kms plus to its west end at Warspite Lake. It does not end, but rather does a loop. As soon as you see the lake, which was more or less dried mud flats in September of 2005, exit the trail (do not loop around) and proceed along the right hand side. I took my bike this day and it was good for the trail portion. Mount Black Prince is in front of you to the west and the Warspite Cascades start to come into view to the south as you leave the trail and circumvent the lake on the right. Pass through a small portion of woods and you break out onto a grassy slope coming off of Black Prince. A faint trail forms through this area, continue straight for the cascades almost due south and you will come onto large stone rubble with many cairns. Once over this rubble you will find the trail again; even if you don’t, basically continue up the right side of the Warspite Cascades on steep grassy ground ascending to the hanging valley above approximately 2.5kms from the interpretive trail.
Route DescriptionOnce you crest tree line and are in the cirque created by Mount Warspite there will be no trail. Mount Warspite is straight ahead, south, and you are aiming for the col off of its western ridge. There is an obvious snow ramp below the northern face that gains 1000’ elevation up to the col. This is an objectionable hazard area. If you ascend too close to Warspite’s steep walls, you will be below potential rock fall and on shallow snow. The more right you ascend puts you more in line with the avalanche danger. I chose to ascend a crest in the middle for a majority of the climb moving back right hugging a minor cliff wall towards the end. Depth and consistency of snow are important factors during this portion of the climb.
Once up to the col at 8600’, take a breather and examine the west ridge. The guidebook consists of several conflicting beta versus my observations. The most glaring would have to be the 100+ meters left to go from the col. It is actually 250+/- meters to the summit from the col. At first, start up the ridge directly. I was in an early fall snow storm of sorts and the loose rock was laden with ice and snow, not to mention the wind this ridge can catch. As I tackled several exposed and loose problems straight on the ridge, it began to occur to me that I would be looking for an optional descent.
You run into two walls toward the finish. The first one was easily bypassed by ascending steep snow to the right. The second steeper and larger obstacle is more complex. If dry, it no doubt presents few problems to traverse right to a steep slope. However, if snow and ice are prevalent, you would be best served to have both an alpine ax and ice tool depending on conditions. I went half way up a chimney chocked full of ice and snow that narrowed in the middle and became loose snow on hard ice. This chimney can be ascended to the summit with the proper gear. I descended and traversed further right and found the easier snow slope, took it to the final summit ridge and had it easy from there to the non-featured summit.
Although the summit cairn was in disarray from brutal winds, there was a summit register in place in 2005. The view north to the Kananaskis Range (Mount Buller, Mount Galatea, Gusty Peak, Mount Engadine, The Fortress, Mount Chester , Mount Lawson) was in good shape being highlighted by a few pockets in a stormy sky, but otherwise few summits were in view with the exception of the adjacent summits of Mount Black Prince, Mount Invincible and Mount Indefatigable.
On descent I was challenged with developing a route that bypassed the ridge climb due to conditions. The snow chutes were relatively stable and consolidated when I was on the mountain which allowed me to downclimb several suspect bands of rock on good snow. I went straight down past where I had traversed below the big walls and worked my way back right via several stop and go ramps and a few steep chutes. If visibility is good, you can make out the col fairly immediate. Just take your time and be cautious of the snow conditions. I eventually tied back into the ridge at the top of the first problem which consisted of a narrow chimney you can descend, or descend to the east of it which was my ascent route as well. Once back at the col, a fast glissade takes you 1000’ down and out of harms way as soon as you round the corner to the left into the cirque. Stay left at first (snow is shallow on slab to the right) and then switch back right to catch a ridge in the snow that is safer for descending. Return the same.