Black Prince Cirque

August 21, 2018. A short hike with kids to a rocky cirque in Kananaskis Country.

With summer holidays approaching their conclusion, the family and I have once again had a chance to spend a few days in K-country. Looking over our hiking options, it struck me that over the preceding years we’d hit most of the hikes you’d find on a short-list of kid-friendly outings in the area: Grotto Canyon, Grassi Lakes, Elbow Lake, Ptarmigan Cirque, Mount Everest Expedition trail (aka the Interlakes trail), Troll Falls and Sarrail Falls/Rawson Lake. I happened to flip over my Gem Trek Kananaskis Lakes map, and realized I’d never reviewed the recommended trails which the company always puts on the reverse side of their maps. One stood out as a kid-sized objective: Black Prince Cirque.

For one thing, the name is an attention-getter. The peaks in that section of K-country are named for British World War I battleships. The HMS Black Prince was an armoured cruiser that saw action in World War I and was destroyed in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 with the loss of all hands. Beyond that bit of historic interest, though,  the trail seemed to be a perfect choice for a kids’ hike: a reasonably short distance (4.2 km), manageable elevation gain (122 m) and a picturesque objective (Warspite Lake, sitting in a rocky cirque).

Access to the trail is via Hwy 742. The trailhead is near the southern end and very clearly signed. There’s a spacious parking area and pit toilets at the trailhead.

The trail starts off by crossing Smith-Dorrien creek on a sturdy bridge. It then steadily climbs for about 750 m on what looks like an old logging road. It then levels out and there’s a nice bench at the side of the trail to rest the kids at. Beyond here, the trail descends slightly and there is an intersection with another trail joining from the left. Like Ptarmigan Cirque’s more famous path, this trail makes a loop through the cirque. In this case, you do the loop counter-clockwise, so you continue straight ahead and you’ll return via the branch on the left.

Not far beyond the intersection, the views start to open up and the eastern face of Mount Black Prince comes into view. The trail crosses a boulder field, then delivers you to the cirque and Warspite Lake. Depending on the time of year you visit, the lake may be an impressive green gem or little more than a shallow puddle. Warspite Lake takes its name from Mount Warspite, to the south of Mount Black Prince, which is also named for a battleship. The HMS Warspite was in battle alongside the HMS Black Prince, but she survived the Battle of Jutland and went on to serve through the Second World War, becoming the recipient of the most battle honours ever awarded to a Royal Navy ship (or so Wikipedia tells me).

The environs of the cirque are an excellent place for a lunch break and free exploration time. The area is strewn with boulders of various sizes. This allows for kid-scaled climbing and exploration without the risk of catastrophic injury. At the time of our visit the water level of the lake was very low, but inlet streams were still slowly flowing. The resulting muddy terrain was covered in a variety of animal track which we puzzled over.

Once we felt we’d amply enjoyed the cirque, we followed the trail as it looped back through the boulder field, then back into the woods and eventually re-joined the access trail. We set out on the trail mid-morning and had it to ourselves on the way up. After we’d spent some time in the cirque another party arrived. We passed a few more groups on the way down.

Overall, I was really pleased with this outing. It doesn’t have quite the “wow” factor of Ptarmigan Cirque’s high alpine scenery, but it isn’t far off. It has a similar distance (4.2 km) to Ptarmigan Cirque but only half the elevation gain (122 m). Plus, where Ptarmigan Cirque’s destination is a fragile ecosystem, and thus a “look, don’t touch” situation, Black Prince Cirque allows for some fun and exploration. I think it’s a great trail to hike with kids.

Our round-trip time was 2h 25m with a 6 year-old. That includes about 45 minutes spent at the cirque.

Click the pictures below to access full-sized images.

Route overview from the trailhead kiosk. My GPS tracker wasn’t working, so I couldn’t do my usual Google Earth route overview.
Off the start, there’s a sturdy little bridge to cross.
Beyond the bridge there’s steady climbing along an old logging road.
If little legs start to tire, reassure them that this friendly bench (and maybe some hiking snacks) await them at the top of the climb.
Not far beyond the bench, there’s a fork in the trail. Continue straight forward.
The trail descend a bit, then enters a boulder field. At the same time the views open up, showing off Mount Black Prince’s eastern face.
There are lots of interesting things to climb on and explore in the boulder field.
Beyond the boulder field, the cirque comes into view.
Black Prince Cirque.
There were lots of fun things to climb on in the cirque.
These were among the many tracks we found. I was thinking moose at first, but on further research, I’m thinking they’re elk. I’m still not positive, though, because it seemed to be a solitary animal, not in a herd.
Warspite Lake. Not a particularly impressive site in the latter half of August.
A spooky face in a tree stump.
There was lots to explore under Mount Black Prince’s eastern face. To the upper left you can see the hanging valley which is home to Black Prince Lake, a more challenging objective for another time.

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