Wapta Mountain is rated as difficult scramble, but after a bit of research, I found it was more than just a difficult scramble. The summit block has a bypass ledge (see Vern's TR) but the on-route crux chimney is actually a 5.4 rock climb. Therefore Kevin and I decided to bring rope and climbing shoes.
We met at 6:15AM in the morning and drove to Little Yoho again. I've been there 2 weeks ago for the 6 peaks in Little Yoho, but to get to Wapta Mountain, we had to park at the Whiskey Jack Hostel, rather then driving to the end. This is also the start for Iceline Trail so not surprisingly, we were there with many tourists (hikers). I did Iceline Trail during the Little Yoho trip, therefore I knew exactly where we should go. Basically, follow the signed trail towards Yoho Lake. The trail starts steeply up the headwall, but after passing the Iceline Trail junction, it levels off and traverses horizontally around the mountain towards SW. During which we were treated with the view of north buttress of Wapta Mountain, and the impressive Micheal Peak. The approach was longer than expected but with fast walking we soon arrived at Yoho Lake.
Circumventing the lake, we soon passed a camp ground. Compared to Little Yoho, this camp ground is much quieter. After that, we had to follow the signed trail towards Emerald Pass. The trail travels beneath the impressive cliffs for a short distance then enters the woods again. Soon after the view opens up and we were in a avalanche gully. Note: This is not the gully you want to ascend. We kept going along the trail for another 5min, then we arrived at the big avalanche slope. There we go, this is the one we want to ascend. By this point, you should be amazed by the view of Mount Carnavon and The Presidents.
We took a short energy break and soon started trudging up the gully. Taking Vern's advice, we stayed at the middle to aim for interesting slab scrambling. It was harder than I thought and involves some hands-on stuffs. After a bit of fun, we traversed climber's right out of the gully and ascended the grassy slope towards the first rock step. Following a path and some cairns, we pretty much walked up the first band. I helped Kevin taking a video for his Summits-for-Seniors Project, but it didn't work out (we took another one on the way down for this part). Another grass slope led us to another rock band. This one is higher and more involved. I spotted a chimney and went straight up it, and it turned out to be more challenging... The hand holds are really good, but there was one overhanging move involved. The smarter Kevin did a bit detour and found a bypass which was only moderate. Oh well, he took the challenge on the way down for fun anyway.
After climbing up through this black band, we were on a upper bowl looking towards another more broken brown band. We chose to ascend steep talus / boulder field to aim for an obvious break straight ahead. It looks like gonna be very loose like the slope on Storm Mountain Banff, but turned out to be very solid. I almost never have fun on boulder field and talus slope, but this time I did. Some hands-on moves were required before topping out. Now we could see the entire summit block. We decided to go climber's left aiming for the left skyline ridge, but what a mistake... Although we had solid ground going towards the summit block, we had to side-slope on crappy talus slope on frozen solid ground around the base of it, which was very tedious...
Traversing over the north corner, we were back on route again. We traversed under the impressive cliffs while keeping our eye on them for searching the possible routes up. At one point we had to wedge in between rock and snow. The correct chimney was hard to miss as it was marked by cairns and flagging. We also spotted Vern's bypass ledge. Kevin tried the ledge but backed off as he thought it was too exposed. Therefore we decided to roping up the chimney. From below, it doesn't look that serious though, probably just like Fisher Peak's cruxes.
Kevin led the chimney up, which in his opinion, a pitch of 5.3 rock. There's one awkward and exposed move involved. After this pitch, there's another 5.4 rock step, but not super exposed. I'm not expert on grading but I feel it's more technical than Fisher Peak's crux, though as exposed. Compared to the crux move on the south ridge of Mount Northover, which I did 3 days later, this 5.3 chimney is for the beginners... After this section we were topping out on the exposed south ridge. I led up that section while practicing placing protection. Soon we stood on the summit.
Obviously previous parties had rappelled down the mountain, which simplified our work quite a bit. However, we didn't trust the webbing so we used our own slings. We had to be extra careful of rappelling as a small mistake can easily lead to tragedy. Kevin pretty much did everything for me as I'm the very beginner in terms of rope work. Putting on my weight on the rope while hanging above the cliff really made me nervous as it was so different from relying on my own hand and foot holds. But on the other hand, this is much safer than down-climbing 5th class terrain.
We had lots of time so we did some extra scrambling on the way down. Kevin also climbed back up the chimney on the first black rock band. We stayed on the skier's left side of the main gully, which forced us doing some unnecessary bushwhacking. We soon cut into the gully and that was much more enjoyable. At the end of the day, we enjoyed a pleasant hike out while soaking in the views.