Added by James Hueser
Distance: 19 km (11.8 miles) round tripElevation gain: 1050 metres (3450 feet)7 hoursLong traverse that hits 3 alpine lakes, and one 3000 metre summitHike through a variety of montane enviornmentsChallenging hike with the reward of 360 views from the summit
Have you ever done a hike where you just don't want the day to end? Scramble the Fortress and you'll know the feeling. The thing that drew me to the Fortress was its summit elevation of 3000 masl, as well as its blocky, fortress-like profile when viewed from the north. It's so much more than that.
One number that might look intimidating about this hike is the 19 km. That seems like a lot for just a summit -- it probably is -- but it's a journey more than an inconvenience. Probably the best way to do this hike is to do the loop counter-clockwise from Headwall Lakes to Chester Lake.
Parking is available at Chester Lake Day Use area and the trail begins in the south end of that parking lot. Follow the trail until Headwall Creek is reached -- the trail across sustained a ton of damage in 2013, so there's a bit picking your way across required, but that's always where the adventure is!
After crossing the creek, keep following the trail up the hill and notice the giant cairn and flagging tape once you near the top. At this point, turn left (northeast) and make the rest of the trek to Upper and Lower Headwall Lake. The trail meanders and grows faint at times, but when in doubt just keep heading up the valley.
Before you hit Lower Headwall Lake, take note of the rushing water you'll hear --find the waterfall! It's absolutely worth exploring and admiring. You won't get a chance to visit it on the way back as the Chester Lake route is easier for the descent. This isn't the only spectacular waterfall you'll come across either!
Headwall Lakes is a sight to see in itself. Two pristine lakes surrounded by white-grey limestone -- a lot of life in the middle of desolation. As we moved past the lakes, it was as if we had been transported to the Scottish highlands... at least what I believe the Scottish highlands look like. A rock dominated landscape covered in alpine wildflowers and the greenest moss I've ever seen.
As you move up the pass, keep following the creek. As the creek peters out, you should be able to see the end of the valley. Keep an eye out for cairns that steer you towards the north lobe of the valley, not leading towards the farthest end of the valley. It's a scree slog from there for a couple hundred metres of gain, but from the pass you'll be able to get your first glimpse around Mount Chester as well as getting an excellent view of the Fortress col.
Look to the northeast and the Fortress awaits. Just you, the mountain, and another few hundred metres to go. The last few metres is a bit scrambly -- a cairn signals the easiest route up, but anybody looking for a bit more of a boulder can find it here. Once up on the summit, you can see Kananaskis valley to the north, Spray Valley to the south. Take time up here. Let the clouds roll in and out. Let things change and experience as much as you can from up here. It's pretty phenomenal. Seriously, anything less than 45 minutes up here is a crime.
(Reluctantly) head back down until you get to the pass and instead of heading left to Headwall Lakes, take a hard roger (right) down to the Chester Lake valley -- an unnamed lake lies at the bottom. Try to find the loosest scree to run down, or even better, look for some snow to slide down! Once at the base of the valley, head southwest. A bit of trail picking is required here, but keep to the left and you'll hook up with a bit of a drainage channel that a trail appears around.
The hike keeps getting better as you reach the upper headwall of Chester Lake and the valley opens up in front of you to present a breath taking vista. The trail is more defined at this point, just keep following! Once again, take some time to enjoy Chester Lake -- try to capture it from many different angles, or just relax. When you leave the lake, you'll get another wide open meadow to admire -- this hike is just magnificent. Grandeur.
The trail back to the parking lot is another few kilometres, which offers just enough time to reflect on the day, and what a good day it is.
- Hiking boots
- Hiking poles
- Appropriate clothing and layers
- Water and snacks
- Bear spray
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
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