This loop hike starts at Chester Lake parking lot. Take one of the x-country ski trails and initially continue east and then north towards Headwall Lakes.
Continue past Headwall Lakes along the valley and ascent up the col and steep up to the Fortress summit, the last few meters requires some easy scrambling and use of your hands. On decent from the summit after reaching the col decent west into the Chester lake valley along steep sandy scree.
Continue to the Chester Lake and hike out taking well marked trail from the lake area back to the parking lot.
From Calgary drive west until Hwy 40 and continue south towards Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, turn west and drive along Smith Dorrien Trail gravel road approx 24 km to the Chester Lake parking lot found on the right side of the road.
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Posted By: marcus.smith
- Tue Aug 29 05:35:14 UTC 2017
UpsideNice view at the top DownsideRead below CommentMy dear Friend Weston and I were going to tackle the memorial lakes one sunny August day, but when we stopped at the Barrier Lake information center, we were persuaded by a kind young trail expert at the desk named Jess to try this fabled loop called the Fortress. Me and my counterpart were easily persuaded into trying this behemoth of an expedition the lady called a hike, even though we were in running shoes without proper scrambling poles, packs or shoes. We gallivanted our way to the trail head, smiles on our faces and dreams of a nice enjoyable hike in our heads. We started off rather poorly as we thought we missed our first turn on the headwall creek side, and turned around to retrace and interpret the rather perplexing instructions we were given by the lady to follow the path to the lakes instead of the wrong snowshoe path. We eventually found our way to the creek after some deliberation. After the creek when we had thought we had made our final turn, we followed the path to what seemed to be an open field, heading downwards, and in the opposite direction of the peak. Turns out there was an additional turn that was not included in the instructions and we jaunted back to find it marked by an inukshuk. We followed this path up to the first and second headwall lake without much issue, but when we passed the second headwall lake, we soon found out that running shoes do not make good on loose rock for daring scrambles. After a few rolled and ankles and profanities screamed into the empty wilderness, we rounded the corner that showed us the scramble necessary to to reach the ridge below the fortress. The trail quite literally just dies out, so you are left to guess whether to attempt the massive hill on your left or climb further up the right to see what in tarnation is going on, or turn around like a quitter. We were not quitters this day. As you can guess We are not very experienced hikers but this view was produced start of the talk of my acquaintance and i deliberating if this was physically possible in running shoes. This hill seemed as if it was the Canadian version of Mount Everest as we climbed it. Dust flying, rock sliding, and the screams of anger for the lady who recommended this hike filled the atmosphere. I will not go much deeper into this hill as my friend and I are experiencing mild ptsd like symptoms, but that was an extremely hard hill. Once we reached the top it was around 4 pm, we started at around 11 pm, so we had only made it to the top of the ridge in this time while, our fried Jess from the desk at Barrier Lake told us the entire thing including the hike to the fortress was only 5 hours. My partner scoffed at the idea of heading up the fortress as it looked as if it was another country mile away with at least 100 meters more of elevation. We sat on the ridge and contemplated how hard that ascent was only to look at the descent and realize the angle was around 70 degrees of incline. All while realizing we each had another 500 mL of water left for another 3 hours of descent. My partner is extremely scared of heights so his face turned as ghostly white as the color of the clouds that were surrounding us as we had just climbed what seemed to be Everest. Thankfully nature had already called earlier in the trip so no more would be excreted as he was scared ****less. Our descent was filled with more profanities and rolled ankles, finally ending up at Chester lake where we happily jumped in to soothe our aching toes and spirits. The path from Chester down to the parking lot was quite easy after that. This hike has taught me many valuable lessons, such as to always check trailpeak for the distances, not always believe what Jess from Barrier Lake visitor center says, and to cherish memories like this with good friends, because i sure as **** hope something like this never happens again. Hope you all enjoyed and take this into consideration when attempting this monstrosity of a trek.
Posted By: ChrisMarry
- Mon Oct 14 01:53:12 UTC 2013
UpsideGreat views from Chester Lake to the summit, headwall Valley is super in Winter! DownsideLong trail, pretty hard in winter conditions. Chester Lake trail is very busy. CommentWe did that one in October and there was a lot of snow. It was very long and we did some bushwhacking beside Chester Valley and at the end of Headwall Lakes Valley as we were the only ones there and there were no visible path half of the time and the trail at Headwall Creek is washed out at many places. We did the opposite, from Chester to Headwall and it was good. It's just that your way up the first slope is much harder that way, steeper on Chester Valley side of the col.
Lots of snow, it was extremely hard physically but we did manage to make it in 8h05, such is great!. Total 19.84 km including the bushwacking, so probably 18 km. Net elevation gain was 1066 m, max elevation at 2974 m.
It would be a difficult hike anyway at 18 km with steep slopes, but it's pretty exhausting and even harder in winter conditions. You need some route finding skills and crampons-ice axe could be very helpful in the last portion of the snow slope just before climbing the rockband to the summit. I did a lot of scrambing this summer, but winter hikes is a totally different story. Enjoy, that's definitely a great loop to try!