Mount Chester -- Jul 16, 2006

Elevation Gain: 1130 meters (3706 feet)

Climbed by: me solo.

At the beginning of the scrambling season (for me, late June) I made a quick list of all the scrambles I'd like to do. This one was at the top of my list. No one else wanted to come with me, so I did it myself.

This was is an intermediate scramble. There's nothing technical about it. No exposure to speak of. But it's steep and rubbly!

To get to the trailhead, take Kananaskis highway (#40) south to Peter Lougheed park. Enter the park, and drive for about 3km. Turn right onto the Spray Lakes road (which is the Smith-Dorrien Highway). It's almost all gravel, and comes out in Canmore if you take it all the way.

After about 20km (very rough estimate) you'll see a sign for Chester Lake to the right. Enter the parking area, and park at the far end, by the toilets, which is where the trail starts.

This trail is used in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and in the summer for hiking and mountain-biking (part of the way, at least).

It's about a 5km hike to Chester Lake. When you get to the lake you'll see that the path forks off to the right. There is a bridge made out of a log cut in half. Walk across this bridge and follow the trail to the left around the right side of the lake. The path leads you past some rock fall (lots of Mount Chester has fallen off over the years), and up toward the col between Chester and the outlier to the west(?) of it.

Basically, you just walk up the col. There's a faint path that tends to follow the easiest/least steep route through the shale, but for the most part you just go straight up! It's a great workout for your calves! Once you get to the top of the col, you should be able to find a somewhat better defined trail that leads around the back of the mountain a bit. Follow this trail for as long as you can. It didn't take me long to lose it, though I kept coming across this or another path as I headed more or less straight up, avoiding the really interesting bits.

There's a lot of slab rock that isn't really suitable for scrambling on this mountain. The whole thing is pretty well made up of sheets of rock that look like they should have slid down the mountain centuries ago. Some of it you can clamber up, but some is too steep, and is probably worth avoiding (which isn't hard if you stop once in a while for a look around).

It isn't very far from the col to the summit -- that steep walk up the shale takes a big bite out of your elevation gain. Once you get to the top, you have one of the most amazing views of the surrounding mountains. If it wasn't for this view, I'm not sure it would be worth all the work to get up there, but it mostly certainly was worth it!

To see Chester Lake from the summit, you need to walk past the summit for another 10 meters, and peer over the edge. You can see the Headwall Lakes from another chunk of rock that juts out toward that valley to the right. Even on the summit there's not a lot of exposure. Sure, if you fell off you would die, but you'd have to really work at the falling-off bit...

On the descent, I managed to follow the/a trail most of the way down to the col. I managed to lose it about 3/4 of the way down, but it was not a big deal. The parts I went down were probably not much different from the "real" trail anyway! I intersected the real trail right at the bottom, and followed it laterally toward to col. There was still a little bit of snow up there -- just a couple pockets in the shady spots.

From the top of the col, you pretty well walk straight down the way you came up. Some people might find it hard on their knees. It's very steep in some places, and the shale, while mostly stationary, sometimes likes to slide down the hill under your boots. I actually ran all the way down the col. I found it easier on my knees. Using a trekking pole helped to steer around corners, etc.

Back at the lake, I found dozens of people fishing, sitting around, and lots more on their way up as I was going down. This is a very popular place! At least the Lake is. I don't think the mountain gets much traffic...

It took about an hour to get from the parking lot to the lake. It took only another hour to gain the col, and slightly more than an hour after that to gain the summit. From the rockfall by the lake, it took me 2 hours and 6 minutes to get to the summit. Not bad (in my opinion) considering the steepness of the terrain. Coming down, it took about 35 minutes to get to the col, and 20 minutes more to get back to the lake. Then another hour to get back to the car. All told, I was back at the car in just over 5.5 hours.

Mount Chester, and the col you need to climb. I got this picture from the second to last meadow before the lake.
The view from the southwest side of the lake, across to the valley on the other side. That valley is host to Gusty Peak, The Tower, The Fortress, and the Northeast end of Chester.
The scree-slope ascent on the northeast side of the lake. You climb up that to get to the valley above.
Same view, but with a glimpse at some of the rock that has fallen off Mr. Chester over time. I didn't hear anything fall off while I was nearby, but I didn't sit there for long...
The meadow north of the Mt. Chester col. Perfect hiding place for bears!
You can faintly see the trail disappear into the trees. The trail goes a short way along the bottom of the mountain, and soon opens up into the shale-covered col.
The south-facing slab rock of Mt Chester. Good thing that's not the ascent route!
The view up the col from the bottom. It's steeper than it looks!
A nice little hidey-hole for bears or other critters!
The view from the top of the col is pretty impressive! In the meadow far below you can faintly see the trail that leads up to the lake from the highway. If you look very closely, you can see a couple of tiny hikers on the trail.
The view from the other side of the col. Very pleasant!
From the col, this is the summit block. You actually go around to the right hand side of it, which is much more approachable.
Some of the typical summit block terrain. Lots of big rocks, scree, and of course it's pretty steep.
Some interesting slab.
The col from probably 1/2 of the way up the summit block.
Some more interesting slab. Good thing there was a way around this!
Made it to the summit! The register was wedged between a couple of slabs of shale. I was the first (and probably only) person to reach the summit that day (I didn't see anyone else coming up on the way down).
The French Glacier?
A look straight down to Chester Lake.
The Spray Lakes Reservoir off in the distance.
The valley with Gusty Peak, The Tower, and The Fortress, along with the little lake that seems to be there all the time.
The Headwall Lakes.
Click here for a panoramic video of the view from the top of Mount Chester. It's a little jumpy, and the focus comes and goes, but it's still kind of neat. It's about 18 megs.