The Fortress
A 3000m peak between the Spray and Kananaskis valleys, It shows an imposing face to the East.

The West, however, allows an easy scramble to the summit, via two different beautiful valleys on the way up and down.


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The trail begins on the Chester-Sawmill cross country ski runs.
Following the yellow trail, we head for Headwall Lakes valley.
With Mount Chester to the west, and a ridge of Mount James Walker to the east, this valley is surrounded by awesome views.
The headwall lakes are aptly named, as this whole valley is a series of nearly flat stretches, broken by steep climbs.
Eventually, after one particularly steep one, you reach the first of the two headwall lakes.

Starting down the yellow trail.

Ridge of Mount James Walker to the east.

Upthrust of Mount Chester to the west.

Shoulder of Mount Chester

Mount Chester, classic view.

Crossing screefall below Mount James Walker

Looking ahead to one major headwall with a waterfall off to the side of the trail.

Laurier and Rachel on the way up the trail.

View down the Headwall Lakes Valley.

*Cresting the last headwall to lower lake.

The lower lake is fed by a waterfall cascading down the headwall retaining the upper lake.
Both lakes are very picturesque in the classic rockies alpine deep colours.
The upper lake is stocked with bull and cutthroat trout, but is relatively unheard of compared to Chester Lake one valley over.
Despite the general popularity of the area, we saw only one other party the whole way up the Headwall valley.

Laurier, Rachel, and Niccole in front ot Lower Headwall Lake. The Fortress in background.
View same image without people.

The cascade falling from Upper Headwall Lake.

Sun shot

The path arriving at Lower Headwall Lake

Lower Headwall Lake and the valley below.

Rachel heading up along the waterfall.

The waterfall running alongside trail.

Looking down the waterfall to Lower Headwall Lake

Above the second lake, the trail follows a stream upvalley to a pair of tiny tarns - which may or may not exist.
Now at the end of the valley, the trail heads up the north slope, heading for a small col.
This side is relatively easy going, with talus providing fairly steady footing.
It's a fair trudge up to the col, gaining ~250m in as little as 0.3km, depending on your route.

Mount Chester from the upper lake.

*View up the valley to The Fortress

Laurier in Upper Headwall valley.

Looking ahead to the Headwall-Chester col.

Laurier and Rachel wandering through the cirque.

Laurier looking back at the upper 'tarns'.

Up to the col. Waaaaaaay up to the col.

"Yes guys, we're going up there."

Typical talus slope.

Damn mountain-huggers...

The view from the col is awesome, with an easy line of sight down the valley travelled, as well as into Chester valley to the north.
There is also now viewable the ridges connecting The Fortress to Gusty Peak and Mount James Walker, though inaccessible from the col.
Mount Chester, at 3054m shows a series of pointy ridges leading to this side.
We, however, are headed NE along the ridge leading to the summit of The Fortress.
It's another 300m gain from this point, in the space of half a kilometre horizontal.
Just below the summit is a neat chunk of rock requiring some creative scrambling up a few metres.

View from col into Headwall Lakes valley

View from col into Chester Lake valley

Ridge to Gusty Peak.

Connecting ridge to Mount James Walker.

Rachel climbing a peak at the col.
(It was, unfortunately, too sketch to continue much farther than here.)

View up the ridge to summit.
It looks deceptively close from this vantage point.

Laurier in the distance, racing up the slope.

Niccole taking a break a little below the summit.

Rachel and Laurier reaching the summit.

Having gained a vertical kilometre, we reach the summit. This is about the best view anywhere.
At 3000m we are plenty high, and with nothing but mountains in every direction, there's a lot to see.
In addition to the surrounding and distant peaks, crawling close to the edge affords a view straight down.
800m below to the NE lies Fortress Lake, with Fortress Ridge heading out from beside it.
The back and far sides of Fortress skihill can also be seen East of the summit.

Fortress Ridge and the Kananaskis valley

Fortress Lake, waaay below.

Gusty Peak and Mount Galatea.

Fortress skihill

Niccole, Rachel, and Laurier on the summit, with the opal range in the background.

Our shadows on a lower peak of The Fortress.

Niccole at the summit

Neat summitstone found in the register canister.

360degree panorama from summit
Same panorama as above, all known points named.

The best part of this hike is that now at the summit, the hike is not over.
After retracing our steps to the col, we descend into Chester Lake valley, instead of Headwall.
This side of the col is scree, much smaller and looser than the south side, making for an easy descent.
Optionally, a large ski run also existed partway down the scree for those who'd rather slide.
Once into the valley, we head down similar terraces as the way up, until reaching Chester Lake.

Looking down into Chester Lake valley from col.

Laurier sliding down the snow run.

View downvalley from the bottom of the scree slope.

Rachel and Laurier heading down a cool piece of rock.

View across the Spray valley to Burstall Pass and Mount Burstall.

First view of Chester Lake

Chester Lake is beautiful, and making it there only by early evening meant that its regular crowds were long gone.
In the falling light, there was no-one but a few jumping fish with whom to share the lake.
After a stop at the lake, it's only a few more kilometres down to the starting trailhead, back on ski trail.
The ever-changing, always-awesome scenery makes this the best hike I've done yet.

Chester Lake below Mount Chester

Chester Lake and the lush shoreline.

View up Chester Lake valley to The Fortress, (summit just hidden behind Gusty Peak at left.)

Photos taken by Niccole except where marked with * taken by Rachel.

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