Chester Lake is a wonderful late spring/summer/fall hike as well as a classic winter snowshoe route.
This absolutely spectacular scenery is worthy of annual repetition and this particular snowshoe adventure will always be a fond and indelible memory. The time is just before Christmas and the entire area belongs to the two of us all day.
This snowshoe is done with friend and hiking partner, Mélanie on a quiet winter day when the weather is perfect and there is plenty of snow. The trail-head is located near the bottom of the Smith-Dorrien Trail, about 40 KM (25 miles) south of Canmore, Alberta, and there is plenty of empty space in the large, well-signed parking area complete with facilities.
The main trail into Chester Lake is groomed for cross-country skiing. Just past the first clearly signed trail junction, the snowshoe route branches off to the right. This alternative trail limits the damaging impact on the wider, cross-country ski path and using the designated snowshoe trail is a better adventure and a matter of courtesy and respect.
The snowshoe trip is vigorous in fresh, deep snow but the temperature is ideal for energetic exercise. Air is still and fresh. As the snowshoe trail works its way up and through the forest on narrow, undulating track, about 1,200 ft (365 m) of gross elevation is gained over 5 KM (3 miles) one way, to a maximum elevation of 7,280 ft. (2,220 m). The physical endeavor in snowshoeing is about twice that of hiking the same distance and elevation, so it is a good physical workout in spite of the short distance.
On exit from the forest into the open area of flat, snow-covered plain en route to frozen Chester Lake, Mount Galatea and Gusty Peak consume the vision ahead and Mount Chester looms large to the right. In the far distance, lofty The Fortress, visible between Gusty and Chester, brings back great memories of the challenging and successful Fortress summit bid achieved via the Headwall Loop around the base of Mount Chester, with my son, on a long day in August of 2002.
Mélanie and I decide to enjoy a campfire and lunch towards the base of Mount Chester. To do this requires crossing Chester Creek on a narrow, snow mounded, single-log bridge. The crossing is completed carefully without incident and an ideal spot is identified to gather wood and make the campfire. Mélanie prepares food over a safe, protected cook surface.
Food always tastes ten times better in the wilderness. For dessert, Mélanie has arranged a surprise. She boils pure maple syrup in a pot, then pours thin lines of the hot syrup onto a flat, packed, snow surface. As the syrup cools rapidly, it is coiled onto the end of a stick, then consumed much like a popsicle. This treat is amazingly delicious. Although never previously experienced, apparently this is a common and popular winter treat, called Tire D’érable, in French-Canadian culture. Mélanie is fluently bilingual and although her first language is French, her English is better than mine.
Time is taken with the tripod-mounted camera, to have fun photographing our rendition of correct snowshoeing form, high-speed snowshoeing and, of course, the traditional snowshoe hug.
After thoroughly dousing the campfire and burying it in packed snow, the return trip commences. Melanie has no problem crossing the log over Chester Creek. During my crossing a slip off the side of the bridge results in a fall into the shallow creek. Determined to master the challenge, the second attempt results in falling off the other side of the log into the creek.
Mélanie was able to capture the moment while rolling around through deep snow in hysterical laughter. Her snowshoe is visible in the bottom right-hand corner of the photo. The crossing is achieved through the creek and up the other side. There are no injuries and a sense of humor is restored almost immediately.
On the way out there is nearly buried sign stating campfires are prohibited. Oops! Sorry about that. We were very careful and left no trace.
This snowshoe trip was pure magic. Great memories of good food and company in pristine surroundings will remain indelible. The original film-based photographs in this post are poor quality, created from scanned prints, but they will provide an idea of this amazing and somewhat humbling experience.
Nearly everyone should try snowshoeing at least once in their life. Nearby easier alternatives are Hogarth Lakes and Black Prince Cirque to Lake Warspite.
There are several snowshoeing courses offered throughout the winter but the technique is simple and nearly as easy as walking. Hiking poles equipped with larger winter baskets provide great benefit for snowshoeing.