February 9, 2013
Kananaskis – Smith Dorrien Valley, AB
The weather looked hopeless when we finished Opal Ridge. However, it was only 12:30 and we had the entire afternoon ahead of us. I didn’t want to just call it a day, and we started to plan our next objective. Andrea had left her car at the Casino, and given the condition I thought Ben and I should do King Creek Ridge, while Andrea and Mike should go for Little Lawson. But we didn’t want to split up and it was hard to find a peak that none of us had done. But what about Little Chester?! This is described as perhaps the most dangerous ascent in Andrew Nugara’s Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies guidebook, but based on my previous observation from other nearby peaks we would be going up the SW slope instead of the NW gully as described in the book.
As we drove towards Chester Lake trail-head the weather did improve somehow around Lower Kananaskis Lake, but got back to snowing as we approaching the parking lot. I got near perfect weather from the nearby Little Galatea and I was just wishing to tick this off my list for main reason it has the reputation of being the “hardest”, or the “most dangerous” in Nugara’s snowshoeing book. We quickly strapped our snowshoes on, and started the busy-as-usual Chester Lake trail. About 20 min later we entered the trees and started the tedious and endless post-holing and bushwhacking. The first thing to do was to lose about 20m elevation and cross a (snow covered) creek. Once on the other side, heavy duty trail-breaking up a very steep treed slope was required. We post-holed to knee deep and travelling was not fast. We kept going towards climber’s right diagonally. There was not much to describe here except for post-holing and bushwhacking. The weather was actually getting worse and we were hit by several quite heavy storms.
After what seemed like eternity, we finally could see the snowy upper slope. It looked to be quite steep, and yet, quite far away. But since we were there, we would give it a go. The sky magically cleared up once we hit treeline. The slope was pretty steep. It reminded me both Mosquito Mountain and Ramp Peak that I ascended a month ago. We were forced to do some switchbacks. It was also very foreshortened. The elevation is marginally lower than Little Galatea, but apparently I didn’t realize this until I was on the summit. We could see another storm quickly moving in. Ben and I were not far from the summit at this point and we hurried up and successfully beat the storm. We got some interesting views but apparently Andrea and Mike were not as lucky. They were treated with white-out…
We were in a complete white-out storm roughly about 2 minutes after leaving the summit. We passed Andrea, and then Mike on their way up. Sky magically cleared up again, but only for maybe 30 seconds. It went back to white-out again… The strong wind and blowing snow was smashing our faces and after quickly strapping snowshoes on, we started the fast descent. Plunging-step down the face was very enjoyable and quick. Mike somehow disoriented himself and ended up too far skier’s left. Luckily he spotted us and we regrouped together at treeline. Weather was gradually improving again. The rest of the descent went by nice and quick. Once we got back to the trails, Ben and I took off snowshoes and walked down the hard-packed tracks. Weather was even much better now, oh well.
Our round trip time was 4 hours and while finishing a very satisfactory day given the not-so-good weather forecast, we drove back to Canmore and hoping to have good weather on Sunday. (And we did.)