Technology doesn't have to be something that divides us from nature. It can be a tool through which we can explore the natural world...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Walls of Stone - The Fortress

The Fortress from the front side - circa 1987
"The Fortress" is an imposing looking mountain near the old Fortress ski hill in Alberta's Kananaskis Country. The front side of the mountain is part of an iconic scene. It appears in everything from Jackie Chan movies to truck commercials, though I don't think most Albertans realize what they are looking at when it appears on their screen. From the front side the peak looks like an unassailable cliff which climbs to a flat topped summit. Non-climbers like me would never dream about reaching its upper heights except for the fact that (like many front range mountains) the back side is a quite reasonable scramble. I didn't have a set agenda for this year's Kananaskis trip, but the one thing that I did want to do was scramble to the summit of The Fortress.
Three Lakes Valley
August is usually a dry month in Alberta, but this year it rained on and off for the entire two weeks we had in the mountains. One rainy day we did the entire loop around the Upper Kananaskis Lake. Even though it rained, we wore our short sleeved shirts for most of the hike.  During the final galling 4.5 kilometres between the Upper Lake and Interlake parking lots it poured down, forcing us to don our hoodies and "Mac in the Sacks". We were soaked by the time we got back to the truck. On another rainy day, we revisited a few shorter walks - King Creek Canyon, "Canyon" and Marl Lake (where we saw the usual family of common loons). I was just winging it this year - hiking whatever took my fancy on a particular day.

Fossilized coral in Three lakes valley
Possibly Southesk Formation
On the last sunny day we visited pretty Marushka Lake. It was only Monday of the second week but I began to realize that the window was already closing on any opportunity to reach my goal of summiting this season. All weather reports indicated that a major weather system was coming in on Tuesday and the resulting deluge would last for the entire rest of the week. It was disappointing news, but I decided to get up early Tuesday and attempt the scramble up The Fortress before the bad weather arrived.

Spruce grouse
I got up very early the next morning and filled my to-go coffee cup, grabbed some food, jumped in the Jimmy and headed up the Smith-Dorrien Road to the Chester Lake parking lot. it was about 7 a.m. when I headed up the trail. My dog, Kenner scattered a flock of spruce grouse. I'm sure he would have liked to pursue them, but I had him on a long protractible leash. I started out huffing and puffing a little bit, but the further I went, the better I felt. I passed the old larch that I remembered from years earlier. Once I got to Chester Lake I was feeling good about things. I took a brief foray into the pretty three lakes valley, then I crossed a talus slope and into the upper Chester creek valley. It was cloudy but I had made a deal with myself that if I could see the summits of the surrounding mountains, I would keep going and I still could... It was warm enough that I was just wearing short sleeves.

Upper Chester Creek valley. The Fortress center top.
In front of me was a familiar sight - a limestone headwall guarded the upper valley. I made my way to the top of the headwall and found myself in an incredible "valley of stones". All around were walls of limestone. At the very head of the valley I could see the backside of the Fortress. It was divided from Mount Chester by a high col. One would have to scramble up a loose looking talus slope to the col and then make their way up to the summit from there. It all looked very doable and I was starting to feel excited about the prospect. I could still see the summits surrounding the high rocky valley, but then I looked back toward the headwall. The summits across the valley were gone - all obscured in cloud. My heart sank. A stiff wind was blowing above tree line and it was beginning to get cold. I had no sooner got my hoodie on that it began to rain. Just that quickly I needed to turn around from this beautiful, but exposed spot and retrace my steps down the headwall. By the time I got back to Chester Lake, The Fortress and Mount Chester were obscured by cloud. Kenner and I headed back to the Jimmy.
Descending the headwall
As the forecast predicted, it did begin to pour rain. The next day we packed up in a downpour and headed home early. The summit of The Fortress would have to wait. I am usually philosophical about these things. It had been a good day out in the high country.  I can't help but notice just how the days and years fly by and I know it will be a long while before I get the chance again. The one thing that consoled me was the upcoming trip to Waterton Lakes National Park that loomed several weeks in my future. I already couldn't wait!