Chester Lake (and Elephant Rocks)
Spray Lakes Area
Time: 3 hours
Distance: 10 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 310 m
How To Get There: The trailhead is well marked, on the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Road, about 20 km north of the junction of the Kananaskis Lakes Road in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Today was a great day! I was back in the mountains for the first time in a few months and was eager to explore. A lot of snow had fallen in the last few days so instead of hiking, Matt and I opted to go snowshoeing. We had once before attempted Chester Lake but unfortunately had taken a wrong turn (despite the fact that Chester Lake is very well marked) towards Sawmill trail and had never ended up at the lake. This time, we were determined to get to our destination. It was the kind of day where the world looked like a winter wonderland. The snow was fresh and sparkling while the sun shone bright and the sky remained cloudless.
The parking lot was half-full of other people wanting to enjoy Boxing Day in the mountains. We arrived around 11 am with -10 C temperatures. As soon as we strapped on our snowshoes, we set off, this time on the correct trail.
The trail starts off very wide and was completely covered in packed snow. We probably could have just used our micro-spikes but snowshoeing seemed more appropriate on such a beautiful winter day.
The snowshoe route is different from the cross-country ski route. In order to take the snowshoe route, you have to follow the orange signs that point you to your right almost immediately after the main trail begins. The snowshoe trail is more narrow and it begins winding through the snow covered coniferous trees immediately.
The first part of the trail is also where most of the elevation is gained. There are no switchbacks as the trail goes from flat to climbing up the valley and then back again.
There are numerous orange snowshoe signs on the trees so it is virtually impossible to lose your way. The world was littered with snow-covered pine trees, big and small.
After gaining a bit more elevation, we managed to earn ourselves a beautiful view of the mountain range behind us.
Not too long after, Matt and I found ourselves in the first sub-alpine meadow and were immediately greeted by the sight of the surrounding mountains, including Mount Chester and the Fortress.
We took this moment to have a quick snack break while also taking numerous pictures of the pristine meadow.
After that, we crossed the meadow and moved back into the forest, where we gained the remaining part of the elevation.
Eventually we were spit back out at the second meadow, this one stretching on quite a bit further than the first. Just before reaching Chester Lake, we linked back up with the cross-country skiing trail.
Matt and I walked on the outskirts of the lake before turning northeast at a turn off. We wanted to go see the famous Elephant Rocks! The trail isn’t marked but it’s the only turn off on the northeast side of the lake so it’s not hard to find.
Here is where we definitely needed our snowshoes as the snow was thicker in this area. We continued upwards, gaining a bit more elevation as we ducked under snow burdened branches and dug in our shoes to create enough grip so we wouldn’t slide backwards. When we finally rounded around the corner, we were faced with the massive boulders that called themselves Elephant Rock.
We looped around the north side of the rocks and climbed up a small hill so we could have a better view of the rocks and the valley below. Then it was time for lunch and hot chocolate!
After we had our fill, we stood up to take in the view and the moment. And that’s when Matt proposed to me! I was very impressed with his composure, especially because I can’t imagine it’s easy to get down on one knee in snowshoes! I was very happy to say yes! It just goes to show how well he knows me to propose in the mountains, my most favorite place in the whole world. I'm very lucky to have him as my partner in crime. While the mountains have been my literal rock, he has been my figurative one. I can't tell you the countless times he's let me drag him out for hiking trips, even when he's tired from a hard week of work. He's also bought a lot of back-country/hiking equipment in order to join me on my adventures and I am so privileged to call him my soon-to-be husband. After all, you know you've found a keeper when they are the ones to suggest a backpacking trip for the honeymoon (*swoon*).
So I want to dedicate this blog to my handsome fiancee. I really don't know what I did to deserve you but I'm going to try to keep doing it!
Side note: This is a very popular snowshoeing route for a reason- it’s family friendly, moderately easy and provides wonderful views of a lake surrounded by monstrous mountains. And thanks to a certain man, Chester Lake will always hold a very special place in my heart :)