While doing the Big Traverse one week ago, Neil (Travelin' Jones) and I were already planning on this weekend's plan, namely Mount French... However, a snow storm made things questionable. We still wanted to give it a go, and if things don't look good, we had Mt. Jellicoe as the back-up plan. We met at Burstall Pass trail head at 6:45am. Things were far worse than anticipated. Almost all of the 3000+ peaks had snow on, especially those around Mt. Sir Douglas. Neil had failed French last year due to verglass, snow, and white-out, and there's no way to fail it twice. I'm not in favour of doing Jellicoe from French Creek side due to obvious reasons. I prefer doing Jellicoe from Turbine Canyon side. That side is much more scenic, and more important, doesn't involve bushwhacking, nor glacier travel. So, after some discussion, we finally decided to set our eyes on another nearby high peak, Mount Galatea, with the option to grab Gusty and Fortress.
So we all drove across the dusty Smith Dorrien road, and parked at Chester Lake parking lot. For scramblers, you should be able to get to Chester Lake in one hour. While circumventing the lake on the north side, watch for a well defined but unmarked trail that leads to Three Lakes Valley. Looking back, the morning light shown on Sir Douglas and Birdwood was gorgeous.
Not far up, we broke through the trees and arrived at the first lake. We could see the yellow larches, but because we were in the shadow, I decided to save photos for the return. The trail becomes less and less distinguishable as we venturing further in the valley, and finally disappears in the sea of rubble and boulders. Now we were at the base of our first objective, Mt. Galatea.
I would say, following the exact line given by Kane, 90% of the ascent is a rubble slog... I don't want to describe too much here, as it was all about preserving. We got our first sunlight of the day about half way up the slope, and thus our first break - sunscreen break. After what seems like eternity, we popped out on the summit ridge. Now, the fun part began. We tried to stick exactly to the ridge crest for as much as we could. At places, we had to expose ourselves to the entire NE face drop-off, probably 1000m relief. The scrambling gets very difficult at other places. But the trick is, every "climber's" section is avoidable on climber's left side if you don't mind to side-slope on rubble, so we didn't have a feeling of doing a serious ascent as all.
Soon we made to the summit, 3 hours 20 minutes after leaving our cars. The view would be much better if there was no forest fire on-going... But too bad, we got a smoky summit view.
Summit panorama of Mount Galatea:
Sir Douglas to Assiniboine panorama:
We did a long summit stay, probably more than half an hour, before heading down. We went around all of the difficulties and simply picked the easiest line on tedious rubble. This way, the mountain is moderate at most. There's very little scree run so descending was very hard on the knees. After the endless rubble slog, we eventually made back to Three Lakes Valley. Now we could focus on the views.
A tarn in the valley:
Looking back at Galatea:
The 1st Lake:
Instead of dropping down to Chester Lake, we took a highline traverse hugging around Gusty Peak while side-sloping, in order to save some elevation loss and regain. Once getting around the corner, we had to down-climb a tricky section, followed by losing about 50m elevation. It's okay. Now we were officially at the valley leading to Gusty and Fortress. For those hikers who don't like scrambling, you'd better venture in this valley and the Three Lakes Valley, and they give a much better perspective than the tourists' Chester Lake. The trail eventually disappears into rubble field. Soon we arrived at the base of Gusty Peak.
The slope looks like a true slog, as described on others' sites. Instead of following Kane's line, we decided to ascend the rocky rib on climber's right side, which turned out to be a very good call. The ground is much more stable on this side, and the scrambling is moderate at most. Once we cut back to the main slope, it was purely rubble slog to the summit. We were surprised to see 4 others descending this peak, as Gusty isn't a popular mountain. Some of them didn't bring poles and as a result, they had to descend very awkwardly. The most eye-catching feature on this ascent is to look back at The Fortress's shear east face.
Summit panorama of Gusty Peak:
We took a necessary break on the summit, while soaking in the views. Both of us felt good on energy so we decided to bag The Fortress at the end of the day. Coming down Gusty was much better than expected as we could manage to surf at most places. It was not fine scree, but still easy to descend.
Once getting back down to the valley floor, we took no break and soon started the trudge up The Fortress. The scree was easy to ascend, and there was a snow slope that offered better footing as well (thank Neil for kicking the steps). It didn't took us long to make to the Fortress/ Chester col. Compared to the other two summits, The Fortress is much more popular. It makes sense as it's the easiest ascent in this area.
From the col, we simply followed the paths up the slope. Once at the base of summit block, we chose to directly ascend the block, which proved to be extremely difficult and exceeding our comfortable level. We were forced to awkwardly backtrack after being blocked by an overhanging and wet step... After circumventing the block on climber's left side, we each found another difficult chimney to gain the summit.
The summit block:
Summit panorama of The Fortress:
McDougall / Fisher Range:
Fisher Peak and Opal Range:
Other summit photos:
We decided to use Chester Lake valley to exist because we all had other plans the next day. Doing Headwall Lakes valley is for sure more scenic but it adds more distance. Scree running down the black scree band was fun and fast and we quickly made back to the valley floor, and then leisurely walked down to Chester Lake. The trail wasn't easy to follow, but basically we just followed the valley floor out.
I took several panoramas at Chester Lake and the meadows. Neil managed to somehow lose his camera, and thankfully I was able to spot it on the trail...
Overall, this a very enjoyable and satisfactory 3-peak-day, and a big thank to Neil for accompanying. We covered 2400m elevation, and round trip time: 11.5 hours.