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Chesmill, Mount

Summit Elevation (m): 2829
Trip Date: January 22 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 900
Round Trip Time (hr): 6
Total Trip Distance (km): 12.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Not many difficulties but in winter the upper NW gully has some avalanche exposure / wind slab issues. 
Technical Rating: OT3, RE3
GPS Track: Download
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While hiking the James Walker Creek trail on route to a solo scramble of Headwall Peak last Fall I remember looking at my Gaia base map and noting an oddly named peak looming high above me – “Mount Chesmill”. The ascent went up steep looking grassy slopes and I wondered if this was actually Headwall Peak’s lower south summit, also documented in David Jones’ Rockies Central. It turns out that So Nakagawa put up both the route and the name way back in 2010 as a snowshoe trip and it does not quite make the south summit of Headwall Peak. (Of course, it’s not really a “summit” at all but that’s not the point when you’re looking for something new to ski in Kananaskis that also has summit-like views.) I completely forget about Chesmill – I didn’t like the name and I didn’t like it’s non-summitness. When Ephraim Roberts posted a successful snowshoe trip from the Headwall Creek side on good snow my attention focused back to this non-summit as a possible ski adventure. Funny how things change only months later when you’re in the depths of winter and craving those sweet views! 😉

Mount Chesmill Route Map

After a dreary start to the year I was more than ready to ski and scramble something at least resembling a peak. Avalanche ratings seemed to spike every weekend for the past month. After a nice – but very short – outing to Burstall Pass the weekend before, I hoped the third weekend of January would be better. It was. I contacted Ephraim and asked him if the terrain would be good for skiing and his enthusiastic response demanded that I give it a shot. When special avalanche warnings were put out for every area of the Rockies except Kananaskis Country I decided not to wait any longer and after contacting a few friends it ended up being Sara and Sarah who agreed to meet in the Chester Lake parking lot at 08:30 on Saturday morning.

We set off up the Snowdrift Trail towards a distant Headwall Creek in lovely warm – but not too warm – winter temperatures. The approach was pretty much the way I remembered it from a few previous hikes in 2021 including an easy scramble of South Fortress. The trail undulates a bit before dipping down to Headwall Creek and crossing it on a good bridge. From here the summer trail starts a bit further up the Snowdrift Trail, above the creek on the east bank. A set of ski tracks heading directly up the creek was way too tempting to pass up however, so that’s where we went.

The skin track up Headwall Creek was surprisingly scenic, fun and bush free – for the most part. There were a few tight squeezes and near the bottom of the NW ascent gully we had to perform some tricky moves to get over the creek. We stayed dry so that was a win! I was expecting some pretty dense bushwhacking up the lower part of the NW ascent gully but in another good surprise there was essentially none. I like those sorts of surprises. 

As we started skinning up the steep gully to a windblown col high above, I found myself smiling a lot. I enjoy trudging uphill on skis for some reason – especially on a solid snowpack like we had. Classic “dust on crust” Kananaskis skiing. The temperature was perfect – not too hot or cold and I could tell that our NW gully was protected from direct sunlight making it a safe objective for a warmer day. We crossed one short section where exposure from the right could be an issue in more elevated avalanche conditions but for us everything was locked up pretty tight. I could see that our ski adventures would be ending near the col with wind hammered slopes to the summit above. Views behind us slowly opened up including Mount Chester and the stunning SE face of Mount Smuts in the distance.

Views back down the access drainage past the avy choke (L) with Mount Smuts at distant left and Mount Chester rising in the sunlight at right.

As we approached the upper col our dust-on-crust turned into slab-on-crust. It wasn’t a big enough slab to worry about getting caught in a slide but it made skinning up the steep slopes almost impossible. We decided to start a bootpack from just below the col and continued up above it until we ran out of skiable terrain. If I’m honest about it the rubble slog to the “summit” from the col was a little miserable in ski boots – as these things usually are. Loose, unconsolidated pockets of snow combined with unstable rocks and small boulders conspired to twist ankles and knees.

It only took about 40 minutes from the col before I found myself looking at a pink ammo register and some pretty sweet views of many familiar Kananaskis and Assiniboine peaks. Mount Chester, Headwall Peak, Mount Inflexible and Kent North were close neighbors. Mount Assiniboine over the striking SE face of Mount Smuts was also incredible. Across the Smith Dorrien road, CEGNFS, Murray, Smith Dorrien, French and Sir Douglas were prominent.

Headwall North (highest) at left with Headwall South, Inflexible, Kent Ridge North, Joffre, Warspite and Black Prince to the right.
Eon Mountain (L), Smuts with its incredible SE face that’s been skied, Assiniboine and the tiny Fist in the FG right.
Summit views from Kent Ridge North (L) to Joffre, Black Prince, Jellicoe, Smith Dorrien, French, Murray, Sir Douglas, CEGFNS, Burstall, Soderholm, Birdwood, Commonwealth, White Man, Smuts, Assiniboine, Shark, Tent Ridge and Mount Chester (R).

It was most excellent to feel sun and wind on our faces in the alpine again, without feeling like we were standing at one of the earth’s poles in a hurricane of frozen air. We enjoyed the summit for at least 15-20 minutes before finally starting to feel the chill. The descent was easier than expected to the skis.

Once reunited with our snow sticks it was time to really enjoy this trip! Can there possibly be a better way to descent a mountain than on skis? I think not. The upper gully was a bit choppy on hard slab but once we entered the main gully the skiing was fantastic with about ankle deep powder on a firm base.

There is no better way to descend a mountain than on snow sticks IMHO.

The bottom of the gully narrows considerably but even this presented few issues for a crappy skier such as myself and I enjoyed swooping back and forth through the steep walls on either side. One final short section through trees and we were back at Headwall Creek wishing for a longer ski run. We could have done another lap but there was two other skiers ascending the gully already and due to the closed in nature of the terrain it was going to be pretty skied out by the 5 of us doing one lap, nevermind a few more. We put skins on for the undulating creek and Snowdrift Trail back to the parking lot. I needed a day like this and am super stoked about finally getting into the alpine on a clear, warm(ish) winter day again.

Mount Chesmill
A beautiful morning.
A beautiful morning.
Skiing up the "Snowdrift Trail" towards Headwall Creek.
Skiing up the "Snowdrift Trail" towards Headwall Creek.
View back to the bridge over Headwall Creek.
View back to the bridge over Headwall Creek.
Skiing up the scenic Headwall Creek.
Skiing up the scenic Headwall Creek.
Skiing up the scenic Headwall Creek.
Skiing up the scenic Headwall Creek.
Skiing up the scenic Headwall Creek. Mount Chester at upper left.
Skiing up the scenic Headwall Creek. Mount Chester at upper left.
The crux of the day was crossing the creek without falling in!
The crux of the day was crossing the creek without falling in!
Chesmill at c-l. Thankfully the access drainage isn't as bushy as it looks from here.
Chesmill at c-l. Thankfully the access drainage isn't as bushy as it looks from here.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage. View back to Mount Chester.
Skiing up the NW access drainage. View back to Mount Chester.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Skiing up the NW access drainage.
Bootpacking up the last of the skiable terrain.
Bootpacking up the last of the skiable terrain.
Bootpacking up the last of the skiable terrain.
Bootpacking up the last of the skiable terrain.
Bootpacking up the last of the skiable terrain.
Bootpacking up the last of the skiable terrain.
Bootpacking up the last of the skiable terrain.
Bootpacking up the last of the skiable terrain.
Grinding up rubble slopes above the col.
Grinding up rubble slopes above the col.
Summit block.
Summit block.
Sara comes up to the summit
Sara comes up to the summit
Headwall Peak at left with Inflexible and Kent Ridge North to the right.
Headwall Peak at left with Inflexible and Kent Ridge North to the right.
Happy to be in sunshine at the summit!
Happy to be in sunshine at the summit!
Happy to be in sunshine at the summit!
Happy to be in sunshine at the summit!
Mount Chester, Gusty and Headwall (R).
Mount Chester, Gusty and Headwall (R).
Headwall North (L) and South (R).
Headwall North (L) and South (R).
Smith Dorrien (L), French, Murray, Sir Douglas, CEGNFS, Burstall, Commonwealth, Smuts, Assiniboine.
Smith Dorrien (L), French, Murray, Sir Douglas, CEGNFS, Burstall, Commonwealth, Smuts, Assiniboine.
Views from Kent Ridge North (L) to Sir Douglas (C) to Assiniboine (R).
Views from Kent Ridge North (L) to Sir Douglas (C) to Assiniboine (R).
Views up the Elk Valley past Kent Ridge North.
Views up the Elk Valley past Kent Ridge North.
Mount Joffre.
Mount Joffre.
White Man Mountain.
White Man Mountain.
Mount Assiniboine.
Mount Assiniboine.
Sarah comes up to the summit.
Sarah comes up to the summit.
Eon and Assiniboine behind Smuts and The Fist.
Eon and Assiniboine behind Smuts and The Fist.
Descending west slopes.
Descending west slopes.
Skiing the NW gully.
Skiing the NW gully.
Skiing the NW gully.
Skiing the NW gully.
Skiing the NW gully.
Skiing the NW gully.
Skiing the NW gully.
Skiing the NW gully.
A look back at the creek crossing with Chesmill at right.
A look back at the creek crossing with Chesmill at right.
Exiting Headwall Creek
Exiting Headwall Creek
Exiting Headwall Creek
Exiting Headwall Creek
Exiting via the Snowdrift Trail.
Exiting via the Snowdrift Trail.

3 thoughts on Chesmill, Mount

  1. Looks really cool Vern! Congratulations! I went for a hike this summer up James Walker Creek. Had never been in the area before. When I was making my way along the trail which was of course badly effected by the 2012 floods, I remember seeing a huge grass slope to the North/North East and it looked like a perfect ascent route. Looks like you had a similar idea 🙂

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