Sheep Mountain (via Coffin) & Horseshoe Ridge

Summit Elevation (m): 2271
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 9.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 18
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Hiking and easy scrambling with route finding and bushwhacking.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

On Saturday, May 15 I was joined by Wietse and Sonny on a bit of an exploratory trip in the Livingstone range in Kananaskis Country. We drove up an old logging road (start @N 50 5.522, W 114 25.942) with the intent of parking somewhere between Sheep Mountain and Horseshoe Ridge and bagging both summits from the parking area at the pass.

Coffin – Sheep – Horseshoe Ridge Route Map

After negotiating a pretty rough road for several kilometers we came to a fork. If only we would have consulted the map in my pocket at this point the day may have looked a lot different (and a lot shorter!). We tried the right branch but had to reverse due to a boggy section. At this point we decided to park and walk the rest of the way. We figured we’d already saved 2 hours of walking so it wouldn’t hurt to stop. (Parked @N 50 4.494, W 114 23.889)

Sheep Mountain via Coffin

We started up the tracks and up the west slopes of what we thought was Sheep Mountain. As we climbed higher we started asking questions based on the surrounding terrain. If this was Sheep than where was Coffin and Livingstone? As we gained the south ridge crest we realized our mistake. We were on Coffin Peak! (Or Mount Speke if you believe Bivouac.com) OOPS. We hadn’t driven nearly as far as we thought! We still had 300 meters of elevation to gain Speke’s summit but we figured it was worth it since we didn’t think Sonny had done this mountain yet – he was behind us and we didn’t tell him yet that we were on the wrong mountain.

When Sonny joined us at the summit he was very surprised that it was the ‘wrong’ one! But he wasn’t too disappointed because it was his first time on this particular summit. Wietse and I are claiming our second time as ‘Mount Speke’ and our first one as ‘Coffin Mountain’. That’s good enough for two peaks right?

Pano of the High Rock Range with Gould Dome, Tornado, Elevators Beehive, Lyall, Gass in the distance and Pasque and Plateau mountains in front.
Panorama from the summit of Sheep including (L to R), Coffin (Speke), Livingstone and Saddle.

Of course we couldn’t let a tramp up the wrong mountain ruin our original plans for Sheep and Horseshoe so we continued to Sheep down the east slopes of Speke just beneath the summit. They look steeper than they are from the summit and soon we were grunting up another 200+ meters to the summit of Sheep Mountain.

Looking back at our descent route from Coffin.
Descending to the Horseshoe Ridge col, looking east over Riley and Owl Creeks.

From the summit of Sheep we had a good view of our route over to Horseshoe Ridge. It looked kind of unappealing to be perfectly honest. There was a good deal of elevation change, lots of timber and lots of snow. But it didn’t look totally stupid so we thought we’d give it a shot. Sonny wasn’t sure it was worth it as he was feeling his first trip in a while but he gamely followed us onward! We probably shouldn’t have bothered with it on hindsight.

Horseshoe Ridge

After navigating some interesting terrain along the pass at the head of the valley between Sheep Mountain and Horseshoe Ridge (@ N 50 5.802, W 114 20.400) the trip just became a bit of a slog. We had to put up with snow that generally held our weight and than collapsed past our knees or deeper without warning! The trees weren’t too thick but the views weren’t great and the summit seemed to never arrive. Every time we thought we were close there was another false bump or dip or traverse through trees and waist deep pockets of snow. I’m sure we are one of the only people to ever hike up this diminutive ‘summit’.

Wietse strolls along the ridge.

Wietse and I built a nice bonfire on the summit of Horseshoe while we waited for Sonny which was kind of cool. I’ve never done that on a summit before! We kept warm by the fire and eventually Sonny showed up and we prepared to bushwhack back out to the valley and then trek back to the car along the road. 

Surprising summit panorama from Tornado to Beehive, Cabin Ridge, Coffin, Sheep and Saddle (C).
Wietse wanders along the surprisingly scenic summit ridge of Horseshoe Ridge.

The bushwhack wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. I’m sure there are hoards of mosquitoes in the summer (boggy terrain) but we had fairly supportive snow and the trees weren’t too thick. Within an hour we were hiking back on the logging road, enjoying the evening sun.

Our round trip time of 9.5 hours was pretty long but we took our time and enjoyed a fairly windless and very warm spring day on the front ranges. I would recommend doing Speke and Sheep together from this road (bike or drive to the pass on the logging road) – the south ridge on Speke is much more enjoyable (but a lot longer) than the north access between Livingstone and Speke. For very energetic folks you could start at the pass between Sheep and Horseshoe ridge, bag Sheep Mountain, traverse up Mount Speke and then proceed to summit Livingstone, Saddle, Hornecker and Windy Peak for a 6 peak day. That would be something to brag about!

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