Summit Elevation (m): 2522
Elevation Gain (m): 1040
Total Trip Distance (km): 12
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: No major difficulties. Mostly a hike with some easy to moderate scrambling up cliff bands guarding the summit from either direction.
GPS Track Download: Download GPX File
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
The weather along the Alberta Rockies was quite dreary for my first week off in September 2015. After doing a fairly intense trip with Ben up Evelyn Peak in Jasper National Park, I came home for a day before setting out in the opposite direction to try my luck in the southern Rockies instead. It’s been a long time since I set foot in Waterton National Park – about 6 years to be exact! I wasn’t impressed with the Red Rock Road being closed already (due to construction) but hoped that there’d be enough other objectives to keep me busy. Mostly I was just hoping that the conditions would be decent.
As I drove through Pincher Creek I could already see a lot of snow in the mountains – they looked no drier than their cousins to the north. This was disappointing, but I was here now so I thought I’d start my trip with a scramble up Sofa Mountain. Being on the eastern edge of the park, against the prairies, it looked to have much less snow than the mountains deeper in the park to the west.
I parked where Nugara suggests and started up the faint trail in the tall grasses towards my destination – it looked very far away at this point. The trail was less defined and went through more bush than I expected. Waterton is loaded with bear and I have always seen at least one on most hikes / scrambles there. I was counting on some long weekend traffic to help me chase the local bruins off the track, but I was all alone on this sunny morning! As I wandered my way closer to the two ridges extending down from Sofa, I decided to take the easternmost one (climber’s left) rather than the route Nugara suggests. The reason was mainly the amount of snow on the ridge which made me nervous about the moderate scrambling that he talks of. On hindsight I ended up on moderate terrain anyway, but of course I didn’t know this at the time!
I made my way along the trail until it crossed the little creek running out from between the two ridges on Sofa. Here I departed the trail and made my way up to steep cliffs high above. Once I hit snow line the trip started to feel like October rather than September, but there wasn’t too much of the white stuff compared to the next day. When I got up to the steep cliffs the route finding was tougher than I was expecting.
The knee deep snow didn’t help any, but eventually I found a reasonable route by wandering back to climber’s right near the top and then going left again to over come the steep stuff and topping out on the upper mountain. From here it was an easy ramble in a strong and cold wind to the summit – always further away than you hoped it would be when you first started the day! My views were pretty good – not spectacular thanks to the dreary weather, but not horrible either. Considering I could have been at work, I was plenty happy with my day so far.
Descent was fast. As I exited the small valley between the two ridges I had a feeling that there had to be bears somewhere close by. I stopped and scanned the surrounding mountain slopes carefully, dismissing many grey boulders before I finally spotted one carelessly tossing dirt aside. Wait a minute! Boulders don’t dig! Sure enough, there was a HUGE mamma Grizzly bear and a large silver cub tearing up the slopes beside me across a small valley. I watched them for a while, it was a pretty cool way to end my day. I started to get a bit nervous when mamma bear looked back at me a few times and then I remembered how utterly alone I was and hurried my butt back to the trail head as quickly as possible.