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Sofa Mountain

Summit Elevation (m): 2522
Trip Date: September 07 2015
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.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
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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.

Sofa Mountain Route Map

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!

The trail is a bit more of a ‘track’ than I thought it would be. And a bit less busy on this gorgeous long weekend Monday. I was the only one there!

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.

Following the faint trail for a wee bit further – Nugara’s route is plastered in snow above me here.

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. 

More great views of the “prairie-meets-mountains” and corresponding weather systems. Blue sky over the prairie at right and stormy, snowy skies over the mountains at left.
Looking out over the pancake flat, and surprisingly colorful prairies.

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.

Sofa Mountain
43 photos
From a viewpoint along hwy 6 to Waterton, I realized there was still a lot of snow on the mountains. Chief Mountain at left here.
From a viewpoint along hwy 6 to Waterton, I realized there was still a lot of snow on the mountains. Chief Mountain at left here.
The trail is a bit more of a 'track' than I thought it would be. And a bit less busy on this gorgeous long weekend Monday.
The trail is a bit more of a 'track' than I thought it would be. And a bit less busy on this gorgeous long weekend Monday.
I felt pretty alone while heading through the narrow trail.
I felt pretty alone while heading through the narrow trail.
Hitting snow already in the trees.
Hitting snow already in the trees.
My first full on view of Sofa Mountain and it looks pretty good!
My first full on view of Sofa Mountain and it looks pretty good!
Sofa Mountain from a bit closer. Nugara's route goes up the right hand ridge and through some moderate cliff bands.
Sofa Mountain from a bit closer. Nugara's route goes up the right hand ridge and through some moderate cliff bands.
I surprised some deer on my way up.
I surprised some deer on my way up.
Looking back over the prairie that lies just outside of Waterton National Park.
Looking back over the prairie that lies just outside of Waterton National Park.
After crossing this small stream I headed up left. Nugara's route is visible here above me.
After crossing this small stream I headed up left. Nugara's route is visible here above me.
The small stream has great tasting water - very refreshing.
The small stream has great tasting water - very refreshing.
Following the faint trail for a wee bit further - Nugara's route is plastered in snow above me here.
Following the faint trail for a wee bit further - Nugara's route is plastered in snow above me here.
My route looms above at left with Nugara's route on the right.
My route looms above at left with Nugara's route on the right.
A nice moody day to be solo scrambling. This is looking ahead up my route.
A nice moody day to be solo scrambling. This is looking ahead up my route.
I love the painterly look that the prairies get in views around Waterton.
I love the painterly look that the prairies get in views around Waterton.
More great views of the "prairie-meets-mountains" and corresponding weather systems.
More great views of the "prairie-meets-mountains" and corresponding weather systems.
After cresting the moderate terrain, the summit is at far left with threatening clouds over the park at center.
After cresting the moderate terrain, the summit is at far left with threatening clouds over the park at center.
Sofa Mountain is still a little ways off despite the fact that most of the elevation gain is finished.
Sofa Mountain is still a little ways off despite the fact that most of the elevation gain is finished.
I start the final plod to the summit, Chief Mountain clearly visible in the distance at left.
I start the final plod to the summit, Chief Mountain clearly visible in the distance at left.
Summit of Sofa Mountain with Chief Mountain in the distance in Montana, across the USA/Canada border.
Summit of Sofa Mountain with Chief Mountain in the distance in Montana, across the USA/Canada border.
Summit pano looking over my approach route from the left and the prairies to the east.
Summit pano looking over my approach route from the left and the prairies to the east.
Looking out over the pancake flat, and surprisingly colorful prairies.
Looking out over the pancake flat, and surprisingly colorful prairies.
Another giant peak in the clouds to the south.
Another giant peak in the clouds to the south.
Chief Mountain is on most Alberta scrambler's lists - mine included.
Chief Mountain is on most Alberta scrambler's lists - mine included.
Sarcee Mountain lies immediately south of Sofa and is in Montana.
Sarcee Mountain lies immediately south of Sofa and is in Montana.
Arras Peak.
Arras Peak.
Mount Galwey was a LONG time ago! Dungarvon in the clouds just to the right of it.
Mount Galwey was a LONG time ago! Dungarvon in the clouds just to the right of it.
Another wider pano showing slightly more familiar Waterton peaks such as Crandell and Vimy.
Another wider pano showing slightly more familiar Waterton peaks such as Crandell and Vimy.
Descent on the snowy cliffs was a bit tricky but manageable.
Descent on the snowy cliffs was a bit tricky but manageable.
More of the descent.
More of the descent.
The bowl between the two scrambling routes isn't very scrambler friendly.
The bowl between the two scrambling routes isn't very scrambler friendly.
The toughest section I came down.
The toughest section I came down.
Some of the famous Waterton "reds" show up on the Nugara route across from me.
Some of the famous Waterton "reds" show up on the Nugara route across from me.
A lot of snow from the morning is already gone a few hours later.
A lot of snow from the morning is already gone a few hours later.
Grizzlies feeding on slopes across from me.
Grizzlies feeding on slopes across from me.
Grizzlies feeding on slopes across from me.
Grizzlies feeding on slopes across from me.
Looking back.
Looking back.
Seeing bruins everywhere now - lots of yelling when travelling through the tight forests on the way back to my truck!
Seeing bruins everywhere now - lots of yelling when travelling through the tight forests on the way back to my truck!
Waterton lake in the evening near my town site camp.
Waterton lake in the evening near my town site camp.
Another shot with the "lonely tree".
Another shot with the "lonely tree".

2 thoughts on Sofa Mountain

  1. Hey there Vern,
    Just thought you’d like to check your time and distance stats on this one…
    G

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