Sofa Mountain is a fairly frequently visited scrambling objective, if social media posts are anything to go by. I’ve been wanting to climb it for a long time, but it’s on the east side of the Waterton lakes – an area where I’ve experienced a lot of bear encounters. So, I was saving this for a group trip some time. That intention went out the window this weekend when I saw the weather forecast for Waterton: no wind and partly cloudy. Those kinds of days are rare in the southern Rockies, so I decided to just get out there and climb the mountain on my own. Nugara describes two possible ascents in More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies 3rd ed. He also suggests descending the same route you ascended, though I know many people put the two together as a loop. I figured I’d just get to the mountain and decide how to proceed once I got there.
Access is from Hwy 6. Coming in from Cardston on Hwy 5, look for the signed turn-off heading south towards the Chief Mountain border crossing. If coming in from Pincher Creek, continue past the turn towards the park gate and look for the turn to the border crossing. After a few kilometres there’s an impressive roadside viewpoint with interpretive signs and pit toilets. A short distance beyond that there’s a paved pull-out with marked angle parking. Click here for the Google map. There’s no signage there right now but it’s the start of the route. Apparently, this was once an officially maintained cross-country ski trail. Given the recently-paved parking area maybe they’re planning to make it official once again.
The trail is very well defined and goes through pleasant forest and clearings. Areas of the trail were quite crowded in by vegetation and I imagine those spots being a little claustrophobic later in the season. Soon I was able to see Sofa Mountain’s northeast aspect along with a waterfall in the valley between the northeast ridge and what Nugara refers to as the “east of northeast” ridge. Once a clear path was visible to the foot of the northeast ridge I departed the trail and began to ascend. Proceeding up the ridge, I climbed steep grassy slopes then encountered the first rock bands. Above those was a broad shoulder leading to the next steep grassy slope below the next set of rock bands. These are the main attraction of the ascent: 3 sets of solid grey rock which allow for enjoyable hands-on scrambling. Above those, the route joins the broad summit ridge and it’s a 2 km walk southeast to the summit.
The views during the ridge walk and from the summit are excellent. Being on the east side of the Waterton lakes, Sofa affords a different perspective than most peaks in the park. This year’s late melt along with a dusting of snow from the night before added to the alpine asthetic of the scenery. I spent a long time on the summit, enjoying the lack of wind, and peering at various peaks in Waterton and Glacier National Parks as the slowly moving clouds accented different parts of the scenery with shifting light. For my descent I retraced my steps. As mentioned, I had considered making it a loop but the snow on the summit changed my mind. Looking over towards the “east of northeast” ridge during my ascent I could see that there was some snow on the route. Not knowing if that had any implications for the safety of the downhill scramble by that route I decided to return on terrain I knew was clear and dry.
Click on the pictures in the gallery below to access higher resolution images.