By Brooke Porter
Scrambling is one of the most exhilarating ways to explore Alberta’s southern ranges—but it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. These long, oftentimes perilous trips offer both physical and mental challenges that will have you feeling humble, human and happy to be outside. Waterton Lakes is a jaw-dropping national park that rests on Canada’s border with Montana, and it's home to many of these exciting climbs.
Here are five mountains to scramble in southern Alberta:
Galwey’s window is a nice place to rest.
Length: 7.2 km roundtrip
Time: 4-6 hours
Elevation gain: 960 m
Galwey is the ominous flick on the otherwise flat horizon of Alberta’s southern prairies. It has a short trailhead, meaning there is no ground to cover before you begin ascending, so you can tackle its jaunty cliffs with full energy. It’s a quick day trip and the summit offers gorgeous views of outstretched land to the south and the beginning of the Rockies to the north.
Highlight: The Window is a rectangular cut in the red rock of Galwey’s upper cliffs you can poke your head through.
Tip: If you don’t have a car for the day, passersby on Red Rock Parkway will be happy to give you a lift, especially after you’ve finished your summit and have stories to share!
Read more: experiencewaterton.com
Facing east on Sofa.
Length: 13.5 km roundtrip
Time: 3-5 hours
Elevation gain: 1,052 m
Despite its docile name, Sofa has sent many-a-frustrated hiker backwards after failed ascents. It’s not necessarily the most technical scramble, but you need a good eye for route-finding to figure out the safe way up. Add a long hike to the base of the mountain and you’ve got yourself a full day on Sofa’s glorious grassy slopes and enormous, smooth ridges.
Highlight: The trek to the base of Sofa cuts through a forest teaming with all sorts of animals, including bears. Be sure to yell when you turn corners and always carry bear spray.
Tip: Many hikers mistake the large swath of flat land atop of Sofa for the peak. It’s not! Keep ascending until you see the canister.
Read more: alltrails.com
Mt. Crandell/Sheep Mountain via Tick Ridge
Length: Approx. 12 km roundtrip
Time: 8-9 hours
Elevation gain: 1,040 m
Mt. Crandell is the impressive mountain on the right-hand side of the entrance to Waterton’s townsite. It’s also the host of the popular day hike Bear’s Hump. The Tick Ridge climb is a full day and includes plenty of exposure and opportunities to get lost. Are you up for the challenge?
Highlight: Fan of limestone? Dense brush? Open sandstone cliffs? Tick Ridge has it all. You’ll feel like an alien travelling between worlds.
Tip: There are thorns in the brush at the beginning and end of the hike. Wear gloves!
Read more: on-top.ca
The summit of Richards.
Length: 10 km roundtrip
Time: 7-8 hours
Elevation gain: 900 m
A mountain for experienced scramblers only. This long, oftentimes frightening climb will test your technical skills and willpower like few other Albertan summits. To paraphrase Krakauer, it’s important for us to face the blind, dumb stone alone. Go at your own pace, pay mind to your hands and your feet and always trust your gut.
Highlights: The summit! There’s no feeling in the world quite like standing on top of a challenging mountain. Enjoy the fresh air and incredible views.
Tip: If you get nervous when scrambling, hum to yourself or sing out loud. It will help calm your nerves and increase your ability to focus on the hands and feet.
Read more: trailpeak.com
Length: 16 km roundtrip
Time: 10 hours
Elevation gain: Approx. 1,200 m
One morning, in the Red Rock parking lot, a pair of American tourists asked my friend and I where we were going. Up there! we said, pointing to Anderson's ominous knife ridge. They laughed and carried on their way, assuming we were joking.
Anderson makes for a wonderful scramble. After the tough uphill slough of the first half, you’re in for a few hours of excellent climbing. Be warned, however: Anderson’s shale breaks easily. Waterton is home to the oldest sedimentary rock in the Rockies.
Highlight: Anderson has a long ridge, meaning once you gain enough elevation, you’ll be able to walk leisurely to take in the sights.
Tip: If you still have energy after reaching the peak of Anderson, you can continue along the ridge for another hour or so to Lost Mountain.
Read more: summitpost.org
Remember, the most important thing is your safety. Hike with friends, bring plenty of water, and don’t be afraid to turn back. Happy scrambling!
Note: Waterton Lakes National Park is part of the traditional territory and a place of significance for the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and other Indigenous peoples.