Nihahi Ridge (South Summit) - Spring
Date Walked: 15th June 2012
Distance: 8.2 miles (13.2km)
Actual Ascent: 2572 ft (784m)
Time Taken: 5 hours
With the weather promising just 30% chance of showers this afternoon I set out for Nihahi Ridge accepting that I would probably see some rain but it should blow through pretty quickly. It is a short ride along the Trans Canada Highway, West to the junction with highway 22 (South) and from here a short hop through the small town of Bragg Creek to reach Highway 66, before following this West to the Little Elbow Recreational Area where parking is abundant. I drive as far as is permissible toward the camp grounds and park at the last trailhead parking area before the camp ground loops.
from the parking area a white sign shows the route directly across the gravel road and down a number of steps to an over bridge crossing the Little Elbow river. I don't need the bridge for this hike and turn right (South West) onto the 'Little Elbow Trail' which is a well maintained route beside the river
after passing through a small disused car park and a gate its just 1/2km to a trail sign on the right hand side directing me off the wide trail and up into the forest on a narrower but still well trodden route.
after a short gentle ascent through the trees I reach the equestrian trail shown on my map, a left turn very quickly leads to 'Y' junction and another well signed turning right (North West) toward Nihahi Ridge.
the trail through the second stage of forest rises slowly giving time for the legs to warm up, eventually it opens out onto a grassy area where the first view of the start of the ridge is available. It is worth noting that the trail begins on a small rise East of the main ridge before circling back a little across a wide meadow to reach the actual ridge ascent. It is a little worrying to know that this area is a bear 'hotspot' and is often closed due to bear activity.
dropping down toward the meadow I make sure I get out plenty of 'YO BEAR' shouts that carry on the breeze back down the hill toward the distant mountains across the valley. Whilst I'm not overly concerned about meeting a bear on the trail I keep a weary eye out as I traverse the wide meadow on a well worn route that drops back a little to meet a low point on my target ridge.
The colours of spring are still dotted around the hillside and distract me from worrying too much about grizzly bears.
it is an easy stroll across the meadow and up the initial ascent of the ridge, looking back across the route so far I strain to see any movement in the valley half hoping to see a big grizzly wander through, unfortunately the area was disappointingly devoid of bears. I did get a great view over to 'Forgetmenot Ridge' which will make another afternoon hike at some future point.
as I make the top of the lower ridge section the clouds are hanging low over Mt Romulus and Mt Remus directly opposite (centre frame)
the route now charges North along the ridge, climbing steadily at first on good firm ground toward the second 'step'
the ridge holds some beautiful flowers which brighten up the cracks and crevices along the firm dry trail as it climbs more steeply now toward the orange scree section
the orange scree has a great little trail winding along its surface and is a very shallow ascent giving time to regain the breath a little after the initial climb
the easy going doesn't last and soon gives way to a sharp direct ascent up a scree covered slope that results in a few 'Torvil and Dean' moments as the thin flat rocks slide underfoot
the next step on the ridge can't be taken head on, instead the trail sneaks up the right hand side between the rock and the adjacent trees
after 1/2km or so in the shadow of the steep sided cliff a narrow crevice allows easy access up onto the next level, looking back from the access point gives a stunning view over the confluence of the 'Little Elbow' and the 'Elbow Rivers' as well as Forgetmenot Mountain, Threepoint Mountain and even a distant Mt Ware and Mt Rose all of which are fast losing their winter coats.
looking ahead now, the ridge takes another huge climb upward but again there is no need to take on the pinnacle just yet, the trail again winds its way along the right hand side of the rock face
rounding the side of the pinnacle I get a beautiful view along the Powderface Trail and far away in the distance I see the familiar dome of Moose Mountain, the incredible blanket of fir trees below stretch out across the valley in all directions as if draped over the landscape in one sweep. The trial ahead is good firm going and provides another gentle ascent
it's a really nice steady wander along the trail with the cliffs of the ridge looming on my left and the open valley along the Powderface Trail to my right, eventually I see the dip in the ridge I'm looking for.
In the dip is a small wet run off in a diagonal crack that climbs the 15 foot cliff face steeply but easily, though care is needed on the wet rocks to avoid slipping
at the top of the climb is another steep scree bowl so I stand for a moment to have a drink and take in the views back along the river toward my start point seemingly so far away now
from out of the scree bowl it is a hard direct ascent to the next step of the ridge, any sign of a trail is gone now and the scramble begins along a deep jutted traverse, I reach a comfortable ledge as a snow shower blows through. I've no doubt that this will be rain in the valley but at 7000 feet it is still cool enough for snow. I don't need to layer up and sit in my t-shirt having a drink for 5 minutes before the shower has passed.
the next stage is a hike/scramble up toward the final major step in the ridge, the rocks are firm and dry and the going is pretty easy here though the ascent is steep
when I reach the final step the showers have blown through and the 'Little Elbow' valley is bathed in sunshine, the step is about 15 feet and an easy scramble to the top.
finally I am on the ridge proper and heading North toward the summit, to my left Mt Glasgow and Mt Cornwall sit on the South side of the Little Elbow river and Mt Romulus and Mt Remus on the north. Between them and Nihahi Ridge is Mt Fullerton and Mt Howard and behind them Fisher Peak.
the ridge demands my attention, though it's not technically difficult the sheer drop to the right and the loose scree over slab on the left make it demanding in terms of focus in many places though the incredible vistas all around make it very difficult to focus on footing. Below a shower passes over heading toward Moose Mountain on my right.
looking back along the ridge as I rise to a pinnacle I feel I'm on top of the world though I am actually only around 7600 feet it feels so much higher somehow. The ridge is truly exhilarating and I can feel the adrenalin flowing as I continue my traverse.
the ridge rises and falls in 'sawtooth' edges like a childs drawing of a mountain, the route remains demanding but the stunning scenery makes you forget all about the twists and turns of your ankles along the narrow edge, I'm thankful for the additional stability of my new walking poles as I continue forward seeking a small 'table' that is the South Summit of Nihahi Ridge
at times the ridge widens out sufficiently for me to relax and stroll along taking in the scenery, as yet another 'tooth' is overcome
then the ridge suddenly levels out and there is even a flat pathway of sorts toward the final pinnacle standing at 7750 feet surrounded by blankets of fir trees bristling with mountain peaks
Then I see the 'table' jutting out separate from the main ridge with a tiny little cairn on the top of it, I am as happy as I look in this photo. The euphoria was difficult to contain at this point even running along the ridge and jumping onto the 'table' for my summit shot didn't concern me (the next shot shows why it perhaps should have)
the South summit and 'table' sticking out beside the main traverse, away in the distance more and more of this spectacular ridge reaching as far as I can see.
even at full zoom I can't find the Northern end of the ridge, my guide book describes the intermediate section of the ridge as one for scramblers who can handle moderate to difficult scrambles, I decide to stick with the South summit for now though immediately begin hatching a plan for an assault on the Northern summit in the near future.
looking back across the valley it seems such a long way back to the truck I find it hard to believe my GPS when it says 6.6km since the start. Standing here on this spectacular ridge is an incredible feeling and I drink in the stunning surroundings as I have my lunch at the little table cairn.
Still in my t-shirt even after sitting on the summit for 15 minutes or so I reluctantly set off back along the ridge the way I came in, looking back at that incredible summit peak one last time as I do.
the hike out along the ridge is as wonderful as the hike in and I seem to be going forever without sign of the descent route, it seemed a shorter journey on the way in
finally I reach the first of many sawtooth steps that begin the descent and signal the start of the end of this wonderful ridge hike
the descent as always with scrambling is more challenging than the ascent but it is not difficult it merely needs care. I am soon looking down on the steep scree bowl that leads to the water run drop off.
the very direct nature of the crack that runs down the steep cliff side does present a final challenge for the day, more because of slippery wet rocks and a near vertical drop than any technical difficulty, again a point where concentration and focus is needed to prevent a silly error on weary legs.
as I traverse the next step down a strong shower blows through bringing some really cold air with it and I stop to add layers for the first time today, as I do an incredibly vivid rainbow spans the forest below (as if this hill wasn't spectacular enough as it is)
the lower levels of the ridge seem to be a mile wide and I stride out with a grin like a Cheshire cat along the broad flat surface
in no time at all I'm back at the start of the ridge where a steep descent will take me down to the wide meadow below
crossing the meadow I give out plenty of 'YO BEAR' shouts and keep my eyes peeled as I make good time on a well trodden trail
I drop down through the forest quickly and meet a couple out horse riding along the equestrian trail, we stand talking for 15 minutes or so about the area in general and I get some great tips for other hikes nearby. After saying our goodbyes I pick up the Elbow River trail and turn left (East) toward the car park.
as I walk along the smell of bar-b-q fills the air from the camp sites, all of the parking areas have large 'Winnebago' type vehicles in them and the grassy areas are full of tents, for hundreds of people Friday evening around here is the start of 2 nights of camping/hiking and enjoying the mountains. For me it is the start of a couple of days rest until they've all gone home ;)
Nihahi Ridge has immediately taken over No.1 spot in terms of my favourite Canadian hikes, the sheer beauty of the valleys on all sides and the excitement of that razor like ridge will take some beating, though there are so many mountains around here don't be surprised if I do, eventually find a new No.1