Tuesday, July 14, 2015

First Summits - Nihahi Ridge, Kananaskis

We're slowly adding to our list of successful first summits as a family and they just keep getting bigger!  Last month we added the Nihahi Ridge hike to our victory list and we managed to make it 95% of the way to the south summit.  We turned around when the ridge became a bit too exposed for our comfort with a possible storm looming in the near future. Next time we'll go a bit further and we'll just keep lengthening the ridge walk each time we go.

Nihahi Ridge, Kananaskis

The Hike

The first part of the trip was purely a cute little hike, easy, and gradual with no steep climbs.  No surprise though, this was Noah's least favourite part and he was wishing for a chair lift to carry him to the alpine!  The part through the trees was the hardest part of the whole outing for us and we just had to push through until we reached the meadow and steeper slopes above.

Hiking the Nihahi Ridge Trail

The hike starts from the Little Elbow Campground in the Elbow Valley past Bragg Creek.  The trailhead is at the far end of the campground, where unfortunately there is no parking.  If you are not camped near the trailhead, drop the kids and an adult off at the trailhead and go back to park the car.  This is what we did and it saved Noah 1.5km of hiking. Dad just got a little more exercise.

Nearing the end of the official Nihahi Ridge hiking trail

A full trail description of the first 2.5km can be found on the Alberta Parks website with information on the trailhead and camping  at Little Elbow (which we'll do next time.)

The official hiking trail is 5km round trip and leads to a scenic viewpoint well below the ridge top.  Climbing up to the ridge is considered a "scramble" with hands on moments, easy rock climbing, and some exposure as you go further along.

This is where "hikers" will turn around below the ridge top


The Scramble to the Ridge Top

While the hike was scenic, we didn't set out to do a hike.  We were out to reach a summit and to get as far along the ridge as possible.  We knew we wouldn't reach the official South Summit with a 6 year old, but we were curious to see how far we could get!  Turns out we got pretty far!!

Narrow hiking en route to the ridge top

Scrambling to the ridge
It's relatively easy hiking as you approach the ridge but the trail signs stop at the end of the official view point and route finding is required from here onward.  It's recommended that if you want to do this scramble, you pick up a guide book and read the route carefully before going.  I recommend Gillean Daffern's Popular Day Hikes in Kananaskis

To gain the ridge crest, you will have to do some hands on scrambling as shown in the photo at right.  Most adults (and older school aged children) should be capable of the short little climb but families with younger children might feel more comfortable with a short section of rope.

My husband put Noah on belay for the scramble up to the ridge to protect against a dangerous fall that could result in broken bones.  We also put a helmet on Noah just in case he slipped and bumped his head.  (in general, it's good practice to bring helmets if you are bringing rope!!)

A fall on this section would likely not be fatal, but it's still important to take this cliff band seriously and if you feel at all uneasy about it, this is the point to turn around and rejoice with how far you came safely.  The photos below show how steep the drop is below the cliff.

Climbing up to the ridge top on Nihahi Ridge
A good shot to show why you might want a rope!

Hiking on Nihahi Ridge

Once you finish with the short crux section above, things mellow out and it's pleasant hiking along the ridge.  From here, you can choose how far you want to go based on your experience with route finding and scrambling, your comfort level with exposure, and the age of your children.

Hiking up to the first summit on the ridge
Rest break on the first summit of Nihahi Ridge

We took a nice break at the first summit.  You'll know you're here when it actually looks like a summit and you start to feel like you should hold on to your children closely.  The ridge starts to feel airy at this point and the views are amazing.

The First Summit on Nihahi Ridge

How far should we go...

We pushed it a bit further than this with dreams of reaching the official south summit but the ridge got very scrambly, exposed, and narrow.  There was also a storm looming in the near future and we were scared of getting caught on a narrow ridge with no means of quick retreat.

Please, can we go further??
Ok, a little further...
Turning around before the final traverse to the South Summit
Next time we are reaching that South Summit!!


The Descent

No surprise, the descent was a lot faster than the ascent!  In total, we would have climbed approximately 700 vertical metres (about 50 vertical metres short of the south summit) and hiked at least 10km round trip.

The view as you make your way off the ridge
Down climbing the cliff band off the ridge

We managed to avoid the storm and our round trip hiking time was approximately 4 hours.  Noah promptly passed out in the car and had to be woken for his ice cream in Bragg Creek.

Scrambling on Nihahi Ridge
Off the ridge and back in the meadow

Overall Recommendation

Great family hike with beautiful scenery and a gradual start that allows you to go as far as you want and then turn around when things get too crazy. The meadow is a great spot for a picnic and if you only get this far, it is a pleasant 4km round trip hike at most from the edge of the campground.


In 2016 we went on to finish the climb to the South Summit. Read about that adventure here: Family Hiking at the Next Level: Scrambles and Summits

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