After being thundered off Commonwealth Peak the day before with Raf and Mel, I was more than ready to attain another few summits on Saturday, July 05 2008 with a gang of mountain veterans. I was joining Bill Kerr, Gary Vandergrift, Roy Stadelweiser, Kevin Papke and Keith Bott on a two peak day in Kananaskis Country on Nihahi and Compression Ridges. The weather forecast was a bit suspect, given that The Weather Network was calling for a bright, sunny day and Environment Canada was calling for thunderstorms but we decided to take our chances anyway.
Thanks to Bob Spirko's excellent route description we had a plan to do both of these peaks in one day (I've actually already done the Nihahi traverse but the chance to nab two peaks was irresistible) and return to the same parking spot rather than have a different start and end as suggested in Kane's book. We'd also experience all the fun on the ridge between Nihahi and Compression without enduring the long slog that's typical of the whole traverse.
The day started off with Keith and I standing at the Petro Canada station along highway #1 at 06:00 wondering if we were an hour early. We weren't. Apparently some members of our group needed their beauty rest and so we graciously waited for them to wake up before heading out to the trail head 30 minutes later than originally planned. I won't mention any names at this point. Gary wouldn't appreciate it.
Kev and Roy picked up Keith and I in Kev's party van and we met Gary and Bill at the Prairie Creek trail head (same as the Powderface Ridge trail along the Powderface road). We geared up and crossed the road where we were 'greeted' by a bunch of cows. Keith was impressed by Bill's knowledge of these creatures. I was impressed by their smell! (I grew up around hogs so naturally I think cows stink way worse.) At first the route was very obvious. Simply follow the trail! Eventually, however, we crossed the stream that had been on our left and started heading towards a traverse of the east slopes of Nihahi Ridge. Bill knew that there was a trail that traverses this ridge (underneath it) and so we decided that we must have taken a wrong fork in the original trail. This was sort of correct but mostly not.
[The start of the bushwhack wasn't too bad. It's only when the cow trail ended that we got a bit off route.]
As it turns out, when the main trail (orange triangle markers) crosses the creek you have several options. You can take the main trail and then bushwhack your way, climber's right, to the lower slopes of Nihahi Ridge but I would suggest that you go a wee bit further on the right side of the stream before you'll arrive at a large meadow / clearing on your left. You'll be able to look up this clearing towards the lower part of Nihahi Ridge. There is a hill to the left of this clearing (not large but treed), you should simply start walking down this clearing and skirt the right side of this treed hill. After this you should traverse left until you hit a stream. Follow the stream and take the left fork when it dries up - follow this dry stream bed all the way to the lower slopes of Nihahi Ridge. (see Bill Kerr's excellent map for details.) Or you can do what we did.
We stayed on the right side of the creek, trying to work our way deeper into the bowl on the east side of Compression Ridge before contouring back towards Nihahi. This was a good theory but a bad practice. We ended up in some frustrating bush. It wasn't the worst bushwhacking any of us had done but it was certainly more tiring than plodding along a trail! There was quite a bit of blow-down and one section was very tight and aggressive young growth which made for bleeding arms and legs. Eventually we realized our mistake and started an aggressive line straight for Nihahi. This worked well and soon we were in a small, dry creek bed that dumped us out on the lower, south slopes of Nihahi.
At this point we could basically pick from a number of lines up to Nihahi Ridge. Kev and Roy went left, Keith and I went center and then trended left up obvious rock shelves and Bill and Gary went more central - but still left of the obvious gully to the col. We all thought that the gully didn't look too inviting because of loose rock and slabby terrain but it would probably work too. The way it worked out is that Kev and Roy (the two guys who actually didn't even want to bag Nihahi) took the most direct line to the summit of Nihahi, basically topping out right at the cairn! Keith and I were a wee bit to the west of the summit (like 100 meters, maybe) and Bill and Gary were about 0.5 km from the summit on their line. Gary and Bill decided to have a picnic on their way to the top of Nihahi so they fell quite a bit behind the rest of us. Kev and Roy were setting a blistering pace and Keith and I were busy trying to keep up and get some photos at the same time! Don't say I didn't warn you. These 'old guys' are still fast! At least when they're not having picnics and sleeping in! :-)
[Coming up the lower, grassy slopes of Nihahi Ridge.]
[Summit of Nihahi Ridge. Gary and Bill are off somewhere having a picnic on the way up... ;-)]
[Mount Fisher is the high one in the center, Fullerton to the right.]
[To the left of the picture is the Glasgow-Banded traverse.]
After snapping photos at the summit of Nihahi it was time for the exciting traverse towards Compression Ridge.