The Nihahi Ridge Trail is unique in the Elbow Valley. Like many of the hikes in the area, it is relatively easy to get to, but it is one that covers the three ecological zones that make up the eastern slopes of the Rockies – the montane, subalpine and alpine zones. The montane region is the forested watershed that supplies the water for rivers like the Elbow. This is where wildlife and people live. Subalpine is the middle elevation between the aspen trees and the treeline. It is populated by firs and Engelmann spruce. Alpine zone is the land above treeline where you’ll find a little greenery, a lot of rock and some drop-dead views of the mountains and the valleys.
The Forgetmenot trailhead is either of the first two driveways to the left inside the Little Elbow Recreation Area at the end of highway 66. Both have pit toilets. The first area is for hikers and those who are visiting Forgetmenot Pond, an exquisite turquoise lake with grassy shoreline and picnic tables. Scuba divers use Forgetmenot to practice their sport. There is a plaque at the bottom of the pond commemorating an avid scuba diver, a Calgary police officer who was killed on duty. There is also a cement block structure that looks like a castle. It is intended to help vegetation grow in the crystal clear, ice cold 6 degree centigrade (43 F) water. Maximum depth is 18 ft. with a silty bottom.
The memorial plaque reads,
“This site is dedicated to the memory of CONSTABLE ROBERT JOHN VANDERWIEL
Killed in the line of duty September 22, 1992.
May you continue to watch over and protect those you did not get to teach.
We will never forget you,
The second driveway is for equestrian use. Both connect to a gravel path that hugs the shoreline of the Elbow River where we begin our 3 to 4 hour hike.
A walk along the riverside is rare in the Elbow Valley and the first half-hour provides a refreshing exposure to rushing water and churning rapids. Continue past the footbridge that provides access to the Elbow Loop Trail, on past the campground to a series of 3 gates that block access to the old fire road. About 20 metres past the third gate is a shortcut footpath through the woods. But I’d save this for the return trip, when you’ll appreciate it more. Continue on to the map marking the start of the ascent to the Nihahi ridge. In about 8 minutes you connect with another trail where you turn left. Shortly you’ll come to a trail on the right that heads up. If you continue straight, you’ll find yourself back on the fire road.
This marks the begining of the uphill climb that ascends to 2135 metres. The trail through the lodgepole pine forest provides some nice views of the Elbow Valley and the junction of the Little Elbow and Big Elbow rivers. About 45 minutes into the hike the trees give way to an open grassy meadow where you can can see the rock outcrop at the top of the trail. Across the meadow to the west you can see the Nihahi rock ridge. Nihahi is the Stoney native’s word for rock. We’ve been hiking a gentle slope that leads to the ridge. Here you’ll find an interesting outcrop of rock with a flat face inclined at about 30 degrees. I’m sure I’m not the first to call it “rest rock”. Does anyone have another suggested name?
This meadow is sometimes frequented by grizzly bears. After a brief stroll across the meadow the ascent resumes. About an hour and a quarter from the start the trail skirts a rock ledge that has a fence to prevent falls. Shortly after the fence, the trail splits. You can go either way. To the right you overlook the Elbow Valley and the foothills, to the left you get a peak down the Little Elbow River and the Rockies to the west. At this point we’re at about 1890 metres. The view back down over the meadow and on into the valley is quite rewarding.
A good thing too, as the trail gets considerably steeper as we are on the ridge with views to the left and right. About an hour and fourty-five minutes into the hike the trail is steep with a large rock outcrop. The trail appears to go to the right, but you should go up to the left to avoid a steep rock slope and a scramble back up onto the ridge. Almost 2 hours in, things get a bit dodgy as we face a vertical rock face and loose shale. But the view is fabulous. Off to the left is the Elbow Valley and the recreation area including Forgetmenot Pond. Across the Little Elbow valley is Glasgow Mountain, behind it is Cornwall Mountain and on to Banded Peak. Down the Little Elbow valley to the west is a lower ridge of Mount Fullerton, the peak of Mount Remus and beyond that, the flat-topped peak of Mount Romulus. To the right of Romulus is Mount Fullerton. These peaks are between 2725 to 3050 metres (8950 to 10000 feet) high. We’re at about 2125 metres.
The Nihahi Ridge Trail has an number of end points. The base of this rock cliff is the end of the official trail. From this point on the hike becomes a scramble up and around rock cliffs. Gillean Daffern describes two scrambles, the first relatively easy the second more intimidating. Climbing to the summit at 2362 metres, requires experience and ability beyond most of us. The summit just touches the alpine region as the trees are no match for the wind and exposure along the ridge top.
The return trip took about an hour and a half. At the first T-junction we continued on the wide trail used by horseback trail riders. The wet spots were a bit chewed up by horse hooves, but a few minutes down the trail a footpath off to the right leads through the forest, joining the fire road at the gate where the campground is. With a half-hour break at the top, the return trip took us four hours. Please send your impression of the trail and let me know how long you spent on the