Summit Elevation (m): 2545
Elevation Gain (m): 1200
Trip Time (hr): 9
Total Trip Distance (km): 18
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3/4 – you fall, you break something or worse
Difficulty Notes: Mostly hiking and easy scrambling to Nihahi, difficult and exposed scrambling to Compression. Note: This trip report is for a day trip combining both peaks.
Technical Rating: SC7; YDS (4th)
Map: Google Maps
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.
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! 🙂
After snapping photos at the summit of Nihahi it was time for the exciting traverse towards Compression Ridge.
The section of ridge between the summit of Nihahi and Compression is some of the best scrambling I’ve done in a while. It’s also longer than it first appears (big surprise). With dark clouds threatening to rain on our parade we kept up the blistering pace and soon we were at the crux rock fin.
I think some people have managed to work their way around this fin somehow (Kane suggests you try to avoid it) but we decided to go right along the top of it. It’s loose and it’s very exposed. Roy and Kev did the smart thing and short-roped this section, using various rock fins for friction belays. Not a bad idea if you bring a rope along. Keith and I both soloed this section no problem but we are younger and more foolish and I respect those guys for going safe. One slip and all of a sudden it’s not so smart to solo this type of terrain right? Like any difficult scrambling section, there is no room for error and since nobody is perfect you can’t help but think that someday it could catch up to you. I’m certainly going to think harder about short-roping with simple terrain belays on difficult scrambles. There’s a reason Roy has over 600 peaks and is still around to enjoy another 600.
We briefly thought about waiting for Bill and Gary but decided that they would have no issues with the rock fin and continued on to the summit of Compression Ridge. The terrain after the crux was quite fun. Soon we arrived on the summit (we were pretty sure this was the summit) and took some quick photos as the clouds were thickening quickly and some rain drops were starting to hit us. There was a small cairn but no register so we thought maybe a high point a bit further along the ridge was the summit and so we headed for that. Once we got there it was obvious that the high point with the cairn was the official summit. We decided to take a quick break and wait for Bill and Gary to appear in our line of vision (we hadn’t seen them since Nihahi). When Bill and Gary appeared somewhere on the horizon we decided to descend to the second window and wait for them there. The terrain looked a bit intimidating ahead of us.
The descent to the second window wasn’t too bad. I would say upper moderate to difficult scrambling if you’re careful with your route finding, but it could easily become technical climbing if you wander off the easier lines. Generally you want to stick to the ridge if possible, or go down immediately after the first window like Gary and Bill ended up doing. We managed to get to the second window by sticking to the ridge after first going skiers right around the second window from the last high point on the ridge. The sky was threatening rain and since much of the route is on slabby terrain we wanted to get off the tough stuff as soon as possible.
Getting into the second window was probably the crux of the trip (or actually getting out of the second window)! It was probably another one of those “is it really worth it” moments, but it was pretty cool to stand in that window! I couldn’t watch Kev come out of it though, because from my angle it really looked like he could peal off the slabs at any moment and that would have ended his day badly. We waited for about 20 minutes for Bill and Gary. We were surprised that they weren’t in sight because at one point we could see them on the high point of the ridge, just before you drop down to the second window. Finally I caught on to their crafty plan. I surmised that they probably descended straight down from the first window and were busy sneaking past us to the valley below! I was right. (You catch on to these guys after a while!)
We began our own descent, just under the second window. It was fast and loose. Soon we could see Bill and Gary in the next gully over – we managed to pass them because our terrain was slightly easier. After reuniting the group at the base of Compression we wandered down the valley, trying not to get into any bushwhacking this time. I’m pleased to say that I did a slightly better job of route-finding the way out! 🙂 Overall we avoided any thick bush and ended up at the cars about 8 hours and 45 minutes from our start time. This includes at least 45 minutes for stops and lunch breaks.
I really enjoyed Compression and Nihahi. I think you can save yourself a very long day and still get both of these peaks and enjoy some of the best scrambling by doing the “Bob Spirko route”. Highly recommended for competent scramblers.