Nihahi Creek is a Kananaskis Country classic that is unique and forever memorable.
Ask anyone who has done it. This adventure begins on a gorgeous, sunny morning with the familiar drive from Calgary past Bragg Creek to the end of the Elbow Falls Trail (Hwy 66) in Kananaskis Country before hiking 5 KM (3⅛ miles) along the Little Elbow River Trail past the Nihahi Ridge trail-head to the trail-head for Nihahi Creek. Carrying a map and hiking guide is sensible.
The right turn just before Nihahi Creek begins the gradual ascent through 2.5 KM (1⅝ miles) of forest until an unassuming opening leads into a left turn and direction reversal onto the creek bed and into the hidden entrance to the canyon. The entrance can be easy to miss.
The hike through the canyon is about 1.5 KM (1 mile) long. Debris-laden, annual, spring runoff from surrounding mountains grinds its way through the weakest parts of the rock. A series of cascading waterfalls have created several vertical drops in elevation, forming hollow bowls in the rock at the bottom.
In summer there is usually no running water, but recent rain has left the bowls filled with water. Logs, placed over the drops, allow descent by carefully easing along them while maintaining balance with hands on the vertical canyon walls. Today, the logs are wet and slippery increasing the possibility of an undignified plunge into a cold, water-filled cauldron below. Potential for injury is reasonable, but for personal humiliation - quite high.
Standing above the hidden entrance into the Nihahi Creek Canyon
Careful progress in single file proceeds down the logs, over the drops and onto the next level area, where a short hike through the spectacular, smooth-walled canyon provides an opportunity to repeat the process several more times.
Working together as a team and arriving at the clearing in sunny canyon central provides the opportunity to enjoy lunch and animated conversation in sunlight before continuing into and down the second section of the canyon.
In the second half, the terrain is different. The canyon is much wider with only a single section of very narrow canyon to be negotiated on a downward-sloping log. Bright red pools of algae-laden water punctuate the course as sound echoes from surrounding rock. Progress through the canyon ends at a sheer 200 foot drop.
Vertical canyon walls on either side make it necessary to backtrack slightly to a location where it is possible to scramble up the steep, rocky slope to the trail above. The scramble should be performed on different vertical routes to avoid accidentally pushing rocks down onto another hiker.
The return proceeds past the main trail to spend a few minutes relaxing by the Little Elbow River before hiking the shoreline. While in the canyon, the sun has swung around to the west and sun-drenched Forget-Me-Not Mountain consumes the forward field of vision. Using a combination of off-trail bushwhacking and game trails successfully progresses past interesting rock formations to a ridge scramble up to the road and very close to the parking area.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada.