Fears, Headstands, and Scree at Nihahi Ridge

The weather is finally warming up. Flower and vegetable seeds have been sowed at our gardens. And I have finally sorted out (still with some regrets) my long resistance to possessing a “Class 5” driver’s license (public transit advocacy). Thus, I drove (with slight annoyance but otherwise confidently) into the Kananaskis Provincial Park where we will attempt an eleven (11) km of “moderate trail” to Nihahi Ridge.

Parking lots were full and overflowing. But the entrance to the trail was fairly straightforward. Patches of ice still linger on the shadow-side of the trees; and puddles of mud appear from the melts. Occasional horse hooves and dung mark the damp trail bringing with it sometimes odd wildflower blossoms indigenous to the lowlands and prairies (i.e the crocus).

The walk among the spruces, cedars, and pines was made fragrant by the warming waxes. Nuts fell here and there from the squirrels nibbling atop conifers. At about 1900m ASL, a meadow appeared. The short grasses and patches of gnarly ground plants dominated the fields, and the view of the mountains across the river was on full display.

A few more hundred meters and the ground became more rocky and craggy. It is fascinating to see how the roots of the big trees configure themselves to hold on to the tilted and shattered rocks.

The first view of the ridge and the scree dawned to me. A sense of slight distress came as I recall a traumatic scramble at Belmore Brown Peak where I suddenly had a panic attack in the middle of the slopes. Hehe.

The view was breathtaking. On the west, the majesty of snow covered ridges (after ridges) looking down into the narrow portion Elbow River valley. On the east were the views of the “foothills” and the lush valleys and floodplains, and Calgary!

The scree at Nihahi was not as loose as in Belmore Brown. And the protruding crags that parallel the joints of the massive mountain provided some extra grip and friction. I learned not to look down too much, and look up the skies more. But the bushes and flowers between these broken tiles of rocks were so fascinating: “Just HOW?!”…

Endre, despite having a center of mass, one (1) meter higher than mine, seemed to be threading the slopes as if he was on a track field. “Was he a mountain goat in his past life?” I wondered.

Before I could let my nerves get the better part of me again, I asked him, “Why does this have to be hard, Babuch?” He just looked at me and said “You have to pay for the view.”

The last eight (8) meters or so of vertical wall to the first view point and cliff of Nihahi was still in snow. I have learned that snow boots are still handy this time of the year. "I cannot stop this close now," I told myself.

I started looking around and the tall trees that surrounded me seemed to have given me the shrug and the approving nod.

I stared at the hard snow, plotted the nooks and crags that I could hold on to, and climbed the almost vertical wall in 15 seconds. And then I made it to the “ridge”, about 50 cm wide.

I hugged and kissed the rocks, thanked them and the trees.

I was introspecting why I am so fearful of heights, fearful of death, fearful of pain, fearful of many things, when a tiny furry squirrel crawled behind my feet in the two (2) cm space between my heel and the wall. The cute little fellow did not care a single bit about the internal drama I was in. Hahaha…

That sorted me out in an instant.

It is when we realize how small we are in the vastness of “all this,” and when we realize that being in the mountains is not about “conquering the rocks and summits”, but rather about finding ourselves to be “IN ALL THIS”, that we get to be both humbled and emancipated at the same time.

Thus, our descent became much jollier for me. I had to throw in a few headstands in prostration and gratitude to the trees and squirrels, and to Endre, the persistent mountain ram that he is.

And yes, I even volunteered, whole-heartedly to drive back to Calgary.

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