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Follow The Climbs - Northwest Territories:
Un-named Peak (Mt. Nirvana)

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Nortwest Territories

Journal & Climbing Summary

Climbing Notifications & Status Messages
** Trip Completed **
June 15th, Monday - The journey begins for Dave, Eric and Susan with an "important" supply run in Montana before entering Canada en-route to Edmonton, then Watson Lake in the Yukon, and then into the Northwest Territories.
July 10th, Friday - The journey begins for Len and Ron.

A long drive up through northern BC (with a brief stop to check out the scenery at Dease River), across the provincial border and into Watson Lake (Yukon). From there, a 300 km drive NW of Watson Lake, taking the Nahanni Range Road into Flat Lakes, headwaters of the Little Nahanni River. This is where the first paddling leg of the trip will take them north along the Little Nahanni River, and then east where it will join up with the South Nahanni River.

(Note: zoom in on the map and drag it around to check out the terrain they will be traveling through on their way down the Nahanni. Map/Route - Fullscreen version)

Spending their first night at a fork in the river with a tributary to the Little Nahanni.
July 14th, Tuesday - continuing their run north down the Little Nahanni River with an early start. Then eastward to enter into the South Nahanni River. 100+ km so far. Aside from a brief Class 4 "drenching", Len and Ron are making good progress.
July 15th - the paddling route and progress so far (red), and their destination (blue).
(click for larger image, or view the Map/Route and zoom in)

July 20th, Monday - and the teams are stuck where they are at 3 locations dealing with the weather and waiting for a break ... and Len and Ron are dealing with a bear at Rabbit Kettle Lake. Yoiks!

Sounds like they are ok though and are channeling Red Green to fix damages to their tents with their supply of duct tape - the 8th Wonder of the World. Advised Ron to not cuddle the local wildlife - maybe he can get Yogi to Hug a Tree instead. Also just received word that the bear made off with Ron's toilet paper. Now why ... ??? ... er ... nevermind. It's probably that bear from the (insert brand name here) commercials. You know the one. Sounds like there will be some rationing beginning soon.

Hopefully "Yogi" has realized that Len and Ron don't have any pic-a-nic baskets to raid, and has found Boo-Boo by now and wandered off somewhere else for food before a Park Ranger shows up. And hopefully the weather improves quickly so the team can get back on track and meet up with the other members to begin the hiking & climbing leg of the journey.

(click for larger image, or view the Map/Route and zoom in)

July 22nd, Wed. - unable to continue waiting out the weather to catch the flight in from Watson Lake and meet up with everyone at Nirvana, Greg Slayden & Marc Aymerich return to Smithers, BC. Unfortunate, but such is the nature of Mother Nature and waiting for the right weather opportunity. One can plan and prepare for almost anything, but the elements of weather and time can't be ignored or controlled. Next time guys!

Ron & Len and Dave & Eric & Susan continue to wait it out. Check out the new Weather Maps section on the Maps & Route page for various satellite weather forecasts. Someone in Dave's group remembered to bring a deck of cards - yay! And Len and Ron have taken up ornithology (aka - duck watching).


July 25th, Friday - Dave and Susan enjoy new scenery and a drier environment amongst the company of other climbers at the Lotus Flower Tower on Fairy Meadows in the Cirque of the Unclimbables area. Sounds like a setting from Lord of the Rings.

Southeast of them, Ron and Len grew tired of naming all the local ducks and counting raindrops for the last week. They are leaving Rabbit Kettle Lake and will meet up with Eric Gilbertson, who is hiking solo to Hole-in-the-Wall Lake.

Weak/no GPS signal feed from Len. Assumed route.

July 26th, Sunday - Dave & Susan discover the effects of global warming and experience the massive void left behind when a glacier they were expecting to see, has simply disappeared. To learn more about glaciers, and the ways in which glaciers reflect the changes occurring in Earth's climate, click over to the Summits of Canada glacier section:

- Glaciers
- Reflecting Climate Change


July 29th, Wed. - Dave & Susan grounded by weather again today. Susan takes to reading the nutritional labels on their food to pass the time. Once finished with that, she eyeballs the chocolate they brought, and resists the urge to delve into it. Wait for it, wait for it ... hoold, hooooold.

Eric meets up with Ron and Len. Unfortunately, with only 2 days left before they are scheduled to catch the jump-flight back to Rabbit Kettle Lake, the bid for the summit for this year is effectively kaput. The treasured peak of Nirvana shall remain cloaked behind a misty veil, shrouded in clouds, obscured by rain and hidden from the team.


August 8th, Sunday - Len's team (now 7 in total) continues their paddling expedition down the South Nahanni River, enjoying the sights and scenery and wildlife, and occasionally putting in a bit of hiking & trekking at some of their stops and camps along the way.

Meanwhile, after 2+ weeks of climbing and exploring the Cirque of the Unclimbables, Dave's team have left Fairy Meadows and the Lotus Flower Tower area. In fact, they left the Northwest Territories altogether and are now in the Yukon enjoying some rest and relaxation at Inconnu Lodge. Wonder if they finished off their $300 worth of cheese.

Dave, Susan and Rick now positioned in the Yukon.
Inconnnu Lodge in the Yukon

Len's team - the paddling route down the South Nahanni River (another 380 km),
where they will eventually join into the Laird River. Destination: Blackstone Landing.

August 11th, Tuesday - Len & team continue down the S. Nahanni, taking in the full northern wilderness experience with combinations of rivers and canyons and mountains and wildlife and nature's ultimate light shows. Click here to Learn more about the Nahanni National Park Reserve of Canada and the river system that the rivers and region that the team is traveling through. Tomorrow they "hang a left" at the Laird confluence with the South Nahanni River.


And Dave, Susan & Rick have gone border hopping from the Yukon, to Fort Nelson in BC, to Edmonton and then Jasper National Park in Alberta. They too are taking full advantage of their opportunity to explore and experience as much of Canada's natural wonders as possible during their time here.

Did You Know - that Jasper National Park was established in 1907 and has the largest Dark Sky Preserve on the planet (designated on March 26, 2011), encompassing over 11,000 km2? Click here to Learn more about Jasper National Park.


August 15th, Saturday - Each of the teams and their members have returned to the comforts of civilization with another exciting and adventure filled trip completed. And there will be many stories and pictures to share with friends and families.

As is par for the course, especially when traveling through any part of Canada's remote wilderness areas, plans were subject to weather and unforeseen setbacks. And even though there was a fairly tight schedule with a lot of logistical components of moving people and supplies around in multiple areas, this trip was no exception. Weather has its own sense of humour, and often likes to play tinker-toys with people's plans, keeping everyone on their toes, or under cover for days while waiting out some nasty storms.

As always though, safety was the over-riding factor when making adjustments to plans and setting realistic new objectives. One must always be very concious and aware of the surroundings and the current situation: supplies, geography, weather patterns and the health conditions of everyone involved. Not to mention the availability of aid (or lack thereof) should it ever be required. As usual, a good "take-away" note from this trip would be: Expect the unexpected. So schedules were changed and everyone adapted to the situations accordingly and made the most of their time up north in Canada's Nahanni National Park. Welcome back everyone!

Note: a journal summary will be posted below in late August, as will photos of the trip to provide a visual journey of what the teams experienced.



Paddling / Climbing / Paddling / Trip Summary

For a second time in a row, the CanaTREK teams have been turned back from the NWT highpoint, better known to the highpoint community as Nirvana, but historically verified through oral history by the Dehcho (as Parks Canada has discovered) as Thunder Mtn.

The advanced team of Eric, Dave & Susan utilized available weather windows in advance of Len's arrival for 5 exploratory attempts on the SW face, sometimes turned back due to rain/wet rock, unfavourable route/bad rock. They did make a 20 hr. push on their last attempt and got within one pitch of the summit ridge when rock conditions warranted a retreat. Later, Dave & Susan flipped to the Cirque of the Unclimbables, with Rick joining them in early August when weather conditions improved. Their team managed to ascend Lotus Flower, one of the 50 classic rock climbs in North America. Congrats to them.

Len and Ron paddled to Rabbit Kettle Lake over the course of four days from Flat Lakes, 300 km northwest of Watson Lake, down the Little Nahanni and South Nahanni. This is an exceptional paddle trip and only recommended for competent paddlers due to class 3 and a couple of class 4 rapids on the Little Nahanni. As of July 19th, upon their arrival to Rabbit Kettle Lake, the weather turned really ugly, pinning everyone down for the better part of the week. Forecasts from all accounts were not looking favourable for the following week as well, which turned out correct, at least for allowing rock walls to dry and providing an 18 hr. window for East Face Nirvana. A decision was made to abort the climb - bummer, but a wise choice none-the-less. Marc and Greg returned from Watson Lake to Smithers, having not set foot into the Park; Eric proceeded to hike to Lonely Lake, meeting up with Ron and Len who hiked to Hole-in-the-Wall Lake a few days earlier.

The Nahanni Seven paddle crew of Len, Ron, Eric, Barry, Dorelene, Shelley & Luke enjoyed great weather from Aug. 1 to 13, with only a couple of light showers during their 380 km float to Blackstone Landing. Ron, Eric & Luke pushed in advance of the others' arrival to Blackstone Landing some 250 km to Fort Simpson in 2.5 days to pick up the truck and were waxed with a serious downpour on the final morning, but were treated with spectacular northern lights the evening before ... now that was an endurance paddle!

Despite the disappointment in having to cancel the climb on site for a second time, the trip was exceptional since nothing can really go wrong in Nahanni National Park ... it keeps showing up on my (Len's) bucket list with four appearances to date.

2016 or 2017 at the latest will be another attempt, but this time not mobilizing until a significant high pressure system is evident to ensure success ... possibly looking at a three face team blitz (East, North & SW).

Thanks for your support and encouragement.

Len Vanderstar
Summits of Canada team coordinator


The following provides some further details regarding Nahanni National Park and the areas that were traveled through. (Note - some information is compliments of Parks Canada’s South Nahanni River Touring Guide.)

Located in Canada’s Northwest Territories, Nahanni National Park Reserve was created in 1976 to protect a portion of the Mackenzie Mountains natural region. Park expansions have since occurred twice. The Park protects the largest remaining glaciers and the highest mountains in the Northwest Territories, large alpine plateaus, karst features and important wildlife habitat.

Nahanni National Park is located within the traditional territory of the Dehcho First Nations, and the Park is co-operatively managed by Parks Canada and the Dehcho First Nations. In 1978, Nahanni National park was declared a United Nations World Heritage Site for its exceptional natural beauty and its globally unique geological processes. In 1987, the South Nahanni River was designated as a Canadian Heritage River. It's a premier wilderness river area with magnificent scenery and offers a great opportunity to discover the local culture of the area. Other rivers worthy of paddling consideration within the Park include the Little Nahanni River and Flat River. Parks Canada has a South Nahanni River Touring Guide that highlights the river from its headwaters (Moose Ponds) to its confluence with the Laird River, 565 km downstream. Ken Madsen’s book, Paddling in the Yukon, also describes the Little Nahanni.

The highest mountain in NWT is known by the Dehcho elders as Thunder Mountain (in translation), and by the climbing community as Nirvana. It is presently officially un-named, but this is expected to change. This mountain is located in the heart of the Ragged Range, so named for the spectacular formation of jagged granite peaks. The Range was formed 110 million years ago when molten igneous rock deep within the earth’s crust was forced to within 3,000 meters of the earth’s surface. As it hardened and cooled, it pushed sedimentary rock up from below, and over time the upper layers of sedimentary rock eroded, exposing the granite of the Ragged Range. The last period of glaciation, which ended about 10,000 years ago, sculpted the formation seen today. Cirque of the Unclimbables is a featured area associated with the Ragged Range, well known to climbers world wide.

The largest tufa mounds in Canada are situated in close proximity to Rabbit Kettle Lake. Interpretive hikes are offered by Park personnel from this location during the months of July and August.

The more recent Wisconsin glaciation that shaped the Ragged Range did not reach the South Nahanni River valley from Rabbit Kettle Lake to Virginia Falls. This broad u-shaped valley was carved by glaciers more than 130,000 years ago. Below Virginia Falls, the Park has not seen glaciation in more than 200,000 years. Flowing water, rather than ice, shaped the lower canyons. As the mountains grew over time, the river was able to stay its course, more or less, carving through the rising rock strata, creating the canyons and preserving the meanders that developed when the river flowed across a flat valley.


CanaTREK, the Summits of Canada Expedition Team - Since 2006
"Teaching Canadians and the World about Canada - One Step At A Time"