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Follow The Climbs - Northwest Territories:
Thunder Mountain (Mt. Nirvana)

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** Trip Completed **
Note - Country Highpoints Blog: a complete and comprehensive recap and captivating recounting of this great Canadian expedition, written by Eric Gilbertson, can be found at: Eric's story is well documented and it includes many interesting details and a great collection of photos of the adventures and experiences of the team's "Human Powered, No-Air-Support, NWT 2016 Overland Expedition".
June 12th, Sunday - The journey begins for Len Vanderstar and Eric Gilbertson (summiteers), and Ron Vanderstar and Luke Weyman (valuable support team) with a trip up to Watson Lake in the Yukon, and then into the Northwest Territories at Simpson Lake.
June 15th, Wednesday - after a few days of adventurous river paddling down the Flat River (headed south), the team dries out and starts the trek inland. And of course Len, aka "The Moose", pauses during the day to call out and attract a real moose. And then they made use of moose trails to make traveling through the brush much easier. Once those ran out, it was a matter of tough bushwacking through burn zones ... and learning to tolerate and contend with the infamous swarms of Northwest Territories mosquitoes.
Luke blasting through some rapids on the Flat River, NWT
Luke blasting through some rapids on the Flat River, NWT.

Upper Flat River, NWT
Upper Flat River, NWT

Len on summit of Thunder Mtn
The approach to Thunder Mtn. at a tough stream crossing.

Ron, Eric and Luke - nearing Third Pass
Ron, Eric and Luke - nearing Third Pass.
June 18th, Saturday - the team reaches the base of Thunder Mountain on the eastern flanks and surveys the situation. Fortunately, unlike previous years, the weather continues to look good in this granite peaked area of the Ragged Range. After reviewing their plans and some discussions on strategy, the climb begins.
June 19th, Sunday - after making good progress, the team encounters very warm conditions which results in a series of avalanches. The mountain takes a pair of Len's gloves, but that's okay because he had a spare pair. Wisely choosing a motto of safety first, the team returns to base camp and decides to begin the climb again just past midnight the next morning.
Len after a small avalanche passes by.
Len on the East face of Thunder Mountain after a small avalanche has passed by.
On June 21 at 7 am - Len and Eric reach the summit of Thunder Mountain (Mt. Nirvana), the highest point (2,773 metres; 9,098 feet) in Canada's Northwest Territories. Be sure to check all of the exciting details and challenges of this epic 54 hour climb as told by Eric at:
Len on summit of Thunder Mtn0
Len on a nice belay ledge. East face of Thunder Mtn.

Len on summit of Thunder Mtn
Eric on summit of Thunder Mtn
Len and Eric on the summit of Thunder Mtn .
June 23, Thursday - Len communicates with Ron and Luke who had already left camp and were back paddling down the river. They'd meet up with Len and Eric after they hiked out. After some much needed rest and recuperation (Len also dealing with a nasty blister), the next phase of the expedition saw Len and Eric climb over to the north side of the mountain, then down to the southwest side. All together, another week to hike out through tough conditions with heavy gear.

July 1, Friday - Yesterday Len ignored suggestions of rolling around and caking himself in layers of mud and promptly got helicoptered away by 2 million Northwest Territories, Canadian vampire mosquitoes. Okay, maybe not. But apparently this is not a "Great White North" mythical wilderness story of legend and lore and almost really happened. Even Eric was joking about swatting mosquitoes on his tent and taking out a personal best of 300 in one slap! Though some hardcore Canadians might argue that this record may not stand since "the slap" occured on his tent ... and not on his leg.

Swarms of Mosquitoes
Layers deep swarm of mosquitoes.
Pray they don't breach the walls of the tent!

Len and Eric reach Tungsten after another epic phase of hiking and trekking and bushwacking through some though but incredibly scenic Canadian wilderness. Along the way, besides seeing caribou and finding wolverine tracks in various places, they also encountered a grizzly bear in a meadow near a lake who was apparently more scared of them and sprinted off up some scree and then down a valley. But not before first heading towards Eric and giving him a suddenly elevated blood pressure!

Len and Eric then hopped in the Ron's Jeep and head back to Watson Lake. From there, they head further down the Al-Can and stop at Liard Hot Springs, their last camping spot, where they take a quick dip in the hotsprings before bed. The perfect way to cap off Canada Day, eh!

July 2, Saturday - after 7 hours of driving to Blackstone Landing, they meet up with Ron and Luke who were just finishing up their trip as well with a 2:30 am start of paddling down the river in order to reach the landing at 8 am. The reunited team packs up all their gear and then heads back to Liard Hot Springs.

Sunday sees the team on the road again with another long but scenic 15 hour drive back to Smithers.

July 4, Monday - after fond farewells, Eric hops aboard a Greyhound bus to head back to Seattle. After which (eg. - 27 hours later) he probably needed to pay a visit to a physio therapist to get "de-pretzeled" an unwind from the trip!


With a safe and successful return, the team completes another incredible Summits of Canada adventure. And, of course, the achievement of the elusive and challenging quest for another Canadian highpoint that had eluded them on 2 previous attempts. Persistence and Patience Prevails and Pays off with smiles and gratitude for NWT's Thunder Mountain/Mt. Nirvana!


About Nahanni National Park

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"