AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Ragged Range, Mount Nirvana, East Face

While sitting atop the summits of the Cirque of the Unclimbables in 1960, the late Bill Buckingham noted a particularly fine group of peaks 20 miles farther to the south. The central peak of this group is Mount Nirvana, which at 9,097 feet is the highest mountain in the Northwest Territories of Canada. This then led to Buckingham’s first expedition to this portion of the Ragged Range. After completely circling Mount Nirvana, Buckingham and Lew Surdam found a weakness to the north and made the first ascent in 1965 (AAJ, 1966, pp. 33-37). This route was repeated only once, in 1975 (AAJ, 1976, pp. 320-325). Nirvana has apparently been unclimbed by this or any other route in the past 21 years. Two expeditions have viewed the walls and ramparts of the east face, but both decided against attempting an ascent.

On July 13, Jack, Dan, Tom and Hope Bennett landed on an unnamed lake about 20 miles east of Nirvana and began a rugged five-day trek over two high passes to reach a summit camp at the foot of the Nirvana glacier. Our ascent, the first from the east, took place on July 19. We easily climbed the glacier, crossed the bergschrund, and mounted the lower portion of the face. The most difficult section was a near-vertical 500-foot high band of granite leading up to the left end of a broad snow ledge. The crux was a delicate traverse right to reach a new crack. After moving 150 feet right on the ledge, a moderate series of cracks led diagonally up to the left toward detached flakes. With a final strenuous pull-up in a chock-filled chimney, we reached the south ridge. From here an airy walk along a knife-edged snow arête led to the summit and the cairn built by Buckingham in 1965.

The summit of Mount Nirvana stands at the apex of three razor-thin knife edges, falling away in great arcs, curving like outstretched arms around the deeply gouged cirques below. For Buckingham 31 years ago, a rainbow appeared momentarily to accentuate the beauty of this supremely wild and forgotten domain. After rappelling down the face in the blue-gray of the near-arctic night, we crawled into our sleeping bags 28 hours after leaving them. On our trek out, we made the second ascent of Night-wind Peak, and also climbed two other unnamed mountains east of Nirvana.

Jack Bennett