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Bucket List: Climb The Cirque Of The Unclimbables

Parks Canada photo shoot in Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories, Canada from July 15th to July 27th, 2015

Sitting in Nahanni National Park Reserve, Northwest Territories Photo: Parks Canada

Nahanni National Park Reserve is a magical place. Ask any climber and they will tell you it is on their bucket list. Why? Not only is the Lotus Flower Tower climb in the Cirque of the Unclimbables one of North America’s 50 Classic Climbs, but if it was more easily accessible it would be one of the most famous climbs in the world. Very few ever have the chance to visit Dehcho First Nations territory and Nahanni National Park Reserve but those who do will tell you it’s like nowhere they have ever been. The towering mountains, majestic valleys and sacred history flow throughout the valleys ensuring it’s an experience you will never forget. Learn more about it below…

How to climb the Cirque of the Unclimbables:

Climbing the Lotus Flower Tower is for expert climbers. Prior climbing and expedition experience is highly encouraged. If you are determined to climb the famous Lotus Flower Tower, make sure you can climb at least a 5.9. The Lotus Flower Tower is an 18-pitch, 609.6-metre climb. If you want to do it all in one day, the climb takes about 13-15 hours. If you want to take your time (2 or 3-day climb), set up your bivy at pitch 10 for the most epic overnight views of your life.But remember, climbers must be prepared for a remote wilderness expedition in bear country. The weather can change quickly and you must be prepared to spend an expanded amount of days in the wild. More information on planning the climb can be found  on Kluane Airways,  on George Bell and contact the parks office for the Bears and People brochure.

How to view the Cirque of the Unclimbables:

Not a climber? Don’t worry, about half the visitors to Nahanni National Park Reserve visit Glacier Lake on a flight seeing tour while stopping for a red chair photo moment #ShareTheChair on shore. When they return to the plane they fly over the Cirque for an aerial photo moment. If you are looking for something more active, why not check out hiking and canoeing trips with Black Feather, Nahanni River Adventures or Nahanni Wilderness Adventures.

How to get there: 

1. For the people that have more time than money, this option is for you. From the south drive to Finlayson Lake to catch a float plane to Glacier Lake where you start the 4-6hr hike to Fairy Meadows. This is the longest option but will be the most epic road trip of your life. Local Tip: gas is typically cheaper if you drive through Alberta.

2. This option is for the 9-5ers. Fly to Whitehorse from Vancouver or Calgary, rent a car and drive 8 hours to Finlayson Lake to catch a float plane to Glacier Lake where you start the 4-6hr hike to Fairy Meadows. If carrying your equipment on a 4-hour hike isn’t for you, you can also do a half float plane half helicopter option to transfer heavy gear.

3. For people with more money than time, this one is for you. Fly to Whitehorse from Vancouver or Calgary and then floatplane from Whitehorse to Inconnu Lodge and then to the Glacier Lake. If you want to go real big, there is an option to take a helicopter instead of a floatplane and this will take you right to Fairy Meadows and save you a 4-6hr uphill hike. Air charters to the Cirque are also available from Fort Simpson (where the Nahanni NPR head office is located), from Muncho Lake and from Watson Lake.

When to go:

Best time to go is from June to August

What to bring:

Weather is unpredictable. Bring clothes for all types of conditions and plan for your trip to be about 12 days. This way you can ensure you get a good weather window for climbing or hiking. For specific climbing gear check out George Bell’s extensive guide to climbing the Lotus Tower here.

Tips from the locals: 

– Almost everyone sets up base camp in the majestic Fairy Meadows. Fairy Meadows is about an hour hike from the base of the Lotus Flower Tower.

– There is a rustic outhouse installed at Fairy Meadows to limit the human impact on the fragile ecosystem. Use it!

– It is recommended that you carry a Satellite Emergency Notification Device (SEND) with you at all times.

– Visitors are highly encouraged to call the Nahanni National Park Reserve office to reserve their trip dates as Fairy Meadows fills up quickly during peak climbing season. Registration and De-registration for all overnight trips in Nahanni National Park Reserve are mandatory for visitor safety.  Nahanni National Park Reserve provides 24 hour Emergency Response Services at 867-695-3732.

– There are currently 16 different air charter companies licensed for Nahanni National Park and anyone of them can transport visitors to Glacier Lake.

– If you plan on staying in the park over 5 days it costs $147.20/person for the Northern Backcountry Excursion permit and is good for one year from date of purchase for all the northern fly in parks.

– In 2017 the Northern Backcountry Excursion Day Permit of $24.50 will be waived to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday! Anyone staying overnight in the park will be required to pay $24.50 per night or the annual fee of $147.20.


Like this post? Check out 5 Northern Experiences For Every Type Of Adventurer and The Best Backpacks For Any Type Of Adventure, too!


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