Mount Nirvana is much more than the highest point in the Northwest Territories of Canada. It is a remote, difficult, mysterious, and alluring tower of rock that offers a spectacular and difficult challenge for even experienced mountaineers. Its name perfectly captures the extreme sense of accomplishment the rare summiters feel at its airy spire, as if they had ascended to a state of perfect bliss.
The peak was not even approached by mountaineers until 1960, when a summit near Nirvana was climbed and the mysterious highest point in the region was first casually named Mount Nahanni after the nearby river. That same year, noted climber Bill Buckingham was in the Cirque of the Unclimbables, a remote but well-known rock-climbing center, and he his eyes were drawn to the remarkable peak 30 km to the south. Five years later, in 1965, he made the first ascent of the peak after a long and harrowing reconnaissance and named it Mount Nirvana. For almost 50 years this name has been used exclusively in the climbing community, despite lack of an official name.
It is not clear when it was determined that Nirvana was the Northwest Territories high point. Well into the 1980s many reputable publications and maps gave that honor to Mount Sir James MacBrien, high point of the Unclimbables area. Latest maps and surveys confirm that Nirvana is 14 meters higher than MacBrien.
An ascent of Nirvana is a serious undertaking, requiring an arduous approach to even get close to the peak unless helicopters are used. The main starting points are a floatplane drop-off at Rabbitkettle or Lonely Lakes, or an overland approach from Tungsten at the end of the rough Nahanni Range Road. It then takes days of difficult travel through bogs, brush, talus, and steep rock just to get to the base of the climb. Rainy weather and clouds of mosquitoes are common. The peak itself is a rock climb in the YDS 5.7 range.
Parties ascended Nirvana in 1965, 1975, and 1996. Later, one ascent was made in 2014 and one in 2016. This is not a peak that gets climbed often.