In the Northwest Territories, "social climbing" doesn't mean what you think it means. "Clawing your way to the top" isn't even slightly competitive. And "skyscrapers" are made of stone, not steel.
Up here there are scores of stunning summits that beckon adventuresome treckers; traipsing to the top of them will give you a whole new perspective on life. From technical alpine ascents in the Mackenzie Mountains to lofty observation towers in the Mackenzie Delta, here are 13 Northern highpoints that will put you on top of the world:
Revered as "one of the most aesthetically beautiful rock faces in the world," Lotus Flower Tower is a sheer, breathtaking 2,200-foot cliff – one of the world's tallest, most severe walls of stone. The signature face in the Cirque of the Unclimbables, this skyscraping escarpment attracts world-class alpinists. It's not for the faint of heart: It takes iron guts to keep your cool when there's a half-mile of thin air between you and terra firma.
A solemn yet stunning vantage point, this vertiginous Yellowknife attraction honours the flyboys who opened up the Northland. The monument perches atop the highest point of the city’s funky Old Town, the six-storey-tall “Rock.” From here you’ll get 360-degree-views of Back Bay, the famous Great Slave Lake houseboats, the floatplane aerodrome, and the downtown skyline. The hike up is like a rustic Stairmaster, with scores of wooden steps to the summit.
Like a bizarre lunar stalagmite, the largest tufa mound in Canada rises near the shores of the Rabbitkettle River in Nahanni National Park. Thirty metres tall and 10,000 years old, the mound is formed by thermal springs that burble from the volcanic ground, leaching calcium carbonate that hardens into a crust called tufa. Take off your shoes and follow park officials on a barefoot hike to the delicate summit.
The most popular attraction around Tuktoyaktuk is this great green mound, swelling high above the Arctic coast. As tall as a 15-storey building, it’s called Ibyuk Pingo – the most massive pingo in Canada. Engorged with ice, it is slowly expanding, like a pop can bulging ominously in the freezer. Eventually, like that can, it will split its top and burst, then sag back into the tundra. Pingo walks can be arranged with local guides.
Trivia question: What’s the name of the Northwest Territories' tallest mountain? If you said “I don’t know,” then you’re correct. The territory’s highest peak – a 2,773-metre summit in the Nahanni’s Ragged Range, just east of the territorial border – doesn’t have an official name. Informally, the icy rampart is sometimes called Mt. Nirvana, or Summit 2773, or Summit 9027 (its height in feet), or simply Unnamed Peak. It’s rarely climbed, and only by alpinists skilled on rock and ice.
Just before the mighty Mackenzie River pours into the Arctic Ocean, it fractures into an infinite maze of channels and islands, forming the Mackenzie Delta. Here is the North’s richest ecosystem, where the murky sloughs and silty shores support a menagerie of waterfowl and fur-bearers. The best place to get a lay of the land is in Ja’k Territorial Park, just outside Inuvik, where an observation tower provides excellent views of the surrounding scenery. Watch especially for falcons, eagles and ducks.