• Nirvana

    Rappelling on the east face of Mount Nirvana in the Northwest Territories, August 2015. (Photo courtesy CanaTREK)

In June of 2006, a team of experienced mountaineers set out to climb Mount Columbia, the highest peak in Alberta. It was the first step in a more than decade-long expedition to reach the highest point in every Canadian province and territory. 

Now, eleven years later, the group behind the CanaTREK Summits of Canada expedition is getting ready to tackle their final goal: Barbeau Peak in the Canadian High Arctic. 

Rising 2,616 metres, Barbeau’s summit sits in the middle of Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island in Canada's Arctic archipelago. It is surrounded by the most remote, fragile, rugged, and northerly land in North America. No Canadian has ever successfully attained all 13 of Canada's provincial and territorial high points, but expedition leader Len Vanderstar says being the first to do so is actually a secondary goal of the expedition. 

"This journey has always been about self-discovery, sharing Canada's diverse geography with students and promoting health and fitness through adventure activities," he says.

With the Barbeau expedition, Vanderstar also sees an opportunity to shed light on important environmental and social issues. As the team travels across Ellesmere Island en route to the mountain, they will pass through a region that is experiencing rapid change as a result of rising global temperatures. To contextualize the expedition for the classrooms that might want to follow the journey online, Canadian Geographic Education has created free lesson plans that touch on topics like mapping, Arctic pollution, climate change, permafrost and northern infrastructure. 

Because the final summit expedition, which will take place June 16-29, coincides with Canada's sesquicentennial, Vanderstar is inviting Canadian students to design Tibetan prayer flags, which the team will bring with them to Barbeau Peak. 

The Tibetan word for a horizontal prayer flag is “Lung ta," which translates literally as "wind horse." Tibetans believe the prayers written on a flag become a permanent part of the universe as exposure to the wind and sun causes the images to slowly fade over time.

“Their belief is that the positive messages they send into the universe have a greater likelihood of manifesting into reality with the use of prayer flags," explains Vanderstar, adding that prayer flags have become a symbol of modern hiking and mountaineering culture around the world.

Students are invited to create and submit personalized messages that will be printed by team members on colourful prayer flags, which will then be flown in the wind in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.

"The prayer flags will be a Canadian wish from the hearts and minds of today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders, carrying their hopes and prayers on the winds from the top of Canada, out over the country and around the world," says Vanderstar. 

For more information and to submit a design, visit the Summits of Canada website.