I had heard about Thunder Bay climbing from a friend and avid new-router, Nick Rochacewich. His enthusiasm was so great, he bought a house in Nipigon. Ryan and Brandon were on a mission to write an area profile for Gripped, and shoot a few pics for MEC.
I could only get away for a handful of days, but we packed it in and most importantly, I want to go back.
DAY 1 Pass Lake (sport climbing on sandstone)
We scored on the weather. The rest of western Canada was either getting monsooned or dumped on in the alpine. We were blessed with the best weather September can dish out. The sport climbing at Pass Lake is short, quality bouldery climbs. We sampled seven routes here ranging from 5.9-5.11d, interrupted by a melt-in-your-mouth piece of carrot cake from the cafe across the road.
DAY 2 Mt. McKay, Squaw Bay, route: Rehearsal 5.11 at sunrise
A memorable morning climbing a sweet sweet trad line called Rehearsal in an electric red sunrise.
Thunder Bay is home to Lakehead University and as a result, a handful of funky coffee shops and pubs. Like Calico…
After coffee, we drove to a cliff called the Claghorn, that came highly recommended by Nick. We spent some time hiking/bushwacking on the wrong part of the cliff. When we finally found the correct trailhead we realized that we were unequipped with much needed rubber boots or hipwaders to negotiate a swamp that blocks access to one of the gems of this area. So our plan B, was Silver Harbour. A crag twenty minutes from Thunder Bay that hosts very short bouldery climbs. High quality bouldering on a rope.
DAY 3- Orient Bay, Nipigon
We were welcomed by the end of a rain shower just as we arrived to climb. By the time we found our route and racked up the sun made its way out from behind the clouds. We ended up climbing a route called ‘The Landmark’, which might be a possible FFA at 5.11. The only information we have gathered so far is that it was climbed at 5.9 A2. The first pitch is 30m of technical and heady climbing, stemming and laybacking up an orange dihedral. I loved it! Ryan got some great shots from the highway.
Next we clipped bolts on some 5.10-5.11 routes. This rock lends itself to great face climbing and there’s lots of potential for anyone who wants to put up routes with minimal cleaning.
I need to mention 3 things we noticed in this area of Orient Bay:
1. A catastrophic rockfall at the sport climbing area called Da Projects. The top third of the cliff (about 15m x 20m x 5m) had exfoliated previously leaving huge boulders of debris at the base with bolts in situ. We didn’t see other scars, but its good to be aware of.
2. The anchor bolts in the climb pictured just below were in hollow rock. Very unnerving to lower off this anchor. Ryan donated carabiners to the anchor and the bolt below the anchor, but it needs to be moved just above into solid rock.
3. There are very old fixed lines left on Passage to Valhalla and another route right of Titans. This is very unsightly and just plain garbage. If we’d had more time we would of removed them.
Day 4: Mt. Godfrey
On my last half day, we were blessed with another stellar morning of weather and so we headed up to Mt. Godfrey just ten minutes from town. We were super lucky to get to hang with some local guys who were sessioning a new 5.12 project, that Zach managed to flash. I played on a 5.12 sport route of high quality that Brandon had bolted “back in the day”. It had a low bouldery crux, and then sustained technical vertical climbing to an anchor 30m up.
In summary, there is more than one lifetime of climbing in this area on solid basalt. There is a lack of development: few established trails, dirty routes and a lack of information on routes. If you love adventure, you will love climbing here. You could hire a sailboat and explore rock cliffs on the islands in Lake Superior, or continue to develop some of the established cliffs that run for miles. The people I met are anything but pretentious. They are salt of the earth folks who want to help you out. Canada has the most amazing wilderness and I am forever astounded by how lucky I am to live in this vast and stunning country.
So next time the entire National Parks system of the USA shuts its doors, consider heading up to Thunder Bay for a rock climbing adventure– you will not be disappointed.