Climb Superior Country

This region is known for its laid-back outdoor pursuits—but it also has something for those with a sense of adventure.

I'll Have Mine On The Rocks

The sun was high. Even though it was overcast I could feel it, hot on my back, breaking through tiny patches of blue sky. The warmth was comforting, but only for a moment.  I had my eyes clenched tight with the hope I could squeeze out my tempestuous nerves.  I could feel beads of sweat gather on my forehead, slowly drip into the corners of my eyes, and roll down my cheeks. There were tears in the mix, fashioned equally of trepidation and pure joy. I inhaled deeply and felt my heart pounding in my chest, echoing through my entire being as loud as thunder. The wind picked up and my footing felt unstable as I clung to tiny ledges in a world suspended above the ground.

A pure rush of adrenaline surged through my body forcing my eyes open.  I peered down through my turquoise harness and past my impossibly tight shoes to the rocky ground below. My anxiety urged me to retreat but my desire propelled me upward, and all I could manage to tell myself was:

"Just keep climbing."

In the span of a deep breath, I pushed out all the air in my lungs and with it, my fear and hesitation. I gazed skyward at the vertical pathway above, and I reached my hand into a crack system just above my shoulder. I crammed my fist into the dark abyss, the perfect hiding place for unsuspecting spiders to hide.  As soon as I was sure my hand was good and stuck, I found my next footholds and slowly began to move closer towards the sky.

It felt like I was making the smallest movements, but they were gains nonetheless.  Every centimetre was a tiny victory, every move carefully made under my own power, my own nerve. I felt my confidence surge; I felt invincible.

In my arrogance, I went for a big move. My hand was headed for a huge ledge, far above my reach. I was certain I was going to seize it as I lurched up. I felt my foot slip away and saw the ledge retract from my grasp. Seconds turned into centuries as I fell, I was completely weightless. For a moment I imagined by body hurling towards the earth below, just as my harness caught me. 

I felt thankful for good equipment and an experienced guide.  A nice little reality check. I probably only lost two feet of distance, but your mind plays tricks on you when you are 30 metres up. 

I could hear reassurance from my belayer below.

" I got you! You can do this, get back on that rock!"

So, that is exactly what I did.  I was so incredibly close to the top of my climb. Retreat was not an option. I continued, determined, ignoring the cuts on my hands, pump in my arms, and pain in my toes. I was so focused on getting there that when I did, it caught me completely by surprise. I was at the top of the Dorion Tower. Just one move left, the rite of passage to stand up on top.    

I pressed both palms onto the small, narrow pedestal. The rock was warm, comforting, and soothing.  Looking down was inevitable, there was nowhere else to look, but I had made it, all the way to the top. I pressed up through my hands, my knees straightened, and my chest rose up. I was filled with emotion and became completely overwhelmed.  I was awake, alive and for a few moments the whole world made sense. 

I dialed in completely and I realized where I was. Every sound, every feeling was raw and clear. From the top of the Tower, you see 360 degrees of breathtaking magnificence. Standing on a rock pillar in a deep canyon.  all diabase cliffs rose up in front of me. When I turned around the cliffs sank towards the earth and opened like arms into boreal forest in the distance. To the south, the trees gave way to the vast expanse of Lake Superior, and I could see the point where the sky meets the water and turns to endless blue. 

This view, this moment, was all that was grand and epically Northwestern Ontario. Wild. Lush. Vibrant. Gorgeous.  I stayed there for as long as I could, absorbing all the energy of this place, basking in gratitude that I am fortunate enough to live in a place as awe-inspiring as this. I descended, back to the earth. Touched by a feeling so powerful I carry it with me always.  

Climb Superior Country

Perhaps rock climbing isn't Northwestern Ontario's most well-known outdoor activity.  When you first think of the Superior Country, your mind settles on sleepy rural communities set in the boreal forest of the Canadian Shield. Maybe you visualize fishermen, patiently floating on our seemingly endless lakes and tributaries.  ou might picture a hiker in peaceful, reflective solitude on our trail systems. For most, it simply doesn't provoke a feeling of exhilaration, or dare I say a guttural thrill.

But maybe you have never stood on top of "The Canine," a 72-foot, impossibly narrow diabase rock pinnacle in Dorion, described in my adventure above.  In fact, in Superior Country we have an appetite for the extreme and unparalleled access to countless routes of world class rock climbing. 

Climbing is an activity that challenges you as a whole person. Body, mind, and soul. It requires strength, endurance, agility, and balance.  It is also incredibly complex, and requires an individual to learn technique and engage in problem-solving to read the rock and figure out routes. You need to master patience, to have mental control, emotional regulation, and nerve. 

Although this sport can be classified as risky, it is very safe and major injuries are rare. That being said, it is essential to have knowledge of proper climbing techniques and safety standards, and to use the appropriate equipment. Don't let the challenge deter you! With good direction, some guts, and a proper guide, most people can get out and be successful on some amazing routes. I dare you; it will rock your world (no pun intended).   

People have been rock climbing in Thunder Bay since the early 1970s. Climbing culture gradually grew in popularity through the late 80s and 90s, and routes were developed all over the region. Now you can climb all throughout the district of Thunder Bay, including locations like Pass Lake, Silver Harbour, Centennial Park Bluffs (Thunder Bay), The Pinnacles (Dorion), Claghorn (Hurkett), Orient Bay (Greenstone), and countless other locations with new routes being developed every season. We are fortunate in Northwestern Ontario to have accessible climbing amongst spectacular topography with breathtaking views. Remarkable climbing routes with varied difficulty means that beginners and seasoned climbers alike can enjoy and the outstanding beauty of the region. 

Globally, climbing has gained enormous momentum through media exposure.  Documentaries like Valley Uprising, Meru, The Dawn Wall, and Free Solo have taken a pastime on the fringe and thrust it into popular culture. Social media has also aided in the explosion of the sport, with epic photography depicting humans dangling from great heights by a rope that looks as thin as dental floss. With this explosion, outdoor guides are able to provide specialized services and indoor climbing facilities are popping up all over the country making it more accessible to the masses. 

Options in the area

If climbing is something you are interested in trying out in Northwestern Ontario, the best place to start is with a guide. Outdoor Skills and Thrills, based out of Thunder Bay, offers many options for rock and ice climbing.  Aric Fishman, the founder and lead guide creates a great environment for learning and adventure.  His dedication to the sport and positive energy is infectious, you can't help leaving an outing with him with motivation and fervor to drive forward.  He has a priority for safety and seemingly endless patience.  It is great having access to someone with an abundance of knowledge that can ignite passion and make this sport available to people in the region.

Another great option for a beginner is joining an indoor climbing gym. Boulder Bear, located in Thunder Bay, has great services, climbing classes, and accessible hours so that folks in the region can get to the gym even on a weeknight. Boulder Bear also does guiding for outdoor rock climbing. The staff there are super knowledgeable, friendly and amazing people and take great care in helping climbers develop their skills.    

The next season of rock climbing is upon us! But in the meantime, why not pull out crampons and ice axes and try a completely different kind of climbing? Or if ice isn't your thing this winter, maybe hit up Lake Superior in Terrace Bay? The frigid temperatures, big swells, and rough water make for some truly epic conditions for freshwater surfing.  

So, maybe we have some chill vibes, quiet communities, and relaxed leisure activities here in the North, but Superior Country has a lesser-known disposition for an outrageously extreme sense of adventure. Here you just have to open your mind, quiet your nerves, and look beyond the peaceful, sleepy exterior to find a magnificent backdrop for an adrenaline junkie's paradise.

I'll see you out there.

About Deana Renaud

Deana Renaud is an adventurer at heart and a mental health professional by trade, living, working and wandering in Nipigon, Ontario. She has a Masters degree in Social Work, and is the author of ‘Getting Lost on The 49th’, a blog about her adventures hiking, travelling, momming and enjoying everything outside on the Northwestern shore of Lake Superior and beyond.  She thrives on new experiences, building connections with interesting humans, strong coffee and sugary carbs. If she’s not outside, you are most likely to find her face buried in a good book, mouth full of dark chocolate. 

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