Touch the Sky

Rock and Ice Climbing in Thunder Bay

To get a whole new perspective on Thunder Bay, think “up”—waaaay up. When you book a rock climbing or ice climbing session with Outdoor Skills and Thrills you get an unforgettable day out, learning a new skill or improving an existing one, and taking in some of the region’s spectacular outdoor beauty at the same time. Aric Fishman, owner and lead guide at Outdoor Skills and Thrills, offers workshops year-round, and there are a variety of sessions to suit both newbies and more experienced climbers alike.

Word is getting out too: Fishman has introduced visitors from Greece, Spain, France, Germany, China and Saudi Arabia, the United States and across Canada to Northwest Ontario climbing, plus lots of residents of the region as well. “We have an absolutely amazing landscape to see when you’re climbing, with canyons, high hills and lakes,” he says. “The variety and quality of the rock makes this area unique. There’s nothing else like it in Ontario for sure.”

You can book a custom climbing session for you and a group of friends for a full day or a half day. Or, join one of the existing workshops that take place regularly, including Beginners’ Rock Climbing Clinic, Intro to Outdoor Climbing Clinic, Sport/Lead Climbing Course, Top-Rope Anchors, Traditional Climbing, Intermediate Ice Day and Beginners Ice Climbing Adventure.

Prices start at a very reasonable $40 per person for a two-hour session, which also includes your climbing gear: helmet, harness, shoes and chalk bag for rock climbing; harness, helmet, boots, crampons and ice axe for ice climbing. Fishman is an experienced photographer, so it’s well worth the small extra fee for a digital photo package that shows all the action.

What do you do in a beginner course? Fishman, in his understated, friendly but very thorough and expert way, goes over safety requirements, shows you how to put on your equipment and takes you through a basic knot-tying lesson. Then it’s time to go for it—you start to stretch and search for tiny natural footholds and handholds on the cliff face, and your climbing partner belays you, which means she or he carefully controls the slack on the rope that keep you from tumbling to the ground. After you reach the top (or somewhere thereabouts) you rapel back down to the ground, to cheers and high fives.

“I love that I get to teach people this incredible new thing; how to be safe and not freaked out, all the while being out with friends and pushing your limits,” says Fishman. “My youngest student was six, and the oldest was well into her eighties.”

One of the more popular rock climbs is the Bluffs in Centennial Park, just a 10-minute drive from the hip Bay & Algoma neighbourhood at the north end of Thunder Bay. At the start of your five-minute hike into the climbing site, take in a five-star, wide-angle view over the city, Boulevard Lake and the iconic Sleeping Giant at rest in Lake Superior. There are lots of routes on the Bluffs—120 or so by last count, rated 5.6 and up. Other climbing sites within an hour and a half drive include Silver Harbour and Pass Lake (near Sleeping Giant Provincial Park), Claghorn and Orient Bay for rock climbing; Kama Bay, Dorion, Nipigon and South Gillies for ice climbing.

Fishman also guides trips for more experienced climbers who want to explore the region’s rock and ice. He’ll be publishing his new climbing guide this fall...

...a book which includes detailed routes, access information, directions and photos of the area’s best-known and newly discovered climbing routes.

Whether you’re climbing 10 metres or 200, it’s a total rush and an unforgettable experience that’s a very cool souvenir of Thunder Bay.

About Bonnie Schiedel

Bonnie Schiedel is the founder of www.tbaywithkids.ca, which covers fun family-friendly attractions, events and restaurants in Thunder Bay. She enjoys canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing and travel, and you can read more of her award-winning work at www.northstarwriting.ca.

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