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The Northwestern Ontario Rock Fest Will Rock

Steve Charlton climbing Courage Highway 5.11 at Orient Bay Photo Aric Fishman

Northwestern Ontario is a spectacular place that has more climbing than many climbers know about.

On Sept. 22 and 23, the first-ever rock climbing festival will be taking place in Northwestern Ontario.

For more information about the event visit here.

The geology of the region is a climber’s dream come true and offers breathtaking views, splitter cracks and tall walls. Each of the established crags can most definitely stand up next to some of the most well-known destinations in Canada.

Perfect examples of this can be seen at Orient Bay located just north of Nipigon on Hwy 11. The glacier-carved corridor is abundant with big cliffs up to 100 metres high and dozens of high quality climbs.

From the big roof of Colossus 5.11 to the modern four-pitch 5.11 sport route called Courage Highway, there’s something for everyone.

Orient Bay is an area better known for its ice and mixed climbing in the winter, but it deserves to be visited at camped at during the rock season.

Over the past few decades, Orient Bay has been slowly transformed into one of Ontario’s premium destinations for sport, multi-pitch trad and mixed climbers.

Leslie Timms climbing a splitter in Thunder Bay Photo Aric Fishman

There are over 40 kilometres of wild cliffs and canyons that stretch along the highway.

Not far from Thunder Bay is Claghorn, where there are up to 50 splitter one- and two-pitch cracks. One of Canada’s hardest crack/mixed projects rises 25 metres above the boreal forest on one of the walls.

Rumoured at 5.14, maybe 2018 will be the year someone climbs it. The sport climbing area has must-do hard routes like Jack Layton Memorial Route 5.12c, Negotiator 5.11b, Ninja Assassin 5.12d and Girft of a Tree 5.12c.

Heading west along the highway brings you to Silver Harbour, a crag close to Lake Superior with sport climbs ranging from 5.5 to 5.13d.

The approach only take a few minutes and you can easily access the top to toprope. There are often big eagles soaring around and the view across the lake from the tops of the routes is worth the visit on its own.

Over the years, new routes have been added, mostly bolted, but there are some test-piece 5.11 gear routes like Silver Harbour Dreamline. Don’t miss Black Stalione Arete 5.10d, Return to Sender 5.11c, Block Buster 5.10a and Stair Master 5.8.

Farther along brings you to Pass Lake, one of the most amazing sandstone crags in Canada. You can basically belay from your car.

Standing on Dorian Tower Photo Aric Fishman

There are dozens of bolted sport routes up to 5.13. Over the past few years, there’s been some quality new bolted climbs added, like Heippa Reijo and Blow me Away 5.10.

The classics include Caveman 5.8, Mike’s Route 5.10, Chinese Water Torture 5.11a, Wild Child 5.10 and Flying Circus 5.10c. The latter being one of the best slopey routes in Ontario.

Closer to Thunder Bay, you pass the Centennial Bluffs where you can find dozens of cracks climbs and toprope routes up to 5.12.

The crag is in town and is popular post-work and for Lakehead University students.

On the opposite side of town are many well-known crags. Lost Falls has three-pitch classics like Myopic Adventure 5.8 and the bury Foxy, a one-pitch 5.10 splitter crack.

Hazy Waves is a balancey 5.10c that you pull through the crux with views of the city and Lake Superior. The basalt is solid and approach only 20 minutes.

Gaby James on Mount Helen Photo Brandon Pullan

At Mount Godfrey, there are some great sport and trad routes. Echoes of the Totem climbs a pillar up small edges for 25 metres.

It has some of the best technical climbing in the area. Tamarack is another 5.12a that heads up a steep wall using widely-spaced slopers and sidepulls.

The Portal is the hardest route at Godfrey and climbs and esthetic arête. The Wrangler is a burly 5.12a, while Eskimo Kiss and Bear Hug and the fun and short 5.9s.

Not far from Godfrey is Squaw Bay, which has some of Ontario’s best crack climbs. Routes like Spiral Galaxy 5.8 can’t be found anywhere else.

The first pitch is steep and turns a corner. The second takes you up steep cracks and a broken face. There have been a number of multi-pitch crack climbs added over the years.

Rehearsal is one of Ontario’s toughest pure cracks at 5.11d

The newly developed Grey Wolf is just outside of Thunder Bay and features bizarre basalt that has been shaped into holds more similar to limestone, tufa-like in appearance and feel. Wolf Pup is a fun 5.10d and Inspiration Station is a popular 5.11c.

Whether you’re a novice ready to enjoy the life-changing experience of climbing, an intermediate climber looking to improve your skills on unforgettable routes or an expert test yourself on something new, Northwestern Ontario has it and this year’s rock festival will be one to remember.

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