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Big New Ontario Ice Climbs and The Crown Jewel

Ontario has hundreds of ice climbs and despite decades of exploration there are still world-class routes being discovered close to the road. The following was written by Ontario climber Dave Broadhead

Photo by: Dave Broadhead

If one were to compile a small list of classic winter climbing areas then it would probably include places such as the Weeping Wall, the Ghost and the Stanley Headwall in the Rockies. In the east, there’s Lake Willoughby, the Adirondacks, Quebec and the areas from Batchawana to Thunder Bay. Southern and Central Ontario would not be on most winter climber’s short lists. Recently, a few motivated climbers from Southern Ontario have been making the long drives (and sometimes long walks) to explore and develop in the south-eastern corner of Algoma, an area approximately six hours from Toronto whose potential was only realized in full starting about four years ago.

The ever-curious and insatiable explorer Danylo Darewych started exploring the area and found many of the cliffs and crags that have been developed to date. Myself and some mutual friends have accompanied him and spent many hours chasing contours and ‘schwacking along the bases of these cliffs in search of new routes. Sometimes we get skunked but every now and again we get lucky; sometimes really lucky.

One warm day in March 2013, Danylo, Shaun Parent, Josh Burden and I were out exploring. As we rounded the corner of a cliff band our jaws hit the ground. Jackpot. We could hardly believe our eyes or our luck. Our fingers blistered over camera triggers. There stood one of the most amazing ice flows I’d ever seen, shining like the Crown Jewel and it was unclimbed. Unfortunately, it was too late in the season to climb it that day, as the route was rotting out; however we vowed to come back. The Crown Jewel was climbed this year. It has has a steep and technical start and a sustained vertical upper column which had hard, brittle ice that lead to type-one fun on the rolling upper flow and goes at WI5, 55 metres. I climbed it with Danylo Darewych and Jon Gullett.

A centrepiece of the area is Granary Lake. It has easy access to climbs on crown land and many routes from WI3 to WI5- on a 45-metre cliff. Routes like Go-Go Beavers WI3, Waiving the House Rules WI3+ and the steep Naked Edge WI4+ and Final Frontier WI5- are sure to please all suitors. Constance Lake is another spot well worth visiting. It offers more than 15 routes from WI2+ to WI 5 from 15 to 55 metres. Unlike Granary it also has some exciting mixed sport-mixed routes. Pure ice lines like Non-Stick Coating, Salve for the Wounded Pride and the crag showpiece Waiting for Godot WI4-5, 55 metres will give you a place to swing until your arms fail. Mixed climbs such as AWOL M5+, The Waitress M5+, Trepidation M5+ and Kindergarten Column M4 offer everything from dry tooling to the chance step out onto free hanging daggers.

After climbing many of us gather at The 17 Restaurant in Blind River for hearty and affordable hot food, a selection of cold beers and tall tales of derring-do. Save some room for desert and don’t forget to ask for Grandma Shannon’s homemade pies.

The best part is that there are still many more climbs waiting to be discovered and climbed. Our crew from Southern Ontario usually makes four or five excursions a year to climb and explore in the area and every time we find new routes to climb. The season typically runs from December until mid-March when all but the most sheltered or north facing climbs begin to bake in rays of the strengthening spring sun. Information on routes in the areas listed above and more can be found in the new guidebook Southern Ontario Ice: A Select Guide to Ice and Mixed Climbing by Andriy Kolos. For more on ice climbing around Sudbury visit here.

Dave Broadhead on The Crown Jewel 
Lead photo: Dave Broadhead