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Lake Superior Landmark Climbed

Sentinel Steeped in Legends and Folklore on Remote Island is Climbed by Thunder Bay Locals

Across Canada rock features have taken on wondrous legends. From the Three Sisters in Fernie to Shannon Falls in Squamish to the Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay to the Indian Head in Ouiment Canyon.

Cruising towards the Sleeping Giant, on Lake Superior, and looking westward, an oddity presents itself as the boat passes Pie Island. For a short distance only, one can see what appears to be a woman peeping out behind the plateau that gives the Island its name. As the boat passes on the figure appears to vanish, almost as if she had gone into hiding again. She became known as the Peeping Squaw.

The Peeping Squaw Spire on Pie Island is a native legend from centuries ago. The name is no longer socially acceptable as it uses a derogatory word. Therefore, we will call it Pie Sentinel; I reference the original name for the historical purpose. The Pie Sentinel is a 30m tall rock spire which stands alone, away from the main wall.
Pie Island is 12 km long island that is 10 km offshore from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Its shore lines have thick boreal forest which hangs over Lake Superior. The island’s main feature is the pie shaped raised plateau: imagine a pie with 50m high basalt cliff bands where a crust would be and a lush forest where the filling would be. The island has moose, bear and deer despite its isolated location. The island is one of thousands that break the horizon on Superior.

Local Thunder Bay hard-man, Derrik Patola, has been travelling to the island for decades in search of adventure. Recently, this June, he and Sarah Browne sailed, in Sarah’s sailboat Zoo Keeper, to Pie Island and climbed Pie Sentinel. With a late spring in northern Ontario the bugs were not bad and the weather was perfect. No leaves on the trees meant it was easy to navigate around the dense forest.

Patola and Sarah anchored their boat and took a Zodiac to shore. They then spent hours bushwhacking over untouched land to the base of the spire. Patola racked up and climbed to the top. It was the first time the Pie Sentinel, steeped in native legend and sailor’s folklore, had been climbed.

The route to the top is not hard, maybe 5.8, but sometimes it is not always about the grade rather the adventure that matters.

Patola says “Holy smokes man, there is so much unclimbed rock out here, it’s incredible. No line ups, no crowds, just me and my girl out having an adventure. I had been looking at that thing for years; it feels great to have climbed it. Next weekend we are taking Zoo Keeper to another secret crag on a hidden island, I can’t wait!”

Patola directing Zoo Keeper to Pie Island   Photo Sarah Browne