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The Immeasurable Rock Climbing Potential of Northern Ontario

From Lake Huron to the Manitoba border, there's countless undiscovered cliffs that hold outstanding lines

Northern Ontario is a big place that can be divided into the northeast and northwest. In my opinion, northern Ontario is anywhere above Lake Huron and Georgian Bay – basically north of Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

If you’ve never driven from the Toronto area to Kenora, then the sheer size of the province is hard to comprehend. For example, it’s a 15-hour drive from Kenora to Calgary, but a 20-hour drive from Kenora to Toronto. Lake Ontario is farther from Ontario’s northwest “cottage country” than the Canadian Rockies.

While climbers have been establishing tall rock climbs in Ontario’s north for 50 years, it seems that the potential is still unknown. I first developed sport climbs on the cliffs around Thunder Bay 20 years ago during my time at Lakehead University. I was part of a small group of stoked students who were keen to scrub lichen and trundle blocks; it’s great to see that energy still exists.

And while much of that close-to-urban-areas stone has been climbed, countless cliff bands continue to be found in remote corners of the boreal forest. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to drive from the Rockies to Toronto every fall, and make time to stop at the newest crags. And this fall opened my eyes, once again, to the fact that we don’t know how much rock there is to climb in northern Ontario.

I’m writing this on a stopover between the Outbreak Wall to Riverside Wall. The Outbreak Wall is a 2.5-kilometre stretch of basalt columns from 10 metres to 60 metres, only minutes from the road. It faces west above a few lakes near Nipigon. Local guide Aric Fishman has cut in a trail, worked out access issues with local landowners and has fired up nearly 20 climbs up to 5.12+ bolted and trad. There are also ice climbs and a big, new campground. You can see potential new routes in Instagram below.

I touched base with a number of local climbers, who filled me in about local access issues at crags around Thunder Bay. There are currently some closed crags, but work is underway to have them reopen for 2022.

My next stop is the Riverside Wall, which is where I’m meeting a number of Toronto climbers for new-routing. We’re hopefully going to complete a few six-pitch 5.10 bolted climbs, but that will depend on the weather.

Those climbers have stumbled upon more rock that hasn’t yet seen climbers in the Sudbury area. There’s also tall outcrops some distance from any parking along the east shore of Superior where potential lies.

Over the two decades, I’ve climbed a lot of rock in northern Ontario, but it seems the dozens of cliffs and hundreds of routes I’ve had the privilege to climb on are just a small sample of what’s out there, yet to be found.

Follow these Instagram accounts for regular updates on climbing in the upper regions of the province. More to come on the new climbs going up in northern Ontario after this season.