Lake Nipigon is the 22nd largest freshwater lake in the world which empties into the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior, via the Nipigon River. This river meanders through a 20 mile long canyon that forms what is referred to as Orient Bay. The area with the most fresh water in the world coupled with a latitude of greater than 49 may make the novice ice climber sigh and think of the possibilities. But, the ice climber with some experience venturing into unknown territory searching for the next frozen waterfall will start to feel a flutter in his stomach and his mouth start to water like it’s just been introduced to a juicy, freshly picked, and perfectly ripe nectarine on a hot summer day.
Lake Nipigon: Not only was the largest brown trout ever caught on record caught right here, but the ice climbing is phenomenal.
Orient Bay ice climbing is regarded by many as the one of the top ice climbing destinations in North America. All of the climbs in Orient Bay form naturally. The beauty of the valley is stunning and the grades of the climbs are varied enough to suit both the beginning lead climber to the expert. Orient Bay may not be the place to go for top-roping since there are only one or two options for access to the top of any of the climbs. The amount of climbs in Orient Bay is very extensive and the easy access for the amount of climbing one can get there is unrivaled. In Orient Bay alone, near Ontario’s Lake Nipigon, there are over 128 climbs along 12 miles of highway: A higher concentration than anywhere else in the world and incredibly accessible (as of 2006, more than 200 routes have been put up). More than 20 new routes have been put up this winter in this valley alone, albeit, the conditions during the season of 2005-2006 were exceptional. But, who’s to say there won’t be more winters like it just around the corner?
Refer to “Superior Ice” published by Granite Publishing in 2001. The Alpine Club of Canada is also an excellent local resource, and, boy, are they serious about their ice climbing. Wesbender.com and climbingcentral.com are also excellent resources for up to date conditions on several of the climbs and climbing areas in the region.
Getting ThereOrient Bay - 40 kilometers north of Nipigon, Ontario, Canada on Highway 11. 128 ice climbs (now, more than 200 routes have been put up) ranging from 20 to more than 100 meters tall; many of them less than a 15-minute hike from the road. The grades of difficulty range from 2 to 5+ with several mixed routes in the making. Look for the annual Nipigon Ice Fest for the local flavor. The good thing about being so close to the highway is the easy access. But, when you are there, you will find that the highway can also be a bit of a burden. The noise factor of the semi-trucks can be a bit imposing during the climb especially coupled with the wind factor on the top. Also, the parking is quite interesting. You can either park in one of a few parking lots set aside for ice climbers and hoof it to the climbs (there are three designated parking lots used in the 12 mile stretch) or park on the side of the highway and walk directly to the climb from there and hope your vehicle doesn’t get lightly tapped by a Trans-Canadian Highway semi-truck driver cruising at a mere 20000 km/hr in white out conditions. Those drivers are on a mission.
Red TapeCrossing the border into another country always entails some red tape. Getting into Canada is no exception. As this year rolls on, the new law requiring a passport when travelling into Mexico and Canada from the U.S. for a U.S. citizen draws near. Generally speaking, though, the same rules that apply in the U.S. apply when in Canada as far as traveling is concerned. One important issue that should be considered is purchasing a permit to camp in the wilderness.