Ice Climbing at Orient Bay, Northwest Ontario, March 8-14, 1996

By Everett Fee, Winnipeg MB CANADA

"Orient Bay" is a narrow arm of Lake Nipigon located just above the top of Lake Superior; more specifically, it's 40 Km north of Nipigon, Ontario. Those in the know say that it offers the best frozen waterfall climbing east of the Rockies. Every year in early March ice climbers are attracted to this area by "Ice Fest", which is organized by Shaun Parent (Alpamayo Adventures). This year, about 40 climbers showed for the indoor part of the "Fest", which was held at the Red Rock Inn at Red Rock, Ontario. They were entertained with gear swaps, gear demos, slide shows, a panel discussion, communal meals, and extensive schmoozing. Outside events included ice climbing courses and speed climbing competitions, but there was little interest in either this year; most people just did their own thing during the day. A wide range of accomodations are available in the area. My wife, Lucille, and I stayed in a motel in Nipigon with a kitchenette that cost CAD$46/day; cooking our own meals saved time and money.

Ice climbing conditions this year were perfect: temperatures between -5 and +5 C, sunny skies, and kilometers of fat, soft ice right next to Highway 11. Lucille and I had recently bought new ice climbing gear (BD Switchblade crampons, Charlet-Moser Pulsar axes, Smiley ice screws) and were eager to try it all out. We'd both seconded quite of bit of waterfall ice in the past, but this was the first time we'd done any leading. The benign conditions were perfect for learning and we had great fun on the area's many grade 2-3 classics (Go-Mar Falls, Amy R, Tempest, Sycho Icycho, Hully Gully). I personally learned more in these six days than I have in any other climbing venue of equal duration... procedures that were awkward and tentative at the beginning---placing pro', choosing tool and crampon placements, conserving energy---were smooth and confident at the end.

We climbed one day with Shaun Parent and noticed a couple of things that he does that may be of general interest. First, a wart-hog on a rubber leash attached to your climbing harness is a useful "cleaning" tool when seconding an ice pitch. It's very handy for getting screws started out of the ice (and saves the pick of your ice axe for what it's designed for!) It also fits nicely into screws when you're trying to extract the ice after removing them (especially handy for pound-in screws like snargs). Finally, it's a spare piece of pro'. Shaun also racks his screws on a bandolier made of nylon webbing and worn across his chest instead of clipping them onto 'biners on his harness; it's amazing how quickly a screw can be deployed from the bandolier.

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