Northern Wilds Magazine
A rock climber reaches the top of Dorion Tower. | ARIC FISHMAN
Features

Achieving New Heights: Outdoor Rock Climbing on the North Shore

Aric Fishman: Outdoor Skills and Thrills

There is no doubt that rock climbing is a challenging activity. But while it can seem intimidating for people who have never done it before, there are plenty of resources to help those who want to get started climbing but do not know how. One of those is Outdoor Skills and Thrills in Thunder Bay. Started in 2014 by Aric Fishman, Outdoor Skills and Thrills offers challenging adventures for skilled climbers as well as guided climbs for beginners, and regardless of skill level, offers everyone the opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the pristine scenery that the region has to offer.

“I love showing people the joy of climbing and the beauty of this region,” Fishman said.

The most popular course at Outdoor Skills and Thrills is the public beginner’s outings, which occur on a weekly basis and cover the basics with a trained guide. Since climbing is an inherently risky activity, choosing a guided service for one’s first outdoor climb creates the most safe and positive experience.

“For beginners, if there’s an interest I think you should totally try it,” Fishman said. “While indoor and outdoor rock climbing carry the same risks safety-wise, outside can seem scarier because you feel more exposed. But we consider it challenge by choice, and take a step-by-step, no-rush approach.”

Fishman said for your first time climbing it’s important to not focus too much on reaching the top but instead to enjoy the experience and reward that comes with trying something new. “The benefits of rock climbing are endless: you’re outside, you’re working out, you’re focusing and analyzing decisions. You also form connections with the people you climb with, as you’re literally holding each other’s lives in your hands. There’s something unique about that,” Fishman said.

Fishman is also the author of Thunder Bay Climbing, a book that details the best climbing locations in the area. More information about Outdoor Skills and Thrills and Fishman’s book can be found at: outdoorskillsandthrills.com.

Dave Pagel: Duluth Climbers Coalition

Down the shore in Duluth, the Duluth Climbers Coalition (DCC) seeks to protect rock climbing areas in Duluth and provide climbing access to people of all ages and experience levels. On the board of the DCC is Dave Pagel, a climber with many years of North Shore rock climbing experience.

“I moved to Duluth in 1978 and specifically chose this area because of its proximity to climbing on the North Shore,” Pagel said. “I fell in with a local climbers group, and we did a lot of development throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s to make climbing on the North Shore what it is today.”

While nowadays one can find plenty of guides to North Shore climbing, when Pagel first started there wasn’t much information available. (He even remembers orienteering through the woods to climbs that are now well documented and accessible by trails.) But as the climbing group convened at the university, members began the years-long task of identifying, naming, and cleaning up climbing areas so that locals and visitors alike had a better idea of where to go and how to access climbs. They even published a guidebook in the early ‘80s to climbing on the North Shore.

Now, Pagel works with the DCC within the Duluth area, and is helping the next generation gain access to climbing. The DCC has been around for five years, and has done excellent work preserving climbing areas and partnering with local nonprofits to expand access to people who might not have access to climbing otherwise.

“The goal was to make climbing a legitimate option in the city,” Pagel said. “We had several climbing areas but they were off the radar and it wasn’t clear who owned them. The DCC came about to partner with the city and preserve those areas.”

One of the ways the DCC promotes access to climbing is through partnering with local youth organizations to give children the opportunity to try rock climbing. Pagel said that while West Duluth has great natural features and recreation opportunities, many of the local youths don’t have the means to access to them. But through grants, donations, and partnering with local organizations, the DCC has brought the opportunity to climb to many local youths.

“We ran a program for middle schoolers and thought that maybe a dozen kids would be interested, but over 80 signed up! It’s really an unmet need,” Pagel said. “The students are so enthusiastic and it was awesome to see them out there.”

To learn more about the Duluth Climbers Coalition, visit: duluthclimbers.org.

Boulder Bear Climbing Centre in Thunder Bay offers outdoor climbing opportunities for all ages and experience levels. | DALLAS MARKALL

Dallas Markall: Boulder Bear Climbing Centre

Dallas Markall is the owner of the Boulder Bear Climbing Centre in Thunder Bay. With both indoor and outdoor climbing opportunities, Boulder Bear helps people of all ages and experience levels find a climbing experience that works well for them. When he’s not leading climbs or summer camps, Markall works to create and maintain climbing areas throughout Northern Ontario.

“I started climbing at 18, and did most of my original climbing around the Thunder Bay area,” Markall said. His experience with developing climbing areas began when he moved to Dryden when he accepted a position as a police officer, and found that there was no developed climbing in the area. He got connected with two local climbers, and as someone who is passionate about both climbing and the outdoors, he began the work of putting up several climbing routes, including at Banana Lake and in Blue Lake Provincial Park.

The work of developing an outdoor climbing area depends on the kind of climb being created. Markall said the bulk of his work has been single pitch climbs, where climbers can go up and down on the same length of rope. He starts with finding a place that is climbable, has natural protection, and is also aesthetically pleasing. When needed, he installs bolts which are drilled in to create a path and are left for future climbers to use.

“I’ve done a lot of bolting,” Markall said. “It’s an expense that comes out of pocket, but we have a few dedicated souls who are happy to do it so others can enjoy these climbs.”

During the summers, Markall and the staff at Boulder Bear lead a fairly intensive summer camp program where students can sign up for a week of outdoor climbing interspersed with classic camp activities, such as soccer and time at the beach.

“Campers visit a minimum of three outdoor climbing areas during camp with guides that are certified by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides,” said Markall.

For more information on the Boulder Bear Climbing Centre, visit: boulderbearclimbing.com.

Not only does rock climbing build strength and endurance, but it also increases motivation and reduces stress. | VERTIGALS

Karina Krosbakken: VertiGals

Also in Duluth is the North Shore VertiGals, an inclusive climbing community for women, transgender and gender non-conforming people of all skill levels to come together and explore their shared passion for climbing. The group was started two years ago by Molly Wick and Erin Hammes, and now has regular activities including climb nights, outdoor climbing adventures, and yoga for climbers.

Karina Krosbakken oversees the social media communication for VertiGals and also serves as a liaison for the DCC. Her love for climbing dates back to childhood trips to Devil’s Tower, and she has experience climbing all along the North Shore. She said Wick and Hammes started VertiGals after noticing a lack of women in the gym and few women mentors. With VertiGals, they hoped that more women could get involved and experience the amazing climbing opportunities that the North Shore has to offer.

“Most of the people who get involved with the group start with a climb night,” Krosbakken said. “Those are open to people who are advanced and those who have never climbed before, and we’ve had all ages from kids to seniors show up.”

From there, those that decide to join VertiGals get access to a Facebook group where members can stay connected and invite each other to impromptu and unofficial climbing outings. VertiGals also has three outdoor climbing adventures that are tentatively planned for this summer: an outing to Shovel Point, the Silver Creek tunnel, and Ely’s Peak.

“We have a very unique setup for climbing on the North Shore, with lots of accessible climbs that you can drive right up to,” Krosbakken said. “Climbs like Shovel Point are beautiful because you’re above the water, but it can be intimidating because you have to get lowered down to the lake and then get yourself back up. But there’s a great sense of pride and joy when you get back to the top.”

To learn more about VertiGals, visit: northshorevertigals.wordpress.com.

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