Guide to Northwest Ontario/Southeast Manitoba
(c) Copyright by The Alpine Club of Canada, Manitoba
Section, 2001. No authorization is required to reproduce this material
provided that the reproduction is accurate and not sold and that acknowledgment
of the source is included.
WARNING! Rock climbing is, by its very nature,
a potentially hazardous activity. Climbing can result in severe injury
or death. You do so at your own risk.
Click here (before you
proceed with this guide) for more information on the risks associated with
A older version of this guide is also available in PDF format.
In the early 1970s a small group of experienced
rock climbers that had recently moved to Winnipeg began looking around
for climbable rock. Without too much effort, they discovered several superb
granite cliffs to the east of the city in the general area of Kenora, Ontario.
Beginning with the most obvious lines at the Gooseneck Rocks near Minaki
these pioneers began systematically developing this area's vast climbing
potential. By 1986, when the first edition of this guidebook appeared,
nearly 100 routes had been described; today more than 350 are known and
this third edition is long overdue. We hope that it will be as stimulating
and useful as previous editions.
The Kenora region occupies the southwest edge
of the rocky peneplain known to geologists as the Canadian Shield, a sparsely
populated land of sparkling lakes and boreal forest that covers half of
Canada. The Canadian Shield is the oldest and largest exposure of crystalline
rock on the earth; the cliffs that we climb on are all that remain of mountain
ranges that were born 2 to 4 billion years ago. Rocks that are now exposed
were formed deep within the earth under conditions of intense heat and
high pressure; as a consequence, a bewildering variety of rock types occur
on the Shield. Although the Kenora region is richly endowed with unmetamorphosed
pink granodiorite, less solid metamorphic and volcanic rocks are also common
and it pays to be suspicious of every hold you touch, especially when exploring
new routes. Helmets have proven their worth more than once on these crags.
The climbing season normally extends from May through
Oct, with spring and fall offering the best conditions. Summer (June-Aug)
can be stiflingly hot and is also bug season - an unfortunate fact of life
on the Shield. You can usually stave off these beasts by wearing loose
clothes that cover your arms and legs, camping in a windy spot, and retiring
to the safety of your tent 1/2 hour before sunset. Always pack insect repellant.
Wasps nest in rock crevices and can be aggressive,
especially in the autumn; carry an anaphylactic shock kit if you are hypersensitive
to bee stings. Black bear and moose are the only vertebrate hazards, but
you're unlikely to have trouble if you make some racket when moving through
the bush, keep a clean campsite, and store food in a secure place (your
vehicle, a canoe anchored well offshore, or a bag suspended at least 3
m off the ground well away from your campsite).
Route Descriptions and Ratings
Unless otherwise indicated, routes are described
in counterclockwise order around the rock formation (left to right when
facing the cliff). Some route descriptions are broken into pitches;
some are not. Routes are described in the following format:
The banner line contains the route name, difficulty
rating, unusual danger (such as R or X, see below), approximate length
in meters, and star quality rating (if any, see below);
A short paragraph describing the route.
First ascentionists and date of first ascent (whenever
these are known).
Climbs covered in this guide include a mix of traditional
routes (requiring gear and usually without top anchors), sport climbs (bolt-protected,
often with rap hangers or chained anchors at the top), and top-roped routes
(protected by rap hangers, gear anchors, or slung trees). This is done
so that no limitation or expectation of style is forced or implied.
Routes are graded by the first ascentionist, usually
with some verification by consensus (see "Respecting the Grade" below).
Free Climb Ratings
The free climbs are assigned a technical grade
according to the Taquitz Decimal System (commonly also known as the Yosemite
Decimal System). The lower grades (1-4) vary from foot paths up to terrain
where although a fall would have serious consequences, one is unlikely
because holds are abundant; experienced climbers rarely use ropes and other
technical gear when on such terrain. All of the climbs in this guide require
gear to protect the climbers against the consequences of a fall (which
are the so-called grade 5 climbs), beginning with 5.0 (easiest) and following
uniform intervals of increasing difficulty to 5.15 (most difficult). Grades
of 5.10 and above are further subdivided by appending a letter (a-e) to
the grade; again, higher letters denote greater difficulty. The most difficult
climb described in this book is graded 5.12a. The grade describes
the difficulty of the hardest move or "crux" of the route, based on an
Aid Climb Ratings
Aided climbs (also known as Class 6 climbs) call
for the use of something other than the rock's natural features for support,
progress, or rest and are assigned an additional grade ranging from "A0
to A5"; again, greater difficulty is denoted by higher numbers.
In the case of a mixed route (one that uses both
aid and free moves) the free rating is separated from the aid rating by
a slash (/). For routes that have been done both free and with aid (or
partial aid), the two ratings are separated by the word "or" (examples:
5.6 or A1; 5.10 or 5.6/A2). Thus, no limitation or expectation of style
Some may find it enjoyable. These routes range
anywhere from less fun than laybacking an expanding flake to ones that
are climbed only "because it's there".
Good - more fun than buying new gear.
Very good - better than cold ale after a big day
on the rock.
Outstanding - better than surfing the Shark to
Paisley Park, having the whole cliff to yourselves for the weekend, or
any route outside the Kenora area.
(NOTE: In keeping with the grand tradition of guidebook
authoring, two star routes / problems first ascended by the author are
listed with three stars).
Abbreviations and Conversion Factors
First Ascent (from ground up, free or aid)
First Free Ascent (lead without aid)
Top Roped (climbed free, but not lead)
Clean aid (e.g. removable nut)
Aid (e.g. piton or fixed gear)
"Restricted", runout, and dangerous - the leader
may be subjected to a ground or ledge fall.
"X-rated", unprotectable, extreme danger - protection
is virtually nonexistent, the rock is unsafe, or a fall will probably cause
a total failure of the belay system and serious injury or death.
Lead without aid
Left and Right
With reference to climber facing the rock
One section of a longer climb
Note that rating information pertaining to unusual
danger assumes that the climber is skilled at placing protection. Never
assume that a route is safe because it does not have a danger rating. A
long or deadly fall can occur on almost any route; moreover, routes change
with time. Use common sense when choosing to lead a route. If in doubt,
switch to another route within your abilities or consider top-roping.
Note also that some routes designated as FFA were
originally climbed via free solo first ascent - reference to free solo
ascents have not been included in this guide (so as not to dare, entice
or needlessly endanger subsequent climbers).
A myriad of challenging boulder problems and shorter
routes abound in the area (and are described in a Bouldering Guide developed
by Rob Hester). For the sake of clarity, climbs under 8m (31') have not
been included in this guide.
Additional information pertaining to protection
on dangerous routes is also given in the route description paragraph when
Style and Ethics
Almost all of even the most difficult leads in
this book can be protected with artificial chockstones and natural runners.
Bolts and pitons are infrequently used, and only on very hard leads that
otherwise lack protection; please don't use technology to reduce a route
to your level. Consider top-roping a route instead of placing bolts or
pitons: it leaves the rock in its original state and offers total safety.
Under no circumstances should holds be chipped.
A few routes contain fixed gear: chocks, pitons,
bolts, bolts with hangers, chains, and slings with descending rings. In
the event that a chock or piton is encountered on a route, feel free to
try to add it to your rack. But if it is securely lodged and the only method
of retrieval is to break the rock, leave it be. Bolt hangers, chains, and
slings with descending rings should be left in place; there is nothing
more frustrating than going to a standard rappel spot and finding anchors
or descending rings missing. If you do not feel that these chains or slings
are safe, feel free to add more gear (but please don't leave bright coloured
This guidebook reflects the notion that rocks and
cliffs should be climbed from the bottom up. This having been said, there
is a place for top-roped routes, particularly as these can push the gymnastic
standard for the area and add to diversity on slabs or where natural protection
is sparse, thus adding new climbing opportunities. Unless otherwise noted,
all routes listed were climbed from the ground up.
Route names and difficulty grades given by the
first ascentionist are maintained throughout this guide. Where the first
ascent involved direct aid, a dual grade for free/aid is given (e.g. Autumn
Glow 5.8/A1). When a route that was originally climbed with an aid move
is eventually climbed free of aid, the designation First Free Ascent is
used, and this first free ascentionist provides a new free climbing grade
to the route. Note that the original route name is retained however, and
that the original aid or aid/free grade is referenced at the start of the
first ascentionist's (FA) credit line (see Petan Crack 5.10, originally
5.8/A2). Renaming an established route when it is climbed free is considered
poor form (also confusing).
Climbing a route on a top rope can be great fun
and is good for practicing tough moves, but it is decidedly different from
leading the route from the ground up. For the sake of this guide, in order
for a climb to be listed as a TR route it must have been climbed without
falls and without rope assistance (no hang-dogging). TR routes are considered
"projects" which have yet to be lead from the ground up. Whoever first
ascends a route without the TR is then considered the first ascentionist,
and reference to the TR is removed. The original route name is retained
however, and the new first ascentionist can adjust the grade if desired.
Respecting the Grade
Grades, standards, and indeed routes themselves
change over time, but this guidebook respects the grade given by the first
ascentionist or first free ascentionist, reflecting the belief that "the
standard should not be lowered". Because some of the routes in this book
were first lead back in the days when 5.9 was considered the most difficult
grade which could be climbed free of aid, there are some potential sandbags
out there (e.g. Great Corner 5.9!). An exclamation mark is used after the
grade as forewarning.
The Grid System?????
Apart from cliffs in the Experimental Lakes Area
(ELA), which offers true wilderness climbing, all of the cliffs described
in this book are close to roads and have fairly easy access. In order to
give unambiguous directions to the cliffs we use the Universal Transverse
Mercator (UTM) Grid Reference (G.R.) coordinate system, a 6 digit number
that specifies a location to within 100 yards on standard 1:50,000 topographic
maps. The easiest way to describe this system is by example: On the 52
L/2 map (the Minaki area), find the top of the letter "A" in the word "SAND"
in Sand Lake, a large lake in the centre of the right half of the map.
The G.R. of the top of the letter "A" is 837542. Here's what this number
means: The horizontal grid line closest to but below the point is numbered
83, and the approximate distance from this line up to the point in tenths
is 7; putting these together, you get the first three digits. The last
three digits: the vertical grid line closest to but to the left of the
point is 54, and the approximate distance from this line to the point in
tenths is 2.
It is worth thinking ahead of time about what
to do in case of emergency. From Gunton or the Lily Pond the closest help
is in Winnipeg. All other sites are closer to Kenora. There is helicopter
service in Kenora. The phone number for the Kenora hospital
Climbing has a long history in Winnipeg. The Alpine
Club of Canada was founded here in 1906 and the Winnipeg section was active
right from the start. It was especially vigorous from 1925-'40 when A.A.
McCoubrey, F.R.G.S. and Ferris Neave were section chairmen. Mr. McCoubrey
was remarkable: besides being section chairman for most of this period,
he was vice president of the club ('28), president of the club ('32-'34),
editor of the Canadian Alpine Journal (CAJ) for 12 years, and chairman
of two important committees (Ski Mountaineering and Glaciers). Throughout
the '20s and '30s Winnipeg Section members prepared for their explorations
in the western mountains by climbing regularly at the Gunton quarries and
skiing on the steep banks of the Assiniboine River. These were serious
mountaineers that routinely bagged impressive peaks, including several
notable first ascents in the Rockies and Purcells (CAJ 18: 74-81, 92-95,
21: 33-41, 22: 98-101, 214, 217, 23: 1-16). Their most famous adventure
was a strong attempt on Mount Waddington at a time when it was an internationally
recognized prize (CAJ 22: 32-45, see also C. Jones '76, Climbing in North
America). This same group made a special contribution to Canadian alpinism
in the sport of ski mountaineering (CAJ 19: 160-162, 20: 178, 21: 122-127,
240, 22: 164-166, 23: 81-85, 27: 76-80, 28: 116-119, 66: 19-20).
Interest in climbing waned in the '40s, and by
the end of World War II the Winnipeg Section was inactive. Things got going
again in the early '70s when Peter Aitchison discovered the Gooseneck Rocks
and John MacKenzie put the Winnipeg Section back on its feet. Like our
predecessors, Winnipeggers are now climbing at Gunton and do a lot of ski
touring in the off season; we have even pursued their ski mountaineering
initiatives in the Canadian Rockies (CAJ 66: 19-20).
Many people assisted in making this guide: Peter
Aitchison and Hugh Spencer started the job in the '70s; the style of their
original route descriptions for the Gooseneck Rocks influenced all subsequent
contributions. Liz Luginbuhl entered this early material into a computer,
which made it possible to easily modify and add new descriptions. Richard
Tilley and Bob France maintained the guide during the early '80s. During
this time, Everett Fee contributed most of the ELA and Gunton material
and Ian Clarke and Casey Shaw did the Lily Pond. Doug Leonard and Caroline
Marion did Jones Cliff, Jake and Cindy Klassen added the Roadside Crag,
and Rob Hester kept track of developments in the Minaki area. Everett Fee
originally brought all this material together for the guide, while Rob
Peters should be credited for consolidating recent material to form this
latest version of the guide.
Please send revisions, additions and suggestions
49 Dundurn Place
R3G 1C1, Canada
(204) 779-3950 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please Tread Lightly!
When the first edition was published very few
climbers visited the Kenora region, so they could do pretty much whatever
they wanted. This is no longer true. Please make every effort to minimize
your environmental impact: Remove all trash and don't chip holds. When
cleaning routes, never interfere with bird nests or alter aboriginal rock
art. Bury feces at least 10 cm deep, and more than 30 m from any stream
or lake. If you are camping, wash dishes a similar distance from lakes
or streams, and cook on a camping stove--fire scars take years to heal.
Respect vegetation by using existing trails, roads, and campsites. With
a little care, these precious places can be preserved indefinitely.