A woman climbing an icefall in Nipigon with ice climbing axes.

Nipigon | Destination Ontario

Ice climbing in Ontario

A woman climbing an icefall in Nipigon with ice climbing axes.

Nipigon | Destination Ontario

You may have rock climbed at an indoor facility or maybe you’ve ventured out to climb in nature’s gym. But you haven’t really hit your peak until you’ve scaled a frozen waterfall and posted the feat on Instagram to prove it.

How to start ice climbing

Ice climbing can seem daunting, but despite the steep learning curve, it’s not as hard as it looks.

The best way to start ice climbing is by joining a beginner’s climb with a hired guide so you can learn the basic skills you’ll need.

Guides will also help familiarize you with the terrain and ensure you have the right amount of experience and equipment for the icefall you’re tackling.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned expert, always make sure you’re following all the instructions for a safe climbing experience.

What you need for ice climbing

It’s important to wear suitable winter clothing and carry the right ice climbing equipment. You want to keep warm, comfortable and safe while scaling the icy cliffs.

Some equipment is mandatory at certain ice climbing locations, so make sure you have on hand (or will be provided with) the following items:

  • helmet: a helmet is critical as it will protect you from any falling ice chunks, rocks or other objects; helmets designed for other sports, like ski helmets or multi-sport helmets, work great for ice climbing too

  • ice climbing jacket: the best jacket to wear is warm, waterproof and fits well over your other layers

  • harness: your harness (specifically designed for ice climbing) must fit you properly to ensure a safe climb; beginners should ask guides to check that their harness is fitted correctly

  • ice climbing crampons: these are the sharp teeth attached to your boots for ice climbing, which come in three forms—strap-on, automatic and hybrid; ask your guide or a professional about which crampons are best for you

  • ice climbing boots: the best options are crampon-compatible mountaineering boots; look for single or double plastic boots (double plastic has a removable liner for easier drying) or opt for tough ski boots (although they’re not as ideal)

  • backpack: in your backpack you’ll want to carry essentials like sunscreen, sunglasses, snacks, water bottles, dry socks, an extra change of clothes and anything else you think you may need—it’s best to be prepared

You can find ice climbing gear to rent from a local Ontario ice climbing shop like Exclusive Sport Rentals in Toronto or Wilderness Supply in Thunder Bay. Many outfitters and operators also rent required gear, like ice climbing axes and ice tools. Check with your guide ahead of time to find out which items you can rent and which ones you’ll need to supply yourself.

    Where to go ice climbing

    There are several key ice climbing destinations in Ontario along with professional outfitters who will guide you to adventure.

    Northern Ontario

    Outdoor Skills and Thrills

    Based in Thunder Bay, Outdoor Skills and Thrills offers fully outfitted and guided ice climbing excursions at sites across Northwestern Ontario, including Orient Bay, Kama Bay, Dorion, Red Rock and Nipigon. Founder Aric Fishman is certified by the Professional Climbing Guides Institute.

    You don’t need to have any ice climbing experience to join their Beginners’ Ice Climbing Adventure. Other guided trips are more challenging and focus on more advanced techniques for experienced climbers. Most outings are between six and eight hours long.

    Location: Thunder Bay

    Steve Foster Adventure Instruction

    With over 25 years ice climbing experience, Steve Foster offers a fully inclusive, half day ice climbing tour with professional equipment, warm clothing and a quick demonstration. Excursions can be catered for beginners as well as more experienced climbers.

    Location: Sault Ste. Marie

    Superior Exploration 

    Ontario’s oldest ice climbing school was founded by avid climber, adventurer and author Shaun Parent, and offers lessons from beginner to advanced in the Algoma Region.

    Location: Sault Ste. Marie

    Central and Southern Ontario

    Liv Outside

    Experience ultimate ice adventure in Muskoka or Haliburton Highlands with Liv Outside.

    Based in Bracebridge, this outfitting company will guide you to some of the best routes of ice-covered granite cliffs deep in Ontario’s hardwood forests.

    Select from intro courses for beginners to excursions designed for intermediate climbers.

    Location: Bracebridge

    Yours Outdoors

    Yours Outdoors curates unique experiences that showcase the best of art, culture, nature and outdoor adventure in Haliburton Highlands.

    Their winter calendar includes a few ice climbing options that range from a two-hour introduction to ice climbing for beginners to a half-day and full-day excursion for those with climbing experience.

    Location: Haliburton Highlands

    Yamnuska Mountain Adventures

    The one-day Ice Climbing Essentials is an ice climbing excursion suitable for beginners offered after the Southern Ontario Ice Climbing Festival in mid-February.

    More experienced climbers may be interested in the one-day Ice Leader Course designed to provide the skills and training towards becoming a lead climber on single-pitch ice climbing routes.

    Location: Bancroft

    One Axe Pursuits

    One Axe Pursuits offers guided adventures just outside Toronto in the historic Elora Gorge, including ice climbing.

    Their six-hour beginner program can be catered for small groups to a maximum of ten participants. No prior experience is required, and all the necessary gear is provided.

    Location: Victoria Park, Elora

    For more information about ice climbing, tips for beginner climbers and the best locations, check out Ontario Ice Climbing Trails

    And meet like-minded adventurers at the Southern Ontario Ice Festival in Maynooth which takes place in mid-February each year.

    Last updated: January 8, 2024

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