It’s totally true that the best climbers are the ones having the most fun. And I think that might be me and Chris.
I spoke to mom on Saturday and told her not to worry. The lakes were totally frozen this time of year.
As we sloshed our way across Big Hawk Lake, we paused to consider our snowshoes that were sinking into the slush and the water that was rising above our ankles. The big hole fifteen feet away where the sled tracks ended didn’t do much to help our confidence.
Standing right in the middle of Big Hawk Lake, we recalled our basic lake-crossing knowledge. The lake was indeed frozen underneath the unfrozen part. Honest. Snow covered the unfrozen water and as we all know snow is an amazing insulator. That’s why the water on top of the frozen ice wasn’t itself frozen. Underneath there had to be at least 20 cm of nice, thick, solid ice… surely.
Nevertheless, we backtracked and skirted around the slush. Yeah. That’s all it was. Slush. Watery wet slush. It was definitely below -20 with the windchill but like I said, snow is a great insulator.
After an amazing drive through complete whiteout conditions at Orillia, we drove another couple of hours to get to Big Hawk Lake, where we had been a few weeks before. Conditions were better this week so we donned our snowshoes and hiked across the lake. The buzz of snowmobiles could be heard in the distance.
Once across the lake (and yes it’s quite a distance) you hit the portage between Big Hawk Lake and Sherborne Lake. Apparently there is ice climbing. But there is also thick woodland, semi-frozen swamp and not much else. We spent a great deal of time hunting for short ice climbs and finding our bearings. Eventually we scrambled through the woods and up the hill and found beautiful thick seepage!
Sheets of WI3+ and WI4 could be found at various heights throughout the forest. The snow was thick and made it tricky to navigate through the trees. But part of the adventure of climbing is exploring places you have never been to before. You do this once, then you have years of climbing ahead of you, as navigating back to these places becomes easier.
The portage between the lakes is a very very cool spot. We wished we owned a snowmobile (and yes, we’re talking about how to get one… and a canoe… and a plane… and a big truck to pull all these things) but snowshoeing is also a lot of fun. It’s an amazing feeling to romp far away from the car and look at beautiful landscape in the chill of winter.
Eventually we found the two climbs we were looking for. Turning Japanese and Smells of Art. They took a bit of finding on the climber’s right as you head toward Sherborne Lake across the portage, and it was only the glint of ice up the hill that caught my eye that stopped us from hiking past.
We dumped the snowshoes and hiked up the hill to the base of the climbs. There was an amazing amount of deep snow and a tonne of potholes to navigate (caused by snow covering rocks but not the holes below). Because of the freezing temperatures the ice was very hard but also very brittle.
We opted to head up, set a top rope and run laps up the climbs to work on our vertical ice technique. When it’s this cold the crampons don’t bite into the ice too easily and it dinner plates when you hit it with the axes. And it would be stupid to fall and have an accident this far from civilisation.
Suffice to say we hammered and kicked. We ate frozen subs and drank hot tea. We had an absolute blast for the afternoon and got back to the car just after dark (incidentally, snowshoeing as fast as we could right over the water in the middle of the lake).
This is the wonder of Ontario ice climbing! Leave super early, drive super long distances, hike super far, climb super short ice in less than ideal conditions.
I wouldn’t change it for the world! Ontario is paradise in winter! All you need is hot tea, lots of warm clothing, a great climbing partner and a smile on your face.
It’s true that the best climber is the one having the most fun!