The Bay of Fundy – Home of the world's highest tides and the East Coast's hardest mixed routes.
The undeveloped coastal cliffs in the Bay of Fundy have the potential to be Canada's best mixed climbing area.
An almost endless number of mixed route opportunities in the Bay of Fundy.
Before arriving in Nova Scotia for Christmas with my family, we tried to find out all we could about ice climbing in the area. Nova Scotia's population of 950,000 includes a strong, surprisingly-large climbing community around Halifax. The majority of these Halifax climbers are drawn to the region's exceptional bouldering or the fun trad climbing found on the coarse granite of areas like Peggy's Cove and Musquodoboit. Fortunately, we had Roger Fage's ice climbing guidebook
which highlighted the cliffs along the Bay of Fundy, an area that is conveniently close to my parents' place.
A staggering amount of new route potential.
Soon after arriving at my parents' home, Nathan went out to explore the coastline while I spent time catching up with my family. After his first visit, I asked what he thought – he had walked almost 20km that first day.
"The cliffs are endless!" he told me.
"And what about the tides?" I asked.
"They're high. They're really fucking high."
Here's a little more ice with your mixed route.
The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world, especially at the mouth of the Mina's Basin where Nathan was exploring. On the days we went out, the tides were 11.3m high (almost as high as a three-story building), but they can reach heights of up to 14 to 16m. Roger's guidebook gives tidal considerations for the established climbing areas, most of them reading "high: mess up and you'll be swimming" or "high: you'll either have to climb out or swim." The moral: don't take the tides lightly and keep an eye on the tidal charts.
On our first day out together we checked out Halls Harbour. It has easy access and is probably the most popular area for Nova Scotia ice climbers. At this cliff we eyed up a nice looking vertical wall that we hoped would yield some good moderates. The top also had some surprisingly easy access, allowing us to rap in and start bolting before heading back to base camp at my parents' house.
Other than the tidal nature of the cliffs, the second big issue with ice climbing in Nova Scotia is temperature. Being on the Atlantic, the temps are never very cold for very long. We decided it was getting too warm to climb anything, so on our second exploratory trip we decided to finish bolting our lines at Halls Harbour. Another consideration about Nova Scotia is that 80-percent of the province seems to be swamp land. While we were bolting, swamp water from the top of the cliff kept pouring off and we had to wear rain gear and work with soaked and numb hands.
Nathan Kutcher preparing a new route.
During our third time out, conditions were perfect. It was business time. We finally had some colder temps to consolidate the rock and build ice for the top-outs and we had a good window with the tides. Nathan quickly dispatched his two routes, which he named Trogdor (with a dragon-like mass of brush at the top) and Strong Mad. I had three runs on my new route, but realized I had imagined there would be far more ice at the top than there actually was. The route would need another bolt so at the end of the day I hiked to the top of the cliff with the drill and remedied the problem.
Rebecca Lewis enjoying some fat ice in the Bay of Fundy
The next day I quickly sent Teen Girl Squad and spent some time on Trogdor. The three routes Nathan and I had bolted at Halls were quite a bit harder than either of us had expected, resulting in grades from M8 to M10.
On our last day in Nova Scotia, we went to Black Rock where Nathan had spent some time bolting earlier on our trip. This was by far the most impressive section of shoreline. The 30-minute hike along the water brought us by a number of steep walls punctuated with brilliant looking ice lines whose bottoms had been wiped out by the tides. Nathan had started bolting two lines out of a cave that he had to abandon after reaching rock that was too chossy to bolt on lead. Instead, he settled on a line outside the cave. Nathan quickly sent his new route, Ursula M10+, and I played on the opening burly and steep section.
Rebecca Lewis approaching Ursula M10+
As we hiked out, we spotted more possible lines. Our trip to Nova Scotia was over and we had to get back to Ontario, but Black Rock could be a strongman's playground. We hope that the locals will get out and enjoy our new mixed routes and be inspired to add more first ascents on the finicky shore of the Bay of Fundy.
Route Beta by Nathan Kutcher
This is a relatively user-friendly area by Fundy standards. Tide concerns are moderate to high. It is an uninterrupted cliff from Halls Harbour to Huntington Point. During high tide, the base of the cliff is under water. There are a few areas that seem to stay sufficiently above water and could possibly offer safety during high tide. While the 5-10min approach to Homestar Wall gets cut off at high tide, the base of the wall should be okay if the Bay is calm and the tide is not too high.
To access the area, park at Lobster Pound on the west side of the harbour. Trucks need to access the back of the building so do not block the road. Lobster Pound plows the parking area.
The general style of the routes is long pulls with bad feet. These are full-on mixed routes requiring drytooling, hanging ice and turf topouts. The routes are fully bolted, but may require screws at the top if thick ice covers the bolts. Do not climb here unless the rock is frozen.
The location of Halls Harbour and Homestar Wall.
Team Girl Squad M8
Stickclip the first bolt! Starts off the talus ledge just left of the low roof. Starts with decent holds and quickly gets into pick torquing and the occasional slot. Either perform some rock moves or long pulls that lead upward to thin, technical hooks. A smear of ice may cover the last bolt that protects the moves through the ice and onto the turf. Be careful when climbing this one after a freeze/thaw. There are some blocks that were solidly frozen during cleaning that may have become loose over time.
18m, 9 bolts, Tree Anchor
Rebecca Lewis on Teen Girl Squad M8
Strong Mad M10
Stickclip the first bolt! Start in the centre of the low roof, off a hopefully still-there boulder. The first hold is a stein-type hold above the horizontal choss band under the roof. Bust out the roof on powerful moves on small holds. A powerful third clip is quickly followed by a hard crux move. Long pulls with non-existent feet lead up to fun pick torquing and an icy top-out.
18m, 8 bolts, Tree Anchor. As of writing, the fixed anchor rope needs a knot tied and a biner/ring/quicklink for lowering.
Homestar Wall Topo. Team Girl Squad M8, Strong Mad M10, Trogdor the Burninator M9 (Left to Right)
Trogdor the Burninator M9
Stickclip the first and second bolts! This technical route starts in pick slots at the right end of the talus ledge, at the right end of the low roof in a left-facing open book. Crank out and right thru the low roof on good holds to a big pull just past the lip. Shallow side pulls lead to a difficult-looking steinpull. Crank straight up to a hard-to-find (possibly iced-up) sidepull under the roof. A long move up and left leads to better holds before moving back right to more techy, thin consummate V's that may be filled with ice dribbles. By the time you reach climbable ice, your forearms should be burninating like the countryside
. There is a bolt just below the top that may be difficult to see under a thin coating of ice.
18m, 10 bolts, Tree Anchor
Rebecca Lewis on Trogdor the Burninator M9. Note the Trogdor-looking tree at the top.
Tide concerns here are extreme. It's a 30-45min approach along unbroken cliff line with few if any safe zones at high tide. The approach from Black Rock is cut off two to three hours before high tide. Once at this area, there is no quick and easy way to get away from the water. There may be a possible escape 5-10min past (west) Pirates Harbour through a ravine and a bushwhack back to the road.
This area has a huge cave with potential for extremely difficult mixed routes. Ice forms in overhanging curtains at the lip as well as from seeps inside the cave. The floor floods at high tide. Just beyond the cave is a shorter section of cliff line that is steeply undercut and capped with hanging ice.
The location of Black Rock and Pirates' Harbour.
I started bolting two routes inside the cave, but ran into bad rock. With more time, longer bolts, frozen rock and rappelling in rather than trying to bolt my way up from the ground, I would have been able to finish these lines.
I started bolting Ursula from the ground up in the darkness until poor rock and running water turned me back. I later returned and rapped in and finished bolting the route.
The huge cave at Pirates' Harbour.
The first bolt is for cleaning draws. Stickclip the second and third bolts
This route is in the centre of the tsunami-like wall about two minutes west of the cave. Start at a high, small divot right of the first bolt. There is one hold between the start hold and the triangle shaped block between the second and third bolts. Climb up and right through an iced-up seam and onto an ice blob below a short dihedral formed by a large block. Crank out to and over the lip to a shallow seam. Two well-spaced shallow hooks in the seam lead up to a bolt under a small roof and the first smears of ice. Climb three bolts worth of overhanging ice to a two bolt anchor (joined with rope) that is probably iced over, or use a V-thread to lower off.
15m, 8Bolts, Anchors
Nathan Kutcher on Ursula M10+
Rebecca Lewis is one of Canada's top female ice climbers. She's been part of establishing many of Eastern Canada's most difficult mixed climbs including her most recent route Team Girl Squad M8. She is on the Canadian national ice climbing team and competes internationally on the World Cup ice climbing circuit. This past December she made the podium, placing second in the UIAA North American Championship in Durango, CO. You can follow Rebecca at https://www.instagram.com/rebecca.lewis.climbing/
Nathan Kutcher is one of Canada's top ice climbers. He's established numerous difficult mixed climbs including the traditionally protected ground-up ascent of Metamorphosis M10 R. He is on the Canadian national ice climbing team and competes internationally on the World Cup ice climbing circuit. In 2012 he defeated a strong field of international climbers and won the prestigious Ouray Ice Festival in Colorado. You can follow Nathan at https://www.instagram.com/nathankutcher/?hl=en