I’ve lost all feeling in my fingers. It’s -20°C and I’m face to face with a wall made of sheer ice. My full body weight is being supported by the picks of my axes and an inch of metal jutting out from my boots. One at a time I try to reposition each limb higher and higher, driving each metal spike as hard as I can. But with the frigid temperatures and the blood draining from my arms positioned high above my head, it’s becoming a taxing endeavour. I look down to see how far I’ve climbed and realize I’m only about 10 ft above the ground on a 50ft ice wall. This could take a while…
My second winter adventure in Ontario’s Highlands had me traveling to the Haliburton Highlands to go ice climbing. For years I’ve seen pictures of people looking like Spiderman, climbing their way up frozen waterfalls thinking, I HAVE to do that! As a recreational rock climber, I figured ice climbing was winter’s version of it. I got this, I thought but boy was I in for a surprise.
We partnered up with Yours Outdoors, a tour operator in the region that specializes in unique destination experiences and headed to the Medeba Adventure Learning Centre. We were greeted by instructors Allison and Sarah, two young women oozing with spunk and positivity. In the comforts of a small heated cabin, they helped us get outfitted in the equipment we’d need for the day – climbing harness, boots with attached crampons, and helmets. They took their time explaining the equipment and checking that everything was in working order.
We walked out to the climbing wall and I sized-up my challenge for the day, a 50ft man-made ice wall that towered over me. There were two routes on the wall, one more challenging than the other so naturally we started with the ‘easier’ route of the two.
I quickly realized that my experience rock climbing wasn’t going to directly translate to the ice wall. For starters, it wasn’t about hand and feet placements anymore but I had to find groves to drive the spikes of my hand-held axes and crampons. Then I had to push and pull myself up the wall. At first it took a number of tries to get the axes and crampons to stick. If you’ve used a hammer before you know it’s all about the follow through. You can’t be delicate with ice climbing. There’s a sound associated to a good drive into the wall and when you hear it you know you’ve got a solid connection.
I was only 10 feet up the wall and already exhausted. But below me I could hear Allison and Sarah motivating me through each attempt. If you’re ever working through something challenging, I highly recommend you hire these two. Somehow, from some unknown energy supply, I pushed through without feeling in my fingers all the way to the top. It was grueling, I smashed my knee a few times into the wall, and I wanted to quit multiple times but once I reached the top and took in the view, it was all worth it.
The winter fun continues again next week! In Part III of my Winter Video Series in Ontario’s Highlands, we get the engines going and the adrenaline pumping!
The Haliburton Highlands is without a doubt a winter lover’s paradise (or in my case, where winter haters turn into lovers). Covering an area of over 4,000km2, there’s a huge variety of winter activities to choose from in the region. From cross-country skiing to dogsledding, snow mobiling to winter hiking, there’s some for everyone.
Stay at Oakview Lodge and Marina
If you’re traveling from Toronto, you could theoretically visit Haliburton Highlands in a day, but with a 2+ hour drive each way, take your time and spend the weekend in the region. The Oakview Lodge and Marina is a great option for those looking for the ambience of a lodge but the comforts of home. Owned and operated by Greg and Anna, Oakview Lodge has 5 rooms in the main lodge, plus a small cottage for accommodations, a large living room with a wood burning fireplace, a bar, dining room, screened-in porch dining area, and a hot tub (perfect for relaxing after a day of ice climbing!).
Where to Eat in the Haliburton Highlands
If you’re staying at Oakview Lodge and Marina, they have a great selection of food prepared by Greg himself. For dinner I highly recommend the lamb shank!
Another fantastic option in the area is Rhubarb Restaurant. Located right at the intersection of HWYs 118 and 35, Rhubarb Restaurant offers upscale dinning in a cottage country setting. Embodying the farm-to-table concept most commonly found in the region, they source all their ingredients from local producers. Even their beer in locally made, like right-in-the-basement locally made. Order a flight of their Boshkung beer to sample the variety of beers made in-house. Food menu items worth trying: duck-confit poutine, crab cakes, pork schnitzel with Camembert, the salmon saltimbocca, and of course the rhubarb pie for dessert!