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Finding Big Ice in Newfoundland

A Climber’s Guide

by Alden Pellett

I opened the door to the sound of howling wind, blasting horizontally in front of the cabin loaded with fresh snow that felt like sandpaper on my face. The thought of ice climbing in this harsh below-zero weather made my gut turn. I closed the door, turning to my climbing partner Ryan, “We’re going to need more hot tea.”

For us, that was an early experience on the road to discovering the ice climbing potential in Newfoundland. We had arrived in mid-January that year, learning the hard way by enduring a long sub-zero cold snap with nasty winds that convinced us that it’s better to go later in the season. Before we left on the trip, Joe Terravecchia, one of the earliest pioneers of ice climbing in Newfoundland and whose slide show on climbing in the area had whet our appetites, had not offered up much beta, leaving us to discover what we could as we went.

“The striking Cholesterol Wall, an intimidating steep rock shield often covered in overhanging fat-like ice blobs”

Motivated by those tales of huge remote ice climbs, my friend Ryan Stefiuk and I had piled all of our climbing gear into my rig and headed out from Vermont. We drove out across Maine, through New Brunswick, and out to the tip of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.  There, in North Sydney, as we drove onto the massive overnight ferry late in the evening, a ferry worker motioned us forward as we followed the line of heavily loaded semi-trucks down into the belly of the beast. We awoke the next morning in the upper deck to the sound of ship engines rumbling as we arrived in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, relieved that we hadn’t experienced one of the legendary boat-tossing, vomit-inducing, heavy sea crossings the route can occasionally produce.

Fishing boats along a Newfoundland shore.

Fishing boats along a Newfoundland shore.

Hunting down where to ice climb in Newfoundland has never been easy. Information on first ascents and route beta has always been difficult to get from previously closemouthed visitors who were possibly hoping to keep the area quiet, to keep potential first ascents to themselves, and to maintain a sense of adventure for others, leaving other first-timers feeling more like they were on an expedition.  In fact, this tight-lipped ethic has led to more than one climbing team declaring first ascents, only to find that the routes had been climbed years earlier.

On that first trip ten years ago, Ryan and I eventually found our way to the coastal town of Rocky Harbour. Along the way, the scenic windswept coastal lands scattered with stunted spruce trees that sprouted branches growing only on the downwind side hinted at severe weather. One highway sign along the way warned drivers of poor visibility and dangerous winds over 100 kilometers per hour.

Arriving there in the small fishing village near Gros Morne National Park, we soon learned that the prime area in the region, full of the huge classic ice climbs we had dreamed of, was Ten Mile Pond.

 

The Cholesterol Wall, a steep wall that is host to a collection of big world-class ice and mixed climbing routes at Newfoundland's Ten Mile Pond.

The Cholesterol Wall, a steep wall that is host to a collection of big world-class ice and mixed climbing routes at Newfoundland’s Ten Mile Pond.

This deep freshwater fjord just outside of Rocky Harbour is home to dozens of big classic winter routes of world-class quality, from 600 feet long to near-Alaskan proportions of 2000 feet in length – many of which have only seen one ascent.  Each of these stunning routes is every bit as classic as Quebec’s legendary 800-foot La Pomme D’ Or (WI5) or Polar Circus (WI5) in the Canadian Rockies.

The area is also home to the striking Cholesterol Wall, an intimidating steep rock shield often covered in overhanging fat-like ice blobs.  The fat theme plays out on routes with names like Fat of the Land and Tundering Lard, both WI5+ and over 800 feet tall.

Thanks to a relatively accessible location with good comfortable lodging nearby and very friendly locals, this beautiful backcountry destination should eventually be on every serious ice climber’s tick list.

To help open the door for NEIce readers to find their way to this incredible spot, and actually enjoy the weather instead of fighting it, we’ve compiled some past stories and photos along with some good beta.




 

Stories on Newfoundland Ice Climbing:


Climbing Dreamline in Newfoundland

Dreamline (WI6+, 1,260′) February 21, 2017 Gros Morne National Park,  Newfoundland, Canada Joe Terravecchia,Will Mayo and Anna Pfaff  climbed a new, and spectacular line today, “Dreamline” (WI6+, 1,260′). Dreamline is a spray ice climb to the right of The Pissing Mare Waterfall on Western Brook Pond. Joe and Casey Shaw have been dreaming of, and eyeing this line since 1997, waiting […]

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Ryan climbing some exposed ice during the trip - Alden Pellett

Newfoundland 2015

A Trip Report by Ryan Stefiuk – bigfootmountainguides.com The MV (marine vessel) Leif Ericson crunches through sea ice in the Cabot Strait. The ship’s hull groans and 2-3 meter thick ice buckles underneath. Cracks in the ice expose the intimidating midnight blue waters of the North Atlantic. I see the long low hills of the […]

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Lard Tunderin’ Jaysus, Der’s A Lotta Ice Up Der B’ys!

by Ryan Stefiuk I buried my face inside my puffy coat as Andre’s snowmobile lurched into motion. The rubber tread beneath us occasionally slipped on the thick black tiles of ice as we sped along the pond. To my right, Alden and Walt were cruising along, closer to the shoreline. The Cholesterol Wall, looming just […]

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Road Trip – Newfoundland Ice 2012

Newfoundland Ice by Michael Wejchert “Walt Nichol, man of few understandable words, slows the snowmobile to a stop about twenty feet form my battered Toyota Corolla and I jump out. For the third time in as many days, Alden Pellett, Ryan Stefiuk and I thank Walt and step out of his cedar sleigh. We’ve all […]

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http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web07-08w/newswire-menard-mongrain-newfoundland

http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web15w/newswire-mayo-pfaff-new-route-newfoundland

How to Get There:

The best and cheapest way to get to Newfoundland is really to drive your own car. Yes, it’s a long drive!

Otherwise, fly into St. John, NL, and either rent a car there (A nine-hour drive to Rocky Harbour) or arrange an additional flight to Deer Lake, NL, where you can rent a car from any one of the major rental agencies. From there, Rocky Harbour is just an hour away.

Driving Directions:

If you are coming from most areas of the Northeast, get yourself to Bangor, Maine. From here, it is 550 miles out to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. From Bangor, take Maine State Rte. 9 across the southern part of the state. Cross the Canadian border to follow New Brunswick Rte. 1E (NB-1E) nearing the Bay of Fundy and eventually through Saint John, where the road heads more inland. Near River Glade, merge onto the Trans-Canada Hwy (NB-2E) and continue past Moncton, NB, where the highway starts heading more southerly finally reaching Nova Scotia, where it becomes NS104E. Eventually, the road becomes NS105E. Follow signs for Trans-Canada Highway/Cheticamp/Baddeck/Sydney.  In North Sydney, turn right onto Orangedale Road (signs for Marble Mountain/Lona). Turn left onto Portage Road, then turn right onto NS-223 E (signs for Lona/Grand Narrows/North Sydney). Finally, continue onto Seaview Drive/NS-305 N.  Once you are in the parking area for the ferry, you will find a terminal with bathrooms. Be prepared for a long wait if seas are rough. It is best to buy your tickets well in advance. You should arrive at least three hours before departure time.

Board the ferry for an overnight journey to Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland.  Get your tickets and find the schedule and other information here:  https://www.marineatlantic.ca/en/plan-your-travel/ferry-rates/

The Marine Atlantic ferry has overnight cabins with beds and a bathroom/shower, or you can go cheaper and opt for one of the less private bunkbeds. There is a cafeteria serving decent dinners and breakfasts on board. Note that you are not allowed to return to your car in the hold during the voyage, so bring whatever you need up top with you.

Once in Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, get on Trans-Canada Hwy/NL-1 E from Caribou Road and High Street. Continue through Corner Brook to Deer Lake. In Deer Lake, take NL-430 N eventually coming to views of the ocean in East Arm, fifteen minutes away from Rocky Harbour.

General:

It’s possible to ski in and pitch camp by the fjord if you want. It’s been done, but why suffer? It’s much more enjoyable staying in town and hiring a local person to snowmobile you in for an early start and back out at the end of the day where you can have a shower, a cold beer, and a hot meal after climbing all day. Once in the fjord, the hard part will be deciding which of more than a dozen world-class routes to do that day. One could spend two weeks climbing in Ten Mile and still be left with plenty more to do on your next visit. If you are looking to tick off a first ascent here – good luck!  Climbers have been quietly coming here for over twenty-five years. To quote an early first-ascensionist, “We climbed that place silly!” But, if you find an unlikely challenging line that catches your eye, give it a try! You just might get lucky. The ethic established at Ten Mile Pond and other fjords in the region is one of traditional ground-up climbing with no bolting.

Where to Stay:

On the return trip, we have found it nice timing after leaving the ferry behind, to have dinner and stay in the small town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

In Rocky Harbour, we love Gros Morne Cabins. Not too fancy, comfortable, cozy, and an easy walk to the store for beer, food, etc. Kitchen, stove, oven, refrigerator, shower, and wifi. http://grosmornecabins.ca/

When to Go:

Early January can be windy and frigid. For longer days, more ice, and better overall conditions, go in February into early March. It’s mandatory for the inland fjord of Ten Mile Pond to be frozen in order to facilitate easy snowmobile or ski access without having to go over the top of Gros Morne Mountain. Once on the shore of the fjord, it’s generally only a thirty- to forty-minute approach uphill with snowshoes or on frozen neve if conditions are perfect. Weather is a serious topic in Newfoundland. Whiteout snowstorms can sneak up on unsuspecting visitors. Local residents keep close tabs on the forecast, often planning their travels to town around it. If what the locals call “dirty” weather is coming, it’s best to stay close to home or indoors.

Other Stuff:

Climbing steep pillars by the ocean in Cox's Cove, Newfoundland.

Climbing steep pillars by the ocean in Cox’s Cove, Newfoundland.

There is actually usable cell service at the west end of Ten Mile Pond, so you can call if needed. There is excellent cross-country ski touring and backcountry skiing to be had throughout the region. Ice fishing is a popular local activity along with snowmobiling.

Smaller routes can be found everywhere around the region. Oceanside ice climbing on the cliffs at Cox’s Cove makes an excellent half-day adventure. Be sure to go at low tide.





Area Map

Zoom, pan and click icons for more information

Cox's Cove
Port aux Basques
Gros Morne Cabins
Ten Mile Pond - NF
Western Brook Pond - NF

Climbing Dreamline in Newfoundland

Dreamline (WI6+, 1,260′)

February 21, 2017
Gros Morne National Park,  Newfoundland, Canada

Joe Terravecchia,Will Mayo and Anna Pfaff  climbed a new, and spectacular line today, “Dreamline” (WI6+, 1,260′). Dreamline is a spray ice climb to the right of The Pissing Mare Waterfall on Western Brook Pond. Joe and Casey Shaw have been dreaming of, and eyeing this line since 1997, waiting for it to come into condition. Today it was in condition. Unfortunately, after waiting out a week of storms and bad weather Casey had to return to work and was not around to finish his dream of climbing this phenomenal ice route.

Will Mayo – “It’s the raddest ice climb I’ve ever done”. Anna Pfaff – “we sent a new mega line up wild medusa like formations of spray ice and other worldly features”.

“This was the most adventuresome and satisfying ice climb of our careers, we all agree.” – Will Mayo

Dreamline" (WI6+, 1,260') - Will Mayo

Dreamline” (WI6+, 1,260′) – Will Mayo

Pissing_Mare_Falls,_Western_Pond

Pissing Mare Falls, Western Brook Pond. A summer view – Wikipedia

 

More here..https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pissing_Mare_Falls

 

Sources: Facebook, Wikipedia, Instagram, Gripped.com & Will Mayo

 

Newfoundland 2015

A Trip Report

by Ryan Stefiukbigfootmountainguides.com

Newfoundland

The MV (marine vessel) Leif Ericson crunches through sea ice in the Cabot Strait. The ship’s hull groans and 2-3 meter thick ice buckles underneath. Cracks in the ice expose the intimidating midnight blue waters of the North Atlantic. I see the long low hills of the Cape Breton Highlands off to my right, signaling our arrival in Nova Scotia and the end of my stay in Newfoundland. Leaving this place is always bittersweet. Newfoundland---Boat-ice---RyanWinter trips in hideously cold weather make me long for home; to share a warm space on my couch or bed with my partner and dog. Newfoundland’s landscape and it’s people captivate me though and it saddens me to leave. I am deeply satisfied yet physically spent and tired of the cold.

How does one measure the success of a climbing trip? Is it by how hard one climbed, or by whether one sent their project? Is it by the number of days climbed, areas visited, or routes completed? Can you measure success with first ascents? How about by the number of friends made or visited along the way?

Newfoundland-Sled---RyanIt’s hard for me to say exactly what made this trip to Newfoundland successful. Alden Pellett, Christopher Beauchamp and I got along great and laughed often, and that counts for a lot on any extended trip. Deep in the Newfoundland backcountry we climbed several really long ice lines – some as long as 1800′. Several of the lines we climbed were probably first ascents and check in at WI5+ or WI6. We climbed classic ice lines established by the Joe’s – Joe Terravecchia and Joe Josephson – on a wall that’s as classic as any 3 pitch wall in North America. We made new friends and reconnected with old ones. Newfoundland is famous for having gracious and hospitable people, and my expectations are continuously surpassed.Newfoundland-Ryan-Climbing---Alden

Over the years many people have climbed ice in western Newfoundland (pronounced newfin-LAND, with the accent on “land”). Paul Fenton, an outfitter in Nain, Labrador, climbed in many of the fjords, and Jim Bridwell spent some time there in the 90’s with him. In the late 90’s Joe Terravecchia and Casey Shaw began climbing there. They have explored the area heavily over the last 20 years, and have brought many other northeasterners along during that time.

It was one of Joe’s slideshows at the Adirondack Mountainfest that finally encouraged Alden Pellett and me to visit for the first time back in 2008. Initially, Joe and Casey were deliberately vague about where and what they’d climbed. This peeved me. I didn’t understand why anyone would be so secretive about the locations of climbs. Did they care so much about first ascents that they were unwilling to share information? Maybe, but I don’t think so. After five trips to the island, and Newfoundland-climb---Aldenvisits to many of the fjords, I realize the brilliance of their decision to keep quiet. It takes two days to get to Newfoundland during good weather. The wind and blowing snow is hideous. The climbs are all in the backcountry. There are no other climbers, no guidebooks, no bolts, and no chance of a timely rescue if something goes wrong. Ice climbing in Newfoundland is about adventure.

NewFoundland---Climbing---RyanI know I’ll be back again. Maybe not next winter because I’ll be in nursing school. After that for sure though. Like those that have come before me, my vagueness about climbing in Newfoundland is deliberate. I want to preserve the experiences I’ve had and cherish so that others can be as fortunate as I have been.

Many thanks to Terry Hynes, Bevin Goosney, Brad and Lamont Thornhill, Clayton, Rick Endicott, and Walt Nichol for showing us true Newfoundland hospitality. Thank you Casey Shaw and Joe Terravecchia for showing me the Newfoundland way. Thank you Michael and Alexa for letting us crash in North Conway before and after our trip and to Rob and Amy for letting us store a car in North Conway. All of these individuals helped make this year’s trip a great success.

Ryan climbing some exposed ice during the trip - Alden Pellett

Ryan climbing some exposed ice during the trip – Alden Pellett

Lard Tunderin’ Jaysus, Der’s A Lotta Ice Up Der B’ys!

by Ryan Stefiuk

I buried my face inside my puffy coat as Andre’s snowmobile lurched into motion. The rubber tread beneath us occasionally slipped on the thick black tiles of ice as we sped along the pond. To my right, Alden and Walt were cruising along, closer to the shoreline. The Cholesterol Wall, looming just above them, is bathed in the most wonderful, soft orange evening light. The sky is deep blue overhead, and the air is warm and windless. A few minutes later we’re crossing the community woodlot and nearing the trailhead. The sun, the lone figure in a brilliant cloudless sky, is setting over the ocean to the west. No amount of illicit mind-altering substances could induce the trip I’m having right now.

Alden Pellett on the crux of "Hide the Baloney", WI5+, 550'

Alden Pellett on the crux of “Hide the Baloney”, WI5+, 550′

” To put things in perspective for the average New England climber – take Lake Willoughby and triple it’s height, and then cross it with Cannon Cliff, and you have Ten Mile Pond Cliff “
Alden Pellett and I have just climbed Stratochief, a 700′ WI 5+ on the Cholesterol Wall in Gros Morne National Park along the west coast of Newfoundland. We’d stared at this line during our first day of this trip. On our last day, with good weather, we abandoned our planned objective which we knew we’d climb without much trouble, and charged off into the unknown. This decision was the best one we made during our entire 10-day trip.  450′ of spectacular “spray ice” dripping from the imposing roofs overhead had painted an entire steep face with thin, yet climbable yellow ice. An exposed, rightward traverse across this face led upward, to the crux. From there, secure mixed climbing and WI5+ ice in a corner led to a ledge and the top. We both agreed, as we topped out, that this was one of the most mindbending routes either of us had ever climbed. Combine this with perfect weather, a partner you love to climb with and you have perhaps the best day of climbing you’ll ever have – a day to remember for the rest of your life.

On the Road

Newfoundland is a land of extremes. The drive from New England is long, boring, and almost always includes awful weather while traveling through Nova Scotia. Our 7-hour ferry crossing from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland has been delayed more times than it’s been on schedule. The ferry routinely gets stuck at sea. The “puke fests” that ensue are legendary. One women told us it was so rough during one of her crossings that water was spilling out of every toilet on the boat as it rocked for 18 hours off the coast of Channel-Port aux Basques. They spent days bleaching that boat afterward. The warm ocean currents from the Gulf Stream and the Gulf of St. Lawrence make the weather fickle and windy.  It can snow a foot or two in a day, but if it’s windy there won’t be any snow on the ground, anywhere. It can be -20 degrees for days straight, or it can be 45 degrees for your entire trip. If you’re lucky, you’ll climb 5 days on a 10-day trip. It’s probably better to expect 2-4 days of climbing during that time and if the weather sucks you might not climb at all. Black Horse Lager will be a good friend.

The people are friendly, hospitable and inquisitive. Each oceanside town is small, with only a few hundred year-round residents. None of them are climbers, but many of them are familiar with the fjords and they’re ringers when it comes to driving their Ski-Doos. Finding your way into the fjords can be as easy as saying “hello” at the general store or restaurant and asking if there’s anyone who’s willing to show you the way into the “ponds” (sounds more like “pand” – Newfoundlanders slaughter vowels like nobody’s business).

Ryan Stefiuk preparing for a trip up Stratochief, which climbs the weak groove up the face, before traversing right to a corner system that breaks the giant overhangs above. Photo - Alden Pellett

Ryan Stefiuk preparing for a trip up Stratochief, which climbs the weak groove up the face, before traversing right to a corner system that breaks the giant overhangs above. Photo – Alden Pellett

There are several fjords or “inner ponds” – they’re easy to spot on any topographic map and on Google Earth. I’ve spent hours, maybe days, pouring over maps of the west coast and there’s a lot to look at. Unfortunately, access to nearly all of the fjords is extremely challenging during most winters. The inner ponds don’t freeze regularly in all but one fjord. Fortunately, this pond has the most impressive array of climbs most ice climbers have ever seen. Ten Mile Pond is home to mega-classics like Fat of the Land (WI5+, 950′), Weather Vein (WI5, 1600′), Stratochief (WI5+, 700′), and He Speaks for Rain (WI6, 1000′). Each of these routes is insanely classic and ranks among North America’s finest. To have nearly two dozen of these routes in one place speaks worlds of this venue’s quality. To put things in perspective for the average New England climber – take Lake Willoughby and triple it’s height, and then cross it with Cannon Cliff, and you have Ten Mile Pond Cliff. It is that good.

The C-Wall in morning sunlight. There are about a dozen routes on this face alone.

The C-Wall in morning sunlight. There are about a dozen routes on this face alone.

The crown jewel of Ten Mile Pond is the Cholesterol Wall. The C-Wall, as it’s known by Joe Terravecchia and Casey Shaw, who’ve established most of the routes, is a 300 meters wide, yet houses a dozen classic lines ranging from 500-950′. This wall is backcountry ice cragging at it’s finest. At 8-miles from the nearest road, it’s no place to screw up, and there are no routes easier than WI5+ on this wall, but each route is pure bliss on a nice day. On a heavy weather day it feels like Alaska during a bad storm. During this trip, by the end of one day there was 4 feet of new snow on the ledges. Two cold and windy days later that snow was entirely gone; I don’t know where it went but it wasn’t there.

Alden Pellett traversing across the face of Stratochief

Alden Pellett traversing across the face of Stratochief

Seeing is believing, and I’ve seen enough to be convinced that Newfoundland may be North America’s finest ice venue. So, if you don’t mind a long, heinous drive in bad weather, an even more heinous ferry crossing, really cold windy weather or torrential rain and you can lead WI5  in 5 degree weather miles from roads, people and with no real potential of being rescued you will be rewarded with some of the world’s finest ice climbing. Oh hell, even if you don’t climb super hard there’s a lifetime’s worth of climbing there. The beauty of the place is that there’s no guidebook – you’ll just need to explore like every other climber who’s visited the west coast has done.

Even though some areas in Gros Morne National Park have reasonable access there is no management plan regarding ice climbing there. It’s a privilege to climb there and it should be considered an “alpine” climbing area, like any other mountain region. If you can’t climb your route without bolts, leave it for future generations to climb. Leave the drill at home.

 

Ryan Stefiuk / NEice Ambassador

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