I’ve added many photos of my 2008 trip to the gallery. Check them out for even more information about a trip to Newfoundland.
Newfoundland is one of North America’s premier ice climbing destinations. Despite this fact it remains unknown and off the radar for most ice climbers. This is largely due to the fact that there is no guidebook to the climbing areas. Don’t worry though, if you go you are almost guaranteed to find ice and it’s just as likely that you won’t see any other climbers.
For a place with relatively easy access to climbs there’s almost no traffic on any routes. Yours might be the only ascent throughout the whole season. The Canadian government decided long ago that Newfoundland was so challenging to get to that there would be no ice climbing management plan. There are no guidebooks, no route history, almost no fixed anchors and very few maps available other than 1:50,000 topographical maps. These can be obtained over the internet or in Corner Brook at the municipal offices (down by the water on the north end of town).
Where to climb
There really isn’t any record of climbing on the island, but a lot of the ice that you can see from the road (and a lot that you can’t) has been climbed. Let’s just say that if you look in the right places you’ll find more ice in one place than in any other location in North America. There’s more ice than Lake Willoughby (and 2-4 times as tall) and routes similar in length to the long Canadian Rockies classics. If you’re feeling really adventurous you may want to hire someone or bring your own snowmobile to have more success getting to a lot of the climbing. Additionally, a zodiac with a small outboard motor (and a drysuit and drybags) would be really helpful too. While these big pieces of gear really aren’t necessary they will help you get to some of the biggest pieces of ice in North America (as much as 600 meters tall!)
You can drive around the island and see ice climbs all over the place. To get to some of the climbs you may have to cross private land. This generally seems to be okay, but be sure to ask the landowner whenever possible. If they know you’re out and you haven’t returned by the end of the day they will go out looking for you so let them know what you’re up to. Some of the climbs begin over the water, or are only accessible at low tide. Check the tides, or try to hire a fisherman to take you to the climbs over the water. If you would like specific information about climbing please contact me directly. Alternatively do some of your own research. It’s fairly obvious where many of the major ice destinations are on the island.
Newfoundlanders are friendly, gracious and warm. We literally had people inviting us to stay with them only minutes after meeting them. Most people that live there have grown up there and remain because they like living in close proximity to the oceans and the mountains. People generally live relatively close to the coast. A quick glance at a map of the province and you quickly realize that there really aren’t many towns on the interior of the island. The island is really rugged and largely undeveloped. If you go make sure you try to sample some of the local foods. While their diet is not diverse (due to the short growing season) they do have some foods there that you probably won’t have had anywhere else. Whatever seafood is in season is a good choice, as well as desserts containing partridge berries or bakeapples.
Getting to Newfoundland is one of the biggest challenges when you decide to take a trip there. Expect drive times between 25-30 hours (including the ferry ride) from most locations in the northeastern U.S. Another option is to fly to St. John and drive across the island (in the winter this is an adventure in itself!). If you choose this option be aware that you will most likely be driving a rental car without studded snow tires. Four-wheel drive and/or studded snows are a must there in the winter. The weather is heinous, and snow covered roads are the norm there. Plan extra time into your trip for driving (you lose an hour and a half due to time zone change), perhaps as much as an extra day.
The ferry ride is a trip. Get there early to ensure your space on the boat, or make a reservation in advance. Marine Atlantic runs two ferries per day throughout most of the winter, one at 11 a.m. and the other about 11 p.m.
Where to Stay
Corner Brook, the third largest city on the island is the epicenter of all the climbing activity. It’s a hip little city of about 30,000 people and has all the amenities you could want on a climbing trip. If you plan on climbing in Gros Morne then you could also think about staying in Rocky Harbour. There is less to do in the evening or on rest days there, but it still has everything you need for a climbing trip.
When to go
If you’re used to climbing in the northeast you’ll find the weather on the island to be similar but less predictable. The weather there in the winter can be relatively mild due to its position near the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic. However, one should expect nasty, cold windy weather with snow and mixed precipitation. Storms can stick around for days and you should expect to climb in some bad weather. During our trip it was routinely -20 degrees F in the morning as we left the house. Daytime highs varied from 0 – 28 degrees F.
December and January are good months to climb with moderate temperatures but lots of snow. Unfortunately, the larger ponds in the fjords don’t freeze until February. February is colder and drier, and March has long days and milder weather. If you go in March be sure to bring backcountry skis. If the ice has melted out you will still have some of the best backcountry skiing in eastern North America at your fingertips. Think Tuckerman’s Ravine times 100. The terrain is endless.