Shaun Parent Taught Me How To Develop a Route In Northern Ontario

Climb Onsight met with Shaun Parent, “Father and Pioneer of Rock and Ice Climbing in Northern Ontario,” to learn how he has developed routes across Northern Ontario.

Shaun Parent has been called the “Father and Pioneer of Rock and Ice Climbing in Northern Ontario.” Naturally, I reached out to Shaun to see if he wanted to be featured as a guide on Climb Onsight. My first email to him began, “You have a great name with the right spelling!” I am still grateful that Shaun responded.

Shaun began sending me photos of the cliffs he was developing. I texted “I’d be happy to help clean the route if you need.” Of course, Shaun, who’d been developing routes for the last forty-odd years, did not need any help from a different Shaun (i.e., me) who had only rappelled once before. Nonetheless, Shaun kindly requested I drive down to Sault St. Marie the next week.


shaun at lake superior

Shaun lives right on the Chippewa river, a mere 120 meters from where it feeds into Lake Superior. In the winter, he travels with clients via snowmobiles over the frozen river to massive multi-pitch ice climbs. Shaun, who has developed many of the climbs between Thunder Bay and Sault St. Marie region, says many of the approximately 640 ice climbs between Batchawana Bay and Agawa Canyon are comparable in size and quality to some of those ice climbs in Western Canada.

To preserve the serenity of the climbs, Shaun does not publicize their locations online. But by booking a lesson with Shaun, you can try one of the 640 routes and marvel at their sheer scale yourself.

Shaun has been teaching beginners how to rock and ice climb for over thirty years. For the three days I visited, however, he unveiled how to develop a rock-climbing route.

Kid Climbing Short But Sassy Wall

I must admit, I am guilty of absentmindedly wandering through beautiful trails admiring the trees, bushes, and plants that thoughtfully border the trail. But nature is chaos; the appearance of order is due to the tenacity of individuals like Shaun who want to share their natural discoveries with the rest of the world.

The hardest part, Shaun tells me, is to search the overgrown bush for a possible trail to the cliff and flag it with orange marking tape. Once he succeeds, he collects his weedwhacker and chain saw and begins blazing a path by cutting out horizontal deadfall.

Shaun then sets out to clean the rock and ensure its safety. Shaun rappels down from the top of the cliff and removes loose rocks, clears dead trees (trees can grow on cliffs!), brushes the cliffs, and drills in bolts and anchors. The developing process for one cliff can take weeks.

Shaun Parent Lead Ice Climbing

I arrived at “A-Wall” near the end of the development cycle—Shaun had already spent 35 hours bolting 6 routes ranging from 35 meters to 75 meters. Shaun had also cleared trails that led to the bottom and top of the cliff and had rappelled more than 10  times to set up the cliff face. Today, the plan was for Shaun to drill in a few more bolts and cut down a tree, while I brushed to my heart’s content.

We hiked to the top of the cliff – I carried the forty-pound pack so I could sympathize with the absurdity of the development process that is mundane for Shaun. At the top, I looked down, and froze. The cliff was higher than any I had traversed in Southern Ontario. And it was time to rappel down.

Shaun walked me through the rappelling process, taught me where to clip-in and how to tie the friction hitch. He double checked I was safe, and I stepped off the ledge.

We had to set up three rappels off the cliff down the longest part of the A-Wall. I was new to this procedure, but Shaun explained it step-by-step. Basically, due to the height of the cliff, the rope does not reach the bottom. So, we rappelled down to anchors on the wall until we reached a spot low enough where our rope reached the ground, and we could safely rappel to the bottom.

Shaun graciously let me attempt the first climb of this cliff. I failed (still somewhat bothers me!). But it is now Shaun’s clients’ turn to climb or be taught on  one of the many first ascents.

Touring the outskirts of Sault St. Marie with Shaun in his white truck, I was astonished by the number and magnitude of the cliffs. To the left was a cliff Shaun’s been eyeing to develop, to the right was another that he commented was not worth his time. We passed “Short But Sassy Wall” a small rock face that has routes I estimate to be between 5.4 to 5.12 (Shaun is a purist and climbs for the sake of climbing, not for reaching the next grade). We made brief stops at Ranwick Rock and River Bend Rock, both of which are detailed in his guidebooks (new editions are coming in 2024). Out in the distance was a 200-foot behemoth, the location of which is known only to him.

Shaun’s climbing accomplishments are too vast to be listed. In any case, attempting to list them overshadows who Shaun is as a person. As I learned over my three-day visit, Shaun loves to be outdoors, develop both rock and ice climbs, and share adventures with his climbing partners, clients, and friends.

Picture of Shaun Rosenthal

Shaun Rosenthal

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