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Superior Exploration – Providing Unique Climbing Opportunities Since 1989

Superior Exploration is the premiere guiding company for exploring the the vast amount or ice and rock climbing in Northern Ontario. We caught up with Superior Exploration’s owner Shaun Parent and discussed some of his company’s cool guiding opportunities, his over 1000 first ascents and the seemingly endless climbing potential in Northern Ontario.
Superior Exploration
When did you start climbing and how did you get into the sport?
Superior Exploration: I started climbing in 1976. I was 20 years old and took a NOLS course in Wyoming. I had enrolled in their three-month mountaineering/climbing semester, but I left early after an accident occurred during the course. I then headed to Oman where I climbed over 45 new rock routes. I started ice climbing in January 1978 in Boulder at a two-day ice course with the Bob Culp Climbing School.
You have to be one of the most prolific new route developers in Ontario. How many new ice and rock routes do you think you have established over the years?

Superior Exploration: To be honest, I’ve lost track. It has to be somewhere over 800 ice routes and more than 500 rock climbs. I’ve also developed a number of rock and ice climbing areas including the Thunder Bay area, Orient Bay, Red Rock, Ice Station Superior, Kama Bay, Paradice, Highway 129, Carp River Road, Mile 38 Road, Mile 67 Road and the Montreal River area. I’ve documented some of this climbing in the 18 Lake Superior rock and ice guides that I've authored or coauthored.
Shaun Parent searching for new ice routes.

Shaun Parent searching for new ice routes.

What are some of the unique challenges with establishing new routes in Northern Ontario?
Superior Exploration: The biggest hurdles are time, money and commitment. Agawa Canyon, for example, currently has 153 ice routes. It took me over 320 days and 287 round trips on the train (to reach the canyon) to develop these ice climbs. Ranwick Rock near the Montreal River has a similar story. I developed this spot between 1999 and 2004. I used 150 bolts, spent days scrubbing and cleaning routes and cutting trails, and also had to occasionally rent a helicopter to get in to the area. Lots of work, time and money.
When and why did you decide to start a guiding company?
Superior Exploration: I started Superior Exploration, Adventure and Climbing back in 1989. At the time, I was living in Toronto and studying at U of T and was ready to return to Thunder Bay to start a guiding company. It was my second career after Geology. I wanted to introduce folks to the rock and ice climbing. The area needed new climbers to climb those new routes!
Tell us a bit about some of the more interesting guiding opportunities that you offer.
Superior Exploration: I offer clients the opportunity to climb first ascents on rock or ice in the area. That’s pretty unique from a guiding perspective. I also offer a guided rappel and climbing trip through an old copper mine in Batchawana. You begin at the top and finish by exiting some steel doors 100 metres below. It’s a surreal setting. Finally, every summer I offer guided trips to Peru. I lived in Peru for six years and have spent a lot of time exploring the Cordillera Blanca. My guided trips to that region go to the Cordillera Raura, which is rarely visited. I have a cache of gear down there with a staff of guides that I’ve known for 15 years.
Shaun Parent on a massive face in Northern Ontario.

Shaun Parent on a massive face in Northern Ontario.

You’ve always been a big proponent of the climbing in Northern Ontario. Do you want to try and convince some of us Southerners why we should go climbing up that way?
Superior Exploration: Absolutely! We have tons of multi-pitch ice and a solid team can climb several hundred metres of ice in a day. There are also significantly fewer access issues up this way so climbers don’t need to worry about whether crags are open or closed. The ice season up here is also very consistent. It starts earlier and ends much later than the typical ice season in more southern locations. And with over 250 ice climbs with approaches under 30 minutes, there are almost never any crowds or line-up for routes.
Shaun Parent in Peru.

Shaun Parent in Peru.

What's the best time to go ice climbing up there?
Superior Exploration: December 20th through April 15th at most ice crags. In Agawa Canyon, the season can be even longer!
And perhaps the best time to go rock climbing?
Superior Exploration: On mile 38 Road you can ice climb in the morning and rock climb in the afternoon. Rock climbing season is from April through to October.
Shaun Parent on Loonie Toonie

Shaun Parent on Loonie Toonie.

You’ve seen some pretty interesting changes in climbing equipment over the years. In your opinion, what new piece of gear has had the biggest impact on ice climbing?
Superior Exploration: The new ice tools have made a massive difference. When I started climbing we had straight shaft tools with leashes. It was amazing what we actually managed to climb with that gear.
How about rock climbing?
Superior Exploration: Bolts have transformed where we can climb. There are so many great areas with excellent stone that we just could not protect with traditional gear. Modern bolts have created so many more new route opportunities.
Shaun Parent attempting a new line.

Shaun Parent attempting a new line.

Any upcoming climbing trips?
Superior Exploration: Yeah, I’m going to spend some more time developing new ice routes in the Batchawana and Orient Bay areas. During the summer I’ll continue developing Prometheus and Covenant Walls. These two cliffs are located left of the Alien Wall on Mile 38 Road in Batchawana Bay. I’m also returning to Peru the end of March for two weeks to scout some peaks in the Cordillera Raura. This is in preparation for a July climbing expedition for four clients – should be fun!
You can get more information about Superior Exploration as well as guidebooks for many of the areas mentioned in the interview at http://www.superior-exploration.ca/
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is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.