Embrace Winter in Elora With Ice Climbing

Known for the scenic beauty of its spectacular gorge, Elora offers visitors a unique way to embrace the deep freeze of Ontario’s winter.

Adventurous types looking to get outdoors and make the most of the season can scale a wall of sheer ice on the face of the famous Elora gorge. The 20-metre-high, man-made ice wall is open to experienced climbers and beginners, who can learn the ropes of ice climbing from experts with tour operator One Axe Pursuits.

One Axe, which operates rock climbing, caving and zipline programs for recreation, corporate team building and for the film industry, has exclusive rights to offer ice climbing at its location overlooking the gorge along Irvine Creek. One Axe’s operation in Elora, about 90 minutes outside the Greater Toronto Area, is one of the few places in Southern Ontario where ice climbing is permitted.

“We cater to people who want to really enjoy the winter and not hide from it,” says Christa Niravong of One Axe Pursuits. “Ice climbing is a really fantastic activity to experience nature and test yourself at the same time.”

Rather than depending on natural ice that can form at a waterfall in winter, One Axe diverts water from the creek over the edge of the gorge and lets it freeze to form a 20-metre ice wall that is approximately one metre thick and more than 15 metres wide.

One Axe staff provide lessons on the basics of ice climbing – including how to use axes and crampons to dig into the ice for traction – before climbers tackle the ice wall. Two climbing blocks are offered daily – one for beginners and one for experienced climbers – throughout the winter. The length of the season depends on the weather, but it typically last at least until the end of March.

“It’s really an empowering sport,” says Niravong. “You have the power to choose your own route up the ice, unlike rock climbing where you need to follow the natural path that the rock gives you.”

For those looking to enjoy the incredible scenery of the gorge and the surrounding area with their feet on solid ground, Elora has a wealth of trails for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

The Wellington County Museum and Archives, a National Historic Site located along the Grand River directly across from the gorge, has a network of trails on its 53-acre property. Visitors can rent snowshoes for $5 per day to explore the museum’s trails, including the 1.5-km Aboyne Trail that offers stunning views along the edge of the gorge and passes historic features such as a lime kiln, water pump and wind mill. Another trail circles a historic cemetery that is the final resting place of more than 200 residents of the 1877 former poor house in which the museum is located.

Hikers and snowshoers using the museums trails can also connect to the Elora Cataract Trailway, a 47-km network of trails linking the Grand and Credit watersheds.

The museum also has one of the best toboggan hills in the area and maintains an outdoor rink that is open for free skating.