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Geared up to climb new heights

Outdoor guide aims to put Thunder Bay on the rock, ice climbing map

Once Aric Fishman’s mother enrolled him in a wilderness survival camp at age 11, he was hooked on the outdoors.

The Thunder Bay entrepreneur is a certified rock and ice climbing instructor and guide who’s out to promote Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario as a world-class climbing destination.

“I’ve always been into climbing since early high school. When came here I just saw an opportunity for the outdoor guided aspect for the climbing scene.”

Fishman established Outdoor Skills and Thrills in February 2015, offering guided tours and instruction to climbers of all levels in the Thunder Bay area.

Raised in York Region, north of Toronto, Fishman worked with his brother at a guiding company in southern Ontario before he came to Lakehead University to learn the managerial and business side by registering in the outdoor recreation, parks and tourism program.

“When I came up to Thunder Bay I was just blown away by what was here.”

Having travelled extensively to more established climbing spots in Canada and the U.S., Fishman feels Thunder Bay can more than hold its own based on the quality of rock and the diversity in diabase, sandstone, and granite.

Fishman said the Bluffs in Thunder Bay and Pass Lake, northeast of the city, are easy hikes for novices with non-intimidating climbs.

For ice climbing, Fishman said Orient Bay, north of Nipigon, is absolutely “astounding,” along with Kama Hills, both a mixture of cliffs and frozen waterfalls.

His rock climbing season runs from May to the end of October. Ice climbing lasts from December to late March.

Outings are customized to people’s level of experience and how much time they have available.

Often he tags along with experienced climbers who need a guide and a competent partner.

Fishman said he’s able to handle groups of up to 50, and his clients range from “super energetic” little kids to adventure seeking seniors.

He’s trained members of the Canadian Forces in ice climbing and has hosted companies for employee outings, something he’s keen to do more of.

“The corporate aspect is something I’d really like to get into for team-building and conventions.”

In the last year, Fishman said he’s hosted “hundreds” of climbing enthusiasts from Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Michigan, California, Florida and even Saudi Arabia.

“Often times, they’re coming to climb with me, whether it’s because of my company or they’ve heard of my name specifically. That’s been cool.”

While “not rolling in money,” Fishman is satisfied that he’s able to carve out a career teaching people to safely enjoy the outdoors in a sustainable way.

“To be able to continue to do it is absolutely wonderful, so in that sense it’s successful. My goals have been fulfilled, but I’ve also been able to expand on those goals and dreams.”

Now the climber has become an author.

In October, he released a three-year, 424-page labour of love onto the book shelves: Thunder Bay Climbing: a Guide to Northwestern Ontario’s Best Kept Secret.

It delves into the history and the particulars of more than 650 climbs and has sold more than 400 copies through his website, in local gear shops and the Chapters bookstore, through Amazon and Ontario

“It aligns with what I do as a passion. If I was able to climb every day for the rest of my life, I would be happy.”

Although there are numerous places to climb, there remain challenges with land accessibility and liability issues that has prevented this activity from growing.

Fishman is not able to lead excursions to climb the peninsula at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, which, if allowed, would be a brilliant marketing opportunity for him.

“The Sleeping Giant is one of the most iconic features around here. If we were able to climb there, climbing tourism here would really boom.”