Rope Guide

Below is the most complete list of Nova Scotia's rope climbing. Please contact us if you see any information that might be incorrect or missing.

Do you not know where all of these amazing crags are located in Nova Scotia? View our map to help get you to your next send.

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Big Pond is a small quartzite cliff located just off Highway 4, a few kilometres southwest of Ben Eoin Provincial Park. It has long been a popular cliff with Sydney climbers and for a short time was also a hot spot for bouldering. That is until the highways department diverted the road and consequently blue up (!) the precious boulders. No boulders, no bouldering!!! Luckily the Sydney boulderers found greener pastures near Louisbourg. The Big Pond cliff is visible from the road and is on private land that is used occasionally as a quarry. As of yet the climbing area has been unaffected by blasting, however future development may encroach upon the cliff (and with any luck it will create a second pitch for climbers!).

Black Brook is a short but enticing granite crag located 20 km north of Ingonish, within the park boundary. Most lines here have been climbed (about ten) and have been documented in an unreleased mini-guide to the cliff written many years ago. Unfortunately, the details were not shared by the developers due to the possibility of an impending long term climbing ban within the park

The Bow Wall was developed for climbing in 2002 and was found as a result of persistent efforts by Steven Punshon. The cliff is not extensive but is up to fourteen metres high and is dominated by a very striking prow. All the routes here are of decent quality and many of the lines require a committed leader. However, all routes are also easily top-roped.

The cliff dries quickly as it faces southeast and catches a lot of sun. There’s very little wind here so expect to get eaten alive during bug season. From the top you can see Main Face, First Face and Columbus.

For the experienced climber out for high adventure, Cape Clear is the spot. Located in the middle of Cape Breton Highlands, it includes an amphitheatre of granite rock that reaches a continuous height of over 100 metres in places. The rock is generally very solid, but unfortunately the number of completely naturally protected lines is limited. Perhaps the most tantalizing feature of the place is the presence of a logging road (driveable even by most derelict climber vehicles) to within 25m of the top of the cliff.

Gaining interest with climbers from all over Nova Scotia, it has long been a popular party spot for the locals who contribute one of the biggest objective hazards to climbers: flying beer bottles (not to mention rocks, tvs, golf balls, portapotties, etc.) – so beware! In 2001 the first route was put up on the main headwall. Some earlier exploration of the flanks were conducted by Clarence Barrett in the late 1970s, with a couple of leads and a couple of top-roped climbs.

This peculiar rock formation attracts many visitors, most of whom are there to inspect the “Fairy Hole”, a cave of sorts that extends from the beach untold distances into the hillside. Apparently, the trail to the cave is known by the Mi’kmaq as “the trail of the Little People” and legend has it that Glooscap entered the cave to retire from the outside world.

The routes here sound interesting but the top-outs seem to be a little dirty, due to a thick cap of glacial overburden. Lots of potential for me lines here. The routes were first recorded in the Climb Cape Breton guidebook and like all routes in the guide were ungraded. Use your judgement when tackling these routes.

Columbus Wall
Photo credit: Matt MacPhee

Columbus Wall is one of the few crags on the mainland that doesn’t rise out of a lake or ocean! In contrast to most areas, this crag is nestled in the forest and has a very comfortable, unexposed feel to it despite having at least one line approaching 30m in height. Its sheltered character means that not much wind gets here, so it’s hot in the middle of the summer and buggy during black fly season. Route development began around 1994 and was spearheaded by J.P. Brown and Danny Bernard. This is a good place for top-ropers as there are plenty of tree anchors available.

Crow’s Nest is an imposing yet inviting climbing site that beckons from across the waters of Terence Bay. It is located in the Terence Bay Wilderness Area and is not terribly easy to get to.Although it is possible to hike in (after a good three hours of bushwhacking) it’s must easier to paddle over or get dropped off by boat. Regardless of how you get there, it is certainly an inspiring outing if your’e into steep crack climbing.

The main wall hosts about fifteen very obvious lines (ten of which have been climbed so far on the main wall) and almost all of them are high quality with good gear and great moves. More routes are also possible on surrounding outcrops. The climbing is pumpy to say the least. Luckily the hand jams are abundant and make resting at least a possibility on occasion. Not recommended for top-ropers since the anchor setups are a little funky.

Dover Island
Photo credit: Anne Giles

Dover Island (or Taylor Island as it appears on some maps) is more of a bouldering destination than a climbing mecca, but it does offer a handful of short, but high quality, roped climbs. Located at the mouth of West Dover’s harbour, the climbing consists of two short granite cliffs (approx. ten metres high) with about fifteen trad lines from 5.7 to 5.11. The granite is very coarse here and is quite reminiscent of Joshua Tree monzonite. One of the best features of the place is the sandy belay area at the base of the main cliff.

Eagle's Nest
Photo credit: Kris MacLellan

Eagle’s Nest – the archetypical “urban crag”. Also a great place to throw beer bottles. In reality it’s not that bad, but it is the kind of cliff that you commonly find near urban centres: heavy erosion, so-so routes, and a party spot for teh local yahoos. Despite its detractions, this crag has a few surprisingly high quality lines on it and was on of the earliest sites in Nova Scotia used by rock climbers. This is a very popular spot with climbers from Halifax who don’t own a car (it’s on the bus route). Also, the large collection of easier lines and an abundance of tress make this an excellent place for beginners (although there are definitely a few challenging lines for more advanced climbers).

The climbing at Eagle’s Nest is located within Admiral’s Cove Park, which is managed by the Halifax Regional Municipality. The main cliff has about 15 routes on it and there are 14 additional routes on two smaller cliff faces (The Schoolroom and The Back Slabs), located not far from the main cliff.

This small crag was stumbled upon by intrepid explorers Steve Brewis and Colin Matthews in early 1995.  (Note: this is not actually an island) As legend has it, they were looking for Crow’s Nest, unwittingly got directions for Sorrow’s End, but drove too far, only to find a new cliff rising from the sea. After scrubbing the most obvious line, which appeared hardest routes here – and at 23 metres, the longest. The name “Easter Island” was coined later after people noticed the presence of two headstones (or Ahu) visible from the top of the crag. When there’s a strong sea breeze, this area is excellent for climbing in June when the blackflies make climbing elsewhere unbearable. A standard climbing rack is required for all routes and belay stations.

First Face
Photo credit: Anne Giles

First Face offers some of the finest climbing in the province, in both sport and traditional styles. Although the climbs are all single pitches, most are a decent length (~25m). And with the added height of the scree slope rising out of Paces Lake, the exposure is delicious. The rock is of unusually fine quality – much friendlier than most of the granite in Nova Scotia – with flat positive holds and decent friction. In the off-seasons, the rock catches a fair bit of sun and so tends to be warmer than most other places at these times of year. If there’s no wind the bugs can be bad but if it’s blowing, you can steal a few climbing days here during the peak of bug season. It’s also one of the first cliffs to dry after a rain. And a curious bit of trivia: the site is known to the local cottagers as “the potato patch” because of the large scree slope which I Guess resembles a patch of potatoes (?!).

Franey Mountain is a popular hiking destination and rises high above the Clyburn River Valley. Solid granite cliffs sit at the upper tier of the “mountain” and are modest in height (25-30m) but reasonably extensive and would off a full weekend of climbing and exploring. Four climbs are recorded here to date and much potential exists. One of the most interesting features on the cliff is a detached pillar (known as The Splinter) which from the valley floor looks enormous. Unfortunately it is less impressive after you slog your way up the scree slopes of Franey to find a pillar standing only ten metres high, but nonetheless, it offers some great exposures and vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and the Highland Plateau.

The Spot
Photo credit: Kris MacLellan

Not to be confused with Cape Smokey, Little Smokey is a coastal outcropping located approximately seven kilometers north of Ingonish on the Cabot Trail. The metamorphic rock (gneiss) here is solid in most places and offers climbs of a full rope length.

Only two lines have been recorded to date, but it’s very likely that more of the face has been climbed. The climbing is generally easy on solid granite-like gneiss interspersed with crumbly volcanic dykes. Looks interesting. Be careful of tides. Protection seems to be fairly limited; be prepared to sling the odd tree root.

Not far from the national historic site of Louisbourg is a stretch of rocky coastline that is popular with climbers. Primarily a bouldering destination, the rock around the coast in this area reaches a height of 10m or more in places, justifying the use of a rope. The rock is clean and solid, but a little sharp. Some routes (undocumented) have been top-roped and easier ones have likely been soloed. Two bolted lines are documented here.

Main Face
Photo credit: Nathan Benjamin

Not for the squeamish. In the late seventies and eighties, this was the place to be. Almost all mainland development was centred here. The cliff is a broken face with a maximum total height of about 70 metres. Some lines are two or three pitches in length but most are single pitch lines. Primarily the routes are traditional in style, although there are also a handful of sport routes and a few lines with mixed protection.

Climbing here is always a bit of an adventure. You’ll find that many of the older routes are quite lichen-covered and almost all routes offer opportunities to graze on blueberries when they’re in season (late summer). The prevalence of lichen is due, in part, to the low traffic over the last decade but also because the original ethic practiced here seems to have been with minimalist approach to brushing (if at all)In addition to the lichen, the cliff is a difficult place to describe (with it’s many ledges, gullies, and buttresses), which previously required at least half a dozen visits to make sense of the place. Another aspect of the excitement (at least in part anyways) was the fact that many routes were under-graded (by as much as a full number grade or two!), which helped to firmly establish the Nova Scotia tradition of sandbagging. This guide attempts to reconcile the grading of climbs. It also gives a clearer description of where the climbs are (with the help of maps, photos, and sketches) so that visitors can become oriented fairly quickly. All in all, the place takes some getting use to, but like mold it will grow on you and as Sean Willett discovered during his apprenticeship with the early developers here: “… it really [is] fun to climb lichen-covered rock.”

To many, I suppose, the above description will make climbing at Main Face sound horrible. And for some it will be. For many others it carries them mystique of adventure. Given its incredible setting and quality and height of its lines, Main Face has an irresistible allure. There are enough climbs here (almost 70 routes) for many seasons of enjoyment. In fact, there is room for many more lines. I suspect Main Face will experience a renaissance in the coming years as the hardcore boulderers in the area turn into crusty old trad climbers!

Medicine Wall is a short cliff found at the west end of Shannon Island in the sheltered waters west of Lower Prospect. Considered by some to be more of a high-ball bouldering area, it woudl require a rope for most of us. Nonetheless the climbing looks good and includes some beautiful paddling around the islands to get there. (Warning: the seas can get high here and will cover most of the slab at the base of the cliff, making escape via canoe or kayak difficult).

The initial climbing development was started here by Chris Hayes, Shawna Penny, Eric Gilbert, Brian Managhan, and Mike Kohler, who cleaned and top-roped most of the lines (many of which were subsequently led by them or others). They were so enthusiastic about the place after its discovery that they started a website (which expanded to include beta on many of Nova Scotia’s other established climbing areas).