Atlantic Climbing School caters to all skill levels

At Otter Cliffs, Lily Cusack (top) sits on the edge. The 110-foot crag is among the highest on the Eastern Seaboard and is a popular rock-climbing destination in Acadia National Park. PHOTO BY KATY CAWDREY

Sitting atop the granite face of Otter Cliffs, Eli Simon’s legs comfortably dangled over the 110-foot crag as the waves thundered against the rock below, with only a purple rope preventing his fall. It seemed almost possible to touch the pink and orange setting sun here in Acadia National Park

“This is my favorite time to be out,” Simon, the lead guide and owner of Atlantic Climbing School on Mount Desert Island, declared. “Everything calms down. The hues all blend together.”

After enjoying the late afternoon views for a few minutes, Simon proceeded to instruct his rock-climbing students how to rappel down the shear wall, all the while reminding them to breathe and smile to ease their nerves. With the ropes securely anchored above, he then calmly and carefully guided his novice climbers in their descent and ascent of the rocky seaside cliff.

Atlantic Climbing School owner and instructor Eli Simon explains to Cusack how she will make her descent. PHOTO BY KATY CAWDREY

Otter Cliffs, one of the highest headlands on the Eastern Seaboard, is one of eight popular mountaineering destinations that the Bar Harbor-based school takes its customers in Acadia as well as the Midcoast area from Camden.

“Everything about this place comes together to make this perfect island of goodness,” Simon said of the options on Mount Desert Island. “The rock quality is phenomenal, and it’s this beautiful synthesis of mountains and oceans.”

Atlantic Climbing School has been offering half-day and full-day excursions in Maine and elsewhere around the world since 1994. The school provides all equipment, including shoes, harnesses and helmets, during its private classes.

“Because every course is customized, we can really tailor it, fine-tune it to the individual,” Simon explained.

The school has something for everybody. From first-timers to experienced climbers and from ice-climbing to bouldering, its guides have led trips as far afield as Mexico’s El Potrero Chico and Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire.

Simon loves his job.

“I get to meet amazing people,” he said. “And, I get to facilitate this experience that’s mind-blowing.”

Lily Cusack scales the granite face of Otter Cliffs. While climbing, she is attached to a belay system which is controlled by Simon. As Cusack climbs, Simon pulls up on the rope to prevent extra slack in case she slips or falls.

At age 15, Simon got his first taste for the sport scrambling up indoor climbing walls in his Maine hometown of Rockport.

“I immediately just fell in love with it,” he said. “I started coming up [to Acadia] to climb pretty much right away.”

His father, a rock climber who owns a climbing school and shop in North Conway, N.H., helped instill his son’s love of the sport.

“He was always very supportive of my goals and dreams — of my fanatical obsession with climbing,” Simon said with a laugh.

During his time at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., Simon traveled around the world, earning multiple EMT, sailing and rock-climbing certifications. He has ascended mountains on every continent except Antarctica and in about 20 countries.

He returned to Acadia after college and started guiding for Atlantic Climbing School in 2005. He purchased the school from then-owner Jeff Butterfield in 2009.

“I’ve been doing this for 12 years now, and it just doesn’t get old at all,” he said.

Simon uses his extensive knowledge to calm the most nervous of customers and push the most adventurous, while enjoying the experience wherever they’re climbing.

“Every place is so unique,” Simon said of his various adventures. “To be able to knock people’s socks off every day is just super rewarding.”

Atlantic Climbing School is located at 67 Main St. in Bar Harbor.  Hours are: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. For more info, call 288-2521 and visit www.climbacadia.com.