Casket Quarry: what’s in a name?

Quarry ice in the early 1980s (note climber, upper left)

Casket Quarry—the name sounds ominous, threatening, even…dangerous? In fact, while climbing is exciting to be sure, using proper gear and techniques it’s safe, fun outdoor recreation for folks of all ages. So how did Casket Quarry get that unfortunate name?

Concrete Burial VaultIn the 1970s, when Duluthians first started ice climbing here in earnest, the adjacent building (where Loll Designs is currently located) was occupied by the Polaris Wilbert Vault Company, a manufacturer of concrete burial vaults. These are essentially concrete liners for graves (the casket goes inside). Nevertheless, they look a lot like coffins and were stacked all along the railroad tracks below the quarry.

As climbers trudged up to ply their skills, they couldn’t help but consider the presence (and irony) of the empty, casket-like vaults. Since the old quarry didn’t have an official name, the climbers soon began to refer to it as “the quarry with the caskets” and then “Casket Quarry.” The earliest reference in print is in the first edition of Superior Climbs—the original climbing guide to the North Shore—published in 1984. Although “Casket” Quarry may reinforce stereotypes about the perceived risks of ice climbing, among climbers, the name has always been applied tongue-in-cheek.