Barrie-Muskoka Rock Climbing
Background of the Sport
Rock or sport climbing dates back to early European mountaineering in the 1800s. Many mountain ascents require a combination of techniques. By the 1950s, new metals and fibres enable vast improvements in climbing accessories. Rock enthusiasts began to focus on a particular pitch or wall rather than climbing the whole mountain. The outdoors movement of the 1970s caused climbing to become an organized sport. Rock climbing is a sport that requires mental and physical strength, flexibility, agility and endurance.
With sport climbing's recent popularity, climbing walls being erected in indoor and outdoor facilities world wide. The increased safety possible (everybody climbs with a harness) in a man-made environment allows sport climbers to practice and achieve greater levels of difficulty.
To get started, you need little equipment, and if your early outings are in a gym or as part of a class, you can probably rent the equipment. Bouldering (climbing rocks under 20 feet high) requires only rock shoes and a chalk bag. For sport climbing, you will need a climbing harness, rope, a "belay" device (such as a figure eight or tube), and at least one "carabineer" (spring loaded clip). For outdoor rock climbing you should always wear a helmet to protect yourself from falling rock chips.
The clothes will vary with they type of climbing. For indoor climbing, comfortable shorts and t-shirt will suffice, though not too loose. Outdoors, you must be prepared for a range of temperatures and conditions (regardless of the forecast). Dressing in lightweight thin layers, in breathable fabrics, is recommended.
When you are climbing on a regular basis, you should invest in your own gear. As you get better, you may want to try lead climbing, where you fix you own protective ropes, rather than using a pre-set rope to the top). You need to have your own "rack", a selection of climbing aids including "runners" (flat nylon ropes), "carabineer" and "chocks" (wedges and cams).
Beginners should take a class or hire a guide to teach you "the ropes". Classes are available at most man-made climbing facilities and local colleges and universities. In Barrie-Muskoka area, the best indoor climbing and bouldering facilities are:
- Hardwood Hill, Oro Station (705-487-3775 or 1-800-387-3775) Description: 30 ft high climbing tower. Features include three sides of varying difficulty, six different routes to select, big holds for first time climbers, over hangs, ledges and layback for more experienced climbers. Group packages are available for 10 to 30 participants. Participants need to bring a pair of running shoes and dress for the weather. Hardwood Hills will provide all necessary equipment to safely guide climbers to the heights of Hardwood Hills.
- Off the Wall Rock Climbing Centre, Barrie (705) 727-1161, Description: By appointment only. Features include portable rock climbing walls, helmet, harness & sticky shoes provided with beginner lessons, and memberships available. Lessons are mandatory for first time climbers.
The most beautiful climbing areas in the Barrie-Muskoka area (bring your camera) requires a short drive. The Niagara Escarpment is a limestone outcrop that runs more or less continuously from Niagara Falls in the south to Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in the north. There is good quality rock and worthwhile climbing at any points throughout its length and offers variety in types of climbing. Some crags (Old Baldy, Lion's Head and White's Bluff, in particular) are heavily bolted, and receive heavy traffic from sport climbers; others have been left more or less in their natural condition, save for a sprinkling of rusty pitons. The cliffs are rarely more than 80 feet high.
- Metcalfe Rock Metcalfe Rock features a mixture of traditional and sports climbing, mostly at grade 5.9 and above, and offers a quiet rural setting and fine views across the Mitchell's Creek valley. The cliff faces west and receives sunlight from noon onwards. Free camping, water available from a spring near the base of the crag.
- Old Baldy Old Baldy has a good selection of bolted routes on sound rock. This face has fine views across the Beaver Valley, and receives plenty of afternoon sunshine, great for early season climbing. The trees (mostly irreplacableold-growth cedars) at the top of the crag should not be used as belays or rappel anchors. For those who enjoy sport-climbing at grade 5.10 upwards, the $25 permit is worthwhile.
- Lion's Head and the Bruce Peninsula Lion's Head is on the edge of the Bruce Peninsula, and features clean white cliffs above the clear blue water of Georgian Bay and a green cedar fores. The cliff faces north and receives sunlight only in the late afternoon, which is great on a hot summer's day but can be bone-chilling the rest of the year. Most climbs at Lion's Head are grade 5.10 and above.
WARNING! Climbing can be dangerous if proper precautions are not taken. If you have little or no experience, you should take a professional guide, or take a climbing course in order to learn the basic safety techniques.