Ontario has dozens of amazing ice routes and during the long, cold winter of 2013/14, a number of equally-amazing mixed routes were established. Toronto climber Sam Eastman-Zaleski shares the story of how a few such climbs came to be.
In recent years, the hilly Madawaska Valley northeast of Toronto has seen a flurry of mix and ice climbing activity.
Cliff lines dot the edges of small lakes, each hiding unique traits. Blood Wall may only be one of hundreds of cliffs in the surrounding area, yet it is one of the finest.
Rising out of Harris Bay, an arm of Bark Lake, the 45-metre Blood Wall is an intimidating overhanging granite wall with beautiful orange and black swirls running through it.
It was first discovered by intrepid ice explorer Danylo Darewych in the winter of 2012. He realized the potential and got the ball rolling by climbing two smears to the left of the wall, Meet the New Boss WI3 and the longer Join the Revolution WI3 M3.
On a scouting trip with Jim Elzinga, Danylo looked at the cliff with Elzinga realizing the potential of developing a new mix and dry tooling area.
In late October 2013, Elzinga joined by local climbers Justin Bryant and David Broadhead cut a winding two-kilometre trail to the top of the cliff over a couple of rainy weekends. In November, I joined Elzinga on a bolting mission.
On the left side of the wall Jim had scoped out a 30 m partially ice-filled shallow crack system and face problem that leads to a ledge that traverses the cliff at two-thirds height.
Eleven bolts, decent pods, small edges, a few falls and the help of western hard-man Josh Smith, Battle’s Just Begun, M7 was born. A crag classic with a short easier pitch that leads to the top.
On the far-right side of the crag, tucked away in a corner lies the crag’s gem; an aesthetic rustic-red granite crack with patches of ice that overhangs by five meters. We called it 17 Stitches, M9. It took two weekends of bolting before it was ready to be worked on.
A low ice curtain leads to a very powerful sequence with a four-foot dyno from a side pull to a small bulge of ice. With your heart racing and your arms barely able to hold onto your tools as you hammer them into the moss filled crack, you pull into the final overhanging dihedral and fight gravity to the anchors.
Further to the right Elzinga and his wife, Siu Mai climbed the new Pinch of Nerves. It is a fun, run-out yet serious for the grade WI3, M4. They named their climb in my honour. While bolting 17, I had a nasty nerve pinch that pulsed through my body, resulting in a day of sitting on the packs, watching the two of them delicately send thin delaminating ice.
Elzinga disappeared to the Rockies, climbed Slipstream in a day and returned at the end of March. We wanted to get one more weekend of climbing in before the lake ice disappeared and very tentatively tip toed across Harris Bay, getting our feet wet twice and risk drowning once, true Ontario objective hazards.
We rapped and placed 17 bolts on a fantastic overhanging face/corner, it became Bloody Sunday M8, another small-hold test-piece that combines power and superb technique.
Blood Wall, 17 Stitches, Bloody Sunday, Battle’s Just begun, have all been inspired by U2 and a fall Elzinga took while establishing a fixed-line that helps getting to the top of the cliff while moving to and from different climbs.
The Blood Wall cliff and the nearby Papineau Roadside crag are nice opposites to the drilled roofs that are becoming ever so popular in many of today’s mix/dry tooling areas.
You ever run into a six-and-a-half-foot tall Clint Eastwood look-alike, who speaks like and has the look of a western gunslinger, you have met Elzinga.
If you have the courage to talk to him, he may even tell you the story of 17 Stitches, but don’t get your hopes up…. he may just stare you down in true Eastwood fashion.
The Blood Wall
1. Meet the New Boss WI3 M3 30 m
2. Join the Revolution WI3 M3 25 m
3. Battle’s Just Begun M7 35m
4. Bloody Sunday M8 25 m
5. Seventeen Stitches M9 20 m
6. Pinch of Nerves WI3 M4 20 m
Blue line marks the descent gully with the fixed-line