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Yves Gravelle Presents Ontario’s Hardest Boulder

Yves Gravelle has developed numerous hard boulders in Calabogie, Ont. This is his new film

Photo by: Yves Gravelle

Many will not have heard of it. While Canada’s largest bouldering areas offer large, attractive blocs, Calabogie, Ontario features smaller, simple features. Still, it is more than you might think.

Yves Gravelle brushes a defining grip on Carnage V14

Although the pandemic has locked many Canadians to their provincial borders, the stay-at-home orders have offered smaller crags opportunities for development. In the last two months, developer Yves Gravelle has added numerous double digits to this less populated climbing area.

For many, Gravelle’s name will appear familiar. The Canadian has spent over a decade in the Ontario and Quebec climbing scenes, originally earning a name for himself in Canadian competitive climbing.

Today, Gravelle supports himself through the making of masks for film productions. He also became a father. He has since found it more challenging to commit the necessary amount of time to competitive climbing. The explosive and taxing sport can require up to 20 hours of training a week.

While this schedule did once fit his lifestyle, Gravelle has found training at home more accessible in recent years. Although the dynamic movements of competition climbing often require a lot of time in the gym, the more power-based style of outdoor rock climbing offers numerous methods for progression. Gravelle found his hangboard and home wall a suitable means over the course of the pandemic.

Gravelle moves to the intermediate that precedes the dyno

Like many rock climbers of his era, Gravelle would go on trips, enjoying the sport he had come to love. Climbing off and on for 15 years, he would return to the outdoor areas when his eldest daughter turned three. “That’s when I got back into outdoor climbing a lot. I started developing a lot of boulders because I wanted to do something with her and do an outdoor activity. That’s kind of how we bonded and stuff, just going climbing outside all the time. It’s also when we started visiting Calabogie again. That’s when I did Vale of Shadows.”

Vale of Shadows is a powerful friction dependent arete climb that culminates in a massive V8/V9 dead point. The entire line concludes somewhere in the V12 or V13 range and went unrepeated for four years until Samuel Tiukuvaara nabbed the second ascent this Spring.

Since that time, Gravelle again took a hiatus from Calabogie pursuing projects in both Kanata-Tremblant and Morin-Heights. Gravelle said he returned because of lockdown. “With the boarders being closed, Calabogie was basically the only area I was allowed to climb at. It gave me the opportunity to revisit the area and find new lines and projects and look at the potential of that new climbing area.”

Despite the relatively small size of the crag, Gravelle maintains that Calabogie offers numerous fun first experiences for all. The high quality of the granite, the flat landings and low crowds make it a great destination to learn how to boulder. It also makes for some pretty challenging climbing if you know where to look.

In May, Gravelle put up The Ultimate Chad, a powerful V13 that climbs through a partially inverted roof before a complex finish.

“It starts with a really nice pinch edge at the back of the cave. You do this big gaston to a half pad crimp. What’s unique about it is your feet are higher than your hands. Then you have to go and bring your other hand onto the next hold, which is tiny. If you look at the videos it’s like a two-finger edge that you have to roll out of.”

“I could only have one or two good burns on it before I felt like if I kept going, I would blow up my shoulder. The next section is very powerful coming out of the cave. There are a lot of tricky moves, foot squeezing, a lot of slopey holds, some kneebars, a lot of tricky moves just to get out. You’re squeezing your feet really hard to be able to move out of that position to the lip. You have to set a kneebar and slide a toe-hook to be able to release that left land. The last sequence is really cool.”

Project ticked, Gravelle looked to La Soufriere, a powerful and thin V11 that offers little in the way of supporting features. The entire problem effectively comes down to how hard the climber can grip and generate off of a hold that even Gravelle admits as small.

After dead-pointing through the boulder, Gravelle wondered if there remained opportunity for further development. He began with the last move of the left exit.

“Just that move took me quite a few sessions.” The dyno finish requires blind commitment and a lot of momentum. “From where you are under the roof, you can’t see the sloper, so you are kind of jumping blind. You have to hit it on the left side because it is kind of a scoop. The swing is actually what makes it possible to hold. You hit it and the swing helps you create opposition before you come in and match.”

Although he began with the end, the beginning, in itself, offered quite a fight. The extremely thin left hand of La Soufriere forced a match. “These are the kinds of boulders I really like. Super-fingery is the type of stuff I really enjoy climbing outside, so I was really attracted to the lines.

“I would get two good burns on it, but then I was bleeding on two-to-three fingers. I would take a week just to get the skin back. It was kind of challenging because I was still feeling physically good, but the holds were so small that I could not put tape on. The left part of that crimp was terrible. It doesn’t even look like there’s a hold there.

“I started switching the hands. I gave my two burns and figured out the last day how to start right hand, which made pulling off and setting up a bit harder, but since you already had that left hand, it made the move up to the sloper a bit easier.”

Naturally, he sent the line. Carnage V14 now sits atop Ontario’s boulders as the most difficult in the province. While it awaits a second ascent, the nails V14 might not see a repeat for quite some time.

In either case, these new boulders each offer climbers the opportunity to go and check out one of the less frequented crags. The radical bouldering that persists on the Calabogie granite will surely make any climber smile.

Lead photo: Yves Gravelle