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20 Things to Know About Southern Ontario Climbing

In the 1994, top U.K. climber Jerry Moffat visited Lion's Head and made the first ascent of Big Kahuna 5.13d

Southern Ontario is home to some of Canada’s most classic rock climbs and crags. The climbing stretches across hundreds of kilometres from Sudbury to Kingston and south towards Niagara Falls.

Over the past 60 years, climbing has been pushed from 5.1 to 5.14 with all different styles being applied to short and tall walls.

The history of climbing in the area is full of stories about first ascents and adventures. Below are only 20 things about Ontario’s climbing history you might not know.

1. On Sept. 1, 1956, the first recorded climb was made in Ontario. Alan Bruce-Robertson, David Fisher, Katherine Starr and birthday girl Marnie Gilmour climbed Birthday Ridge 5.1 in Bon Echo. It’s now a classic.


2. In 1961, John Turner and Dick Dorling made the first ascent of The Joke 5.9, also in Bon Echo, it was one of the hardest routes to date in the province.

3. In the early 1960s, the Alpine Club of Canada painted numbers at the bottom of established climbs and “UC” at the base of unclimbed lines. The lack of recorded information led to some first ascent information being lost.

4. In the 1960s, Helmut Microys and Eric Marshall (started climbing at 15 in 1964) climbed Two Pieces 5.9 and Showpiece 5.9 at Rattlesnake Point. Microys rap-bolted two bolts on Two Pieces.

Marine Gilmour and David Fisher in 1956 at Bon Echo.

5. Eric Marshall and Werner Heiss freed L’Idiotie 5.10 at Bon Echo in 1971, was first climbed 1964 by Dick Dorling and Claude Lavalée.

6. During the same decade, California climbers George Manson, Tom Gibson and his cousin Greg Cameron, who were part of the Poway Mountain Boys, arrived in Ontario. Locals Dave and Reg Smart had just started climbing, but would go on to have a big impact on the scene.

Reg Smart soloing Rainy Day Woman 5.9 at Buffalo Crag. Photo Dave Smart

7. Mike Tschipper and Rob Rohn sent Space Case, Ontario’s first 5.11, in 1979.

8. In the 1983, Dave Smart added a bolt to his route Moby Fly at Cow Crag on rappel. He followed it up with adding bolts to High Society 5.10d at Mount Nemo, a route that went on to become the best at the grade in Ontario.

9. In the 1980s, John Kaandorp and Pete Zabrok thought they were making the first ascent of the Central Pinnacle at Old Baldy, but were surprised to find a cairn on top.

10. In April 1987, Peter Croft was shown The Monument at White Bluff and then flashed it at 5.12+ for the first free ascent. Pete Zabrok and John Kaandorp made the first ascent in 1986.

11. Steve DeMaio continued to establish climbs ground-up using a mix of aid and free-climbing techniques. He later took his skills west to establish still-unrepeated big walls in the Rockies.

Steve De Maio climbing at Mount Nemo. Photo John Kaandorp

12. On June 30, 1990, Joe Rockheads became the first climbing gym in Southern Ontario, and one of the first in Canada.

13. In 1991, Doug Larson and Peter Kelly released a study that showed climbers had a negative impact on ancient cedars along the Niagara Escarpment. It started a dark period for Ontario climbing and led to many crags being closed.

14. John Weir climbed a number of new 5.10s in the 1990s, most being much harder. He believed that if he could climb it, then it wasn’t harder than 5.10.

15. In the 1994, top U.K. climber Jerry Moffat visited Lion’s Head and made the first ascent of Big Kahuna 5.13d.

16. The Victim 5.13 at Lion’s Head was named for Judy Barnes who had to give a hanging belay to Chris Oates on his lead. They were both instrumental in the progression of Ontario climbing.

Lion’s Head is where local climbing was pushed in the 1990s

17. Sonnie Trotter sent Forever Expired at Lion’s Head as Canada’s first 5.14d, it had been bolted by John Weir.

18. In 2014, Leslie Timms became the first Ontario woman to send 5.14 with her ascent of Magnus Opus in Nevada.

19. During the same year, the Beaver Valley Climbing Festival was held in Metcalfe, the first climbing fest of its kind in Southern Ontario.

20. In 2015, Sabrina Chapman became the first female to send a 5.13d in Ontario with her ascent of Man in Me.

Sabrina Chapman on Man in Me 5.13d. Photo Leslie Timms