My sister Amelia and her husband Brad (and their son) were in Hamilton last week, visiting Brad’s family, and since they live in Scotland and they were going to be – hello! – only a six hour drive away, I went to visit them. (Well, okay: I actually went to Detroit for the weekend with a friend to see an exhibit at the DIA and visit my aunt, and then went to Hamilton on the way home but, you know – details.)
The morning of my first day in Hamilton I made my way over to Brad’s parents’ house from my hotel and Amelia said, “So. . . you want to go to the climbing wall?” They had been there the day before, with Brad’s sister, but there’s a difference between taking less experienced friends and family to the gym, and going with another climber and trying to pull down some hard shit. And Amelia was itching to pull down some hard shit. So, Brad took their son off to run some errands and Amelia and I headed to Climber’s Rock in Burlington.
Amelia scouting for the next climb.
I’m always curious about other gyms. My home gym, Coyote, is a bit short by most standards, being built inside a warehouse and limited in how high the walls can be. Climber’s Rock has the same problem. Compared to the 15-metre walls at Amelia’s home gym, Transition Extreme, it’s pretty stumpy. We just toproped: hard to get a groove on when you’re leading if the walls are 8 metres or so.
So I don’t know what their leading is like (though I saw a few lead routes, a lot of them going across roofs and through arches, things you just can’t toprope), and I also don’t know if they let you lead with ATCs or not: the top ropes used GriGris, clipped to your harness rather than to the floor like they are at Coyote. I much prefer ATCs for almost everything – faster, lighter, simpler – but for some reason the gyms I’ve been to in Ontario use GriGris. (Coyote even requires you to lead belay on a GriGri, which is one reason I’ve never been certified to lead belay there.) I think it’s an insurance requirement, because GriGris lock automatically and it’s harder to screw up catastrophically and drop your partner. But still, I don’t like GriGris as much.
Fun shapes, but short and stumpy.
Amelia said the belay tester had been a real stickler the day before, picky about keeper knots and things like that, but the woman that checked me spent most of the time watching Amelia climb and almost no time at all watching my belay. Then she said, “you’re good to go, great belay, have fun,” and went back to the front desk. (I assume, though, that she did watch me and did make the judgment that I knew what I was doing. She wasn’t lackadaisical about it or anything. Different employees take different tacks.)
Amelia said she thought the grades were a bit soft, although she’s not so used to the American grade system anymore. I jumped on a 5.8 to warm up, came down and said, “Yeah. Soft. Very.”
Their 5.8s felt like 5.7s back at Coyote. The same held for everything up to the 5.10s: 5.10- was too easy for me, and I was taking only a fall or two on straight 5.10. (Like Coyote, this gym has gone to a +/- system instead of letter grades to distinguish difficulties above 5.9: hence, 5.10-, 5.10, and 5.10+ instead of 5.10a, b, c, or d.) Basically, the grades generally seemed a level or two softer than I was used to.
(Meanwhile, Amelia was in the mid-to-high 5.11s, I think, and still not actually falling off things. But then, she’s a much better climber than me, and she has a tendency not to fall, which may or may not come from a lot of trad climbing. She eventually did find a route that knocked her off, after some searching.)
There was definitely a lot of bouldering space. We didn’t try the bouldering out though.
But, grades are always a subjective thing. I wondered if maybe Coyote compensates for their short walls by making the grades a little stiffer – sure, they might be only about 8 metres, but the climbing would be sustained at the grade for those 8 metres, knowing that normally you’d be trying to keep it up for twice the distance. I don’t know if that’s the case. And there is the fact that other gyms in the Ottawa area have comparable grades – and the outdoor grades in the region are a whole other thing (being, um, “old-school,” and therefore ass-kicking if you’re used to indoor climbing.)
Whatever it was, the grades here seemed soft. Although, Brad said that once you got higher, into the high 5.11s and 5.12s, the grades seemed to be about what he expected.
And to be fair, the route setting was pretty good: there were a couple of routes that I looked at and thought, huh, never seen anything like that before. There was a sense of whimsy to some of the routes, and some – like a 5.10- I got on that started out of an arch over a doorway – that were aerial, acrobatic, and really satisfying at their grades.
The bouldering looked steep and probably pretty burly: we didn’t try any of that out though, sticking to the rope.
In the end we spent a couple of hours. It was fun: the facility itself wasn’t anything too spectacular, but the routes were good and I love any chance I get to climb with my sister (I love any chance I get to see my sister: she does live in Scotland, after all). And it’s always fun to check out a new gym and see what people are doing in other towns.