In the 70s and 80s before indoor gyms existed in Toronto, Toronto based climbers trained at an outdoor wall in Toronto called the Pumphouse. On summer evenings in the 80s, up to 20 climbers would meet to train and socialize. To-day a few climbers still train at the pumphouse.
The Pumphouse is located in a park east of St.Clair and a few blocks south of Yonge. Wander around the park until you see the obvious building. Two sides of the building have walls decorated with flagstone. The north wall is likely to have a line of chalk traversing the wall. The flagstone provides a great number of edges that are similar to edges that are found on outdoor routes. 

Buildering in Toronto was never received very well by officials. University of Toronto security staff clamp down on bouldering or climbing on their buildings. In spite of this, most of the classic routes at U of T have been climbed illegally. In contrast, Kingston area climbers have a buildering guidebook to routes throughout the city. The CN tower, the classic big wall buildering venue, still has not had a Canadian ascent. Only the American Spider Dan gained official sanction to climb the Tower and proceeded to solo it. Torontonians Dave Smart and Jerry Banning made a previous illegal attempt but came down because of high winds.

However, the City seems to tolerate climbers on the walls of the Pumphouse. They have asked that climbers do not climb the wall but traverse only as they are concerned that someone will be hurt falling from too high. This is quite acceptable to climbers since traversing is the best climbing on the wall.

In the 80s Dave Lanman established Mr. Natural (12a) and the low line (11) both classic traverses on the north wall. Mr. Natural uses natural holds only (no flag stone edges) for hands and any feet for the length of the wall. The low line uses a series of low holds for the length of the wall. The regular line is about 5.10 and takes the easiest traverse along the length of the wall using all holds.Other lines exist on the south wall and the small building within sight on top of the reservoir. Many boulder problems also exist on all the walls.

One summer Chris Oates and I had a friendly competition to do the most laps continuous. Near the end of the summer I did 19 and 1/2 laps. Shortly after, Chris did 20. We both quit because our fingers hurt so much. I think 20 still stands as the record.

Andy Cairns became bored one year and set a goal to touch every corner of every panel. While trying to find a rest at one of the high corners, he fell and broke both heels. He hobbled to the hospital and by strange coincidence, the hospital emergency room doctor who treated him was also a climber who occasionally trained at the Pumphouse.

Pull Up Session on a nearby tree

Pumphouse workouts largely train finger endurance and mostly require open handed and crimp grips. As a result it is great training for limestone face climbing.Training here can get boring . It helps to vary the activity.

Workout ideas:

  • Endurance Traverses 5 or 6 laps take about half an hour.
  • Traverses with a weight belt that divers use make the workout more power/ endurance
  • Try adding an occasional move up and back down to develop pull muscles.
  • Try using natural foot holds only.
  • Concentrate on relaxing the hands to find the minimum pressure required to hold on.
  • Work Boulder problems on thin edges.
  • Try doing laps using only 3 or 2 fingers .
  • Try laps using open handed grip only.
  • Try laps using crimp grip only
  • Try the occasional lap with hands below the shoulder. This develops the muscles necessary for down climbing. I once saw Peter Croft at the Pumphouse training this skill.
Bob Bennell
September 29, 2000

Top of Page
Table of Contents