ROUTE QUALITY


Most guidebook’s rate climbs with a star system to denote the level of quality of the route. But what is quality? Definitions usually use words such as excellence to define the term but these type of definitions fall short since terms like excellence are equally difficult to define.

What criteria are often used to assess quality of a rock climb? Such criteria as length of the route, type of moves, sustained nature of the climb, ambience of the place, exposure, line of least resistance and the nature of the rock are often considered. Sometimes the presence of danger is valued. Others value the absence of danger. Some people prefer directissimas to the line of least resistance. Some desire steep rock over a slab. Some rave over a crack and a rare few become orgasmic over an off width crack. Obviously these criteria are not universally accepted.

Jeff Jackson in his climbing guide "Mexico Rock" gave a cactus rather than a star to indicate the quality of routes. He gave extra cactii for routes that he thought were of high quality or routes that the guidebook author first created. While I am sure that this was said in jest, I believe that it actually comes closest to defining quality. To Jeff, his own routes had meaning to him and through that personal meaning, the route represented  high quality to him. It is the user that defines quality against that which he values.

These are the routes that I created that had most meaning to me.

THE CLIMBS

Mane Line 10a Lions Head

Follow the line of least resistance up the beautiful and exposed face that can be seen from the central lookout at Lions Head. A loose, run out, scary and rarely done first pitch leads to a hanging belay. The beautiful climbing starts here. It is usual to rap to here and climb out.

Some time ago, John Kandoorp, Steve Demaio and friends established about a dozen crack lines at Lions Head in ground up style. From Verdon, we learned that the French were rapping in and establishing superb face route on the wide pillars that between the cracks. We took the same approach at Lions Head. The first year, a group of about eight climbers met on weekends in the area with the goal of establishing some routes. This period was my most memorable time in climbing. This group focused on supporting each other and working cooperatively, oblivious to the wars that were tearing most climbing communities apart. I enjoyed the company of these people. We were however, afraid of the walls, afraid of the exposure and the isolation that this wild place presented. Two of the first routes of high quality to be established were "Far From the Maddening Crowd" by Ziggy Issac and "Maneline". Ziggy named his beautiful face "Far From the Maddening Crowd" because he hated the scenes that were developing at crags to the South. He sparcely bolted it to keep it a special, private experience. An extra bolt was later added. At about the same time, I stared wistfully at another face further down the crag. It seemed so hard and devoid of holds. One day, I mustered my courage and rapped the route. I was surprised to find that it was covered in holds and the climbing was relatively easy. I added 4 bolts and did the route. This was a period where full bolting was not accepted. All bolts had to be explained and rationalized. Four people repeated the route in that condition. On Dave Smarts advice, I later went back and added 6 more bolts. On completion of these two routes we came to believe that we could climb these walls and many other classics followed. The central position of the climb and the Lions Head theme led to the name "Maneline".

I Wonder Where the Lions are? 12a Lions Head

Another Lion theme climb. From an exposed hanging belay, climb up the face following the line of least resistance.

After that first year when "Maneline" had been completed, we climbed at Lions Head almost exclusively. For about three years, we rarely saw more than one other party of climbers and no hikers. With no Bruce Trail access at that time, Cinta and I had this magical place almost to ourselves. We established many routes during this period and focused mainly on walls that we were able to do in the exposed Central section. Many of these routes require hanging belays at the lip of huge overhangs. The exposure and ambience could be overwhelming at times. The best route that we established during this period was "I Wonder Where the Lions are?" I couldn’t help but wonder.

Black Magic Woman 10d Black Forest

Climb the line of least resistance up the black colored face to the top.

At an earlier period, we climbed at Old Baldy before the present bolted routes were established. At the north end is the Black Forest area that contains the Black Wall. Up the central line of weakness is "Black Magic Woman". A small rack is required. Cool air flows from underground fissures and as a result, it is a great place to climb in humid conditions. Stay away from it in black fly season. The Black Magic woman will get you for sure.

Amazing Grace 11c TV Tower

This route meanders up the line of least resistance on a slightly overhanging wall. A gradual increase in difficulty results in a pump that makes a technical crux problem at the end feel quite difficult. This route was done at a time when I was reflecting about a friend who died in a climbing accident at Squamish. The route was named in honor of Grace.

Wild Orchid 12c TV Tower

This is the sister Route to "Amazing Grace". It starts to the right. Athletic and thin moves lead up a slightly overhanging face. When I first looked at the wall, it looked totally blank and did not seem climbable. From an adjacent route I noticed a thin line of holds that presented possibilities. Over a period of time, I gradually bouldered sections of the route. One day I put it all together. For me it was a period of discovery. I felt the same feeling as I do when I come across one of the rare wild orchids that grow in the area.

Lord of the Flies 11c Lions Head

This long exposed face that requires varied technique, follows the line of least resistance to the top. For a few years, when tent caterpillars were at their prime in the area, large red eyed flies swarmed over the area. They were everywhere. They were docile and so abundant that a person could bunch them up together in a ball and throw the whole ball of flies before they flew away. Although they did not bite, they drove a climber mad when belaying. The belayer would be covered in flies by the time the climber finished. Nothing could be done to subvert them. However they didn’t seem to come onto the cliff face. Climbing was a welcome relief. This route was done at the height of the tyranny of the flies. Hence the name.

The Crucible 12a Lions Head

After a few difficult face moves, follow the beautiful overhanging corner to the top.

The definition of crucible is "a caldron for melting ores and a place of great pressure". One such place is The "Crucible Theatre" in England that houses the Snooker World Championships where players experience intense pressure. Many succumb to it. The "Crucible" at Lions Head is also such a place.

After a few difficult face moves, the climber then enters an exposed, overhanging corner. This corner is out of view of any other climb or wall. The climber also loses contact with the belayer who is left behind around the corner. Faced with many difficult and thought provoking moves, the climber moves on alone, pressure mounting, a lonely existence, only wanting to get up and out of this place.

Sentinel 12c TV Tower

Climb the beautiful white southeast face and arete of the pinnacle.

This climb appears easier than it is. John Kandoorp and others tried it in their ground up style and left a pin below the crux before abandoning the project. Not as brave as John, I tried this a few times each year for about 3 years on top rope but could never solve the crux. One day in the fourth year on a halfhearted token attempt, the solution came to me. It just happened, my body took over and did it. With the problem solved, I completed the climb shortly after.

The pinnacle reminded me of a sentinel looking over Georgian Bay.

The Mole 12b

The Mole 12b
 
 

Climb the seventy foot black streaked face face to the top. Interesting moves with surprise holds.

While belaying for this climb, a mole ran around in front of the belayer for over an hour. It seemed quite undisturbed that we were there or perhaps didn’t notice us. Moles cannot see since they have  no eyes. We watched it burrow beneath moss and underground to re-emerge many times. Soon after that day I heard rumors that climbing at this beautiful place had been banned in spite of the fact that we have been climbing here for over 10 years and have gone largely unnoticed until recently. Like the mole, some people are blind. The route was named in honor of oppressors everywhere.

Bob Bennell
May 6, 2000

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