Climbing in Bon Echo Canada (With Andy Caird)
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Climbing on unpolished routes, with a crag to yourself on a sunny day is something of a rarity for climbers here in the UK. Benefiting from one of these elements is uncommon but to get all three, you would probably have to climb a lot, at a high grade, early in the day, in the middle of summer and be very lucky with the weather.

For the adventurous, there is one way to get the whole package, climb at Bon Echo Park Canada .

Bon Echo looks something like the Sea Walls at the Avon Gorge. It is similar in height (80-100 metres), flat across the top. Both are shear faces having many high-end grades and both are historically important to climbers in the area.

Bon Echo however, has significant features making it, in my opinion, a better climbing venue; it is located in a semi remote location surrounded by forests filled with wildlife. It sits within easy reach of some major cities but not so close, that you can't hear your mate over the traffic. Bon Echo rises straight out of a lake and is only accessible by boat. It is 2 kilometres long. The most popular routes are not yet polished, and the thrill of exposure over water is simply breathtaking.

While home visiting my family in May 2005, I had an opportunity to climb Bon Echo with a long-standing friend, Kevin Wall. He had agreed to join me from his home near Toronto and to introduce me to the crag near to where I grew up.

From the small town of Napanee , we drove 45 minutes due north, along HWY 41, to arrive at the park gates. Map - http://www.climbers.org/bonecho/Bon%20Echo%20-%20intro%20&%20history.pdf

Armed with an abundant amount of mosquito repellent we parked the car in a barren lot and unloaded the canoe and climbing gear. Most climbs at Bon Echo start directly out of the boat. For simplicity sake, we chose the most traditional routes, reachable from a small scree slope across from the parking lot. However, to get there, first you must cross the lake. We had hijacked my mother's canoe for the task. (As one does) The unique access makes for very serious climbing. Logistically you have to be thinking of route planning and getting back to the boat.

Also, if an accident occurs you have to deal with getting off the wall, the water and getting to a hospital.
Our first route was to be Birthday Ridge, an 85 metre 5.0, which translates into a moderate by English standards. This was chosen because A, I was jetlagged and needed an easy warm-up, B, Kevin and I had not climbed together for years, and C, most importantly, it's the oldest climb in the park and remains the traditional intro to Bon Echo climbing. See link for route description #70 http://www.climbers.org/bonecho/Bon%20Echo%20-%20climbs%2079%20-%2087.pdf

For our second climb we ramped things up and chose neighbouring Saucer Lucy. A 5.7 which converts to a VS. See above link for description. #73

It was nice that Kevin and I were able to swap the lead on all the routes but on this particular climb we planned our strategy around Kevin taking the crux. As a former climbing instructor and devoted wall rat, he is a good guy to have around when tackling overhangs.

On the top, our enthusiasm for more climbing was only hampered by the threat of rain. To the south, where the wind had been blowing all day, things looked patchy. We could see darker clouds threatening but they appeared to be heading west.

We opted to descend and take a tour of the Indian pictographs from the canoe. In doing so, we had hoped that weather would either rain or pass us by.

Having completed the tour, things still looked dark to the west but the sun was out, the wind from the south and the draw of another classic climb was too much. We choose to go for The Pinnacle 5.4- VD. Climb# 79

Parking the boat in a small bay at the foot of the climb we unloaded directly onto the climb and scrambled over lichen covered rocks to a safe belay stance. (I tied the boat to the rocks. See note below) At just over half-height, the wind switched and picked up dramatically. It was evident that our luck had run out and we were, beyond doubt, going to get very wet.

With rain pelting down and lightening striking unnervingly close, we decided to back off rather than proceed on the slippery rocks into an exposed position at the top.

It was disappointing but definitely the right call. Besides, we had a BBQ and a lot of beer waiting for us back in Napanee.

Delayed due to a problem with the canoe, we arrived back at the beach soaked to the bone, chilled, and still very much jet lagged. Nevertheless, I had a huge smile on my face, put there by a great day of climbing in a tremendous location.

Climbing in Bon Echo is simply fantastic. It may be a long way for a UK climber to consider as a ‘destination crag' but definitely worth considering if combined with a city break to either Toronto or Ottawa . Even better would be to combine it with a camping trip through Algonquin Park.

The best time of year to visit would be late August to early October. At that time the crag will not be busy, the water warm, the colours of autumn will be in full bloom and the mosquito season will be finished.

A word to the wise – when climbing at Bon Echo, ensure your canoe is tied securely; watching your mother's canoe being blown out to sea and almost sink, whilst clinging to the side of a cliff, in a thunderstorm, is most embarrassing.

More information on climbing in Bon Echo: http://www.climbers.org/bonecho/guide01.html

More information on climbing in Ontario :

http://www.climbers.org/rock/rock.html

A.Caird

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