Monday, September 15, 2014

Lion's Head

My good Canadian friends Mark Smith, Leslie Timms, Kyle Thomas, and Daniel Martian have been visiting the New River Gorge for years, spinning wild tales of how awesome their local climbing area is. Through the flurry of "eh's," I gathered that Lion's Head, the proudest portion of Ontario's Niagara escarpment, was a pretty dope cliff and I've been planning to visit for years but never following through.

Finally, I pulled the trigger, despite the uncertain forecast, and made the relatively short 13 hour drive to the Bruce Peninsula, a narrow strip of land that divides Lake Huron from its own Georgian Bay. The climbing and scenery are stunning. Catch it on the right day in September, when the West wind blows cool, dry air off the freshwater bay, and the conditions make for Velcro friction on perfect blue-streaked limestone that rivals Ceuse. 

I'm almost mad at myself for taking so long to visit what immediately became one of my favorite climbing locations. There's also a super friendly and welcoming local community. Greg Williamson let me camp on his gorgeous patch of mossy hardwood forest and Mark and his wife Monica provided showers, internet, authentic Indian food and uncontrollable levels of psyche for climbing. I hope to be back before the season ends! 

 Look closely and spot Daniel Martian dangling from the lip of Batman (5.13d). Daniel has been one of the primary route developers at Lion's Head, especially the high-end routes. He's a fitness machine, despite being in his mid-forties, and can run laps on Lion's Head's hardest routes all day. One time he sent Titan (5.14a) and ran a half marathon in a day. What a beast, eh? He's currently working on linking up the hardest parts of a 13c and a 14a to create a 14b that will be the hardest route at the crag, aside from Sonnie Trotter's unrepeated 5.14d.

As the story goes,
Forever Expired has a dangerous mono move that Sonnie would only commit to on the send burn because he knew it was likely that he'd blow a pulley. Sure enough, on the send, he blew his finger out, but pushed through to the shake before a final 5.13b roof section. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to do the move again, maybe ever, he had to suck it up and send the pitch with a maimed finger. Understandably, the pros aren't lining up to repeat this one, despite it being over a decade old. Nice one Sonnie.

Mark Smith is another route developer that just moved to Wiarton, 30 minutes from the crag. This is one of his routes that just went up this year, I think. Thirty Years in the Making (5.13a).


Mark knows me well and immediately showed me the wall that he knew I'd drool over. I knocked off Couer de Lion (5.13a) first and then focused in on this one, an old-school techy face climb put up by Jerry Moffatt in 1991. Are you kidding me? Jerry Moffat, one of my favorite climbers, and 1991, my favorite year in sport climbing history, eh? Getting addicted to this one was easy. 
Big Kahuna (5.13d).

I got rained out on what was supposed to be my last day but extended my stay by half a day to cash in on prime conditions the next morning—if you consider down coats and toques to be proper attire for prime conditions. Milkdawg pulled it off in the final hour, as usual. Why do I always have to fail until the last possible moment, eh?
Thanks for the photos Mark!



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