The last time I went indoor rock climbing was around 1997 and it was for my 13th or 14th birthday party. We had ice cream cake and everything.
I was thinking recently how I would like to try it again and see what Toronto has to offer nowadays. I contacted Rock Oasis after being impressed by the virtual tour of their facility, which made it look vast. The gym, I soon found out, is the largest indoor facility Toronto and they specialize in a variety of types of climbing including top rope climbing, lead climbing, bouldering and auto belay. They have been around for over a decade between two locations, the current one located 388 Carlaw Ave. Suite 204, just north of Dundas St E.
When I arrived at Rock Oasis with Health and Wellness Editor, Kimberley Luu, we were introduced to owner Karen McGilvray and set up with climbing harnesses and shoes. We then met up with climbing instructor Rebecca Maconachie, who took to teaching us the proper way to secure our harnesses and tie safety knots. The double eight knot is apparently a vital skill for a climber to acquire. Without learning these basics, said Maconachie, there is no point to all of the safety equipment in place. Luu and I were also made familiar with the gri gri, a device that helps take in the slack on climbing rope and keep it secure as a climber travels up the wall. As the climber descends down the wall, the belayer (person at the bottom holding the rope) lets the rope back through the gri gri using the safety release on the device. If the climber starts descending too quickly the belayer can let go of the gri gri’s safety release and the rope regains tension, keeping the climber from plummeting down to the mats below. Luu and I took turns climbing and belaying each other using the basic top rope climbing method, where the rope is pre-hung at the top of each wall. More advanced climbers are able to clip themselves in as they move up the wall. This is called lead climbing and is more realistic to hardcore outdoor climbing.
After our lesson, we said goodbye to Maconachie, and it was free time to climb. Luu and I tried some more challenging walls. The foot and hand holes become smaller and further apart as the difficulty levels increase. The difficulty of the route was posted at the bottom of the wall and is listed as a number between 3 and 5.15c 3 being the easiest and 5.15c being the most difficult. We tried difficulties as high as 5.9 or so. Pretty challenging stuff! Some walls are even inclined forward, adding an extra degree of difficulty. I looked up at one point, and saw that some of the ceilings even had hand and foot holds attached to them. The routes, we were told, are changed every three weeks, so that they are constantly different and interesting for returning clientele. There is even a bouldering room, where the walls are lower and more cave-like. The mats are thicker with extra padding; there is no need for ropes. In this room, you can climb until you fall off the wall.
It was nice to see that indoor rock climbing gyms are still a popular birthday party destination, there was at least one kid’s party in progress while we were there with a separate party room area perfect for serving ice cream cake. I had so much fun at Rock Oasis; I will definitely be back.
For more, read the Q&A with Rock Oasis Owner Karen McGilvray or visit their website at http://rockoasis.com.
What makes Rock Oasis unique within the Toronto rock climbing community? Size? Variety of terrain? Other features?
The Rock Oasis is the largest gym in Toronto and we offer the most introductory lessons to get new climbers started.
You’ve been in business for over ten years and in several locations. How has your business and rock climbing in Toronto changed or evolved in that time?
I have been in the climbing business for 20 years and in that time indoor climbing’s popularity has exploded. Gym climbing started as training for outdoor climbing but has become a totally new sport of its own. Most gym climbers never climb outside; they enjoy indoor climbing since it is cheaper, easier and more social. Climbing is a great activity to get in shape and meet people.
What is the best way for a Torontonian to experience indoor rock climbing?
To start climbing everyone needs to take an introductory lesson to learn the basic safety procedures required to climb. After that they can climb any time with their friends or come to our Monday ‘Climber’s Without Partners’ night and meet new people to climb with.
Article Written by Luke Harley