5.5’s are normally pretty easy to climb. However, when it is hovering around 5°C, in the shade, with hands that feel like clubs and feet that don’t feel at all, it is slightly different. Combine that with trying to place gear, running it out and difficult routefinding, you have yourself quite the little adventure. This was my yesterday at Bon Echo, in Ontario.
Last week, my friend Mark asked me if I wanted to go to Bon Echo for the weekend. I agreed, but we didn’t have any way of getting there. So, I asked Dan if he wanted to come. He also agreed, but had to be back to work on Sunday morning. He was going to bring Natasha along, who had to work Friday night. So, it degraded down to a day trip on Saturday to Bon Echo. This was OK with everyone, though, since it was significantly cheaper that way.
Dan picked me up at 8:30AM on Saturday morning. From there, we went to the Pizza Pizza at Princess and Division to pick up Mark. The drive was uneventful, as they usually are, and we arrived at the Bon Echo boat launch about an hour an a half later. Racking, prepping and packing our gear in the parking lot, we heard the boat approaching and scuttled down to the dock. We hopped in and so did a couple of others who had arrived just in time. We made our way towards the Alpine Club of Canada hut, which is located on the shore of Mazinaw Lake. Once there, we unloaded the others gear and headed into the hut to fill out some waivers. Strangely, one of Dan’s friends from high school was inside. It was strange not only because he hadn’t seen her in a long time, but because we had actually been talking about her on the car ride up – WEIRD! Anyway, for some reason she had come to climb, but hadn’t brought any ropes or gear, again – WEIRD! So, she was not so subtly trying to convince us to take her and her friend with us. We declined and carried on our way.
We got back in the boat and headed for the rock. We dropped Dan and Natasha off at the base of Birthday Ridge (5.0), which had a nice large area to set up on. Mark and I moved down the cliff to Boris’ Route, which involved hopping out of the boat and onto a small ledge a few meters above the water (which was about 100 feet deep, by the way). Well, we made it and began setting ourselves up to climb. It was very, very, cold at this point. Boris’ Route was completely in the shade and would remain that way (for me at least) until we reached the summit. Mark took off on the first pitch. I belayed in the cold, while he tried to follow the route. Bon Echo is known for difficult route finding. He eventually made it to the first belay. I followed, with the pack, and joined him. We quickly re-racked and I made my way up the second pitch.
Bon Echo, because it was so cold, now ties Seneca for scariest place to climb, in my books. It was exposed, hard, run out, difficult route finding, and freezing – AKA awesome! I made my way up as best I could until I was in a corner, squirming my way upwards. I was about 20 feet above my last piece – a bad nut – when I realised if I fell, I would be in serious trouble. So, I backed off and managed to find an excellent tri cam placement. I felt much better and headed back up. Eventually, I found the two bolt anchor and tied in. I brought Mark up after he got to enjoy a belay in the sun.
Mark began moving up the third pitch almost as soon as he reached my stance. He handed me the pack, I handed him some gear and he skedaddled. Like I said, route finding is difficult. Mark found this out by moving up the wrong way on the third pitch, which resulted in a down climb and traverse, but eventually he made it. Moving up to the last move – a small roof – he called out “Hey! There’s ice up here!” to which I replied through chattering teeth “great”. He set up a belay and I followed. Everything went OK, until I got to the roof. I was frozen through, by this point, and couldn’t look up because of the pack. I warmed my hands up by holding them out behind me in the sun, which hadn’t quite reached me yet. Eventually, with Mark’s beta, I found my way through the final move and joined him on top. It was warm, flat and great. We all met up and the four of us dined on some tuna, bagels and trail mix – delicious.
We rapped off and met the boat at the base of Birthday Ridge. It took us over to One Pine (5.3). Dan and Natasha took it first. Mark followed them up and I followed him. It was easy. Now that the sun was hitting us it was almost too hot, haha. I met the three of them at a large block, which Dan had wrapped his rope around to build an anchor. We chatted for a minute and Dan started moving up again. Quickly, he was running low on rope. So, we had to build a new anchor, clip into that and take his apart. This gave him barely enough rope to finish the pitch, which was actually the second and third pitch’s linked together. Natasha followed. As soon as she was about 30 feet away, Mark started moving upwards again, since we had used my end of the rope to sling the block – D’oh! He made it about 40 feet before I realised the sun was quickly setting. He had at least 30 more minutes of climbing – minimum – , then I had to follow and we had a 5.0 down climb ahead of us, back to the base of the cliff. We had a decision to make.
I called up “I think we need to bail, the sun is going down”. To which I heard “I think you’re right”. So, we told Dan and Natasha to head down without us. Mark fixed a sling and I lowered him down to me, while he cleaned. Then we slung the block, threw the rope and rapped down to a scree-ish slope. From there, we pulled the rope and down climbed to the base of the face. Luckily, we made the decision we did, because it got dark as soon as we were down. We waited about 15 or 20 minutes until Dan, Natasha and the boat arrived. We went back to the base of Birthday Ridge to collect some others. They didn’t materialise soon enough, so the driver of the boat took us back to the boat launch, where we disembarked and thanked him for the ride.
Loading back into the car, we took off for home. Along the way, we were stopped by a RIDE program. They looked in and almost immediately sent us on our way. I guess we look like a respectable bunch, or at least not like a gaggle of drunks. Later, we stopped at an A&W, had some dinner and re-racked our gear. We loaded back into the car and made for Kingston. Dan dropped us all off and the trip came to an end.
It was a great end to a great season. Bon Echo was the last outdoor rock climbing trip of the season, for me anyway. Now we have a month or so of training ahead of us, a few peaks to do in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and then Dan and I are off to the Pyrenees in December. CAN’T WAIT!