Next steps for climbing access in Ontario

This past October, the OAC launched a campaign to address proposed closures to Ontario climbing in the new Niagara Escarpment Plan. It is unclear when we will learn the outcome of our community’s efforts. It is vitally important that we as a climbing community continue to pressure relevant management bodies to recognize rock climbing as a legitimate conforming activity.


Rock climbing in Canada is growing at an incredible rate. The current ban on rock climbing in Ontario Provincial Parks (with the exception of Bon Echo) is placing increased pressure on existing areas. Additional closures to public lands on the Bruce Peninsula and Devil’s Glen will further increase impact at remaining climbing sites. While every other province in Canada with significant climbing opportunities works with their local climbing community, Ontario instead proposes blanket closures, a unique approach.

In January 2017 the OAC will be issuing a CALL TO ACTION. Details will be provided at that time. It is vital that every climber get involved regardless of ability, style of climbing, or experience. We as a community must continue to push for our right to enjoy climbing on public lands.

Ancient Cedars and New Perspectives

Turtle Island book cover

Heart of Turtle Island: The Great Escarpment

I have long said that climbers are lucky to be able to visit the cliffside environment. And never is this more evident than when a non-climber gets to see what we see. The expression of joy on their faces helps remind me that our climbing areas are truly special. Recently, I was contacted through the OAC and Conservation Halton to help a world-renowned photographer access the cliffside at Mount Nemo. Mark Zelinksi is currently working on a book about the Niagara Escarpment and wanted some photographs of ancient cedars to complete the project.

Throughout the day, as we searched for and photographed ancient cedars, we crossed paths with numerous hikers at Mount Nemo. They were enjoying a stroll through the forest on a beautiful autumn day. Occasionally they would stop at the many lookout points along the top of the cliff and take in the vista-of-humanity in the valley below—farms, golf courses, and cities—unaware of the ancient world below their feet. An ancient world that Mark hopes to capture and showcase for everybody to see. His work aims to preserve this ancient world in images and words.

I’ve been philosophically wrestling with human impact these days. The conservation versus enjoyment trade-off hangs heavy in my mind. What is that balance between preservation and being able to experience what we are preserving? Is it even meant for us to experience, to enjoy? Does the old environmentalist adage of “leave no trace, take only photographs” still fit with the current, and growing, usage of our parks and natural spaces? We can’t pretend that we have no impact when using these trails. While these trails are created to preserve the environment, they are still highways for humanity into previously natural areas; every footstep a micro-construction site of steamroller compaction and bulldozer erosion. In a world where everyone has a device capable of professional-quality photographs, does a picture of an ancient cedar inspire us to preserve the space, or does it inspire us to go take a selfie with the tree?

Climbers have long been the scapegoat of Escarpment conservation. As we are the only user group on the side of the cliff, we are an easy target. That cliffside ecosystem is ancient–one of the few undisturbed ancient worlds left on Earth. Climbers need to recognize that it isn’t a playground or a climbing gym. We need to educate ourselves on what is being protected, and to try to co-exist with it. It seems the more time we spend in the cliffside environment, the more we are desensitized to its uniqueness and beauty. Mark’s excitement over seeing the amazingly sculpted ancient trees reminded me how lucky we are as climbers to experience this cliffside environment. But it isn’t just the ancient trees, it’s the whole ecosystem that the cliffside supports, itself supported by the trees.

Next time you’re out climbing, open your eyes to the world around you and ask questions. “What’s this plant?” “What’s that tree?” “What type of bird is singing that song?” In doing so, we can deepen our relationship with the natural world. And a deeper relationship will help us remember how special our time is when spent in this space.

Mark’s book, Heart Of Turtle Island: The Great Escarpment, is expected to be released in October 2017. It should be required reading for Escarpment climbers, as the words and images contained within will guide us to deepen our appreciation for our local crags.

Written by Justin Dwyer

MEC Staff Choice Community Grant

MEC Mountain Equipment Co-Op‘s ongoing support has been instrumental in funding our operations. Their contributions free us to focus on our core competence, advocating for Ontario access, confident that we have money for ongoing operations.

We’re grateful that the staff at MEC Burlington have chosen to award the OAC $500 as part of their Staff Choice Community Grant program!

Get your Ontario Crags 2017 Calendar now!

The Ontario Crags 2017 calendar is available now at MEC stores across Ontario! Don’t miss out on our best collection of photos yet! Featuring 12 different crags, plus a bonus centrefold poster of Lion’s Head, this calendar is a reminder of just how much great rock and ice this province has to offer. Get yours (and a gift for a friend) today! A HUGE thanks to our contributing photographers. We thank you in advance for supporting the OAC through this purchase!


Help with Bon Echo hut renovations!

Bon Echo Provincial Park is one of Southern Ontario’s only multi-pitch trad climbing destinations. The Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) Toronto Section maintains a hut on an incredible piece of land just outside the park boundary. Accessible by boat only, the setting is both isolated and beautiful. As with all fifty year old structures, the hut cabin is in need of renovations to help preserve the hut for future generations. Use of this property is open to all ACC and non ACC members at very fair pricing.

If you are not an ACC member, we would encourage you to consider joining the ACC. Climbers of all abilities and interests (bouldering, sport climbing, trad climbing, and skiing) can benefit from ACC trips and programs.

Also, the ACC Toronto Section donated over $11,000 and the ACC National Section donated $500 towards the land purchase of Old Baldy securing access for all climbers in the climbing community. Here is your opportunity to get involved and give a little back.

We are asking all to support the project of renovating the Bon Echo hut. No donation is too small or too big. If you haven’t had the pleasure of climbing at this unique area, Bon Echo definitely needs to
go on your list.

Tax deductible donations may be made by going to and clicking on the donations button. For more information, contact


Climbers in Ontario: we need your help!

The Government of Ontario has been conducting a co-ordinated land use planning review since February 2015, and in its latest draft, rock climbing has quietly come under attack.

The OAC believes the proposed Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP) amendments put rock climbing access at significant risk, especially within Ontario Parks. Ontario climbers could lose 50% of Escarpment climbing areas, including Lion’s Head.

We, the Ontario Access Coalition, have been representing climbers throughout this review. We’ve provided extensive feedback and attended meetings to offer advice for the future management of rock climbing in Ontario within the Niagara Escarpment Plan as part of the Provincial co-ordinated land use planning review.

Our feedback can be found here:

The Government of Ontario has released proposed amendments to the NEP:

The Niagara Escarpment Commission’s (NEC) comments for the NEP review:

We need your help!

Now is the time, as climbers, to speak up and to let the Government of Ontario know that rock climbing must be considered a compatible outdoor recreation use on Niagara Escarpment lands.  

We will be starting our efforts with the NEC. In later stages, the OAC will provide information and OAC form letters for other relevant government recipients.

We ask that ALL climbers send in comments/letters to the Ministry so our community is heard (see link and instructions below). Your comments supporting rock climbing in Ontario must be received by the October 31, 2016 deadline.  Follow the instructions below to use the sample letter, (better) customize our letter, or (best) write your own. The more submissions we get to the government the better, so enlist your friends and family to write letters too.


Tony Berlier and Randy Kielbasiewicz

on behalf of the Ontario Access Coalition Board

Questions and Answers:


If you are using the OAC form letter, generate it and save the resulting PDF, by following this link: Niagara Escarpment Plan Form Letter Generator.

Click the link below, or copy and paste it into your browser:

Please note: You are opening a Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Ministry of Housing page.

Complete all of the required fields in the form.

  • Are you submitting comments on behalf of your organization/company/municipality? no
  • Do you represent a law firm or planning firm and are submitting comments on behalf of a client? no
  • Are you submitting comments related to a specific site(s) or property that you or your client own? no
  • Which plan(s) are you commenting on? Please select all that apply. Niagara Escarpment Plan

Because of a technical glitch on the Ministry site, it is best to attach your letter as a PDF file (Niagara Escarpment Plan Form Letter Generator.) File sizes must be 5mb or less. Use the preview function to double-check your information made it onto the site. Note: you only have 30 minutes to complete the form before you have to start over.

Feel free to copy and paste the entire sample letter, or customize it, or write your own. The sample letter will give you a sense of what some of the major issues are.

Want to customize your letter? Include more information on what climbing means to you and the impact of the proposed restrictions on your life. (e.g “I have been climbing in Ontario for XX years and have enjoyed the natural landscapes of the Escarpment.”)

We can use all the help we can get, so more is better! We need you to get everyone you can to submit letters by Oct. 31, 2016 to protect the future of Ontario climbing.

PS – Just in case we didn’t make it clear, MORE IS BETTER!

Sample Letter

To whom this may concern,

I am a rock climber, writing to state my opposition to the proposed Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP) as part of the Provincial co-ordinated land use planning review for the following reasons. I believe that the only path to an effective long-term collaborative conservation approach that keeps communication channels open between climbers and managers requires the following three actions:

  1. The proposed Niagara Escarpment Plan needs to explicitly state that rock climbing is a compatible outdoor recreation use. As outlined in the Ontario Climbing Access Coalition’s (OAC) feedback in 2015  ( I’m exasperated to see that rock climbing has not been deemed a compatible use and has not been acknowledged as an historic, current, and acceptable recreational activity along the Niagara Escarpment within the proposed NEP. Rock climbers have done more to protect and monitor Niagara Escarpment lands than any other user group.
  2. The proposed Niagara Escarpment Plan needs to revert to its original text, which included the qualification “Notwithstanding existing climbing areas,” before “rock climbing activities shall not be permitted in Nature Reserves.” I am very surprised to see the absolute statement “rock climbing will not be allowed in nature reserves.” (p. 89) ( whereas in previous NEC discussion documents, “Notwithstanding existing climbing areas….” preceded such statements. (p. 27) (
  3. The proposed NEP amendments, all management plans that go forward, and associated policy, must all be balanced with previous research recommendations stating that future land use within provincial agencies, such as within Ontario Parks, need to be more effectively managed to rebuild trust. The proposed NEP does not effectively integrate past research that should be directing policy and future management planning. I believe an NEP-wide climbing management guideline (beyond individual site management plans) needs to appear within the proposed NEP.  Past recommendations from Ontario cliff-face research recommends keeping Ontario climbing areas open through best practices.

I have grown increasingly frustrated and impatient with the province of Ontario for not being able to adopt more proactive, modern, and sustainable approaches toward outdoor recreation resource management that clearly work well in other parts of the world and which effectively find balance between use and protection of the natural environment. It is my sincere hope that the new NEP will lead to real change that benefits the public and the natural environment and which takes into consideration the 100+ years of rock climbing history in the Province.

Yours truly,
[Your Name]

Ontario Rock Climbing: The Best of Southern Ontario

Early in 2016, the lead author of the guidebook Ontario Rock Climbing approached the Ontario Access Coalition regarding the OAC Approved process. The OAC Approved program ensures projects are aligned with the concerns of land managers and stakeholders. Detailed information on the OAC Approved process can be found at The OAC worked with the authors of Ontario Rock Climbing to ensure their guide provides accurate information regarding climbing access issues.

The OAC received notice of a dispute from Gus Alexandropoulos and Justin Dwyer, authors of Ontario Climbing Vol 1 & 2, regarding copyright concerns about Ontario Rock Climbing. As an OAC board member, Justin Dwyer had recused himself from all discussions regarding the OAC Approved program as a whole, including Ontario Climbing Vol 1 & 2, as well as Halfway Log Dump: A Climbers Guide by Joe Ho. On May 11, Justin Dwyer communicated his intent to not renew his position as an OAC board member. In June, the OAC was informed that the respective authors of Ontario Climbing Vol 1 & 2 and Ontario Rock Climbing had executed an agreement resolving the outstanding issues.

Marc Bracken, co-author of The Escarpment: a Climbers’ Guide (1991) and A Sport Climber’s Guide to Ontario Limestone (1997), expressed serious concerns to the OAC regarding unauthorized reproduction of original content by Ontario Rock Climbing. In particular, Marc Bracken identified several errors in his publications and stressed that the authors of Ontario Rock Climbing should ensure that the errors not be reproduced. Recently, the OAC was informed that the authors of Ontario Rock Climbing had successfully addressed Marc’s concerns.

With the knowledge that the copyright concerns have been resolved, the OAC proceeded with the OAC Approved process. As of October 5, 2016, Ontario Rock Climbing has received OAC Approved status. The OAC greatly appreciates the Ontario Rock Climbing team for taking the time to ensure their content accurately addresses the complex access issues surrounding our climbing areas.

With four OAC Approved guide books available, never before have Ontario climbers enjoyed access to this much information promoting respect for and responsible use of our climbing areas.

Submit your photos for the 2017 OAC Crags Calendar

Amateur and professional photographers, we are putting together our annual Ontario Crags calendar and we need your photos! Please consider donating a photo to help raise awareness and funds in support of the Ontario Access Coalition.
oac_calendar_cover_2013The Ontario Crags calendar aims to celebrate and highlight the wide variety of climbing that Ontario has to offer, i.e. ICE, SPORT, TRAD and BOULDERING at as many different crags and different times of year as possible. Valid photo submissions will be LANDSCAPE orientation (i.e. horizontal) and of climbers at Ontario crags only (of course).
Please send your best pics to Bonnie atmikewilliams_lh by TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4th for a chance to have your photo featured and credited in the calendar! Chosen entrants will get a free copy of the 2017 calendar as well as a credit complete with your name and website.
Thanks in advance for your efforts to support the OAC!

Lion’s Head: Rapping from Trees

Tree Sawing is for Lumberjacks, not for ClimbersAttention Lion’s Head Climbers!!

Ropes MUST NOT BE PULLED from trees. Bark is sensitive, and crucial to protecting the tree from the elements and bugs. Please protect the trees at Lion’s Head as environmental damage could impact our access to climbing.

The OAC strongly recommends using the descent gully while climbing at Lion’s Head. If you must rappel, set up a fixed line and protect the tree with a towel, foam pad or similar item. The use of flat webbing is better at distributing force along a larger area and causes less impact on the tree. Using webbing will also save your rope from sap, dirt and debris.

Please let your climber friends know the sensitivities surrounding pulling ropes off of tree (at Lion’s Head and beyond). Feel free to get in touch with the OAC with any questions.

Photo credit: US Department of Agriculture, CC-BY-2.0

Lion’s Head — Pump Up the Jam

I’ve got my new waterproof Bluetooth speaker in my pack and I’m ready to send to my favorite jam. A new track just dropped by Avicii and it is amazeballs. Climbers around me are going to lovvvvve itttttt. Birds and waves and wind all that nature stuff is not as fresh as this sound. Other climbers will just let me know if they don’t like EDM.

What? Huh?
I can’t hear you.
Take? OK? No, no. no. Rock?

Music is great. Nature noises are better. Communication between climber and belayer is better still.

Photo credit: Alan Light, CC BY 2.0,