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The Temple of Zeus

June 3, 2009

The Tajmahwall is BIG!  Cresting the hill of the South Loop Trail, used by ice climbers in the winter to access some of Orient Bay’s best ice routes, I always pause to gawk at the size and scale of these cliffs, home to arguably the best rock climbing in the province. Compared to my usual evening crag hangouts closer to Thunder Bay, where I typically climb with a shortened rope or simply a crash pad, I find the scale of the routes here intimidating.  Mere mortals like me find significant challenge in attempting these lines, most offering three long and difficult rope-lengths barely attainable for a weekend warrior with overused tendons and nagging shoulder problems.

More unsettling today, we’ve come to climb a big route of a style I’m not particularly good at – wider crack climbing.  As with most of the routes and landmark features on this cliff, the route is named after one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The Temple of Zeus soars three rope-lengths, or pitches, directly up the main cliff, following a wide crack and overhanging chimney system with considerable exposure.  A large roof near the end of the first pitch strikes fear in many would-be suitors, with most parties diverting to an easier climb nearby.

Despite the route’s fearful appearance, its first ascent was almost a casual afterthought.  The story, as it’s been told to me, had a group of the local climbers poking at it nervously, and not getting very far, when Jody Bernst casually happened by on the way home from work.  Grabbing his shoes and chalk bag from the truck, and borrowing a barely-adequate rack of protection from a friend, he sailed up the route in a matter of minutes without any difficulty whatsoever.  This feat is recognized among the locals a proud one, and the local guidebook describes the route as “…intimidating to say the least”.

In response to that intimidation, my best friend and I have come armed with a collection of larger cams (mechanical expansion devices that fit into cracks to protect against falls), and the weight of the gear is pulling my harness down before I even get started.  This is not my first attempt on this route, but I feel more confident than I did last time.  Strained small talk calms my nerves somewhat as I tie in and start climbing.  I know from an earlier attempt that the crux of this climb lies about a third of the way up the first pitch, and I hesitate on a wide ledge a few metres below before getting after it.

Overcoming the crux with a mixture of luck, gritty determination and the requisite cursing and whining that accompanies climbing with a distinct lack of skill, I move quickly to the big roof looming above.  Delightfully, I find that ample holds make the upper chimney section much less difficult than it looked and I’m arranging a belay to bring my partner up before long.  We’re even relaxed enough to appreciate the multi-coloured lichens, glowing on the dark, water-streaked rock as the first rays of the afternoon sun come around the corner.  Our small taste of success is tempered though with the realization that two-thirds of the route still remains above.  And I have no idea how we’re going to even start the next pitch.


Update, June 4th:  Received a couple emails asking me about conditions (i.e. if they’re dry yet) on the OB rock climbs after this post – this article was one of two I wrote for a local mag (they chose the other one), and it’s based on events from two or three summers ago.  Haven’t been there yet this season, so I don’t know (maybe this weekend?).  Anyone been up there yet?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2009 13:43

    So how did the rest of it go?

    • Nick Buda permalink*
      June 5, 2009 07:49

      Quite good actually! I’ve since done the route a couple more times, and I have to say it’s in the top 3 rock routes I’ve ever done anywhere (not that I’m a particularly well-travelled climber, but it’s a great route). Fortunately the upper two pitches are a bit easier.

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