By: Salmaan Farooqui
Cameron Lawrence clings onto a wall by the tips of his fingers, nearly upside down. He crouches down and prepares to use his legs to explode upwards to grab a finger hold about a metre above his head.
With a grunt, he leaps into the air and slaps the handhold above him, but he is not quite able to grab onto it, and he crashes down on the padded floor.
Standing up, he covers his hands in a helping of chalk to dry up the sweat on his fingers and tries again. Then, hits the ground again. And over and over again, more than a dozen times.
This is what bouldering looks like.
When bouldering, climbers do not use ropes or harnesses. The routes they climb are generally only six metres high, and climbers fall onto a padded mat if they fall off of the wall.
Traditional climbs tend to be around 20 metres or longer, so the short bouldering routes are compensated for by making them almost unreasonably difficult. When rock climbers use ropes, it’s generally about endurance. In bouldering, each and every move is a struggle. That means there is typically a lot of falling involved.
Lawrence is a member of Ryerson’s own rock climbing club, made up of a group of climbers who meet up at the Rock Oasis climbing gym every Monday and Wednesday.
At the helm of the group is Robyn Buttigieg and Jacob Blank, who have been organizing the club throughout the year.
Most of the time, they boulder without ropes. However, roped climbing is sometimes done as well.
The club is relatively new, having only started last year. In that time, it has managed to rack up over 300 members on its Facebook group. That number might be large, but there are usually only a core group of a dozen or so climbers who show up to every meeting.
The group’s size is a testament to a recent surge in the popularity of rock climbing in Toronto. The city boasts around seven rock climbing gyms, some of which focus on either roped climbing, bouldering, or a mix of both. They are often packed with climbers on any given weeknight.
Lawrence, who competes in rock climbing competitions himself, said that the sport is a great way to keep in shape and meet like-minded people.
“It’s a lot more fun than the gym, and a lot less anti-social,” said Lawrence, who usually meets a new friend every time he goes climbing on his own.
His friend Scott Goddard, another member of the club, said that climbing doesn’t feel like a job, as workouts sometime do.
“It’s a way of tricking yourself into going to the gym… like a fun workout,” Goddard said.
For now, Ryerson’s club is still just an informal group of climbers, but Buttigieg and Blank have big plans for the future. A previously defunct competition league, the University Bouldering Series, is now making a comeback, signalling a new reason for the club to start climbing even more seriously.
At the club’s last meeting, Blank started getting members to run through a routine of exercises aimed at improving strength and flexibility. Lawrence has placed on the podium at previous climbing competitions, and the club hopes that they can build on those performances.
Beyond competitions, the group of climbers at Ryerson’s climbing club have another frontier on their minds: climbing outdoors on real rocks.
Ontario’s escarpments make for great outdoor rock climbing routes, but there will still be some time before the club makes their way out into the wild.