Climbing For Conservation

Written by Ned Morgan.

Old Baldy – known locally as Kimberley Rock – is a high rambling outcrop of dolostone overlooking Ontario’s Beaver Valley, roughly a two-hour drive northwest of Toronto. It is one of the most striking Niagara Escarpment bluffs in North America.


Photo by Glen Harris.

“The cliff is a bioherm,” explains University of Guelph Professor Emeritus Stewart Hilts, who lives nearby; “a 400 million-year-old coral reef, where the Amabel Formation rises in a dome, and the Queenston Shale lower down erodes into a steep slope.”

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On top of it, dizzyingly parallel to its 152-metre-high crest, is a section of the Bruce Trail named for Malcolm “Mac” Kirk, the forester and conservationist who spearheaded the effort to protect the area in the 1960s. Working for the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority (GSCA), Kirk secured much – but not all – of the property immediately surrounding the cliff from the farming family who had owned it since the 1800s.

Rock climbing began here in the ’70s and today the wonderfully convoluted face boasts over 100 recorded climbs of varying degrees of difficulty. According to the Ontario Access Coalition (OAC), Old Baldy is “the birthplace of the modern style of bolt-protected sport climbing in Ontario.”

With real estate development threatening the approach to the bluff over the last decade, climbers and conservationists realized this big bioherm needed a bigger buffer zone.

When a 45-acre plot below Old Baldy came up for sale in 2012, the GSCA knew they had to act quickly to expand their conservation area – and knew they would need partners to raise the funds.

The OAC began a fundraising effort and with the help of MEC (who offered $100,000), Ontario Climbing and the Alpine Club of Canada, pulled together $130,000 for the GSCA. The Nature League and the Bruce Trail Conservancy also donated.

Old Baldy 2 copy
Photo by Glen Harris.

“MEC became involved in this purchase through the Ontario Access Coalition when the OAC applied for an MEC Land Acquisition grant through our Community Contributions program,” says Senja Palonen, MEC’s Community Involvement Coordinator. Since 1987, MEC has invested over $26 million towards conservation and outdoor recreation in Canada. “MEC recognizes that Canadians rely on the ecological benefits offered by these places, and draw inspiration from the knowledge that they exist intact,” Palonen adds. “MEC’s funding was granted to the OAC, and our contract is with them specifically, with the understanding that the OAC would work with the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority and that the GSCA would ultimately own and manage the land and maintain access for climbers in perpetuity.”

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Rock climbers are required to obtain a free climbing permit for Old Baldy from the GSCA.

Ontario’s Escarpment is under intense development pressure. Organizations such as the Bruce Trail Conservancy, the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, Food and Water First, and the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation need your support.

Watch for an expanded story about Old Baldy in the spring issue of Mountain Life Ontario.