Clipping In: How Pro Climber Leslie Timms Found Her Home on Escarpment Rock

While rock climbing all over North America for a year after college, my husband and I stretched our dollars so far that we were left eating out of a can, sometimes a dumpster. We’d reached the end of the road and had to move back in with our parents to get back on our feet, or in my case, back on the rocks.


Timms climbing Nutcracker, 5.8, Devil’s Glen. Photo: Colin Field

Words: Leslie Timms

After scraping together change, we flew the nest again and this time in search of our own. Lion’s Head, on the Bruce Peninsula, was rumoured to be the best climbing destination in Ontario and seemed like an obvious place to start our search. We planned to go for a week, but on the drive up I stumbled across a job offer that led to an interesting twist of fate.

article continues below

“A community of local guides and organizations is now working closely with the MNR to create a sustainability plan for Metcalfe Rock…”

The owners of a farm near Lion’s Head called me back about the job and soon we were unpacking into a trailer on their property where we would live in exchange for help around the farm. Lion’s Head moved me: turquoise waters waved below my feet as I danced across beautifully sculpted limestone, with not another climber in sight. I had to live near here. We soon discovered cliffs in the Beaver Valley and felt immediately at home in the town of Thornbury, on Georgian Bay, minutes from the Escarpment, and a day trip to Lion’s Head.


Leslie Timms at Lion’s Head. Photo: Glen Harris

I stalked the co-owner of Free Spirit Tours, Jennie Elmslie, begging her for a job as a guide, and my husband came out of “retirement” from serving tables to work at Thornbury restaurant The Mill.

The community was incredibly welcoming and our jobs gave us the opportunity to meet people. Whenever locals found out that we were climbers, it was usually followed with the question, “Do you know Gary and Dee Posey?” Our friendship with them appeared to be written in the stars, as they were the only other climbers around. Ten years later, not only has our climbing community grown, but also the number of rock climbs, climbing businesses and the sport in general. With climbing making its Olympic debut in 2020, and new climbing gyms opening all over the GTA (plus Climbers Corner in Collingwood and Alt Rock in Barrie), the sport is flourishing.

“The Beaver Valley has become a very easy-to-navigate climbers’ playground.”

Soon after moving to the area, I heard there was a “new” cliff called The Swamp and it was like we had stumbled across Area 51 when we found it—super top secret. We climbed not knowing route grades/names, and added a few of our own. I lived in the area for two years before hearing about Devil’s Glen (arguably one of the best cliffs in the Beaver Valley region) and had to scrape my jaw off the trail when I walked that cliff line for the first time. It’s a different story today; since the release of two updated climbing guidebooks, the Valley has become a very easy-to-navigate climbers’ playground. I knew this incredible area wouldn’t be quiet for long, as I slowly brainwashed climbing friends and even my parents to move here. As climbing grew in popularity, so did the demand for climbing courses along the Escarpment. This motivated me to get accredited as a certified Lead Guide with PCGI and soon after I opened On the Rocks Climbing Guides.


Leslie Timms on Roaming Gypsies, 5.10d, Lion’s Head. Photo: Colin Field

Little did I know that the sport of climbing would grow so fast, I would work full time as a guide and provide work opportunities for other certified guides. The negative side of growing popularity is the increasing environmental impact on these fragile places, from climbers and hikers alike. A community of guides and organizations is now working closely with the MNR to create a sustainability plan for Metcalfe Rock, including bathrooms and regeneration signs. It is imperative that everyone follows “Leave No Trace” practices while enjoying these environmentally sensitive areas. It is also imperative that we educate others to do the same.


Leslie Timms is a professional climber and owner of On the Rocks Climbing Guides. Leslie is also an Arc’teryx Athlete. She resides in Thornbury, Ontario.

You might also like:

As a professional rock climbing guide and top Canadian climber, Leslie Timms is a fixture in the Southern Ontario climbing community. She is also one the few women in Canada to develop new routes and has put up sport and traditional first ascents at Lion’s Head and the Beaver Valley in Ontario. Leslie is an incredibly well-rounded climber with an impressive list of sport, boulder, and traditional ascents across the globe… Read more