Outdoor Rock Climbing in Ontario

Outdoor Rock Climbing in Ontario

I would not have thought that the flat Ontario would become the place where we start to climb outdoors. And yet, here we are: we have now survived our third day out at the crag on our own! We are at the very beginning of our, hopefully, life-long journey of climbing, and here’s what I learned so far.

Getting Trained

I think it is important to get properly trained before you head out on your own. We wanted to become self-sufficient as soon as possible so that we didn’t have to rely on other people to take us climbing outdoors.

In order to transition to climbing outdoors, we completed a weekend-long training with Steve Andrew from On the Rocks Climbing. At the time of training, we have been leading indoors for about 4 months. We learned to lead indoors by taking a course at our local gym.

Our outdoors course with On the Rocks Climbing was customized to cover the following basics: anchor building, sport climbing outdoors, cleaning gear, rappelling, bailing off the routes, and the basics of placing gear for traditional climbing. We got to see and try out all the gear necessary for climbing outdoors and learned more about the local climbing areas. The weekend was packed with information which we recorded with extensive notes and photos. At the end of the weekend, the process of transitioning to outdoors climbing was demystified.

Buying Gear

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We had to spend about $1200 on the necessary gear for climbing outdoors. Pricey, but this gear should last us 3-5 years. This included a 70 m rope, two helmets, webbing for building anchors, many carabiners of various sizes, a dozen or so quickdraws, and a few other basics.

Ontario Climbing Spots

The crags closest to Toronto are the Rattlesnake Point and Mount Nemo in Milton/Burlington area. We can get to both of them in 35 minutes of driving with no traffic from our apartment in the West End. Rattlesnake Point is good for top rope only, while Mount Nemo has many sport and trad routes.

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We learned that it is quite difficult to make sense of the routes outdoors. We ended up investing in two books–the comprehensive Ontario Rock Climbing and the Volume 1 of Ontario Climbing–that have photos and information on various routes around the crags in Ontario. The books explain the easiest way to get to the cliff face and give information about the routes in the order they are placed from the access point. In Ontario, the crags are part of the escarpment, which means you have to make your way down to the bottom of the cliff in order to start climbing.

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Even with the books, many of the routes are difficult to see.  Also, the routes often get updated (bolted or re-bolted by setters), so some of the routes you see at the crag might not be listed in your book. This means you have to do a lot of asking around and talking to other climbers at the crag.

Crag Etiquette

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If you thought climbing outdoors meant going out alone into the wilderness, you thought wrong. There were many people at the crag every time went. In fact, there were more people at the crag than at our local gym. This meant we had to line up and call out our turn for a route we were interested in. On the one hand, the presence of people was frustrating at times; on the other hand, it made the transition to rock less scary. We felt like they were others around us and we could ask for help if anything went wrong.

Wildlife Encounters

Although populated by climbers, the crag had some wildlife as well. On one of our very first climbs, we nearly grabbed a snake when reaching for a ledge. Many of the natural holds in the rock become spider nests in the summer. There are also turkey vultures, mosquitos, and blackflies. The adrenaline of climbing outside was intensified by the possibility of touching a snake and having a spider crawl up your sleeve at the next handhold.

Do not accept gear from strangers

We had to learn this one the hard way. First, there is some danger in relying on gear of others because you cannot be sure how thoroughly they check it for damage, expiry, etc. Second, you can never be absolutely certain that you will be able to finish a route and retrieve the gear of others that was left behind.

The latter is exactly what happened to us: somebody offered that instead of waiting for her to clean the route, we could go ahead and use her quickdraws left at the anchor. Unfortunately, we had to bail off the route because we could not finish it and the stranger’s two quickdraws were left hanging at the anchors. I ended up giving two of my own quickdraws to the owner, since we were partially responsible for accepting the offer of gear. Had we bailed off the route that was cleared from gear, we would not be in the position of leaving expensive gear behind.

Know what you’re climbing

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Part of the issue with the scenario above was that we were not entirely sure what was the grade of the route we were about to climb. We asked around and the route looked doable, but upon trying it, we realized it was not. Even if you know the grade of the route you’re about to climb, be prepared that it will be much more difficult than a route of the same grade indoors.

Ask questions

Learn to rely on yourself and your partner when outdoors, but ask lots of questions to learn from others around you. There will be people at the crag with much more experience than you who climb at different gyms and have traveled to different climbing spots around the world. You might pick up a thing or two by talking to them. That being said, don’t ever try something you’re not confident in doing yourself only because an apparently more experienced strangers told you so. Self-sufficiency and safety should be your first and foremost concerns and if you and your partner are not confident enough outdoors on your own, invest in more training.

Look after your stuff

The two crags in Ontario we have visited so far were messy. The rocky trails at the bottom of the cliff are small and become quickly populated by people and their gear. I thought I found an abandoned stick clip and walked around the crag trying to find the owner. It turned out the owner was down the trail from the stick clip and he had to run after me to retrieve it.

Make sure you are aware of your belongings so that they are not in the others’ way and don’t get mixed up with the gear of other climbers.

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My PhD Story

My PhD Story: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

My blog stats tell me that a lot of people end up on Life Philosophized when they search for information about an important decision–whether or not to quit their PhD. In fact, my post Things I learned After Quitting my PhD, continues to get many hits. Given the continued interest in the topic, I thought I would share more of my experience of leaving academia in case my particular story might be relevant to others.

I know how difficult it is to try and list the pros and cons of leaving a PhD program while in the midst of it, especially if the experience is trying. But, I do think that this exercise is extremely useful when making any difficult decision in your life.

In this post, I share some of my reasons for deciding to quit a PhD program. These were my own, personal cons of continuing. Perhaps, some of them will ring true to you. Some of my cons might even work as pros of continuing for you. In either case, I hope that you will find this post helpful.

Here are some of the reasons why I quit my PhD.

Low Funding

I am a Canadian who got accepted into a program in an American school. I had a full stipend–the standard $15,000 a year–and a tuition waiver. I had to use a chunk of my stipend towards international health coverage (about $1,000 each year). Additional costs in the first year were associated with moving to a new country/city and settling into a new apartment. I did not get a SSHRC (a competitive fellowship offered by the Canadian Government), but my aim was to continue to apply for one until I either get the funding or finish my studies.

I found out that outside of SSHRC there wasn’t much funding available for Canadian students who were pursuing a degree outside of Canada. As an international student, I was also not eligible for funding available to American students. I was also not eligible to legally work in the US.

Although I had a full stipend and a little bit of savings, I was going through my funds fast. I realized that by my second year in the program, I would have no more savings. The stipend was not enough for me to live on, so I was going to have to go into debt.

Long-Distance Relationship

To make things worse, my partner was still pursuing his degree in Canada. We were stuck between two countries, contemplating the ways in which we could make the future work for us.

He drove or took a bus across the border every other weekend. The drive was only 5 hours long. But, since neither one of us owned a car, each trip meant a costly car rental with extra mileage and insurance. The bus alternative involved a 12-hour ride with two bus transfers. The transfers were problematic due to the ambiguity of border crossing and poor road conditions in winter. As a Greyhound drivers told my partner once: “We promise to get you there, but we don’t guarantee when you’re going to get there…”

If my partner joined me during my studies in the US as my spouse, he would not have any legal rights to paid work. He could try finding an American employer who would sponsor a working Visa for him, but, given my partner’s education in humanities and limited work experience at the time, we knew that his was not a viable option.

While pursuing my graduate studies, I met many people who had to endure all kinds of ambiguous long-distance relationships because of their commitment to doing a PhD and pursuing an academic career. I’ve heard of couples who lived in different cities or even countries and saw each other every 7 weeks or once a term, each pursuing their own professional careers in between the face-to-face meetings. I knew that trying to work on a long-distance relationship was always an option, but it was not something I wanted to pursue. I was ready to live with my partner and to work on building a life together where both of us could strive to be our best.

Structure of the program

I did not do my undergraduate degree in philosophy, so I was looking for a PhD program that would allow my to take more courses before starting my dissertation. The program I entered stressed the importance of studying history of philosophy through several years of coursework, two comprehensive exams, and a heavy teaching load.

Although initially interested in completing more course work and studying other areas of philosophy, after starting the program I realized that I am not interested in many areas of the discipline outside of my own research focus. I struggled to find ways of engaging with most of the courses I was in. Because of the structure of the program, I was not in the position to choose the things I was interested in most. I realized that it would be several years before I could start to work on my dissertation and pursue the topic I was actually passionate about.

Poor Social Life

The PhD program that I’ve entered had about 70 or so students in it all at the different stages of their degree. Including me, there were two other students accepted into the first year. This meant that my cohort was very small and there very few people to commiserate with about the first year experience. The students who were further along in their degrees were caught in their own work and troubles and brushed off any concerns about the first year experience as not serious. The general response was along the lines of: “oh, you’ll be fine. First year is nothing, just wait till you have to do the comps, teach a course, etc”

Knowing that I would be fine didn’t mean that I wouldn’t have liked to have someone to talk to about my experience. Two terms into the program, I realized that I did not make any real, supportive friendships that I could turn to for moral support.

Academic Job Prospects

Going into my PhD, I was well aware of poor job outlooks: the chances of securing a tenure-track position are extremely low to none. I wanted to be realistic about what pursuing an academic career after PhD might look like for me.

I knew that if I wanted a shot at an academic position, I had to be very open-minded about where in the world I would live. I realized that I wouldn’t be someone securing a job at a major institution in a large city in North America or Europe (aka my version of the dream job at the time) anytime soon. If that’s your goal while considering a PhD, please do your research and think about the reality of this picture. As a graduate student at a major university in Toronto, I got to participate in the hiring cycles and saw how many and what kinds of jobs were posted by my faculty. I also saw the excellent candidates who interviewed and got these jobs in the end. I knew that after completing my PhD I would be nowhere near this competition.

I could probably hope to compete for a job in a small liberal arts college located in a rural area in the United States. After learning more about what that life would be like–by visiting these places and talking to many people–I realized it was not the life I wanted. I wasn’t open to the idea of teaching at a small college in the US and I wasn’t willing to make sacrifices that pursuing such an academic position would entail for me (being away from my family and partner, inability to start a family, etc.).

One other option for academic work with a PhD would be securing sessional teaching contracts. After seeing the upper-year PhD students in my program go through the sessional teaching cycles because their funding ran out (which looked a lot like this), I knew that this lifestyle was not for me.

PhD for its own sake

If the pursuit of an academic position was not for me, it did not mean I wouldn’t enjoy doing a PhD. In fact, when I was applying I really believed that completing a PhD simply because I loved philosophy was worthwhile.

The study of philosophy was (and still is) a way of life for me and a very personal experience. Philosophy enriched my life and I used to be able to find a lot of joy the pursuit of this discipline. At least, that was the case until I started my PhD.

The professionalization of philosophy, the structure of the program that was a poor fit for me, and the personal sacrifices I had to make in order to pursue the degree sucked the joy out of the experience entirely. If I was going to do philosophy for me–not as a mean to an end but as an experience meant for its own sake–it had to be something that enriched my life. At least that was the condition I set for myself, my way of justifying the pursuit of a PhD and the sacrifices that went along with it.  But, if instead of enriching my life, philosophy interfered with it, if in order to pursue philosophy I had to put the rest of my life on hold, I could no longer see value in doing a PhD.

If you are someone who has ever considered dropping out of a PhD program, what were your pros and cons of continuing? In the end, did you stay or did you go? Please comment below of write me a note at lifephilosophized [at] gmail [dot] com

Life Lately 2

Life Lately – 10.06.2017

About once a month, I will post some of the highlights of my life. I enjoy an opportunity to reflect on my days, seek out experiences worth writing about, and keep a record of my life in all of its different stages. I will share the books I’m reading, the side projects I am working on, and the adventures I am embarking on.

Coffee shop work dates (after work)

I work a regular 9-5 job. As much as possible, I try to have some external creative projects going outside of my real (read: not always creatively stimulating) job. I find it difficult to make time for these side gigs and I continuously look for ways to make my schedule accommodate these projects. While in my stuffy office with outdated furniture, I find myself daydreaming about working from my couch or out of a cool coffee shop.

For the last several weeks, I have been setting some evening dates with friends in the city. While waiting to meet with them a couple of hours after work, I’ve been working on my side gigs out of a coffee shop nearby my evening date. Although I was tired after a full day at work, it felt really fun to live this creative, working out of a coffee shop life for a few hours on a weekday evening. I decided to stick with this new routine. I aim to try different coffee shops every week and go in with a clear idea of what I need to get accomplished in two hours so that I’m actually productive. So far this method has worked for me.

Reading Phenomenology of Perception

I took a break from my Ph.D. program in may of 2015. Just under a year later, I made a decision to quit. It has been nearly two years since I have picked up a philosophy book. Two years after leaving, I finally have the courage and the desire to read philosophy again.

Perhaps, this is how long my own healing process took. I forgave philosophy for leading me on and making me break up with it and finally I can engage with it again without any hurt or regret. I no longer feel like I have to pursue philosophy professionally in order to be able to enjoy it. I no longer feel like a fraud when reading philosophers I love.

Georgia O’Keefe at AGO

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I knew that the AGO was free on Wednesday evenings. But I had no idea that their feature exhibits were available at half the price on those nights. I went to see the latest exhibit on Georgia O’Keefe with a friend for $12.50 a person and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about O’Keefe’s art and life.


We have a rental car booked for Sunday. We will be going to Stratford on Sunday for the festival. We will be seeing the musical Guys and Dolls.


Life Lately 1

Life Lately – 03.06.2017


About once a month, I will post some of the highlights of my life. I enjoy an opportunity to reflect on my days, seek out experiences worth writing about, and keep a record of my life in all of its different stages. I will share the books I’m reading, the side projects I am working on, and the adventures I am embarking on.

I committed to running a marathon with no goal other than to run a marathon (as opposed to goals of finishing with a certain time which I have been imposing on myself in the last couple of years, but failing to meet). All I want is a new commitment to running distance that would fit in with the rest of my lifestyle which now also includes a 9-5 job, a side gig, commitment to climbing, and quite a bit of travel. This will be my fifth full marathon to date (I also ran 6 half marathons).

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
This is a collection of short biographical pieces that highlight the creative process of the world’s most accomplished writers, composers, choreographed, and other artists. It is encouraging to learn that many of the creatives had rich lives or held full-time jobs all while pursuing their creative projects.

Mozart was basically a freelancer who could barely set aside some time away from paid work and other commitments in order to compose. T. S. Elliot worked a day job at a bank. Anthony Trollope managed to write a couple of dozen books during the early mornings before his shift as a civil servant at the General Post Office–the post he held for over thirty years. Agatha Christie led such an ordinary life that many of her friends told her they didn’t know when she wrote her books because they had never seen her write or go away to write.

The book is a great reminder that a creative life can take on many different shapes. A creative life does not mean you need to put the rest of your life on hold. Throughout history, people wrote and painted and composed while making a living, getting married, and raising kids. It is also a reminder of how much you can get done by sticking to a routine schedule that allows you to work on a project, even if it is only for a short amount of time among other responsibilities of the day.

Thinking About
Inspired by the book, I am reflecting anew on how taking small steps continually will eventually lead to great results. This means that if the projects that you’re the most passionate about are not your full-time job, you will be able to make significant progress by simply keeping at them, even if only for 15 minutes every day.

I am trying to get out once every month, even if only for a quick weekend trip. June is for outdoor climbing just outside of Toronto. In July, we have committed to a trip to Bruce Penninsula. In August, we want to spend a weekend in Montreal.

Trying Out
Speaking of creative side projects, I am doing a free trial of Iconosquare, which is in app for Instagram management and analytics. Iconsquare is simple and intuitive, and it makes posting frequently easy. The free trial is for two weeks and I am already considering signing up for a paid account.

I have also been trying out Marmalead, which is an SEO tool for Etsy. Even the few things I was able to do with the free version show how Marmalead can help you significanly improve your listings on Etsy.