For this spot I return to the vertically challenged province I call home for the best example of mountainous terrain in the southern part of the province. Old Baldy is located in Beaver Valley and is part of the Blue Mountains which is the highest section of the Niagara Escarpment. Were it not for this escarpment there would be little in the southern part of Ontario that even resembles a hill… so for those of us who need rock underfoot and in hand once in a while it is a blessing. The Niagara escarpment runs from Niagara Falls and zigzags northwards up to the Bruce peninsula where it disappears under the waters of Georgian Bay only to re-emerge on Manitoulin Island (largest freshwater island in the world) where it reaches its northern terminus. The escarpment is a UNESCO world biosphere reserve site as along its length are some rare and remarkable plant and animal species as well as some unique eco-regions.
The Bruce Trail follows the escarpment for a total of 800km, up to the tip of Georgian Bay. Along the way are many great bluffs, valleys, caves and rocky outcroppings. To me Old Baldy is the one place that imparts any real sense of ‘mountains’ along the entirety of the escarpment. The bluffs on average only rise 20-30 meters, but the top of the cliffs are 215 meters above the floor of Beaver Valley creating some of the most dramatic scenery, and greatest perches to be found anywhere in the province.
Old Baldy’s bluffs run for perhaps 200m north to south but there are over 80 bolted routes for climbers of moderate to advanced abilities as most of the routes are 5.10 or higher. For the hiker there is a 4km loop of the trail that takes you to the top of the bluffs and if you follow it along the edge of the cliffs you can find an easy path down to the base of the bluffs, along the weed-choked foot of the cliffs. The name Old Baldy comes from the fact the bluffs stand out in an area of mixed forest as the only visible patch of rock, evoking the image of a ‘bald’ section devoid of vegetation.
The most interesting part of the bluffs are the two rocky spires standing apart from the cliffs themselves that offer the greatest views and the best climbing. It is possible to cross a small rock bridge across to one of the towers. The bridge is maybe 1 meter wide with only a 12m drop. It is also possible to comfortably downclimb here as there are a series of ledges that can lead one to the base of the spire. This spire is known as Kimberley Rock named after the sleepy hamlet at its base. The rock is a very porous limestone that for the most part is good firm rock that local climbers enjoy immensely. The second tower is accessible only by climbing it and is more choked with brush on its top, while Kimberley Rock offers more of a spot to sit and enjoy the remarkable views it affords.
To get to Old Baldy from Toronto take Highway 400 up to Barrie (80km) where you will get off at the Bayfield St. exit and head north past Barrie’s northern commercial center until the road becomes highway 26. You will stay on Highway 26 for 35km or so until you reach the town of Stayner where you will stay on 26 even when it turns into County Road 91. You will stay on Highway 91 past Devil’s Glenn Provincial Park. When you reach the town of Singhampton you will turn right onto Highway 4 and head westwards.
You will stay on Highway 4 for about 30km until you reach the town of Eugenia where you will turn right onto Grey County road 13 north. This is the highway that ribbons off into the distance along the length of the valley. At the base of the valley there is a sand and gravel pit on the left hand side… just before you reach this is Sideroad 6-7 which you will turn right onto. It is a steep gravel road which I would advise one to drive slowly as there is just enough room for two cars and more than a few drivers seem to forget this. At the top turn right yet again and park at the Old Baldy parking lot.
From the parking lot the Old baldy Conservation Area trail meanders off into the woods until you reach the top of the bluffs. The trail is a 4km loop that follows along the top of the bluffs and then descends into a small valley where it circles away from the bluffs and returns back along a seldom used road. I have never actually hiked the entire trail as the reason I am there is the bluffs. To hike to the base of Kimberley rock and back takes about 30-40 minutes and covers a distance of 2.5km.
There is a seasonal fee that rock climbers have to pay that costs $25 and is good for the entire year and its been suggested that for anyone interested in climbing 5.10’s and upwards it is well worth the investment. It is asked that you refrain from using the trees for belays or as a rappel anchor. To obtain a permit it is asked you contact the Grey-Sauble conservation authority. You can simply contact www.greycounty.on.ca or call Grey County tourism at 1 800 567 4739 or the Grey-Sauble authority at 1 519 376 3076.
If you are there to hike there are no set fees it is free for individuals to enjoy year round.
There is also no camping allowed, though I can see no problem with setting up a tent well off the trail and keeping fires low. The parking Lot is sometimes patrolled at night as there are supposed to be no vehicles there from dusk til dawn
When To Climb
You can climb year round though in the months of January and February it can be -20°C or colder for weeks on end which makes for some cold rock climbing. Also the snow on top and at the base of the bluffs would be in excess of 1.5 meters, so come prepared. But on clear days it’s a beautiful place for climbing even in the winter.
The other difficulty in wintertime is simply getting to the bluffs, as already stated the snow can easily reach waist high so it is necessary to have snowshoes or cross country skis to reach the top of the bluffs. You could also wait for the snow to firm up which will generally occur in February.
The worst time to climb would be during the rainy months like November and April when the rock is slippery, though there are always more than a few nice days every month where one could get to the bluffs.
There is also a book called The Escarpment a Climber's Guide which details routes along the Trail.
Some of the more popular routes at Old Baldy are:
Black Magic Woman 5.10d
Amazing Grace 5.11c
Wild Orchid 5.12c
Tiny Bubbles 5.11a
Christina's World 5.12d
Bionic Spaceboy 5.13b
As previously mentioned there is no camping allowed on this section of the Bruce Trail, but if one were to find a secluded spot well off the trail and keep a sharp eye out for poison ivy and oak (the bane of my existence) when making camp, I can’t imagine that there would be any difficulties.
Camping though isn’t really necessary as the distance to the cliff is very short and one can spend a whole day here enjoying themselves and then hike out with only a minimum of effort.
To find out the weather simply check www.theweathernetwork.com and check the weather for Kimberley, Eugenia or Collingwood. It will give up to the hour forecast as well as a five day long term forecast. The weather here is usually pretty predictable… storms can arise pretty quickly during the summer months up off of Georgian Bay or Lake Huron, and in the winter bands of snow squalls can create white-out conditions for hours on end.
Flora and Fauna
You can spot over 50 species of birds including vibrant birds like cardinals and scarlet tanagers during the spring. In the summer red-tailed hawks, turkey and black vultures can be seen soaring only a few feet above the top of the cliffs… fascinatingly close.
In the forest you can spot hares, foxes, coyotes and ground hogs in the surrounding fields. At the base of the cliff are small bands of white tailed deer that roam about through the forest in groups of up to a dozen or more at a time.
During the last week of May and the first two weeks of June the forest floor is carpeted with trilliums a beautiful white flower (Ontario’s provincial flower) that enlivens the forest litter with an injection of colour.
The Bruce Trail
The Bruce Trail is the second largest trail in the province next to the Trans-Canada Trail. It is over 800km long with over 200km of side trails. It follows the Niagara escarpment from the falls along the western shores of Lake Ontario where the best vineyards in the province are sheltered from the worst of winter’s wrath by the escarpment. At Milton the trail rises to a flat headland that rises about 150 meters above the city and highway 401. Here Mt. Nemo and Rattlesnake Point are popular spots for Rock Climbers.
The trail then moves up to Elora Gorge and continues northwards where it rises to its highest point (540m) in the Blue Mountains. With numerous climbing spots such as Old baldy and nearby Metcalfe Rock. The trail is at its most beautiful in Beaver Valley, but it is at its most rugged on the Bruce Peninsula at Lion’s Head and Tobermory where the limestone cliffs plunge 80 meters or more into the waters of Georgian Bay.