When the exploding Toronto condo market forced The Rock Oasis to move from its original location at Front and Bathurst in 2011, they set up shop in the Carlaw Industrial Centre at Carlaw Ave. and Dundas St. in Toronto’s Leslieville district. It is not their final destination though. The Rock Oasis team works toward building an entirely new gym in the neighborhood. Don’t be fooled by the words ‘interim’ or ‘temporary’; when you’re here you’ll discover the essence of a quality climbing gym and a hint of what’s to come.
On this Sunday afternoon there are two large beginners’ classes in full swing. A new climber has reached the top of an auto-belay route and is now gathering the courage to let go while friends cheer her on from below. In the main area, recently set routes are being compared among climbers for their grade rating; there’s always something new here. It’s a hot day; the air conditioning is still a few days away from being switched on, but that doesn’t seem to keep climbers from showing up for their regular session.
How to Get There
One of the many advantages of the new location is that it can be very easily found. It doesn’t matter if you decide to drive here or use a public transport, everything is clearly labeled. If you take one of the entrances along Carlaw, head for the second floor and look for the posted signs to lead you through the maze. When driving, go around to the back of the complex, where you’ll easily spot them at the north end of the parking lot. Parking is free, but you’ll need to ask for a parking pass to display before 6:00 P.M. on weekdays.
Top Rope and Lead Climbing
The Rock Oasis has 13,000 square feet of climbing surface with 100 single-route top-ropes and grades ranging from 5.5 to 5.12+. This place seldom looks crowded. If you enjoy having some personal space while climbing you will love it here. All of the single-route top-ropes have quickdraws for lead climbing except for the beginner section of 5.5s. The lead-only area features a long stretch of overhang that is 65 degrees from vertical with routes of approximately 42 feet in length.
The current layout makes good use of the space, although some routes might be busier during Tuesday and Thursday nights. If you are a social climber and like to meet new friends make sure you plan your visit on one of those two night. Bumping elbows creates plenty of opportunities to chat up fellow climbers, but you might do a lap or two to find a free route. On some of the vertical sections the top ropes tend to lay directly over the lead quickdraws and this can interfere with clipping your lead rope. It’s something to be mindful of when you’re sizing up a route. While you can tie the top-rope back, it becomes a bit of a spider’s web if too many are pulled together.
One of the biggest reasons why you should check out The Rock Oasis is that it has some of the best-set routes for building your strength and technique. Even on an easier route with larger handholds, there is a solid focus on movement as well. Grades here are very consistent and the route-setters will often leave a new route ungraded for a while. It lets you try it without being nervous over a number. You may be surprised by what you can climb. Despite the endless number of routes here, The Rock Oasis staff aim to please every climber. They change and rebuild their routes every four to five weeks, to make sure even regular climbers have always a new route ready.
If you happen to be a bouldering fan you will be happy to play around in a separate bouldering section with plenty of mats to crash on. It features include a small cave and pop-outs to work around, and though it’s predominantly face climbing, there are a number of routes to try out. Adjacent to the bouldering you’ll find hangboards, a campus board, rock rings, and a few pull-up bars for climbing-specific training.
You should always warm up and stretch before you grab the first hold. Warm muscles are less likely to get injured or pulled. Three auto-belay devices on the front wall (soon to be four) will remind you of your warm up as soon as you enter. Don’t ignore it. Given that this is a temporary location, there are no separate men and women’s change areas. Lockers are found throughout the gym, with a couple of curtained-off change spaces. It works, and if you’re here to climb, this isn’t a showstopper.
As a follow-up, the much-anticipated air conditioning is now up and running. It takes the edge off the hottest summer days, but you won’t be needing a parka. The Rock Oasis also offers free Wi-Fi if you’re waiting on someone and need your online fix.
Planning Your First Visit
Waivers are filled out on site at The Rock Oasis, so be sure to arrive a little earlier if you’re taking an intro lesson. Parents can print a child waiver from the website if they are sending them with another group. An adult day visit is $15, and a student day visit is $13, which makes The Rock Oasis one of the lower-priced gyms in the GTA.
This gym is excellent for beginners, and there always seems to be a slew of new climbers. If you want to take an intro course ($35 including shoes and harness), you’ll need to call and book it in advance. Bring some friends. The course is one to two hours depending on group size and how quickly everyone catches on.
Experienced climbers can take a free belay test for top roping, without appointment, but if you want to lead climb, there is a $25 fee. It’s fully refundable if you demonstrate all the aspects of lead climbing and belaying safely, but if you’re not 100 per cent sure of what you’re doing, that fee goes toward a half-hour of refresher instruction or partial payment of a lead climbing course.
The Rock Oasis is open 365 days a year from 9:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M.
- Very well set routes across grades from 5.5 to 5.12+
- Auto-belay devices to climb on your own
- Excellent beginner courses
- Very friendly and knowledgeable staff
- Free parking
- Busy nights can be crowded and cramped
- Spider web of ropes can be frustrating
- Current locker arrangement may not work for everyone
This gym will start you off right and build your skills quickly. If you’re a very strong climber then you may run out of routes to work. As an interim location, The Rock Oasis has put together the essentials to keep you going. We will need to revisit them when the new location is opened.
Phone: (416) 703-3434