I’m standing on a 50-metre-high cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with my guide, Leo van Ulden. I turn my back to the crashing waves and, secured by my harness, step backward over the ledge and rappel down to the rocky beach.
This cliff, called Main Face, in Flatrock, Newfoundland, is one of the most breathtaking and lesser-known climbing destinations in Canada. Below, water laps at the sides of a half-kilometre stretch of sandstone, sliced long ago from a larger land mass.
Van Ulden, who is certified by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, owns Wallnuts Climbing Centre in St. John’s, about 20 minutes from Flatrock – a town so friendly that cars stop if you even think about crossing the street. Through his gym, he organizes climbing trips to Main Face, which boasts over two dozen routes. Graded by difficulty, they range from “a staircase to a climb that takes years of training, a specific gene pool and guts,” says van Ulden. The variety allows beginners, intermediate and experienced climbers of all ages to take advantage of the rocky gem. His customers include kids, corporate groups and solo travellers looking for a partner.
There are three types of climbing at Main Face: top-rope, lead and trad. My day starts on a route called Dynamic Duo, which uses a top-rope anchor – a safety system of knotted cord secured to trees or metal bolts at the top of the climb. Attached to the anchor is a rope that descends to the rock below. Top-rope is one of the safest and easiest types of climbing. More advanced climbers lead climb, clipping the rope into bolts in the rock as they go. In trad, or traditional climbing, climbers place their own metal, removable equipment into rock cracks before attaching their rope. This way, the climber is able to leave the rock in its natural state (no drill bits required) and to climb unbolted routes. While van Ulden does not guide trad trips, he offers courses at his gym.
After 10 minutes of steady climbing up Dynamic Duo and a final scramble, I pull myself over the top and sit with my feet dangling over the ledge, I take a deep breath, smile and take in the view of the sunny horizon. I now understand why van Ulden is in love with the area and why he moved here from St. John’s.
“What I like most besides the whales and icebergs is the solitude. There’s just something special about being next to the ocean.”
Of course, another good reason to linger in Flatrock is to put off the steep hike back to town – but that’s not something you’d hear van Ulden say.
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