True North is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. My jaw dropped right after I stepped in and saw a giant stalactite hanging in front of me, sky high walls with endless routes and a natural boulder. Everything was covered in a soft light coming from ceiling-level windows that offered views on the CN Tower. It’s easy to see why John Gross is proud of what he has created at True North, which he opened in March of 2010 at the Downsview Park Sports Centre.
I came in on a Friday mid-day and the gym was just opening and slowly filling up. While chatting with some of the friendly staff, they mentioned that Tuesdays and Thursdays are typically the busiest nights. Weekends are busy as well, but with summer in full swing, many experienced climbers head outdoors. Their website has an online calendar, which lists gym events and bookings, like birthday parties, competitions, and instructional classes. It’s a nice feature to help you plan ahead whether you want the full mêlée or a quieter session.
How To Get There
True North is a bit further than other climbing gyms but don’t let the distance keep you off your climbing workout. It’s worth every mile, believe me. For those who live closer to Lake Ontario in downtown Toronto, it can be a 45+ minute drive in moderate traffic and over an hour by public transit, but the gym is well situated for those with quick access to the 401, and there is loads of free parking. Summer construction has created a bit of chaos in the area, so you might hit a few roadblocks before finding it on the south side of the complex.
Lead and Top Rope Climbing
Approximately 14,500 square feet of climbing terrain and routes with walls up to 36 feet high make True North one of the biggest climbing gyms in GTA. It has 51 top ropes offering two routes per rope and grades ranging from 5.5 (easy/intro) to 5.13- (strong/experienced). Most top rope routes have quickdraws for lead climbing, and their lead-only cave area has routes extending up to 50 feet in length.
The walls offer some good complexity and routes for both beginners and experienced climbers. Features such as overhangs or a slab section with a chimney and the giant stalactite provide some serious challenge for climbing masters. Routes are defined by coloured tape placed beside each hold, which sometimes can be frustrating if you’re working a route and can’t spot your next hand or foothold in all the commotion, but time and mileage on the walls.
Route setters also put their initials beside each of their creations, so if you like someone’s style (be it jug-hauls with long reaches or those requiring balance and finesse), you can check out everything they’ve set up. I found there was a slight disconnect with grade consistency throughout the routes, but as they are changed frequently, there’s always a new challenge to be found.
There is a separate bouldering area for climbers who rather have no strings attached. It has deep padding for spills while you’re working problems. There’s a good variety of grades and a lot of overhang area. You can ‘top out’ to a convenient step ladder off to the side rather than dropping down from the top of a route. Two slack-lines let you work on balance, core stability, and a bit of showmanship, while the natural boulder challenges you to create and work problems of your own.
Want Some Extras?
A hangboard/fingerboard area tucked in by the lead cave lets you round out your training and improve your grip strength. After building up a sweat, the locker rooms are large and well equipped, complete with showers, so you can go straight from the gym to a night out with friends without the eau-de-climbing hanging off you.
Planning Your First Visit
Joining True North is as convenient as going to their website, where you can fill out a waiver online before hitting the gym. At $19 for a regular day-pass, it’s one of the more expensive gyms in the GTA, but there are several discounts available. For new climbers, introductory courses run every hour on the hour ($35, including shoes and harness). There is plenty of rental gear available if you’re starting from scratch. The course is very straightforward and informative and will set you on your way in no time. Once you’re free to climb on your own, there are a number of easy- and moderate-grade routes to help you build some confidence.
Belay tests for top-rope and lead climbing are both free of charge. For lead tests, True North recommends calling ahead to make sure there is a qualified staff member working that day. One advantage for those who want to lead climb at True North is the option to test out for using either a Gri-Gri or a ‘tube-type’ (i.e. ATC) device depending on your preference. What you can and can’t do in the gym is proudly displayed on your harness: a pink tag for newbies who’ve taken the intro course, a red tag for top-rope qualified climbers, and a green tag for lead climbing. If you spot someone wearing their tags at another gym, you know they’ve been to True North.
True North aims to be open 365 days a year, with modified holiday hours, but will close on occasion to prepare for larger events like competitions. Check the website and online calendar for complete information.
- Good intro course for new climbers
- Free top-rope and lead tests
- Several mid-range routes – 5.9 to 5.11+
- Large range of grades – 5.5 to 5.13-
- Free parking
- Route grading needs more consistency
- Can take a big chunk out of your day if you live in downtown Toronto, but it’s well placed to serve the GTA with good access to the 401
- One of the more expensive gyms if you’re not eligible for a discount
This is an excellent facility with something for everyone. It’s worth the trip for a change from your downtown gym, and it’s good for beginners. As one of the newest gyms, True North has firmly established itself in the GTA climbing community and will be a key element in Downsview Park for years to come.
Phone: (416) 398-7625